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Agile

Agile Encore – Workshop and Talk – Nov 14th 2013

By | Agile, Disruption, Education, Lean | No Comments

I talked about one of our favourite clients BAUM Cycles at Agile Australia 2013 in the middle of the year – It must have been popular because I’ve been invited back for the Agile Encore in Melbourne on the 14th.  I’m also running a workshop in the morning before the afternoon session – Here’s an insight into what you’ll get !

Afternoon Talk – Agile, Lean, Broken Ribs and a World Champion

Taiichi Ohno was reputed to take new graduates at Toyota to the factory floor and draw a circle on the ground. The graduate would then be told to stand there and observe; if upon his return they had not seen enough then he would tell them to observe for longer. While it might feel like something out of a Karate Kid movie Taiichi Ohno was really teaching a simple lesson. The only way to really understand a problem is to go to where it happens and see it.

Admiral Rickover (father of the nuclear submarine) understood this only too well and long before the Toyota Production Systems day he would force ships’ captains into boiler suits to crawl the bilge of their ships with him looking for problems on ships in for repair and refitting.

“What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense – none of which can be taught in a classroom… Human experience shows that people, not organisations or management systems, get things done.” – Rickover

Genchi Genbutsu – Go and See.

How then do we do this when more than 90% of us are creating virtual things – intellectual property, software, design or products – not something you can drop on your foot?

One of Luna Tractor’s most interesting projects over the last year has been working with BAUM Cycles. Their bikes are widely regarded as the Ferraris of the bike world, ridden by world champions who pay their own money and line up like everyone else. In a small, sometimes hot, often cold and dirty factory on the North Shore of Geelong, they have been steadily shifting the operation of the entire business to an Agile and Lean process.

With a blue collar workforce, most factory language unprintable and the background noise a constant mixture of Triple M and machinery; some different approaches are required.  Hear real world lessons about Lean flow, physical stock management; Agile sales and customer service along with who ended up with the broken ribs.  Get a sneak peak into the new factory design that we are currently building also.

You can sign up and see the rest of the program here – www.agileencore.com/index.html

Morning Workshop

In addition I’m running a workshop in the morning covering a wide ranging background of  Agile, Lean and Systems Think as it can be applied across a whole organisation.  This session will be great for beginners and experience agilistas alike with a focus on the background, and philosophy of Agile, Lean and Systems Thinking as well as interactive discussions about how to practically start using these approaches right across your organisations – not just in IT.

Full Details and workshop sign up here – www.agileencore.com/workshops.html

PS: Use the code ENCORE-JAMES to save $100 on the workshop.

Is the impact of Agile just a Hawthorne Effect ?

By | Agile, Communication, Strategy | One Comment

L1001888The Hawthorne Effect is a human behavioural theory drawn by various social scientists from trials undertaken between 1927 and 1932 at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works.

The trials found that improvements in behaviour, and productivity changes observed after adjusting a workplace, were in fact largely just the results of a placebo-type effect – any change seemed to cause improvement.

There were many changes trialled – the first (and possibly most important) were changes in lighting levels (‘the illumination experiment’) in a factory environment. The objective of the experiment was to find the optimum lighting level for productivity – the results showed that more was at work than just changing lumens, every change (up or down in brightness) caused an increase in performance.

Most theorists since have concluded that the improvements are caused by the act of measuring and engaging subjects.  If you missed studying this in your management 101 course, then read this article or take the slightly incomplete wikipedia catch up lesson and then continue reading.  Lets deconstruct the impact of this theory into its parts:

Measurement

We’ve already written about the impact of measurement before.  It’s also pretty well understood that humans perform against whatever KPI you give them, the way they do it may however be surprising or unintended.

Confirmation Bias

Then there is Confirmation Bias, basically the likelihood that you will both find what you’re looking for, and ignore stuff that you’re not.  Elegantly illustrated by this group of Radiologists who can’t find a Gorilla in their scans.  If a team expects a new process to be better, then their perception will likely match their expectation.

Empowered Staff

Finally the staff in the later trials, more focused on workplace layout and reward were engaged, they were part of the process.  They were made to feel special.  We’ve talked about this a fair bit too – though Dan Pink is more fun. Smart people are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Pink was not the first to the conclusion that money was directly linked to productivity.

In summary, if you measure stuff, look for a change, and then make people feel special – surprise, surprise, you’re going to see a change!  Does this mean that some of the impact of Agile, the dramatic increase in staff engagement and useful productivity are perhaps just caused by the visual changes in the offices and agile rituals, but, in fact are just a ‘Hawthorne Effect’ ? In my heart, I have to say nervously, yes, at least to some extent.

Is this bad ? No.

Ok, but is the change real and sustainable? Yes, the changes and improvement in your team’s performance and culture are real.  Like all placebos, the source of the change might not be real, but the impact is.  If we can come up with better or different ways to achieve the same improvement then we should try them… any good agilista will tell you that anyway.

In the mean time I’ll leave you thinking about a sobering equation Nigel sent me as we’ve been debating this recently.

Hawthorne > Maslow + Deming

hawthorne effect workplace

Genchi Genbutsu – Go and See

By | Agile, Communication, Lean, Space | No Comments

ImageTaiichi Ohno was reputed to take new graduates at Toyota to the factory floor and draw a circle on the ground.  The graduate would then be told to stand there and observe; if upon his return they had not seen enough then he would tell them to observe for longer.  While it might feel like something out of a Karate Kid movie Taiichi Ohno was really teaching a simple lesson.  The only way to really understand a problem is to go to where it happens and see it.

While Lean and the Toyota Production System is largely credited with pioneering this approach, I suspect that like most parts of the TPS it’s just a nice packaging of a common sense observation – Kanban for example was just a reflection of the way a Supermarket has to maintain stock on its shelves: a pull system where the consumer takes an item and leaves space to bake more bread, or butcher another animal etc to replace it.

Rickover (father of the nuclear submarine) understood this only too well and long before the TPS would force ships’ captains into boiler suits to crawl the bilge of their ships with him looking for problems on ships in for repair and refitting.

“What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses.  It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense – none of which can be taught in a classroom… Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.” – Rickover

Co-locationing cross functional teams is just another kind of Genchi Genbutsu, it allows all the members of the team to see and understand the problems that others are solving.  Lockheed Martin has colocated designers, contractors, pilots and welders etc in their Skunkworks since the ’40s.  The JPL has its Team X and Agile teams colocate everyone from their end customers to the sytem admins if possible.

Many years ago when I was running the IT team at a SAAS business we had a simple task tray application which measured system performance and warned of basic metrics being off trend (user sessions, average response time and # of database sessions).  We displayed this on a huge TV in the middle of the building – right between the customer service area and the main developers’ workspace.  When a problem happened the phones would ring, alarms would sound and within seconds developers were talking to customer service reps, who were in turn on the phone with customers about the problem.  Nobody was told to ‘log a ticket’.

Leaders, get out of your boardroom and out of your confortable office shielded from the world by your highly efficent PA; go and see how the sausages are made.  Walk the floor, talk to your staff and spend time doing some of their work.  If your product people are complaining about IT ‘never delivering’ then get some extra desks and have them go and sit in the middle of your dev group to understand why.  If your inventory system always fails, go to the store room and watch boxes being unpacked and catalogued.  If sales are down, go with your sales team, visit prospective clients and hear from their own mouths why your product doesn’t cut the mustard.

Genchi Genbutsu – Go and See.

WHY ?

By | Agile, Communication, Customers, Development, Disruption, Lean, People, Strategy | No Comments

At various times I’ve heard Fiona, Nigel and myself telling people “If you only adopt one Agile practice make it the retrospectives” … But why ?

The boards are useful, but they are really just give you a prompt when you talk at your stand ups, and those are just an efficient way to make sure everyone is communicating.  While the demos and showcases give some social incentive to produce real things and check your progress over a useful timeframe (weeks not months or years).  But … The retrospectives (or reviews), that for me is where the real magic happens.  If you never stop to check, to ask how things are going and question why things are the way they are, why you are doing things and what you should do next in response then you risk having  the veneer of an Agile process which is either just micromanagement on the wall, Waterfall or perhaps worst of all, no real plan at all.

Being Agile isn’t enough.  Being Lean isn’t enough.

It’s all to easy to build and do the wrong things very well and very quickly using these techniques.  Perhaps the single most important thing is that your CEO, your leaders, your product people and you need to understand, ask and articulate is WHY you’re doing things.

If it’s a statement about profit and growth, start running. The powerful WHYs come from passion and insights from your customer (or potential customers if you’re doing something new).

WHY –> WHAT –> HOW … Simon Sinek

There are two standout statements in Simon’s TED talk.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

“There are leaders and there are those that lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead – inspire us. We follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to, we follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves.”

Too many companies and individuals talk about what they are doing, the great ones talk about why.

Documentation – is video an agile option?

By | Agile, Communication, Development, People | One Comment

Working software over comprehensive documentation – one of the tenets of the agile movement that was enshrined on the agile manifesto over 10 years ago. But it is often hard to convince grey-haired old men carrying sharpened stakes (aka the stakeholders) that when things go wrong, the safest path is NOT for someone to look up the very thick and comprehensive ringbinder your BA team created at release time, find the page with that code on it, and fix it.

Back in the day, a whole industry grew up around documentation and manuals for software development projects. You could even get a job as a ‘technical writer’! I’m glad to say we don’t hear much from those people today, but I have no doubt they still exist somewhere in the land of waterfalls. Plenty of people still make loser manuals, as Mary Poppendieck is wont to let slip. And between James and I, we must have tried ring binders, post-it notes, wikis, white boards, powerpoints, omnigraffle, photos, blogs, twikis, email, text files… just about everything except stone tablets.

Luna hero Donald Knuth would tell you that to some extent the software should be its own manual (aka literate programming) – if fortune smiles upon you, it will be able to be picked up by a later developer and sorted out, based on the use of well-known programming techniques, sensible structure, and the occasional comment.

Architecture is another matter again – agile talks about it being a shared responsibility, about anyone being able to draw it on a whiteboard at any time. Good principle, but things can get quite complex at times – most people don’t want to know everything, just where the dragons be.

Alistair Cockburn made an interesting point at Agile Australia 2011 – that principle #1 of the agile manifesto was about the importance of face-to-face communication, and principle #2 was around minimising documentation. What if we combined these two ideas? In a world full of Youtube consuming, non-reading, video-savvy people, surely a short piece to camera was the next best thing to having the creator of a piece of code on the spot to consult?

So, from a small scribble in my To Do list, was born a video documentation project to take some risk out of moving the Lonely Planet website with a new team being started up in London – 18,000km away with all new people.

The idea was simple – 10 videos, less than 5 minutes each, hi-res with a Flip camera so the whiteboard drawings could be easily seen, and the focus being on pointing out the dragons. Explain the interfaces, where test coverage was weakest, some detail around the databases (recorded brilliantly with a screen grab tool by the DBA) and a great lesson in all the gotchas. The lowest tech thing we could do was label them well, stick them on a USB drive, and ship them to London.

Great idea for release notes, progressively recording improvements to code. A now out of production Flip is only going to cost you a couple of hundred dollars on eBay.

If nothing else, it might avoid the kind of developer comments we once found in some packaged software code -“what kind of f@#$tard wrote this? I have no idea what this is for!”

Give it a try with your iPhone and let us know how it goes.

Learning – yeah, yeah, we know. No, you don’t know!

By | Agile, People | No Comments

As James and I have been building our fashionably lean Luna Tractor startup over the last 9 months, we’ve had many moments to pause and wonder why people just seem to despise reading, listening, and learning about strategy, culture and new ways of working.

It boggles us! How can this be? Learning is the hot topic du jour!

Eric Ries just reiterated his 10c worth that ‘validated learning‘ is the only true measure of progress when you are building a product or company under conditions of uncertainty.

This has caused a bit of handbag swinging in agile circles, as ‘learning’ isn’t anywhere near as easy to measure as a team’s velocity (the throughput of development stories); or a burndown chart (points per iteration); or cycle time (time for a story to turn into cash). His point is that while you may have made good progress towards achieving a plan, that plan may actually be leading nowhere useful for customers.

“Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalisation or a good story designed to hide failure (btw I hate those smart-ass CEO put-down quotes about ‘experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted’). It is a rigorous method of demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty in which startups grow.”

Revenue, no matter how small (in one of Eric’s startups $300 a week), is one good way to validate you have learned something useful.

It’s therefore obvious we all want learning – it makes us smarter and richer (and more like Eric Ries) for a start!

The science of learning is well documented – there are several theories, which if you happen to be an educationalist, we hope you are familiar with. One or more will likely have been inflicted on you by 10 years at school and perhaps more at a tertiary institution. We’ll side-step the science here for a minute.

Instead, we’ll talk about guitars.

As it happens we are both musicians – James an accomplished trumpet player, having played for years, and me, a struggling noob rock guitarist. It’s a skill I chose to pick up in my 40s, and whilst reading about strategy, lean and agile is a painless habit for me, guitar playing has been a start-from-scratch nightmare.

But what the guitar has been for me, I realise picking up a book or learning about agile is for others. Far out – no wonder people avoid learning!

The first thing about learning the guitar is the pain. Pain in the note-holding finger-tips (and some fine callouses to boot); along with pain in the left wrist, hand and fingers (I have a Bb7 claw hand at the moment). The pain comes from contorting my long-standing limbs and digits into new shapes and combinations.

That physical pain is nothing to the pain of emotional embarrassment at hearing notes and chords come out hideously (in front of friends and family); the feelings of incompetence that weigh down my shoulders; and worst of all the nagging, uncomfortable pressure just under the solar plexus that is my bruised self-esteem. You just suck at it, for quite a while. Nobody wants to suck. So we (quite logically) just avoid pain and sucking by staying the hell away from learning.

The second thing is that learning is tiring. I’m trashed after an hour of practice – listening, trying, re-listening, trying again, playing along … keeping up with band-mates and having fun jamming leads to the best night’s sleep.

Photo by Jamie Supple

Thirdly, learning moves at different rates. Some days it just clicks, others a small chord change can take a week to master. It doesn’t pay to plan (in my case) that I can master a song a week for example – too much uncertainty in that! Then, just as my left hand gains competence at changing from an F to an Am chord, my right hand can’t master the strum pattern that makes it sound rich and funky. The ‘team’ are learning at different rates!

The internet both helps and hinders learning – willing amateur musicians seem to have tabulated (aka written the non-notation cheats for) every song every written, and loaded them up to sites like Ultimate Guitar tabs. But most of them are wrong! As you can see in the example above I spent literally months in the wilderness with that Fly My Pretties song trying to figure out why it didn’t sound right – only to have a competent guitarist point out it was a B-flat, not a B.

Learning works so much better with feedback – and not after a week of doing something wrong, mastering the wrong damn thing only to find the chord progression was different all along – and quickly deciphered by a guitar master (see the hand-written chords at right on the photo above). Ten to 20 minute intervals of feedback are the natural human learning cycle. Which makes you wonder how useful a weekly retro can ever be!

Most of the time is spent on my guitar doing it wrong, listening and adapting. It takes a lot of repetition, and I often find it is best to just walk away and come back later – and then be amazed what your muscles have learned while you were cursing those chord changes.

Photo by James Pierce

Launching songs for real into the world at a band gig, or even a band rehearsal is a world apart from practising solo. Everything you thought you knew from doggedly playing along to the original song on the iPod goes by the wayside as the team rhythm takes over, and what matters is the skills and techniques more than the precise process of hitting all those notes in order. The order, in fact, can change with alarming speed!

And finally, a good teacher makes all the difference. I am very lucky to have several, professional and talented amateur in my life. And now I can reflect on why coaching is such a fundamental part of learning to play agile in business.

At YOW! in Melbourne this month we heard Jeff Patton talk about agile adoption, and he told us the story of how Ron Jeffries responds to people who whine about their failed agile project “oh yeah, we tried agile and it didn’t work for us”. He says that is akin to  saying “oh yeah, we tried baseball and it just didn’t work”.

You need to practice, chances are you just suck at baseball!

And it is practice that is the biggest secret of all – for guitarists, baseball teams and agilists.

Footnote: for the curious, here’s a live recording of the original (and beautiful) Fly My Pretties song tabbed so badly, and scribbled all over in my song book above.

From Insight to Strategy to Innovation – while standing at the Toyworld Checkout

By | Communication, Customers, Disruption, People, Strategy | 2 Comments

Listen up lean and agile thinkers. This is a simple illustration of the kind of things that make innovation and strategy easy – a gift from someone on a toy shop counter that probably earns less than $20 an hour. Are you this smart? This brave?

With a 10 year old in my household, it’s little wonder I am a fan of Lego. From my own childhood memories, to their inspiring recovery from a near death business experience (after their long-standing patent for bricks expired) just by listening to customers and innovating the product accordingly, it is all good.

One of their recent products puzzled and infuriated me though. It is a single Lego minifigure in an opaque cellophane packet – ideal for for party bags for kid’s birthdays; the child at the checkout who MUST spend their pocket money on something (and they are cheap, $4 to $5 each); or perhaps the serious collector to get some custom mini figure accessories and body parts.

Yet, you can’t see which one of the 16 in the series you are going to end up with.

I will thus confess to having spent far too much time at many a big store’s Lego counter with Mr 10, eyes shut, feeling the packets to detect the slightest variation in the components to figure out if the character is Jane Torvill (uncool!) or Toxic Space Engineer (cool!).

Children’s (and collecter of greater years, ahem) ingenuity and social network savvy soon solved it – for Series 1 and 2 they quickly figured out the bar codes were different and published the key. So Lego moved the goalposts, using a single bar code and a system of dots on the packaging to differentiate figures in Series 3. The kids cracked it again.

Series 4 onwards you have no chance of detecting the difference from the packaging. The secondary market on eBay for these figures erupted, and the popularity of the series continued to grow. Business is booming. Yet I’m still grumpy about it. Why?

Why did Lego want the figure to be a surprise? Was that part of their strategy for the product? Perhaps I will never know, and Mr 10 and I quickly became disenfranchised by the whole thing.

So imagine my surprise, when dropping into Toyworld Palmerston North in NZ last week to find the Lego minifigure packets on the checkout counter, with each figure individually labeled with a hand-written number against the official Lego key. “You can’t do that”; “that’s naughty”; “that’s against the rules” were all thoughts that leapt into my rule-obeying lizard brain. Flabbergasted, I managed to regain enough English language ask why they’d done it.

And for the readers who are struggling with why the hell I am writing about toyshops, this is called INSIGHT and is the most valuable commodity you can possess when developing something new. It is Dan Pink’s ‘purpose’ and Simon Sinek’s ‘why’ in the words of a 20 year old shop clerk:

“I just saw the looks on the faces of the kids – so disappointed that they got a cheerleader when they wanted a deep sea diver, and the conflict they had, knowing they had to be grateful, but had chosen a useless gift”.

Now, agilists, here comes the STRATEGY bit – how will you do something about that problem your customer savvy product owner has found a really sharp insight about:

“Did you get an official cheat sheet from Lego on how to do it?” I asked.

“No, no – there isn’t one. We just had time while on the checkout and watching the door, so we checked each one individually, just like the kids would do.”

INNOVATION simply comes from making this a habit now, knowing things like there are only 2 robots in the latest boxes of 100 or so mini-figures, and thinking about which of their customers might really value that robot.

“The hair on number 3 in that set there is cool for making Call of Duty characters” trots out Mr 10 to the girl behind the counter. “Really? My brother is so into Call of Duty – he’ll love that one”. Minifigure #3, the uncool, pyjama-clad kid with the teddy bear just went from ‘can’t shift’ to ‘can’t keep in stock’.

That is called GROWTH.

If you’re smart, you’ll be down to Toyworld in Palmy and hire that lady on the counter for your agile innovation team. She gets it 100%.

Challenger 1986: NASA’s most explosive retrospective.

By | Agile, Communication, People, Space, Technology | No Comments

Space Shuttle Challenger in one of the most famous (and chilling) space photos of all time.

As I read this week’s Telegraph obituary of a great American rocket scientist, I was moved to thinking about how we deal with the whistleblowers and truth-tellers in an agile world.

How can we strike a balance between encouraging transparency and realism, while managing the impact on the morale of tight-knit teams from Negative Nigels and Whining Winifreds?

I’ll be the first to say that the command and control culture of committed waterfallers (like NASA) is a fast track to secrets being kept, and problems being swept under the carpet. When “failure is not an option” on a project racing toward a fixed launch date, with scope being secretly trimmed off Gantt charts to ensure compliance with public commitments and budgets, and all-nighters pulled by tech heroes, we are just hiding failure.

Is agile any different? If it is effective, yes. But agile zombies, with their card carrying undead marching into retrospectives and standups ritually chanting out their obligations so they can get back to their desks as quickly as possible, is probably just as bad as waterfall.

This tragic tale of an ignored voice is a stern reminder of the consequences of avoiding talking about engineering issues.

When I arrived at Lonely Planet in 2007, and proceeded to shut down a failed waterfall-delivered website program, the HR team had already initiated a training program called Effective Conversations. It seemed uncomfortably basic and quaint in intent – teaching people to get good information across quickly and confidently when in meetings, in casual conversations, one on ones, or in the lunch queue.

A month later, I knew it was gold – I had yet to find a person who did not say “I knew that would happen”. People had just not managed to get the complexity and interdependence of the hairball of product and architecture problems across to Steering Committees and executives. And after a few public scoldings for being naysayers, they learned to shut up and soldier on.

Edward Tufte tackled this same issue of communicating complexity for NASA after the second major shuttle program disaster – Columbia in 2003. This $7 report from his website is one of the best training guides for agilists to invest in around effective written communication.

The constraints put upon Boeing and NASA engineers to explain the complexity of the situation where chunks of insulation had broken off the booster rockets and damaged the heat protective tiles on the leading edge of the wing, using Powerpoint slides with bullets points and a constrained number of words per line, was too great. The wrong decision was made to not space walk and inspect the damage.

I wonder if that was a ‘didn’t work’ or just a ‘puzzles us’ in a retro sense? Either way it signaled the beginning of the end for the second great chapter of the USA’s space exploration efforts. If you are facing an ever increasing complexity in your product and IT architecture, our advice is to put as much investment into improving everyone’s communication skills as you are any engineering effort.

Buy your copy of Edward Tufte’s handbook from his website here.

Great Engineering Lasts – The U-2 Spy Plane and the SR 71 Blackbird.

By | Agile, Development, Lean, Space, Technology | 4 Comments

We spoke at YOW this year on the topic of innovation and agile over 6 decades, highlighting the Agile and Lean principles we see in space and engineering projects. From the 1930s we talked about the Cabinet War rooms and that deserves a whole post of its own as we continue to expand our understanding of how physical spaces enable and impact the people and results.  From the 1940s we talked about Lockheed Martin and their Skunkworks which we’ve written about before.  From the 1950s we looked at some of the magnificent engineering created by that same Skunkworks team… The Agile movement may only be 10 years old, but the principles and the evidence that it works goes back way further than that.  We’ll write more reflections on YOW itself at some point, but today you get one of the lessons that most appeals to us.

The U-2 Spy Plane

When the U-2 first flew in 1955, it was an accident.  A high speed taxi test saw it rolling down the runway at 70 knots at which point its sailplane wing generated enough lift and it took off into the air unexpectedly.  At the other extreme, its cruising altitude of 70,000 feet is referred to by pilots as coffin corner; at this height its stall speed is a mere 10 knots slower than its maximum speed.

The balance is so critical on the U-2 that the cameras had to use a split film setup with reels on one side feeding forward while those on the other side feed backward, thus maintaining a balanced weight distribution through the whole flight.

The plane is incredibly difficult to land because of the lift cushion under the wing as it comes close to the ground.  It lands on two inline ‘bicycle wheels’ and the wing tips also land and skid on the ground on titanium plates.

Perhaps the most amazing U-2 fact, and the reason we consider it such a testament to great engineering, is that it’s still in active service today.

The SR-71 Blackbird

This is the fastest and highest flying air-breathing aircraft ever made (only rockets can go higher or faster).  It has a maximum speed unspecified above Mach 3.5 (3.5 times the speed of sound) and a maximum altitude also unspecified but in excess of 85,000 feet.  At Mach 3.5 you’re covering 1km per second and the engines are sucking in 3 million litres of air every second – an average human breaths in that much air in a year.

The construction of the plane is pretty special too, with 90% of it being made from titanium.  At Mach 3+ the surface of the plane heats up to 500+ degrees.  The wet patches you can see on the wings and central spine in this photograph are caused by the fuel leaking out of the expansion joint ‘gills’ in the plane.  Until about Mach 2.5 when the plane heats up and expands, the SR-71 leaks fuel constantly.

While the Concord can do the transatlantic London to New York flight in about three and half hours, the SR-71 is the way to go if you’re in a hurry.  It holds the record at just 1 hour 54 min.

My favourite SR-71 story comes from a pilot in the book Sled Driver: “One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. ‘Ninety knots,’ ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. ‘One-twenty on the ground,’ was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was ‘Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,’ ATC responded. The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter’s mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ‘ Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.’ We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.”

This article from Gizmodo about flying the SR-71 is required reading.

In a world of throw-away appliances and software it’s a salient reminder that great work, great engineering lasts a long time.  The Skunkworks team was isolated and protected from the rest of the organisation; this one team designed over 30 planes including the U2, A-12, SR-71, F-117, F-22 – just to name a few iconic aircraft.

Eating our own Dog Food

By | Agile, Development | No Comments

Some Luna friends, Horsham Colour – or I should say now HC Pro – are one of the largest professional photographic labs in Australia, situated in the charming country town of Horsham in the middle of the wheat belt of western Victoria.  Their business is as a high volume, but still very high quality, photographic and print production house.

As a generation of wedding and portrait photographers grow old and retire, a new generation of photographers and products have grown in their place.  Customers no longer just want prints in frames, but albums, cards, books, canvas and prints bonded onto metal etc.  Enabling photographers to understand and order such a wide range of products online has been a goal for the lab for some time.

hcpro.com – a new website which describes the lab, their products and the online ordering process – has just gone online with a bunch of hard work from the guys in Horsham, Grant Bisset at www.speakinteractive.com and ourselves at Luna Tractor.

We extol to teams the virtue of actually using their own products and processes… to eat their own dog food.  With this web project we took exactly the same approach we would recommend to others, ourselves.

We started with a brain storming and culling exercise to decide what the  minimal viable product was – which messages we had to communicate to give us focus.  Working through three areas:

  • Brand – What people remember.
  • Content – What people learn.
  • Action – What people do.

With each of those three areas defined as 2 or 3 easy to understand anchors we went away and designed a simple site. From there we made basic, hand drawn wireframes.

Next we drew up a rough content plan based on the wireframes and started to flesh it out by doing the product photography and copy writing. Over about a week we continually updated our content ‘board’ until we were happy with how it was sitting.

Ready now for construction, Grant did some work on the build in short cycles with Michael (from HC Pro) and I engaged in a review and then tasks to create missing pieces of content.   Having the whole website as a visual picture on the wall made it easier to choose images that conveyed the story we needed to tell,  quality and careful made products.  It also showed us what was missing, and we could put in place holders which served as our to do list, and a kind of burn down chart. Building a very small site (which is really only a version 1.0) made it easier to get quick feedback from potential customers.  From here we’ll listen to what real life customers say, how they use the site from the stats, and phone them to ask why.

The end result is a surprisingly small and simple site, just what we were aiming for.  It never ceased to surprise me how often our solution to problems was simply to remove content, text or extra ‘fluff’ which we had designed in but wasn’t answering one of our core Brand, Content or Action goals.  Check out the site and let us know what you think.

Before:

After:

Rugby and the origins of agile

By | Agile, Lean, People | 4 Comments

A recurring challenge we face when discussing the transformation of 21st century organisations to more agile and lean ways of working might be paraphrased as:

“My boss has never heard of it and thinks it must be a fad – does this agile thing have any history to fall back on?”

Having just spent a week at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand with plenty of time to reflect (kiwis don’t go for half-time extravaganzas), it occurred to me this FAQ – which might better stand for ‘fairly annoying question’ – should be a blog post, suitably peppered with rugby metaphors.

RWC 2011, Georgia v Romania

The long history of agile goes back to the emergence of mass production from a world of ‘craft’ industrial production in the 1800s. Around 1908, Henry Ford, with management theorist FW Taylor (and later AP Sloan albeit Sloan worked at GM, not Ford) developed moving production lines in huge factories focusing on economies of scale (make more of the same thing, use semi-skilled labour single-tasking and doing what the boss commanded of them, and unit cost comes down), building any colour of Model T as long as it was black.

When a new product was finally demanded (the Model A), Henry and son Edsel Ford simply abandoned the old factory at Highland Park in Detroit and built a new one at River Rouge, as land and labour were plentiful – the factory and re-tooling reputedly cost up to $100m in 1927 dollars!

The next great leap forward in industrial production methods was not developed in America, but in Japan with America’s help, emerging after World War 2 under a rather unique set of circumstances as the Japanese economy was rebuilt – limited capital, limited land, and limits set on labour by the USA including the bizarre ‘job for life’ laws which forced employers to develop systems of working that enabled 60 year-olds to be productive alongside 16 year-olds.

The system that emerged is now known widely under the tag of lean, but also as the Toyota Production System (TPS), and in Deming’s writings ‘systems thinking‘. By the second half of the 20th century, there was no capacity for constraining consumer demand to only 1 model of car – variation in consumer demand and the increasing speed of change were the key challenges for Toyota to respond to as it set up for business. It was within the cradle of this 40-year period that Agile was born as the next great model of organising work.

The happy coincidental crossing of national obsessions: rugby and lean.

Rugby came to Japan in the 1890s from England. In 1987, built on over 100,000 grassroots players in their corporate leagues and competitions (including imported players from NZ and Australia), Japan qualified to play at the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. (Note: Japan actually only lost the hosting of the 2011 RWC by 1 vote – so they will certainly be hosts in the next decade). The national coach for Japan is of course John Kirwan, a kiwi hero of the victorious 1987 All Blacks team.

Just a year before that first Rugby World Cup, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka of Hitotsubashi University in Japan wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled ‘The New New Product Development Game‘ that is recognised as the source of a stream of innovative thinking that first rolled into smarter ways of developing software in the 1990s.

Clearly Takeuchi and Nonaka were rugby fanatics, meticulously documenting the way a good rugby team can flow up the field as a team in a series of overlapping phases of play (like option C in the diagram above)- and using that analogy to describe the way successful product development was happening in Japanese companies. Remember the Honda City and the stir it created in the 1980s? That’s one of several great examples they document in the article.

Ultimately Jeff Sutherland‘s coining of the phrase ‘scrum’ in the 1990s to define a wide-reaching agile method was inspired by that article. Personally, I feel ‘scrum’ somewhat misses the overall point of their work, as a scrum is a tiny fraction of the game’s flow, but we’ll go with it. We’re not all rugby-nerds or kiwis.

The most important thing you (the reader) can do right now is to buy a copy of the 1986 article and read it. It is only $6.95, and yes, there is a frustrating paywall thing on HBR.org, but it will be worth it.

For the 99% of you who are non-readers, here is the HBR summary of the article:

In today’s fast-paced, fiercely competitive world of commercial new product development, speed and flexibility are essential. Companies are increasingly realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products simply won’t get the job done. Instead, companies in Japan (and the United States) are using a holistic method—as in rugby, the ball gets passed within the team as it moves as a unit up the field.

This holistic approach has six characteristics: built-in instability, self-organizing project teams, overlapping development phases, “multilearning,” subtle control, and organizational transfer of learning. The six pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, forming a fast flexible process for new product development. Just as important, the new approach can act as a change agent: it is a vehicle for introducing creative, market-driven ideas and processes into an old, rigid organization.

And when you’re done with the article, pass it quickly down-field to the captain of your team. Remember, companies have been using and refining this way of working to beat you since the 1980s, so what are you waiting for? It will cost you 200 times that amount of money to go to the RWC final in Auckland and see the world championship of agile in action for yourself.

My thanks to Marcus Fazio, multi-national consultant extraordinaire, and Japanese expert who reminded me of this all important link between two of my favourite things. I’m sure Marcus, Takeuchi and Nonaka would all have enjoyed this fabulous moment from the RWC last month.

Japan's winger Hirotoki Onozawa runs to score a try during the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool A match New Zealand vs Japan at Waikato stadium in Hamilton on September 16, 2011. (Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

A new orbit – thoughts on leaving Lonely Planet

By | People

Last Friday my work at Lonely Planet was completed. The new website team, led by half a dozen energetic founders from Melbourne, re-started in London after an intense 100 day transition program that was judged a great success.

The opportunity to take to the wider business community the radically lean, agile and kanban ways of working that have been developed in my time at Lonely Planet has begun – here’s my parting thoughts from the big day.

When I joined Lonely Planet in April 2007, the world was somewhat different.

  • YouTube was only 18 months old, and we all wondered how the world’s largest collection of dog and cat videos would ever survive given it had no way of actually making money.
  • Facebook had about 40m users, and we all kindof assumed it was destined to be a pale imitation of the dominant MySpace with 120m users.
  • Rolling up American trailer trash mortgages into great big bundles of fiscal shit, polishing those turds and selling them to Asian retirement and investment funds was a great business to be in.
  • Some guy called John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, and the nation’s primary policy focus was turning back small boats full of refugees.
  • There was no iPhone.
  • There was no iPad.
  • There was no Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or other digital book platform.
  • http://www.icanhazcheeseburger.com  was yet to be registered.
  • There was no such concept as Groupon, or 4Square.
  • Rupert Murdoch didn’t own the Wall Street Journal.
  • Lonely Planet believed outsourcing, enterprise software and waterfall delivery were ‘the shit that killed’ (a favourite Lance Armstrong quote that one).
  • I couldn’t play the guitar at all, and certainly wasn’t cool enough to be in a band.
  • Popular music was dominated by the unashamed ass-waving of Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, Keisha, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Nelly Furtado.
  • Drugs, betting and schoolgirls were the dominant news headlines relating to the AFL; and…
  • We had no idea what would happen to Harry Potter.

It is good to know only some things change then.

Those things that did change, changed quite dramatically in that short time.

Since 2007, I have spent millions of Lonely Planet’s dollars of hard-earned income (running IT, then helping run Digital) trying to figure out our strategic response to some of the more radical challenges thrust upon us. That’s thousands of dollars an hour in the average working week. So, if like our CFO, you’re you’re all wondering what the Retro on a transformation project of that scale looks like:

What worked?

  • Being agile, not just DOING agile: most organisations only ever get to ‘doing agile’, somehow our culture, our business crisis facing the GFC and our challenges of new media have led us to BEING agile. We talk daily. We learn weekly. We adapt to change. We are transparent about the work and priorities. This capability of moving fast will serve Lonely Planet well.
  • And as I have said before – if you don’t like change, you’re going to enjoy irrelevance even less.
  • The caring: not so much in the ‘gives a shit’ sense, we know people at LP give a shit (it’s a hiring filter). Just the raw humanity of the place:
    • You eat food and drink coffee from the Mad Dog cafe made with LOVE, and you can taste it. And James, I don’t for one moment hold your pork roast crackling responsible for my open heart surgery.
    • When something bad happens, the wagons are circled and it is sorted out.
    • There is music, and humour, and art. Everywhere.
    • The individuals all know who they are. Too many to mention, or thank.
    • It is so special I shall be partaking in the social aspects that are extended to people beyond the walls of this golden cage in Footscray – the musicians especially, but also the agilists, the innovators, the emerging lean leaders, those who I have spent a lot of time with. We should all try to make our alumni more comfortable with coming back, for lunch, drinks, or a catch-up. Help them to get over the embarrassment and discomfort and get them out here.
  • The smartness. No doubt, with an agreed strategy, 20 people randomly selected from Lonely Planet could leave here, start and succeed in a new business venture in the travel space. It’s a good thing, and a sign of the glue that binds this place that they so rarely do!

What didn’t work?

  • Needing open heart surgery part way through the website relaunch. This event, potentially life-changing for me, showed Lonely Planet and BBCW’s mettle, depth of talent and support for its employees beyond the call of duty.
  • The result however, was coming back from a mid-life disaster with a focused passion on transforming the entire organisation’s capability – not just IT, but everywhere. The result is the most agile enterprise I know – from finance, legal, sales, product development to HR.

What puzzles me?

  • Those people who can still be heard murmuring to themselves about all this damned change stopping or slowing down. Well folks, Google bought Zagat this morning so the madness continues as we sit here.
  • Why don’t you read? You have the best business book library of any business I have ever worked in, and better than most bookshops I have been in. It is a treasure. But it’s dusty. As a brand new writer myself (as opposed to the shitful celebrity agile blogger I might be described as by my friend Amy Gray ;-), I can attest to the amount of thinking that you have to do to make an argument cogent enough to justify a book. Use that sweat wisely – read the result… books.

What would I do differently?

  • Go beyond our walls! My 4+ years at LP has now given me the chance to co-found a small business doing what I am deeply passionate about – teaching others that there are better, smarter ways of working, which can also result in a better quality of life. That business (based on this blog) opens on Monday 12 September, and will be blown along by the support of many of you, not the least of whom is Matt who I thank greatly for giving us the courage to follow our passion.

Better or just Different ?

By | Agile, Development | 2 Comments

This visualisation of Crayola Crayon colours over the last century got me thinking.  If I were a kid, drawing things with my Crayolas, I’m not sure I’d need all those colours.  In fact maybe I’d be pretty happy drawing stuff with just the same 8 colours that had been keeping kids drawing stuff for 32 years, from 1903 to 1935.

Very often when we’re tweaking as part of a creative design process, or trying to figure out the best way to organise our agile boards etc, we make endless small changes searching for perfection.  And we’re not making things better, just different.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t tweak, test, adapt and evolve.  That’s exactly what you should be doing, but make sure you’re making whatever system you’re working on better, not just different.  Developers should be writing unit tests, plus monitoring code coverage and complexity metrics.  Usability folks need to be actively testing and measuring the impact of their changes through customer usability studies and managers need to be engaged with their teams, rather than ‘command and controlling’ them to know when they are just making a mess.

Today when you’re going back and forwards on some choice ask yourself – “Am I making this better ? Or just different ?”

Top 10 agile and lean resources

By | Agile, Lean, links | One Comment

I’ve just written a friend an email with our curated list of resources to inspire teams to start working in a more modern way.

Looking at it, I think it makes a half decent blog post – so here it is!

Passion for customers: you can’t beat Seth Godin. I recommend 2 books – Meatball Sundae which will tell you why you need to think differently to amaze your customers in a digital world; and The Purple Cow for becoming remarkable (as opposed to perfect).

Passion for people: Dan Pink (motivating knowledge workers through autonomy, mastery and purpose) is the king here, though Simon Sinek (emphasising the ‘why’) is a close second. Luckily, YouTube is your friend here.

Agile product development: Steve Blank is the guru here, but being a Stanford lecturer his writing can seem a little impenetrable at times. Two of his students wrote this book which makes far more sense and gets to the point quickly: http://www.custdev.com/ also available on Amazon.

Lean startups: Eric Ries has some great ideas for people starting out, whether they are a real startup or just starting something new in an old world organisation: see some basic slides here, and his upcoming book (due September 2011).

Testing your ideas and products with real people: at Lonely Planet, applying the lessons in this book is how we started to seriously find out things about our digital products that we never knew before: http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Surgery-Made-Easy-Yourself/dp/0321657292

There is a great online service mentioned in the back of the book that removes all barriers to you trying this approach of asking real customers what they think about your product or service, for about $35. No excuses! http://www.usertesting.com/

Lean as a new way of thinking: one great book, covering Toyota’s development of lean manufacturing (the parent of agile) is Jeff Liker’s book The Toyota Way. It gives you the basic premises of running a lean business with lots of examples.

If the nerdy tech stuff starts to fascinate you, then it’s hard to beat James Shore’s primer on agile software development. Any deeper than that then Martin Fowler’s blog is compulsory reading: http://martinfowler.com/

You’ll impress the pants off people if you can comprehend and quote from these principles: http://agilemanifesto.org/ and http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html

Getting things done fast: no better book (or easier read) than Rework by 37 Signals. This puts a lot of the principles above into practice, and if you only read one book, this might be it.

And lastly, from a cultural and organizational change perspective, this is a toolset you should plan on using with your teams: http://www.human-synergistics.com.au/ plus they have a free conference in Melbourne later in the year that people should really try to find a way of getting to.

Working in an Agile way will change habits, and with careful planning those changes in habits can start a landslide of cultural change.

SDC Conference Agile Resources from @nxdnz Keynote

By | Agile | No Comments

Monkeys, Hack Days and Nerf Guns: what can agile look like?

Software Education run an annual conference in both Wellington and Sydney that focuses on the changing role of Business Analysts in the agile sphere – a tricky and much debated topic. I had the honour of being invited to present a keynote at the official dinner where I wove together tales of life in an agile world at Lonely Planet, with some key lessons from commentators ranging from the 1970s to the present day. Plus shot Martyn with a nerf gun. Excellent evening indeed.

We will post the presentation and speaking notes in a separate post.

Key Reading and Resources

  1. From Gutenberg to Zuckerburg, Gus Balbontin from Lonely Planet presenting at O’Reilly Tools of Change, 2011
  2. The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christenson, 1997
  3. How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek at Ted, 2010
  4. Dan Pink on the Surprising Science of Motivation, Ted Talk, 2009
  5. Steve Blank on Customer Development (The Four Steps to the Epiphany)
  6. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, 2010
  7. Rocket Surgery Made Easy, Steve Krug, 2009
  8. Mythical Man Month, Fred Brooks, 1975
  9. Steve Hayes’ Blog on The End of Passion.

My thanks to a wonderfully receptive audience and our fine hosts Softed.

You are what you measure

By | Agile, Development | One Comment

When you put a volt meter into an electrical circuit to measure the voltage difference between two points the internal resistance of the meter itself changes the circuit and impacts the reading. The best volt meters are designed to have very very high internal resistance, but in all circuits the resistance of the volt meter changes the circuit and impacts the measurement (circular yes!); in sensitive low voltage circuits where accuracy is most important the impact is greatest.

One of the agile development teams I’ve worked with decided that they would use the number of cards as their measure for planning, velocity and by implication productivity. Each iteration the cards from the last release were proudly pinned to the wall and counted. An interesting pattern emerged over a number of iterations: the number of bug cards completed went up, and up and up.

We spent a great deal of time trying to work out where our development, testing and release process was going wrong that we were seeing so many old bugs. Were we finding old issues with more thorough testing? Were the developers being lazy? Or was the work we were tackling just much tougher than previous projects? It turns out that the explanation was in fact very simple. Previously developers found and fixed bugs as part of their development tasks (this is quite normal), now they were writing these up as cards and running them across the board through the full prioritisation and QA process. Consciously or subconsciously the developers had been sent a signal that the number of cards was being measured, and thus they responded to and optimised their process to meet that benchmark. Issues which would have been fixed quickly while the developer was deep in their context now became tasks of their own, a much more expensive and unnecessary process.

Perhaps a better title for this post might be ‘Only measure what you truly wish for’. This is a topic which we’ll surely return to again and again, but I’ll leave you with a quote I write into the front of every one of my notebooks to remind me of a valuable truth.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” – Albert Einstein.

Changing to Agile – a messy metamorphosis

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Nigel Dalton speaking at Agile Australia 2009 on Changing to Agile

A picture I have used often to talk about the journey to Agile ways of working shows a series of beautiful chrysali hanging from a branch.

The audience are generally lulled into a serene state as they presume I’m saying the change will occur silently, secretly before their eyes.

But the purpose of the image is to illustrate a wonderful quote from Pat Barker‘s Regeneration Trilogy, a remarkable story tracing the treatment of officers returning from the hell of World War 1’s front lines at the Somme with bizarre injuries that see them struck dumb, wracked with pain when they have no wounds, and generally insane. The men are treated by a Dr Rivers, who experiments with radical new approaches to reach inside the men’s minds to where the damage has been done.

“Rivers knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.”

My point is that if you get overly-analytical on the state of your transformation to Agile’s better, smarter ways of working, you (or gasp, your program office heaven forbid!) will likely find a mess. Give it time – the agile butterfly is going to take at least a year.

Joe Kittinger, astronaut, on how to start being Agile

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

We’re often asked “but how do we get started with Agile?”

The truth is many organisations start with a small, insignificant project that should things go wrong, the consequences will be small, and the bizarre experiment can be swept under the carpet.

Bad idea.

Start with something that has consequences, that people already have an emotional commitment to finishing – preferably to do something great or amazing.

A bit like NASA testing the first space-suit design in the space-race of the 1960s. Some of my favourite video ever made is of Joe Kittinger, the first ‘astronaut’ in many ways – the man who in August 1960 volunteered to test a space-suit design by heading to the edge of the atmosphere in an era when no rocket could get you there. So they sent him up hanging from a weather balloon.

How does he get back to earth? He makes the biggest leap of faith ever.

Why Luna Tractor?

By | Moon, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

An ingenius solution driven by re-framing the question.

While the Americans were busy landing men on the moon for a few days at a time and playing a little golf the Russian space agency was taking a different approach in their race to the moon.  They built and successfully deployed the first remote-controlled robot to explore another body in space.

Landing in 1970, Lunokhod 1 significantly out lasted its original 3 month mission, sending back images for 11 months after traveling over 10km on the lunar surface.  A second mission Lunokhod 2 was sent in 1973 and covered 37km, operating for 4 months.  To this day it holds the record for the longest distance of surface travel by any extra-terrestrial vehicle.

Some perspective on the Russian achievement: the Mars Rovers have covered less than half the distance and transmitted back about the same number of images using technology some 40 years more mature.

The Apollo program racked up a final bill of $25.4b in 1973 ($170b adjusted to present day).  Each Mars rover has cost the US $400m, so in 1970 the Lunokhod program would have cost Russia perhaps $50 million in 1970 dollars? Personally I think the Apollo program is just magnificent, one of humanity’s great engineering achievements, but the little Lunokhod got rather better bang for buck.

So why Luna Tractor? The Lunokhod – or our English version, Luna Tractor – is a reminder to think laterally about problems, have some imagination and shoot for the moon by being a little bit different.

PS: It is of course still up there, recently photographed by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Thanks to reader Ross for the link.

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