It took a while finding the dentist today. I was told it was in the mall, but after looking through the mall on both sides of the road I finally found it along the road, a single door with stairs leading up. Granted, it was no grand teeth servicing station, it was however quaint and cosy. The assistant was extremely friendly and they had a small tv which played reruns of Mr. Bean.
After filling out the forms, with questions I forgot to answer as they were buried on the one page form which should have fit on two, a patient came out of the treatment room. I had heard the drill, so it was obvious what he was there for. He also was friendly which to me was a good sign.
There were all kinds of diploma’s and certificates on the wall, and photo’s of the type “before and after” showing bad teeth transformed into wonderful smiles. At least I had come to the right place if I had to go by those photos.
After a short while I was ushered into the presence of the dentist. The treatment room was rather small, it fitted a full sized chair though. It was 17:30 or about that time, not much later. The dentist, a Indian woman of middle age was also very friendly, asking me many questions about where I came from and what I was doing, where I was living. The assistant I had spoken to on the phone apparently was from Sweden and had told her that I was from Belgium. They had been trying to reach me, as a patient had called off an appointment and they had time for me an hour or so earlier. 
The phone number she had written down showed the wrong country code, I had told her to dial +31, she had written down +41, so I don’t know which poor European they had called in the middle of the night.
I was put in the chair and the dentist, who apparently went by the name of Marion, started inspecting my teeth. She did a full inspection, complementing me on my teeth, yet berating me the bad care I gave them.
Calling out all kinds of secret dentist codes to the assistant she inspected every tooth I have and a few I haven’t. After quite a while she finally started on my chipped tooth. During this process I remembered my home dentist had also worked in that area a while back. The chip was most likely a filling that had been dislodged.
She worked on it hard, adding layer upon layer to restore the tooth to what it has been. Also making sure the color was correct. Sometimes she hit my gums while polishing and apologized profusely.  One of the most difficult thing seemed to be making the separation between my two front teeth as smooth as possible. She seemed to be using a file at one point to make sure I could floss alright.
When it was finally done it was 18:30, the whole treatment had lasted an hour.
My own dentist never had more than half an hour for me, and that was during an extraction…
The result is wonderful, as was the steep price, but that I had expected.

Australia – day one

As a start I’d like to mention how I appreciate the fact that I can actually read things here.  The China Southern Airlines took me to Beijing (unexpectedly) and to Guangzhou (used to be Canton) and the whole trip over here was covered in Chinese. Frankly, I’m terrible at Chinese. I like the food and manage to cook a bit of it, but there’s still a little piece of it that keeps evading me. I should have taken up the chance to learn Chinese when I was offered it, but that was 25 years ago.

It’s hard to imagine that I’m actually on a vacation. I keep feeling it is not since I still have the funeral to go to, but sometimes it seeps through that I actually have days off and am not expected somewhere.

Australia is where I left it 11 years ago. Then we just had the olympics here and I actually took time to go by the stadium when I was in Sydney. Granted, I only saw it from far away. The ferry took us there when we accidentally took the wrong one. But seeing the stadium made us feel as if we didn’t waste a day on the wrong boat.

Yesterday seems only slightly like a waste of time as I kinda overnapped. I arrived late at my hotel, it was hard to find my way there in a car without a navigation system and when I finally got my phone to give me directions though the internet, I found out that internet is expensive here. It ran out almost as soon as I bought a package, 10 megabyte swoosh out to the phone company. So only half my map was downloaded and it was just enough to follow the blue dot (me) on the map, along a grey line that was my route. 
That and my efforts to drive on the “wrong” side of the road made it a bit longer to get anywhere.

The hotel is nice. The room I got is similar to the setup I had in India. It’s just a bit smaller. And the bed is wonderful. At least after a 30+ hour trip. The nap therefore went very well, too well. I finished unpacking, then sent some messages to friends and family. I went down for a lunch and went straight up to nap. It was about 2 PM and when I woke up I had slept through my alarm clock and into the evening. It was 9:30 PM when I woke up. 

I took some time to update several social networks, and I prepared my maps. I got complimentary internet, but it says it is only for one day. So I was making the most of it. I had a Coaching Circle call in the morning, so I went back to sleep and again slept very well.

I planned to go shower early and get breakfast before the call, but I slept so well that I couldn’t get myself to get out of bed. Around 8 I decided it wasn’t worth it. I just stayed in bed and when my phone alerted me to the coming meeting I just hooked up my headset and called in.

It was a good call, I do love the Circle calls more and more, even though I miss some of those that we lost on the way.

Of course breakfast was unavailable, After 10 they don’t serve anything anymore but coffee and some bread, so I went on my search for a power cable. Australia’s power plugs are pretty different from European and I brought something that only needs a good power plug. If I have that I can put four devices on it and I only brought a few. 

There was a KFC across the street from the hotel. As my search for a power chord is not going well I decided to eat first before going on the rest of my search.

And that’s where I am now. In the KFC, typing my blogpost out on my notes application and thinking about my first impressions. News from my team is that they didn’t get a lot “Done” for the demo, but the demo went well (it better, if you only have a few things to show 🙂 )

First impressions?

People are still very friendly, they’re not used to people like me, I can see them looking, but that’s fine. The amazing weather here, the tropical plants. It is very westernly yet so different. 
I saw some things that showed me how Australians are. Like the guys putting up a party tent outside in the hotel garden. They were going about it clumsily, so they were either unskilled or just didn’t care about thinking things through. It is not an Australian thing to not think things through, but doing things the easy way is. I also noticed that when I was sorting out my maps for this week. The photo that Google Maps streetview added to my list was full of rain spatters. Something I didn’t expect from Google at all. I understand it a little. But it shows the attitude.

I think I’ll have fun, it’s a must on this vacation.

Australia time

My work is done, well, at least for the coming two weeks.
The time has been rolling on and on, no mercy for those who toil. And now the time has come for me to leave things be, trust my team to keep going and to let go.
It’s Australia time now. Time to pack my bags and check my lists. Prepare myself for a long long trip to a place far far away. Well, you can’t go much further. 
My first stop (barring my transfer location in China) is going to be Sydney, which is 10 hours difference with my home location. I guess New Zealand is further away for me, and maybe some obscure island off the coast of NZ is the exact opposite on our globe, but well, Sydney will have to do.
The trip will take about 30 hours, this is not in one go of course (as I said I have a transfer) but it is the time I will be traveling at least. I leave on Sunday, around 10PM CET.
I have been told that the airline (China Southern Airlines) is a good one. Main reason for coming to that conclusion myself is the fact that they managed to become a Skyteam member. To be confirmed in my conclusion was good. Apparently they have good service, something I am going to need on a long trip.
My arrival will be on Tuesday, in the morning. I have been granted access, well the visa says so (I know, it’s no guarantee 😛 ). And I will have a car waiting at Hertz. I hope my mind will still work for me to get to my hotel.
Last years trip to India has merited me with enough points to have a free stay at another Marriott hotel, so I hope the extra costs will not be pushed to the max 😀

Next Friday will be the Viking funeral of my friend Diana, so I will have time to recover from my jet lag. I will do this by sightseeing, maybe some hiking in the Blue Mountains.  Maybe find someone to fix me up in the meantime.
I need to remind myself to bring enough tissues.

The project?
Well, I leave the project in the capable hands of my teammates (mate is a good word when you leave for Down Under). I know they feel they are adrift without me, but frankly, I disagree fully. Yes they won’t have my view on how things work between the triangle we’re part of, and they won’t have the same leeway that I give the team when I am there, but what I don’t bring to the project in the next sprint, they make up in other expertise.

I will try to forget them only a little, but I left a communication channel open, it’s called Skype. 

An agile government

Agile government

Government and Agile don’t mix, they’ve always seem like complete opposites to me. The red tape that caused Agile into existence, or at least Kaizen within Lean is abundantly present in government organizations.
This of course does not mean that certain departments in the government structures want things to be like this. Civil servants are still human, and nothing annoys as much as red tape.
The danger is that you get complacent and accept that red tape is a part of your life, but that’s definitely not an agile thought.

Let’s grab that Agile Manifesto: Individuals and Interactions are preferred above Processes and Tools.

To me red tape fully falls in the category Processes. And as far as I have seen process is what drives many within government organizations.

I remember a computer game from my youth. It was called Civilization and it was loosely based on a board game me and my friends used to love. This game by MicroProse was awesome, I could play it all night – and I did.

There were several inventions that would further your civilization. One of them was the choice of government structure. Of course this started out as Anarchy, then it went to something like Monarchy, then evolved into Democracy. I always expect to have my civilization grind to a halt when I do that. But then you need a good structure in organizations. And the more organizations grow, the more structure you add. At least when you grow as an organization from a small one.
Government organizations are big, if not huge, and what I am dealing with in my project is an organization that serves all of the ministries. IT is a service organization. Where every ministry used to have their own service departments, they have now made one singular organization responsible for IT services.

Obviously this kind of centralization is part of decisions that are made to reduce costs. Personally I think that decisions made solely on the merit of cheapness always turn out to make things worse, not better.

What I noticed is that the ministry we’re building a suite for is not happy with the fact that they have to go to this huge service organization to get things done. Who is the most important, what department gets their work done first. In these huge organizations this is usually the one who screams loudest, or who has the best and highest connections (minister level)

I should soften my words a little. The people I work with (of all the organizations involved) are awesome in that they want to work together and want to GO for the result we try to achieve. Unfortunately they run into the same walls everyone does.

Of course the organization is set up in a traditional way. The deliverables are usually measured by waterfall structures. We need to deliver a Functional Design, Technical Design, they talk about phases and toll-gates. All deadly for agile.

This all leads to slow delivery of knowledge on the interfaces we need to connect to and it means we have to wait long times for environments to get finished. Environments they demand us to test in (TAP).
People in their organization are used to have enough time to get their work done. They don’t procrastinate, but they have to divide their time between a dozen different projects. As said this mean that projects that scream loudest get served first.

Guess what I’ve been doing?

Fortunately I have an awesome project manager on the ministry side. He is also certified in Scrum and knows where to put his foot in the door and when to leave the room (when things get done).

We’ll get this project done, but it has resulted in my request for two more sprints to deliver anything of value. I got it, but I’m not sure at the costs yet.

Another Sprint done, another challenge met

Time of course cannot be stopped. It wanders on, sometimes wearing 7-mile boots, sometimes it just stomps along the countryside. It always sees I have a shortage of it, so time apparently is a commodity as well as a flow.

A Sprint of course is also time, it is a time-box, an awesome remnant of days gone RAD. Useful, yet underestimated. What I notice is that my client has a lot of trouble with it. Especially with the concept of not being able to prescribe what we as team will put in it.
A lot of people ask me for a time-planning, both on the user side and on the client side.
They try to get me to predict how much time we need, and of course I am duly reserved in giving them that prediction. I don’t have a glass ball that tells me what is coming (if I had I would be as rich as Richard Branson and I would not be a meagre Agile Coach)
My problem is that the client I work for has a too traditional view on the concept of predictions, If I tell them I need another sprint, they will keep me to it, they will tell me I “promised” to deliver their product in an extra sprint.

Today I told them I will at least need another two sprints to give the about 85% of the functionality their users want. His first reaction was “but you promised the functionality would be done in December”…do people even look into Agile and Scrum when they ask us to use it?

Anyway, we have been ambitious and took on about the same amount of work this sprint as last sprint. Last sprint was successful in that, yet there were still a lot of things we found out and a lot of delays due to interfaces that should have been there a long time ago.

Now I still have to impress on the team to use the sprint backlog. They seem to have trouble with doing that consistently.