Category Archives: classes

“Embrace change to add more value!” and other “aha!”s

Every time we run an Agile Project Management class we tweak it slightly, based on what we've learned in the last one. Inspect and adapt, as they say… err, I mean, as we say.

One thing we noticed happening over an intensive two days period is that people tended to generate many more insights than they can retain. "Aha" moments that seem memorable at the time have faded after the two day barrage of new information. How to capture the spontaneous learning as it occurs and preserve it, without disrupting the flow?

Our solution: Create an "aha!" wall where students can capture their immediate insights by putting up sticky notes at any time during the two days. These ahas formed a significant part of our retrospectives at the end of each module, and make a fantastic mnemonic take-away.

As we strive to structure our workshops to resemble agile projects as much as possible, we framed these ahas as representing the "learning value" the students were generating during each educational "sprint." Needless to say, this maps quite nicely to "business value" and demonstrates the beauty of incremental delivery in a tangible way.

This week we had thirteen very bright students show up for a two day workshop offered through the Bay Area chapter of the PMI, most of them PMPs, some with a high level of agile awareness, others new to the field.  Here are some highlights from their wall of over fifty "aha!"s. Reading over them, I think these could easily be chapter headings for a book on Agile Project Management:

Retrospective = lessons applied = improved output and flow.

Fail safely; fail softly!

Work becomes fun!

Things that are visable get more attention–and get done!

Embrace change to add more value.

If you won't need it, don't do it!

Responding to change means changing the plan.

Document to the extent that value is added to maximize ROI.

Focus on done, not doing.

Slow down to increase output.

Early delivery, early revenue = "compound interest"

A lot of the students in this class expressed an interest in returning for our upcoming Certified Scrum Master Training on August 12 & 13, which Chris will be co-teaching with the inimitable Jeff McKenna, which we have yet to formally announce. If you want to join them for some more ahas, save the date and either join our mailing list or check back early next week, when we should have details and a registration page.

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Dogs learn agility with tennis balls; so do we

The very first exercise of our two day Agile Project Management class on Monday taught me a few things about optimization. It's a ball passing game, where the group is tasked with devising a system for passing balls around such that every ball is touched by each person, and has "air time" in between–ie, it's tossed, not passed.

On their first try, this group passed a whole mess o' balls without error. In their second iteration, they did even better–better than any prior group, and we'd run this game a lot. Could they improve on what I percieved as perfection?

They could. Chris tasked them with achieving "revolutionary process improvement," which proved the spur–and as the product owner, he "invested" an extra two minutes in iteration planning. They doubled their productivity in the third and final iteration. Still no errors, I might add. If anyone is looking to hire a crack ball-passing team, I've got one for you.

What did they do so right?
They didn't mess with what worked. "Let's stay in our positions, as we're used to the behavior of the person we've already been passing to." 

At the same time, they did not settle for incremental improvement, but looked for the leap–"Can we keep our process the same, but pass two at a time instead of one?"

During their planning phase, they did more than they talked, trying things out. "Talk is cheap," one of them said.

When they did talk, it was to inquire. "What are the questions we should be asking," another said at the outset of the third planning round.

The debrief elicited a lot of good stuff, too:

"Since we had no drops, I wonder if we weren't being too risk-averse. We might have had more productivity if we'd allowed more error."

"Haven't we all been in places where a lot of attention was given to optimizing writing code, when people spend 5-10% of their time writing code, and the rest looking for bugs."

"It's exhausting to work on a project when your sense of owner is greater than the owner's."

"We all spend a lot of time grousing about what the people upstream are doing, and seldom give any thought to the people downstream from us."

"Is there such a thing as too much optimization?"

Sound fun? Come play on August 3 & 4, when we'll be running the same class at the Alliance Francaise in San Francisco–vous etes tres agile, non?

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Agile Games Par-tay! Yes siree…

Think we don't know how to have fun here at Technical Management Institute Agile Learning Labs? Oh yes, we do! We're throwing a wild party on Wednesday, April 29th at Ristretto Roasters in Portland, OR with our pal and test obsessed training partner Elisabeth Hendrickson of Quality Tree Software. It's a warm-up for our day-long class May 1st for Agile coaches and consultants on how to create agile games, but it's also a stand-alone event. There will be coffee, pastries, and the opportunity to have some geeky fun playing Agile learning games with your compatriots. It's free, so come on down!

Agile Games Party
Ristretto Roasters
3808 N Williams Ave
Portland, OR 97213

6pm-9pm, April 29th

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Relaxing After The Orlando Scrum Gathering

Chris and I are at Disney World for a few days of R&R after hosting the Open Space at the Orlando Scrum Gathering, but the park will have to be pretty supercalifragilistic to compare to the conference, which was wonderful. So much engagement–250 people there, and yet it felt intimate. I left feeling I had got to know more people than I'd normally meet in a year. Check out the wiki to get to know some of them yourself.

There was a large PMI presence for the first time ever, and despite some joking by the Scrummies about feeding them to the alligators in the hotel's atrium, a lot of positive, productive interaction occurred–there was a meeting of hearts if not quite of minds… yet.

Speaking of the meeting of hearts and minds, on Monday, March 23rd, we'll be back in the Bay Area and Chris will be leading a full-day workshop on agile project management at the SD Forum offices in San Jose. Lots of experiential learning in this one. We have had a great response, and you'll be joining a group that includes PMPs at large and small companies, as well as job-seekers looking to add marketable skills to their resume.

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Is there such a thing as Agile Project Management? Gosh we hope so…

… because Chris is leading a day-long public workshop on Agile Project Management on March 23rd, at the SD Forum offices in San Jose.

The question, however, is one being hotly debated between Australian PM guru Pat Weaver and assorted commenters on his blog, in a post titled Agile is NOT a Project Management Methodology. Weaver claims that "Agile is not an IT project management methodology any more than choosing to use pre-cast concrete in preference to brickwork is a construction management methodology."

He goes on to say, "What is lacking in most commentary I’ve seen on Agile is any sensible discussion on using Agile within a project environment. The critical changes to scope management, change management, cost management and time management needed to effectively deal with the fluidity of Agile, within the constraints of a project, need discussion."

Ah, good point. This is just the kind of stuff we hope to address in the workshop. How does Agile work in conjunction with project management–and how doesn't it? Weaver actually hints that traditional project management may not be all that compatible with Agile–although in a subsequent post on Managing  Agile Projects he goes into some rather brilliant detail analyzing just how agile and PMBOK can work together, concluding ultimately that they can and do go together quite well: 

…align the PMBOK to an Agile project delivery method and the overarching PM process will enhance the probability of success. Treat an Agile project in the same way as a traditional Waterfall project and the PM processes will guarantee failure!

Intrigued? Read the rest of Pat's writing, then come on out for the class! We promise to elucidate further, and cover all of the finer points of applying project management techniques in an agile environment, including:

  • Estimation
  • Release
  • Prioritization
  • The rhythm of
    iterative development and delivery
  • The flow of
  • Roles and
  • Communication
    on an agile team
  • Empirical
    process control
  • Agile metrics
  • Simple tools for managing agile projects

To register for the class, click here. If you see Chris or me at P-Camp, or SD West this week, hit us up for a flyer.

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Chris is on the Cranky Middle Manager Show talking about Agile

The Cranky Middle Manager Show If you want to hear Chris explain agile in layman's terms, have a listen to this episode of the Cranky Middle Manger Show, where Chris is the featured guest. The show is hosted by our friend, Wayne Turmel, who is jovially cranky in a way that only a stand-up comic-turned-management trainer can be.

We did a pilot for a two day course with Wayne in Chicago last year, aimed at introducing newly-promoted individual contributors to the dark arts of management. It was a lot of fun, and would be even more fun to do in-house at your company now that you have a hiring freeze and need to bootstrap your junior people into management… but I digress.

Wayne dedicates each show to a historical figure; it's always someone fascinating you've never heard of, and it's always eerily apt–don't know how he does it. This episode is dedicated to Gaius Marius, "reorganization consultant to the Roman Army."

Another Cranky standard, the quote of the week, is from the Kaballah, and is also astonishingly relevant to agile practice:

"Every phase of evolution commences by being in a state of unstable force and proceeds through organization to equilibrium. Equilibrium having been achieved, no further development is possible without once more oversetting,"
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Management 2.0: What makes a great manager?

Just before the holiday, we had the pleasure of debuting a brand new course, Management 2.0, in partnership with Wayne Turmel, aka The Cranky Middle Manager. It was also our first course offering in a new market: Chicago. To kick off day one of this action-packed two day course aimed at those who have recently made the move from individual contributor to manager, Chris led the participants through a brief session that examined the question, "What makes a great manager?"

Chris used the exercise as an opportunity to teach the Group Wisdom Without Groupthink method of structured brainstorming, using Nominal Group Technique (NGT) to gather ideas, then sorting the results using Decision Optimizing Tiny Stickies
(DOTS or Dot Voting).

Each attendee thought about the best managers they had worked for, and what attributes, practices, or skills set them apart from the rest. Our group included experienced engineers, a few management consultants, and one professional clown (You think clowns don't need management and team-building skills? You just try getting ten of them into one of those tiny cars.)—as diverse a collection of minds as we've ever had the pleasure of surveying. Everyone participated in several rounds of brainstorming, and once the conference room wall was plastered with ideas on giant Post-Its, everyone voted for their top choices.

The result was a tiered list of valuable qualities, with 'tier one' being those that the group felt were most important. According to this group, a great manager…

Tier One:

  • develops people
  • values fun
  • sets clear goals
  • gives timely feedback

Tier Two:

  • is open and honest
  • is empowering
  • develops strengths

Tier Three:

  • removes obstacles
  • seeks to understand
  • is a systems thinker
  • gives frequent positive feedback
  • uses metrics/measures
  • expresses appreciation
  • is “but” free

Tier Four:

  • cares about the “whole person”
  • keeps the “big” perspective
  • is flexible
  • gets out of the way

Tier Five:

  • understands the job/responsibility
  • states goals positively
  • fosters a team environment
  • personalizes interactions
  • gives direction, not details
  • is an enabler
  • has a sense of humor
  • follows up

It is interesting to compare the results of this exercise across the several other groups that have gone through the exercise for the same question. This group tended to emphasize the manager's role in developing people. As most of the people present were fairly new to management and worked at the level of team leader, it made sense to us that they would see management as centering on helping individual contributors to shine. Here are some links to the brainstorming lists other groups have generated:

The California Employment Development Center
IEEE Technology Management Council
Bay Area Engineering Managers' Support group

Go beyond Management 2.0, with our Agile Manager workshop!

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Management 2.0 – Becoming the kind of leader you would follow

I have teamed up with Wayne Turmel, host of The Cranky Middle Manager Show, to create a 2-day workshop to help you move beyond being ‘good at your job’ to helping others excel at theirs. When we take this show on the road in 2009 the price will be $1,000 a seat, but we are holding a ‘dress rehearsal’ in Chicago on December 15 & 16, for a mere $450.

Learn more about the workshop

Claim one of the last available seats



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Agile Project Management Workshop

On June 17th, the Technical Management Institute, Effective Training Associates, and the IEEE are teaming up to put on an agile project management workshop. The workshop will be held in Palo Alto and is open to the public, but admission is limited to the first 12 registrants. The proceeds will benefit the Silicon Valley IEEE.

Workshop Description:
On a software project, uncertainty is certain. The customer will change their mind, a ‘must have’ feature will be discovered, deadlines will move, or an unexpected competitive threat will need to be countered. The agile approach to project management allows the team to easily adjust to these changing conditions in order to produce the most valuable software possible.

This workshop teaches the fundamentals of agile project management, and is recommended for everyone who will be involved in an agile project. We will explore the key roles, responsibilities, interactions, and processes that make a successful agile project happen.

Participants will learn:
– Estimation
– Release planning
– Prioritization
– The rhythm of iterative development and delivery
– Roles and responsibilities on an agile project
– Communication on an agile team
– Empirical process control
– Agile metrics
– Simple tools for managing agile projects

The workshop focuses on practical ‘how to’ skills development, while providing enough theory for participants to understand why the techniques work. Interactive exercises allow participants to learn by doing. Class notes, suggestions for further reading, and free follow-on consulting are all included to ensure that the workshop’s lessons can be effectively applied back in the real world.



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