Archive for the 'Decision Awareness' Category



Separate the Zebra from the Herd

From Zebra Herd To Kanban

From Zebra Herd To Kanban.

Suddenly it was crystal clear to me. The evolutionary story of the stripes of the zebra told me why I don’t have to fail. I had so many important tasks to carry out. I fought the in-box from dusk to dawn. I reacted to new ideas and added them to Work-In-Progress. And the most important tasks remained undone. They hid in the herd.

The zebra stripes confuses the lion. Each individual’s stripes blends in with the stripes of the herd fellows around this particular zebra. The lion has trouble picking out any one zebra and he’s got no plan for how to attack. He can’t even understand in which direction the zebra is moving. The predator doesn’t see a prey, it can only see a lot of stripes – hundreds or thousands – moving around in an unpredictable pattern.

Each zebra is an activity in our To-Do. We are the lion that needs to focus on one zebra at a time. Our Work-In-Progress mustn’t be the number of individuals in the zebra herd. Our effort to complete any task, depends on our success in separating a zebra from the herd. And even more: to complete the most important task – to be maximum effective – we must separate the right zebra from the herd.

Great news is that there are good practices that come to rescue. The Now List is mandatory, i.e. you must limit the work in progress. You must also understand that focus mode (completing tasks) and overview mode (classifying, sorting, and prioritizing tasks) are not compatible. You need to alternate frequently between these two modes — in a controlled way. And a third practice is to visualize all potential upcoming activities. The recipe goes: create the big picture, choose your target, and don’t constantly switch.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Pivot – kanban token as a thought torn out of the thing

A sticky note on a kanban board is a pivot.

Sticky notes on a kanban board are pivots.

We can be incredibly efficient, but the users of the software we’re creating will only benefit from it if we are effective. Effectiveness is when our customers solve more problems and with higher quality – when they make better business. Implementing received specs is pushing paper. Pro-activeness is to make all aspects of software development to activities to develop our understanding of our client’s needs. Continues delivery is a great tool here and pivots can help us stuff these deliveries with the most effective content.

A pivot is an object used to function as another object in a play situation, like a sticky note with a user need written on it. The sticky functions as the work to write code that meets this need. Planning what to do right now is a play situation. The columns of our kanban board functions as time: future, present and past. (Actually, present seems to be near-future in most kanban implementations – nothing wrong with that.) Moving stickies across the board is a play situation.

Lev Vygotsky taught us that we need a pivot to tear the thought out of the thing. In order to reason about the priorities and the meaning of upcoming tasks, we need objects that represent these tasks. Vygotsky described a child that lets a stick function as a horse: “At that critical moment when a stick – i.e., an object – becomes a pivot for severing the meaning of horse from a real horse, one of the basic psychological structures determining the child’s relationship to reality is radically altered.”

In their book Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2009), Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Berry elaborates further: “Personal Kanban is an information radiator for your work. With it, you understand the impacts and context of your work in real-time. This is where linear to-do lists fall short. Static and devoid of context, they remind us to do a certain number of tasks, but don’t show us valuable real-time information necessary for effective decision  making.” The pivot is an information radiator. Playing with it develops our idea of the object it represents: our work.

Lego Serieous Play is a is a process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. By using Lego bricks as pivots, teams conduct exploratory workshops on various subjects:

  • Strategy development and exploration: Examine and evaluate relations to external partners and clients.
  • Organizational development: For management, teams and individual employees.
  • Innovation and product development: Unleash creative thinking and transform ideas into concrete concepts.
  • Change management: Facilitate and implement structural changes and mergers.
Lego Serious Play in action. (photo by Ulrika Park)

Lego Serious Play in action. (photo by Ulrika Park)

There are many more examples of pivots used in business. In an ever-changing world, we have to understand new concepts every day. By using pivots in a play situation, we tear the idea out of the object and sharpen our understanding of what the object really is.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

What constitutes a Timebox, anyway?

What constitutes a Timebox, anyway?

I use the term Timebox when the following applies:

  1. I determined beforehand a particular point in time when it starts.
  2. I determined beforehand a particular point in time when it ends.
  3. I determined beforehand a particular activity that I will focus on.

A successful Timebox is when I start at the time that I had determined (1), end at the time that I had determined (2) and only focus on the task that I had determined (3). As Timebox considered, it is irrelevant what, how much and with what quality I produce.

There are alternatives to limit the time.

  • We can restrict the scope: pick blueberries in the woods until the bucket is full.
  • We can limit the quality: search the greengrocery until you have found a really good tomato.
  • We can limit the cost: shop christmas gifts until your wallet is empty.

All four approaches have pros and cons.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Do you ALWAYS respect the timebox?

Timbox and Flow

Timbox and Flow

Hi Staffan! Do you ALWAYS respect the 25 minute timebox when you’re in the zone? Can’t this break your flow?

Yes, I always respect the timebox:

  • A short break won’t make me forget everything. I can go on from exactly the point where I left.
  • The break means that I can recharge my brain. Goal free play encourages background processing and right brain thinking. If I put enough effort in last iteration, it will even be guilt free play, which helps me avoid procrastination.
  • Humans love rhythm. From the day we were born to the day we die, our life is filled with rhythms. They make us feel safe and helps us to have sustainable pace.
  • Flow means totally focused on one task. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m doing the most important task. Sometimes flow means efficiency, without effectiveness. To recurrently take a short break and then asses if I’m doing the most important thing will help me navigate in task land.
  • When I’m in the flow, I’m so focused so I’m not really aware that I’m in the flow. When the timebox is finished, it’s impossible to immediately say if I should continue or not.
  • To take a break when arousal is high, makes me eager when it’s time to start the next timebox.

Daily Scrum fine considered harmful

Many Scrum teams implement a system of fines for those who come late to the Daily Scrum meeting. The Scrum Master collects a dollar — or whatever — to increase the discipline. In the long run it will actually have the opposite impact.

When extrinsic motivation (be in time to avoid fine) goes up, then the intrinsic motivation (be in time because you value this meeting) usually goes down. You can make people temporarily change their behavior because they are threatened, but you can’t use a threat to make them change what they value.

This is a well known fact in brain science.

Am I supposed to focus now?

Do you have trouble remembering if you’re in a Pomodoro or not? If you use a mechanical kitchen timer, the ticking sound will remind you. But what if you work in a no-sounds-allowed office?

This is actually a very common problem. Even if you can’t have the ticking sound and the mechanical timer, I do believe that gestures are important. They help your brain to make the transition from free time to focus time and back.

You may put your cell phone on the desk every time you start a Pomodoro and remove it when you end. Or even simpler: take a business card and color it green on the backside with a felt-tip pen. Put the card on your desk. Every time you start a Pomodoro, turn the green side up. Every time you end a Pomodoro, turn the green side down.

  • You can see the card/phone while you’re in a Pomodoro. It reminds you that it’s focus time.
  • The gestures of turning the card will—after a while—be associated with starting and ending a Pomodoro.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Po and crazy aunt at software development office

Convergent thinking: Our experiences help us to solve familiar problems. We use logical thinking to find a suitable solution in an efficient way. Unfortunately, our experiences are limited. They are not sufficient to solve all possible problems. When we lack relevant experience, they can instead become a barrier that prevents us from thinking outside the box.

Divergent thinking: With creative thinking, you generate ideas that are not based on your experiences. You don’t judge ideas while you generate them. Then when you have enough good ideas, you use your logical thinking to categorize, judge and prioritize them. But how can you generate ideas that are free from your experiences?

Po: provocative operation

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking technique includes the concept Po. A Po is an idea which moves thinking into new unknown territory. You make a statement and see what the consequences are. The syllable “po” is found in English words like suppose, possible, and hypothesis—words that point forward. De Bono says that provocation goes hand in hand with movement and that’s why Po also can mean provocative operation. With Po you release all the crazy ideas:

  • Po cups have holes in their bottom
  • Po customers will have yellow t-shirts
  • Po blogs don’t have letters

Instead of judging the value and realism in a Po statement, you look for what is interesting about it, what is different in it and what this idea might lead to. Perhaps the crazy idea is a stepping stone to something new and successful.

Atelierista: the crazy aunt

Reggio Emilia is an Italian pedagogy for preschools. Every Reggio preschool has a centrally located place called Atelier. It is a place for experimentation and discovery. What makes Atelier so unique in child pedagogy is the person who works there: the Atelierista—a practicing artist. She has no training in pedagogy; she does not even work as a teacher. Think of her as the crazy aunt. She does things in a way that you really wasn’t taught to do.

“Creativity seems to emerge from multiple experiences, coupled with a well-supported development of human resources, including a sense of freedom to venture beyond the known”, wrote Reggio’s initial idea blacksmith Loris Malaguzzi. What workplaces can see the value in hiring people without any clear relation to the services or products produced—someone who is at the office only to inspire and create new ideas?

Consider this statement. Is it possible in your workplace?

  • Po software development companies has an Atelier with a Atelierista—a practicing artist, without knowledge of software development. She shows us crazy ideas.