The old new black

December 30, 2010

I feel that the novelty of agile has worn off quite some time ago; it has become mainstream and now about everyone is ‘doing it’.

Quite many made a good profit on enjoying the sound of their own voices for two days before pronouncing a bunch of attendees ‘The Masters of The New Black’. Now we have all those previous project leaders and a few in-some-opinions-upgraded/better-paid-as-some-kind-of-leaders developers/testers renamed to Scrum masters (nothing against them, but too often I saw an ex great developer/tester becoming a not so necessary Scrum master, mostly spending their time being drowned in administrative crap). And all those newly produced Scrum masters made the management quite hopeful that they finally obtained the silver bullet by buying a pile of titles and instant education for small money. Small? I’d say it is an awful lot of money considering the value bought.

The point has been missed often, and over and over again. At first I thought it is in human nature. I am not sure. Maybe it’s habits. Old habits die hard. Old processes, titles, values are so deeply rooted in everything we do. We give things new names, invent the new black every now and then, causing us all to run in the same direction for some time, like a herd of sheep on and on again.

I’d say – put weight on technical excellence, on forming your team out of smart people with good attitudes, right values and a healthy amount of ego (nothing kills a good team spirit like one member’s big ego). Give them open hands. Give them resources and education they ask for. They’ll figure everything out without micromanagement and full-time Masters of whatever is in fashion right now.

I am not sure why I am writing all this. It all started by me wondering about this blog and about what I will blog about here in the future. This blog has my name in its url and I want to continue blogging here. I blog elsewhere about my and my husband’s cats, and write speculative/goth/noir fiction/poetry from time to time. I still do not know what I will blog about here, but my writing probably won’t be about agile.

P.S. Dear agile (and non-agile) readers, I still believe in Lean values and I like Kanban. Scrum has a great historical value. Please, let it be just that – historical.

P.P.S. There are a lot of people I respect and value who have been teaching Scrum to others. While I think highly of them, some of our views on agile differ substantially. Vive la différence! :)


A thought on offshoring

March 6, 2010

Relationships and distance

Sometimes I read girly magazines. Glamour, Elle… Ahem, read. The few articles that can be found among all the commercials, are mostly about makeup, fashion and relationships.

In those magazines I’ve read, more than once, about people who claim that one of the biggest obstacles that work against a healthy relationship is distance. Being physically apart is hard enough, and sometimes your beloved one may be in another country, on another continent, with thousands of kilometers between you.

Distance can cause some serious problems for us humans, since we need closeness, good communication, care and affection in order to maintain a relationship.

But, if love can move mountains, make the impossible possible and all that, then – what can a little bit of distance do? Not much, right?

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Natural born leaders?

August 11, 2009

The qualities of a good leader

Mr. X is good looking, very intelligent and has a high formal education. Also, he is funny (“ha ha”-funny, not weird-funny) and people like him.

Do you think that Mr. X’s good looks and his degree will help him become a good leader?

Being funny is a desirable leader quality; a good sense of humor can help you create a good working atmosphere and diminish tensions. The other features listed above are not essential and not even necessary as leader qualities.

What is essential?

Empathy is essential. If you want to work with a group you have to be able to understand how its members feel.

Sympathy (compassion) is as important; you want people you lead to be happier and more content with time? If you are a sympathetic person, it will be easier for you to react to their concerns and problems.

Being able to distinguish important from unimportant is a very useful ability. It may be my favorite at times. Doing and reacting upon things in the right order makes your and other’s lives much less complicated, and help you minimize waste.

Personal integrity and reliability are also crucial. I want a leader who does the right thing even when nobody is watching. Someone that keeps his promises and whose words can be trusted. A person with weak personal integrity can not motivate others to truly commit to common goals, since his own commitment may be questionable.

Furthermore – humility; mental robustness; being just and fair; having capacity to come up with and to realize a vision; inspiring and stimulating others – those are qualities a good modern leader needs, they are not only in the “nice to have” domain.

Leadership has many dimensions to it; what I wonder is – can it be learned, or are we born to be leaders?

Got the gene?

Is there such a thing as a “Natural born leader”? There is a study done (maybe several, I am aware of this one; Dr Senior, Aston University), and a link between certain genes and a leadership ability is found.

Transformational leadership is a style where leaders use their charisma, empathy, support, and intellectual stimulation on their team members, in order to motivate them and help them max their potential. That style of leadership is found to co-relate with a certain gene responsible for synthesizing dopamine.

Some people have “the right version” of the gene, some don’t. Those other people (brrrrr…”The Others”) are simply unable to develop efficient charisma and they score low on ability to intellectually stimulate others.

My guess is that people with “the inefficient version of the gene” probably, or just – maybe, would not make either happy or excellent leaders.

Another option is that if The Others get into leader roles, they may just practice Transactional leading style (“Respect my authoritah!!!“, clear chain of command, motivation by reward and punishment…). That leading style is actually the most common one, but definitely not my cup of tea.

Even if we start getting tested for the presence of  “the good gene” as a part of a job interview (which I do not think will ever happen and if it does something went seriously wrong with human kind) – that is only a single gene, and we are very complex organisms, with a few more genes with interesting features.

A leader since the tender age of two?

Whatever the case is; if we get born as such or we develop into small children-leaders thanks to some circumstances in our early life – some of us do show good leading abilities early in life. Already at a very young age there are children that other little ones follow, imitate more than others and do as they are told by them.

Is being a good leader from en early age a desirable feature of an excellent leader? I think it is a plus. All genetics aside; it is an experience, and therefore valuable.

Can someone learn how to be empathic, inspiring, fair, blah blah blah?

Many of us already have at least some of those qualities; they are not all that uncommon. And I guess that everyone can learn about them – what they incorporate, how they manifest themselves etc. A bit of googling and reading would get you well informed. Then comes practice, and that may take some time, depending how you are as a person today.

For example, it seems to be hard to learn how to develop empathy, if one has none or very little as a grown-up. Empathy is a skill we develop in childhood (the ability to be empathic is probably partly innate [ref]), and it is harder to build it up later in life. Still, it is not impossible; there are techniques on how to develop it further (role reversals, play acting…).

Charisma

The level of charisma, personal magnetism, may also be hard to push up (though, in Sims 3 it was pretty easy to practice speech in front of the mirror and earn quite a few charisma points :)).

Some theories are that charisma comes from an inner self-confidence that a person projects onto others. Therefore, if you think you lack charisma, the solution sounds simple to me – work on your self confidence and charisma will come to you! ;)

I believe that all the qualities that make a good leader can be achieved, improved and excelled if one works on that.

There is no universal recipe; it is about improving what you already have and learning the skills you lack.

Conclusion

You definitely do not need a plastic surgery and obtaining various degrees is not essential if you want to be a good leader.

If you want to become a leader or whatever else, the fact of the matter is: even if you lack a good gene or two and your start position in the race is shifted behind compared to others, you still may win.

One of my favorite movies, “Gattaca“, sends a great message “There is no gene for human spirit”.

You do not need a wonder for your wishes to come true and not everything is written in our genes. All that it takes is the will to change for the better. Determination and persistence will take you far.

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Ingrid Bergman is dead

May 2, 2009

Phone conversation #1

I was on the phone talking to this guy some time ago, the usual blahblah when he mentioned that he was in his parents’ apartment, checking if everything was fine, since they were on vacation.

“Yeah, so I am watching some football on TV and now I am about to go home and sleep.”

“Cool. Did you water the flowers?” His mum has a lot of flowers, very pretty flowers, a jungle!

“Eww, no…”

“But you said that your parents are away for like, 2-3 weeks.”

“Ewww, yeah, but no one told me to water the flowers.”

“Okay, how do they look?”

“I donno, like flowers, eww…”

“Well, maybe you should just water the flowers, or, if in doubt, call your mum and ask if you should water them”. I was getting a bit upset, partly because I love flowers so much, partly because that attitude was a bit too familiar, and a bit too wrong, for my taste.

“Eh, I donno, I am not calling anyone. I got no instructions about their thousands of flowers and now I just want to go home…”

“But… Well… Okay.”

:(

Phone conversation #2

So today I talked to that guy’s mum who called me all upset because Ingrid Bergman was dead.

“Ah… I am sorry to tell you, but Ingrid Bergman actually died some 20-30 years ago. I know you are not a fan of Internet and Google News, but… to get THAT upset NOW is a bit too much of a strong reaction… I think.”

“Well, please – your hubby gets REALLY upset every now and then that The Alexandrian Library was burnt centuries ago! But, anyway, it is not the actress…”

Yes, that  is true, my husband is very sensitive, do not dare mention The Alexandrian Library in front of him unless you are prepared to listen to whining and raging for the next two hours because of the idiots who burned it. All of the different ones.

“Okay, your argument stands. And back to Ingrid…”

“My rose, my Ingrid Bergman is dead! Well, when we got back from the vacation half of my flowers were dying… I saved the most of them, but my pretty rose, my beloved Ingrid Bergman kind of rose died… buaaaaa…”

Ah, Ingrid was some kind of rose…  The conversation went further and I did not mention to the lady the chat I recently had with her son. But, I got really upset, too.

And that was EXACTLY…

Yes, that was EXACTLY what I encountered numerous times in various projects, from different project members. That is a serious attitude problem, and can be very visible, blunt, in your face, or – very nice, covered in sweet chocolate crispy phrases…

“Well, when you tell it like that – it sounds very logical, but, I am sorry – it was not in the specifications, so we did not implement it.”

or:

“Yes, the code is broken, but I am not fixing it since I did not break it. No one told us we are supposed to fix other people’s mistakes.”

or:

“No one told us that code has to be tested, so we didn’t do it. No, why would we do double work if not forced to?”

or:

“He knows how to restart the server, but he is sick today. No, I can not try it, no one said what to do in situations like this one, so let us wait for him. Yes, what can we do, the whole team can not continue now…”

or…

Grrrrrrrr!!!

All of you out there; and you know which ones I am talking to – you, Ingrid Bergman killers – that attitude is NOT OKAY!!!

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Being lean and blond

February 9, 2009

Some background

This happened a while ago, long enough so that the main characters can not be easily identified. Except for me, of course. It is okay, I can take it. I am blond. And I am lean. No, I am not Paris Hilton in disguise. I am a freaky-geeky kind of blond.

Some time ago I was given an opportunity to work with an offshore team from India. It was a very valuable experience from which I learned a lot.

I never went to India. Some of the team members came to the Stockholm office, where I work, now and then, but very rarely. We had a space distance between us, yet we were working tightly, every day. That does not come easy, you have to work a lot on keeping a long distance relationship functional.

Down with the Agile bat! (Long live Agile!)

To cut the long story short – among other things, I was trying to coach the team in Agile methods. Instead of hitting them on their heads with a big bat with “AGILE” written all over it, I had this idea that we should work on adopting a set of common values as a first step.

So, I started a series of workshops we held via WebEx, since that was the best way of communication we had available. Face-to-face communication is always the best, but we could not do that. Visual conferencing involving web cameras is second best, I think, but we did not have that either. Well, we had WebEx. They could see my screen and presentation and we had an audio connection.

Long live innovative examples!

During one of those workshops I was talking about Lean principles and was trying to explain why it is important to decide as late as possible. Then I brought up one example. Now, what not all of you may know is that I am quite proud of my examples. I am also proud of the fact that very often I come up with my own ones in order to simplify and explain things. And then it came:

Decide as late as possible

“You know, it is like when a guy meets a girl. You don’t really go and say the day after you met her: “I want to marry you!”, and run off to buy a ring. No, no, you wait for some time, until you have more information about her, your feelings, her feelings, how you get along etc. THEN you start thinking about the possible proposal.”

SILENCE.

“My point is that this is an IMPORTANT decision, and that is an example why it is valuable to decide as late as possible. You will simply gather more of the relevant information during that time! You will minimize uncertain assumptions and crystal ball predictions, and maximize the facts that will help you make better decisions.”

SILENCE.

Okay, silence or not, I was so happy  how I quickly came up with such a great example, without any preparation that I just continued with my presentation.

The feedback

During the upcoming two days I did not get much feedback on my presentation, which made me feel a bit down. I was new to the assignment, it seemed hard to work with all the distance, and I was warned about the cultural differences I might encounter, but anyway – I was very enthusiastic and happy to work in such a challenging setup! Still, I got no feedback for my first action, and my enthusiasm started to suffer some damage.

It is very hard to try to coach a team you never met. You do not even get to see their faces during the workshop. We humans get so much information through the non-verbal communication, and now I was stripped of that!

And then it came – the team told me that what I did was “A Milestone for the Team!”. Wow. They liked Lean! My interpretation seemed to have helped them! My efforts were not in vain! I was sooooo happy!

Some more feedback

Shortly after that great first feedback, a guy from the team contacted me via Skype in the evening, after the working hours. Usually all of the guys from the Team were “just business”, very nice and polite, but very serious and formal. Well, what I could not see coming at the time, their usual ways were about to change a bit.

This guy, after all the introductory apologies for what might follow, dared to ask me the following:

“Are you married?”

Hm, okay, that WAS a bit different. “Yes”, I answered.

“Love marriage?”

“Well, yes.”

Of course, I mean – the usual story – you fall in love, you date, you move in together, and then, after some time – you marry the one you love. Or – you live happily ever after without getting married. What else could it be. I was thinking… and thinking…

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. THEN it clicked for me. What I said during the presentation and all… NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

blondebaxtentialistfainting11

Love and marriage

But, my new Skype-friend continued to chat with me:

“I will ALSO get married for love!”

Aha. This was getting interesting. I was recovering from a Am_I_A_Jessica_Simpson_Clone_? experience, but put that aside quickly. What this guy had to say seemed really important.

“… Ok. That is good! I recommend it!”, I was recovering quickly.

“No one shall choose my wife! My parents will have nothing to do with it!”

“That sounds like the way to go. Yes, some parents might try to get too involved sometimes.”

My new friend did not give up on clarifying his views even more.

“I will also find love, and get married to my true love!”.

My heart melted. He was so sweet! We chatted for a while, about India and arranged marriages, among other things. I was so touched that I got to know someones private thoughts and appreciated so much a view through that window to another culture I got to experience. What I learned later, through close interaction with the guys from India, is that, put very simplified, the ones who practice arranged marriages see marriage as a union of two families, not only two individuals. That made me understand it better.

It is a very complex question, about the arranged marriages and the whole different culture than the western one. Millions of pages were and millions more could be written about it, and it is not my aim to tackle that here. Personally I do not think that there is an ultimate right or wrong way to find your significant other, and what works for one, might not work for other. Still, I am for the freedom of choice.

Embrace mistakes

I learned something that day. It is okay to make mistakes. People will forgive you as long as you are honest and true to yourself. And after a mistake is made, you will hopefully learn something. It is not what happens, but how you deal with it.

cartmanilearnedsomethingtodaysmall1

BTW, whatever your hair color might be, my dear friend, remember – being blond is a state of mind. ;)

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A bit different X-mas card

December 22, 2008

 

 Joakim and I wish you all a merry Christmas and an agile New Year with a Christmas user story:

xmas1

Turn for the conditions of satisfaction->

xmas2

(Some of our friends that are geeky enough to appreciate this got similar cards in paper via snail mail today :))

Many hugs,

Jelena & Joakim.

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Intensive focus, flash fiction and having fun

December 15, 2008

ADHD sufferer?

Are you an Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder sufferer? Should I say “sufferer”?

Some of the symptoms you may have if you have ADD are: 

  • problems getting organized
  • problems staying focused (decreased ability to screen out distractions)
  • delays in starting and completing your work
  • troubles in managing your time and money
  • difficulties in remembering all the small things in your everyday life etc… 

Going global

Even if you are not experiencing any of these symptoms, today we apply shorter and shorter time-boxing on all of our activities. We get bored so easily. We need something to stimulate us all the time. We jump from one activity to another often and fast.

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