Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Vending Machine of Values & Principles

Have you seen the new automobile vending machines.  It appears we could put anything in a vending machine.  So what would you put into the vending machine?


Monday, May 22, 2017

Exploiting Variability: A Principle of Product Development Flow

What do these phrase have in common - what is their inherent consistent meaning?

  • Zero Defects
  • Take the time to do it Right
  • Repeatability and Reliability
  • Process Maturity Model
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • Six Sigma
  • Rework is Waste, Lean processes remove Waste

They are ironically consistent in their purpose to reduce variability.  Don Reinertsen will attempt to convince us that in the domain of product development (unlike other domains) variability may not be the enemy of good.  He will argue that it is the economic payoff-function of this outcome that is of upmost concern in design.

Voltaire's aphorism:  Perfect is the enemy of good.

I'm in a group at work that is reading books on Agile software development topics to what purpose... well to learn I hope.  After Lyssa's book on Coaching Agile Teams we turned the knob up to 11 with Don Reinertsen's Principles of Product Development Flow.  Since it's such a tough read, a dense book with so much knowledge, we have a divide and conquer mind set... we read a chapter and present it to the group (knowing that the group as an aggregate will not read the book).  So my chapter is #4, Exploiting Variability.  This is my plan... to add variability to the typical book report that a group of people might fall into the habit of performing - by adding variability to the format.
"We cannot add value without adding variability, but we can add variability without adding value." -- Don Reinertsen



Agile in 3 Minutes: #23 Vary by Amitai Schlair
...the conclusion "Projects by design and in effect magnify risks."

Ok let's play.  Did you know that play is rooted in variability? (Games and the Human)

"... however different their descriptions and interpretations of play, each rhetoric reveals a quirkiness, redundancy, and flexibility. In light of this, Sutton-Smith suggests that play might provide a model of the variability that allows for “natural” selection. As a form of mental feedback, play might nullify the rigidity that sets in after successful adaption, thus reinforcing animal and human variability. Further, he shows how these discourses, despite their differences, might offer the components for a new social science of play."  
-- The Ambiguity of Play by Brian Sutton-Smith

Fundamental to this discussion is the .... pardon the overuse of the phrase.... various types of domains that humans participate in.  We shall need to distinguish between the creative domains of design and innovation from other domains such as manufacture or agriculture.  In some domains the desire for variability is low, and in these endeavors humans have done well to reduce variance.  However in the more creative endeavors this tendency is harmful.  One doesn't wish for an artist to produce the exact same work of art repeatedly for 20 years.  Now that we agree upon that basic fundamental concept.  Do we agree that software development is a creative act?  If not - you should click on an exit link now...  because we have a fundamental disagreement and I will not be able to sustain the cognitive dissonance required for both of us to continue.

A challenge...  simulate to streams of flow ... one with variability and one without... 1, 2, 3, go....

Conteneo's Ideas into Action(tm) framework
[V1] Principle of Beneficial Variability: do not make the mistake of only paying attention to the probability of success (benefit).  "Paying attention to the payoff-function radically transforms our view of variability."

[V2] Principle of Asymmetric Payoffs:  not all payoffs are the same... we are searching for big payoffs.  In this search, we seek the complicated asymmetric function  (see the 1997 Nobel Prize for Economics: Robert merton & Myron Scholes for Black-Scholes option pricing model).  In this realm live the venture capitalist - start to understand their principles and models.

[V3] Principle of Optimum Variability: It is only via the economic transformation of variability (Payoff Function) that we can judge the goodness of variability.  The notion that all variability is bad (therefore eliminate variability) is to totally misuse the concept.  If one cannot graph the payoff function - one doesn't understand the economies at work.

In the [V4] Principle of Optimum Failure Rate we find the distinction between exploratory testing which should be optimized to generate information and therefore will have high failure rates (close to 50% or you're not doing exploratory testing well).  Versus the design validation tests (strive for 100% success rate) where success looks like green bars.  Noting that most companies do a poor job of communicating their failures - and therefore repeat their failures, thereby produce no new information.  "Only new failures generate information."

There are two approaches to the economics of variability - change the amount of variability or change the economic consequences of that variability.

First attempts to reduce variability.

[V5] Principle of Variability Pooling: overall variation decreases when uncorrelated random tasks are combined.
[V6] Principle of Short-Term Forecasting:  forecasting becomes exponentially easier at short-term horizons.
[V7] Principle of Small Experiments:  many small experiments produce less variation than one big one.
[V8] Repetition Principle:  repetition reduces variation.
[V9] Reuse Principle:  reuse reduces variability.
[V10] Principle of Negative Covariance:  we can reduce variance by applying a counterbalancing effect.
[V11] Buffer Principle:  buffers trade money for variability reduction.

Time for you to participate - give me an example from your place of employment for each of those attempts to reduce variability - this should be easy.

Lastly attempts to reduce the economic consequences.

[V12] Principle of Variability Consequence:  reducing consequences is usually the best way to reduce the cost of variability.
[V13] Nonlinearity Principle:  operate in the linear range of system performance.
[V14] Principle of Variability Substitution:  substitute cheap variability for expensive variability.
[V15] Principle of Iteration Speed:  it is usually better to improve iteration speed than defect rate.
[V16] Principle of Variability Displacement:  move variability to the process stage where its cost is lowest.

Don concludes the chapter by stating: "Variability is not the enemy; it is a tool to create economic value."  Can you weird this powerful tool?


See Also:
Variation: The Root of All Process Evil -iSixSigma.com

Don't confuse Reinertsen's Product Development Flow with the more general psychological term Flow by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous investigations of "optimal experience." A discovery that revealed what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Lasso of Truth

Truth is a wonderful concept - but can we really know it?

I'm very excited about the 2017 release of a Wonder Woman movie.  Can't wait - it looks great, I always love the first in a series.  I like the character development, the WHY of the foundational aspects of the character.  From the preview it looks like we will see Princess Diana of Themyscira grow up and the reasons she finds her self in America.  Fascinating...

I learned a bit about the truth of the back story of the back story of ... well the history of the creator of the Wonder Woman myth in of all places... a training course on DiSC by Dr. Abelson.  [Queue the spooky dream sequence music.]

The inventor of the Wonder Woman myth is William Moulton Marston. Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), scripted by Marston.  If you have one in the garage I'll buy it from you.  Apparently, Marston designed Wonder Woman as an allegory for the true leader; the kind of women who should run society.

"Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world."
Marston [6]

In the World War I years (1917),  [at that time they didn't use the ONE designation for some reason - guess they didn't plan on rev-ing the concept, how silly not to thing that humans would improve the concept of World War] Marston was interested in discovering physiological evidence of a person as they deceive - he's though of as one of the father's of the modern lie detector (Polygraph).  When he created his leader epitome, he gave her the power to discern truth via the Lasso of Truth.

Wonder Woman's physical appearance and her bullet bending bracelets were inspired by Olive Byrne, Marston's lover in an open relationship with he and his wife, Elisabeth.

Going back a bit deeper from the Wonder Woman idealized leader, Marston investigated normal people and their emotions. In the late 1920s he developed a theory of human behavior based upon two aspects, environment and reaction to the environment.  This theory produced the classic quadrant model and is known as the DISC Theory which was refined by in 1956 by Walter Clarke into the DISC assessment model.
"Marston viewed people behaving along two axes, with their attention being either passive or active; depending on the individual's perception of his or her environment as either favorable or antagonistic. By placing the axes at right angles, four quadrants form with each describing a behavioral pattern:
  • Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
  • Inducement produces activity in a favorable environment
  • Submission produces passivity in a favorable environment
  • Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.

Marston posited that there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on "Love Allure" that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority."
This DISC theory and model were never trademarked or copyrighted - therefor there are quite a few versions and instances of this tool.  Including wonderfully misleading FaceBook questionnaires that should be view with skepticism.  DISC practiced well by a practitioner can be a very useful tool for self discovery.
David is a "High D" - classic Developer profile
See Also:
Psychometric Assessments - a peek inside the person
Multiple Views of the Truth are Perceptions
The Life of the Mind: Hannah Arendt on Thinking vs. Knowing and the Crucial Difference Between Truth and Meaning Brain Pickings

Monday, April 24, 2017

Agile Movement's parallels to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

What parallels are there between Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the state of the Agile movement's union?

Lincoln was a primary figure at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery, in Gettysburg. He did not wish to upstage the keynote speaker, Edward Everett, and so summarized in 2 minutes the principle of human equality as defined by the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War.  Do you remember, the keynote speech?  Few people do.


Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 
- - U.S. President Abraham Lincoln

I heard an NPR story about a person that give their grandkids twenty dollars to recite the Address.  It sounded like a wonderful way to engage kids in history and the founding reasons of the existence of this nation.  I'm assuming that it would take the children some time to memorize the short speech and in so doing they would have questions, about what the words meant.  How many of your colleagues know what unit of quantity a score represents?  Do you know what happened four-score and seven years before 1863?

The foundational document of this new nation is the Declaration of Independence - signed in the summer of 1776 by a group of wealth white men.  They are now described as our founding fathers, yet some were quite young at the time (Hamilton, 21; Jefferson, 33; Washington, 44).  These free thinking people (and some were women - they just didn't sign the document) were called radicals by their government and traders by their neighbors.


Does any of this sound like a fractal of the Agile Manifesto and the movement that was started back in the 1990s with lightweight frameworks for organizing software product creation.  The desire to increase the good aspects and there by overcome the poor habits (appreciative inquiry or extreme programming - is there a difference?).

Is there a revisionist movement some 15-20 years beyond the 2001 manifesto creation?  Yes, there appears to be a constant yearning for the next wave, the next wagon to hitch your cart onto.

Are there amendments that need to be added to the manifesto much like the Bill of Rights?  Or is that a fringe movement on the periphery?



Modern agile  defining four guiding principles:

  • Make people awesome
  • Make safety a prerequisite
  • Experiment and learn rapidly
  • Deliver value continuously

Alistair Cockburn observer his communication style in beginner and advanced classes, he said: "[I] found that when I was encouraging getting back to the center/heart/spirit of agile, I kept emphasizing these four things, and drew them in a diamond:"



Could the newest technique Mob Programming be anything more than an incremental addition to eXtreme Programming (XP)?  Some 30 years in the making.








I've found a next movement in the Agile Symphony. [Do you see what I just did there? Yeah, changed the metaphor but pivoted upon the term movement. Crafty right?]  I believe the next movement that so many people are looking for are just a jump to the left.  Look to the left of the typical process flow of value through the company, just left of what the current Agile process addresses (software development).  It's the creative process that is just up stream of software development.  The product ideation phase, the place where all those creative people are trying to get a seat at the table and be engaged with the software product design.  The User Interface and User eXperience people are wanting to engage with the whole process. Not just be consulted at the end of the process when the user acceptance test has proven that no one wants to use our product.

Could it be that the UX group is searching for a way to improve the development process?  Are they sensing the need to find a better process?  One that results in similar outcomes but with shorter timelines, a process that allows them to maximize the value in their portion of the stream.  I think this group is in the same place as the lightweight software development group was in the 1990s.  Before a few of them got together to coin the term Agile and write a manifesto to protect their small market share from the large 800 pound gorillas in the software consultancy market space.

Well the gorillas have exerted their power and the industry has consolidated into the safer methods that allow the late adopters to feel good about their failing transformations.  Your OK, and I'm OK; let's just call the whole thing off.  And that folks, is how we arrive back at the trend in business lifecycles becoming shorter, while innovation continues to accelerate.

So maybe this new movement in the symphony will allow me to come into their community.  I feel I have something to offer, I love learning, and building (which I think of as design).  I have a bit of experience with these new methods of designing and building and learning as we discover what the customer truly desire.  I'd like to help the creative people get that seat at the whole development table.

Maybe you could think of this period of software development as the reconstruction.

See Also:

Reshaping our View of Agile Transformation - Jason Little

Info Radiation vs Info Refrigeration - a metaphor

Is a metaphor a form of lightweight model?


"All models are wrong, some models are useful."
-- George Box






The metaphor of information radiation is quite well know to many in the software industry.  Did you ask why?  Maybe because much of our work is very hidden from view, until we run the program and the computer interprets the code to produce some desired outcome.  Even that outcome may be obscured from view, and we must produce reports upon the data that the program produced.  So in a world where smoke and mirrors are common, one antidote to the common problem of not knowing where one is along the path toward product completion, a visualization is a powerful tool.

Generally speaking the information radiator has similar properties to the old fashion building heat radiator that used a steam media source to heat heavy iron and radiate the heat from the iron into the room.  It feels great to be standing next to a radiator when you've just come in from the cold.

What is the refrigeration process - what's required to cool some air?  Currently we use the 200 year old Carnot cycle to produce the cooling effect that your summers are known for.  I doubt that my home of Dallas Texas would be the Mecca of IT if not for Mr. Nicolas Carnot and his research into what would become air-conditions environments.  A comfortable 70 degrees indoors while the Texas sun is 95 in the shade.

Pressure-Volume diagram of Carnot cycle
I will leave the internal working of the AC unit to your study (I did it back in college - fascinating stuff).

When we put information is some systems we encode or compress it in such a way that the storage is efficient.  Think of a data base, significant work is done upon the data to store it.

When we pull it out of those systems we also must now do work to make the data into information, and then do more work to make the information understandable by the people that have little knowledge of where the data came from, the purpose of storing the data and the context from which that data/info may have resulted.  Someone will interpret that context, information and purpose and try to convey all this in a summary of the meaning behind larger data sets that the important people reviewing the information have time for.  This expansion of the information and subsequent summarization or generalization takes energy from the system as a whole.

pondering the connections - AC to info refrigeration metaphor....  what do you see in this metaphor?

is there a useful model to play with?


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Design Your Competition's Support Department

You are presented with a common business problem.  One technique that has always helped me to define the problem space is to invert the problem, take it to an extreme to explore the continuum of your domain.  Let's imagine that we want to redesign our software support department at MegaSoft Corporation.  Applying our inversion principle we will leave our MegaSoft support as is, and instead we will design the competitors support group. It's going to stink, people are going to hate to even call them, their people will be arrogant techies with no human compassion - they will actually hire with those skills required.  Let's pause and give this company a name...  TechHard sounds great.

Who's time is most valuable?  At TechHard the support engineers time is very valuable, so we will have process that time how long a support tech. is on the call with a customer so that our process gurus can optimize for the use of this most valuable resource.  A typical call from a director or VP in our internal support operation should be logged by an administrative receptionist (maybe even automated system) and then the support techs time can be queued up with return call tickets.  We will return the VPs call when it is convenient for our tech.  The tech can validate that the VP is authorized to access the system, and will confirm that they are still experiencing the problem by walking through a standard checklist.  Being efficiently minded the tech may skip over some simple question like power plug, on/off, reset/reboot, logout/in again if they feel the user is competent.


Answering the basic question of who's time is most valuable via the design of the competition's process is enlightening.  Which is it?  The support person's time - or the customer's time.

How are support systems designed?  Has anyone ever heard of a company that used Design Thinking or High-Tech Anthropology to create a customer centered support group?

Is this Conway's Law at work - are we truly designing the support function of our products/services - or are we just reacting?

Give me an example of great design for support:  Nest Thermostat and Fire Alarm Installation
Have you installed a Nest product?  Their installation and configuration process is well designed.  I don't know about their support department - but my expectations are set very high, if I have a problem.


History will repeat
In the 1980s universities started teaching about design for manufacturing (robots would make the parts).

Are you designing your business departments for it's function?

Speaking of support tools - your going to want a great issue tracking system.  Why not look to a market leader that has all the features your people can put on a check list?  Let's buy Jira - or should we look at the competition's product?



See Also:

Cable Internet provider Frontier's support group struggles with the corporate infrastructure that can not resolve customer problems.







Can we have a dialogue about Estimation and the behaviors it drives?


Some topic are taboo - not safe to discuss.  I've never appreciated that concept.  Those taboo topics are my favorite topics to discuss.

Taboo Topics (ordered by fear of conversation)
  • Gender - Sexual preferences - non-standard practices
  • Religion as truth, my religion vs your wrong religion
  • Politics - the correct way to govern a group the results in my opportunity
  • Pay for services rendered - why my gender is paid more than yours
  • counting - off by one errors and how to mask them; we're # 1
  • estimates - how wrong your estimate was and why I'm missing my commitment
  • prioritization - ordering methods
  • laziness - the art of not doing work
I've recently been embroiled in a "dialogue" about the twitter topic of #NoEstimates.  I would write a summary of the topic but cannot do better that this one:

Estimates? We Don’t Need No Stinking Estimates! by Scott Rosenberg
"How a hashtag (#NoEstimates) lit the nerdy world of project management aflame — or at least got it mildly worked up."

A nice summary of the dust-up.  Imagine if the tag would have been #LeanEstimates?

There are two sides to this debate - at least two sides.  But I like that the taboo topic was raised and has questioned assumptions.  I think the think that drives a topic toward the taboo is this questioning of assumptions.  The saluter of scared cows (where does that term even come from?).

So what behaviors does the process or estimating drive:


  • a list
  • TBD
  • someone misplaced the list...


"Unable to estimate accurately, the manager can know with certainty neither what resources to commit to an effort nor, in retrospect, how well these resources were used.  The lack of a firm foundation for these two judgements can reduce programming management to a random process in that positive control is next to impossible. This situation often results in the budget overruns and schedule slippages that are all too common." -- J.A Farquhar
Does a Scrum process framework and the Agile mindset resolve Farquhar's concerns that the manager may have without accurate estimates - via empirical measurement and relative estimation techniques?

I'm not sure that the Twitter-verse is capable of holding the dialogue.  My experience was not very fruitful nor enlightening.  I've been accused by a manager at work of being "anti-management" I've asked, but got no direct answer, what that term meant, and why he believed or thought this label to be useful.  I've wondered if it was because of this type of conversation.  I also asked these fellows, but didn't resolve my query with the rhetoric of the conversation.
... deleted ... a lot of tweets about actions from years ago when when the #NoEstimates twitter conversation was beginning - some relating to a blog post being edited or complete deleted.  Something I find quite acceptable (and do quite frequently myself).






The conversation went on from there...  I'm reminded of Adam on MythBusters.



... and there is some link to Anti-Management because one is willing to discuss better options or worse options than estimation...


There appears to be large amounts of animosity amongst the principle people that were having this dialogue - nope that word is not the best word, here... try debate... twitter shouting match...








How might the analogy of estimation is like addiction be a useful analogy?




See Also:


Impact of Schedule Estimation on Software Project Behavior
by Tarek K. Abdel-Hamid, SRI International Stuart E. Madnick, Massachusetts Institute of Technology