Peter Winer's Chapter 3 http://peterwiner.com New York and California, now London Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:13:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Spreadsheet Sprints: Fastest Way to Test-Drive Agile http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/spreadsheet-sprints-fastest-way-test-drive-agile/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/spreadsheet-sprints-fastest-way-test-drive-agile/#respond Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:08:52 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2114 Spreadsheet sprinting is an easy and cost-effective way to get started with Agile.  Too often, Agile adoption involves learning new terminology, tools and methods.  Spreadsheet sprinting bypasses the learning curve and enables immediate focus on priorities, goals and tasks. In

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Spreadsheet sprinting is an easy and cost-effective way to get started with Agile.  Too often, Agile adoption involves learning new terminology, tools and methods.  Spreadsheet sprinting bypasses the learning curve and enables immediate focus on priorities, goals and tasks.

In 2017 Agile is state-of-the-art for software product development.  When Agile is fully realized, prioritization of work becomes transparent.  Stakeholders can review progress in real time.  Product managers can identify and resolve blockages.  Teams can measure productivity and do a better job of hitting milestones.  Design, engineering and testing are linked so efforts are coordinated.  Communication improves as silos are broken down and sharing increases.  Teams can be more responsive when plans need to change.

Agile adoption can be challenging and expensive

But Agile also has costs and often meets resistance when newly introduced.  Stakeholders are sceptical because Agile doesn’t emphasize completing product specifications before work starts.  Unless managed correctly, product completion goals and timing are sometimes harder to see.

Spreadsheet sprinting using swimlanes and MVP
Spreadsheet sprinting using swimlanes and MVP

Agile tools typically require big upfront investment.  Even more importantly, Agile requires a philosophical transition to new and unfamiliar concepts including User Stories, Scrum Teams and Sprints.  Meetings are more numerous including daily standups.  More time is spent documenting work and recording progress.

And it takes significant time for Agile benefits to kick in.  From our experience, it can take more than two months to adopt good practices for documenting and prioritizing work.  Successful sprints with acceptable completion rates typical don’t happen until the fifth month.  Providing stakeholder visibility requires a constant commitment to developing and improving dashboards.  Developing the ability to predict and accurately hit milestones can take six months or more.

It’s simply not efficient to spend time learning new tools and learning new concepts when teams should be focusing on completing the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and progressing down critical Swimlanes.  Getting to the Next Key Stage of product completion, branding, funding, staffing, digital presence and revenue growth.

There is a better way.  

Agile Agile drives acceleration and focus toward key objectives

Agile Agile is a new methodology that focuses on priorities, goals and milestones.  With Agile Agile, we bypass learning new terminology, tools and methods.  We go straight to clarifying, aligning and accelerating progress toward key objectives.

MVP tasks
MVP tasks

Agile Agile is aimed at ventures developing innovative new products.  This includes startups and innovators in large established organizations.  Agile Agile focuses on medium-term planning which is the bedrock for organizations trying to reach the Next Key Stage across all areas of growth.  It also enables the flexibility to adapt when plans need to change from new ideas or environmental factors.  While Agile Agile is effective for engineering, it can also be applied broadly to branding, staffing, funding and digital presence.

This article is a continuation of the series, “Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile methodologies”.  Previous articles introduced the key concepts of focusing on a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and defining Swimlanes.  Here, we weave the concepts together and show how organizations can glide into Agile with minimum distraction and rapid benefits.

Setting up the Spreadsheet Sprint

An MVP spreadsheet is a good tool to focus and prioritize all engineering efforts.  Recall that MVP has just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.  MVP is reached by executing tasks.

The Swimlanes spreadsheet covers all the critical drivers of company growth.  These are the requirements for getting to the Next Key Stage.  Each Swimlane is comprised of corresponding goals and milestones.  Swimlane goals are translated into MVP tasks and added to the MVP spreadsheet.

Each MVP task description answers the following questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. Why do we need it?
  3. What is its priority?
  4. Who is going to do it?
  5. How long will it take?
  6. How much will it cost?
Swimlanes Goal & Milestone
Swimlanes Goal & Milestone

The MVP spreadsheet is meticulously groomed.  No task is longer than 2 weeks.  Bigger tasks are always subdivided.  No individual person has more than 2 weeks of top priority tasks.  No top priority tasks are blocked by incomplete prerequisites.

Sticking to these requirements, we can sort the spreadsheet to separate the top priority tasks.  This set of tasks is assigned to the first two-week sprint.  The team intends to fully complete 100% of these tasks within 2 weeks.  In Agile, this set of tasks is known as the ‘sprint backlog’.  Copy the sprint backlog tasks to a newly shared spreadsheet.

Executing the Spreadsheet Sprint

Now select the two-week period.  Most teams will simply define 2 weeks from Monday #1 to Friday #2.  For various reasons, I prefer spanning from Wednesday #1 to Tuesday #2.  Either way is fine.

To prepare for sprinting, add new columns to the spreadsheet which will specify:

  1. Date of most recent update
  2. Is the task blocked?
  3. A phrase describing status
  4. URL (pointer to more information)

The first day of the sprint starts with a planning meeting.  Use this meeting to verify that every team member understands and commits to their tasks for the sprint.  Since all team members were involved in forming the spreadsheet, there should be few misunderstandings.  If necessary, make adjustments.

And then work starts.  Each task owner should update their current task daily.  Managers and stakeholders can review the spreadsheet daily.  This will provide a snapshot of all status.  The project manager can trigger discussions to clear up any blocked tasks.

Complete and Repeat

Work continues this way for 2 weeks.  The last day of the sprint ends with a review meeting.  This meeting is for summarizing accomplishments.  No doubt there will be incomplete tasks.  It’s possible some tasks were not started.  This should not be surprising.  Predicting engineering velocity is challenging and elusive.

Sprint backlog
Sprint backlog

Remaining work from sprint backlog tasks should be merged back into the MVP spreadsheet.  Now is the time to groom this spreadsheet again with the same criteria as last time.  Groom it meticulously.  Then sort and select the backlog for the next sprint.  Use the experience of the previous sprint to adjust commitments.  Learn from this experience to improve the predicting team velocity.

Spend some review time on a retrospective discussion.  Talk about what worked and what didn’t work.  Make adjustments which could include lengthening the sprint to 3 weeks and/or scheduling 1 or 2 intermediate ‘check in’ meetings for the team or a subset, within the sprint.  All ideas are good.  Try to sense what will work best for your team.

Go Forward

The process of spreadsheet sprinting is quite informal and not very proscribed.  Top priority is fully completing commitments from the backlog.  This while maintaining priorities and focus that perfectly align with reaching MVP and progressing through Swimlanes to the Next Key Stage.  Avoid time-wasting and distraction from new terminology, methods and tools.  Focus on forward progress.

After 3 sprints, your team will be accustomed to the tempo of sprinting.  You will start developing sprint culture and best practices.  At that point, you can consider more prescription of tasks, commitments, progress, completion and validation.  These topics will be covered in future articles.

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River Thames Annual Draw Off http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/river-thames-annual-draw-off/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/river-thames-annual-draw-off/#respond Sun, 12 Nov 2017 21:47:14 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2104 Every November the weirs are lifted between Richmond and Teddington Lock for the Thames Annual Draw Off.  This allows the Port of London Authority to drain the water to its natural level at low tide so that essential maintenance work

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Every November the weirs are lifted between Richmond and Teddington Lock for the Thames Annual Draw Off.  This allows the Port of London Authority to drain the water to its natural level at low tide so that essential maintenance work can be carried out on the lock, weir and sluices.

The River Thames
The River Thames from Teddington Lock to Richmond Lock

I’ve been walking the river between Eel Pie Island and Richmond Lock Bridge for the past couple of weeks.  Here is a selection of my photos.

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Ditch the slides and use placemats instead http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/ditch-slides-use-placemats-instead/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/ditch-slides-use-placemats-instead/#respond Tue, 07 Nov 2017 18:48:28 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2097 When you present slides in meetings, you know it’s difficult to keep audiences engaged and happy. Not surprising because slide presentations are structured, sequential and always stretch at least 30 minutes. Stakeholders are overbooked, rushed and stressed. People want immediate

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When you present slides in meetings, you know it’s difficult to keep audiences engaged and happy. Not surprising because slide presentations are structured, sequential and always stretch at least 30 minutes. Stakeholders are overbooked, rushed and stressed. People want immediate answers without waiting for the final few slides.

Sometimes it’s impossible to keep the audience engaged. About three years ago, I decided to stop trying. Whenever possible, I prefer placemats in favor of slide decks.

The idea for placemats comes from… placemats! Think about Denny’sIn-N-Out Burger or any diner. Placemats tell a story or tempt you to order dessert. You can go through a placemat in any order, at your own pace, learning as you are comfortable. Give your audience a placemat and let them discover your content as they please.

This makes me hungry for some dessert!

How to use placemats

Make one placemat that captures your essential idea. Print one copy for each three audience members and spread them on the conference room table before the meeting starts. As people arrive — some punctual, some late — direct them to the placemats. Let them ingest the content as you offer to answer their questions.

This placemat tells a story. Imagine presenting your essential idea like this.

Invariably placemats make audience members happy, mainly because they can get the content in 3 minutes instead of 30. Groups will form, huddled around a placemat copy, starting discussions.

I typically bring slides too. I use the slides to provide details and jump to them when answering related questions.

Placemats frequently elicit outpourings of gratitude! Imagine inviting someone to a 30 minute meeting and you give them the full story in 3 minutes. They are free to leave early. Catch up on other stuff. Or stick around and learn more. With placemats you provide that choice. They are a great tool for promoting ideas and generating goodwill. A win-win!

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To Ski http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/to-ski/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/to-ski/#respond Tue, 07 Nov 2017 10:39:13 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2089 Around this time last year, I offered myself to join all ski trips.  “If you’re going, I’m in.”  The result was really good. I skied in France and Austria.  I started at Courchevel Le Praz with Caroline who forced me to ski

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Are we having fun yet?
Having fun yet?

Around this time last year, I offered myself to join all ski trips.  “If you’re going, I’m in.”  The result was really good.

I skied in France and Austria.  I started at Courchevel Le Praz with Caroline who forced me to ski 33 miles and 33K vertical every day.  We took a complete tour of Les Trois Vallees.  Caroline has 100+ days there and knows every nook and cranny.

Then I went to Chamonix with Uncle Phil and two of his buddies with an emphasis on wine and food to complement the skiing.  In the middle, it dumped and we had a powder day in the trees on Grands Montets.  Almost Utah.

Up and down
Up and down

I met my nephew Thomas a couple of weeks later for two days at Mayrhofen, Austria.  The second day was a white-out on the Hintertuxer Gletscher.  Auntie Julia and her boyfriend Max joined for days three and four, arriving just in time for blue skies and untracked snow on the Gletscher.

Finally, Alice and I had a lovely trip back to Courcheval and lots of quality time plus quality skiing.  An excellent postscript to an outstanding first season in the Alps.

The call to action

All I can say is, “Let’s do it again!”  If you’re going, I’m in.  The more, the merrier.  More is better.  Seriously.

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Leveraging Swimlanes to reach the Next Key Stage http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/leveraging-swimlanes/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/leveraging-swimlanes/#respond Mon, 06 Nov 2017 11:25:37 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2071 Swimlanes provide a good model for focusing efforts in groups trying to reach the Next Key Stage.  In my work with startup ventures, I encourage management teams to develop a list of swimlanes.  Each swimlane encapsulates effort for driving to

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Swimlanes provide a good model for focusing efforts in groups trying to reach the Next Key Stage.  In my work with startup ventures, I encourage management teams to develop a list of swimlanes.  Each swimlane encapsulates effort for driving to the next stage of product development, branding, digital presence, funding, recruiting talent or increasing revenue.

This article is a continuation of my series, “Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile methodologies”.  In the series, I am showing how teams can quickly start benefiting from Agile.  Transitioning to Agile can be accomplished with minimum disruption and maximum productivity gain.  In organizations, Agile methodologies can be used to help product development and can improve to all aspects of growth.  This works equally well in venture-backed startups and large companies.

Maximizing Benefit from SwimlanesMy first article focused on easing the transition to Agile by thinking of Agile as a Second Language.  Next, I used MVP Spreadsheets to show how companies can leverage existing efforts and move to Agile with minimum disruption.

In this article, I use my interpretation of swimlanes to show how companies can extend the benefits of Agile beyond core product development.  The benefits of Agile are applicable every aspect of growth.

I developed these techniques over the past ten years with clients and as a manager at Cisco, then Intel.  They work equally well in startups and innovative teams within large corporations.  Team size is flexible.  All the management stakeholder teams have been 6 – 12 individuals.  Engineering teams have varied from 12 to well over 100 multi-function contributors including engineering, testing, design, scrum masters and product architects.  If you are driven to reach the next stage on the path to delivering great products, the swimlanes model is worth considering.

Interpreting Swimlanes

In classic process management, a swimlane is a visual element used in process flow diagrams to distinguish business processes.  A simple example from Wikipedia shows a flowchart overlaid on a set of columns.  The flowchart steps are arranged in columns.  The columns are used to associate the steps with processes that contain them or people responsible for delivering them.  Imagine a flowchart for developing a feature in which the task flow spans design, engineering, usability, functional testing and performance testing.

My interpretation of swimlanes is broader and less restrictive.  To me, a swimlane is any critical focus area.  Examples include User Experience Design and Digital Presence.  Each is paired with required, high priority work and assigned to a specific owner in the organization.

I do not use swimlanes to make complex flowcharts.  The lanes flow horizontally.  Vertical markers indicate calendar dates and sprints boundaries.  Imagine you are swimming a 400-meter relay medley.  Instead of four round trips, you lay 8 Olympic pools end-to-end.  Laps are marked at each eighth of the total distance and associated with elapsed time.  More markers are added for each significant stage in the 400-meter swim.  When does each swimmer enter and leave the water?  When do they start their kick?  Each swimmer swims a different stroke, so the total distance is divided into four phases.  Lanes for each swimmer have different markers at various points along the length.

Swimlanes example

In a recent engagement, I helped a company seeking Series A investment.  While in the Seed stage, the company was entirely focused on proving their inventions, writing good code, deploying to test sites and demonstrating unique value.  Typical for Seed stage.  Companies need to have a broader set of capabilities and strengths for Series A.

Technology is still a significant focus, but other areas are critical including branding, digital presence, intellectual property protection, roadmap, market intelligence and recruiting.  For the client we identified 18 key swimlanes:

Example SwimlanesEach swimlane has distinct timing, priority and resource requirements.  Some swimlanes were already existing and flowing.  Among the new swimlanes, some could start immediately, and others deferred for lower priority or resource limitations.

We can build a swimlanes spreadsheet from such a list.  After information is collected and analyzed, the spreadsheet can flow into the “Agile Agile” methodology and help a company achieve goals with minimum disruption and maximum productivity benefit.

The Swimlane Framework

Swimlane FrameworkThe swimlane framework is a simple set of steps for defining the swimlanes, setting up the goals for each swimlane and flowing into the MVP process.

Start with an empty spreadsheet to make a list of all swimlanes.  Gather your team around a big screen or a shared screen on Zoom or Google Hangouts.  Everyone contributes ideas and one moderator types them into the first column named, “Swimlane Name”.  The names will come thick and fast until everyone has their say.

The moderator is typing the names.  This person should look for similarities, repeated themes and synonymous names.  Some ideas are not separate lanes, but just expand the scope of an existing lane.  In some groups, the moderator can manage these refinements while the team is naming lanes.  If this is challenging, just record all ideas and save the refining for later.

Refining, pruning, aggregating are essential.  I call this distilling.  You will be using these names for a significant time, so it is essential to refine them and nail down the best definition.  In the example above, User Experience Design and Front End Technology are closely related but critically different.  Also, Customer Acquisition, Customer Provisioning and Customer Support are all similarly named but distinct and separate.

Naming the Swimlanes
Naming the Swimlanes

Once you have the full bin of ideas, the team can adjourn while one or two moderators finish distilling the list.  The result is a set of swimlanes that precisely cover the top focus areas for reaching the Next Key Stage.  The moderators should also write one sentence “Definition” for each swimlane in the second spreadsheet column.

Definitions for Swimlanes
Definitions for Swimlanes

Reconvene to reach consensus

When the group reconvenes, review the moderator work and tune it to reach consensus.  Next, assign an “Owner” for each swimlane.  Certain individuals will own more than one swimlane.  In my example, a single person held Market & Message, Prioritized Usages and Roadmap Requirements.  Another individual controlled the three Customer Technologies –  Acquisition, Provisioning and Support – plus Digital Presence.

Finally, the group should discuss time intervals.  The spreadsheet has three columns so far named, “Swimlane Name”, “Description” and “Owner”.  Define the next 10-12 intervals of time.  In most cases, one-week intervals work well.  Add ten columns named “Week 1” to “Week 10”.  If you are already sprinting, you can synchronize the interval columns to sprint boundaries.  In my example, the team was already executing 3-week sprints, so I assigned two columns for each sprint.

Set up time intervals
Set up time intervals

Now adjourn.  Each swimlane owner should define goals and milestones across the set of intervals.  Most swimlanes will have 3 – 4 goals.  Owners should create a phrase for each and submit them to the moderator.

Collect, merge and think

The moderator will collect and add all swimlane goals to the spreadsheet.  The result is a set of horizontal lanes aligned with time-based markers stretching to the 10-week horizon.  This is similar to the 400-meter Olympic pool above.

The moderator should screen for high-level consistency and feasibility.  Are any goals prerequisites for others?  Are they in the correct order?  Is there too much overlap?  Do we have the people and resources drive all swimlanes in parallel?

The moderator can resolve some issues independently.  Others will require a caucus with one or more owners.  Some require the full team.  The moderator should work offline to resolve all issues that don’t need the entire team.  This should elevate the plan consistency and feasibility.

Swimlane Goals
Swimlane Goals

The team reconvenes to ratify the moderator’s work and resolve the full team issues.  The team should also take a hard look at the big picture.  Can we accomplish everything?  Always prioritize limiting the scope and raising quality.  Should specific goals be pushed to a later time?  Should we defer starting certain swimlanes until a later date?

Swimlanes flow into MVP

At this point, we have a set of agreed swimlanes with agreed goals and timing.  This is a great accomplishment.  Now turn the focus to execution.  Each goal can be translated into a thing for the MVP Spreadsheet by mapping the columns.

Execution can get a little tricky here, and I will cover this in more detail in a future article.  The swimlane and MVP spreadsheets are meant to be simple tools for starting to adopt and extend Agile in your organization.  At some appropriate time, it makes sense to reduce reliance on spreadsheets and move to more formal tools with a specific Agile purpose.  Kanban charts represent swimlanes in most agile tools.  The views in Zenkit are an excellent place to start when spreadsheets are no longer sufficient.

Sort, rank and sprint

Once you translate swimlane goals, they can be managed using the MVP process.  Reference my MVP spreadsheet article.

The combination of swimlanes and MVP is very potent, and it exemplifies two critical facets of “Agile Agile”.  First, it is possible to adopt Agile with minimum disruption and maximum productivity boost.  Second, Agile can extend from product development to managing and improving all aspects of company growth.

 

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At Home in Twickenham, London, UK http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/at-home-in-twickenham-london-uk/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/11/at-home-in-twickenham-london-uk/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 13:22:39 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2048 I returned to Twickenham on Saturday.  It’s really good to be back.  I missed Alice, my children and the insanely stupid dogs.  We’re now all in the UK.  The children are all at school. New York Finale In New York,

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I returned to Twickenham on Saturday.  It’s really good to be back.  I missed Alice, my children and the insanely stupid dogs.  We’re now all in the UK.  The children are all at school.

New York Finale

NYC Party - On me!
NYC Party – On me!

In New York, we receive a ridiculous number of junk phone calls.  So I was a bit cautious when a caller said they were from one credit card company.  The caller was reporting an unfamiliar transaction.  I ended the call and went online.  I was surprised that there were about 10 bogus charges in about 5 hours the previous night.  Somebody bought clothes, drinks at the Highline Ballroom, parking in Brooklyn and souvenirs at Barclay’s Center.  Almost $1,000.  Not bad for one night out.

Honestly I can’t figure out how this happened.  The card never left my sight.  Anyway, I took it as a sign that it was time to hit the road and escape from New York.  Better luck next time!

Draining the Thames

Richmond Lock and Weir
Richmond Lock and Weir

Readers of this blog know I’m a student of the River Thames.  Our segment of the Thames is semi-tidal.  Teddington Lock is upstream and operates as a typical lock.  Richmond Lock is downstream and has a movable weir that is raised for two hours either side of high tide.  The river is tidal for two hours of each 13-hour tidal cycle.  At all other times it flows like an ordinary river.  Below Richmond Lock the river is fully tidal.  It empties almost completely at low tide, depending on recent rains.  Near the middle of our segment there’s an obelisk marking the boundary of responsibility between the Environmental Agency and the Port of London Authority.

White Swan to White Swan
White Swan to White Swan

So the Thames is managed this way.  As a result, a canoe can navigate between the White Swan Richmond and the White Swan Twickenham any time, any day.  Except during November.  Each November, the weir remains raised for the entire month.  Our segment of the river becomes fully tidal and drains at each low tide.  When the river is drained, crews can haul out a year worth of debris.

Last summer an operator at Teddington Lock told me about the lock’s submerged works and some similar infrastructure at Richmond Lock.  In the next week I’m planning a bike tour to photograph the locks at low tide.  Stay tuned.

Bletchley Park – early cloud service?

An Enigma Machine
An Enigma Machine

Yesterday I accompanied Harry’s Computer Science class on their field trip to Bletchley Park where the Enigma Code was broken during World War II.  The guided tour and workshop were fascinating.  We used an original three-rotor Enigma machine and learned how they worked.  Nine thousand people worked at Bletchley Park during the war.  They managed to maintain complete secrecy.  Breaking Enigma was considered impossible.  Turns out that German errors helped the British break the code.  Certain messages always started or ended with consistent phrases like “Weather report” or “Heil Hitler”.  These could be used as references on which to base the daily decoding.  One station in North Africa transmitted the message, “Nothing to report” dependably every day.  After discovering this, the British specifically protected this enemy station for the remainder of the war.  It provided another daily benchmark to enable decoding.

Toward the end of the war, the allies had over 200 Enigma machines distributed across North America and England.  Distributed to avoid a single point of failure.  Listening stations were also distributed and distant from the Bletchley Park facility.  Whenever a message was collected, time on an Enigma machine was requested for decoding.  It was a distributed fault tolerant system.  Configured like a cloud service.  In some sense the worlds first cloud service.

My year-end writing holiday

Nerds at work
Future Software Developers

As a consultant I typically gave myself a holiday from clients every December.  Instead of working on client projects I would work on programming ‘pet projects’ or serious projects that added value to our licensed intellectual property.  That’s one wonderful benefit of the software developer career and lifestyle.  I truly love writing code.  Every December I was able to do my favorite thing and create value at the same time.

Can you find the error in this code?
Coding Error

This year I’m restarting the tradition with one key difference.  I’m going to write instead of developing code.  I’ve been posting on LinkedIn, Medium and here.  I’m writing about “Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile methodologies”.  First I covered teaching Agile as a second language for groups unfamiliar with it.  More recently I wrote about defining an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) from a spreadsheet.  I have one more article in my head right now.  After that I’m going to start work on connecting these into something more cohesive.  Just like the coding holidays of years past, I expect to create value.  This time I’m developing a set of practices and guides to consulting services I will begin offering in 2018.   Watch this space.

P.S. Speaking of code.  I saw this snippet on the wall at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto.  It’s got a semantic error.  Try to find it.

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At Home in Flushing, Queens, New York City http://peterwiner.com/2017/10/home-flushing-queens-new-york-city/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/10/home-flushing-queens-new-york-city/#comments Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:22:22 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2032 I’m at my desk in Flushing Queens New York.  In the States for the first time in 6 months.  Been gone long enough that everything’s different.  It’s my original home, so I reacquaint quickly and now it all looks the

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Flushing Queens New York
Flushing Queens New York

I’m at my desk in Flushing Queens New York.  In the States for the first time in 6 months.  Been gone long enough that everything’s different.  It’s my original home, so I reacquaint quickly and now it all looks the same.  Driving around, sharing the road with the hurried drivers, my attitude is evolving a little bit every day.  Got to escape soon.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s all good and all good fun.  I discovered something about New York drivers.  When you move into their lane on the highway, they honk at you.  They are not trying to keep you out of the lane.  The are honking to say, “I see you.  We won’t collide.  Join my lane.  I’ll share my space on the road.  Namaste.”  You believe that?  I do.

Driving around, New York looks like chaos.  If you look up chaos in the dictionary, you should see a picture of New York.  I always thought it was a good thing.  Proud I was born in it, raised in it, survived it.  Now that I live elsewhere, it sometimes just looks a little bit wrecked and dirty.  A bit smelly.  In the subway you don’t want to touch anything.  People don’t seem to mind.  They just get on with it.

New York Gym

Long Island Expressway also known as the big L.I.E.
Long Island Expressway

First day I arrive, I always renew my membership in the local gym.  It’s not very clean, not modern and the members are big guys.  Mostly free weights and they blast speed metal.  You can work up a good sweat though.  It’s across the street from my former junior high school.  I usually go over there at 4 o’clock after the school kids clear out.

Mostly I’ve been busy with friends and family.  Did see two good museum exhibits.  The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America at the Brooklyn Museum and An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017 at the Whitney Museum.  These are both worth seeing and particularly poignant in the current political climate.  There’s a striking similarity to issues we still face today.

No theatre, sports or tunes.  No time.  Did manage eating at Michelin award winning Dumpling Galaxy in Flushing and Xian Famous Foods in Chinatown.  Drove to Rockaway for the boardwalk followed by lunch at The Wharf.  Also attended Renee’s Gong Bath in Astoria last Saturday night.  Renee is da bomb, or da gong!

The Promised Land

Whitney Museum
Whitney Museum

In the middle I went to Bay Area for 6 days.  I rented an AirBNB converted garage in downtown Mountain View and a Cadillac CTS from Sixt.  The garage was surprisingly comfortable and location was perfect for meeting people on Castro Street. 

The Cadillac was completely unexpected.  I almost refused it for obvious reasons.  Pleasantly surprised by the quality torque, turning and ride.  Ridiculous dashboard and overwhelming haptic sensors.  The sound system was fine when combined with my fully-loaded iPod.

Met with clients and spent a lot of time with old friends and neighbors.  Lost count of how many times I told my story of life in the UK.  It’s great.  10 out of 10 for Alice, 8 out of 10 for me.  Not bad, eh?  My three children are much happier.  The dogs have the biggest lifestyle improvement of anyone.  My mom is also with us, generally 3 months at a time.

Back to Brexit land on Saturday.  More reflections on this journey after my return, once it’s a bit distant in my rear view mirror.

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MVP Spreadsheet: Easy Tool for Gliding into Agile http://peterwiner.com/2017/10/mvp-spreadsheet-agile/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/10/mvp-spreadsheet-agile/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 20:14:10 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=2018 Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key ingredient of Agile. MVP is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.  Teams can easily sprint with an MVP Spreadsheet using familiar tools

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Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key ingredient of Agile. MVP is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.  Teams can easily sprint with an MVP Spreadsheet using familiar tools and processes.

This is a continuation of my series, “Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile methodologies”. The previous article “Adopting Agile as a Second Language”, focused on evangelizing Agile and getting started with minimum disruption.

Reaching MVP can be the most important milestone for Agile teams in both startups and established organizations. An MVP can be tested with real users. This can justify further product development or reveal required course corrections. In the worst case, testing disproves key assumptions and allows a team to stop development, cutting their losses.

Venture investing and standup comedy

Reaching the Next Key Stage

I like comparing this to stand-up comedy. As a comedian, you can practice endlessly in front of a mirror. Until you try your jokes in front of an audience – giving your MVP to real users – you don’t know if the jokes are actually funny. Anybody can make their family laugh. Funny people can make their friends laugh. Only a true comedian can make total strangers laugh.

And the same applies to products. Many entrepreneurs can convince friends and family to make small investments in their companies. Gifted storytellers with exciting ideas can raise seed money from wealthy casual investors. Multiple forms of proof and justification are required to raise large rounds of Series A funding from professional venture capitalists. A robust validated MVP is just one of these proofs.

MVP or Next Key Stage

In my consulting practice, I work with entrepreneurs in early-stage startups. My focus is helping startups evolve from Seed to Series A. We typically develop multiple ‘swimlanes’ that define milestones for products, funding, intellectual property, branding, recruiting and other key factors. In this context, the journey to MVP is a swimlane but it also impacts other swimlanes more broadly.

Swimlanes

MVP is the earliest product version that satisfies some users. Reaching MVP is a vital milestone that helps enable funding. This is true in startups where the funding comes from outside investors and established companies where funding comes through a budget process. The MVP can be used to support patents and trademarks, build partnerships and attract talent. MVP can enable progress in multiple swimlanes.

Sometimes it makes sense to broaden MVP thinking beyond product features. The process of defining MVP can be extended and viewed as the Next Key Stage. What are the minimum requirements for moving our team to the Next Key Stage of development, maturity, funding or liquidity. In this sense, MVP is concrete value that’s created when a team finishes the next set of key work.

Break down MVP into a set of ‘things’

From the narrow perspective, MVP is a list of features. More broadly it’s a list of features, tasks, assets, artifacts and proofs. It’s what you need to reach the next stage. It’s a list. For each ‘thing’ on the list you need to answer the following questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. Why do we need it?
  3. Who is going to do it?
  4. How long will it take?
  5. How much will it cost?

My preferred ‘flavor’ of Agile is relatively formal. I like purpose-built tools like Rally and Target Process. I believe there are big benefits to writing user stories, organizing sprints, driving burndown, measuring velocity, building stakeholder dashboards and following priorities. That said, I also recognize the benefit of lighter weight tools like Jira, GitLab, Zenkit and Trello.

But I’ve also come to learn that adopting new tools is rarely easy. Many startups implement Agile in spreadsheets. It’s important to recognize the benefits of spreadsheet-based Agile and harvest strategic value without requiring any process change or new tools. I believe there’s a good way to describe MVP in a spreadsheet and use it to guide effective Agile development.

Starting an MVP Spreadsheet

MVP Spreadsheet

Start with an empty spreadsheet to make a list of all MVP work. Gather your team around a big screen or a shared screen on Skype or WebEx. Everyone provides ideas and one person types them into a single column named, “What”. The ideas will come thick and fast until everyone has their say.

When the flow tapers off start the second column named “Why”. Don’t overthink the reasons or worry about consistency. Just provide one or two words for each thing. You can go back and adjust later. Categories will emerge and the relationships to swimlanes will become apparent.

In a recent exercise, most things fell into four categories:

  • Prerequisite – we can’t do anything else until this is done
  • Feature – users will be unhappy without it
  • Proves science – our unique approach and competitive advantage
  • Digital footprint – seeds our online brand

It’s easy to see how these can support various swimlanes leading to the Next Key Stage.
Next, work on the “Who” column. For each thing provide one or two names. You can also use terms like “anybody”, “new hire”, “TBD”, “chief data scientist” or the name of an outside partner.

Make estimates in the “How Long” and “How Much” columns. I also recommend making the spreadsheet sortable. This allows easy grouping by “Why” and “Who”.

Sort, rank and think

Let’s have some fun!

Now start sorting, ranking and thinking. This could expose imbalances in the “Who” column. One or more team members will be overloaded with work. Nobody else is qualified to do it. This is a good time to add another column named “Priority”. Contents of the column could be “yes” and “no”, “high” and “low”, whatever works for you. Adjust “Who” and “Priority” until nobody is overloaded with top priority things.

If you can’t resolve overloading for a team member, you might need to move some of their things to “new hire” and make a “Prerequisite” thing for hiring a new team member.

While sorting and ranking, you can start making “How Long” estimates. Consider subdividing any thing that’s bigger than 2 weeks. This process works better when all things are 2 weeks or smaller. You can also start estimating “How Much”. Sometimes things with high costs must be postponed until resources are acquired or otherwise become available. Acquiring resources can be specified in additional “Prerequisite” things.

Sort, rank and sprint

Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile Methodologies
Agile Agile

Sort by “Priority”.  This reveals the most important set of things, balanced across team members and feasible in 2 weeks. This is sprint 1. My article titled, “Adopting Agile as a Second Language” explains how to use this to start a series of sprints leading to completion of MVP or – more broadly – the Next Key Stage for your team or startup company.

This is the ultimate use of “Agile Agile”. You can move to Agile without learning new tools and without learning challenging new processes.

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Adopting Agile as a Second Language http://peterwiner.com/2017/10/agile-as-a-second-language/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/10/agile-as-a-second-language/#comments Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:03:02 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=1992 With my clients the first job is always adopting or improving Agile.  My methodology is named, “Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile methodologies”.  This piece is about the first steps, winning support and starting to sprint with minimum disruption.

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With my clients the first job is always adopting or improving Agile.  My methodology is named, “Agile Agile: The Agile adoption of Agile methodologies”.  This piece is about the first steps, winning support and starting to sprint with minimum disruption.

Winning support always requires some evangelism. The prospect of change meets with reluctance. Two common concerns I hear a lot:

“We can’t start engineering until we have a complete spec.”
“We don’t have time to write user stories and attend meetings.”

You might find it surprising that I hear both concerns at the same time. And I hear them from both Waterfall teams in big organizations and very young nimble teams in early-stage startups.

Agile Tool
Agile Tool

From another perspective it’s not surprising. All development teams need to know their ultimate goal. They need to know what product they’re shipping. Management pushes for a spec, viewed as completely describing the goal and product.

And every person on every team is ridiculously busy. Adding processes like sprint planning, daily stand-ups, reviews and retrospectives isn’t possible. No features are developed in these meetings and no bugs fixed. Everyone has more important work and no time for user stories and meetings. Time for learning a new Agile tool? Never!

So here’s what I do

Agile is like learning a second language for these teams. Teach it the same way English is taught to migrants as a second language. Teach teams to function better than they did, in the same environment, with the same goals, but a new language and additional benefits. Minimize change and take steps toward Agile without changing existing priorities and without unnecessary process change.

Trello
Trello

I encourage writing specs as a planning process. Teams should adopt a shared vision for their product and an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) list of features. Typically in a spreadsheet. Also user experience designs and project plans showing dependencies and milestones. These create visibility on resource requirements so teams can adapt and grow with the best mix of skills and experience.

Specs are never finished. It’s impossible to cover every detail in every aspect. Not possible to design every detail of every visual and interactive design element. Can’t measure every performance requirement or optimize every Microservice before engineering starts. Also plans change and specs need to be maintained.

Focus on ensuring the best use of time for all team members. Use the artifacts from the spec to set priorities and save time writing user stories that describe work. This is the best way to start Agile as a second language. Show the quickest benefits with the minimum change and minimum disruption.

The concrete details

MVP Spreadsheet
MVP Spreadsheet

Start with the MVP spreadsheet. If you don’t already have it, add a column for priority and rank the features. Make a second column for prerequisites. Use this column to identify the features that have the fewest prerequisites. These are the features for which work can start immediately. Prerequisites could be other features, hiring a new developer, licensing a tool, completing a design, fixing certain bugs or anything else. It doesn’t matter if you name the prerequisites or give a number to the size of the prerequisite or just put an asterisk next to features with no prerequisites.

Now you can sort the MVP spreadsheet based on priority first and prerequisite second. Let’s focus on the top priority features with the least prerequisites. I’ll whisper a secret, this is the backlog for the first sprint.

But not so fast

Zenkit

We’re not really sprinting yet and we don’t have support for Agile adoption. What we have done is identify which features should be developed now. We’re confident these are the top features so we can invest in describing the work thoroughly.

Describe each feature. Gather all available artifacts. This includes algorithms, schemas, interfaces, designs, performance requirements and test plans. Identify which missing artifacts are required before work can start.

Assign an owner or two owners to each feature. Have them write a very brief overview of the feature and a bullet list of tasks to execute. The first tasks should address any missing artifacts. Once this is complete for every feature, you have the first sprint plan.

The summaries, task lists and pointers to artifacts should be stored in a single online-accessible repository. I recommend both ZenKit and Trello boards. Each feature can be a card or each feature a list with cards for each task. Any purpose-built Agile tool will support this too, but not required at this point. For very small teams, a simple spreadsheet or document would suffice.

As work progresses, the repository should be updated. Links should be added for new artifacts. Tasks updated as they are completed. New tasks added and obsolete tasks tagged or deleted. Do this for 2 weeks. Redo the entire exercise after 2 weeks, starting with the next priorities and prerequisites in the MVP spreadsheet. Also carry over any unfinished work from the first 2 weeks. Now you are ready for the second sprint.

Every subsequent sprint will be easier to plan. Each sprint should address the top remaining priorities in the MVP spreadsheet. If the product vision changes, the MVP spreadsheet will change accordingly. The process of planning sprints remains the same.

The benefits

The MVP can now be ranked and sorted to show the top priority and most achievable features. This is the most important work to be accomplished in the next 2 week sprint. The team has a repository which is a system of record showing top work for the team. The repository is online so it’s visible to all management and other stakeholders. As work is completed, forward progress is visible to everyone.

This is the first stage of Agile Agile, the Agile adoption of Agile methodologies. We’ve leveraged existing process and artifacts. We’ve minimized disruption and change. The team has an online system of record visible to management and all stakeholders. We can see immediate benefits of visibility, adhering to priorities and the potential for measurable progress.

In future posts I’ll present the next steps for easiest Agile adoption with maximum benefits.

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Origins of Agile Agile http://peterwiner.com/2017/09/origins-agile-agile/ http://peterwiner.com/2017/09/origins-agile-agile/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 15:32:33 +0000 http://peterwiner.com/?p=1984 I first experienced Agile methodology at Flip (acquired by Cisco) in 2008. I was a follower. We hired a new engineering director who insisted on Agile. I was skeptical but soon converted. With Agile, our organization of 200 people immediately

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I first experienced Agile methodology at Flip (acquired by Cisco) in 2008. I was a follower. We hired a new engineering director who insisted on Agile. I was skeptical but soon converted. With Agile, our organization of 200 people immediately improved focus and virtually eliminated unimportant, low-priority efforts. We developed our own customized version of Agile Scrum and managed to improve our software deliveries.

Starting at Intel in 2011 there was no doubt I would build my organization for Agile. I quickly encountered resistance and doubt. My team was responsible for camera software on Intel’s mobile architecture. Intel had thousands of people developing Android mobile phones and tablets using 100% waterfall approach. Many people told me there was no place for Agile. Some criticism was very intense.

As a new leader, I was required to host a 2-day face-to-face meeting within 3 weeks of my start date. Attendees traveled from North America, Europe and Asia to attend. I had to present my strategy, milestones, organizational structure and execution methodology. I needed to present – and gain acceptance – for our Agile approach. I decided to distill Agile into fundamental terms and a three-stage approach.

My audience could relate.  I met with some success.  Managers using waterfall could understand that stage one focused on specifications composed by product requirements and engineering resource responses.  They could understand that a product owner was essentially a product manager who owned responsibility for the sum of all the requirements and responses.  Stakeholders were the arbiters who approved all product decisions.

The waterfall managers had trouble accepting stage two.  Sprint planning and sprints were anathema.  Planning for one sprint at a time was inadequate when a full project plan was required.  Dividing the team’s work into sprints seemed unnecessary when you could make a detailed Gantt chart where each thread would have it’s own asynchronous milestones.  The scrum master role was not understood.  The idea of daily standups was met with almost haughty derision.

Stage three was accepted intuitively, but I couldn’t show proof.  I don’t believe new Agile teams can reach stage three until the fourth, fifth or sixth sprint.  Three weeks into the job I could only promise predictable deliverables and real-time visibility for stakeholders.

For better or worse, we barged ahead.  Throughout my career I’ve never shied from taking risks and attempting to convince non-believers.  We could have retrenched back to waterfall and reduced doubt but I swear by Agile.

We learned a lot.  The three phases became the seed for “Agile Agile” approach which embodies an “Agile approach to adopting Agile methodologies”.  It’s been an interesting ride.

In upcoming posts, I’ll write about the lessons we learned.  First, how to better relate Agile to waterfall management.  Second, adding more intermediate stages that foster more solid results and better information for stakeholders.  Third, some recommended tools for Agile management.

 

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