Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Genie Story

A clever man was crossing the ocean when his ship was capsized in a storm. He was the only survivor. Hungry, thirsty, and battered, he struggled to shore on a small island.

While searching for some form of sustenance, he instead comes across a bottle holding a genie. Thrilled by his fortune, he released the genie on the condition that the genie would grant him three wishes. The genie happily agreed.

"First," the clever man said, "I wish to have an infinite number of wishes!"

"Of course," replied the djinn, "you may wish anything you like from this day forth, at any time you like. That said, what other two wishes do you want me to grant you?"

The clever man frowned. Clearly the genie was as clever as himself. He would have to be careful indeed with his second wish.

"Well, then, I wish that you will grant me an infinite number of wishes!"

The genie frowned. "Sir, you have already asked for that and I have granted that you may have all the wishes you can wish. Now you have wasted this wish and have only one wish left."

The clever man realized that his phrasing was such that this was a reasonable interpretation and so he had in fact nearly outsmarted himself.

He exclaimed triumphantly "Then for my final wish, I wish that every time I make a wish, you will grant it for me."

The genie knew that he was cornered, and considered his next words carefully.

"It is done, as you ask. But sir, considering that you are a limited human and not a Djinn, consider this: all humans are prone to rash decisions, errors, and unintended consequences. Do you really want every whim granted as soon as it is spoken?"

The clever man paled, considering the many stories he's read about men who accomplished their dreams only to lose their families, their hearts, and their souls. Indeed, had he followed his own youthful dreams he would not have the career and reputation he was able to build opportunistically by relying on his cleverness and wisdom.

"No, friend genie, I would not wish that at all!"

The genie laughed "VERY WELL! With that fourth wish, I am no longer obligated. You have wished yourself out of wishes."

The clever man lowered his head.

The genie looked at the clever man and felt pity.

"You know, sir, you could have wished for rescue, or that your ship had not sunk and killed your fellow passengers. You could have wished for sustenance and health and company on this island. You could have wished yourself home. All these I would gladly have given you in exchange for my freedom.

"Sadly, as a clever man who loves his own cleverness, your heart's only desire was to outsmart a djinn."

And with that, the genie vanished. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Making people do what we want...

Amitai Schlier and Ryan Ripley conducted a session at Big Apple Scrum Day entitled "the care and feeding of T-shaped people" which was essentially a panel discussion taking questions from the audience.

I have trouble shutting up. If you know me, you know what a struggle it is. Sometimes I have to sit on my hands to keep from over-participating in a conversation (metaphorically).

Here are the questions:

  1. How do we get a developer to try something new?
  2. How do you know if you've stopped growing?
  3. How do you convince management to agree with you?
  4. Is there a stigma against T-shaped people when it comes to hiring?
  5. How do you choose a subject to go in-depth on?
  6. How do you optimize your paint-brushed-ness?
  7. How do you get team members to share knowledge?
  8. How deep do you go before it's just self-serving?
  9. How do you get a whole team to work on something that's new to all of them?
  10. How do you convince people wide is as important as deep?
  11. How do you persuade someone to be on a team when they're not bought in?
  12. Who decides what people will go deep on?
  13. Is there still a role for job titles?
  14. How do we incorporate learning into a project?
  15. What to do when people don't appreciate T-ness?
  16. How to market oneself with T-shaped skills?

Notice the volume of "how do you make people do X" questions here.  Review 1, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15. Exactly half of the questions involve mechanisms for getting one's own way.

As I left this session, I was impressed with how well Ryan and Amitai handled the questions and the sincerity and authenticity involved across the board. 

But I was also a tad dismayed by the questions which were phrased in ways that implied argument, manipulation, or coercion. Think about that for a while. How many times have you heard accusations that coaches and Scrum Masters are manipulators and scammers?  I wonder if our concern with getting our way (for "their own good", of course) has created a group of people with more psychological tricks and traps than they should be trusted with?

I want to address the questions and give some answers in coming weeks. 

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Calibrate Your Dopplegangers


I once knew a woman who confided that she lived with the disapproving, exhausting ghost of her long-dead mother. It was a disembodied voice in her head that wouldn't let her go to bed without the house in perfect order. All dishes, dusting, sweeping, tidying had to be done or this "spirit" would not let her rest. In fact, she confided that she didn't enjoy doing any of these things; it was a constant fear of disappointing her mother that drove her frantically through endless, joyless chores.

In a rather different vein, a friend of mine tells me that whenever he even considered any misbehavior he would hear the voice of his saintly grandmother, who he loved, reminding him that he knew better than to get involved with anything shady or "wrong." Rather than being tortured by this constant presence, he was comforted and aided by it. Occasionally, it was inconvenient, but honoring his grandmother was a pleasant and rewarding behavior he willingly engaged in.

In folklore, a doppelganger is a kind of ghost or spirit that takes the appearance of a living person: a kind of evil twin.

I don't believe that the spirits of the departed walk the earth and torment (or augment) the living.  I use the concept of haunting as a metaphor only.

I have noticed that the memories we have of interactions with others (living or dead) tend to form a kind of simulated model of that person in our memory.

I use the term "doppelganger" to refer to our mental model of other humans.

Protective models

I have read that one of the features of intelligence is the kind of imagination that allows you to simulate real-world interactions and operations. I don't recall the source, but I think it was in the context of animals using tools and solving problems and the apparently wrong opinion we once had that this use of imagination was the unique capability of human beings (what "separates us from the animals"). We've since found that animals may also have the same ability.

As a child, you probably had a mental model of a parent or guardian. This model was constructed of your memories of prior interactions and conversations. When you considered asking for permission to do a thing, you ran it past your mental model first. If your mental model refused, then you may not have made the request of your actual parent.

Have you ever rehearsed an argument? Most people have had long simulated imaginary arguments with a friend or loved one. If your imaginary argument with the doppelganger was successful, you were emboldened to have a real argument with the real loved one.

These doppelgangers are generally more harsh, disapproving, and difficult than the real people they simulate. I suspect that this is because the doppelganger is a protective model.

The doppelganger predicts other people's responses (based on our understanding of those people). This keeps us from crossing boundaries or interacting in a way that will be uncomfortable for ourselves and others.

Ideally, the doppelganger in our head is a social crash-test-dummy.

Once I became aware of the phenomenon, I discussed it with some of my friends and peers to see if they experienced the whole doppelganger experience in a similar way. This discussion opened up stories that none of us had told the others before.

At this time, I have little but observation (and possibly observational comedy) to go from. I would appreciate any links to articles, papers, or official psychological studies of the phenomenon.

The phone call

I recall one time when a boss of mine called me on the phone.

My inner boss-doppelganger was calling to give me a hard time, to relentlessly press me to do additional work or to be busier. I would have to give an account of everything I've been doing and explain why I was overwrought with my current level of effort and how little I understand of some of the things I'm asked to do. I would be called to account for everything not finished. I would be disrespected for my lack of knowledge/skill in some areas.

It would almost certainly be a negative experience I was not ready to have. I found myself considering what excuses I might offer later for not answering the phone now.

I realized that this was no way for an employee to behave. Hiding is not only a poor relational tactic, it is a kind of cowardice.

It was also unfair and unkind. If our positions were reversed and I was the boss, I would not want my people to avoid me.

I picked up the phone.

It was that employer telling me of a wonderful opportunity that has arisen which his internal doppelganger-tim told him I would enjoy.

His doppelganger-tim was a higher fidelity model than my doppelganger-boss.

The doppelganger I was listening to was not protecting me. It was robbing me of the joy of interacting wholeheartedly with the real person.

It was like an evil spirit haunting a crucial relationship in my life.

I recalled the woman I mentioned in the first paragraph above. I still wonder how supportive, accepting, and loving her real mother was compared to the doppelganger-mother she dreads so much.

Maybe we all have some doppelgangers to recalibrate.

Nicer in Real Life

I met some online acquaintances in real life (IRL). I remember hanging out for an hour or so when one of them told me that I seem surly and disapproving online but in person, I was (surprisingly) "charming and positive."

I later took a look through my past postings/tweets with an eye to understanding what social hints were built into my online persona. I saw how people who did not know me personally could easily have constructed an unpleasant Doppelganger Tim.

How fascinating!

Later on, I was having a voice-only conference call when one of my peers suggested a course of action and immediately warned us that he could see his "inner Tim" shaking his head and tsk-tsking.

This surprised me because I was enthusiastic about the suggestion.

This was a new revelation to me. Not only do we sometimes have miscalibrated doppelgangers, sometimes we unintentionally construct disapproving doppelgangers in the minds of the people around us.

A few other interactions, including a meaningful one with Christopher Avery in email, confirmed this revelation.

I can take responsibility for the image others have of me. Their doppelganger is built from memories of my interactions with them.

I learned that I can interact intentionally in such a way as to build a more true-to-life model for others. It helped me to express myself more authentically.

It's a journey, but early results are good.

Awareness, Curiosity, Appreciation, Responsibility

We could go to judgment and chide others for having fake mental models or being too hard on each other, but there's not much value in that.

It is clear that many (perhaps all) of us have protective mental models of people we know. Trying to not have those models is difficult.

It is equally clear that others have mental models of us, which may also be miscalibrated.

Where does that leave us, and how can we improve our experience?

I can intentionally recalibrate my doppelgangers by having more probing interactions with real people. By allowing myself to be curious about their motivations instead of assuming certain personality traits, I can allow the real people to speak for themselves. What I learn from the real interaction calibrates the doppelganger.

I can also try to inform other people's inner doppelganger-Tim so that they know what to really expect of me, especially to be sure they know what brings me great joy.

And it might be freeing to know that the troublesome spirits who haunt and torture our days are not entirely real, but a product of our own memory and imagination.

How we respond to our doppelgangers is as much a choice as how we respond to other people.  We can take responsibility.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Make People Awesome? Give Them Superpowers!

We need to explain our primary statement of benevolence, expressed as "make people awesome." This is intended to express that have an explicit goal of benefitting specific others with all of our work.

I have had so many apologetic conversations about the term, and it's been described in several articles (some well, some rather poorly).

The message is singularly hard to express, at least in a form that fits on the sticker.

Admittedly, it's 2017. Everyone is on high alert, and words trigger people in dozens of interesting ways.

To date, the primary triggers are:
  1. "make people" - which tends to be heard as "coerce, demand, or force"
  2. "awesome" - which tends to be heard as "valley girl talk", indicating the speaker is bubble-headed or shallow.  

In any longer discussion, we eventually get around to Kathy Sierra's book.  "Badass: Making Users Awesome"  which was one of Josh's inspirations.  There were a few tailorings going on, but the idea was here.

We don't say "badass" because that, by itself, is sometimes used to describe someone who is forceful and violent.  I'd be surprised if Kathy S. has not had many clarifying discussions over that misinterpretation.

We also don't say "users" in our little slogan. We believe in an overarching benevolence.  We want to make users "awesome" of course, but we also want that benevolence to extend to our teammates, managers, support people, DevOps, QA, sales. We want it to extend to our customers' customers.

Some people take "make people awesome" to be a demand that managers of development teams behave a certain way toward their teams. We're not excluding that message, but suggestions that we change it to something like "get out of your team's way" restricts the message to micromanagers only, and not benevolence to all our community.

Sadly, some people take the whole statement to mean "demand that other people behave in a way that you see as awesome" -- very far from what we intend. We would have said "demand awesomeness from others" if we meant that.

Likewise "be kind" doesn't cover it.  We are not trying to "just be nice" but rather to give the people we deal with an extra measure of capability, awareness, competence, and power. We want them to be, properly "awe-inspiring" to the people they work and live around.

And now I've tripped over "awesome" at least twice.

Let me explain.  I found an old article I wrote describing software as super-powers.

The idea is that there are systems that help doctors avoid drug interactions while they are in the act of prescribing drugs. This has had a huge impact on the world. Patients have fewer complications, doctors have fewer lawsuits, hospitals have less workload due to drug interactions. Compared to pre-software-assist, doctors are impressively aware of interactions and up-to-date with new alerts because of software. That software is "making them awesome" in some regards.

The idea of making people awesome is just that - always be looking for ways to multiply other people's ability to be successful in their endeavors.

It doesn't matter if they're coding, testing, managing, performing medical services, nursing, hosting parties, supporting software systems, installing cable TV, cooking dinner, or editing podcasts. We can always be looking to "make people awesome" at the things they do for others.

I don't know that we'll always hold to the current phrasing. I would be okay with finding another way to say this that also fits on stickers and is easily memorable. In most ways, the current phrasing is fine, if only there weren't so many triggers to trip.

The Lightweight Tweetstream

Once we had "lightweight methods" as a frequent topic of discussion. It's still the movement I pursue.
Some innovators came through and invented radically different ways of working, usually through collaboration and teamwork.
The idea of simplifying the workflow was met with much enthusiasm in some quarters and surprisingly hot disdain and outraged anger in others. Still, those practicing lightweight methods produced software quite well, so lightweight methods persevered. 
Lightweight methods took the name "agile", which is a perfectly good name.  Even so, I'll not use it much here. 
Lightweight methods pursue "the least process you can afford" at all times. 
  • If you can afford less documentation, then cut some of the documentation out.
  • If you can afford fewer queues and piles, then streamline your process. 
  • If you can afford a cheaper alternative to approval cycles or big plans up front, by all means, use the faster cheaper alternatives.
  • Can you replace an expensive, accurate method with one that is cheaper and less accurate, but the result is "close enough"? Then replace the expensive method.
  • Are there ceremonies and meetings you can cut out? Then why keep having them?
  • If your process quits working, then you may have less than you can afford, so you need to raise it up a notch or try simplifying a different part of the process.
Cool analyst techniques emerged. Techniques like story mapping and example mapping make it possible to release a feature in end-to-end "slices" so that the system always works, always provides value to some users (even if the whole feature-as-specified isn't fully written yet).
Lightweight methods sometimes find expression in safer practices, so fewer preventative governing processes are needed. 
  • If you integrate code all the time, then you don't have big ugly merges. 
  • If you work in groups, you don't need as many code/test reviews.
  • If your business/customer person is available, they can simply answer questions instead of writing explanatory documents. 
  • If you micro-test continuously, you can avoid a lot of bug fixing later.
  • If you automate boring, repetitive tests, then you can test more often and faster.
  • If all the dull testing is automated, then humans can concentrate on the interesting testing tasks.
  • If you keep code clean, you can make changes quickly without relying on the original author to explain and edit it for you.
  • If you have smaller batches, you can release more often.
  • If you test and release more often, releasing becomes a non-issue.
  • If you build through iterative enhancement, then you can choose to stop elaborating a feature once the remaining bits aren't very important.
  • If you collaborate all the time, you will need few meetings and documents (cf Mob Programming).
And of course, the biggest thing that all the lightweight methods seemed to do was (as Chet Hendrickson said) to "get the software working very early in the project and keep it running throughout."
Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment came along, enabled by new technologies. These help to further drive software development methods to become even more lightweight.
Sadly agile methods, in an attempt to scale up to very large organizations and automated management tools, quickly became heavyweight. Or, rather, a lot of heavyweight implementations and processes starting calling themselves "agile."  Some of the diagrams and methods require complicated diagrams and many roles and rules to operate, and are easily on par with the heavyweight methods that Agile attempted to replace.  
A series of "Nos" emerged.  NoEstimates,  NoProjects. No silos.

Likewise, limits arise. WIP = 1, Limited Red Society.

This is a familiar cycle. There is bloat, then reform, then bloat, then reform.
Rules tend to accrete. Someone has a misalignment - we make rules to prevent or recognize misalignments. People make mistakes, and we make rules to rule out the mistakes. People miscommunicate, so we build rules and documentation to correct their communication. People fail, and we add process and rules to force them to succeed when we want them to.

Over time, the basic rules of large organizations make rules and standardization and conformance look appealing, and we need sheriffs to make sure the rules are followed and auditors to check that the sheriffs are doing their jobs, and people-watchers to watch the people-watchers who watch the people who ensure that the rules are followed.

Me, I back the plucky group of rebels who try to downsize the process. I especially back the ones who replace rules and processes with human dynamics, human alignment, curiosity, concern for others, and healthy doses of modern automation to drive the dullness out of their daily work.

 I particularly like replacing recipes with values, curiosity, trust, alignment, understanding.

Heavyweight processes run on permission, rules, restraints, limits, conformance measures, numerical goals.

Lightweight methods run on agreements and experiments, enabled through trust and alignment.  This will always be the movement I pursue.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Dev Goal

As developers, we want to produce results and we want to produce them fast.

Normally, we work in the context of a team, where we all collectively want to be fast and stay fast, and produce results that work.

In order to become fast, we have to learn the tools and techniques which allow us to practice fastness and we need to measure whether a technique or tool actually lets us be sustainably fast as a group.

That's hard.

But it's important.

Today I was thinking about all the work we do and the practices we use.

In hopes that it will be useful to stir up conversation and debate, I have tried to sum up our practices in a small set of imperatives:

  • Write useful code only. 
  • Don't write defects.
  • Don't write code that invites others to create defects.
  • Don't write code which hides or obfuscates defects (yours or other people's). 
  • Don't cultivate habits which may result in code which contains, hides, or obfuscates defects.
  • Don't take your advantage at another programmer's expense: don't make messes for teammates to clean up, or take a personal speed-up with slows down the team, or take chances that may result in other departments working harder as a result of your "shortcut". 
And there you have it. 

Your comments are precious, including disagreements. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Getting stuff done.

Here is a week in the life of a technical coach.

I started the week by flying. I'm about an hour's drive from the airport, and this particular flight was only a couple of hours. When I land, I have about a half-hour to forty-five minutes standing outside in a taxi line, then an hour's drive to my hotel. The hotel is wonderful. I have fish-n-chips in the hotel restaurant and check in for the night.

The next day work starts.

I was working with a team (which remains anonymous). We had a quick talk, then picked up some work to do together. We agreed to try mob programming all day, with punctuated bits of explanation along the way.  I asked that we do real work all week.

However, I know it's threatening to pick someone's work that was done in private so far, and then put it on the board in front of everyone and spot code smells and issues. It just seems unfair. As a result we decided to do some real work that nobody had been working on yet.  I suggested that it could be in the existing code base so that we can work on "legacy" skills, but also if it were fresh code that would be fine.

The PO had a service that he thought would be very useful in his company, and since none of us had invested in the code already we agreed to do that work.

We began by establishing safety -- picking a stack, setting up an environment, establishing version control, installing test libraries -- so that we could start on the right foot.  The team picked a language that I was largely unfamiliar with (which is fine) and which most of them were only lightly familiar with (which is fine).

There were sets of features discussed. This was the "three amigos" meeting but done with a whole team instead of just a few people. We all pretty well knew what we were going to be doing.  The features were all too big to be cranking out several completed ones per day, so we took a little slice of a basic and essential feature and started.

We learned about the feature, the language, and the testing environment on the fly, and pretty soon had some BDD tests automated. Pretty soon we'd gotten the first test to pass, committed it, and were on to the next. We did several scenarios in the first day, refactoring and integrating as we went, learning how to write tests and code, relying on "doing one thing at a time" and constantly practicing "pickyism" on code and tests.

On the second day people were saying that this was pretty good, but it wasn't "real" code. Of course, I and the PO intended that it was very much the real code, in embryonic form. We listed the reasons it wasn't "real" and on the second day this list drove our prioritization. We did the most important part of making it real, then when something else was more important we switched.  There was some good discussion, and by the end of the day it was many check-ins further along and working as a proper server.

On the third day, besides doing demos, we completed the pipeline so that we were about 90% of the way to Continual Deployment. This involved a lot more waiting, so we used "downtime" to learn how to do things that we needed to do next. We were joined by people in the org who had heard good things about the real progress we were making.

Fourth day we picked up some "legacy" code (by the Michael Feathers definition) and spent the day cleaning, renaming, and refactoring so that we could easily add the next feature. This was another language that I was lightly familiar with, but had used once before for a couple of day several years ago.

We followed the Kent Beck rule:
When faced with making a change, first make the change easy (warning: this may be hard) and then make the easy change.
By the end of the day, the new change was relatively easy, and the code where the change must be implemented was all nicely "under test." Several new techniques were all pretty well-known by the team, and we pushed new code.

Also, on day 4 we found out that the work we did on the first three days had an internal customer already. We were close enough that only a couple of small changes would be needed to satisfy this internal customer -- even though we'd only completed less than half of the "why it's not real" list and did not complete the product backlog. It just turns out, as it so often does, that a very minimal slice of a product can provide value early in the development cycle. You almost never have to have all of the "minimal" features in order to make the code useful.

Friday? An hour to the airport, an hour in the waiting area, an hour plus on the tarmac, a couple hours in the air, an hour back home, and then logistics for my next trips and answering emails.

So, basically, I had travel and project work and then more travel. It's pretty simple. The hardest parts are mostly learning, but in software learning and thinking are 11/12ths of the work anyway.