Thursday, July 23, 2015

The #NoEstimates Hashtag

I'm not writing about #NoEstimates today, so I recommend the writings of Vasco Duarte, Neil Killick, Woody Zuill, and various publicly-available videos for that.

I'm only writing about the arguments that we see around the #NoEstimates hashtag itself.

Why? Because I think that the hashtag has been a great promotional device, but with some drawbacks. Hopefully by discussing this now, I can be guided to make intelligent choices about any hashtags I decide to create in the future.

The success of the hashtag in drawing attention is great. Heck, a lot of people are already sick of it.

Having recently experienced some of the argument recently after appearing in a podcast (see "poo-shoe effect"), I have a few observations:

  1. Arguing the literal hashtag will get us nowhere.
    When you want to talk about a thing in an online community, you have to have a searchable name for it. For better or worse, #NoEstimates is the term. We can argue how apt or unfriendly it is, but that ship has sailed.  It is the name that you use in Google (or the like).
  2. It's not a debate.
    In a debate, there is a motion or proposition (rule #1), and the debaters begin by agreeing on the motion and the definition of terms. Then come pro- and con- arguments about the proposition.
    Most of the #NoEstimates arguments exist because every attempt to reach an agreement has broken down.
    Either the people or the topic are not ready for a debate.
    Rather than two sides of a single issue, we seem to have a variety of different people with different experiences and thought processes and intentions.
  3. The most hotly contended part? The first two letters of the hashtag.
    It says "No" and there is confusion over what that mean. NoEstimates.org blog's subtitle is "Settle down, it's just a hashtag" but apparently it seems to be much more than that.
    Is it a command? An observation? A preference? A hope? A moral imperative? A war cry?Just a hashtag?
    Does it mean "WE DO not use estimates" or  "YOU MUST not estimates?" 
  4. The other hotly contended part? The term 'estimates'.
    Does this mean that you never do any kind of sizing, estimating, or forecasting?
    When you decide "small enough to do today" isn't that estimating? What kind of estimating are we saying NO to/about? What kinds are we not doing?
    If we do any kind of forecasting, guessing, or sizing does that make the entire "movement" a lie? 
The above are pretty much the soul of controversy. There is always a swirling word-cloud of confusion about it, and I think we can't look to the hashtag to fix it. The hashtag is a term in a context and its meaning must be contextually decided. 

I propose that those who are working in "estimate-free" models are the only ones must provide a definition that will unify the ideas and build a proposition that can be debated.  

But until then, I suggest that we pick through the links to articles posted under the #NoEstimates banner (pro, con, or neutral) and look for the ideas behind the tag. Merely arguing one interpretation of the tag over another is getting us nowhere. 


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Poo-shoe Effect

I've had enough questions and references to this that I need to explain this odd effect with the fashionably Asian-sounding name, which is being mentioned in boardrooms and team rooms all around the earth today.

It's not from any Asian language.

It is "poo" (such as you might unhappily find on your lawn), and "shoe" which you might happily purchase for your feet.

The poo-shoe effect is when you stepped in something, and it stuck to you so that you will have to work long and hard to rid yourself of the stink of it.

Now, this doesn't refer to bad choices or acts of temper or moments of ill-will or malfeasance that will be remembered. That is simply "bad reputation" and is a component of social justice. That's not worthy of being considered an instance of the poo-shoe effect.

Nor is it about the honest or unintentional kind of mistake or accident that can mar ones reputation "oh, yeah, he's the kid who peed his pants in third grade."

For the poo-shoe effect to be realized, you have to have taken "temporary" responsibility for some job or area of work that has never since let you go.

Think about the poor dev who decided to fix the build system. That character dreams of the day when she can return to normal, everyday coding and maybe get back on the path to Sr. Architect. But for now, she's the go-to person for every little makefile/ant/maven/whatever that anyone ever experiences.

Or the guy who decided to figure out how to use chef to set up the virtual machines, and whose brilliant testing career now consists of configuring virtual machines for the 200 programmers on his current project, while he dreams of someday doing some good, old-fashioned creative, destructive testing again.

How about the person who figured out how to use Jira? Poo-shoed?

The team lead who once developed some charts with metrics? Poo-shoed.

Some poor soul wrote some vim macros to make editing gherkin files easier. Poo-shoed.

Have you seen this effect at work? Are you suffering through the endless pains of being poo-shoed yourself? Drop me a note. I probably can't fix it, but I can certainly honor your example by making your story a warning to future generations.

Temporarily, that is. I mean,  I don't get stuck with having to document them for the rest of my career.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Quick Rundown on Performance Appraisals and Reviews.

The topic of annual reviews comes up pretty often. There has been a gathering tide of organizations moving away from traditional performance management techniques because they are perceived as an expensive process that does not actually improve performance, and because they seem to actually do damage to a company's talent pool, culture, and thereby to its reputation in the job market.

Deming was the first voice I heard talking about performance reviews. He said of the review “It nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics.” Deming believed in the system, and that the system of work is the largest determinant of quality and productivity.  Deming also called for the elimination of annual individual performance reviews.

People within factory system largely did the best they could under the circumstances and had neither the tools nor the training nor the autonomy to make the work better.  He suggested that the efforts of individuals did not account for most of the problems (he estimated 6% of production problems are because of individuals) and so rather than focus on the people in the process, the process itself needs to be improved. His work was the basis for the Toyota Production System, and for much of what we recognize as Lean process. 

The belief that "good work comes from good workers" is not entirely wrong, according to Deming. Only 94% perhaps.  Deming stated that "a bad system will beat a good person every time."  He was very outspoken on the appeal of appraisals to management, and the damage that they do. 

In matters of performance management, asked "what should we do", Deming would defer to Peter Scholtes.

In our world of software development, the system is not a system of physical motions and motivation, but instead we have a series of technical/intellectual challenges and short timeframes. In that regard, we sometimes resemble inventors or artists or contractors, but our work is of a non-physical nature. As such, our systems have to be optimized for making good decisions, which I have covered elsewhere. 

The need to be productive in this world has spawned Agile methods (though they are sometimes also abused) and the pooling of mental energy such as swarming, pairing, and mob programming. These seem to be leading the charge forward, but they also make it hard to assess the work of individuals. 

Which is why individual performance review in software companies (and similar industries) is unlikely to last, and systems built to support those individual performance reviews will probably have to be dismantled and may not even be replaced. 

Still, many companies believe that performance reviews can motivate employees, recognize top-performers, reduce turnover and attrition, and protect the company legally.  That last argument is pretty strong glue for holding a practice in place. However, in recent years we are finding that it is also not true (enough). 

Enough preliminaries.  Here are some quick links to articles I have selected.  :

CIO Magazine published Esther Derby's classic "Stop Demotivating Me" which is not strictly about performance review, but has influenced most of my thinking on the topic. I suspect that most "performance management" is measuring how people hold up under demotivating circumstances. More is covered (with references) in the Scrum Alliance article "Performance Without Appraisal." Provided that you are compelled to perform annual reviews, Derby also gives advice on avoiding pitfalls and making the best of it.  If you are going to skip performance reviews, she gives advice on what to do instead.

Of course, one would be remiss if one did not include the opinions of the wonderful and thoughtful Bob Sutton, as he asks if reviews do more harm than good.  General opinion: if Bob Sutton writes it, take the time to read it.

Likewise, the illustrious David Rock, along with Josh Davis and Beth Jones, say that we should simply kill our performance ratings.

Samuel Culbert  (UCLA Anderson School Of Management) says that reviews are painful, expensive, and aren't working. He gives ten reasons.

The Harvard Business Review discussed Deloitt's journey to reinvent performance management.

Forbes published "3 Reasons Companies Should Abolish Employ Performance Reviews Now" by David Williams (of Fishbowl) which is more about why NOT to do them, rather than how to supplant them.

Also from Forbes, Josh Bersin asked if it was time to scrap, radically change, or re-engineer the process.  He follows his question with "the new keys to success" to help organizations find a way to work without annual reviews.  His suggestions on self-assessment are good, but I keep thinking about both about the Dunning-Kruger effect and also that people have motivation to assess themselves more highly in order to gain more income. If it were not for the other balancing ideas, self-assessment could be as risky as prior systems.  It also has a focus on individual performance that I think misses the mark (Deming would not approve), but it's a step in the right direction.

In the Wall Street Journal, Samuel Culbert offers another alternative method which still focuses on the contribution of individuals.

In Bloomberg, there is a cautionary tale of the "culture of domination" that grows around reviews.

Adobe documented their elimination of performance reviews.

Suffice it to say that this "kill performance review" discussion is not the work of uneducated, non-managers who don't know any better and who are angry about their review being negative. This is the work of studied, experienced, thoughtful managers and companies who have recognized that the system as-given is not only failing to reach its benefits, but is causing damage in many companies.

From yours truly, here is an  earlier rundown, a bit about rewards and performance, some more on performance bonus, and an old motivation post from 2010.  You might find some advice in there that is of use. If so, let me know.



Friday, July 3, 2015

Taking Back Agile at QConLondon with Ruud Wijnands



Ruud and I talked about taking back agile at QConLondon.

Some of you heard about that.


Telling Stories about Cargo Culting

Interview at QCon London with Ben Linders

I just realized that I should post my interview from London which is titled "The Importance Of Technical Practices in Agile."

Ben Linders and I sat down and talked. Sadly you can't see Ben. He likes being off-camera.

You'll find a transcript and video there.

This was a further outgrowth of the talk about taking back agile. The video and slides for that are also available.

Do enjoy!



Monday, June 22, 2015

Insincerity and Process

I read a lot of disappointed tweets, reddit posts, etc about agile development processes, especially since the whole Take Back Agile thing started.

There is an honest perception that all of agile development is disingenuous, deceptive, insincere.

I build my own perceptions on my own history and observations, too. I have to be reminded that we all experience life differently. As a consultant, I have seen all the dysfunctions that others have seen, but I have also seen agile projects done well.

When I talk about the joys of TDD , it conflicts strongly with others' experience of forcing test coverage numbers.

When I talk about pair programming and mob programming, it conflicts strongly with their experience of freeloading peers or "in cubicle-audits."

When I talk about BDD, it conflicts with their experience of tail-end test automation.

When I talk about using Big Visible Charts to aid focus, it conflicts with their experiences of managers using charts to embarrass, blame, or otherwise coerce people to work harder.

When I talk about self-organizing, it conflicts with their experiences of people dodging responsibility, of managers assigning tasks, and frequently of the dubious practice of ranking developers.

Having experienced heavily Tayloristic "faux agile" processes that clearly contradict the principles of the agile doctrine(s), they see the entire Agile Manifesto as a tissue of lies -- a con game used to trick developers into accepting a process that does not favor or benefit them. It looks like a lie.

It seems that lousy fake-agile processes are an effective inoculation against real agile.

Neither the naysayers nor the pundits I know are being dishonest. We are just talking past each other because our experiences are different.

Most people (managers and developers alike) need one good experience of "real agile" with openness and transparency and the safety it provides, and they'll change their mind about the whole game.

Barring that one good experience, Agile will continue to be the word that represents the oppressive, dystopian experience they've had so far and all the pro-human statements of the manifesto will be nothing more than bait-and-switch advertising.

I'm sorry that it's come to that. How can I help?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Male Privilege

The part of male privilege I enjoy is the part where people don't act like that it's my job to be "hawt" and fit and styled to visually conform to current "universal" standard of physical hotness.

I can be quirky and paunchy and wear comfortable clothes and nobody throws a fit or calls me names. I can have a tooth gap and like being bald on top, and even have a wild eyebrow now and then and it does me no harm.

I don't have to earn an audience with my looks, or demand that people take me seriously. 

If I get a hair cut and dress up nice, nobody calls me a whore, nor is a stranger likely to feel entitled to have a grab or fondle.

I'd like to extend this from male privilege to human privilege, but I don't know quite how. 

I would like everyone to enjoy it as much as I do.