Where I Work

Where I Work
http://www.leadingagile.com/

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Scrum in the Waterfall at DigitalPM 2013 (slides)

Digital PM Summit 2013 - Day 1 Recap

Day 1 of the inaugural Digital PM Summit is in the books and it was impressive. The event is being held in Philadelphia and is billed as "The first conference for a community of people who manage all things digital". I've attended and spoken at a lot of IT and PM related conferences in the past and there is definitely something unique going on here. There are a lot of conferences that focus on design and a lot that focus on development, and what they offer covers a wide range of subject matter and are delivered in a variety of formats. There are also a lot of PM conferences that focus on project management from the more formalized approach to managing work. And there are the Agile conferences which cut a slice across those areas. However, those conferences don't really speak to the audience that is present here in Philly this week. For the folks who manage projects at digital agencies, there is a different need. The agencies tend to be small to medium sized businesses with projects that can last anywhere from a month to a year (on average). The teams tend to be smaller in nature and many of them are caught in a space where a "just do it" can work for awhile, but it brings a lot of the pains you'd expect (stress, marathon last minute efforts, and technical debt). They could go the route of moving towards a more formal approach (like PMI), but the process burden doesn't really fit with the needs of the client or the work culture. They could also address a lot of their challenges with Agile, but this is not an ideal fit for many of their clients who are often more traditional minded and aren't compelled to change. So, what they end up with are a need to be able to manage work using a variety of approaches based on the needs of each specific project and client. At a larger organization (upwards of 50), it might be possible to bear the overhead of staff who are expert in different areas and approaches, but most of these organizations have a more lean approach that requires them to be able to develop a broader range of options in how they manage work. Coupled with that is the fact that the medium they work in is in a constant state of flux and they are expected to always be on the edge of what is the new, best way of designing things that leverage the latest tech.

The PMs in this space have to have one eye on design (maybe one and a half) and the other eye on technical practices. And somewhere in the middle, they still need to develop PM skills. Going back 10-20 years, my experience in this space was that the project management side of things involved a lot of floundering around, establishing a new approach every time things went really side-ways. The agencies that garnered all the attention back in the boom were places like Razorfish that kept a keen eye on the design side of the medium. That was, and remains, a valid approach, but this field has grown and evolved and is hungry for a better way. Unfortunately, none of the primary options can holistically solve the challenges they face.

What I have found to be truly unique about this event is the programming and the attendees. The way yesterday began offers a great example of what I believe makes this event a valuable and interesting alternative. The day started with Jeffrey Zeldman giving a talk that was rooted in design and UX standards. It was followed by Jared Ponchot that also skewed towards design as well, but dealt a lot with the creative process and how to approach creative work. The third speaker was the Conference Chair, Brett Harned, who gave talk called "How to be a Better Project Manager". Each of these talks would be at home in a variety of separate conferences, but putting programming like that together for this sold out event is what set the tone. These are not PMs who want/need to spend an hour learning about a better way to do Earned Value or, Critical Chain or managing projects that deal with Sarbanes-Oxley, CMM, ISO or (insert process here). These are design centric PMs who are deeply involved in the creative process who, while they may not self-identify as servant leaders need an approach that enables and supports their creative and technical leaders. Agile has a place here, but these folks are not Agilists. Traditional practices have a place here, but these folks are not PMPs (mostly). They are also not (mostly) designers or developers. They are creative PMs in the digital space. While it would be great to be able to develop expertise in each individual area (design, development, traditional PM and Agile), the years of work that could take would definitely be at odds with the realities of serving their clients.

One of the things I found most impressive yesterday morning was that for during the first 3 talks, there was the level of attentiveness and engagement of the people present at the conference. That is not to say that people who attend other conferences aren't engaged and attentive, but this was different. My experience has been that at a traditional PM event, career PMs look for a few new ideas and go to validate what they think they know. At an event like ├średev, technically savvy knowledge workers who are more on the advanced end of the spectrum go to be challenged with new ideas and ways of working that are often a few years ahead of the curve. At an Agile Conference or Scrum Gathering practitioners of Agile get together to work on how to get better at applying Agile. What I saw yesterday was a room full of people who were all there to find better ways to help the work that are fully respectful and supportive of the creative and technical process. They were not so much looking for ways to change how others work, but more for ways to change how they approach their own work.

Five or ten years ago, I'm not sure if something like this would have sold out so quickly to an audience that includes attendees from all over the US and some from Europe as well. But this community of Digital PMs is a segment of the PM community is definitely hungry for the opportunity to share and hone their unique spin on the field of project management.


Kudos to Greg Hoy, Brett Harned, Allison Harshbarger and the folks at Happy Cog for having the vision to create this event and for having done such a great job with it. #bigdamnheroes

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Language is a virus from outerspace


http://www.garyschoichet.com/PORTRAITS/images/0012%20william%20burroughs%20.jpg
William S Burroughs by Gary Schoichet
"Language is a virus from outerspace"
 William S Burroughs

Language is a tricky thing. It is a broken, imperfect system of encoding and decoding a message. If the encoder and the decoder have the same key, the message may be heard and understood as it was intended. If the encoder and decoder have different keys… bad things.

The encoding and decoding takes place on many levels and often carries around a lot of baggage.

If I am in a conversation and someone says:

Yo, hand me that jawn over there. “

It probably means they are from, or have spent a significant amount of time in Philadelphia.

If someone says:

“We need to assign some resources to work on this project.”

http://fc07.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2013/046/3/d/heisenberg__walter_white__png_by_nathown-d5v0h3f.pngIt probably means they have been trained to manage or work with projects using a traditional (waterfall) approach.

When I took my CSM training I sat in a room full of 40 software developers. When I referred to people as “resources”, they boo’d me... literally.

In Agile, and in traditional project management we both use resources on our projects. But, because Agile takes care to focus on “Individuals and Interactions”, resources are generally considered to be things that do not have opposable thumbs and a capacity to binge watch five seasons of Breaking Bad in a 3-day weekend.

The way we use language infects our interactions with individuals. In this TED Talk, Diane Benscoler talks about being deprogrammed from the cult she had joined as a young woman. In the talk she refers to a “viral memetic infection”. This is, simply put, how language can be utilized to hack the brain.



In working with people on a project, if I regard them as individuals I work and interact with, I am likely to behave differently towards them then I would if I were to regard them as resources I expend to get work done (like a stapler). This can appear in very subtle ways – or, at least, ways that seem subtle to the non-Agile.

http://www.virtualstapler.com/office_space/images/milton_holds.jpg

When I first began working in Agile I stumbled over a lot of similar encoding/decoding issues. The more experience I got with it, the more I learned how important it was to translate ideas before they passed my lips. As I would speak with someone about the project I was still thinking in waterfall, but speaking in Agile.  I’d think “resources” but say “team members”. And that helped a little. At least, I thought it did. To other PMs, it sounded very Agile, but being a little further on with it now, I do feel it is fair to say that language aside, intent shows through. If I am thinking “resources” but saying “team members”, the fact that I have not truly bought into the Agile mindset still shows through to those who do think of individuals and interactions.

http://www.acminc.com/wp-content/uploads/festrunk.jpg
http://www.acminc.com/wp-content/uploads/festrunk.jpg
If you are in the process of trying to transition from traditional to Agile, it is important to bear this in mind. There is often a significant difference between how we perceive ourselves and how we come across to others. I may believe I am able to fit in with the Agile folks once I learn to speak their language. Certainly that is a massive improvement over not doing so, but being able to speak the language and adopting the behaviors and value systems are not the same thing. One may lead to the other, but being aware of the fact that it is an ongoing process is an important art of not destroying your credibility along the way. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

An Interview with Mike Vizdos

I had the chance to interview Mke Vizdos for a podcast recently. You can find it here.

Even if you aren't familiar with Mike, there is still a good chance you are familiar with his work. Here is a list of some of the things he's been up to recently...

Mike Vizdos is  ____(please select from below)____________ 
 X  A Father of two great kids and Husband of an incredible wife
 X  A Certified Scrum Trainer
 X  An Agile thought leader / author who has been talking about enterprise level Agile adoption since before it even occurred to most of us
 X  All about Implementing Scrum
 X  Entrepreneur
 X  One of three guys in a shop working with Lean Startup 
 X  Co-founder and Community Builder of Gangplank RVA  
 X  Podcaster (will link to)
 X  Author of a children’s book illustrated by his son
 X  Founder of Real Scrum Jobs (will link to)
 X  A really nice guy
 X  Way busier than you…
 X  A walking example of how following your passion around certain areas of focus can help you establish an agile work life that is creative, experimental, invigorating, and of course, full of failure in the best possible way.
 X  Is working on applying what he learns daily using “this” cartoon as a reminder: