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Welcome aboard Fe

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This month Luna Tractor welcomes a new face, Fiona Siseman.  Fiona’s last job was with Lonely Planet in Melbourne as a Project Manager and enabler on a wide range of Agile teams. Most recently she worked with the team building the Shared Publishing Platform which is revolutionising the way that Lonely Planet collects and organises its content. Fiona holds the rare distinction of having worked with every department at Lonely Planet and was there for every step of Lonely Planet’s transformation to an Agile enterprise, where Agile and Lean practices are used from software delivery to legal to print product development. A master of ‘getting stuff done’, Fiona has also employed Agile techniques in managing the construction of an outdoor deck at home.

Agile 2012 – the emerging community in Australia

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Agile Australia 2009, in Sydney.

I distinctly recall feeling crestfallen when a show of hands was asked for at Agile Australia 2009 in Sydney  – who was doing agile, and who was just thinking about it?

From memory about 70% were just thinking about it, and it felt like an evangelical sale from that point onward. We hadn’t really catered for a newbie audience as well as we might have either!

My, how that has changed in just a couple of years. Slattery IT just published the July Agile Today magazine with the results from the conference survey (click on the infographic below to make it bigger). With double the number of attendees of 2009, the profile of agile and lean as a set of techniques being applied in all sectors in Australian business is encouraging reading.

The data here is a great picture of agile in Australia.

  1. It has become about faster time to market for product innovation.
  2. There are a bunch of organisations who have been doing agile for 2 years, and are wrestling with the challenges that come from plateauing in their outcomes and practices.
  3. Making a successful transition to agile working is about overcoming resistance to change within your culture, a topic that is now hot – and for which there is plenty to draw from in the field of change management.

By my reckoning, James and I make up a fair percentage of the tiny ’10+ years’ block in the bar chart (bottom left), showing how long people have been practising agile. As the inimitable Roy Singham so kindly pointed out, I feel a bit like the old man of agile these days – having taken it up in 2000 to survive a dot com in San Francisco. At least I have kept up the sartorial splendour along the way!

Nigel Dalton, David Joyce, Simon Bristow and Craig Smith on stage at Agile Australia 2012 in Melbourne.

Luna USA Field Trip: what happened to Apollo 1 to 10, a lesson in iterative development

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Most people can tell you which Apollo mission landed on the moon. Apollo 11 – July 20, 1969. So what happened to Apollo 1 through 10?

Apollo lunar module in Smithsonian Air and Space museum, Washington DC.

Apollo was the follow on to a program called Gemini, and lasted through the 1960s (until 1972) proving that long term manned space flight was possible. Moving quickly to counter the Soviet threat of a moon shot, Apollo was hustled in with many of the heroes of the earlier ‘right stuff’ era forming the core crew for the new, more ambitious program of landing on the moon by the end of the decade.

Apollo 1 was ready for testing in 1967. And during that testing, the program gained tragic infamy for establishing that short-cut engineering designs that result in electrical sparks within the capsule’s high oxygen environment would be tragic and fatal.

In the minutes it took to open the doors of the capsule, Apollo 1 and its three astronauts were incinerated.

NASA vowed to listen more closely to the concerns of the astronauts from that moment onwards, and appointed an astronaut to lead the engineering of each mission, bringing the team closer to a Skunkworks model than ever before. As the people sitting on top of the 36 storey Saturn V rocket, it seems fair that the astronauts were designated to be the client!

Thus Apollo missions 2 through 7* were unmanned, as NASA rapidly iterated and re-engineered the capsule design, Saturn V rocket design and electronics needed to get to the moon and back. Validated learning (in Eric Ries’ parlance) was best achieved by launch and recovery. The Apollo 1 fire had put the program back 20 months in total, endangering President Kennedy’s goal of getting to the moon and back by the end of the decade.

Meantime the Soviets roared ahead, successfully landing the first (unmanned) vehicle on the moon’s surface, and sending a craft in orbit around the moon and returning it to earth.

Apollo 7, on October the 11, 1968 saw the re-start of the USA’s manned missions. Apollo 8, 9 and 10 went in quick succession from December 1968 to June 1969. Again, rapid iterations with learning employed for the subsequent rocket and module designs.

Through adhering to these rapid engineering iterations, rather than a big design up front model, the USA redefined the word ‘possible’ for a generation to come.

* True space nerds will note that various names were given to the test launches and developments after Apollo 1, some of which were Apollo or Saturn-Apollo.

Luna USA Field Trip: SR-71 in person – an era, a plane, a team

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For the last month I (ND) have been in the USA, on a trip anchored around the LSSC12 conference in Boston, presenting on the kanban dimensions of Lonely Planet’s lawyers in Melbourne. A secondary purpose of the trip was to practice a little genchi genbutsu – going ‘to the place of the work’.

Work in our case, being some legendary examples we teach from the history of great agile and lean work practices.

Our admiration for Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks aircraft design team in the 1940s and beyond, and their contribution to a way of working we now know as agile and lean, has been written about before on this blog, and spoken about at length by James and me at conferences like YOW! in 2011.

It is one thing to watch countless videos, read books, articles and blog entries, and admire amazing photographs. It is another thing entirely to come face to face with a Blackbird SR-71. And on this trip, I have seen two.

The first (pictured above) is stored on the deck of the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier docked in Manhattan. I was so awed to get up close, I wore a tie!

Standing beside this amazing work of engineering, it is a shock to see how big it is. It is an old plane, having seen active duty, and this exact plane is the current speed record holder for jet aircraft – around 3,000 km/h. That speed is not surprising, as the Blackbird basically amounts to a pencil jammed between two of the most enormous jet engines imaginable.

The second is at the Stephen Udvar-Hazy hangar of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Dulles, Virginia. Not subject to the outdoor air and pollution of a city, this plane is more pristine.

It was delivered from LA to Washington in 1 hour 4 minutes, setting a record of its own for the fastest crossing of the USA by a jet aircraft. To put that in perspective, the flight I am writing this blog post on will take 6+ hours to do the same journey.

How big are our Space Ships ?

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Nigel is traveling in the US presently taunting me with images of him standing with SR71s, a Shuttle, Command module and Soyuz vehicle etc, and with a recent lack of space related posts I give you  Invader Xan’s graphic with the relative size of all the interesting things we’ve put (or are planning on putting into space) … All I can say is, Damn, the ISS is quite large then eh.


The Race Car Board

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Sometimes in the course of our work we get to see things which just make us smile.  In this instance it’s a race track board at the City of Melbourne invented by Lorraine Tighe who runs their Web and Customer facing program.  It tracks the delivery phase of different projects.  The different pits represent various blockers and the cars get a sticker to set them on fire (with an explanatory post-it note attached) in the case of unexplained failures.  Just awesome.

Y-Combinator and the No Idea startup…

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Y Combinator has just announced they are taking a round of startup applicants with no idea. This triggered a predictable and pretty amusing reaction on twitter etc.

At first I was cheering on all the tweeters, going ‘right on’… But, then I realised what Paul Graham and co are doing is exactly right.

Clearly they have a successful recipe for making startups work, Reddit, Disqus, Dropbox, Posterous, Airbnb and on it goes, those are just the ones _I_ like.  So what they are doing is innovating their own recipe, iterating and trying something new, why not, what else are they going to do ? Wait for all the copycats to get just as good at making pie as they are ?

The other point is of course that I agree with Y Combinator, teams, culture and ways of working are much more valuable than ideas.  I think we just don’t like saying it out loud sometimes because it sounds soft, so we have aquihires and we use words like ‘pivot’ to make it sound more legitimate.

Your ability to succeed in the face of an uncertain environment or problem is directly related to the quality of your team, how well they work together and how good they are at finding and responding to new intelligence and customer insights – the ideas will come, go and change along the journey.

Addendum: These three insights into Google, Goldman Sachs and Yahoo give a window into what happens to companies that ignore their people, ignore their customers and lose the ability to innovate.

The upside of coronal mass ejection

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I’m just back from a week working with our friends in Horsham at HC Pro on their Agile and Lean process – I just love the ‘Why’ for their business – Capturing, sharing and preserving visual memories.  Every time I visit I’m reinvigorated about beautiful photography.  In related news, the Sun has finally woken up a bit from it’s long solar minimum and we are starting to see some big sun spots and really big flares.  Big flares means a strong Aurora Borealis.  A strong Aurora Borealis means beautiful photos, so I have to share.

More here

Roundabouts and Traffic Lights

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A Quiz:

  • What’s safer ? An intersection with traffic lights or a roundabout ?
  • What’s faster ? Traffic lights or a roundabout ?
  • What’s better for the environment ? A roundabout or traffic lights ?

The answer in each case is the roundabout, they reduce overall accidents and drastically reduce the number of serious accidents (very few t-bone crashes). Traffic flows much faster with a roundabout as well and this in turn leads to a better environmental outcome with less start stop traffic producing less emissions.

I was reminded of this recently listening to Bjarte Bogsnes talk about his work making the financial planning of organisations more agile (Nigel promises to write about this shortly) – he used the metaphor of traffic lights and roundabouts when thinking about the budget process. The traffic lights are rigid rules, the decision about when to drive (or spend) is being made by someone else who is removed from the intersection and placed in a computer program sequence. At a roundabout the drivers who are at the intersection have to make their own informed decision about when to stop and when to go themselves in consort with other drivers.

Traffic lights are a rigid system, programmed based on traffic patterns at some fixed point in time perhaps 5 years ago, they don’t adapt. At a quiet time with one car on the road you may still end up arbitrary stopped because that’s what the traffic light, or the system says to do. With a roundabout, the system adapts; Little traffic and everyone can just flow through the intersection without even slowing down much. Lots of traffic and the system adapts, people slow and take their turn to move through.

Traditional organisations and projects are very much like the traffic lights, planned with the best of intentions to be safe and consistent, but the process is rigid and doesn’t adapt to the daily changes in traffic flow, market intelligence, sales or perhaps software development progress. Agile organisations and projects are like the roundabout, individuals and teams taking responsibility for themselves with the process providing a framework for dynamic, localised decision making based on the best currently available information. While traffic lights take responsibility away from individuals, roundabouts require individuals to step up and take responsibility for themselves and the other drivers negotiating their way forward.

Interestingly despite the indisputable benefits of roundabouts, they make many drivers feel anxious. The fear may not be not be rational, but it is real. We find the same thing as we introduce Agile concepts to organisations. Leaders are scared of giving up control and individuals are scared of taking responsibility for their own decisions, regardless of the benefits.

This is why Apple wins …

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Via APPL Orchard:

“[Apple is] going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do.”

– Tim Cook in his first email to Apple employees as Apple’s new CEO sent August 25, 2011

“The path [Sony] must take is clear: to drive the growth of our core electronics businesses – primarily digital imaging, smart mobile and game; to turn around the television business; and to accelerate the innovation that enables us to create new business domains.”

– Kazuo Hirai in response to being appointed Sony’s new President and CEO on February 1, 2012

Apple: {best, world, delight, proud} vs. Sony: {growth, businesses, accelerate, domains}

Following on from Nigel’s last post… Apple is a Lean and Agile Customer driven company focused on the bottom of the McKinsey list.  Focused first on customers, innovation, greatness and employee pride and satisfaction.  No where in that statement is Cook talking about growth, profit or any of the other bullshit most companies (and leaders) think they should focus on … Those things are outcomes, which Apple has in spades, but they come because Job’s built a culture focused on the right Why.

1963 – the beginning of a new age in computing.

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In 1963, a young puppeteer called Jim Henson created a short film to entertain the audience at the Bell Data Communications Seminar in Chicago, where the agenda included discussions of the sometimes fraught relationship between computers and their human users. Jim hits it out of the park, well, you’ll see:

The voice, at the end, when the robot strikes a couple of familiar issues, is pure Kermit.

The video is part of a series of techie videos and movies uncovered by AT&T, and came to us via that amazing website Open Culture.

How to figure out individual bonuses in Agile teams.

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It’s not about the money.  If you haven’t seen Dan Pink on the surprising truth about what motivates us then you must watch this now.  In fact, you know what, just watch it again anyway.

Also, we’re much more motivated by short term rewards vs long term rewards, something called ‘hyperbolic discount’. We discount the future reward, and over value the short term one.  It’s why we don’t got to the gym. 

It’s also a key reason that Agile as a development approach can be very motivating: a weekly cycle, the thrill of showing off your work to your peers every iteration at your demo or showcase is a reward you can look forward to getting soon and regularly.  Teams find this success addictive and motivating. I think this is also why a regular team lunch, or knocking off early on a Friday for a few drinks, is a good motivator and reward for a team.

So let’s imagine you work for BigCo and have to figure out the bonus structure for your Agile team(s), what should you consider ?

First make sure you’re paying everyone a fair salary for their role and make sure that there is good parity within the team.  If you haven’t got this much right, then your environment will turn toxic with jealousy way before bonuses are even due.  In the past it may have been considered quite rude, or not the done thing, to share your salary with your co-workers.  Today, especially among Gen Y, it is almost a norm to discuss pay, bonuses, etc openly… or on Facebook at any rate.

My second instinct is to say it’s all for one, and one for all – Agile is about teams.  If there has to be a reward or bonus, it should be applied evenly to the whole team – that’s the only thing that’s fair in a cross functional, team focused work method.

Finally, Agile teams are good at recognising individual performance; the weekly retrospective and the transparent team mode of working builds a culture where often teams will call out stellar performance by individuals. As a team lead or manager, watch for these clues and use your discretion to reward those individuals with pay rises or other incentives. If you are careful and have your finger on the pulse, this is a fair way to reward individuals who have gone above and beyond in a way that that other team members won’t resent. But, remember it’s probably not about the money – often the best reward for someone who has gone above and beyond is the chance to take more responsibility or autonomy, the chance to improve themselves and gain mastery or the chance to influence the direction of their team and work gaining a stronger sense of purpose.

Don’t be this company

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We spend most of our time teaching people how to work differently, adapt, innovate and evolve their businesses; but we also always want you to ask yourself why. Today’s lesson comes from Scott Adams from the frighteningly realistic Dilbert comics. As an aside, I recall Scott talking early on as he wrote the comic about how no matter how outrageous he tried to make it, he always had readers emailing him to say “my company is just like that”. Now he just uses fan emails and true stories as his inspiration.

5 year plans

Five year plans are a great thing for a leadership team to do. You take your best and brightest away somewhere nice with an inspiring view, you talk, strategise, plan and argue late into the night. There is a great sense of security in having a detailed map to steer your ship. It feels good with all the ideas and debate coming together to give your board, teams and shareholders certainty about the future.

There is just one problem … plans are only guesses. To all the readers who committed to 5 year plans in 2006, can you please dig them out and let us know how your strategy to handle the introduction of the iPhone, the iPad, and 800 million consumers using a walled garden called Facebook as their primary online experience has played out.

Stop trying to guess what the future will be and instead accept the uncertainty is the only thing which is certain. Make your best guesses, adopt ways of working which are flexible as you learn new things and focus on solving the problems you know about and can understand, instead of dreaming about flying cars.

The Aurora from the International Space Station

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Click the image to watch the video.  The source is but you can’t link to individual stories on their home page so I’m going to copy it here too.

“AURORAS UNDERFOOT: Solar activity is picking up, and no one has a better view of its effect on Earth than the crew of the International Space Station. During a geomagnetic storm on Sept. 17th, astronauts recorded a must-see movie of auroras dancing underfoot.  Note how the underbelly of the space station glows green from the reflected light of the auroras below. Also, in the distance, Sirius the dog star and Orion the Hunter can be seen rising feet-first into the night sky.

The storm, which registered a moderate 6 on the 0-to-9 K-index scale of geomagnetic disturbances, was caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME) hitting Earth’s magnetic field. It was just a glancing blow, but with CMEs that is often enough to spark bright auroras over both ends of Earth. The space station was flying over the southern hemisphere at the time of the display. Observers in the northern hemisphere saw it too.”

What the hell is Luna Tractor? Ask

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As a tool to uncover sentiment and themes about a brand, topic or organisation, Wordle is a powerful and fun toy that generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source. Here’s what they say in response to our question above – looks pretty good to me:

The Lockheed Martin Skunkwork

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A group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy, unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects, is now commonly referred to as a skunkworks. The term comes from Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed Martin which was formed to build the P-38 Lightning.  It was isolated and protected from the rest of the organisation; this one team went on to design the U2, A-12, SR-71, F-117, F-22 (just to name a few iconic aircraft).

“Many times a customer would come to the Skunk Works with a request and on a handshake the project would begin, no contracts in place, no official submittal process.” (ref)

So I find myself wondering, why we don’t always work like this ?

There are 14 key skunkworks rules at Lockheed – this is my TLDR version. (Too Long, Didn’t Read).

  • The leader must be given autonomy, reporting into the highest level of the organistion.
  • Minimal but thorough project management and reporting.
  • Engage the absolute minimum number of ‘good’ people (emphasis on absolute).
  • Continuously monitor ROI, maintain basic projections.
  • Trust your partners/contractors, don’t drip feed, or nickle and dime them.
  • Test, Test and Test.
  • Reward people for skills and excellence, not the size of their empire.
  • Build trust; trust your team and trust your partners.

Does this sound familiar Agilists ? Have faith, this stuff works and we have some of the coolest planes ever built to prove it.

A Photographic History of the Space Shuttle

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As the last shuttle flight landed a few days ago it seems like a good time to post this magnificent set of photographs via the quirky site – A couple to wet your appetite and a link to the full series is at the bottom.

Columbia lifting off April 12, 1981

On the back of a 747 being transported back to the Kennedy Space Center.

And that’s a long way down, see the rest of the series at Crack Two

Dan Pink – The Genius Hour

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It would be fair to say Nigel and I are pretty big Dan Pink fans (ok fanboys) – His articulation of what motivates people is a constant reference and reminder, both personally and one we often recommend to others.  It’s HERE  from TED and HERE as a clever cartoon in case you have been under a rock and missed it.

We are also massive fans of Hack-A-Thons, Fed-Ex days, 20% time etc – but it is always a challenge to introduce to organisations.  Today he reports on a great little innovation by Jen Shefner, the Genius Hour – 60mins each week where she (the boss) does her employees job to give them 60min to be autonomous and awesome.

Maybe you can’t get a whole day out with your team, but surely you can find everyone an hour.  When you empower your team they will surprise and delight.

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