Author: Tomas Rybing

I live in Stockholm, Sweden and have been working in IT since 1996, starting as a consultant and programmer. From 2007 my focus has switched to team leading, project leading, product management and development methods. You can find my blog at theagileist.wordpress.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheAgileist.

Design Thinking

This week I was invited by a former colleague to attend a breakfast seminar with the title:
“How to create Business Value through Design”

To be honest I barely know anything about this subject, but I was drawn to it by my former colleague’s words how it can “co-exist with the Agile world”, that I’m much more familiar with.

The presenter for the day was the professor and author Jeanne M. Liedtka, apparently her first visit to Sweden.

The Customer

(Picture taken during the presentation)

Introduction – What is Design Thinking?

Jeanne stated that there are as many definitions as there are experts in Design Thinking, but the one she is using was the following:

“Design thinking is a systematic approach to problem solving. What would be different if managers thought more like designers? Problem solving would be driven by three core beliefs:

  • Empathy – Start by establishing a deep understanding of human needs
  • Invention – Discover new possibilities
  • Iteration – Use the first solutions only as stepping stones to a better one”

Interesting quotes

During the presentation Jeanne said some interesting sentences that I wrote down, below I have tried to expand on them:

  • “Innovation is the new quality” – I couldn’t agree more. Everywhere you hear talk about innovation, we really need to innovate and so on, but many doesn’t seem to have figured out how yet. Maybe Design Thinking have all the answers?
  • “Don’t take data from the past to guess the future” – Nowadays you need to be “data driven”, but using existing data you can only take your product or service further in a predictable way. You really want to know your customers unmet needs.
  • “Innovation is not disruption” – This also strikes me alot. Whenever there is talk about innovation, the iPhone is brought up. Like there is only a small amount of people or companies that have the capability to make innovations, where it should be the total opposite (see next bullet below).
  • “Everyone can create better value” – You want every person in your company to feel that they can add to the whole, even “tiny steps” are a way forward to the bigger goal. 

Value delivered by design thinking

Jeanne ended her presentation by summing up the values delivered by design thinking:

  • Toolkit for producing more creative ideas
  • Risk management strategy
  • Facilitator of behavioral change
  • Vehicle for empowering local capability building
  • Way to convene conversations for change across diverse stakeholders.

Summary

Are you an agileist like me and have started to learn more about design thinking? Maybe you are an expert already? Whichever it is, I can now add CX (Customer Experience) to my list of known abbreviations 🙂

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

How to eat an Elephant?

Hello, let’s talk about the Elephant. Which Elephant, you may ask? I mean the elephant in the room. First of all, what is meant by that? A quick Googling give:

“If you say there is an elephant in the room, you mean that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”

”Elephant”

(Picture borrowed from sw.wikipedia.org)

Introduction

Have you had an elephant in the room? We have, for sure. For us it was building a new GUI. That task itself is possible to predict, plan and eventually execute. But given that the GUI is a very central piece in our product, there is tons of dependencies to it. So the impact a new GUI have on other components is very hard to predict, and “touching the GUI” becomes very risky. 

I was given the project that should, amongst other things, produce a new GUI. I had numerous meetings with people from all parts of the organisation, but got nowhere closer to a new GUI. We just went around in circles, until one day I realised, the organisation deems it’s almost impossible to build a new GUI. I, as being the project leader, was totally stuck… 

Story

I have a former colleague, his name is Alexander and he will soon retire after a long and very successful career. Alexander is extremely intelligent, a person that you come across once, or maybe twice, during your entire work life. If there was a question, he knew the answer, no matter what the question was about. I’ve learnt a lot from Alexander, but maybe the most important wisdom is the one I will now tell you about.

How to eat an elephant?

Once, Alexander and me, had the following conversation:

  • Alexander: “Tomas, how do you eat an elephant?”
  • Tomas: “Well I’m not sure… Usually I don’t eat elephants.”
  • Alexander: “You eat it in pieces, Tomas. IN PIECES!”

This, for me, is the most crucial part in Agile! In the project we now have addressed the first piece that was deemed most crucial, now we are planning to work on the next. I, as the project leader, feel confident again, and we are making progress! 

Summary

The learning from the conversation above, is that the only possible way to attack a huge problem is to break it down into pieces, and to work on the individual pieces. 

When you have done this for some time you have either “eaten the whole elephant”, or at least so much that you are satisfied.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

P.S. I have never eaten a real elephant, and I never will… 🙂 D.S.

Salvation: The Bungsu Story

A few months ago I had the great pleasure to meet Marcus Hammarberg in person, when he came to my company’s office for a talk called ”The Bungsu Story”. This is an inspirational presentation how agile and lean principles saved a hospital in Indonesia. The speech was based on his experiences that are also covered in the book, that I’m now about to review: Salvation: The Bungsu Story

Salvation: The Bungsu Story - Cover

The book has six parts, 21 chapters and 326 pages. The subtitle is: ”How Lean and Kanban saved a small hospital in Indonesia. Twice. And can help you reshape work in your company.”

Content

”This book is not based on a true story – it is a true story.”

We enter the story right after a major disaster happens to the hospital. During the rain period the partly renovated roof has fallen in. By all means everything is at risk from this moment on. Marcus and his small team from the Salvation Army steps up to the challenge to help the management team of the hospital. But first he digs in, literally, cleaning up after the disaster with the roof. Theory of Constraints is used to improve the process, when the buckets are given up for rice bags (to get rid of the debris).

Part II is called ”The rebuild”. Now the work starts to save the hospital using agile and lean. Example of things that are introduced:

  • The Not List (to keep focus during discussion)
  • Limit WIP (minimize the number of concurrent work in the process to enable flow)
  • Three stages of coaching.
  • Definition of Done -> Gives common understanding.

Things start to move in the right direction, but not as swift as anticipated, but a motivation speech (fully covered in chapter 5) takes care of that!

”Measure to learn – not punish!”

In part III, named ”The backsliding”  the momentum from the start ends up in the inevitable plateau or decline. The war cry from mob programming: ”Turn up the good”  is one of the tools used to push forward. At one point Marcus jokingly says: ”If only there was another emergency for us to handle. That would be great for morale!” You should be careful with what you wish…

Circumstances running a hospital in Indonesia forces the management team to lower the income at the same time as increasing the cost, it is time to get down to business again for Marcus and his team.

”What is the smallest step you can take to see if you’re moving in the right direction?”

Visualizations are used throughout the whole story in Bungsu. Marcus advice is not to overdo the board, keep it simple to let the visualization evolve over time! Chapter 18 is called ”Trust, Transparency, Accountability”. Here the lovely story of Ibu Elsye is told (she is the General Manager of the hospital, taking care of everything else but health care and finance at the hospital). She is totally stressed out over her situation, but with some encouragement and guidance she makes wonders…

Recommendation

I can totally recommend this book! Here are my main reasons why:

  • This book is authentic (see the first quote above), it shows that lean and agile principles works even in a hospital (a context outside of IT)!
  • This book is the perfect sequel to ”Kanban in Action” (which Marcus co-wrote together with Joakim Sundén), which is more theoretical.
  • The chapter with the story of Ibu Elsye (that alone is worth the money buying this book)!

I had the huge honor to help Marcus out as a beta reader for this book, and it was really rewarding to revisit the text when 100% completed!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Democratic retrospective

When a new member started in my team, he brought with him this interesting format for a retrospective. We have fine-tuned it together over a couple of iterations, and now there is time to write a blog post about it 🙂

Democratic Retrospective

Introduction

This format for retrospective have five steps to execute during the meeting:

  • Warm up
  • Zoom in
  • Feedback
  • Voting
  • Discuss & Assign.

Below I will go through each and one of them, in some more detail.

Warm up

We always start with a short warm up exercise to “wake up our brains”. As a facilitator I will put out a statement, like the following, to the meeting participants:

  • “Think one minute for a movie character that, for you, represent the last two weeks.”
  • “Think one minute of a car manufacturer or car model that, for you, represent the last two weeks.”

After a minute or so I address each meeting participant individually, and they have to tell their choice + shortly motive it.

Zoom in

After we have gotten our brains going, we start to “zoom in” on the past time period that the retrospective shall cover. This we do using something we call “Pass the pen” (named as a homage to the good old “Pass the pennies”-game 🙂 )

Preparation: Draw a timeline, vertically (NOT horizontally!), on a whiteboard with three points: “Start”, “Middle” and “End” (see the picture above). The timeline is drawn vertically to make it easier for the meeting participants to write in events (from left to right) during this exercise.

Exercise: All team members are asked to stand in front of the whiteboard, with the timeline drawn onto it. A team member ask to  “pass me the pen” and write one thing/event that did happen during the time period. When done, he or she holds up the pen in the air, and another person can ask “pass the pen” and so on. Let this go on for about 3-5 minutes, or events are stopped being added.

This exercise is used to, as a group, remember what did actually happen during the time period that the retrospective shall cover. It’s very easy to forget.

Feedback

This step is where most of the time shall be spent during the retrospective.

Preparation: The facilitator draws sections on the whiteboard (see the picture above) for the following five categories:

  • 🙂 – Positive.
  • 😦 – Negative.
  • ? – Questions without a solution.
  • <flower> – Positive words to share with a colleague, within, or outside of the team.
  • <lightbulb> – Ideas/solutions.

Exercise: The meeting participants are asked to spend 10-15 minutes on writing post-it:s fitting the five categories presented above.

When everyone is done, one meeting participant at the time, steps up to the whiteboard and puts up their post-it:s + give a short verbal description for each one of them.

Note! Different colors on the post-it:s can be used to separate out each participant, if wanted/needed.

Voting

The retrospective now starts to come to an end, only two steps remain. In this step post-it:s from 😦 , ?, and <lightbulb> are grouped together on the whiteboard. The positive ones are of course great, and we shall be happy of them, but we don’t need to bring them further in the retrospective. For the <flowers>, those are collected by the facilitator and handed out to the ones that received them, after the meeting.

For the voting, the famous agile method of “dot voting” is used. Each participants gets three (or any other suitable number) “dots” to use how they want on the post-it:s.

To not bias each other (that much), all the participants gather in front of the whiteboard, with one pen each, and place their dots “at the same time” (after a “Ready, Set, Go”-call).

The (group of) post-it:s are now rearranged a bit again. Place the one(s) with most votes at the top, followed by the second most votes and so on.

Usually it’s quite easy to sort out the top 3-5 ones. The rest is abandoned, democracy have spoken and they have been decided “not important enough to take further at this point of time” (of course they can, and will, emerge again in a later retrospective).

Discuss & Assign

Time is soon up for the meeting, and the last thing we do is to discuss the top 3-5 activities/tasks that we select to take forward. This is done by discussing them to find concrete actions, and also to assign them to persons (that will own them).

Summary

What do you think about this format for a retrospective? To me it’s a nice mixture of “writing feedback on post-it:s” and Lean Coffee (democratically decide what is most important, in this case, to bring further). This retrospective can (and shall) be combined with an activity to follow up on actions from previous retrospectives. Best of luck with your next retrospective!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Remote Retrospective using Lean Coffee

Do you have any problems with your retrospectives? Is there a few people with “strong voices” that gets their saying every time, talking about what they consider to be the problems, whilst others remain silent (and no light is shred on what they think is wrong)? We had that problem, and it kept me busy thinking for a better approach to perform retrospectives, where we discuss what everyone in the team agrees are the most important.

”Coffee

Lean Coffee & remote team

Since I’ve been attending a few Lean Coffees arranged in Stockholm, I thought that would be a good format to use, also for a retrospective. I fired off some searches on the interwebz, that made me confident that it would work (more information to be found here and here)!

However, there was one more challenge to solve. The team was a remote team, with two individuals not working from the main office. How to solve that nicely? Since I’m a huge fan of digital boards, my solution was a shared board in Favro!

”Board

(Digital Kanban board in Favro with four columns: ”To Discuss”, ”Discussing”, ”Done” and ”Actions”)

Introduction to Lean Coffee

If you don’t already know about Lean Coffee, I will now shortly introduce you to that. So, what is Lean Coffee?

”Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated.” – http://leancoffee.org/

It was created 2009 in Seattle by Jim Benson & Jeremy Lightsmith. If you happen to be in Stockholm and wants to experience the real thing, you can click here for more information.

How does a remote retrospective using Lean Coffee work?

Preparation prior to the retrospective meeting

  1. In your favourite digital tool (we use Favro), set up a simple Kanban board with four columns:  ”To Discuss”, ”Discussing”, ”Done” & ”Actions”. See the picture above for how it can look like.
  2. Provide access to the digital tool for all the meeting participants.
  3. If several of the meeting participants sit together (in a meeting room), bring a laptop and share the screen on a TV/projector.
  4. Use Skype/Slack/other phone conference solution for audio.

During the retrospective meeting

  1. Generating topics – Each meeting participant starts to write 1-2 sentences on for each topic in the past time period (scope of the retrospective) that they would like to discuss. Either they add the ”stickies” directly to the digital board themselves (using their laptop), or the meeting moderator can take the physical stickies and write them into the digital board, using his or her laptop. Remote participants will of course add to the digital board directly. A set amount of time is spent on this step (like 3-5 minutes for a one hour retrospective). All ”stickies” are placed in the ”To Discuss”-column.
  2. Presenting topics – Each topic is shortly introduced by the one who wrote the ”sticky”.
  3. Dot voting – Each participant is given three ”dots” to freely distribute amongst the topics. On the digital board dots (.) (or better *) can be added after the describing text. For convenance, it’s easier if one or two meeting participants do this at the same time (to avoid conflicts and confusion).
  4. Order the topics – The topics are ordered in the ”To Discuss”-column, most ”dots” comes first.
  5. Start to discuss – The topic with the most ”dots” is selected to the ”Discussing”-column. It’s discussed for 8 minutes (a timer is set).
  6. When time is up, participants vote with their thumbs:
    – ”Thump up” – Continue to discuss the topic for 3 more minutes (then vote again).
    – ”Thump side” – We can go on with this topic or take the next, it doesn’t matter for me.
    – ”Thump down” – This topic is discussed enough and set to the ”Done”-column. Move on to the next.
    (Participants in the meeting room uses their physical thumps, remote participants can just say what they are voting, or paint a thumb on the shared screen, this is possible in Slack).
  7. Documentation – During the discussions the meeting moderator shall write comments & actions in the digital Kanban board directly, this information can be taken further.
  8. When to end – Discussion continues until meeting time or topics are out. But what about meeting time ends before all topics are discussed? Well, the team have voted and what they considered the most important topics are hopefully already sorted out. If not, call for a new meeting, or let the topics stay in the ”To Discuss” column for next retrospective (maybe it then gets the votes needed to be discussed, if not, well it’s not that important after all, the team has considered).

After the retrospective meeting

If you (I assume you are the meeting moderator 🙂 ) have played your cards well, you don’t have to do anything afterwards! Actions are nicely put in the ”Actions” column to take further. For reference the topics with detailed comments can be transfered to a more permanent storing in a wiki or Confluence-page.

Summary

I hope you now have a way to perform democratic remote retrospectives! One thing to mention, if the team is not used to this format, is to be a bit flexible with the timer and the thump voting. The timer can be seen a bit stressful and limiting for the discussions. Usually you can ”feel” when a topic has been discussed enough, then you can go on to the next. That goes for the thump voting as well, You can ”see” the level of engagement for a topic, and thereby know when it’s time to move on.

if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck with your future retrospectives!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

Humans vs Computers

I first learned about Gojko Adzic, who is the author of the book I’m soon going to review, when a friend told me about this presentation on YouTube ”GOTO 2014 – Adaptive Planning Beyond User Stories”. He is also the author behind other books, like ”Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects” & ”Fifty Quick Ideas to Improve Your User Stories”.

I let Gojko himself introduce you to this book, ”Humans vs Computers”:

”As a professional software developer, I’m much more guilty than the average person of driving civilisation towards a digital apocalypse. At the same time, I’ve been on the wrong end of a computer bug frequently enough to appreciate the pain that such a thing can create. This book is my attempt to raise awareness about some common and dangerous, but perfectly preventable, types of software blunders. I also want to help ordinary people fight back against digital monsters.”

Humans vs Computers - Cover

Content

As you now may imagine, this book is full of anecdotes about software working bad 🙂 The stories are divided into the following sections:

  • Artificial but not intelligence
  • The surprising facts about our world
  • Algorithms as fast as food
  • Wild wild tech
  • The inverse monkey rule

As an example I can tell you about the first story presented in the book, called ”Licence to void”. This is about Robert Barbour from Los Angeles that wanted a new licence plate for his car. Barbour was fond of sailing and selected as his top two choices BOATING and SAILING. But the form he was using had three mandatory fields, so he had to give one more, and wrote ”NO PLATE”. A few months later a computer at the Department of Motor Vehicles interpreted literally something that humans would easily understand as a missing piece of data. Barbour’s first two choices were already taken, so the licence plate was issued for his third choice.

A plate saying ”NO PLATE” sounded quirky enough so Barbour kept it. The problems started a month later, when he started receiving notices for parking fines from all over California. When a illegally parked vehicle did not have a licence plate, the officers still had to to issue a ticket and the computer system needed a plate, so they wrote ”NO PLATE” 🙂

Recommendation

If you are in the software business this is a fun book to read. The last section ”The inverse monkey rule” also gives you advice on how to avoid the errors described in the book.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

More Agile ahead!

Hello dear readers,

Long time no see! I haven’t published a new blog post in a very long time… Partly I’ve been occupied with other things, but I’ve also felt that I don’t have anything exciting to write about. Now I have started a new job as Agile Project Manager at Quickspin, a Swedish gaming company. Now I will hopefully be involved in more Agile stuff that I can write about. I also got the spark back for writing again, when I read that another blogger had picked up some of my old stuff!

”Formula”

(Picture borrowed from www.jile.io)

My top 5 blog posts

In the meantime, before I get some new stuff out, I would like to recommend my top 5 blog posts (that continues to attract readers, with a high steady state of page views per year):

  1. The Arrow – Advanced kanban board (This is my evergreen, I wonder if I ever can write another blog post that becomes as popular as this one…).
  2. The Phoenix Project (A book review, that gains awful lot of traffic, and I don’t really know why. I have now started to read a new book by Gene Kim called ”The Devops Handbook”. Stay tuned for that book review!).
  3. Retrospective with timeline (A neat way to get feedback on, for example, a project).
  4. Priority pyramid (My very first visualisation, that also got acknowledged by the Agile community!).
  5. Context switching – Public Enemy No. 1? (This is actually the second blog post I wrote, after the first standard ”Welcome to my blog”. Truly honoured that it still gets so much attention 🙂 ).

Summary

Which one of my blog posts are your favourite? What do you want me to write more about in the future? Don’t hesitate to contact me!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist