Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Collaboration Lesson from the Redwood Trees

The Redwood trees in Muir woods, San Francisco, are some of the tallest and widest trees on planet earth. Some trees are so wide, that it takes 40 grown up adults to make one circle around it! These trees are known to live for thousands of years and each year they grow bigger and bigger.  Most tall trees

have roots that go deep down to keep them stable. For example, the roots of the palm tree are as deep as the height of the tree. However, research tells us that though the Redwood trees are the tallest trees on earth, their roots are not deep at all. California has gone through a tremendous number of hurricanes, cyclones, windstorms, tornadoes and earthquakes in the past 2000 years. Any normal tree would have been crushed instantly, but not the Redwood trees. They’ve been standing tall and strong ever since. So, what is the secret behind these trees?

It seems the Redwood trees have some special mystical power. The roots grow outwards instead of deep under the ground. And when these roots come in contact with roots of the another Redwood tree, they wrap around each other multiple times and form a strong bond. Each tree shares a bond with another tree through its roots, and eventually, every single Redwood tree is connected to each other. The roots hold on to one another through the harshest of weather, and keep the family of trees standing tall and strong, together.

The roots of older and wiser trees hold on to the roots of trees just beginning to grow. They’re basically telling them —“You'll grow big and strong. Reach for the sky and we’ll help you get there. You have the strength of hundreds of trees in the forest because we’re all connected. Our strength is shared together, and it grows together."
That is the power of co-operation and collaboration.

If we dig deeper and try to understand self-organization, a principle very much needed for being Agile, we will realize that collaboration and co-operation are the basic attributes needed to self-organize. Similar to the Redwood trees, Agile team members need to collaborate so that the entire team rises higher and higher. This interconnection helps each individual to grow, inspire and motivate each other. It builds trust and transparency, and at the same time a feeling of safety to explore new hypothesis, innovate and produce a quality deliverable to the customer, with a feeling of satisfaction. 

The Redwood tree example was shared in one of the spiritual  discourses and I found this example so very relevant to some of the Agile values and principles. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Power of Anonymous Retrospectives

The Scrum values - Openness, Commitment, Focus, Respect and Courage are the foundation for the behavior and practices in Scrum. It’s difficult for organizations to adhere to these values from the onset of their Agile journey. Agility is about behavior and cultural changes and the values listed can't be demanded, they have to be earned by creating transparency and is a journey that never ends. 

While coaching Agile teams over the years, I have learned that no matter how open and transparent the organization is, there will be some individuals that won’t openly speak up. They are mostly introverts and have a phobia of public speaking. They will limit their interaction to a bare minimum. In some organizations engineers carry the management fear. They feel like they are being observed and anything and everything they say will reflect in their yearly performance appraisal and they clamp up. In either of these situations or situations similar to these, the Anonymous Retrospective helps get the real pulse on the floor. It helps all the participants open up and talk about what they really feel deep within about the organization, the culture, the people, the leadership, the technology, the motivation factor, etc.  

So what is Anonymous Retrospective? As the name suggests, all data collected is completely anonymous. The first rule of the Anonymous Retrospective is the data collected has to be truly anonymous and there should be no attempt to tie the same to any individual - either through the language used to describe it or with an handwriting match. What I normally do is I put an empty container in the middle of the room and  give each participant a bunch of Post-its. I ask them to jot down their thoughts on what is working well and the areas that need improvement. I emphasize to the participants that this is a Anonymous Retrospective and encourage them to share their thoughts without having an iota of worry. I then ask them to fold the post-its and put it in the empty container. I normally time box this to around 25 to 30 minutes.

Once everyone is done, I get the container with the post-its and give it a good mix. Then I appoint someone neutral to take notes on their laptop and help me with basic categorization. I pick each note and try to read it as verbatim as possible, except for certain cases where there are personal attacks. I read them one at a time in front of the entire room, the person taking the notes captures it, and then I tear the post-it in front of all the participants and put it in the trash can to maintain confidentiality. This is what I mean by "Anonymous".

Anonymous Retrospective will generate plenty of data which has to be validated for its accuracy. Once all the data points are collected, work with the participants in the room to finalize the categorize the data, and generate information by connecting data in each category together.  Following this put an action plan together to address each category. Most likely you will need multiple sessions to do this... but remember you now have some solid facts with which you can incrementally introduce improvements. This is what the power of Anonymous Retrospective is!

I am happy to hear your thoughts. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar - An Agile Case Study

Yesterday Sachin Tendulkar, my Hero, a cricketing legend, the GOD of cricket called his retirement after he plays his 200th Test Match on the Indian soil. 

This was indeed an emotional moment for me as we not only share the same birth year but plenty of good memories and achievements in my career are tied to Sachin’s achievements. It will be a shame on my part if I don’t blog about him and pay respect by relating the same to the “Agile Values and Principles” he has demonstrated during his entire cricketing career of 24 years.

Sachin, as a child dreamed of playing Cricket for India and he fulfilled his dream by passionately living and breathing cricket everyday for 24 years of his life – and the records he has achieved over his career speak for themselves.

He always leads by example be it batting, bowling or fielding and keeps laser sharp focus on the goal every time he is on the field.

He has always put his team’s goal over his individual goal. He is not only a Self Motivated individual himself, but also a motivation for millions of cricket fans around the world.

Sachin is a mentor and coach to so many young Indian cricketers, of which some were not even born when he debuted his cricketing career at the age of 16.

One can’t find a better example of regular inspection & adaption than Sachin. Cricket as a game has changed a lot in 24 years - from Test cricket (5 days), to one day (50 overs), to T20 and Sachin has not just kept abreast  in all formats of cricket, but also excelled in each format which is no small feat. He always planned his innings, but at the same time adapted and responded to changes as the situation demanded.

As for the impediments,  Tendulkar has been stricken by so many injuries during his career spanning more than two decades. In addition to the injuries, the media and general masses (the stakeholders)  had also given him so much negative flack at times. But time and again he has come back with a bang, silencing his critics and delivering to their expectations. He just knows how to move forward in the face of impediments.

Sachin Tendulkar surely had bad years (sprints) in his career. But what made him stand out from the rest is the realization that there is a certain problem and honestly working on it and then coming back stronger every time.

Now, isn’t this what Agile is all about?

Sachin, you will always be missed on the field (though, we get 2 more opportunities to watch you in action). However, the legacy you have created will live for generations to come! 

Thursday, October 10, 2013 uses agile development offshore to roll out internationally

This article ties to the ongoing work I have been doing with the International Teams in TESCO as an Agile Coach in Bangalore since January 2011.

Overall, Computer Weekly covered the article well just with a minor correction: "Deliver the Beer" was a first internal release to validate Agile Software Development was the correct approach. Czech Republic had a first fully functional grocery website.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ran my first Half Marathon the Agile way

The Worli Sea Link
On January 20th 2013, I ran and successfully completed my first Standard Chartered Half Marathon in the beautiful city of Mumbai in an Agile way. What an awesome experience it was. 

My skill level with running: Novice,  I had put around 90 km of  a total run in a period of 3 months during training. Just for comparison, average runners put around 100 to 150 km in a month. 

The most I had run at one go was 10 km in the time period of 1 hour and 20 minutes.

 Motivation: To help the Udaan foundation raise funds to support 2 under privileged students for a year.

Release Planning:

           Release Goal: Run 21.097 Kilometers in under 3 hours, which is the qualification time.

           Approx Velocity (Based on past experience): 7.5 kms / hour.

           Total Sprints needed: 21 / 8  =  Approx 3 sprints of 1 hour each.

Sprint 1: The amazing Mumbai weather, the Worli Sea Link being the start location, and a total of over 16,000 participants in the 1/2 Marathon, created an atmosphere that one has to experience and can't be described. All this was motivation enough for me to build a constant pace of about 7 minutes and 30 sec per km for the first hour. The stakeholder (that's me:-) ) was very happy with the outcome of Sprint 1 and decided to continue with the release. The Retrospective revealed a improvement area of slowing the pace down a bit as certain impediments around fatigue and pain had been logged.

The velocity achieved by end of sprint 1 was 8 km. 

Sprint 2: Using yesterday's weather as a forecast for velocity and keeping the retrospective improvements in mind I planned sprint 2 with a goal of achieving 7 km instead of 8 km in the next hour. I nicely built a pace of 8 minutes and 15 sec per km. The face-to-face cheering of the crowd, the loud music by DJ's throughout the route, and the cause of the run lifted my spirit and kept me motivated throughout sprint 2. By the end of sprint 2, I had completed another 7 km and had achieved a total run of 15 km. The product backlog showed 6 km of a run remained for the minimum marketable functionality to there by achieve the release goal. The stakeholder was again very happy with the achievements and decided to continue with the release. The retrospective did not reveal any major improvement area other than suggesting to slowing down the pace even further. 

Champions with Disability
Sprint 3: With 15 km of a run complete and only 6 km remaining, the stage was set correctly for the final sprint. However a little after 1 km in the final sprint there were 2 new impediments - cramping and thoughts of quitting the race. To manage the first impediment, I switched from run to walk and started hydrating myself every 100 meters. The exhaustion was causing my second impediment to grow stronger and stronger putting the entire release at a risk. As I was battling these thoughts of quitting the race,  I passed by the "Champions with Disability" on the other side of the road. The smiles on the faces of these participants with special needs and their attendants was  just the motivation I needed for me to cruise through the remainder of the race. 

And I completed my first half marathon in 2 hours 49 minutes and 42 seconds!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Agile Coaching: Are your retrospectives effective?

Are you in a situation where your team(s) has been practicing Agile for a while and teams are following ceremonies meticulously, but still there are no significant improvements sprint over sprint or release after release? If yes, I have some antidotes that I will share through series of blogs that you can experiment with.

One of the Agile principle is, "At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly". This in a nutshell is Continuous Improvement (CI) and one of the ceremonies that assists you in implementing CI is Retrospectives.

Start with Retrospectives: Ask these questions.
  • Are the retrospectives effective? 
  • Are the team members open & honest?
  • Is there a good flow and exchange of information that is fact based that the team can relate to?
  • Is enough flavor added to each retrospective to ensure that they don't become monotonous?
  • Is the facilitator neutral
  • Did the team put the action plan for the improvement areas after root causing the problems? 
  • Is the team taking at least one improvement idea that they are in total control of instead of relying on parties outside their team?  
  • Is someone within the team held accountable to ensure the improvements are put in action?
  • Did the team reflect back on the improvements implemented in the retrospective that follows?
My observation as a Agile Coach has been that teams are generally very enthusiastic to begin new work as soon as current work is completed and they cut corners or miss on Retrospective entirely thereby missing on a important Agile Principle - "Inspect and Adapt" 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tesco's Success Story with Agile Adoption

Over the past 2 years I have been helping Tesco's Dotcom International Grocery Home Shopping (IGHS) group in the capacity of Agile Coach to build their eCommerce Platform. Tesco Dotcom's challenge was to take the world's largest grocery website international to multiple countries outside UK as quickly as possible and be the market leader. 

As the saying goes, "The proof is in the Pudding" .... By using Agile as a Software Development Methodology  with a  combination of Scrum, XP, Kanban and lean principles of choice, Tesco was able to launch their Dotcom operation to new countries regularly and is currently live in 5 countries within the span of just over 2.5 years. This group with several Agile teams distributed across 2 geographies was able to bag 4 major awards within the organization, including the "Tesco - IT project Cup" of the year.

It is my privilege and honor to be part of a journey with this passionate team that was constantly hungry to take the Agile adoption from one level to another tirelessly through continuous Inspection and Adaption and both the passion & Hunger continues....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Agile Ball Point Game

This video demonstrates the Ball point game, a game to feel what it is to work in an Agile team. I facilitated this at PMI West Bengal chapter annual conference Aviskar.

Agile talk at PMI Mumbai Conclave 2011

At PMI Mumbai Conclave 2011, I gave a talk on "Mitigating Risks with Agile Project Management". I am embedding videos for everyone's reference.