December 18, 2014

Manage Your Project Portfolio is Featured in Colombia’s Largest Business Newspaper

By Johanna Rothman

Andy Hunt, the Pragmatic Bookshelf publisher, just sent me an email telling me that Manage Your Project Portfolio is featured in La República, Columbia’s “first and most important business newspaper.” That’s because getabstract liked it!  

la_república_20141204Okay, my book is below the fold. It’s in smaller print.

And, I have to say, I’m still pretty excited.

If your organization can’t decide which projects come first, second, third, whatever, or which features come first, second, third, whatever, you should get Manage Your Project Portfolio.

December 18, 2014 03:11 PM

Beyond Coding

By Rachel Davies

Software development on anything more than a pet projects is a collaborative activity. To enable a group of developers to make any headway, some details inevitably need to be hammered out together. However, you probably find that getting agreement within a group of opinionated developers can be difficult at the best of times. Most software developers haven't had training in "soft skills" and you may find it hard to know where to start when a difficult question needs to be thrashed out.

Here are some pointers to areas that you might want to explore beyond the realm of programming languages, methods and frameworks.

Facilitation is all about making conversations easier but even with a clear meeting purpose and agenda, you may find meetings can go around in circles without reaching consensus. To understand some approaches to making group decisions I recommend "Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making" which introduces decision making rules. You can also get affordable hands-on training in facilitation from non-profit ICA-UK on Group Facilitation Methods.

Another thing you can do to help meeting participants is to create visible agendas and capture points being discussed concisely. If you want to build more confidence with writing neatly on flipcharts and whiteboards, seek out a course in graphic facilitation where you can pick up tips and practice with other budding facilitators. To improve how you illustrate system dynamics in group discussions, start to practice drawing Diagrams of Effects. Peter Senge's book "The Fifth Discipline" has a an excellent introduction to Systems Thinking and an handy set of system archetypes that you can use in different situations.

There's an old joke: What is the difference between a Methodologist and a Terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist! When discussions get heated, it's  handy to know a little bit about negotiation techniques. The Harvard Negotiation Project have put out a few paperbacks and I recommend "Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People" by Fisher and Ury. Another easy read around building trust is "The Trusted Advisor" by Maister, Green and Galford.

Lastly remember that we can improve communication in our teams by starting with ourselves and how we express our own opinions. A good place to start is "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg. An older book that's worth getting hold of to get a different perspective on the way you share feedback is "The Art of Giving Feedback" by Charles Seashore and Gerald Weinberg.

I hope these resources help you in situations where you need to go outside your comfort zone. Please do let me know if you have other recommended reading to share that goes beyond coding.

December 18, 2014 08:27 AM

December 15, 2014

Team Competition is Not Friendly

By Johanna Rothman

I once worked in an organization where the senior managers thought they should motivate us, the team members. They decided to have a team competition, complete with prizes.

I was working on a difficult software problem with a colleague on another team. We both needed to jointly design our pieces of the product to make the entire product work.

After management announced the competition, he didn’t want to work with me. Why? There was prize money, worth hundreds of dollars to each person. He had a mortgage and three kids. That money made a big difference to him. I was still single. I would have stuck that money into either my savings or retirement fund, after buying something nice for myself.

Management motivated us, alright. But not to collaborate. They motivated us to stop working together. They motivated us to compete.

Our progress stopped.

My boss wanted to know what happened. I explained. I couldn’t fault my colleague. He wanted the money. It made a big difference for him. I would have appreciated the money, but not nearly as much as he would have. (Later, when I was paying for childcare, I understood how much of a difference that money made.)

I then had this conversation with my boss, ranting and raving the entire time:

“Look, do you want the best product or the best competition?”


“You can’t have both. You can have a great product or you can have a great competition. Choose. Because once you put money on the table, where only one team gets the money, we won’t collaborate anymore.”

My boss got that “aha” look on his face. “Hold that thought,” he said.

The next day, management changed the competition. Now, it was about the teams who worked together to create the best product, not the one team who had the best idea. Still not so good, because all the teams on the program needed to collaborate. But better.

When I had my one-on-one with my boss, I explained that all the teams needed to collaborate. Were they really going to pay everyone a bonus?

My boss paled. They had not thought this through. “I’d better make sure we have the funds, right?”

People don’t work just for money. You need to pay people a reasonable salary. Remember what Dan Pink says in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. People work for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you exchange the social contract of working for autonomy, mastery, and purpose for money, you’d better pay enough money. You also better repeat that money the next time. And, the next time. And, the next time.

That’s the topic of this month’s management myth: Management Myth 35: Friendly Competition Is Constructive.

Software product development is a team activity, full of learning. As soon as you make it a competition, you lose on the teamwork. You lose the learning. Nobody wins. There is no such thing as “friendly” competition.

Instead, if you go for collaboration, you can win.

Read Management Myth 35: Friendly Competition Is Constructive.

December 15, 2014 04:06 PM

December 10, 2014

When Should You Move from Iterations to Flow?

By Johanna Rothman

I’m writing part of the program management book, talking about how you need to keep everything small to maintain momentum. Sometimes, to keep your work small, teams move from iterations to flow.

Here are times when you might consider moving from iteration to flow:

  • The Product Owner wants to change the order of features in the iteration for business reasons, and you are already working in one- or two-week iterations. Yes, you have that much change.
  • You feel as if you have a death march agile project. You lurch from one iteration to the next, always cramming too much into an iteration. You could use more teams working on your backlog.
  • You are working on too many projects in one iteration. No one is managing the project portfolio.

This came home to me when I was coaching a program manager working on a geographically distributed program in 2009. One of the feature teams was responsible for the database that “fed” all the other feature teams. They had their own features, but the access and what the database could do was centralized in one database team. That team tried to work in iterations. They had small, one- or two-day stories. They did a great job meeting their iteration commitments. And, they always felt as if they were behind.

Why? Because they had requests backed up. The rank of the requests into that team changed faster than the iteration duration.

When they changed to flow, they were able to respond to requests for the different reports, access, whatever the database needed to do much faster. They were no longer a bottleneck on the program. Of course, they used continuous integration for each feature. Every day, or every other day, they updated the access into the database, or what the database was capable of doing.

The entire program regained momentum.

kanban.iterationThis is a simplified board. I’m sure your board will look different.

When you work in flow, you have a board with a fixed set of Ready items (the team’s backlog), and the team always works on the top-ranked item first. Depending on the work in progress limits, the team might take more than one item off the Ready column at a time.

The Product Owner has the capability to change any of the items in the Ready column at any time. If the item is large, the team will spend more time working on that item. It is in the Product Owner’s and the team’s interest to learn how to make small stories. That way, work moves across the board fast.

If you use a board something like this, combined with an agile roadmap, the team still has the big picture of what the product looks like. Many of us like to know what the big picture is. And, we see from the board, what we are working on in the small. However, we don’t need to do iteration planning. We take the next item off the top of the Ready list.

There is no One Right Answer as to whether you should move from iteration to flow. It depends on your circumstances. Your Product Owner needs to write stories that are small enough that the team can complete them and move on to another story. Agile is about the ability to change, right? If the team is stuck on a too-large story, it’s just as bad as being stuck in an iteration, waiting for the iteration to end.

However, if you discover, especially if you are a feature team working in a program, that you need to change what you do, or the order of what you do more often than your iterations allow, consider moving to flow. You may decide that iterations are too confining for what you need.

December 10, 2014 01:45 PM