When I was a child I had an operation on my shoulder. It was a scheduled operation, nothing urgent. And it left me with an ugly scar on my back. Today, it’s still very notable after all those years. Also still painful during season changes.

Roll the clock forward some 40 years, my youngest son had an operation right after birth. He was in a critical condition, and, in order to save his life, the main artery and vein in his neck were bypassed to connect him to an infant life support machine (ECMO). Despite the urgency and complexity, his scar is hardly noticeable. Despite his slim chances of survival, doctors treated him in both operations - connecting and disconnecting from ECMO - such that everything, cosmetic side effects included, will be as professional as they possibly can.

What makes the difference between a top notch surgical unit to a mediocre to a poor one?

What makes the difference between a top notch software team to a mediocre to a poor one?

The books "Better" and "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande give us a peek into the characteristics that differentiate a mediocre surgeon practice from a better-and-always-improving one.

The resemblance between a medical team and a software team is so strikingly similar, that I collected ten practices from the Operation Room (OR) that software teams would be wise to adopt. 

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Bugs_Per_Sprint_Gauge

We have a bug in our industry: We over glorify bugs. We love them so much, that we use them as a primary metric for quality.

My take is that that is a bad idea. Bad, as in driving undesired behaviors that are misaligned with our desires to improve quality.

Let’s begin with an analogy, and then move to modeling this on software.

A tale of two restaurants

Joe was hungry. He was on a business trip, and it was lunchtime, and he just entered Bologna, an Italian restaurant.

It took almost 3 minutes before a host led him to a table, which was set up simply, yet invitingly. There were some loud voices from the kitchen, and Joe wondered what they are arguing about. When the waitress came back he ordered a pizza, which he noticed was recommended in reviews on TripAdvisor. While he was waiting for his order, he saw the staff going around customers - acting nice, but not overly nice, smiling from time to time, but not overly eager.

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Fun Effective Meetings

We all love them. Those hours of pure fun, creativity and innovation. Meetings.

How come that we love them so much? Is it the coffee? Is it the the comfortable chairs and large tables? Is it the fact that we have time to break another world record in candy crush?

Now seriously, why is it so common for people to hate meetings? Why do many of us continuously complain about the fact that there are too many of them?

Probably because in many cases our meetings suck (This is a technical term BTW).

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Yes, this blog post is going to talk about agile. But, first, let’s talk about money - who doesn’t care about how much money does he have in his bank account.  

If your income is significantly higher than your expenses - you have nothing to worry about.
However, in most cases this is not the case. My life has taught me that no matter how much my incomes increases, my expenses increase accordingly. I am putting more money in savings, I travel more, and in general I enjoy life more. 
Once in a while I notice that I am losing it. Enjoying life costs me more than it should, so I either need to cut down on my savings or put more control on my expenses… 

Usually, what happens at that point is that I am trying to pause my intuition. I believe that I have a really good idea where my money goes (restaurants or cloths) and I try to cut down on my expenses there. Surprisingly, nothing changes :). So, I am taking the situation seriously, and I begin to collect the data. Every day or two, I write down what did I spent the money on. Now, I can easily understand two things:
1) What I am really spending so much money.
2) The trend - What’s my status going to look like at the end of the month if I will continue with this trend.  

The big pro of basing my decisions on statistics is that I can easily adjust my behavior immediately based on empirical data compared to my goals. It takes me only 2 minutes tops (every day) to do it, and in the end of the month I am still smiling.

So, why did I tell you all of this and how it relates to agile and scrum? 

This is exactly what frequently happens every time with many scrum teams.  

Burn Downs Chart

Every day, during the daily meeting, the scrum team is gathering up in order to answer the following questions: “Are we going to achieve the sprint goal? If not, what do we need to / can do differently?”

Most of the scrum teams I work with, answer the first question based on intuition and not based on real data and statistics (which would be very easy using a burn down chart).

  • For some teams it works well  - and then great, continue exactly as it is! 
  • For some teams it works really bad. We can compare it to a family with a big debt on their bank account, who will do whatever needed in order to survive. Then, they will do whatever is needed in order to track their progress out of debt and back to credit. 
  • For many teams (maybe even most), they believe it works very good (some will call it “wishful thinking”), when actually every time in the last two days of the sprint, they shockingly get surprised of the remaining work they still have to do in order to achieve sprint goal.

 

Here is a real  life example of one of a scrum team board. I would like to examine your intuition vs. statistics: 

* The team had 7 working days in that sprint 

Let’s see what your intuition will say after 2 days into the sprint (out of 7)?

 

 

 

I would say, it seems good. The PBI #1 almost done, and it took us only 2 days. PBI #2 is already half way, and we already started PBI #3.

Now, let’s look on the burn down chart after 2 days into the sprint:  

 

* The red line is the team’s remaining work over time. The green line is the theoretical ‘perfect’ progress rate.

You can easily understand that if they are not going to close up the gap they will not achieve their sprint goal.

 

Now, let’s take another look on what happened after 5 days (we have left with only 2 days till the sprint ends):  

Based on the Scrum board I have a great feeling… Look at how much work they completed in 5 days. What’s left is about a fifth of what we already completed so my intuition says that we can make it! 

However, what my intuition doesn’t take under consideration is the amount of work that was added during the sprint. Also, sometimes, we are biased by the first column and don’t take into account that the intuition that neglects work that is already in progress but not done.

While looking at the burn down chart, in one second we can see there is no way we are going to complete all the 3 PBI’s (Actually, we could tell that to the PO already on day 2).

Combining the scrum board and the burn down chart, we can also understand why this happened. There is a lot “unplanned” worked that was added to PBI #2, mainly during day 3 (great input for retrospective). 

 

Question: How long does it take to create and update the burn down chart? 

Answer: Create about 5 minutes (if we want the lines to be straight). Update - it is maximum 2 minutes (we need to count all the work in the “To do” column and in “In Progress” column).

Let’s go back to our money again. When we are talking about our money, I can understand why we wouldn’t want to face the hard facts as soon as possible. When we do that, we might need to skip the next vacation, not to buy this beautiful shirt, or even (heaven help us!) starts to cook at home. However, when we are talking about our day to day work: If we do the burn down chart, we are gaining  the ability to adjust our plan, improve our predictability and transparency, and bring back the smile on our manager’s and PO’s face. When we do not visualize both our work and trend-over-time, we miss all of that, and earn nothing instead.

So I have this question for you - how come there are still so many teams that perform poorly, and yet are not using burn down charts? Could you please help me understand that fact? 

P.S.
Here is a link to view the entire 7 days sprint - Please use it in order to explain your team members why a burn down chart is a great idea.

Spoiler: In my next blog post I will explain the additional data which we can collect from the different types of burn down/up charts 

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Iceberg_As_Metaphor_for_Process

We got this one wrong, us the IT people. We view process through a rather narrow prism, so much that we grew to value “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”. But process is way more than just a set of activities that get executed in a specific order. 

Wikipedia alone has about 40 different disambiguation values when looking up “Process”. But the most concise definition is the following: “A process is a set of activities that interact to achieve a result”.

In many ways when we talk about a process we omit the latter part: “that interact to achieve a result”.

Start with basics

Take chemical processes, as an analogy. Say you want to make mayonnaise. You take an egg, oil, lemon, mustard, seasoning, and combine them in a very specific order. Should you change the order to activities, you might spoil the process, and get something, which might be tasty, but is ultimately not mayonnaise. That’s the set of activities involved in the process.

But the ingredients also interact to cause a certain set of chemical reactions. Without those interactions you will not have a mayonnaise, either. For example, if you used a boiled egg or a stale lemon, you are unlikely to achieve the desired result.

What more, if you get the ingredients and do -nothing-, other unplanned (and undesired) additional chemical processes will interact and prevent you from using those same ingredients for your desired gourmet mayonnaise. Your egg will go off, your lemon will become moldy, well, you get the point.

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