My Daily Stand Up Is Keeping Me From Being Awesome

Throw out the agile stand up!  Some people love Agile. Some people hate Agile. Few people have actually experienced Agile. There is plenty of Cargo Culting of Agile out there. At the end of the day it boils down to having the ability to “inspect and adapt” for survival. Survival requires improvement. Deliberate practice is the most tested way to improve. Deliberate practice requires metrics and measurement of performance of some kind.

I find most people don’t really want to be excellent. They just want to be left alone because they think they are already great or don’t want to put in the effort involved to improve. Those that perform at the top of their game tend to exhibit the following two behaviors.

1. They believe they could perform even better if they worked harder and more deliberately to remove weaknesses or improve strengths. They have a growth mindset.

2. They know they need outside help to improve. They often are surrounded by coaches/mentors that drive their performance. Want to get great at something? Get a coach.

7 Arguments Against Agile Ceremonies (Like Stand Up)

Recently I read “You don’t need stand up“, which is a well put together case against why Agile “ceremonies” just aren’t necessary. I believe it is well intentioned and echoes many of the arguments I have heard over the years. I used to call this type of philosophy “Sofa King Agile”. The belief being we are so fucking agile already that any process just slows down our agility. It helped that it also spells “So Faking Agile”. I now call it “Chaos Driven Development”. This variation isn’t driven by the superiority complex, but instead by the inability to see any value in process. Fostering organic development amongst trusted adults gets results. Why add anything else? The problem is that these anecdotal experiences don’t jive with all the science on productivity and growth.

So should you throw out Stand Ups, Retrospectives and other Agile Ceremonies? Let’s dive into the arguments expressed in the article.

1. We did this [stopped having ceremonies] and were successful. “We were an extremely productive team that responded to change and nailed every goal we set out to.”

What was the baseline of productivity? Did this approach improve the baseline? Has there been improved performance over time? Success by our own definition feels great, but it may be a complete lie. Imagine being a runner and running a 6 minute mile. That would feel pretty amazing for most people. You would better at running a mile than most people you know, but you aren’t even close to the same league as the best runners in the world (~4 minute miles). I set a goal for having a sub 8 minute mile, when I first started running. I hit it and I was ecstatic. My goal was achieved. I am a fool if I believe that makes a great runner.

2. Trello (or whatever you use) has to be kept in sync with what’s discussed in these meetings. It often isn’t. As the team grows this becomes even more complicated.

Physical boards largely remove the sync problem. If you aren’t using data during your stand up, you have room to improve. Information should be updated in real time during the stand up. If you are using all digital tools, maybe switch to a digital stand up? It is easy to evade pathways that increase accountability in the name of freedom. Don’t underestimate the importance in transparency of work outside the team.

3. Stand up ENCOURAGES plans to change daily. Lack of consistency is a great way to ruin developer flow.

The world changes pretty frequently. Daily doesn’t seem too invasive. Good days and bad days exist. Being able to interrupt and course correct is crucial. Imagine trying to lose weight without measuring food meal by meal, day by day and only relying on stepping on a scale every quarter to be successful. It may be possible, but not very likely. The same goes for software development.

4. Stand up forces every team member to be productive at a set place and a set time

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I don’t think stand up require physical togetherness, but it does help. Set place is an self-imposed artificial constraint. Set time is also not mandatory, but doing them asynchronously has diminishing value. In order to collaborate effectively there is required time together. If a group can’t find 15 minutes of overlap in a day to coordinate work there is a bigger problem at play.

5. Extroverts thrive at stand up, planning, and retros. It’s no wonder that tech debt is such a common problem. Developers shouldn’t have to PUSH for tech debt to be addressed. Teams should operate at a sustainable pace.

I can’t even unpack this argument. It is feels more like a rant than anything else. Which is a shame because the other arguments seemed to be well thought out. Extroverts may thrive at certain ceremonies but that doesn’t mean introverts don’t add or get value at them. Implying that an introvert can’t work with others effectively seems dangerous at best. In coaching hundreds of teams and thousands of developers I have yet to find an introvert that wasn’t able to engage effectively in Agile ceremonies. Done properly,  planning helps protect, not hinder sustainable pace.

Developers should have to push against technical debt creation. Value creation is always a trade off.   Sometimes taking technical debt on makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t. That’s a conversation that has to be had continually by all parties. Is technical debt bad. Yes. Do most companies wrongfully ignore it. Yes. Does that mean taking care of technical debt overrides all else? No. Are developers alone good at choosing how/when/what debt to remove in a vacuum? Rarely.

6. Why do we encourage problems to be discussed once a week? We should address them immediately, not just at retros.

If you are only discussing issues one time a week. You are doing it wrong. Retrospectives give a facilitated mechanism to dive deeply into tough problems and team dynamics that aren’t getting worked out in the day to day.   They are not meant as a container to sweep all problems into. Retrospectives are one of the things most teams do horrifically bad. The biggest room for improvements come in changing the system and human dynamics within the system. People regularly ignore this to their own detriment.

7. Sprints encourage iterative development. This sounds really good to people like me who strongly advocate small, concise, pull requests over long-living feature branches. But it’s not the same thing. Sprints encourage features over tech debt. How often have you had to advocate spending an entire sprint tackling tech debt?

Bad product management may prioritize features over technical debt, but sprints have nothing to do with it. You should have to advocate for what you believe is important. So should product. It sounds like organizational issues, not sprints are to blame here.

Let’s look at the additional break down of the arguments

Stop Doing Stand Up

Again this seems mostly like a rant surrounding technical debt. Does standup interrupt developers? Possibly. A small interruption is generally well worth the coordination benefits it yields. If you aren’t seeing coordination benefits you probably aren’t working as a team, but rather as a group of individuals. Stand ups aren’t useful for people working as individuals. If your stand ups are running longer than 15 minutes you have a problem.

I have seen no correlation to stand ups making a team communicate less. I have seen the opposite in my experience. About a third of the teams I have coached have one or more team member that is remote. It has never prevented stand ups from occurring. Teams that work poorly together remotely struggle with this more than those that already effectively work together with remote members. Technical debt has nothing to do directly with stand up or any particular Agile ceremony. Developers may feel less stressed without a stand up, but often a stressor is a good indicator for a looming problem or a motivator for performance. If stress free is the goal, you have already accepted mediocrity. Trust is a two way street. Most teams I have observed the members don’t trust each other completely. Stand up is a way for accountability among the developers to surface.

The remainder of the objection falls squarely into the “Chaos Development” model. The science just doesn’t prove this model out. People tend to not perform their best as free grazers. There is science that shows creativity increasing under a Chaos model. It may work well for research teams, but probably needs to be moderated for production teams. This is why you see many organizations doing 20% time etc.

Stop Doing Retros

The time to ask for help is when things are going good, not when they are going bad. The absolute right time to engage in couples therapy is when things are good not when they are in destruction mode. Your relationships, personal or otherwise should always be improving. That requires work, reflection and outside assessment.

If you can’t take thirty minutes to an hour every week to reflect, you are already running at an unsustainable pace. Perhaps that is why there is so much focus on the technical debt theme? If you are waiting to address problems only at a retrospective you are waiting too long. There is no need for stickies or sharpies to reflect. They can help from keeping things stale.

Some of the projected questions. That the article thought might get asked.

“How will I know what to work on?”

Nothing here seems out of place. The “Best” option could be a smell if it’s invoked frequently, but more than healthy in moderation.

“What do I do if I’m blocked?”

These all seem pretty sane to me, albeit a bit specific technology focused (trello, slack, etc)

“How will I track the progress?”

It is okay to ask everyday. Multiple times a day. A good team broadcasts so you don’t have to ask. I think a fundamental flaw here is that progress only matters to the team. It should matter to all stakeholders in the outcome of the work.

“Hold on. We totally handle tech debt and we do stand-ups!”

It is pretty common this happens. Any organization that doesn’t value quality isn’t going to prioritize preventing or eliminating technical debt. That has nothing to do with stand ups or Agile.

Conclusion

Question everything is brilliant advice. Start with am I the best at what I do? Is my team the best at what they do? Is my organization the best at what they do? How do I help get all of us to our best?

My advice to teams is that you are not nearly as good as you think you are. Discipline and habits are the best paths to performance increase and skill building. Having an objective outside party pushing you is the most effective way to accelerate performance. Process done well goes a long way. When you get to the point where you don’t need any process, you will find that you crave it anyways. Think Miyagi. Daniel san paint the fence. Wax the car.

We tend to resent that which we don’t fully understand. Are stand ups necessary to be awesome? Hell no. Until you understand what makes them powerful, you probably shouldn’t dismiss them.

Productivity Wednesday – Air Travel Tips, Fly Efficiently

The next time you have a flight that is more than an hour and a half, consider using it to get productive. As soon as “larger” electronic devices are allowed to be brought out, fire up your computer/tablet and connect to the Internet.

Get all your email boxes to zero, if you haven’t already. Open up your todo list application (like Things) and start knocking things off the list. If you don’t have a todo list application, start collecting your todos.

Once all that is done start writing.

This is particularly useful because in air wifi is notoriously poor. Making it suck for those evil distractions like Facebook, Slack, etc. However, it silence and focus is good for writing or responding.

It only requires the following:

  • Charge your device fully before boarding
  • Purchase WiFi if you don’t already get it for free

If you don’t have a device or just don’t want to get things done. I suggest reading a good book or taking a nap. Either will refresh you for whatever is ahead at your next destination.

7 Tips for Getting Value Out of Networking Events

Copyright FabCafe

If you are an introvert like me the last thing you want to do is spend time “networking”. Even if you are an extrovert your time is valuable and just mingling isn’t going to cut the mustard if you want to get any kind of meaningful results. So what is the best strategy when attending an event with intention of networking?

1. Be yourself, don’t sell yourself.

Authenticity reigns supreme when it comes to building relationships. The last thing you want to do is come off as someone trying to sell something. No one wants to be sold. Especially if you have to not be yourself to do it. People are attracted to people they can relate to and interact with. They can spot fake a mile away. Don’t be fake!

2. Take the time to get to know people.

Time is valuable, but so are deep relationships. If you want to be connected you have to be able to connect beyond the surface. Don’t try to meet every single person at an event. Find one or two people that fascinate you and learn something real about them. Walk away with the start of relationship not a business card.

3. Don’t lead with what you do.

You are not what your job title on the business card says or the place where you earn your income. If you lead with that you set the tone of the relationship as being transactional. If you lead with who you are and what makes you tick you open the door to connect in ways you may have never thought possible.

4. Get beyond small talk.

How about that weather. Boy traffic was a bear getting here. Anyone paying attention knows these things already. Get past them as quick as humanly possible, dive right into the deep end. It will scare away the people that aren’t capable of going deep and will attract those that are willing to make a connection. If nothing else it is memorable.

5. Help understand what people need so you can help them get it.

When getting to know someone understand their passions, desires and what it is that is holding them from obtaining what they want. If you help someone get what they want the power of paying it forward on their part sets off a chain reaction that comes back ten fold, but that’s not why you should do it. You shoudl do it because it feels damn good to help someone get along in the world.

6. Leave with connections and action items.

Make sure you have a way to connect and follow up with those you made connections with. If you are going to help them achieve their goals you will need to be able to get in touch with them. Have a next action to engage with before leaving them. Agree to connect them to someone, set a time to continue the relationship or provide them resources to move them forward.

7. Avoid people who are selling themselves or their products.

Don’t waste your time. If someone is selling give them a way to contact you to give you information on what it is they are selling and move to the next person. You can always review a sales pitch on your own time and terms. Connecting with people requires your full presence, so you should optimize your face to face time with activities that can’t be done on your own time. Invest your time with people that will be vulnerable enough to share their needs.

Sunday Book Review : The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John C. Maxwell

The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to FollowThe 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow by John C. Maxwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great companion to Maxwell’s 21 Laws of Leadership. You can read this in one sitting, but it will take a lifetime to grasp it’s content fully. A chapter a week might be a better approach. The 21 Qualities:

1. CHARACTER: Be a Piece of the Rock
2. CHARISMA: The First Impression Can Seal the Deal
3. COMMITMENT: It Separates Doers from Dreamers
4. COMMUNICATION: Without It You Travel Alone
5. COMPETENCE: If you Build It, They Will Come
6. COURAGE: One Person with Courage Is a Majority
7. DISCERNMENT: Put an End to Unsolved Mysteries
8. FOCUS: The Sharper It Is, the Sharper You Are
9. GENEROSITY: Your Candle Loses Nothing When It Lights Another
10. INITIATIVE: You Won’t Leave Home Without It
11. LISTENING: To Connect with Their Hearts, Use Your Ears
12. PASSION: Take This Life and Love It
13. POSITIVE ATTITUDE: If You Believe You Can, You Can
14. PROBLEM SOLVING: You Can’t Let Your Problems Be a Problem
15. RELATIONSHIPS: If You Get Along, They’ll Go Along
16. RESPONSIBILITY: If You Won’t Carry the Ball, You Can’t Lead the Team
17. SECURITY: Competence Never Compensates for Insecurity
18. SELF- DISCIPLINE: The First Person You Lead Is You
19. SERVANTHOOD: To Get Ahead, Put Others First
20. TEACHABILITY: To Keep Leading, Keep Learning
21. VISION: You Can Seize Only What You Can See

If you could grow in any of these areas this book is for you!

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Sunday Book Review : The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci

The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate LifeThe Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ferrucci distinguishes this pure kindness from self-interested politeness, calculated generosity, superficial etiquette, and kindness against one’s will. He gets into honesty, warmth, forgiveness, contact, sense of belonging, trust, mindfulness, empathy, humility, patience, generosity, respect, flexibility, memory, loyalty, gratitude, service and joy as aspects powering kindness.

From his experience as a psychiatrist he posits kind people are healthier and live longer, are more popular and productive, have greater success in business, and are happier than others…they are destined to live a much more interesting and fulfilling life than those who lack this quality. They are much better equipped to face life in all its savage unpredictability and frightening precariousness.

If you are seeking compassion and want to grow in this arena, this one is for you.

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6 Tips for Scaling A Business

1. Simplicity. Keep things as simple as possible. Every time you add complexity to your business model, processes or operations you will pay for it exponentially as you grow.

2. Cash Flow. Know how you will fund the next stage of growth. Nothing will stall a machine more quickly than it running out of gas.

3. Automate. Anything that gets done repeatedly should be automated. The more simple things are the easier automation becomes.

4. Focus. Only worry about the next order of magnitude of growth. Think in terms of doubles. What would it take to double growth. Don’t think past that.

5. Get the right people. Every magnitude of growth requires different personalities and skills. Make sure you have the right players for the next milestone.

6. Ask for help. Build connections of peers that have experience in the next stage of growth you are seeking and lean into them to learn from their mistakes and failures.

Sunday Book Review : The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of LeadershipThe 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What makes a great leader? Maxwell sums it up in 21 laws. Quick read that will take a lifetime to absorb. The 21 laws:

1. The Law of the lid.
Your leadership is like a lid or a ceiling on your organisation. Your church or business will not rise beyond the level your leadership allows. That’s why when a corporation or team needs to be fixed, they fire the leader.

2. The Law of Influence.
Leadership is simply about influencing people. Nothing more, nothing less. The true test of a leader is to ask him to create positive change in an organisation. If you cannot create change, you cannot lead. Being a leader is not about being first, or being an entrepreneur, or being the most knowledgeable, or being a manager. Being a leader is not just holding a leadership position. (“It’s not the position that makes a leader, but the leader who makes a position.”) Positional leadership especially does not work in volunteer organisations. The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate. “He who thinks he leads , but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”

3. The Law of Process.
Leadership is learned over time. And it can be learned. People skills, emotional strength, vision, momentum, and timing are all areas that can and should be learned. Leaders are always learners.

4. The Law of Navigation.
Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Vision is defined as the ability to see the whole trip before leaving the dock. A leader will also see obstacles before others do. A leader sees more, sees farther, and sees before others. A navigator (leader) listens – he finds out about grassroots level reactions. Navigators balance optimism with realism. Preparation is the key to good navigation. “It’s not the size of the project, it’s the size of the leader that counts.”

5. The Law of E.F. Hutton.
Hutton was America’s most influential stock market analyst. When he spoke, everyone listened. When real leaders speak, people automatically listen. Conversely, in any group or church, you can identify the real leaders by looking for those who people listen to. According to Margaret Thatcher, “being in power is like being a lady – if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” (p45) Tips for a Positional leader – like a newly appointed minister – who wants to become a REAL leader… look for the existing real leaders and work to have influence there. Factors involved in being accepted as a new real leader include character, building key relationships, information, intuition, experience, past success. and ability.

6. The Law of Solid Ground.
Trust is the foundation for all effective leadership. When it comes to leadership, there are no shortcuts. Building trust requires competence, connection and character.

7. The Law of Respect.
People naturally follow people stronger than themselves. Even natural leaders tend to fall in behind those who they sense have a higher “leadership quotient” than themselves.

8. The Law of Intuition.
Leaders evaluate everything with a Leadership bias. Leaders see trends, resources and problems, and can read people.

9. The Law of Magnetism.
Leaders attract people like themselves. Who you are is who you attract. (Mmmm… I thought like poles were meant to repel!) Handy hint: “Staff” your weaknesses. If you only attract followers, your organisation will be weak. Work to attract leaders rather than followers if you want to build a truly strong organisation.

10. The Law of Connection.
You must touch the heart before you ask people to follow. Communicate on the level of emotion first to make a personal connection.

11. The Law of the Inner Circle.
A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. “The leader finds greatness in the group, and helps the members find it in themselves.” (p113)

12. The Law of Empowerment.
Only secure leaders give power to others. Mark Twain said, “Great things can happen when you don’t care who gets the credit.” (p127). Another point to ponder… “Great leaders gain authority by giving it away.”

13. The Law of Reproduction.
It takes a leader to raise up a leader. Followers can’t do it, and neither can institutional programs “It takes one to know one, to show one, to grow one.” The potential of an organisation depends on the growth of its leadership.

14. The Law of Buy-In.
People buy in to the leader first, then the vision. If they don’t like the leader but like the vision, they get a new leader. If they don’t like the leader or the vision, they get a new leader. If they don’t like the vison but like the leader, they get a new vision.

15. The Law of Victory.
Leaders find a way for the team to win. “You can’t win WITHOUT good athletes, but you CAN lose with them.” p162). Unity of vision, diversity of skills plus a leader are needed for a win.

16. The Law of Momentum.
You can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving forward. It takes a leader to create forward motion.

17. The Law of Priorities.
Activity is not necessarily accomplishment. We need to learn the difference. “A leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells “Wrong Jungle!”” (p176) If you are a leader, you must learn the three “Rs”… a) what’s Required b) what gives the greatest Return c) what brings the greatest Reward.

18. The Law of Sacrifice.
A leader must give up to go up. Successful leaders must maintain an attitude of sacrifice to turn around an organisation. One sacrifice seldom brings success. As he worked to turn around the Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca slashed his own salary to $1 per year.”When you beome a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself.”

19. The Law of Timing.
When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go. Only the right action at the right time will bring success.

20. The Law of Explosive Growth.
To add growth, lead followers. To multiply growth, lead leaders. “It is my job to build the people who are going to build the company.”

21. The Law of Legacy.
A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. “Leadership is the one thing you can’t delegate. You either exercise it – or abdicate it.”

If you need to improve any of these, pick up the book. Basically if you want to be a leader, this one is for you.

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Sunday Book Review : Free to Choose by Milton Friedman

Free to Choose: A Personal StatementFree to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton Friedman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The say, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Friedman’s 1980 work is able to do just that. Milton won the Noble Memorial Prize in Economics in 1978. Free to Choose highlights free market economics and the forces that destroy them. So much good and relevant data in here that it is hard to believe it was written almost 40 years ago.

The part that rings true is that almost every instance of “free market” being cited as the reason for some decline (think great depression, mortgage crisis, looming student debt) can actually be traced back to government intervention setting the ball in motion for the collapse.

His take on public schooling, welfare, social security, legalizing drugs, the FDA, unions and other topics is well worth the listen regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall. If you plan on voting for a candidate in the upcoming election it would be worth your time to read this book to have a broader understanding on economics before checking a box at the ballot.

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Sunday Book Review : Integrity by Henry Cloud

Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of RealityIntegrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Henry Cloud

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cloud’s work with business leaders at Fortune 500 companies leads him to believe integrity is at the heart of good leadership. He outlines six key traits that comprise integrity:

1. Trust
2. Truth
3. Results Focused
4. Embracing the Negative
5. Growth Focused
6. Adaptability

If you want to grow as a leader, seeking integrity is a great start. This book is for you!

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Sunday Book Review : Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and PoliticsThings That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics by Charles Krauthammer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collection of Krauthammer’s essays over the years. I never paid any attention to Krauthammer through the years, but figured I would take a gamble based on reviews and popularity. He broke the essays into four categories: personal, political, historical and global. He covers a wide variety of topics. He definitely got me fired up about how big government has become, how out of control taxation is and how government is impeding in the free market.

It is worth nothing that for a stretch in the book it seemed to take a side alley surrounding Israel. I can not be coherent on that topic with someone that approaches it with blind vigor based on religious belief. So that was significant turn off for me.

If you like politics and want to cover a few decades with great content. This is an easy read.

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