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Limit Your Work In Progress!

When I came out with this title I realised that it is completely in opposition to a title of a great post by Paweł Brodziński that was published almost a year ago. While I agree that having the right behaviours in place in a team is the goal, it’s important to understand the pitfalls of having too much in progress. The topic has been discussed bazillion times already, yet I’d like to add to it by allowing you to experience it by playing with a simulator. I’ve learned that this is more helpful than just talking about Little’s Law.

But before we discuss Little’s Law, let’s take a look at other aspects of having too much work in progress, that are also very important.

Multitasking

Multitasking is quite a popular topic, which has been studied by many scientists. Studies differ in their conclusions – some state that you can lose 10 IQ points due to distractions like notifications, some say that because of context switching you can produce lower quality products, others focus on impact to learning ability, another points out the amounts of stress caused by this phenomena. All those studies have one thing in common – multitasking is counterproductive. If you’re interested in more detail, check out Wikipedia or this article.

To see that in action, you can try a little exercise (originally published by Dave Crenshaw): Continue reading Limit Your Work In Progress!

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Kanban Flow Simulator – First Blood

Managing flow is not easy and sometimes counter-intuitive. Limiting work in progress will decrease lead time while not affecting throughput – really? You should reduce variability in the input to increase predictability of your system – always? You can hear about such principles here and there. There are mathematical models available to deduce if that advice is right or wrong, but they are very complex, as the system we’re dealing with is very complex. Lots of things are happening at the same time – variable tasks size, variable entry times, variable team size, skills, limits, priorities, value…

When I decided that I wanted to learn more about those principles (after reading a book by Donald G. Reinertsen: The Principles of Product Development Flow) I realised that solving the related mathematical puzzle was probably too hard for me. The other thing I was concerned about was that I wasn’t sure if, when successful, I would be able to explain and convince others quickly about my findings. So an idea came to my mind – a flow simulator. A simulator, where anyone could easily be able to play with all the variables and observe the outcomes. Where anyone could instantly see the outcomes of limiting WIP, decreasing variability, pair programming, multitasking, different prioritisation methods and so on.

After a month of evenings working, the first version of the Kanban Flow Simulator is available here.

Continue reading Kanban Flow Simulator – First Blood

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How To Change Organisational Culture In 3 Easy Steps

OK, I’m sorry, you can’t. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t be struggling so much with transforming organisations. Now, I assume that if you read this post, you probably are interested in changing the course of your organisation, division, team or whatever structure you’re part of. If so, read on about my ideas on how to approach this complex problem.

Why Would We Like To Change The Culture?

Imagine Chris. Chris is not living a healthy life. He smokes, drinks 3-4 beers each evening in front of the sports channel. He is a white-collar worker, and commutes to the office by car. He likes it that way and thinks that he doesn’t need a change.

By accident, our Chris has met a sports coach, Anna, who told him, that if he’s going to live his life like that any longer, he will soon get himself into health troubles. Anna started to persuade Chris to exercise, to change his evening habits, to use a bicycle to commute to work. And Chris eventually started to do those things. The coach was happy and fulfilled. There was no more work for her to do. So she left.

Do you know what happened next? Yes. The same thing that happened the last time your organisation (or your friend’s organisation) tried to transform into an agile one. Agile coaches came in, people were sent to training courses, Scrum Masters were selected and… Done.

What we really should be after is something deeper than just some practices. Changing the mindset of Chris would result in a much more sticky lifestyle change. The same applies for organisations. Continue reading How To Change Organisational Culture In 3 Easy Steps

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My Year in Books – 2015

An end of a year is always the best moment for reflection on how the whole year was. I’ve decided to take part in this global movement by summarising the best books I read in 2015. This list contains books that help me in my job in one way or the other, so they should be helpful for managers, product managers, HR professionals and agile coaches. The order is random! If you’re interested in the whole 2015 reading list, take a look at my profile at Goodreads here.

the_goal-goldrattThe Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

This is an absolute classic. The book was published in 1984 and is actually a… novel. The plot is about a manager Alex Rogo, who tries to make his unprofitable production plant  successful in just three months. The narrative makes the book very easy to read, but it’s the theory, gradually revealed while reading, which is interesting. The book is famous for introducing a management philosophy called Theory of Constraints (ToC). Although not always directly applicable in software development (it seems that in manufacturing the process is much more stable, therefore constraints are not changing as fast as may be the case in software development) it was good for me to understand the principles of ToC and it’s approach to improving the process.
Continue reading My Year in Books – 2015

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What Scrum is NOT

Scrum is the most broadly used agile framework nowadays. My observations confirm that. Whenever there is a question at meetups or conferences about the method the audience uses, Scrum collects the most risen hands. During job interviews I have a chance to learn the same. But what I also notice is that people sometimes don’t really understand the why or how. They just follow some ceremonies, that are often flawed, without any deeper understanding. Actually, I am guilty of doing the same. So here I share a list of things that people confuse, consciously or not, and provide some explanation.

Scrum is not a Silver Bullet

I used to play in some metal bands in the past. I stopped, for numerous reasons, but later wanted to get back to playing. I was a Scrum practitioner, Scrum was working for me (or to be more specific – it was better than waterfall, which I had experienced before), so I wanted to apply it to band forming. It was really funny. Band mates were confused to say the least! And you know what? It didn’t work. Surprise, surprise.

You may laugh (I can hear that!), but I learned that you have to be pragmatic with such choices. You need to learn other approaches and be open to new ideas. Mastering only one is dangerous, because if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Some teams and companies use Scrum because of its popularity and accessibility. It’s easier to read 16 pages of Scrum Guide than books about Lean, Kanban or others. Besides, it’s effortless to get certified Scrum Masters (or to get certification yourself), to be trained by certified Scrum trainers and so on. It’s safe and seems to be easy.

Yet sometimes (or maybe – in most cases) Scrum is not the right choice, and definitely not the only viable possibility. In order to choose well you need to learn what other solutions are available, get the best parts from them, and use them wisely. And not be afraid to modify your process. Continue reading What Scrum is NOT

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The Importance of Recruitment

Currently I’m highly involved in shaping the recruitment process in my company. To be frank, before joining Ocado Technology I didn’t realise the importance of this process. I treated recruitment as something that stands in the way of my work. But I was wrong. Now I believe that recruitment is one of the most important things a company should be focused on.

“Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock changed my perspective dramatically. The book is about how Google’s People Operations (it’s basically Human Resources on steroids) work and why. This book changed my view on importance of HR, especially recruitment. Let me share my arguments for why you should also care about hiring.

The High Cost of a Bad Hire

There are costs related to a bad hiring decision. Some of these costs are relatively easy to measure, like sourcing, interview time or salary that was paid during the tenure. But there are also other, hidden costs that are hard or impossible to estimate:

  • Decreased morale in affected team. A low performer may negatively influence people around him/her. Subsequently firing them may cause a further nosedive in morale. Sometimes, however, it may have a positive impact – the team may be grateful that the constraint has been removed.
  • Negative effect on productivity. I have experienced situations where a team member’s code quality was so poor that the rest of the team felt it necessary to replace their code. Naturally, the team then became more productive once that person had been released.
  • Opportunity cost. What would it look like if we hired an “A player” instead? Where would we be?

Some organisations have tried to estimate the financial cost of a bad hire, taking into account all the above factors. $250k, £335k or even $884k are examples of their findings. It is probably different in your case, but it’s essential to realise that the costs may be higher than you think. Continue reading The Importance of Recruitment

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Delegation Board – The True Story

So you’d like to increase self-organization and autonomy in your team, but have no idea where to start? Thanks to Jurgen Appelo’s tool called Delegation Board you can do it even today. If you’re curious how it has worked for me and my colleagues, what we’ve learned and how we’ve modified it, read on.

It’s no news that in order to enable the emergence of self-organization you need certain conditions (more and more). One of them is setting a boundary. In case of teams those boundaries may take various forms:

  • physical (room, office etc.)
  • attractor (leadership)
  • policy (rules)

In this article I’d like to focus on the last one – setting the policies right.

Is setting boundaries important?

First, let’s think for a while, what would happen if not all policies were defined or communicated. There are two ways one could go:

  1. Assume that nothing is under the person’s control and thus stay passive or go to the decision maker (usually someone above the person in the hierarchy) whenever the decision is to be made.
  2. Assume that everything is under the person’s control and thus often cross the invisible barrier and generate misunderstanding and tension.

Personally I prefer the second way, because “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” as Grace Hopper once said.

What would happen if boundaries were clearly defined? By defining an area of freedom you get rid of the problems above, or at least you greatly minimize the risk of their occurrence. You can always break the rules and then beg for forgiveness, but most importantly you eliminate the risk of decision paralysis. Clear policies empower people (assuming that there’s anything left for them to decide) and improve self-organization. Continue reading Delegation Board – The True Story

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