Confronting shame, pride and ego in Agile teams

My neighbour rang my doorbell yesterday because her elderly husband had fallen over and she needed a hand helping him back up into his chair.  Immediately after I helped her out, she seemed rushed to forget all about the occurrence, almost as if she had felt some degree of shame, or her pride would be damaged somehow.

This morning, I went back over to make sure he was still doing okay and to let her know not to hesitate if ever she needs anything else.  Why should she shy away from this?

I lived with my grandparents for my childhood and teens, and even went back to look after my granddad when he wasn’t doing so well.  I took a job locally at that time in case there was any urgent need for me to go home.  He hadn’t asked for this, but it was something I believe he truly needed.
The same goes for my wife; living with her grandmother was a very similar situation and we learnt that people often require more help than they ask for.  What gets in their way is a sense of pride; the protection of their ego from damage.  The desired result being to avoid shame.

This is something that goes for everyone.  You, me, the next guy.  This is not just behaviour limited to the elderly and those set in their ways, but everyone.

For Agile teams, there can’t be a fear of approaching each other for help.  As a developer, the pride you have should be in your work; there is no room for an overinflated ego in any individual because the whole team gets affected by this mindset.  There is no shame in asking for help because it resolves issues, results in efficiency and learning.  In addition if you are practising Scrum and have a Scrum Master, or an Agile Delivery Manager outside of a Scrum environment, use them!  They’re there to make your lives easier, to protect your time and allow you to free up as much of it as possible.

Don't be afraid to ask for help!

I cannot stress enough what the human condition is.  We are interdependent as well as independent.  We can get on with things but we need to know it’s okay to rely on some people for certain things.

How many of you grow your own eggs, cut your own meat, make your own phone batteries? Hardly any I’m sure (especially the last one!).  We rely on others all the time; it’s a given.  Why not extend the same philosophy to those who are there to help you in a professional capacity?

Above all, it takes strength to ask for help, but it’s there for you if you need it.  I know I keep banging on about developing a cross-functional team, but that is the aim.  Self-organisation and becoming cross-functional are results of the trust you have in your team, to be able to approach them, and help them in turn.

If you have a team which operates in this way, the pride is shared.  The work speaks for itself and the unit is credited as a whole.

The team that marches TOGETHER makes the loudest and the most impressive nosie...


Getting the culture right from the get go…:

I spoke to someone last week at the fantastic Agile Coaching Exchange meetup, this time the topic being on ORSC tools such as Design Team Alliance (DTA).  When exploring the culture of sharing responsibility, dealing with emotion during difficulties and avoiding blame culture, it was noted that some companies these guys worked for had asked that individual team members be evaluated and monitored for their individual efforts within the team.  This whole concept seemed double-edged.

Whilst you’d imagine and expect team members to pull their weight, it is not up to management to try and weed out weak links.  It is up to the team to be self-organising; they must put an end to poor effort by encouraging and helping their team members to realise their potential.  The root of the problem must be found and worked on.  The weak links must be developed into stronger links where possible, because that process is a hell of a lot less disruptive than getting a new team member in in most cases.  Sure, there are times when things may just not work out, but then the team may have been flawed from the start, and the culture may never have been set in place.

The DTA approach is excellent for setting a culture in new teams and introducing new team members into an existing culture, allowing it to be revisited and improved to incorporate the new team members’ input.

You can use this to get an open, trusting culture from the get go.  You can see the slides from the ACE meetup on June 19th here.


Meeting a nay-sayer voicing concerns about Agile…

A very interesting opportunity presented itself to my last week.  On a Friday night, I was out helping my wife celebrate the end of her ACCA exams for the summer where I bumped into an old friend of my sisters, who was intoxicated, out celebrating his birthday.

He was a guy who manages teams of project managers and has seen adoption of Agile add little to no value to the teams his project managers have worked with.  When I cut through all of the negativity he was throwing out there, it was clear what the source of the frustration was.  There was so much focus on following the Agile methodology whenever his teams went about it, they forgot some important things along the way.  Who knows who they were trying to please by “doing Agile” stuff, but by getting bogged down in processes and tools is against the first value of the Agile manifesto.

What was causing the frustration was simple.  No-one was getting on with the work itself.  The team wasn’t becoming self-organising and cross-functional, nor were they being guided or empowered to do so.

He brought up an interesting comment when I explained they need to think in business terms:

“If the developers were thinking in business terms, they’d go and start their own business”.

Not all projects are suited to having an independent business.  These projects are necessary within businesses themselves and require developers who are super-talented and can think in business-needs.  It is short-sighted to think of developers in this way.  Without the necessary respect for the amazing talent out there, how can you motivate and expect the work to get done?

You see, on the flipside of the processes and tools is the thing we value more: Individuals and Interactions.  I have a feeling his project managers don’t quite see it that way.  Being Agile doesn’t come about when there is no respect and that’s something that needs to be addressed if we want to get better at what we do.

Agile or FrAgile?

I haven’t been a Certified ScrumMaster very long though if you meet me you’d think I had been.  Maybe it is because of my limited exposure to traditional waterfall projects that’s been my saving grace; I agonise at the thought of a project that makes the day to day grind seem like wading through sludge for the development teams.  If you, like me, have a goal in mind you want to swim as fast as possible to that goal.

What do roadblocks lead to?

On my journey through various roles in various companies, I have come across so many projects which have hit various roadblocks along the way.  The only way I have been able to circumvent disaster is to ensure adaptation and flexibility was at the forefront of the minds of the talented people executing the projects.  Be it authoring custom business intelligence reports or producing an eCommerce website, all projects have so much room for improvement.

Being naturally Agile…

This naturally led me to adopt Agile principles without ever having formalised the approach; working in an Agile way made sense to me.  No, I didn’t have Sprints or Daily Scrums or any other artefacts and activities defined when I started off; I didn’t know about these as such back then.  I was not a scholar of XP, Kanban or anything of the sort.

What made the way I worked Agile then?  I’d say it boiled down to:

  • Being part of a team that was self-organising, that I could respect and trust
  • Being transparent if things were not going according to plan; communication is key
  • Focus on getting the projects delivered to client satisfaction
  • Being flexible

Missing the point is messing it up.

I have friends who work for large governmental organisations and various other companies where legacy systems are in place and it’s insane how so many businesses are resistive towards the changes around them.  Even those which are actively pursuing change start waxing lyrical about their move into Agile, but are walking head first into what I believe is a trap.  The trap is that they think engaging in Agile activities, such as daily stand ups, will be the be-all and end all of getting them working more efficiently.  They actually end up reducing efficiency my friends ensure me.  Agile used only on the face of it is probably more of a pain than it is a tool.  This is because Agile is bandied about as a term and treated as magical solutions to all their problems.  It is not.  It is supposed to be a way of being; a set of principles that should be followed.  The activities and artefacts are a means to an end, and that end is covered in The Agile Manifesto so simply.

Where can I find that missing magic?

It’s in the Scrum Development team.  The team needs to be respected, trusted and encouraged to become self-organising.  It’s tough, because in a lot of cases management don’t understand how to be Agile, nor are they committed to the processes required.  This requires something bigger than Scrum alone to tackle which we will talk about later; Scrum is simply a framework for getting potentially shippable iterations via Sprints; the teams within this will provide the missing magic you need once they are a stable team that works efficiently.  The Scrum Master’s role is to facilitate this whilst protecting them from extraneous requests from the Product Owner and others.  At the same time transparency is required for trust to develop as well as individual team members’ confidence levels and skill sets.  Working towards this develops a team which is Agile, not just practises the activities.

What’s “being” Agile like?

Daily Scrums become second nature, Sprint Planning becomes realistic and achievable and the Sprint Review in turn yields an iteration which hits that definition of done.  Teams become proud of their work and that they have set out realistic commitments which they then stick to and deliver upon.  Planning Poker sounds less like a game over time and becomes a valuable tool for gauging what can and cannot be committed to in a Sprint.  On the flipside, fun increases.  Team trust and understanding increases and the members of the team edge closer to being truly cross functional.  Individuals pick up skills whilst working on various Sprint Backlog items and in turn use them in future sprints.  Each team member becomes more valuable daily.  Impediments are tackled easier and the increased communications means the Scrum Master is truly in the loop and helps the team out.  In turn the development team begin to understand business needs in business terms; as they become ingrained into the company; they begin to understand the Product Owner’s needs as a champion for the end users.  That’s the ideal anyway.

Management still don’t understand…

Any company can have multiple teams.  The problem we find is when teams turnaround or outsourcing occurs regularly.  The ideal scenario is to have teams who know the company, understand the product vision and critically, are still around once a project is over.  If they can then be used on subsequent product development the teams are much more valuable.  In fact, having multiple teams is a realistic scenario which needs a larger framework to scale Agile into larger enterprises.  There are many approaches to this developing and in 2014 you’re seeing some big schools of thought about to shout out about this, the most notable of which is Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).  Overall understanding and appreciation takes time and results.  Scrum aims to deliver results in product increments to the minimum viable feature set.  A good Scrum Master will facilitate the continuous improvement required by the teams to get to their potential and in time truly being Agile at the smaller scale will result in an easier job scaling it.  Practising Agile activities and having Agile and Scrum artefacts without truly utilising them as they are meant to be used will result only in inefficiency. This is what I refer to as being FrAgile.  This is why management, in those cases, will never understand.

Continuous Improvement is key

Striving for improvement is the aim.  Improvements in quality, speed, processes, output.  The self-organising team will aim for this.  They will be protected from interference during a Sprint, but be able to adapt and be flexible for subsequent Sprints.  They will have enough respect to be listened to if they give their opinions of what can and cannot be done during a Sprint.  They will be trusted to get on with it and expected to communicate if they have impediments.

We’re all human; we want to have fun, we want to enjoy life.  We also want to be recognised for our efforts, to be respected and to be trusted.  This goes for the amazing talent behind so many development teams.  It’s their continuous improvement that is key for a very good reason: without it, agility becomes fragility.

Reaction and Expansion upon Load The Game’s Nexus 5 vs. Moto X Comparison

Okay guys, not a snappy title but it’s definitely an important one.

I have the Nexus 5 and my wife has the Moto X.  Which is better? Well, Load The Game posted an article on this today which came under heavy fire in the comments because of either price and other factual inaccuracies, omissions on information or just plain feeling out of date.

I’m not here to tear it apart, but to expand on it from a usability perspective.
See, I moved from the Samsung Note II which was a beast hardware-wise, but buggy and slower than it should be, to the fantastic Nexus 5.  Nothing else I’ve used since has been able to compare, until I had to research for my wife’s next phone.

We went through the immensely popular Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (she wanted a smaller phone than mine), the Moto G, the Moto X and more, but I suggested she stick with the Moto X after loads of reviews including a fantastic video review by Marques Brownlee (MKBHD).  Coming from her lovely HTC One S this was an obvious choice as it was a similar form factor overall, comfortable and very slick.  An upgrade in all aspects (except the camera, but even the Moto X speaker quality wasn’t far off from the HTC).

After all my research I have to say Marques Brownlee was right; the Moto X is just such a great phone to use.  It’s the most jealous I’ve been over her tech, even though I love my Nexus 5 (also recommended by MKBHD) and even though her new laptop is immensely better than my 5 year old desktop replacement.
It does what the Nexus 5 does – it runs a simple version of Android KitKat with a speed and fluidity I thought only possible on Nexus devices.  No HTC, Samsung (bar the Galaxy Nexus when it first came out) or Sony I have used has been quite so consistent in performance.

We don’t get the Moto Maker here in the UK and that doesn’t matter; the Moto X looks fine as it is.

Moto X UK

What I have found is her battery life lasts a fair while and she doesn’t exactly skimp on using her phone for games, Facebook and email.  This is simply down to the super smart X8 architecture.  Dual core CPU instead of quad to avoid unnecessary drain, but a quad core GPU for when it’s really needed.  Top that up with a dedicated low-drain language processing chip (making the “Okay Google Now” keyword work in standby mode) and you’ve got magic.  Finally there is a Contextual Computing Processor for the little touches such as auto-dimming, auto-screen wakes and all the little computing tasks that don’t need a mega powerful CPU to do the work.  This also means those lovely active notifications on the lock screen are made possible, when married with the AMOLED screen.

I must say, I do love the little touches.  And that’s all Motorola have done: add little touches to the firmware to make it intuitive instead of bloated.
Colour me impressed – on a day to day basis this means the phone is incredibly usable.  Even the little dimple on the back which adds a nice place for your finger to stay when you make a call; a small touch that just works.

Yes, the rear camera under-performs in many situations, but the front camera makes for a good way to check if you have some food in your teeth after a meal and actually has a nice resolution for a front camera.

Another small criticism I’d have of the Moto X firmware is purely aesthetic.  I find that the margins around the app and widget grid are too wide.  They make the usable space on the screen much smaller than the Nexus 5 and even that phone had beefy margins compared to my Samsung Note II running Nova Launcher Prime.

The reason I haven’t been using Nova Launcher on my Nexus 5 is simply because I love the Google Experience Launcher; Google Now gives me lots of info (it’s how I came across the Load the Game article) and I’ve found myself using the unified search so much more than I used to.  The Google Experience Launcher is an acquired taste and my wife prefers to use the stock Moto X launcher so she’s not overly fussed.  As long as Chrome glides, as it does on both phones, and apps don’t constantly crash, she’s happy.  I think maybe her Moto X has marginally more crashes, but hardly any compared to my old Note II.  My Nexus 5 seldom has issues however.

Finally, my wife’s Moto X feels well put together for the most part.  However, only a couple of months in, already it creaks.  Quite a lot.  Turns out she’s not the only one.  Still, it doesn’t feel like it’s about to fall apart at all and it’s actually pleasing to hold.

I find both of these phones have it right: vanilla Android (or close enough to not make life difficult in Moto’s case) in solid, responsive hardware.  It works, it lags less and you familiarise yourself with it quickly.  I think for me, I prefer how nice the Moto X feels in the hand and it’s less likely to slip than my white Nexus 5.  In fact it is actually quite durable as well as non-slippy as crazier people than I have tested.

Nexus 5

Firmware-wise, it’s a tie for me.  I love my Nexus 5 with it’s Google Now/Experience Launcher and I am even liking the new camera app.  I will admit the being jealous of the always wake-able Google Now feature the Moto X has and active notifications, because those are genuine innovations which impress me and add value to the phone’s offering.

Some have said these are not the best available options any more so why did Load The Game write about them?  Well, what’s come out since?  The S5, which is an improved S4 really with some little toys (*cough*bloat*cough*) added in.  I’ll pass.  The OnePlus One? Ooh, not out just yet, but so close and a powerhouse to boot…  Cyanogenmod may be an acquired taste however.
Then there’s the Xperia Z2 –  A mighty beast of a phone also, but quite unwieldy and increasing in unnecessary bloat.  Not cheap either!
There’s always the HTC One M8 which is a top up to last year’s HTC One – and that phone has some fans let me tell you.  Sense 6.0 looks simpler and quite close to being more integrated with vanilla Android KitKat with little touches like Motorola did, but with enough of a HTC flavour to remind you you’re using Sense.

So, what’s as pure, that’s come out since the Moto X and the Nexus 5, running the latest Android KitKat and doesn’t cost the Earth?  Well, there’s the Moto G and I’ve tried it too.  It is the best value-for-money phone out there right now, but it isn’t quite as impressive, still, as the Moto X.  It does a lot for very little money, but the Moto X is just a smarter smartphone.

There is one other pure phone worth considering for all of you in the US: HTC One M8 Google Play Edition, which has stripped the polished and lauded Sense 6.0 and replaced it with vanilla Android KitKat; this means pure Android in a superb shell with some unique features still available without having to use all of Sense.  Marques Brownlee liked that so it may be worth considering.  I’m in London, UK so for me it would be a no-go, but even still I’d be tempted to try out the original HTC One M8 it seems that good, albeit taller and over 25g heavier than my Nexus 5.  Still, I wouldn’t buy one outright.  The only phone I’ve bought outright is the Nexus 5 and that’s saying something.


Nexus 5 Logo Modification – Cost of mod? 79p

Well guys if you own a Nexus 5 you may have found your logo’s letters starting to peel. Mine did, but only on the X so far.  I thought it looked ugly and the gap was getting clogged up with pocket gunk and such so I needed a solution.  It ended up looking like this:

Nexus 5 Logo Modification

Oooh, pretty!

My father is a jeweller and engraver and has done everything from rings and watches through to trophies and medals.  He has a technique of using white engravers wax on black plinths to get the text to stand out.  We engraved some wall clocks in a similar way with blue wax and the end result was fantastic.  I couldn’t resist.

I started off with a blue and silver wax stick and filled the gaps simply by running over them and then cleaning off the excess wax using a Kleenex tissue and some Zippo lighter fluid.  I pocket tested this for a week and it was fine; nothing was coming off.

I then was walking past a Sainsbury’s aisle where I saw 5 thick crayons selling for 79p.
Great, they had all the colours plus orange for good measure!

I replaced the silver portion with the green and though the wax was harder it eventually worked fine and I tested this for a week.  Nothing came out; excellent!

Then I got the rest of the equipment back out to finish the job:

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

So, was it a success? Well, it withstood about two weeks in my pockets before some bits got scraped off, but the majority is still there.

The next step would be to reapply the crayon wax again and try coating with the wife’s clear nail polish, to avoid it scraping off again.  If this happens I will test again and report back.

I’ve had a lot of people wonder how it would look on the black Nexus and I think it would look great, but your mileage may vary with cleaning the excess off the black rubberised back.  Any reports of successes here would be excellent to see in the comments!

Does the Android world need more powerful sub-4.5″ phones?

In a word, yes.

At least that’s what GSMArena and over 6,300 people so far since yesterday, 15th April 2013, have suggested.

GSMArena Petition

The Petition highlights in the following way:

The market for high-end smartphones is disproportionally populated with slabs of gargantuan size. We feel that given the choice, a substantial number of users would prefer the latest hardware and software achievements in a more compact, mid-sized form factor.

Android phone manufacturers
We are witnessing high-end smartphones getting bigger by the day. We feel you should not reserve the mid-size phones for the mid-range. We strongly urge you to rethink your mobile portfolios.We firmly stand behind the idea that high-end smartphones should not turn into mini-tablets or at least, users should have the right to enjoy the latest hardware and software achievements in a more compact, mid-sized form factor.Android smartphones manufacturers should not forget that portability is a key feature for any phone. We, the mobile phone users urge you to start making mid-size smartphones with high-end specs.

[Your name]

Well, certainly, even as a Note II owner, I would be inclined to agree.  One of my friends was eager to leave Apple for an Android-based device and after researching for months on end decided to opt for an iPhone 5 anyway.  The size was the problem.  He couldn’t get better specs in a phone closer to 4″ and in the Android world the hardware specs makes a bigger difference than the Apple offering let’s face it.

Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with the Nexus 4 but then opted for a Note II because it wasn’t that big in the pocket, really, and the massive screen was just so beautiful for media consumption. Big is good in my opinion as a lot can get done on a 5.5″ screen.

So, why do I agree with this? Well I have a few reasons: Samsung Mega 5.8, Samsung Mega 6.3, Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, LG Nexus 4, Samsung Galaxy Note II, Oppo Find 5… the list continues for phones over 4.5″ and each has it’s own charms and a great spec to match.

Find me something under 4.5″ which fits the bill?  Only China’s Small Cosmic X1 comes close and the spec isn’t quite there even as a quad core, nor does it fit into the 4.2″ size GSMArena are looking for.

So, if you’re one of those who is still looking for something to fit in your pocket and life with power to boot, go sign that petition.