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Tom DeMarco

Great agile workspaces – balancing space, communication and distraction.

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This is a sneak peek at some of the ideas I’m going to talk about at Agile Australia 2011 in June (I’m open to ideas and feedback of course)

The core of Agile is all about communication.  Its routines and rituals encourage teams to communicate and plan as well as tackling their issues and problems as they share lessons from their achievements and failures. Our physical environment, communication culture and our attitude to multitasking and distractions are less obvious levers which can have a profound impact on our teams and how effective they can be.

In my mind the whole Agile movement is really just one part of answering our key question, how do we build great software that delivers real value ? I think the answer boils down to creating the right team, process and environment; this requires four things.

“Be obsessive about only hiring the best talent” – Me
Motivate them through “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose” – Dan Pink
Recognise that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Now we come to core of my topic, something two of my heroes have been talking about since they wrote Peopleware in 1987:

Have the “Correct environment, method, and structure” – Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister

Agile is all about communication; routines and rituals which encourage teams to communicate, tackling issues and problems as well as sharing and learning from success. Our communication culture, physical environment and attitude to multitasking and distractions are less obvious levers which can have a profound impact on our teams and how effective they can be.  I often have this quote from Deming rattling around in my head as I look at problems at work.

“95% of the performance of any organisation is attributable to the system and only 5% the individual”

So over the next few posts I’m going to look at three key parts of our ‘system’.

The Physical Environment.

Jan Banning has captured these wonderful photographs of Government Officials in their office around the world.  Take a look at them and then stop for a minute. Imagine your ideal office … what would it look like ?

How we Communicate.

There is more to software productivity than just removing distractions. Communication is equally as important. A developer may be in the zone and writing perfect code, but if they are writing the wrong code because they are isolated then we haven’t done anything to help productivity have we ?

How we Multitask and Manage Distractions.

Our instinctive behaviours remind us that our brain rejects distraction. For instance, to really zero in on a faint sound in the distance we instinctively stop moving, shut our eyes, and focus entirely on listening carefully. Your brain does not multitask when it’s time to really pay attention.

Stay tuned for some ideas and answers.

“You can’t control what you can’t measure” – Tom DeMarco recants on his famous principle.

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Tom DeMarco

Governance and funding of business investment using agile development methods are two hotly debated and misunderstood topics among the agile community.

With governance principles originally borrowed from the exacting fields of construction engineering and accounting, where things can often be calculated to 2 decimal places, it seems weird that we more often than not disappoint our customers by delivering a different result to that which was blueprinted or planned in software ‘engineering’.

Fred Brook’s 1975 treatise The Mythical Man Month was probably the first to hint at the

core differences between engineering a bridge versus the knowledge work of solving a problem by creating code. In the 20th anniversary edition he added an extra commentary entitled ‘No Silver Bullet’ in which he further reflected on the shortcomings of applying a mechanical engineering metaphor to software development. It is a must-read book for everyone involved in agile or lean development – and if you’ve read Clay Shirky‘s 2008 book Here Comes Everybody you’ll recognise some early sources of Clay’s work on complexity of organisations.

By the way Clay Shirky also has my favourite definition of governance – ‘rules for losing‘.

Fred aside, one of my greatest heroes of the software world is Tom DeMarco, who wrote the seminal text on project and engineering control called Controlling Software Projects: Management, Measurement, and Estimation (Prentice Hall/Yourdon Press, 1982). But this one is a book you probably do not want to own. Why? Well, approaching 70, Tom gives us the benefit of his time to reflect in the newsletter of the IEEE Computer Society in 2009, downloadable here:

http://www2.computer.org/cms/Computer.org/ComputingNow/homepage/2009/0709/rW_SO_Viewpoints.pdf

My favourite quote, which describes in a nutshell why measurement and management aren’t as closely linked as he surmised 27 years earlier:

“Imagine you’re trying to control a teenager’s upbringing. The very idea of controlling your child ought to make you at least a little bit queasy.

Yet the stakes for control couldn’t be higher… now apply “You can’t control what you can’t measure” to the teenager. Most things that really matter–honor, dignity, discipline, personality, grace under pressure, values, ethics, resourcefulness, loyalty, humor, kindness–aren’t measurable.”

And a lot of product deliveries and projects I’ve been involved with acted way more like moody, irrational, changeable teenagers than respectable septuagenarians.

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