Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recommended Resources: Becoming an Expert, Extending Agile, and Individual Improvement

There are three recent presentations posted from Agile 2009 to that I highly recommend you listen to and learn from. Here are the links with the descriptions:

Mary Poppendieck: Deliberate Practices in Software Development


In the nature vs. nurture debate, researchers have declared nurture the winner. People who excel are the ones who work the hardest; it takes ten+ years of deliberate practice to become an expert. Deliberate practice is not about putting in hours, it’s about working to improve performance. It does not mean doing what you are good at; it means challenging yourself under the guidance of a teacher.
Mary Poppendieck started her career as a process control programmer, moved on to manage the IT department of a manufacturing plant, and then ended up in product development, where she was both a product champion and a department manager. Mary tried to retire in 1998, but instead found herself managing a government software project where she first encountered the word "waterfall".

Josh Comments:

I’ve listened to Mary’s talks at Google and read most of her Implementing Lean Software Development book recently. This talk is excellent. She discusses not just software, but also music performance and artistic talent development, citing studies that have shown it typically takes about 10,000 focused hours for musicians to truly reach the level of expert, and that many of them who begin early in life reach this number of hours by age 20! Regarding software development, 10 years of working professionally is about 20,000 working hours, but of course not all of those hours are spent crafting software. I’ve been working professionally about 10 years, and I think I’m near that level of expertise in a broadened sense, but have much, much, much more to learn in the depth direction.


Allistair Cockburn: I Come to Bury Agile, Not to Praise It


Agile came from small, colocated projects in the 1990s. It has spread to large, globally distributed commercial projects, affecting the IEEE, the PMI, the SEI and the Department of Defense. Agile now sits in a larger landscape and should be viewed accordingly. This talk shows that landscape, clarifying how classical agile fits in and what constitutes effective development outside that narrow area.

Dr. Alistair Cockburn is a world-renowned expert at what is called agile development, the early and regular delivery of business value through improved communications, fast feedback and staged delivery. Dr. Cockburn co-founded the agile development movement, co-authoring the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the project leadership Declaration of Inter-dependence.

Josh Comments:

This is a great talk which is not really about burying agile, but about recognizing that the basic practices of agile now need to give way to ideas like Software Craftsmanship. He covers much more ground than this, but I’ll just highlight the Software Craftsmanship principles:

“As aspiring Software Craftsmen we are raising the bar of professional software development by practicing it and helping others learn the craft. Through this work we have come to value:

Not only working software,

              but also well-crafted software

Not only responding to change,

              but also steadily adding value

Not only individuals and interactions,

              but also a community of professionals

Not only customer collaboration,

              but also productive partnerships

That is, in pursuit of the items on the left we have found the items on the right to be indispensable.”

Ashley Johnson and Amr Elssamadisy: Scaling Up by Scaling Down: A (re)Focus on Individual Skills


In this presentation, the causality between performance in the small (individuals and teams) and performance in the large is highlighted and explained. Discover what you can do as an individual regardless of your position in the hierarchy to enable higher performance software development.

Ashley Johnson splits his time between understanding the challenges that companies face, and consulting with senior IT management to facilitate organizational optimization. Author of the leading book on Agile Adoption, Amr Elssamadisy spends his time helping others learn better ways to develop software and connecting the software development process with its rightful driver - business value.

Josh Comments:

What I like most about this presentation, is how Ashley Johnson incorporates audience participation and experimentation into the course of the presentation. This is the essence of teaching and learning. During my Scrum training with Jeff Sutherland, I was impressed by how Jeff used Scrum to run the training, creating his own task wall with sticky notes which also served as a burndown mechanism. He broke us up into small groups and we worked on problems and exercises that way.

Just to highlight, at one point Ashley asks the audience to break into pairs of two and to come up with a list of “What is required for a high performing team?” This is what the participants came up with on their own:

  • Shared vision that matters
  • Trust between the team members
  • Communication
  • Passion
  • Empowerment
  • Having fun
  • Challenging each other while holding each other accountable
  • Leadership