Monday, January 25, 2016

The Two Olive Paradox

Beware the Two Olive Paradox
I have worked in the business world for over twenty-five years.  When I left college my hope was that I would work with grown-ups who would do the right thing.  Experience has crushed those hopes like peanut shells on the floor of a baseball stadium.  This week, I wanted to write about one of the pathologies I have noticed in business world and how it is effecting the implementation of agile and scrum.

This week news broke widely about the poisoning of water in the city of Flint Michigan.  If you are interested in understanding the details of the situation, I strongly recommend this article from  Suffice to say this is the failure of government on a local, state and federal level.  This failure has a root cause and it is what I like to call the two olive paradox.  Politicians, technocrats, and business people want to save money to look like they are being fiscally responsible and instead create situations which cost significantly more money.

I use the phrase two olive because it is based on a true story from the world of air travel.  Robert Crandall, was the president and chairman of American Airlines.  He was able to figure out that if he removed an olive from an in-flight salad leaving two olives, he would save $100,000 a year and that passengers would not mind.  It has become legendary among business school students, professionals, and journalists.  Crandall didn’t really address the falling market share of the airline in the 1980’s or improve customer service but he was able to save the company and the shareholders money.

Since that time in the 1980’s business people have done everything they could to emulate Crandall.  In my career alone, I have seen toilet paper rationed, office supplies cut back, and training and development cut back all for the sake of saving a few thousands of dollars in corporate budgets in the millions and billions.  For the scrum master, this means technical debt festers, mission critical technology becomes obsolete, and quality developers quit because they are not being compensated correctly.  This is the two olive paradox creating petty solutions because we cannot or will not solve the real problems in the organization.

How does this tie into Flint Michigan?  The state appointed administrator after cutting police service and renegotiating the contracts of every municipal employee, and cutting pension commitments still needed to save money so he attempted to do it by finding an inexpensive source of tap water.  Thus, he went to Flint river instead of water from Lake Huron or Detroit.  Concerns about pollution were ignored and in the end water from the Flint river started flowing through the taps.  When activist started to complain the un-elected authority did the usual thing and attempted to protect itself without fixing problem they caused.  It would take the attention of national media in order to get people to pay serious attention to poison flowing through the tap water.

In many respects, a scrum master must be like those community activists from Flint.  They have to raise awareness, point out problems, and work within the system to try and make change.  It is not a very good way to advance your career because most managers that I have encountered want people who go along and get along being likable rather than trying to solve problems in the organization.  It is frustrating.  I struggle with this in many of the organizations I work with.

So be on the lookout for the two olive paradox, because if you see business leaders thinking this way your life as a scrum master is going to get very complicated.

Until next time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Darkness of a Scrum Master

Each Scrum Master has their own version of the Darkness
The biggest challenges of a scrum master are personal challenges.  These are the emotions that well up inside while you are doing your job.  It is confronting personal failure and shortcomings of others. This week I want to talk about the emotional challenges of be scrum master.

David Foster Wallace was a famous author who publicly battled depression and alcoholism.   Wallace referred to his depression melodramatically as “The Darkness.”  It was an all-encompassing cloud or sludge which polluted his life.  I live with darkness myself each day.  Work is never on time.  Budgets are too tight. The hours are too long.  The coffee is either too hot or too cold.  Instead of being in control of my work and destiny; I am carried along by meetings and expectations I did not set.

This is when the darkness creeps into my life. It is the moment I do not feel like a professional but rather a cog in a large machine spinning endlessly spewing out profit and broken lives.  I am sure it would drive some to drink.

I asked some of my friends and colleagues in the Agile+ Community about how they deal with the stresses of the job. Some common themes came up in the conversation.  Talking to other scrum masters helps.  Taking time off and long lunches seem to help.  The consumption of alcohol came up often.  The most important theme was talking through the issues.  Scrum masters need to celebrate successes and learn from failures.  We need to find a healthy venue to complain about developers who are not living up to expectations.  Finally, we need a free and open exchange of experiences because it will help lessen the stress of the job.

As a scrum master, all eyes are on you.  The emotional toll of the job should not be ignored and everyone should take steps to beat back the “Darkness” which comes with the job.

Until next time.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Globalization and a Scrum Master

Cold but keeping on.
Chicago in January, is an exercise in mental toughness.  I am sitting at my desk very early in the morning and it is single digits in Fahrenheit and deep in the negative in centigrade.   In spite of these difficult conditions, the tap water is still flowing and my house thanks to central heating is warm.  I am connected to the world wide web and each week day I communicate with my development team in India who live eleven and a half hours in the future away from me.  I live in the global economy and for good or ill it shapes my life.   This week on the blog I wanted to discuss what how scrum masters like us mean to that global economy.

One of the realities of technology is that it has increase the productivity of workers by a significant margin, the margin is so significant that wages have not kept pace with these increases.  According to Manfred B. Steger, in his book “Globalization: A Brief Insight,” this has created three visions of how the world economy works.  These visions are: market globalization, justice globalization, and jihadist globalization.  Agile and the scrum belong to the justice globalization vision of this new world.

The market globalization vision is pretty familiar to many of us in the United States.  It is dominated by notions of free-trade, economic neo-liberalism, and clear winners and losers.  Jihadist globalization is a rejection of those values.  It is a longing for “the good old days” whatever those were and can be represented by groups as diverse on the political left and right as ISIS and the militia groups occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  Justice globalization in many respects is a triangulation of these two paths.  It incorporates values from Occupy Wall Street, Amnesty international, The Agile Reformation, and the latest innovations from the social sciences.  Let me explain.

Instead of globalization having winners and losers, those into justice globalization, see beneficiaries.  From the Uber drivers picking up passengers, to the members of the corporate board room; all of them receive the benefits of the work done and a services provided.  Work is sustainable, efficient, and provides dignity.  If it seems a little Utopian it is because it is.  Not only does it require changes in how work is done on the corporate level which is what I think the Agile reformation is attempting to do but it is going to require changes in government policy and cultural perception.  It is not going to be easy and it is going to require the collaboration of many people.

So where does the scrum master come in to this world?  We are the ones enforcing the values and principles articulated in the agile manifesto.  We are the ones making sure that the work is sustainable and of a high quality.  We have to be the ones saying “no” to people in authority when they are asking nine people to make a baby in one month.  We make the phone calls when there are obstacles in the project.  Each day, a network of technology professionals exchange phone calls across the world making sure that everything is going well and keeping the wheels of commerce spinning.  We are agents of social justice and change.  We make it possible to do business in the cold nights of January and the warm month of August.  Not a bad calling, if you ask me.

So to be a scrum master is to throw your lot into the world of Justice globalization.  Not a bad place to be in the 21st century.

Until next time.

Monday, January 4, 2016

My predictions for 2016

Predictions for the new year
are best enjoyed with a glass of wine.
The holidays have ended and now it is time to get back to business in the New Year.  Last week, I discussed how I did with my predictions in 2015.  This week I would like to put myself out there for my predictions for 2016.

Apple stumbles – 

Apple has had a string of hits with consumer technology over the last fifteen years.  From the iPod to the current smart watch trend, Apple has been making lots of money and looking like harbinger of future tech.  I think they are due for an embarrassing product release or major technical failure on par with its spat with Google Maps.  I say this because many of the technical press are noticing changes in the company’s commitment to innovation.  Instead of trying to wow customers, it looks like they are settling on being just good enough.  This is a recipe for failure and once they have a public and humiliating failure, I get the feeling the gang from Cupertino are not going to let it happen again.

Microsoft Stands tall –

The release of Windows 10 has been a very pleasant surprise with a clean interface which is smart enough to know the difference between tablet, laptop, and desktop computing.  It plays nice with most of my peripherals and I look forward to its expanding application environment.  I think that the Surface Pro 4 is a superior computer to anything from Apple.  It is also encouraging to see how Microsoft has embraced the software craftsmanship movement with Moq testing, SOLID principles and open source development with the release of Visual Studio 2015.  I think that 2016 is going to be a great year for the gang at Redmond.

Disruption in the Scrum Alliance –

The Scrum Alliance is the umbrella organization for professional certification with in the agile community.  It has been going through several changes on the board of directors and as I have attempted to earn certification, I have received a front row seat for many of the disputes and family squabbles that have gone on in the organization.

I believe that these are the growing pains of an organization which is trying to provide companies with a competent and experienced work force of professionals who are want to spread the word about Agile and Scrum.  It is not pretty but neither was the protestant reformation and western civilization would not be what it is today without it.  Since business is relying on creative workers more, they are going to need to embrace Agile and Scrum in order to make those creative workers more successful.  The Scrum Alliance is leading that change for the better but they are also trying to practice what they preach.  Change and disruption are not easy and I think that Scrum Alliance will get through it.

Politics and Tech –

Finally, I do not like to get political on my blog but with 2016 being an election year I will make an exception.  I think that Carly Fiorina will not become the republican nominee for president and even if she does, I will do everything in my power to make sure she does not win the general election.  I despise her with the same intensity that Hunter S. Thompson hated Richard Nixon.  She is the representation of everything I have spent my entire career working against.  What she did to Hewlett-Packard when she was CEO was unforgivable and should be an object lesson of what NOT to do in executive leadership.

The Congress will continue to be Republican and the White House will remain Democratic but only barely after a long, angry, and hysterical election season.  I suspect the reason why is that technology used by both sides to solidify the structural advantages each party has.

Those are my predictions.  What are yours?  I would love to know what you think.

Until next time.