Episode 189: The Alistair Cockburn Fan Club with Martin Kearns

The Agile Revolution Podcast

Tony and Craig are at Agile Australia in Melbourne and they (finally) catch up with Martin Kearns, the Chief Digital Officer at Innodev and co-organiser of Scrum Australia, and they chat about:

  • Alistair Cockburn gets mentioned at around the 2:30 minute mark, and Martin was responsible for first bringing him to Australia
  • Being coached is being open to an experience you aren’t controlling
  • Certified Agile Leadership
  • Agile is always going to hurt, need to prepare for pain and enjoy it
  • Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation – need to understand the environmental factors that are forcing Agility into organisations
  • Knowledge of customers is more superior than ever before – due to education and social intelligence (Target inappropriate clothing for children)
  • VUCA is here to stay – accept that you need to listen
  • Australia Post is a good agile example organisation – reinvented themselves through identity services, travel…

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Agile Australia 2012 Product Afternoon Review

Agile Australia Product AfternoonAs a precursor to the Agile Australia 2012 conference to be held in Melbourne, a product afternoon was held at the Hilton on the Park in Melbourne in November and had a good variety of Australian speakers. The success of the event means a similar event is being schedule for Sydney in February 2012. Here are my notes from the event:

Look What Happened When We Let Customers into the Product Development Loop at Lonely Planet!

Nigel Dalton from Luna Tractor led this session, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  •  you can’t say product you need to start saying customer
  • publishing life cycles are enormous – publishers have to wait up to 5 years to change a font
  • The New New Product Development Game – the last paragraph sums it up
  • need to avoid the next bench design problem – only ask the person on the next bench about quality, do not go to the wider world
  • for Lonely Planet, realisation was a competitor in the market who produced a colour guide, no sales the month they launched
  • went to customers 4 times in the process, took publishing from 2 years to 9 months, visualise the project
  • Rob Adams talks about getting the developers to do some of the initial marketing calls

Marketing is from Venus, IT is from Mars – and the Customer Doesn’t Care

Daniel Oertli from REA Group led this discussion that he hastily renamed to “5 Kick Ass Principles for Customer-led Development”, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  • be customer focussed not customer driven
  • effect of marketing has changed over the last 5-10 years, we no longer control the marketing channel, need customer admiration
  • be a peeping Tom. Regularly – there is only one customer, the people who pay for products, none of this internal customer bull####, hard to put your business on the road regularly to talk to customers
  • 5 on Friday – Silverback on Mac, 5 internal employees for 15 minutes and ask them to do specific tasks with your product (eg. show me how to change the default colour scheme), continue to do this every Friday as parts of the product are developed
  • don’t ask for the solution – to get creative you need to figure it out internally, great people create great things
  • day and half every quarter – hack day – off tools, schedule around it, put ideas on intranet and vote, teams form around the idea self-forming, winning team gets a cash prize and gets sponsored product into production
  • 2 week inception process – use business canvas mapping to lay out the business drivers
  • democratize design – hard to get excited about something if you have not been part of the design, get everybody to draw
  • ready, fire, aim – Agile gives us opportunity to change things in motion but most organisations still execute iteratively what is planned up front, Agile gives you a bullet frequently, be very clear about your minimal marketable features, be ruthless about what you send to your Agile teams, you have a lot of go’s at this
  • teams win – good people outperform any processes, keep teams very small (6-8 people), have a mix of business fundamental understanding, lead designer and lead technologist and there for skills not core decision making, trust is essential
  • dealing with resistance – hardest change of all was getting business on the journey, need to get culture sorted and get teams focussed
  • more of what people do is outside of their hierarchy, biggest impact is dynamic thinking by thinking of type of things we will do rather than what we will do
  • public companies need a plan to show to shareholders, challenge is to make it more dynamic after that
  • engage people in their career progression – still report to a lead, but 90% of the time they live with their cross functional team – more about stretching their knowledge in their domain so have practice meetings

SEEK’s Approach to Product Innovation

Doug Blue from SEEK presented this session, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  • put customers before profits – no display advertising on the front pages, founder would prefer to have a dollar tomorrow rather than a dollar today
  • build for the long term – customer core needs, competitive advantage, long term trends and shareholder value, in GFC let customers negotiate out of long term contracts
  • strive for a rock solid core and out innovate the competition – focussed on number of ads and size of audience, now need to focus on the product
  • focus – do a few things very well, carried this over to the iPhone app as well, but run business on the things that are do-able
  • people engagement – never compromise on engagement
  • data driven decisions – if we build or change something, we measure it
  • test and learn – put it out in market and do course correction
  • balancing customer needs – 3 different customers with different needs (job seeker, employer, recruiters) – came up with an invisible salary to balance the needs
  • on bigger initiatives, need to do your homework

A Start-up Approach to Product Delivery in a Corporate Environment

John Sullivan from Jetstar delivered this session, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  • XP Explained lacked an explanation on how to communicate effectively with customers to understand what they wanted to achieve
  • base costs on optimum team sizes that can manage constant delivery of a number of system concerns
  • have no process, when problems occur, take those problems away
  • don’t use iterations, they constrain the customer, need to be able pick up any card and get it into Production
  • ideas wall – backlog for where the business is going, anyone can post ideas on it
  • don’t talk about what the product we are delivering should do, talk about what the business should do
  • challenge everything – stand ups are almost useless in large organisations – only say things what people in the circle need to know about, because they work together, so they should know
  • most people in large organisations are disempowered – how do I know I am doing the right thing? Just do it, everyone is the business
  • need to help everyone understand the market – understand what the impact of features are
  • whole of company showcases every Friday
  • need multi disciplined teams that understand the market they are striving for

Panel: Why is Customer-led Product Development so Hard?

Keith Dodds from ThoughtWorks led this panel with all of the above speakers. Some of the key learnings were:

From Miscellaneous
  • it’s hard to ask hard questions
  • if you have leaders that are customer focussed, everything else will follow
  • most organisations try to make the workforce effective and efficient by putting structures around them, need to retain a functionalised structure and stay away from specialisation
  • companies are introverted because traditionally they have not had access to customers
  • it’s hard to keep up with all of the tools out there – there is lots technology to seek out what the customers are viewing
  • most products are designed to be obsolete within 1-2 years, especially those that are consumer focussed
  • companies are not set up to evolve things, they are setup to build, the world has changed where everything is outdated the minute you deploy
  • grass roots movements are usually the most enduring
  • most companies lack the balls to shut things down when they need to
  • frugal innovation – constraints help you channel great ideas, would be interesting to apply some artificial constraints to hack days
  • what doesn’t work are artificial constraints and the team know it
  • next C level job will be the chief designer – targeting the customer
  • Agile helps to get a customer led product out, because the person who wants the product can talk to the person who builds the product
  • report on value delivered to the business rather than velocity
  • the pool of talent is not that big, how do you keep people motivated – sense of purpose, sense of meaning (problems that have currency in the real world), ability to react and shape, ability to be heard, about making a difference
  • where do great Product Managers come from, how do we develop and train these people

Agile 2011 Day 4 Review

Agile 2011Day 4 at Agile 2011 brought a full day sessions full day of sessions followed by the conference dinner. For the first session I used the law of two feet and landed in three different sessions.

Stages of Practice: the Agile Tech Tree

Arlo Belshee and James Shore led this hands on session to build a technical tree of agile practices. I didn’t stay for long, but I was interested in the output, which I found hanging on the walls later in the day.

From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011

Creating Customer Delight

Steve Denning (author of a large number of leadership books) delivered this presentation based around a blog post of a similar name that I sat in for about 30 minutes. His presentation is available here.

From Agile 2011
  • move from output to outcome
  • customer must be surprised and delighted
  • move from implicit goal to explicit goal
  • custom delight is the new dimension of done
  • product owner adds contingent valu
  • bottom line is whole organization, not just the team
  • customer delight is measured eg. net promoter score
  • delight is happiness, joy, customer success – everybody has a story or understands this concept
  • identify your project that you wish to delight – who is your customer?
  • what do customers say they want? – warning! they don’t always know eg. New Coke
  • what is it that core customers might not like about your product? eg .why they made the Nespresso machine because people did not like cleaning up, need to get inside their head to understand what you need to change

Agile From the Top Down: Executives Practicing Agile

Jon Stahl delivered this session, and I wish I had been there for this one all the way through as his presentations are always entertaining and informative. His slides are available here.

From Agile 2011
    • visualise your work  in progress (WIP) by putting every project in progress up on the wall, also visualise your demand
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
    • model your application assets – you will be surprised what you will find – link them, then order them by business value
From Agile 2011
    • create a radiator wall for each one of your assets – understand technical debt, print out each of your defects, be ambarrased!
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011
    • visualise your org chart – particularly where your skills are, then rank them by apprentice, journeyman, master – then you can score your aptitude
From Agile 2011
  • get HR to create their own room to map the organisation and look for patterns – finding the truth isn’t simple but putting stuff on walls creates conversation
  • create a tool wall – who cares what tool you use, as long as you are adding value
  • get the practice vocabulary up on the wall – matched with a booklet with more detail
  • when tracking practices move away from traffic lights and use smiley faces to track how people are feeling – don’t care about if they are doing stand ups but how are they working for them – good way to figure out where to send coaches, where the frowns are
From Agile 2011
    • transparent leadership – post and show your people what roadblocks you are working on
    • everybody wakes up everyday thinking they are doing the best thing they can – as a business the executives need to check each other to make sure they are working on the most important thing and allow each other to question
From Agile 2011
  • make roadblocks visible – you will get more respect from you people – put one up for every person who has the title manager in your organization
  • leadership team to do retrospectives every two weeks – take people out of their element, makes them more likely to talk
  • continuous improvement – force it by shutting down email, block out meeting rooms
  • you would save money on coaches if you got people to read books, free ice cream by reading a chapter in a room and talking about it in an hour
  • pair management – pair on everything to get better, pair in public which will show developers pairing is ok
  • change name of PMO to MSO (manifesto support office), make them in charge of ensuring the visual radiators are up to date
  • dashboards are costly and evil – they are not the truth, data is mostly inaccurate
  • speak in story cards – create a wall to get answers to things you want to know

Acceptance testing in the land of the startup

Joseph Wilk presented this session, his slides are available here.

From Agile 2011
  • Relish – the only way the customer will read Cucumber tests
  • two way mirrors – ensure the users are integrated into development and they can use the software, outside the building
  • good coders find stuff hard – easy to Cucumber test the full stack but the build time blows, unit tests are hard but are fast, so limit the amount of cucumber tests and isolate them
  • features rot if the Customer does not read them or not exposed via tools like Relish
  • manual testers duplicate automated tests – expose features, pair, give Cucumber ownership to QA
  • how to test lots of permutations – pairwise testing is OK, or just automate the happy path and one scenario and manual test the rest
  • Crazy Egg – monitor what users are actually using
  • use WIP to keep testing under control
  • metrics – JUnit Max to predict probability of failure
  • Limited Red – calculates the probability of Cucumber failure to improve the way we work – found features that never fail – just keep them in nightly build – means a long build usually fails very quickly
  • use JMeter to check everything is up like a tracer bullet – eg. a row has appeared in a table
  • got 8 hour build down to 20 minutes by distributing over 24 EC2 nodes – but think we were solving the wrong problem
  • slice up the architecture and have thin tests to test them
  • Spork – helps to speed up the start up time of an application – hard to know whether to reload and it adds a lot of overload at the protocol layer, so almost as efficient to run the tests
  • people have core responsibilities but we all meld in our roles to be one team and deliver

I enjoyed this session, particularly as I read about Joseph’s company in Specification By Example. I am excited about the prospect of a tool such as Limited Red as well.

Telling Better Stories with User Story Mapping

Jeff Patton led this session to a packed room that included a live appearance from his children! His slides are available here.

From Agile 2011
  • user stories are the simplest idea in the world, but like any simple idea they all get screwed up
  • it’s easy to lose the plot when you have a lot of stories
  • story mapping – tells the whole story of your product and still gets down to the iteration level
  • you already know this stuff!
  • “sharpie markers smell like ideas!”
    • dump ideas onto stickies, on your own – they should almost always start with verbs – we need verbs to do things
    • verbs are a user task – they are a small task
From Agile 2011
  • now we want a flow of what we do from left to right – stack the duplicates and group the similarities – create a user workflow
From Agile 2011
  • mark where the natural breaks are – this is called a user activity – a grouping of things that a user does
  • next, identify where the pain points are
  • because it is a map you can find stuff in it
From Agile 2011
  • how to change the world – start with an idea which is product > feature > specification > requirement
  • learnt that requirement means “shutup just build it”
  • outcomes result in impact – agile is to maximize outcome and impact we get
  • stories are a conversation about the future
  • stories are 5c’s – card –> conversation –> confirmation –> construction –> consequences (when we realise our ability to predict the future sucked!)
  • Kent Beck called them stories because they were meant to be heard
  • need to figure out the who, what, why – this is the richness behind the story
  • add a short title, add a description (story template), add notes, specifications and sketches and write acceptance criteria before writing software
  • stories shrink in size and grow in detail as they travel through a pipeline
  • start with capabilities or features (understand value) –> break to release size stories– > upcoming iteration stories (priority, UI design, business rules) –> break to iteration size stories (details user acceptance tests, small enough to fit in iteration) –> completed bits of software
  • user story mapping – based on story mapping in films
  • ultimately we have big things that break down to little things

Build story maps by:

  1. talking to real users
  2. brainstorm user tasks to help them organize
  3. research and build from a narrative
  • discussions with users in front of a map drive out conversations
  • plan incremental releases as a team event – developers will actually read the plan
  • start talking about adding stickies and notes, finally get a fist of five for confidence
  • don’t prioritise user stories by ROI – target a user segment
  • like ripping a $5 note, the small stories are not valuable (Jeff actually ripped a $5 note to illustrate the point)
  • map at MVP (minimal valuable product) and MMF
From Agile 2011
From Agile 2011

Finally, Jeff has a User Story Mapping book in the pipeline which looks really interesting. I have had the pleasure of meeting Jeff a few times and always enjoy his presentation and learnings, and I am keen to give these learnings a go in my next storycard workshop.

Flirting With Your Customers

Jenni Jepsen delivered this presentation, the slides are available here.

From Agile 2011

We started with an exercise – 3 things that make a great project – trust, hard work, common goals, transparency, clear direction, grown ups, togetherness, support, communication, budget, right skills, creativity, quality, teamwork, fun, support

We then discussed 3 things that make a great romantic relationship – trust, communication, clear expectations, respect, common goals, honesty, integrity, similar values, enjoy spending time together, depth, support, compromise, patience, back rubs, teamwork, equality, chemistry, humour, passion, sacrifice

  • there is a lot of commonality between projects and a relationship
  • flirting is about making people feel valued
  • need human touch to thrive, keeps immune systems strong
  • people who are happy and feel valued at work results in increased profit
  • introverts need to take care of themselves, take energy from within – they can flirt but it takes energy
  • extroverts thrive in social situations – if your customer is an introvert they may not share your energy

The 8 steps are:

  1. radar – makes you aware of the people around you, takes confidence
  2. target – figuring out who you want to connect with in an organization, who has the real power
  3. move in – show interest, practice your opening line – make eye contact, making the person feel like they have knowledge, makes them feel valuable, interactions become richer because of this
  4. back off a little – the other person may not be ready for the interaction, give the other person space
  5. open up – being honest and laying it out, you have now created a comfort zone, you are also making yourself vulnerable, there might be some back and forward bargaining here
  6. dance – have a little fun, create conversation – lunch, cook together, virtual coffee over Skype, celebration to mark a milestone, dinner club
  7. get real – go through a crisis together, if you have flirted and built a relationship
  8. enjoy – enjoy the relationship
  • have a list of questions to get over the anxiety
  • all good steps for people you manage
  • body language is 93% of communication

Conference Party

The conference party was entertaining as always. Here is me hanging out with Alan Bustamante (who I worked with on the reviews) and the gang from Seapine Software

From Agile 2011

The acrobatic team doing their trampoling indoors was certainly a highlight:

From Agile 2011


Finally, I recorded a short audio podcast for The Agile Revolution wrapping up Day 4 of the conference.