Busy is not productive

Often, I am asked to help teams that are not accomplishing their goals.  The team insists that everyone is working hard and always busy.  They feel that the problem is in the requirements, schedule or demands of management.  Their customers and management feel like they are not getting what they want out of the team.  If the team is busy but not delivering enough value, what is happening?

Almost certainly the team is not using value-based metrics.  They are either working without measuring progress or using self-serving metrics like velocity or utilization.  A team can work all day but unless that work furthers a customer or business objective, the work is not productive.

If your team is busy but not perceived as getting the job done, reconsider how you are measuring work completed.  Be sure to include some kind of value metric. In the best case you can tie directly to business objectives like sales, conversions, margin or new customers.  If your lead time or delivery cycle is too long, consider asking your product owner or stakeholder to score stories on business value.  Measure points velocity but also consider business value.  If you are completing a disproportionally high number of low business value stories, consider your iteration mix.  Make sure to include enough stories that the business finds valuable along with those your team values (like tech tasks or tech debt remediation).

Being busy is not inherently a bad thing, but busy and non-productive is bad for morale.  It usually results in the business asking more from the team, leading to long days and death marches.  Always be prepared to demonstrate the value of your work to the business and adjust accordingly.  A team working fewer hours productively will be valued higher than a team working hard and accomplishing little.

=Kevin

Change is hard – pace yourself

Organizational change is hard.  In fact, any change is hard.  Whether it is successful or not, people are more comfortable with what they know and asking them to do things differently can be difficult.  When businesses adopt a program of change, they do not do it lightly or without purpose.  That said, they often engage in a program of change without really understanding what they are changing or why.  It is simple to believe that if what we are doing now is failing, doing something different will be better.

Today, many enterprises are looking to agile software development as a solution to slow releases and stagnating technology.  The belief is that agility will produce more software faster at lower cost.  While fully embracing a culture of agile innovation can achieve that result, the journey is long and difficult.  Often, organizations take on too much too fast and lose sight of the business goals or problems they are trying to solve.  These change programs are overwhelming and can lead to worsening problems and a retreat to the practices that, while know to fail, are comfortable and familiar.

A more pragmatic approach to transforming a business is to examine why change is desired and address the biggest problem first.  Focus on solving for one major business goal before moving on to the next.  This way, the business can consciously change to the appropriate level of agility and innovation for its culture and market.  Continuously evaluating the effectiveness of changes relative to business goals will give leadership the tools to decide how much to move forward or when to change course.  The cultural changes will have tangible value, giving the execution team something to rally around and feel proud about.

Change is hard, but with a focused plan it can be manageable and successful.  Change takes time, but measurable progress builds confidence and makes it easier.  Change can be frustrating, but understanding why it is happening will energize the team.  In the end, successful change is fun and rewarding for everyone involved.

How I learned to start worrying and fear the Cloud

Years ago, a service called Dropbox launched, offering storage in a remote cloud for free. Dropbox also keeps files synchronized on every registered device. No longer would I have to wonder which computer had the latest version of a file; backups were a thing of the past. I jumped in with both feet and uploaded everything – photos, tax returns, resumes and old college homework assignments. Later, Apple joined in with services like iCloud and iTunes Match. Each promised access to all of my data from any device at any time. I started using them all!

In August, 2014, Apple’s iCloud service was compromised and hundreds of very private celebrity photos were leaked. While me and my photos are of little interest to the world, I decided to take a break from iCloud and pulled all of my photos to local storage and Dropbox. I still had faith in the Cloud at large because I knew where my data was and how to keep it safe.

About a month later, I received a very personal text message from a friend that was intended for someone else. Honorable guy that I am, I deleted it from my phone immediately. Later that evening, I opened my iPad only to find the same message there. When I got home a few days later, I booted my MacBook and another copy was delivered to iMessage there as well. I realized that those messages were out in the cloud too!

Since this realization, I have taken stock of what services I count on use the cloud. Some, like Dropbox, are easy to replace with a home NAS. Others, like iMessage are easy to turn off but so useful that it is hard to let them go. Another group, including services like Nest and ADT Pulse are much harder to move locally. These last two also present a threat to the physical world as well as the digital. A hacker that compromises them will know when I am and am not home and can use that information to do me harm.

At this point, I think a wholesale abandonment of the Cloud is premature and reactionary. That said, a healthy bit of fear and respect for the amount of information that we are releasing to the world is called for. Continued pressure on the keepers of that data to protect it with every means at their disposal is key to improvement. Hopefully, some future day will find us uploading our lives to a safe and secure Cloud; until then always think before you type and check your message destinations twice.

=Kevin