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Archive for December, 2008

Which Agile thought leader has the most notoriety?

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During recent weeks and after reading many books, articles and blogs, I wanted to try a little exercise to assess the ‘notoriety’ of certain dominant figures in the world of Agile.

In the following table are presented several names commonly associated with Agile. Some are the authors of the Agile manifesto, while others are rising in popularity.

While this exercise is not scientific and is based on very subjective criteria, it is hopefully a portrait of the current situation as we end the year.

Should other names be added to the list? Do you have any suggestions regarding the scoring method used? I invite you to comment on this blog.

(1) As of December 30th, 2008
(2) Author of the Agile Manifesto
(3) Based on the number of books listed on Amazon.com Category: Computers & Internet
(4) Based on number of occurences for exact searches ("") on Google.ca
(5) Actively maintains a blog
(6) Has an article on Wikipedia.org
(7) (% of Books Published * 1000) + (%Google Popularity * 100) + (Blog * 15) + (Wikipedia * 15)
(8) Google popularity is inaccurate as there are many Dave Thomas

The new employee has an opinion

You are the head (vice-president, director or manager) of your business unit and you recently hired a new employee*. This new recruit is filling in a key role and he/she is expected to deliver on his/her objectives.

You have translated the corporate vision and mission into SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) and you think of yourself as an innovative leader and believe your team members need to be empowered. Obviously, this senior employee is not simply filling an execution role where he/she needs to do what he/she is told.

After a few weeks, the new employee comes to you with a different way of managing the team. His/her suggestion would most probably (in his/her mind at least) increase productivity and improve employee moral. Which of the following answers better reflect your reaction?

  1. Listen to the idea, politely smile and let the employee know he/she needs to wait 6 months before he/she is entitled to an opinion.
  2. Kindly listen to the proposal and let the employee know that he/she has it all wrong. Things don’t really work the way he/she perceives it.
  3. Thank the employee for volunteering the information and ask him/her to prepare a lengthy SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) in the hopes he/she abandons the idea.
  4. Ask the employee to join you for lunch in order to better understand his/her perspective.

These weren’t trick answers. I have personally seen these 4 answers being given to new employees in various contexts. The point here is not to criticize the answers or the approach used but to highlight a key issue behind the answers.

Answer #4 is obviously the only one opening up a dialogue where the employee and the manager talk about perceptions, culture and work environment. Assuming the feedback was brought forward in constructive manner, even if the employee’s observations were not accurate, it has the amazing benefits of making the employee feel good – someone wants to hear his/her perception – in addition to establishing a relationship between the employee and his/her manager.

Answers #1, #2, and #3 immediately show that the person in charge either feels they can’t learn anything useful from a new employee or don’t care to know what the new employee has to say. Once again, assuming the employee brought the feedback in a constructive fashion and even if the supervisor doesn’t have anything to learn, wouldn’t there be benefit in maintaining an open channel of communication between the manager and his/her team? Unfortunately, it seems many people do not think so.

* This exercise also works for external consultants.

Would you pay $119 for a subscription?

This morning, as I was sorting through the mail that has been piling up on my desk I found a briefing on team management. A colleague of mine had left this document thinking I would find it useful.

The document is an 8-page summary of “management strategies to build, manage, and motivate your team“. There are over 30 sections presenting topics such as “confronting poor performers” and “mastering meetings“. As I glanced through the publication to see if I could learn something, I was surprised to see how little content there was in the publication. Do I need to know there are “21 ways to say well done“?

As I closed the publication to toss it in my already over-loaded blue recycling bin, I noticed the special introductory rate of $119 for 12 issues.

What? What am I missing here? Why would I pay $10 per issue to receive content that is readily available on the web. I asked myself, why would someone subscribe to summaries of content that are so summarize that they become generic and empty?

How much would someone learn from reading the following statement “when a team member comes to you with a problem, you don’t have to deal with it on the spot“? Wouldn’t it be worth spending a bit more time in order to better understand team dynamics?

It seems to me that the business model behind these briefings is to provide useful information to time deprived managers but giving them over 30 summarized topics in 8 pages might be pushing it. Trying to condense so much content doesn’t provide value anymore. I’ll save my $120 to buy a few books.

Why are you posting book reviews?

During a recent gathering, a friend of mine asked me “why are you posting book reviews on your blog“?

Since he asked, I thought others might also want to know.

There are a couple of reasons why I’m sharing my book reviews:

  • To initiate discussion. As in every day conversations, having similar reading interests is great way to start a discussion – “I noticed your also read … How did you find it?
  • To capture and document the central themes of the books. A few of us are working on a collaborative project – writing a book – and through our research and reading we want to keep track of central themes we are covering. The book summaries are used as anchors in this preliminary phase of our project.

If you are interested in joining our collaborative effort, drop me a line.

Is lending better than giving?

On this Christmas day, what better topic to discuss than giving. I’m not thinking of giving in the context of unwrapping gifts but giving to those who in need more specifically I’m thinking of charity.

Every so often we receive mail from non-profit organizations asking for our help – for donations. Don’t get me wrong, donations are a great way to help those in need. Donations support organizations fighting illnesses, protect the environment and animals, promote art and many other very noble causes but there are also new ways to help.

A while ago a friend told me about kiva (from their web site: Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world). The concept behind kiva is to empower people by giving them the mean to earn a living.

Earning a living is a fundamental and universal way for people to meet their basic needs. Although this is not the only solution to solving poverty, interest-free micro loan do help people generate an income. This is a nice way to help those in need.

What does this have to do with leading teams?

I believe we could draw a few parallels. As with the people helped by kiva, team members want to be empowered and have the ability accomplish their goal. They don’t expect their leader to write them a blank cheque and ignore them. People want to be given freedom to operate in order to earn the trust of their colleagues and managers. Most of all, at the end of the day they want to go home with a sense of accomplishment.

Book Review: Citizen Marketers: When People are The Message

My Rating: 7/10

Another book in the Web2.0 category, Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message categories Internet content creators into 4 groups: Filters, Fanatics, Facilitators, and Firecrackers. Throughout the book, the authors use many examples and anecdotes to demonstrate the growing power of content creators.

Although I could summarize the content of the book, you will certainly find more details on the book’s official web site which presents a great summary, chapter by chapter. I encourage you to read the summary as it clearly presents to main ideas of each chapter and the book overall.

If you don’t fully understand what citizen marketers are about, you can also read about each example given in the book on the book’s web site. Some of the examples are more interesting and more impactful than others.

I enjoyed the book mostly for the anecdotes and examples but felt it was missing a key central message – besides the fact that citizen marketers are a growing force on the Internet. The book is certainly interesting to get people familiar with the concept of citizen marketers but doesn’t go much further than introducing the reader to this growing trend. It is still an interesting read if you have some time to spend.

Validate your idea

Once again, I’m getting the opportunity to assess the quality of an idea simply by letting time going by. Like many people, once in a while I get an “ha-ah” moment, an idea that makes me stop and believe this could change the world… sort of. Sometimes, I get excited – really excited – about the potential of the idea. I stay up late in the evening and put down some thoughts on paper. After days, sometimes only hours I evaluate the excitement level associated with the idea. If the excitement remains above a certain level I add content (screen mock-up, documentation, etc.) and let it simmer some more. After a few iterations, something happens. Either the idea still floats and there is enough excitement around it to officially move forward or I abandon the idea altogether. In most case, the latter happens. When it does, I ask myself what originally triggered the excitement and why it so quickly faded. I realize there are many reasons why an idea doesn’t float for more than a week (too complex to explain, too few people would be interested, too expensive to launch, too expensive to maintain) but these reasons are self-assessment.

The real test is when you present your idea to people, sometime only 1 person will help you get a reality check. Other times you might need more perspectives but the point is that the more input you get, the better the quality of the idea will be.

A few of us at Pyxis are working on a pretty good idea and the ‘test of time’ seems to be telling us the idea has merit. After an initial brainstorming session, we asked ourselves if we still thought we should continue with the idea, we agreed so we had another brainstorming session.

We waited a couple of days to re-open the discussion and assess viability of the idea. The excitement level remains high as we are fine tuning the idea. Since we are so excited about the concept we decided to ask someone to join us for a ‘black hat’ session.

We were happy to realize that after the session the idea was still very valid and we had a few questions to answer before moving it forward.

For most people, I believe creative exercises are very exciting and when people see their ideas grow the willingly participate and contribute their energy to bring it to conclusion. Why do so many organization deprive employees of this process? Idea creation is such an exciting process that companies could easily benefit from that process instead of insisting on a top down approach for idea generation. It’s really too bad.

There’s someone on the phone

Here’s another interesting situation. As with many companies, a friend of mine conference called in to a meeting. Except for her, all the other participants were located in a conference room gathered around the phone.

She dialed in to the meeting before most participants entered the room. Except for herself and her manager, there was only one other colleague in the room so the three of them started sharing project updates. While her colleague was presenting some minor issues she remained quiet and listened carefully. In the meantime, other participants trickled in the room.

After a few minutes, the official meeting began and since no items were assigned to her, she put her phone on mute while she continued typing on her laptop. She has enough experience to keep paying attention to the conversation while working in order to avoid potentially tricky situations.

The meeting went on for an hour and in his typical fashion, the chair person thanked everyone for attending and left the room with his colleague.

My friend stayed on the line waiting for someone to end the conference call but that didn’t happen. Instead, it appeared that everyone in the room ‘forgot’ she was on the phone and started talking about her manager and her colleague – the comments were not flattering!

There she was hearing a conversation she wasn’t supposed to hear. What should she do? Should she stay on the line and listen in the conversation or hang up?

What would you do?

She realized that eavesdropping was entertaining but wouldn’t contribute any value to her work so after a few minutes she decided to hang up. Although nobody ever brought this situation to her attention, she keeps wondering if anybody noticed her presence on the phone. Especially when she hung up and the people gathered in the room heard the sound of a phone hang up…

The technology has changed but not the approach

Stephen Swoyer published BI: The Year in Review on The Data Warehouse Institute web site today and he does a good job at summarizing the acquisitions – or the lack of acquisitions – that took place this year.

This leads me to the following question: “The BI technology is obviously improving over time but what about the process of building BI”?

I have been involved with BI projects for over 10 years and it is obvious to me that most companies use the same waterfall approach they did back then. Seeing that the success rate of BI projects has pretty much stayed flat with less than 50% of the projects being successful highlights a problem in my opinion.

Although technology has greatly improved, it appears to me that the BI industry is working on the wrong issue -> it’s not about the tools or the people, it’s about the process.

Am I the only one who sees this problem?

As we work on our service offering, a few of us are heavily researching agility in business intelligence projects. There seems to be only one book available on this topic (Agile Data Warehousing: Delivering World-Class Business Intelligence Systems Using Scrum and XP) and very few web sites or blogs available.

Is this because people don’t see the benefits of an Agile approach to Business Intelligence or simply because consulting firms and other companies do not believe it can be done?

We certainly think we can have a positive impact on BI projects.

Unlearning is the key to learning

Last night was the last session of my Adult Skating – Level 1 training. Over the last 8 weeks, I had a blast learning the real techniques of hockey skating.

If you think it is unusual for a French-Canadian to learn to skate at this age [no, I'm not disclosing that!], you are probably right. Hockey being our National sport, it would be as surprising as an American who has never played baseball or an Italian who has never played calcio (soccer / European football) or a New Zealander who never played rugby.

It’s not like I never played hockey. Like most kids, I spend many afternoon at the nearest outdoor hockey rink playing with friends. None of us played seriously but we always had a great time. My father also made a skating rink a couple of winter in the back alley for us.

In order to become a good skater, I decided to sign up for these lessons with my cousin and week after week, we were shown the real way to skate – new moves and new tricks. Every week I noticed that I would learn new moves much more quickly than the moves I already knew.

I was chatting with a colleague this morning who shared with me his challenge in teaching development teams the Scrum approach. He said “It’s not so much about learning Scrum, it’s what they have to unlearn”.

It seems the same logic applies to learning to skate and learning about Scrum.

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