December 20, 2011

Management at the Solstice

The winter solstice is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. The earth is tilted on its axis, making the days shorter as the earth goes about it's elliptical orbit around the sun, reaching the shortest day on the winter solstice. This doesn't coincide with the dead of winter, however, because of seasonal lag caused by us having lots of water around, giving off stored heat. (A little something to look forward to -- three more months of cold weather.) Speaking of colds, our solstice does, however, occur right after the start of cold and flu season. Lower relative humidity indoors and us being indoors more makes us more susceptible to viruses. The shortening days and more time spent indoors gives us the winter blues. Depression, more prevalence of illness, compounded by the dreaded annual performance review and holiday stress makes a nasty combination. All of this ultimately leads to poor productivity and unhappy people.

So what? What's that to do with me?

The manager's job is to create an environment in which people can be productive, even healthy. Help your team attack the winter blues and defeat viruses. Help them find their happy hat.

But how?

You've got to come up with your own ideas for your own environment, but here are some examples.

Improve lighting for a better mood. We might be saving energy, but we're killing productivity with those glare and headache inducing, flickering fluorescent lights. Indirect non-fluorescent lamps are easier on the eyes. Or set up a light therapy room in some meeting room or office. Why not?

And sunlight is great. Open the blinds and schedule some outdoor activities, maybe a team lunch that you can walk to or at least drive to. In other words, get out of the building during the middle of the day.

Stock the break rooms with fresh fruit, nuts, and disinfectant wipes. Oranges are great to have around, being good for overall health. The smell of a fresh orange around the office makes people smile inside, doesn't it? Apples are easy to wash and eat and some say provide a pick-me-up as good as coffee. But please, get a good eating apple like a Pink Lady. Shoot, do something unique -- buy and peel a pomegranate for each person in your group. Most folks have probably never seen a pomegranate. You'll be expanding their horizons.

As for nuts, we grow tired of peanuts and who likes cashews anyway? Try pecans, the healthy nut with the highest amount of anti-oxidants. Almonds and walnuts work too.

While you are passing out the hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, encourage hand washing.

Do this and you'll create a happy, healthy work environment. Happy people are productive people. For more bright ideas, check out last December's post.

December 12, 2011

Yet Another Agile Reading List

I'm often asked for an agile reading list and each time I wish that I had already blogged it. What's kept me from doing it so far is that I tend to write a somewhat new list each time depending on the requester's level of experience, unique situation, and context. Such a list is also likely to change over time, but that shouldn't stop me from posting it -- this post is my thoughts at this point in time. My thoughts are likely to change.

That said, and without further ado or proof reading, here is an agile reading list.

I could make this easy for me and just say read Cohn's signature series plus the Beck signature series. That'd keep you busy for a while and cover the topic pretty well.

But I can put a little more effort into this. Don't let this long list scare you. Start with this 1st block, then supplement with some of the others. I'm writing this from the point of view of helping a total agile novice get started.

Most importantly, you need to understand the agile values: and and either or or

Here are some links about agile in general and two specific agile processes, XP and Scrum, and one lean/agile approach called Kanban. Just read as little or as much of these as you desire to get the gist of what it's all about:

You need a good understanding of the Scrum process since it's the market
share leader right now. I've been advising people to find the Scrum book with the fewest number of pages, but there are so dog gone many Scrum books, which one is the shortest? Maybe that's not useful advice. So, how about this... Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum by Mike Cohn. Subscribe to Mike's blog.

I think I'll throw in from my friend Peter Saddington. I haven't read it, but it sounds short. :-)

Subscribe to my blog :-).

These next few are a bit old, but you need to have read something by "Uncle Bob" and Alistair. You could substitute some other book by them if you wish:
Agile Software Development, Principles, Patterns, and Practices by Robert C. Martin.
Agile Software Development by Alistair Cockburn.

These eXtreme Programming books are great and short and solidly apply to Scrum:
Planning XP by Beck.
XP Installed by Jeffries.
XP Explored by Wake.
Don't get the original white XP Explained book by Beck. It's talks about Load Factors and Ideal Engineering Days which I don't recommend.

If you want to broaden beyond Scrum and XP, read about Crystal Clear and the other Crystal methods by Alistair Cockburn.

Now we move beyond the basics into some specifics. First, let's take a look at the Product Owner related literature:

Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn.

User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn.

Here are some great posts from my colleague on The Product Owner:

The Product Owner role in agile is a big job. And very important. Many say it can't be filled by just one person because no one has all the necessary skills. They say you often need a team of people with diverse skills and responsibilities to do the job well. I tend to agree. Here is some food for thought:

Next, someone on your team needs to understand retrospectives in depth. If you don't get what you need to know out of the above books, this one is wonderful: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby. Subscribe to Esther's blog.

Here are some more assorted topics:

Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams by Lisa Crispin. Subscribe to Lisa's blog .

Read Beck's TDD book, Fowler's Refactoring book, Evans' Domain Driven Design book, and Williams' Pair Programming book.

At some point, you might need to know what people mean by Lean as it applies to software. Poppendieck wrote the books on it:

Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash
 by Mary Poppendieck

Leading Lean Software Development: Results Are not the Point by Mary Poppendieck.

Before reading Poppendieck, it might possibly be better to read The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a delightful book. We also have his Theory of Constraints (ToC) text. Goldratt is becoming a very important person to have read, at least for lean/agile consultants.

However, if you read Goldratt, you must also read The Principles of Product Development Flow by Reinertsen. Reinertsen takes exception with the over simplified or at least naïve implementations of ToC (et. al.).

ToC brings us to the kanban process which is gaining popularity. Kanban by David J Anderson is a wonderful book,but lacks specifics on how to do the metrics when the rubber meets the road. Subscribe to the kanbandev yahoo group.

There are books on scaling agile: Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development by Larman and Vodde. And Scaling Software Agility, Leffingwell.

Sadly, I cannot recommend this book, even thought I have a chapter in it: XP 2003 Proceedings.

Finally, find a local agile/lean/scrum user group to attend and make connections. I can tell you all about the ones in Atlanta and can connect you to people who know all about the ones in Ohio and Chicago and RTP, NC.

There are probably a thousand other folks with their own agile reading list. I wouldn't mind it at all if you were to post your list here or link from here to your site.