Monday, January 30, 2012

Now out: Business Patterns

Business Patterns for Software Developers is now out!
Early too!

See for yourself:

Some frequently asked questions:
Q: How long did it take to write?
A: Eight years end to end, although the first patterns aren’t in the book, in fact I didn’t realise I was writing a book until about 2008. Years 6 and 8 were the busy ones.

Q: What is a business patterns?
A: Its like a software pattern, or an architecture pattern, but concerns itself with business and business strategy.

Q: Is it available on Kindle?
A: Not immediately but it will be in a few weeks

Q: Where can I read more about the book?
A: Early versions of most of the pattern are available for free on my website - follow links for business strategy design patterns

Q: What are the buildings on the cover?
A: The Three Graces on Liverpool pier head, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I prefer the daylight pictures but the evening picture on the cover works well in the design.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Meter: Tom Giib's greatest invention

If you’ve ever found the time to read Tom Gilb’s work - and I’m thinking specifically of Competitive Engineering here - you’ll know that his work is packed full of good ideas. So many god ideas in fact that it can be hard to read his book - something I think he admits himself in the opening pages of Competitive Engineering.

One of his ideas is that of a Meter. This alway confuses me a little, still now...

You: A Metre you say?
Me: No, not a metric unit of distance, a Meter, as in a Gas Meter
You: What, how can a Gas Meter help software teams?
Me: No, the idea of measuring things, scrum that, say a Ruler
You: A ruler? Centimeters and inches?
Me: No, A yard stick
You: Distance again?
Me: No, A unit of measurement and a tool for measuring
You: Measuring what?
Me: Yes, Measuring what, that’s Tom’s great invention, we need to define measuring systems

Tom’s great invention is: define a mechanism for measuring the thing which is important to you.

OK, Tom takes the idea further with Plangauge he says we should define the meter, the starting value and the desired value. But forget values, its the measurement unit itself which I think is too frequently overlooked and worth more attention.

The thing is, the unit of measurement, and the means of measuring it is implicit in a lot of work: its in Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Scorecard, its in Beyond Budgeting, its in Lean Start-Up and elsewhere.

But, as far as I know, only Tom calls the Meter out as an idea in its own right. In fact, I suspect Tom might not have realised the significance of this.

Once you know what the right Meter is it becomes - relatively - easy to measure things. So you can measure the starting point, you can set a target, and you can measure how far you have got.

We are surrounded my measurement units and meters which already exist
  • Currency: Pounds, Dollars, Euros, etc. etc. - and the associated profit, revenue, costs, etc. etc.
  • Accounts: Profit, revenue, costs
  • Website hits: visitors, unique hits, conversions, etc. etc.
  • Time: second, minutes, days....
  • Distance: inches, miles, centimetres, meters and kilometres
  • Location: Latitude and Longitude
  • Weight:.....
And we tend to use these measuring units again and their associated meters again and again.

New meters are not so common but they occur, e.g. Eric Ries in Lean Start-Up introduces a new meter: Cohort Analysis.

But - big but - if we use inappropriate measuring units and meters it gets hard, and it potentially gets wrong. (Another on of Eric’s points.)

Again, as far as I know, Tom is the only authority who says: define your own unit and define your own way of measuring it.

Now, as far as I can tell Tom is a master of this, the rest of us... well most people don’t get it and try and use pre-defined measurements and Meters, even those of us who “get it” struggle with it.

So, we need to start inventing new units of measurement and new ways of measuring things. We need to get good at both inventing these things and sharing them. History shows many of these measuring units are useful to other people.

Second, as more of these units are recognised then we will have more mechanisms - and language - with which to implement both our own tools and the tools like Balanced Score Card and Lean Startup.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Corporate Psychopathy

The Oxford Dictionary of English on my Kindle defines:

Psychopathy n. mental illness or disorder.

Psychopathic is more interesting:

Psychopathic adj. suffering from or constituting a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour

There is a reoccurring pattern of behaviour I have observed in corporate environments which I have taken to calling Corporate Psychopathy, maybe you’ll recognise it if I describe it.

  • A company brings together a team to do some work. At some date they decide the work is “done” and disband the team. They often call this work “a project” - projects by their definition have a start date and an end date, and involve a temporary organisation unit; i.e. a team is brought together at the start, they do some work, then the team is disbanded.
I think this state of affairs is crazy. So crazy I believe it is abnormal social behaviour.

A team is a social unit. When was the last time you dumped all your friends and started to forma a new group?

Think of the high performing teams you know: sports teams or successful political parties. They may change players from time to time, even key players, but the winning team usually stays together from one victory to the next.

By contrast think of the teams who are less successful. How often to do they change personnel How often do they work together?

Anyone who has studies team dynamics will probably have come across Buckman’s “Storming, Forming, Norming and Performing” model. The idea is that when you bring a team together they pass through each phase as they learn to work effectively together.

If you have an effective team - one that has passed through storming, forming and norming and is now performing - why would you break them up? Let alone break up one team and create a new team which has to pass through three phases to get to the productive fourth?

It doesn’t make sense.

Just to make it worse when corporations break up teams many of the people leave for ever. Companies which use contract staff release the contractors who will go and work somewhere else. Even permanent staff may well find themselves release to a pool, or to previous roles and the same people are unlikely to work together again. Knowledge evaporates in the process.

If that isn’t enough think of the admin overhead in managing all this.

It also makes the start of a work incredibly difficult because you don’t know how effective a team will be or when they will break through into Performing. And if you are following a development method where you measure capacity (velocity) and benchmark against past performance you can’t use this method for the first few weeks.

Its psychopathic: anti-social, performance reducing, expensive, undermines forecasting and increases risk.

Put it another way: It is plain stupid.

My solution is keep the performing team together as much as possible and bring the work to the team. Have the team move from one piece of work to another together.

This parallels the way we timebox work. In timeboxing we fit the work to the time allowed - a two week sprint or a quarterly release. Similarly we should bring the work to the team.

Of course teams might not have very clear cut switch over dates. Perhaps they have to ramp-down one stream of work while ramping up another. More complex to manage.

Or perhaps a performing team splits into two - like cell division. One part continues working on the first piece of work while the second part starts something new. This way the team can carry the culture from one piece of work to another.

To do this is might be necessary to let the team grow organically, split the team, then grow both sides organically.

The point is: there are ways of managing this. You don’t have to split teams up and form them all anew.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Dialogue Sheets on show at Skills Matter - 13 February

Quick follow up to the last entry about Dialogue Sheets. I’ll be doing a evening session at Skills Matter on the sheets next month - 13 February, “Dialogue Sheets a New Tool for Retrospectives”. The event is free but registration is required.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Retrospective Dialogue Sheets in InfoQ

Happy new year! - my opening missive for the new year is elsewhere...

I’ve written more about Retrospective Dialogue Sheets for this weeks InfoQ - “Dialogue Sheets: A new tool for retrospectives.”

This piece summarises many of the findings I discussed a few weeks ago in Dialogue Sheets feedback #1 and Dialogue Sheets feedback #2 blog entries.

A footnote to a footnote, I discussed dialog sheet print-on-demand a few weeks ago. After that I was able to reduce the price of printed sheets. As I suspected at the time the price reduction has made no difference to the number of people using the service. I therefore conclude that it is not the price of the sheets but rather the fact that there is a charge at all the creates the block.