Roll the dice!

You’ve seen me compare agile team members with VIKINGS and I have more comparisons coming.
Last night while driving home from work with a team in Zeeland I thought about my upcoming game-day at one of my best friends.
We’re going to be diving into some D&D and I thought about the similarities between D&D adventurer groups and Scrum teams.

As adventurers you embark on a journey to great riches, or fame, or just because the heck of it. You take your swords, harps, books, emblems and amulets and your boots strike the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard of…wait, wrong adventure.

One your journeys you meet all kinds of monsters, stakeholders, erm, NPCs (non player characters) and maybe even giant bugs. With the roll of a die you exploit your abilities and skills and strive mostly to survive another day.
Survival like this can only achieved well if you work together as a team. Healers heal the tanking Warriors as they charge headlong into the big bosses you meet. The Wiz in your party weaves magic spells to slay the monsters and giant bugs. The Bard lifts your spirits and appeases the grumbling crowds during a retelling of your adventures.
The Dungeon Master will try to grow the group to a tight knitted bunch of heroes. To achieve bigger results each time, again and again.

Also the deep chasms you will encounter can be found in an everyday Agile Teams life. When a team member of low wisdom decides to take matters in their own hands and fouls up a seemingly hard plot, it usually is the whole team that suffers the consequences.
“I charge up to the monster and poke his eye out!”, just as the DM is explaining the situation. Ominous dice-rolling sounds can be heard behind the screen of obscurity that the DM always utilises when hatching hair-raising plans to test the adventurers. The quickly overlooked obvious disadvantages of taking initiative when the opposing side may have already had the initiative in the first place will take the group by surprise and reduce their chances to below ten percent (1 on 1D10).
The adventurers quickly get a spanking they did not expect. Taking up too much in their sprint through a narrow canyon, because Wally the Warrior thought he could easily best his demons. A misspelled enchantment by Sally the Sorceress gets them tangled in a rubbery sticky web that does not help them in besting a on-storming horde of data-porting kobolds.

Not knowing your compendium , not understanding the system, nor knowing the environment you are in during a campaign will stump your party as quickly as a programmer not knowing the IDE, a product owner team member not knowing the domain or an enterprise architect not understanding the application landscape.

A Dungeon master who is only set on destroying the lives of the individual adventurers is just as destructive as a project managing Scrum Master.

As you may know, Scrum is all about Common sense (Not the pamphlet written by Thomas Paine). It is also about the Scrum values, where not just Courage fits in with adventurer parties.

Lets roll the dice some more and show this courage. Let’s commit ourselves to the goal of the product owners campaign of ROI+5 and focus on slaying our monsters and giant bugs. Be open to the world about our results and the way we fight our battles and be respectful to our Scrum Ma…erm, Dungeon Master!

Kwaliteit die blijft

Als ik aan kwaliteit denk komen beelden in mij op van dingen, objecten die de tijd hebben weerstaan. Oude bruggen die nog feilloos werken, het horloge van mijn opa uit 1914, de apparaten die zelfs met dagelijks gebruik nooit problemen geven.

robuustheid, maar ook producten waar aandacht aan is besteed toen ze gemaakt werden.

Aan deze stevigheid ligt vaak een kwaliteitsproces aan ten grondslag. Trots zijn op het product dat je bouwt, geen fouten laten doorsijpelen in het product.

Deze gedachte is waar Jidoka voor staat.

De geschiedenis van Jidoka is terug te vinden in de fabrieken van Sakichi Toyoda, de grondlegger van het merk Toyota. We kennen Toyota voornamelijk van de auto’s, Jidoka is echter ouder dan de Toyota autofabrieken.

Meer dan een eeuw geleden ontwikkelde meneer Toyoda een automatisch weefgetouw. een van de problemen die automatische weefgetouwen eind 19de eeuw hadden lag in het moment dat het garen brak of op raakte. De machine gaat gewoon door en het herstellen was een groot probleem. Het weefgetouw van Toyoda stopte de machine meteen waardoor men meteen het probleem kon verhelpen.

Bijna 30 jaar later ontwikkelde meneer Toyoda een andere machine waarbij de machine niet meer stopte maar verder ging met een nieuwe spoel.

Automatisch, dat is wat Jido in het Japans betekent. Voor Toyota verwijst Jido echter niet alleen naar machines die automatisch bewegen, het verwijst naar machines die beslissingen nemen. Jidoka betekent Automatisering met een menselijk kantje.

Dit was ook de reden dat Toyota vorig jaar robots verving door mensen.

In de na de tweede wereldoorlog opgestarte autofabriek werd Jidoka ook ingevoerd. Het gaat hier om het proces waarbij als er een probleem wordt geconstateerd het produceren stopgezet wordt.

Wanneer het produceren stopt kun je het probleem verhelpen, Jidoka gaat echter verder. Het proces van productie wordt aangepast zodat het probleem niet meer op kan treden. Dit is het gedachtegoed achter Jidoka, kwaliteit inbouwen in het proces. Het probleem treed niet meer op en de kwaliteit is verbeterd. Dit werkt alleen als de teams zelf beslissingen kunnen nemen om het proces te verbeteren, Jidoka werkt dan ook alleen als je autonome teams in je proces opneemt.

Traditioneel is testen een van de laatste fasen in het project-proces. Na het testen gaat het product dat men heeft gerealiseerd naar productie.

Het oplossen van de bevindingen moet dus voor die tijd gebeuren om te zorgen dat een kwaliteitsniveau gehaald wordt. Vaak heeft hiervoor een maandenlang bouwproces plaatsgevonden.

Weet u nog wat u twee maanden geleden heeft gedaan? De meeste bouwers in ieder geval niet.

Om kwaliteit in te bouwen zal het proces moeten wijzigen. Als blijkt dat een fout of defect bijvoorbeeld te voorkomen is door een processtap (denk aan reviews, testen, automatiseren) dan zou dit overwogen moeten worden.

Wil men intrinsieke kwaliteit dan is dit gewoonweg nodig.

Waarom accepteren we fouten? Met het Jidoka gedachtengoed zijn buglists onacceptabel! Als je iets bouwt en je merkt dat er een fout in zit, is het je eer dan niet te na om deze fout op te lossen?

Willen we terug naar producten die robuust zijn. Producten waar we trots op zijn, dan zullen we ons gedachtengoed moeten aanpassen. Fouten oplossen en zorgen dat ze nooit meer kunnen optreden. Pas dan krijgen we intrinsieke kwaliteit.

Future Wholeness – The Advances in Prosthetics

Posted on SogetiLabs, date: August 20th, 2015 –

In the age of the Internet of Things I am eagerly anticipating new amazing research. Something that I have been specifically following in the news, is the advances in prosthetics. 
When I was a kid I met a number of amputees who were struggling through life with the loss of their limb(s). My father worked as an HR manager at a government company that provided a workplace for people who had trouble finding jobs due to mental or physical disabilities. At that time, I met many of his colleagues and they instilled in me a desire to find ways to restore and/or improve the lives of people who lost mobility through the loss of limb or movement in limbs.

A very important image in my mind was the scene from the movie “Star Wars, the empire strikes back” where after losing his hand in a battle with his father, Luke Skywalker (the protagonist) gets a new hand fitted. I have been hoping for advances in electronics that could make a prosthetic like that possible.

In the past few years the advances that have emerged in this field have made my mind boggle. These advances were not just in electronics and mechanics, they have also been in the understanding of phantom pain, and treatment for that. One of the treatments is mirror treatment, where the visible movement of a missing limb is recreated by seeing the mirror image of the existing other limb make the same movement. This could of course be helped by actually having the limb back, but since growing limbs is still in its infancy, it may be a long time before we get that.

In the meantime, there have been advances in making the amputee feel again. This could be the next thing in treatment, seeing your artificial hand move does not do much to counter phantom pain. But when you can feel it move or touch again – that would definitely help.

As we also see advances in 3D printing we have been able to see new feet being printed for ducks and we have seen that it is possible to help young kids by printing a new prosthetic for them.

My interest in these advances also keep me looking for new developments in the field of electronic interfaces. One interesting development has been around for several years already. It’s the epidermal electronics development which make wearing electronics (essential with advanced prosthetics) lightweight enough to not hinder. I have not seen this kind of electronics be integrated with electronic prosthetics, but I am hopeful these fields of study will eventually merge.

Using an epidermal electronic interface may help in the development of a lightweight exoskeleton that can help people who have lost mobility, either with or without limbs. I wish this would have been possible for my friend Philippe  who died of muscle dystrophy this year. A hero in his own right with a tremendous will to live.

I will keep monitoring the news and web for new discoveries and maybe, if I am lucky, I may help people become whole again, man aided by machine.

Agile Trains

This week I started at the Dutch Railways on a new assignment. A very interesting one as I never figured the organization would be Agile. As it is the department that develops the website has been using Scrum for a while and they just needed someone with more experience to help them out.

I see a lot of challenges, but I see even more chances to improve this organization. What I thankfully also see is a lot of willingness to improve within. Everyone I speak to seems to want to change the way of working so that things improve.

Who am I to not oblige. I really want to help them become more Agile and I will do my best to get them to speed up.

There is a lot to do though, the bottom layers are still very traditional and the upper layers want Agile but need to be made aware what it means to allow Agile as well.

Let’s do this

Social media

Social Media is everything these days. We have Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube, LinkedIn and new media are forming almost every day. The thought “Wouldn’t it be awesome to start a new social media and making trillions of money” must drive many entrepeneurs every day when I see how “trending” things are.

Whatsapp has been very active and popular in the Netherlands and I have withstood it’s allure for years already. My brother wonders why, when everyone is connected isn’t it a good medium to reach each other? I guess it must seem like I am withstanding the tsunami. Like the people who tried to withstand the introduction of the phone. If you’re not going along with the bandwagon, you’ll be left behind!

But will I? What have I gotten from not participating in all the new social media? Why am I so adamant in defying the pull of the masses?

I do have more piece of mind. I have a good number of groups that I am part of, either work related or privately. Social media enforce groups, look at them. Facebook has groups, Whatsapp allows you to make groups and send messages “en masse”, the same goes for LinkedIn and I think most social media are basically made to reach large groups of people. Either willingly or unwillingly. Most of the media depend on the money of commercials. If they didn’t have that, they would definately not be free.

Is piece of mind worth it to be out of the loop? OH YES…

Is that why I am so adamant in defying the pull of social media? Yes and No. I have always been someone who wants an Op Out. Motivation can only be gotten when there is a drive. I have a great drive for doing things that interest me, things that have value to me.
I have an interest in many things, wonderful things. I am a thought leader at the company I work for and as such am very active in the field I specialize in.
The amount of mails, phonecalls, messages I get every day is massive and I make a point of it to want to help as many people I can. And that means that my agenda rules my life.
I train many people in the evenings and I drive across the country to do things that go above the call of work.

Doing all I do would most likely be more than 24 hours a day if I would add all social media that are out there. So I choose my media carefully. The same as I choose the people in my LinkedIn and the groups on the media I use carefully. Added to the stream of messages that I get every day are also the message we can call spam. Dealing with unsolicited messages is something I find tedious. And every media I use adds its own unwanted messages.

Social media are wonderful, but I’m old enough to remember the time that we did not all have a phone in our pocket. I do remember reading a book until I heard morning birds outside.
I have a happy married life and a good social life besides that. I want to keep it that way.

Remember, I am more than willing to answer your call. And I AM active on the social media I choose. But I will not jump on every social bandwagon that comes along.

Find me on mail, phone, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and sometimes on Twitter…maybe I’ll add one or two more, when I opt in…

Never ending, dragging on

Coming to the end of a reasonably successful yet pressure-pan project I have to look back and realize a few things.

The project started under a bad premise. The company we did the project for, the client, did not appreciate the company that preceded us in this. They had built the Intranet and there had been some struggles to get it all running smoothly. There were delays and setbacks. So the client had build in many controls. Their Leninistic approach of “trust is good, control is better” meant we were unable to get their trust.

Funnily enough we found out that the roles should have been reversed. Our last stages of the project were wrought in frustration over the lack of control on their own environments. Their knowledge of their own systems was abominal, and every time we delivered a new deployment the issues that occurred and re-occurred were surprising.

Our predecessors must have felt the same frustration we felt. Suffice to say my team and me were hoping we could get out of there very very soon.

One of the assumptions I made at the start was that the client welcomed Agile. And frankly it seemed that way till close to the end. I was asked to give classes on Agile and Scrum and the advantages of Scrum were welcomed. They liked to add changes to the project and we complied.

At the end however they broke all the Agile values.
They wanted to stick to processes, interaction between individuals was reduced to email (which I consider correspondence, not communication).
Delivering the documentation (Technical Designs) was deemed more important than getting the software to work.
The contract (functional design based) was suddenly being quoted and we were being held to everything in it, despite the fact that the changes were requested by their “product owner”. They didn’t wanna hear anything about the changes and additions being additional work for the team as we were agile, right?
They implemented a plan, we were held to it.

A dream turned into a nightmare. Strangely enough the strive for 100% makes it so that we just can’t get out of there. 80% of the time spent on traditional projects is after all spent on the last 20% of the project…

We also lost the next project. I guess we are the new predecessor …none of us mourn this though




You live, you learn, a story about trust

Agile and Scrum are based on trust, which allows us to make decisions together. I trust my team to make the right technical decisions. As a project-team I expect us to be trusted to deliver technical excellence.
This also influences my behaviour during the project. And my emails (which are sometimes a necessary evil) are utilized to be clear and succinct.
When we started the project in September we started with a Sprint 0 which had a whopping length of one whole week. In this week we were supposed to set up our environment and to get familiarized with the backlog. Enough so we could estimate its size and select the first sprint backlog from it.

This project was requested by a government organisation that has come into existence after the centralisation of ICT projects and activities. As such they represent the government and use the company I work for as workforce to solve their problems and work their projects.
The actual client (ministries) ask them to solve their problems and they start projects to deliver solutions.

Centralisation  is something that seems to come in waves in IT. Any organisation seems to centralise at one point and then de-centralise in a future period. I personally have no problem with this besides the fact that in large organisations like the government, centralisation leads to enormous molochs that move sluggish and can only be governed using rigidly prescribed procedures.  By lack of something better, like Lean.

At the start of this project we discussed with them what we would be using as development tools. They had chosen Apex, and because we wanted to limit scripting we advised them to use Apex 4. This was a discussion for them as they were unfamiliar with Apex 4, but they found other precedents in using it in their organisation and went along with it.

Another one of our questions was on how we were going to handle the printouts. Oracle is not a word processor, and the existing application was written in Access and plugged into Word using the office connections in the suite. They told us that using Oracle BI Publisher would be preferred.
As they pointed out this was a standard we accepted this and I ordered a development environment with Apex 4 and BI publisher.

The application has many interfaces, most of them new to the situation as the existing application only has one (to Microsoft Office). They had expressed the wish to make this new application link in to existing government systems. Like the database that contains the “customer” information. There is also a link to the OCR tooling that helps them with paper forms, it had to be linked in. The document archive obviously had to be linked as well. Our ministry team had added another interface to the financial department, which we solved by outputting information to an Excel document as the financial department didn’t provide a link into their financial system.

The functionality in Apex was not so much of a problem. The team is experienced in writing wonderful application using Oracle and Oracle Apex and with the close collaboration of the business we were able to build the functionality that they wanted. 
Errors were caught early and fixed quickly, meaning we only had little irregularities in the software when they went into the user acceptance test.

One difficult issue was the incorporation of the highly secret algorithm that would provide a unique code to put on the certifications that would ensure customs around the world to ensure the certificates that the application printed were genuine. Due to the confidentiality in this matter the ministry requested that they write the last part of that. Hence we only supplied a stub.

The main returning issue in this project were the interfaces. All of them. As it turned out, the interfaces were badly documented. The scripts needed to link them were far to be found and as the ICT organisation did not allow us access to their systems we had to rely on them to provide us this information. During the sprints they slowly emerged, yet were deemed of high priority. In Agile we want to tick off the most important issues first, yet we were unable to. 
As the project neared its end in December we had already found that is would be impossible to get all the links in. 
The BI Publisher tool was another issue. As the output of documents was an important main element of the application this was very high priority. Yet as it turned out, the use of BI Publisher in the ICT organisation was very limited. It was used to output ad-hoc reports to pdf and not actual documents to printers. As we had assumed that a standard would mean they had experience with the tool, this brought on a difficult situation.

Building the required functionality went on unhindered except of the productivity of those in the team working on figuring out how BI Publisher worked and deciphering the interface information we got from the ICT organisation. As we were not allowed to work on the ICT environment they were mostly programming the interfaces blindly, hoping it would work on the ICT environment when they would be able to install the application there in an intermediary release. Most interfaces did pretty well, though setting up a test environment is not a quick process, so as we developed the interfaces they were also being slowly made available on the testing environment.

With difficulty we managed to get two extra sprints. I feared we would need more, but with the hope that interfaces would become available and BI Publisher becoming something we knew how to handle I had high hopes that given that we might still be able to pull it off.
As it seems, the interfaces were almost all available near the start of the last sprint. The sprint which I had hoped would be the “consolidation” sprint. And solutions to the BI Publisher problem were not near.
We had been looking for expertise for a while, but even Oracle could not provide us with a person knowledgable on their product.
It also turned out that the versioning between our testing environment and the ICT environment was incompatible. 
Near the end of the last sprint I had finally gotten a working access to the ICT environment for the purpose of developing BI Publisher. We were unable to install the right version on our own environment due to resource issues. I think the ICT organisation was not really happy with that.

Yesterday, as the team was trying to get all the work they had done on BI Publisher related user stories into the ICT organisations repository and trying to test it there, it turned out there was an issue. As the team member who worked on it was unable to find an immediate answer he asked for help on it from the ICT organisation. 
They felt we should solve this ourselves as we are the contracted party to build this application, and I got a mail telling me that they were disappointed in us because we had recommended using BI Publisher as a tool for output.
I replied that we had only recommended it after we discussed it with them and had started using it with the confidence that since it was a standard, they would be able to help us understand it. I also added that I thought we should try to figure the problems out together so we could deliver the application in time.
Higher echelons started to intervene, as they were in the CC list. They threw one of my mails at me in which I recommended the business project leader to get an environment ready with Apex 4 and BI Publisher, as it was the standard of the ICT organisation. This was a mail I had sent at the start of the project, because we were in a hurry to get sprint 0 items done. A mail that was now being pulled out of context and used to beat me around the head with, as I had used the words “we  recommend”.

You live, you learn…and I guess I have a lot to learn about covering my ass and politics. With this I have learned that there is no trust to be had in government ICT. People apparently rather control things by making sure they are not to be blamed for errors made.
I do admit I should have done some things better. This is a project that is not perfect, yet it is not totally without merit and I have learned a few things.
Next time I have a government project, I will have to find that balance between how open I am toward the ICT organisation. Yet I must admit that the transparency I provided to the ministry has turned out to be a positive point of this project. I enjoyed working with the product owner team and with the ministry project leader. The politics and back-covering is only a small shadow that falls over my experience in this.

A trying time

I know, I know, it’s been ages since I posted anything here. I would say I’m sorry, but well. I just have not been able to find time for much lately.

Life’s fine, and things move along and everything is swell…no, yes, well, honestly, I feel swamped at the moment. 
I have a lot of social network activity going on, most I keep pretty private. And there are some internet communities that I am part of. Then there’s the dogsports that I am pretty active in.
At the start of the new year things like these are always extra busy.
Work is also extremely pressured as the assignment I have, in a government project is drawing to a close. Which means there’s lots of things to do to tie up loose ends.
The company I work for has finally caught up with the other companies that have trouble with the economic low that has been plaguing the world and is preparing for a reorganization for the first time which will affect our professionals. 

What has me worried is how I will be able to pull everything together.
First priority is always work, of course. On that plane I run into several pressures. The wrapping up of my project.
During the project some problems have been building up, things that were not handled in the contract and as such end up pressing on the team. 
I have been pushing my team hard to deal with it. At the same time I have been trying to keep them from feeling the pressure that has been put on the project itself, which is way larger than I put on them. I am convinced I will end up a diamond with the pressure I feel there.
My specialty is of course Agile. Not something that my company is very experienced in, though I am. There’s a lot of request on this knowledge lately, yet people make up their own agile without consulting me, or my closest Agile colleagues, on anything. This leads to shaky contracts and decisions.
A wonderful thing is the technical meeting for which I have been asked to do an intro. Yet I need to find the time to fix up a good intro content for, I will only have half an hour for it.
A large pressure has also been put on me and my colleagues in the works council because of the reorganizations that will take place. We have increased the amount of meetings and will be working hard to protect our colleagues from affecting them too much, but also to limit the damage if they are affected.
Teaching is extremely busy lately. I have found new teachers to take the load off, but since demand has increased, I still have more than the usual amount of classes to teach. And these usually take place after working hours, on top of the time I spend on the project and works council.

Homefront is always my second priority. 
In this I find myself in a knot sometimes. I now live mostly alone in the farmhouse and take care of the house and the animals. I must admit that some things just seem impossible to get into my schedule. The dogs are taken care of. Which is the most important thing, as they rely on me as their owner. They are not given the attention I want to give them, but they seem to protest little. They are sweet creatures, though once in a while they tell me they are bored alone, and when I come home I find that the garbage has been torn to bits, or my blankets have been dragged towards the dog door.
The rabbit doesn’t get out enough I think, though I also think that the winter is not helping with that either. I would love to put the little man on the lawn to let him munch on the fresh grass. Alas, spring is still off a little, time will help there.

The dogsports, for which I am a coordinator of the sport Flyball, are starting a new season. We always start this off with an indoor tournament. This means quite a lot of arrangements. I have to get volunteers to help and find the right venue. The location we have been using for years in this has told me they have a family function at the date we have set, and the location we thought of secondly has told us it is not free to book either. I need to get this arranged post haste. Another thing is the meeting I have with the officials. This has not yet been arranged and need also to get done.
We had a misfortune last year, our timing system broke down and I had to find another option. So I build most of it myself. It is fine, it worked nicely in the last tournament we had, so I have been working on getting it fixed up and refactored before the new season. The old system still needs to get fixed and back from the US but my mind is set on the new system. Every little minute I get I start up my programming tools to get it fixed up.

Then the social networks…they are kept to a bare minimum, including the group of friends I have. which is hard on my and them.
On the two internet gaming communities some people have already dropped me. They tell me I have neglected them and as such lost their interest. This is tough as I have been interacting with them for at least 3 or 4 years. 
I love them very much and don’t know how I can make it up to them, nor how I will live without their interaction. It may be a lost cause. Though I hope to get back into their graces.

It all boils down to energy I guess. The start of a new year always coincides with a low energy level, due to many activities starting up and closing off and the weather. Winter is a time when people used to lay low, now it has changed to a hectic period in the year.

I know I will get through this. I always do, this year seems determined to bring me down though, and the social drama’s don’t help me much.

Seasons worries

I know it’s not a new thing to happen, near the end of projects there’s always more frustration and annoyances. Time and time again I have faced the mixed feelings of despair with awe and relief of coming to the end of a project.
But to be honest, I didn’t expect this level of it at the end of an Agile project. After all, all the important things should have been finished. The business may push for some minor additions to the backlog that seem to be very important all of a sudden, but this would only be because at that time the very very important things have already been finished by then.
Well, not in this project. I know the reasons, but it is just not possible for me to “manage” around them. The regular, and I must say extremely, annoyances near the end of projects are heightened by the fact that holidays are on our doorstep.
Let me iterate some of the things that I am faced with at this moment:
– Very important interfaces have not yet been implemented due to lack of expertise in that area
– Expertise is unavailable as the interface is such a new one for the Dutch market that there just is not a big supply of experts and those that we found are so busy they won’t be available until next year.
– Our development server inexplicably crashed yesterday and our maintenance team figured they could rework it this weekend (I understand that they would think of christmas holidays as being available to them, but the team has expressed the wish to keep on developing the last details on the user stories they started on.
– The government environment is so awfully non agile they expect us to do things their way, which is fine, but today they also expected us to provide the right scripts to environments that we have no access to and in my view we are in the domain of the government teams.
– Business is not available in these weeks, as expected they have a lot of free days and the holiday season leaves us with less than a skeleton crew to work with.
….I can go on and on
We will try to deliver whatever they want in our demo next Tuesday, but I am getting more and more worried about the last sprint that will start after this one.