Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Managing in Agile Scrum

Being a manager in an Agile environment is a bit like taking your first child home from the hospital. You have a general sense of what you need to do, and a lot of people giving you advice, but no really specific guidelines.  So what’s the best way to make sense of the role?

First of all, it’s normal to feel confused when first managing people working in Agile Scrum. After all, the Scrum framework only includes three roles, none of which is a manager. In fact, it’s common for Scrum Teams to shut out managers because they are not clear what their role is. What these people are missing is that when done right, managers have a lot to offer Scrum Teams, and are essential in the effective running of an enterprise company.

Managers can help drive a high-performance organization by moving away from a command and control mindset to one that is principles driven. This means less focusing on the specific actions that your teams are performing as it is guiding and incrementally improving the system within which the teams work.  Some examples of this might include:

  • Support implementing engineering practices like automated testing and continuous integration so that teams can spend less time on routine tasks and focus on creating truly innovative software. 
  • Listen closely to teams and remove the structural and process problems that they say are holding them back. This may mean protecting them from disruptions.
  • Provide a larger context for your employee’s work, helping them to connect what they are working on into a cohesive, company-wide picture. 
  • Design or support work routines that allow for code refactoring – although it would be up to the team to figure out exactly what would be refactored.
  • Build a bridge between the product management strategy and what teams can deliver.
  • Use Performance Management to align your teams to where the company will need to be six months or even years in the future. For instance, do we have the right people in the right jobs? Do they have the skills and technology they need to succeed?

As a manager, only by combining these various skills together into a web of support for the people you manage will you help them to navigate the rough waters of modern software development. Managers can guide the change the organization needs to be successful. And while you may make some mistakes along the way, that's okay - as long as you take it upon yourself to get better every day, carrying everyone along with you, the organization will be in a better place tomorrow then we are today. Good luck!

Related Posts:
The Paradox at the Heart of Scrum
The Science of Innovation

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dispelling the Dread and Darkness

"This dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by the sunbeams, the shining shafts of the day, but only by an understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature."


Thursday, October 9, 2014

First Lines of "The Bone Clocks"

"I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh, and by now my heart’s going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place on Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom."

- David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks.

I'm only 20 pages in and already love it. Love me some Mitchell-vibe.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

First Lines of "Gone Girl"

"When I think of my wife, I always think of her heard. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily."

- Gillian Flynn, from Gone Girl.

An incredibly fun book. Ripped through the second half of it in a sleep-deprived three-day fever dream. More thoughts on it coming soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: Game of Thrones and More

I was a latecomer to the Game of Thrones novels as my introduction came through the excellent HBO series. The show was so consistently excellent that I was forced – forced! – to pick up the book because everybody knows that the books are always better than the movie. (There are, of course, notable exceptions like Blade Runner, but not many.). A Song of Ice and Fire - the title of all of Martin's novels - is no exception to this rule. Taking nothing away from the wildly entertaining show, George R. R. Martin books show his incredible talent as a storyteller and first-class world builder. His books are intimidatingly long - all are 700 pages or more - and for this reason, rather than reviewing the three novels I've read (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords) I've simply written an unordered list of my reactions to the books. Note that there are spoilers!


  • Scene. Perhaps as a result of his years working in the movie industry, the episodic nature of his novels – each chapter is told from the POV of one of the characters – works masterfully. Almost every scene ends with a dramatic cliffhanger that feels like a natural culmination of what happened before while leaving you starved for more.
  • Shades of Grey. Martin revels in ambiguity. The novels expand upon many of the no win situations that the characters find themselves in. Look at the famous one: Neddard Stark continually does what on its face appears to be the right and honorable thing to do. However, things are not that easy, and Stark's behaviors dooms him in Martin’s realpolitik world. This might be the grimmest fantasy series I've ever read.
  • Mixed emotions. Martin always shows you both sides of the situation. For example, because he's a horrible person doing horrible things, you find yourself wishing for King Jeoffrey to die. When he finally does, Martin doesn't let you forget that Jeoffrey's a 13 year old boy that never had a chance at a normal life, having been spoiled and pampered and used as a political pawn. None of this excuses his awful acts, but it does make you pause.  


  • Details. Damn the guy is a completist. He details the power structures and families in such numbing detail that it becomes exhausting to impossible to follow the complex lineages - and that's with a guide in the back of the books! Quite frankly I don’t care about a fraction of most of these minor characters and backstory, since most of them are minor to nonexistent characters. 
  • Sexism. There’s a casual sexism to the books that pops up occasionally, usually when talking about whores, that is disconcerting. This becomes doubly so when you see it acted out on screen in the series, dramatized most with 
Differences to the HBO Series:

  • Theon. I was pleasantly surprised that the books contained little to no Theon Grayjoy! The series had way too much of his torture-porn story line that not only served no point but was absolutely disgusting to see depicted on screen.
  • Sansa. While I’m not a Sansa fan - she's way too passive in the show to be entertaining - in the books, you receive so much insight into the thought processes behind her mask that you sympathize with her rather than tiring of her empty expressions. 
  • Wilding Love. The relationship between John Snow and Ygrette, so subdued in the book, is amplified to 11 in the series, not always for the better. Still, I did love hearing Rose Leslie say "you know nothing Jon Snow!"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What Do We Save?

I've touched upon this before, but a report from the World Wildlife Fund details that the way we live is just decimating wildlife across the planet. As Christopher Ingraham writes:
We’ve killed roughly half of the world’s non-human vertebrate animal population since 1970. … The declines are almost exclusively caused by humans’ ever-increasing footprint on planet earth. “Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to provide the ecological goods and services we use each year,” according to the report. The only reason we’re able to run above max capacity – for now – is that we’re stripping away resources faster than we can replenish them. 
To choose just one example, it's why you're seeing entire populations of walruses stuffed together onto rocks - because there's no more ice!

Along those lines, David Biello takes the occasion of the 50 year anniversary of the Wilderness Act to observe that most "wilderness" as we define it in the states is land that has either been used in the past and now protected and recovering, or protected land that still shows signs of human interference.
The natural world can only persist now as a deliberate act of human will. That will require firm human purpose as a gesture of humility, yes, but also a form of self-protection. “This is not really an ‘environmental problem.’ It’s a human problem,” writes environmental historian Roderick Frazier Nash of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “What needs to be conquered now is not the wilderness, but ourselves.”
This all reminds me of a Radiolab podcast about the Galapagos. One of the interviewees, in a conversation about the insane lengths that the country made to save a species of tortoise, observes that we've changed our world so dramatically that the only way forward is to accept that Nature will never be how it was. As they pithily stated it: if we're going to play God, we should at least commit to doing it right. In other words, that means making careful and deliberate decisions about what species or environments we want to save given our limited resources - and which we should let go.

One one hand, this argument makes sense. The science behind climate change is so overwhelming and irrefutable that it's logical to start looking at the small corners that you can preserve in order to avoid being overwhelmed by it all. But on the other hand, I don't feel that our species are capable of making these types of decisions. Just look at how our decades of inability have action have led us to his mess to begin with! I don't have any answers but these are important questions to ponder.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thinking of You

"To think that I am not going to think of you any more is still thinking of you. Let me then try not to think that I am not going to think of you."

-  R. D. Laing

Friday, October 3, 2014

What is Life?

"Life consists in what a man is thinking all day."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson