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Advanced Scrum Training and Meeting Jeff Sutherland

When it comes to Agile delivery, I’m a big advocate for Scrum. Scrum offers an easy to understand and lightweight framework for developing products.

Scrum is great, but it by no means is a silver bullet.  Scrum does not solve problems, it exposes them. It is like shining a big flashlight on your product development team, exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Scrum is an adaptive framework, not a methodology.

For most organizations, Scrum is an effective Agile framework. This is particularly true for companies new to Agile. Scrum offers a set of guide posts and rules that make it easier for organizations to get out of their own way. The rules are simple, but not easy. Anyone can get a get good understanding of Scrum by referencing the Scrum Guide.

Last week I got a great refresher on Scrum by taking the Scrum Alliance Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) training led by Angela Johnson. Angela is passionate about Scrum, and her and her company, Collaborative Leadership Team, does a great job.

The training was a great reminder that Scrum is about people working together to deliver the highest possible value early and often.

During the training, I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Dr  Jeff Sutherland . He was teaching a course next door on Scaled Scrum and during a break we met. While we were discussing the challenges of Agile adoption, he gave me some good insight. He told me that sometimes all it takes is one person to start an Agile movement within on organization. He said it’s like someone pulls a lever.

Dr Sutherland relates Agile transformation to the Blue Pill/Red Pill scene from the Matrix. “Take the blue pill, and go back to sleep and continue to use waterfall. Take the red pill, and stay in Agile Wonderland, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes”.

Below is a picture I took with Dr Sutherland.

 

Jeff Sutherland and Mike MacIsaac

Jeff Sutherland and Mike MacIsaac

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Embracing Change and Dotcom Operations

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” – Heraclitus

Change is necessary in business, technology, and in our personal lives. For me, these past couple of months I have had a lot of change in my life. From moving to a new home to starting a new consulting assignment, change has been abundant. While change can be unsettling, it’s necessary for growth. This brings me to latest consulting role, working in Dotcom Operations.

The picture above shows the monitoring screens located across from where I sit. As you can tell, it’s no small deal. Keeping a live production website running which handles thousands of transactions per second is no small ordeal. To do so, while also adding changes and enhancements, requires talented operations teams.

In my view, operations teams don’t get the credit they deserve. The people I’m working with in web operations are some of the most technical folks I’ve worked with. They are also good people. They are infrastructure engineers, coders, and they work with the latest DevOps technology.

It’s fun learning about the latest technology they’re using in Web Operations. Infrastructure built in the cloud using tools like Jenkins, Chef and Splunk has given me a broader perspective on IT. It’s taken me back to my days testing software in QA, but things have changed. The technical systems for web operations are more advanced than they were five years ago.

Technical systems are always challenging to manage, but what’s more challenging, are the human systems. People need to collaborate and communicate with each other, and this is where I come in to help. The effectiveness of operations teams relies heavily on communication.

To help with communication and the constant influx of work coming in, the teams use Kanban. Kanban uses a pull system to make process better. Below is an example of what you may have seen with a Kanban board.

The core practices of Kanban are as follows:

  • Visualize Workflow – Using Kanban, teams can see the whole visual representation of their workflow.
  • Limit WIP (work in progress/process) – Teams should experiment with WIP limits, which will help improve focus and increase throughput.
  • Manage Flow – By paying attention to how quickly work is getting through the process, teams can begin to improve flow management.
  • Make Process Policies Explicit – Teams should set their own policies on how they can best do their work and improve flow.
  • Implement Feedback Loops – This is about continuous improvement. Just like in Scrum, Kanban teams need to measure their effectiveness and continuously improve.
  • Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally

Kanban comes from manufacturing and the TPS (Toyota Production System). The below quote is from Taiichi Ohno, creator of the TPS:

“There is no magic method. Rather, a total management system is needed that develops human ability to its fullest capacity to best enhance creativity and fruitfulness, to utilize facilities and machines well, and to eliminate all waste.”

Eliminating waste was a major rule of the original TPS. TPS identified seven types of waste in manufacturing. They are Transportation, Waiting, Motion, Defects, Inventory, Overproduction and Extra Processing.

Years later, Mary and Tom Poppendieck defined the following seven categories for waste in software development.

  • Partially done work
  • Extra processes
  • Extra features
  • Task switching
  • Waiting
  • Motion
  • Defects

An effective way of identifying waste for is through creating Value Stream Maps. Often the biggest bottlenecks occur after development and testing are complete.

Summary

Over the past few years I’ve managed a broad range of IT projects. From working in the insurance industry, to reverse logistics programs, to Web Operations. While this work has commonalities, Web Operations is different. Tackling a constant flow of work is a change for me, and change is good. The change to Web Operations has provided me with two key opportunities. The first and most important, is to provide value and help a talented team of engineers. The second is to learn a different aspect of IT and business.

Are you embracing change in your business and in your life? If you work in software development, are you continually trying to reduce waste and follow lean principles?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Disruption Has Exposed a Need For Soft Skills

empower teams

The PMI (Project Management Institute) released their 2018 Pulse of the Profession report. The report gives good insight into the current state of global project management.

What I found most interesting was the effect of disruption on project management. We are in the midst of digital disruption affecting almost all industries. A good part of manual work has already been replaced by automation. AI, Big Data, Data Intelligence, and Healthcare reforms are a few of the disruptive trends already affecting businesses.

Dr. Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, said that knowledge of these disruptions is crucial for project managers. It’s important to “understand the art of the possible and try to stay at least abreast, if not ahead, of what these technologies can do.”

Project management is no longer only about managing scope, schedule and budget. Project managers need much more than technical skills. They must be able to lead strategic initiatives that drive change in organizations.

Dealing with digital disruption, leadership skills and business acumen are critical skills. Organizations would be well advised to invest in training to help their project managers build upon these skills. In PMI’s survey, 51% of respondents reported that soft skills are much more important today than they were just 5 years ago.

It’s ironic, the more digital the world becomes, the more the need for basic human skills increases. Emotional and social intelligence are critical assets for project managers. I recognized this growing need for soft skills in project management, years ago. The need goes beyond project management. In information technology, there is a drought of emotional intelligence.

Project managers must deliver more value than the functional aspects of project management. As a program and project management consultant, I strive to build relationships and provide leadership. I want to go beyond scope, schedule and cost, and I expect the same out the project managers I work with.

If your business is in need of project managers who have the soft skills needed to respond to disruption, reach out to us at MacIsaac Consulting. We are here to be of service.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

Hands Down, This is The Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

If you are considering a career in project management, listen up. There are a lot of different skills needed to be successful, ranging from people management to organization and planning. There is one skill though, that you need above all the rest.

The hands down best skill to have as a project manager is the ability to communicate.

Project managers can spend up to 90% of their time communicating. Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”.

The communication process requires both a sender and receiver. The sender transmits the message to the receiver. The receiver then decodes and acknowledges the message. The below image from PMI’s PMBOK is a good outline of the communication process.

Most project managers focus on the sending part of communication, overlooking receiving. This is understandable because project managers must send messages often. The receiving part of communication though, is as crucial.

Let’s look at the different aspects of communication for project managers. I have broken them down into speaking and writing (sending), and listening (receiving).

Speaking

You don’t have to be an amazing orator to speak as a project manager. You also don’t have to be an extrovert who enjoys being the life of the party. I’m an introvert who’s not always comfortable speaking in groups. This is an area which I’m sure I could improve, but my discomfort in speaking is not always a liability. When I’m not speaking, I’m listening, or at least trying to.

The four important areas of speaking in project management are the following:

  • Running meetings
  • One on one communication with team members or stakeholders
  • Proving updates to leadership
  • Giving presentations

I could write a full post about each one of the speaking topics, because they are all important. I enjoy one on one communication the most. Effective one on one communication requires emotional and social intelligence.

If you have trouble speaking, I recommend taking a Dale Carnegie course on speaking. Warren Buffet credits a Dale Carnegie course to helping him overcome his fear of speaking.

Writing

Good clear writing is crucial in project management. One could make the argument that writing is the most important skill of all. The project manager must write by sending emails, status updates, meeting minutes, action items, project plans, etc.

The challenge for the project manager is to communicate clear through their writing. This is no easy task giving the complexities of projects, and the amount of ambiguity that exists in corporate communication. Most companies have their own unique language. The language consists of acronyms and jargon, which makes clear writing more difficult.

Project managers can fall into the trap of using ambiguous corporate jargon in their writing. Part of this is because of fear and corporate politics. What if I write the wrong thing, sound stupid, or make an enemy? A good project manager will put those fears aside and take the time to write good clear English. You can write clear while also being smart about corporate politics.

As a program manager, part of the reason I blog and write LinkedIn posts often, aside from the fact that I enjoy it, is to work on improving my writing. I know I am not a great writer, so I must continue to work at it. Writing, like any other skill, requires continual practice.

Remember, it’s easy to write something confusing, but it takes time to write something clear. For a great resource on writing, I recommend William Zinsser’s classic book, “On Writing Well“.

Listening

Communication in project management is not only about talking or writing, it’s also about listening. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of listening.

To better understand the importance of listening, I’ll paint a picture. Imagine a sea-captain leading a heroic voyage across the Atlantic in the late 1700s (I’m on a revolutionary war kick now, stick with me). For the voyage to be successful, the captain doesn’t tell the crew what to do, all the time. Instead, the captain spends a good part of his time listening to the crew. The captain receives all the messages on problems, concerns, and suggestions from the crew. After receiving the messages, the captain can then take the appropriate actions.

The project manager is like that of a sea-captain. He or she needs to listen to the team members and stakeholders. If the project manager is not listening, the project will most likely go off course.

For a good resource on listening, I recommend Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. In this great book, the 5th habit is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. Covey explains how to use empathy, a part of emotional intelligence, to achieve the highest form of listening. Emphatic listening goes beyond active listening, to understand how someone feels.

Summary

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the importance of communication in project management. I haven’t touched on communication channels or nonverbal body language, which are also important.

If you are new or considering a career in project management, I hope this post has been helpful. The good news is that we can all continue to improve our communication skills.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

Wishing You And Your Family a Happy And Safe New Year!

empower teams

Dear friends,

Thank you for helping to make 2017 a great year!  As I reflect back  I am reminded by how much I have to be grateful for. At the top of my list of gratitude is a healthy family and good friends. I hope that this past year has treated you well also. Here’s to wishing you and your family a happy and safe new year and a prosperous 2018!

–  Mike MacIsaac

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Bring IT a Holiday Gift This Season With Good Roadmap Planning

roadmap planing

It’s that time of the year again. Office Christmas party’s and holiday happy hours are in full effect. Most people are scrambling to get last-minute gifts and prepping for time off. Soon the offices will be empty and most of us will be enjoying time over the Holidays with family.

At this point,  most organizations should have a good idea what their IT roadmaps look like for 2018. Businesses usually rank projects based on need and return on investment. This process usually takes place in Q4 as teams prep to get funding for their roadmaps.

Non-IT management of the business typically handle the prioritization process. The idea is, let the business folks decide on what to do, then let the IT folks decide on how to do it.  There’s a lot of logic to this train of thought, and for some companies this works well, but I would tell companies to take caution when using this approach.

The idea that the business should focus on the IT roadmap, without IT involved, is prone for trouble. Yes, the business should be accountable for prioritizing work that provides the most value, but IT should be in the discussion.

When prioritizing an IT roadmap, there are other factors to consider other than financial benefits.  Looking only through the short-term lens of return on investment, you lose sight of the following questions:

  • Which projects are best aligned to the long-term IT strategy for the company?
  • How will the projects affect the IT teams? Are the team’s setup to be successful?
  • How will employees feel about the work? Will those who are doing the work find it engaging, or are you setting yourself up for a mass exodus?
  • How will quality be affected? Are you planning to take on too much work, which could jeopardize quality?
  • If your company is using or moving towards Agile delivery (which it should), how will that affect your roadmap?

Above are a few questions to consider, but you can see why IT leadership should be in the discussion when it comes to prioritizing work for the year.

Aside from IT being involved in the prioritization process, the business should also have a voice in technical solutions. Yes IT is ultimately accountable, but this doesn’t mean the business shouldn’t be in the discussion. When solving technical problems, it’s usually those who work in operations that have the best understanding of the issues. Their’ insights are invaluable.

The need for agile organizations demands that business and IT leadership come together. We can’t afford to have areas of our organizations working in silos. As we begin a new year, isn’t it time we find creative ways for our “business” and “IT” resources and leadership to come together?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

A Fun Day in Minneapolis – Agile Day Twin Cities 2017

Agile Day Twin Cities

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 conference, sponsored by DevJam. The conference aims at helping Minneapolis Agile practitioners learn from each other.   Throughout the day there were breakout sessions which featured different speakers. The talks ranged from the people and business of Agile, to new ideas about improving Agile development.

As David Hussman, the founder of DevJam, kicked off the event, I was impressed by the theme and feel. David made it clear that the event was not about experts and teachers, but instead about learning from each other and challenging the status quo. David also emphasized a focus on product, rather than process. As the event got under way, I was struck by the impressive crowd of Minneapolis Agile practitioners. Minneapolis has become a tech hub and a melting pot for startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Throughout the day I attended many sessions. I heard from other Agile practitioners sharing their experiences. Minneapolis being the small town that it is, I ran into many friends and some former colleagues. One of the highlights was hearing Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer, former colleagues from my days at PearsonVUE. Priya and Ray talked about their journey implementing stable Agile delivery in a complex environment.

Another talk I enjoyed came from Daniel Walsh. Daniel talked about improving Agile development using the Cynefin framework. Cynefin (pronounced KUN-if-in), Welsh for habitat, was developed in the early 2000s and used as a sense making device. The Cynefin framework has four areas of decision-making: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and at the center is disorder. Below is a picture of the Cynefin quadrant with actions for how to respond to each situation.

My take away from the Cynefin framework, is that not all Agile concepts will work well in situations. We need to understand why and where our practices work, and get away from asking questions like, is Scrum better than Kanban? This is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking, what is the situation we are dealing with, and how should we respond to it? We need to get away from a single, recipe based approach for all situations. The way we work in Agile needs to be fluid and smart, and not dogmatic and one size fits all.

I could relate to the concept of the Cynefin framework. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of pushing the wrong Agile framework in past situations. I’ve worked with organizations where Scrum fit like a glove, and in other companies Scrum felt like trying to fit a square piece in a round hole. As the Agile movement continues to evolve, we need to be open to new approaches, ideas and methods.

In summary, my time at Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 was great because it challenged my way of thinking. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work and opinions that we forget to step back and look at things from a different perspective. The new ideas and concepts I heard at Agile Day Twin Cities were great. Perhaps what I enjoyed the most, was connecting with other fellow Agile practitioners.

Below are a few pictures I took during the conference.

Agile Day Twin Cities

David Hussman kicking off the day

Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer: Agile at Pearson VUE

Daniel Walsh: Improve Agile Development Using the Cynefin Framework

MC Legault: Agile is People & Business!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

 

You Don’t Need A Great Idea To Start A Company

Most of us at some point think about starting a company. We fantasize about what that might look like, then fear usually kicks in and we go on with our lives. We have this misbelief that if only we had a brilliant idea, then we could start a company. We watch shows like Shark Tank and we get the impression that great companies only start by a great product idea and the backing of large investments.

In reality, most great companies do not start out with a large capital investment, or a great product idea.

In the book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras summarized their results after studying the habits of visionary companies (companies that lasted). Collins and Porras compared the habits of similar companies that didn’t do as well over time, with the habits of visionary companies. One theme they found was that most of the visionary companies didn’t have a great idea in mind when they first started.

The notion that founders must have a “Great Product Idea” to start a successful company is a myth.

Collins and Porras actually found that waiting for a great idea may be a bad thing, because it prevents people from starting companies. A central theme of visionary companies was that they focused not on single product or idea. These companies believe the greatest creation was the company itself.

The following is a short excerpt from Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, one of the most successful information technology companies in the world:  “When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say that we didn’t have any plans when we started-we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do”.

 

References

Hewlett-Packard Company Archives, “An interview with Bill Hewlett,” 1987

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Managing Project Risk Should Be Top Priority

Managing project risk might be the most important responsibility in project management. Risk management is often overlooked. Usually people think about things like communication, organization, and interpersonal skills as key aspects of project management. While these are important, if I had to pick one critical skill for project management, I’d have to say managing project risk. Every project comes with risks and if you don’t plan for them, you’ll spend all your time putting out fires. To manage project risk, you must be proactive, not reactive. I’ve found that the best project managers are always looking out for risks and they have a natural sense for identifying them.

Managing Project Risk

Project risk is defined by PMI as, “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives.” Risks are the unknowns, and a good project manager is like a lookout person for a ship, scanning for risks. They are using their binoculars to see any trouble in the waters ahead.  Not only are they on the lookout for trouble, but they also are planning to deal with it.

At the beginning of a project, and all throughout the project, it’s the job of the project manager to identify and manage risks. This is done through analysis and talking to key stakeholders and team members on the project. The project manager needs to question everyone and ask for risks that others know about.

The project manager then needs to access the likelihood and risks to address. After determining what risks to address, the project manager needs to determine what action to take for the risks.  Part of the mitigation plan usually involves setting aside some contingency funds for risks.

Ask yourself and your project management team, are you doing a good job of managing project risk? Project managers should devote a good portion of their time to managing project risk.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

We Are Your Trusted Agile Strategy Advisors

Agile Strategy

At MacIsaac Consulting, we build relationships based on trust, commitment, and results. Based on these core values, we provide the very best IT delivery services to our clients. Our goal is to help companies improve the quality of their software products.

We are big on Agile delivery, but it’s clear to us that many organizations still have an Agile delivery problem. The problem is that companies rush into Agile adoption too soon. In short, they lack strategy! The results are high Agile training/coaching fees and little results. For those organizations who have felt this pain, we hear you!

To address this problem, we help companies create an Agile strategy. We do this through the following three-step approach:

  1. Detailed assessment of your current state IT delivery capabilities (where you currently are).
  2. Strategic recommendations and goals for your Agile adoption (where you need to be).
  3. Partnership options to help you meet your goals (how we can help you get there).

Together we will create an Agile adoption strategy that’s tailored for your organization. Whether you are a large or small company, when it comes to Agile adoption, there is no one size fits all.

We are agnostic to any particular brand or framework of Agile. Our approach includes all aspects of how you delivery software. This includes both business and IT. Too many companies make the mistake of only focusing on their IT teams, but business and IT must work together as one.

We insist that business leadership understands the principles behind Agile delivery. This is so important to a successful Agile delivery transformation.

For more on our Agile advisory services, I encourage you to reach out to us. We are a small team of seasoned IT delivery and Agile experts. All our consultations are at no cost to you. Our ultimate goal is to set you on the right path.

We want to hear from you! We are here to be your trusted Agile strategy advisors.

For an intro to MacIsaac Consulting, see my short video below:

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

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