Monday, December 28, 2015

How Did We Do in 2015?

Looking back at 2015, I will drink to that.
The end of the year is a special time.  For me, it is an excuse to dress up in formal ware, have a good meal, and stay at a hotel where my only risk is trying to find my room key.  It is also a time to make a few predictions and look back at the previous year.  This week I wanted look at some of my past predictions and see how accurate I was.

Last year, I made three major predictions. The first was that competition will do what it is supposed to do in 2015.  In the world of wireless phone service, this seems to be working as a full scale price war has broken out between Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile.  Unfortunately, this is not the case regarding net neutrality as major cable operators including Comcast were trying to create pay for faster service paths.  I am also concerned about plans which do not use data for preferred streaming services.  It also looks like oil prices are also falling because American production capacity is matching that of the OPEC nations.  Competition works if we let it and 2015 validated this.

My next prediction was that the internet of things would pivot.  To many people outside the tech world, the only kind of internet of things they see are home thermostats and the smart televisions that are being marketed.  I think that we are a long way away from smart refrigerators which will reorder food or water heaters which will conserve energy by burning gas when it is cheaper.  Still smart watch use continues to grow and I helped this trend by getting my father a smart watch for Christmas.  After some hiccups setting up the watch, things are going well.  If my seventy something father can use a smart watch, then the future of wearable technology might have a chance.  As for the rest of the internet of things, I think we are going to have to wait a while longer.

My final prediction in 2015 was that agile was going to grow.  I was correct in that prediction but with that increased growth came backlash.  Corporations are learning that in order to be agile they will have to change more than how software is written.  Financing of projects and the relationship between business people and technology professionals will have to change.  This type of change has been especially hard for more conservative organizations who have been doing things a particular way for so long they see no reason to change.

In addition to push back from the CFO and the finance department, developers are also revolting.  Things like SOILD development and test driven development are skills which challenge many developers who began as hobbyists and then entered the field.  The discipline of scrum also has created push back because for years many developers have been able to hide in plain site without having to create shippable product.  That has changed and now it is easy to spot poor quality work and sandbagging among the development staff.  Software engineering is starting to resemble actual engineering and it is a positive trend.  For those unwilling to adapt they are pushing back.

So those were my predictions for 2015, next week I will make some predictions for 2016.  I look forward to seeing you then.

Until next time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Holiday Message from Dirty Fingers.

Have a good Christmas.
It is easy to get discouraged at the office.  There are lots of mean, petty and crazy people.  You also have to cope with bureaucracy and office politics.  As a scrum master these issues come with the territory.  This week I wanted to take a break from that and give everyone a message of hope.

The world is a cruel place and life can be nasty and brutish.  This does not mean that we have to be.  The Christian holiday season is a time to spend with family and take stock.  There are going to be many changes in 2016 and I will be previewing them next week.

I have a great many things to be grateful for in spite of the windmills I keep jousting in my current roll.  I am rolling along in my middle age healthy and happy.  I have great family and friends who are supportive.  I also have the community of agile developers and scrum masters to provide me help and guidance.  I would not be here and this blog would not be possible without your support.  I would also like to single out two people in particular Bill Buse and Alan Dayley for being my personal muses and mentors this year.  Thanks guys.

So I would like to wish all my readers a Happy Yule, a Merry Christmas, and a joyful Kwanza and look forward to seeing you in 2016.

Until next time.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Making a Difference

How does a scrum master describe his job at the
office party?
The other night I was having dinner with someone who worked as a nurse.  I understood what they did for a living and when they discussed their work it was easy to understand their frustrations and successes.  Then I told them I was a scrum master and they gave me a blank stare. It seems the world of technology has not filtered out to the fly-over country and so I spend a lot of time explaining to people what I do for a living.  This week I thought I would help others have that awkward conversation about what you do for a living.

At first, I struggled with metaphors to describe what a scrum master does.  In a way, we are coaching helping software developers and business people do their work faster, better, cheaper, and with less hassle.  It did not seem adequate.  Then I thought about Stephen Ambrose and his book, Band of Brothers.  A scrum master is like a platoon leader for a group of para-troopers.  They lead, look after the well-being of their people, and are on the front lines of the software development action.  It seemed a stretch because I do not jump out of planes or get shot at by enemy troops.  May-be a scrum master is like an orchestra conductor getting developers and the business to play together.  Again not very good because classical music does not have a culture of improvisation that developers use to get the job done every day.

May-be I should skip the metaphors.  Each day, I work with developers from Chennai, India.  Then I go into the office and try to work with the on shore developers.  Next, I help my product owners learn to write business stories.  I spend a few minutes being demeaned by my project manager and try to stay positive for my software developers and my business leaders.  I manage up setting expectations and receiving one-word e-mail replies from vice presidents who don’t have time for me unless something is wrong.  I am sweating deadlines, answering awkward questions, and pushing the people I am responsible for to complete deadlines.

I have to be a cheerleader staying positive in some of the most discouraging situations.  I have to be an actor because I have to receive abuse and condescension from business people and say that I like it.  I am a business consultant showing people how to do things a better way and I am a therapist as I help my developers get through personal problems and business frustrations.  It is also a calling like being a member of the clergy because we are pushing people to see a better way.

The best answer I can give is that a scrum master makes a difference.  Many of the software products you use and the apps on your phone are built by software developers.  The scrum master makes sure that construction gets done.  The scrum master keeps the wheels of the global economy spinning as they take numerous conference calls and sitting through endless meetings.  We are not middle managers; we are on the front lines making things happen.

So the next time someone at a holiday party makes a remark about what they make, smile and given them a steely stare and say you make a difference.  It is the only way I can describe what a scrum master does.

Until next time.

Monday, December 7, 2015

You can't fight mother nature.

The flooding is pretty bad in Chennai
This has been an unusual week.  My off-shore development team have been off-line because of horrible flooding in Chennai, India. I have been worrying about the health and safety of my teams which include a few newlyweds and new parents.  This natural disaster also gave me pause to think about the things we can’t control.

A common theme in Western literature for the last two hundred years is the struggle human beings have over nature.  We have fought it on land, sea and air.  We have endured terrible cold and withering heat.  Authors from the naturalistic period of writing have been very honest with their readers.  People struggle against nature and sometimes nature wins.  More contemporary writing has ignored this wisdom and has championed human engineering and willpower.  Some books pioneer the bogus notion that we can use our willpower to transcend reality.

This kind of magical thinking has crept into the business world. It is not uncommon for project managers to think that if people work harder, faster, or smarter that can overcome the constraints of time and nature.  It is true that we can manage time better, but we cannot change the fact that you cannot force twelve months of work into five months of time.  Each day project managers and scrum masters are asked to do this and it undermines the very nature of our profession.

There are contingencies which can be made and allowances which can be incorporated into a plan.  Unfortunately, real life gets in the way and projects slip.  As Mike Tyson used to say, “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the mouth.”  People get sick, snow falls, and entire cities and engulfed in flood waters.  People who make software are not tools to be used up and thrown away.  Software developers are not resources, they are flesh and bone people; so asking why the project is not on track is not only stupid but insensitive.

My heart goes out to the development teams, their families and the citizens of Chennai, India.  I hope all of you get through the catastrophe safe and sound.  Some things are more important that project deadlines and this is one of them.

Until next time.