Friday, September 30, 2016

Political Correctness and Truth

Yeah, I know that title is going to be a bit inflammatory, and everyone knows what they expect when they see it up there. But that's okay.

My topic is really about such things.

I want you to consider:

  • Saying hurtful things
  • Not being politically correct
  • Telling the truth
What I want you to consider is that these are three entirely orthogonal concepts. One can make statements which are any one of the above, without being the others.  

One may easily say offensive things which are entirely politically correct. It's a common event on the internet to see people shaming others in the name of Political Correctness (which should be all about being fair and kind to others, but outrage is virtue these days). Some of the shaming statements could be true, and some could not be true. 

One can certainly state truths in kind ways, full of compassion and empathy. Even ugly truths can be delivered in considerate ways. 

One can say things that are true and not PC, but they don't have to be said in a way that is deliberately hurtful. 

I'm only bringing this up because I keep seeing a growth in people saying hurtful things and claiming that they're true because they're not PC. 

And I see growth in people saying hurtful things because they are PC. And because they're PC, claiming the power of truth.

Offensiveness is not evidence of correctness.

I'm very concerned to see people look for others' hurt feelings as confirmation of the rightness of their position. Being cruel is a far cry from being right.

And of course, "telling the truth" is a ticklish thing in the best of times. Truth is more present in mathematical formulae than in human interaction.  What I think is true is subject to so many biases and conflicting theories and personal imperfections.  

And yet, I hear things being said about groups or demographics or whole populations that are hurtful, are not politically correct, and are far from certainty or truth.

I suppose I would like everything I say or hear to be authentically what the speaker believes, while being as kind and empathetic as possible, and not worry about how it plays in PC.

But if one doesn't have certainty in their virtues of kindness and curiosity as "true north" values, then I see value in at least observing and considering Political Correctness in public discourse.

This post is 
  • intended as non-hurtful (let me know if it's so)
  • pretty safe, in a PC kind of way
  • authentic,  and "true" as far as I can tell


    Heretics of Agile at DSM Agile 2016

    At the end of dsmAgile, we had a session full of "lean coffee" style meetings in a big noisy room with an open bar (so it wasn't so much coffee people were sipping as much as wine or highballs).

    I was one of the selected/volunteered Lean Coffee hosts, so I was given a table and asked to choose a theme. I chose the theme of "Unconventional Agility" (a throwback to the talk Brandon Carlson and I gave at Agile2016).

    I'm so sad that I didn't keep a full roster of guests at my table. Here is the roster-in-progress (incomplete until we say otherwise).

    • Melissa Perri
    • Aaron Hoffman
    • Keith Dahlby

    I apologize to all for this, but let's just say that it was a little conference-speaker-heavy, and there was tremendous intelligence (emotional and intellectual), kindness, and passion at this table.  I believe some of my cohorts tried to record the discussions and if they provide me with the recordings I'll try to get a transcript posted here.

    The topics we gathered, dot-voted, and discussed were:

    • No User Stories
    • Drop The PO
    • Putting a Brain on Your Process
    These were chosen partly for their partly for their controversy, partly for the way they resonated with our personal experiences, and partly out of pure whimsy. 

    My notes are very sketchy (literally written on one side of a 3x5 card) but presented here in hopes that we can start some interesting conversations about them.

    No User Stories

    • Prevalence of BS stories
    • Features rather than stories/tasks
    • Digestible US == Task? "As a user I want this button."
    • Developer stories suck.
    • Is an abused tool a bad too? 
    • Would "jobs to be done" be better? 
    • Process over people sucks
    • Process is du jour.

    Drop the PO

    • Customer pipeline better
    • Needs to be collaborative/empathic
    • Experience too crucial
    • Where is the experimentation?
    • PO needed to generate gestalt stories from multiple inputs?
    • How to manage the vision? Charter? 
    • PO-WX need design (I have no idea what I meant by this one-liner)

    Putting a Brain on Your Process

    • Site visits
    • "Nah, Cubes R Us"
    • Call Center people
    • Persona -- less good
    • Dangerous to solve Other People's Problems (OPP)
    • Shared Ownership
    I've now come to realize that I'm a rather poor note-taker when I'm deep in discussion, so anything we can do to flesh these out is appreciated.  I'm perfectly okay with the task of splitting these heretical ideas into individual blogs and editing them according to the memories (electronic and otherwise) of the participants so that I can do these ideas justice.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2016

    14 Challenges For Agile Adoption

    I stumbled across a document describing the government's approach to agile software development.
    I didn't read it really closely, because I was just looking for some of these bullet lists at the time. 
    However, I think that they may have nailed it with the 14 Challenges.
    GAO identified 14 challenges with adapting and applying Agile in the federal environment:
    • Teams had difficulty collaborating closely.
    • Procurement practices may not support Agile projects.
    • Teams had difficulty transitioning to self-directed work.
    • Customers did not trust iterative solutions.
    • Staff had difficulty committing to more timely and frequent input.
    • Teams had difficulty managing iterative requirements.
    • Agencies had trouble committing staff.
    • Compliance reviews were difficult to execute within an iteration time frame.
    • Timely adoption of new tools was difficult.
    • Federal reporting practices do not align with Agile.
    • Technical environments were difficult to establish and maintain.
    • Traditional artifact reviews do not align with Agile.
    • Agile guidance was not clear.
    • Traditional status tracking does not align with Agile.
    The problem seems to be largely one of unlearning the way that software was done in the days before agile. People got used to working alone, being told what to do, being held individually accountable for work items, working with customers in a continuous way, not having big design up front.

    Way down in the list were challenges with technical environments and new tools.  Two items out of 14.

    The rest is cultural.

    What lesson did you take from this?

    Tuesday, August 23, 2016

    The Curiosity Space

    Sometimes we get what we expect.
    The reactions to that?
    Either satisfaction or no real reaction at all.

    When I put my bread in the toaster and it toasts it according to the settings, I don't throw a party. After all, that's what the toaster is for.  The water tap dispenses water, just like always, and that's what I expected. I'm glad for toast and water, but it's not something that will occupy a lot of my thoughts.

    If I put in bread and got back a waffle, that would be surprising. I would spend more of my day on that.   Likewise, if I put in bread and received a flood of fleeing insects, that would be surprising.

    Which brings us to the point: sometimes what we get is different from what we expect.

    We can feel that as delight sometimes, because our results were far better than we expected.

    Other times we feel it as disappointment.

    If we judge this space, we will feel it as frustration, failure, embarrassment. even disrespect and loss of control. We can react in very controlling, negative ways. We can escalate to intimidation, anger, even force.  We often refuse to take responsibility for the difference, and blame others or blame circumstance. This is unproductive.

    We've heard "It's not my fault -- he made me mad" or "they just refused to cooperate so I had to get up in their grill" -- note the lack of ownership. The "I" in these stories had no choice, and had to act inappropriately and angrily because the others "made" them.

    I know it's unproductive. I am the father of two boys. I spent a lot of years not appreciating the curiosity space and not exploring it, but merely escalating the control issues.  I try to be better these days, though I still get eye-rolls from my adult sons.

    I also am a software development trainer, coach, consultant. I often find that what works in one context has no impact (or the wrong impact) in another context. I've watched some other consultants throw angry fits and yell at people and demand dismissal of the employees who disagreed or didn't go along (I've never done this personally).

    It's sad.  It's unnecessary.

    I like to call the difference between expectations and results "the curiosity space."

    We can't always explore the difference between what we want and what we get. There isn't time, given the number of surprises we see every day.   But when it's important, or upsetting, or delightful, then I think we have to put aside judgement and start asking "why" and "how did that happen" and "does that always happen".

    I've written a lot about giving up recreational anger, and one of the most powerful things it has done for me lately is opening up my curiosity.

    Now I see so many things I need to learn, and can take the opportunity to ask questions and look at alternatives and gather wisdom from other people.  I learned that if we enter the curiosity space as honestly curious people, we engage others. We can learn so much more. We open ourselves up to alternative explanations and theories and possibilities.

    That space between expectations and actuals isn't a "problem" to be controlled.

    It's a story to be unfolded.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2016

    The Relevance Ratio

    As another bit of speculative, observational humor let me introduce you to the Relevance Ratio.

    What it is:

    Consider where you are sitting right now, and the last task you tried to do there.

    Now, consider/remember the information around you on all sides. The posters, conversations, sounds, words, materials.

    Pretend you measured this information content and assigned it a number like maybe 100 (just to make the math simple).

    Next, look at all that information content and determine how much of it is not relevant to the work you are doing. Do you have posters? Clutter? Radio? A television playing? Reminders of other work to do? Clocks (not pomodoro)? Dilbert posters? Are there things you have to reach around or past in order to do your work? Consider it all. Do you have a coffee cup? That's information too -- because it urges you to make a beverage decision. Candy dish or lunch box? Food decisions.Say it's a 60.  About 60% of the information in your view has nothing to do with completing the work you're doing.

    60 out of 100 percent of your information is irrelevant? Then we assume that the other 40% is related to your work today. 40% relevance ratio.

    Yes, it's just another way to say signal-to-noise ratio. It's just applied to your environment.

    Why would you do this?

    I have been talking to people about their environment. Usually it goes to the seating arrangement.

    Some people claim that they are only productive in a closed office by themselves. 

    Others are best when sitting in an open floor plan (bullpens or pods) with their coworkers.


    Now here is where the observational comedy comes in: I really don't know.  Not a clue. No study has been done that I know of, and all I have is anecdotes and personal experience. 

    So this is an idea. A hypothesis.

    To wit:

    Solo workers tend to want to be alone, and teamworkers tend to want to be with their teammates.

    Nobody wants to be seated closely (in cubicles or open floorplan) among people who have nothing to do with their work.

    For solo workers, the relevance ratio in a team space is amazing low. While isolation removes distraction, it also ensures that they are starved of relevant signal as well.  Excessive isolation means that other people are not aware of the quality or quantity or importance of the work being done and can easily be suspicious and check on the solo relentlessly, which lowers the relevance ratio by stopping the work for status reporting.

    Solos often resort to chat and email to try to reconnect with people whose work is relevant, but who are not in the immediate area (boosting the relevance ratio).  

    When a collaborative team worker (sharing tasks, goals, results with teammates) is isolated, the lack of signal is a real problem. It's better in pods or bullpens, provided that they are seated near people who are sharing the work -- so that the relevance is high.  Of course, they are highly visible and can be seen collaborating and often serendipitously joining conversations where they can be of aid to their colleagues. 

    So What?

    The interesting idea here is that maybe we can get more done if we tap into the kind of work (solo or collaborative) afforded by our environment, or (better, and perhaps more radically) change our environment to support the kind of work we need to do. 

    I am sitting in a space with moderately high signal. I have three screens, and cheat sheets, and writing utensils and such. Also, I have a window into a wooded yard and am in view of my water bottle and coffee supplies. Sadly, I'm also nested in with clutter and noise that distracts me. A bit more relevance in my surroundings I have learned will help me focus -- or I can concentrate until I don't notice those things.

    That concentration is wasted willpower and wasted mental energy which I could use for making better decisions and doing better work. It's an annoyance. 

    So, I'm thinking of how to increase the relevance ratio in my space, and I will be embarking on a quick clean-up to make that happen.

    Is irrelevance bad, though?

    Will you be only 40% effective? Nah. Focus is not everything. You need to be reminded to drink water, stop for a snack, remember the next meeting, see your family's smiling faces. That refreshes you and reminds you of your purpose and place and physical being. We don't want you to be a machine, but a whole person.

    A cartoon or two may remind you of your values and your view of the world, and to keep good humor about yourself.

    Certainly a fan creates some noise, but that is white noise which masks quieter distractions while keeping the room at a comfortable temperature so that you're not distracted by thinking about how hot it's getting.

    Is the person in the next office/cubicle/seat chewing potato chips/crisps with their mouth open while clipping their nails? That's distraction. Some amount of the irrelevant information is unwanted. Likewise, are your neighbors talking about a project that you have nothing to do with? A sport you don't follow? God forbid, politics? Probably not useful.

    This idea is interesting, because it has some explanatory power and some predictive power and it seems that paying attention to it is helping.

    But there are no guarantees. It's just an idea.

    I'd love to hear both supporting and dissenting views -- have you tried manipulating or monitoring your relevance ratio?

    Monday, August 1, 2016

    The Intimidation Cycle

    I look at how hard people try to combat fear with fear --
    • X is afraid of Y, so 
    • X tries to make Y afraid of them in return, and 
    • X escalates to make sure Y is the more afraid, so 
    • Y cranks up the intimidation even more, because
    • Y can't let X win.
    • Y says "X needs to fear US!", so 
    • (repeat paragraph)...
    I wonder, how long will we keep doing this?

    And I'm told: as long as the other guys are winning.

    Breaking the cycle is possible, but you can bet that when it ends, it won't be because one side won.

    Thursday, July 7, 2016

    Curiosity over Judgment: getting past defensiveness.

    Say someone wants some aspect of my behavior to change: dress, schedule, food, drink, speech, whatever.

    I initially get a little upset, defensive. But that's not productive. That's just anger and ego protection.

    Is there a more excellent way?

    I'm told that the secret to success is to replace judgment ('that's none of your business", "you are trying to control me", "screw off, I do what I want", "that's not fair") with curiosity.

    "replace judgment with curiosity"

    Curiosity. Hmmm. Let's try that. I wonder where that will lead.

    I'll have to suspend my anger and judgment and blame and quit assigning motives to others if I'm going to process this with curiosity.

    So much is possible now, and there are so many questions:

    So, why is it so important to you that I change how I behave?
    • Is it for a purpose? 
    • Does it serve you in some way? 
    • Is it because you care about me and think it will help me? 
    • Is it so that we'll conform to the same standard? 
    • Is it because without the change I am missing opportunities? 
    • Is it for our mutual good? Only mine? Neither? 
    And then -- since I got defensive -- there are other questions for me to answer first:
    • Why is keeping this behavior so important to me? 
    • Why should I cling to this behavior?
    • Is this behavior symbolic to me? Of what? 
    • Is this behavior central to my purpose and place in the world?
    • Has my current behavior limited me or expanded my opportunities and enjoyment of life? 
    • Is it really "just something I do"?
    • Is the new behavior really detrimental to me? 
    And then... what is best?

    If I take the position that I should want what is best for me, what builds the future and the person and family that I value so much:
    "what do I really want?"

    Now I can make a decision with clarity, intention, values, and purpose.
    I'm free.
    I have power over my life.
    I can choose.

    I don't even have to make a permanent decision for life, I can choose for now and revisit later when I know more about how this change affects me, you, and us.

    "what does this mean to you?"

    But of course, to get past judgment and to an end, both people are probably going to have to have this conversation -- in curiosity and not in blame or judgment.

    I wish the world worked this way more often.