May 22, 2013 (Dan’s Table)

Preserving culture during company growth

– You can’t preserve culture. It is made every day.
– If you want a certain culture, do those things.
– Choose people when hiring
– Office can set the tone
– Management can set priorities but they need to do them.
– Do you want the same culture after growth? Cultures don’t necessarily scale. Culture of 30 doesn’t work with 80.
– New people will change the culture. You can’t avoid it; you can try to steer it.
– Politics

Help desk knowledge base / beta software
– Multiple products
– new refs on different schedules
– how to support beta customers
– beta customers may not know that they are beta customers. (more of an A/B sort of testing)
– who gets the beta?
– stop doing beta. Deliver faster, do fewer changes in each release.
– Dogfood

Managing customer-visible help pages
– Standard pages vs custom pages written by a rep
– Can customer tell what they are looking at?
– How would you find errors?
– Variation by itself isn’t a problem; incorrectness is.
– customer-facing sites may become stale
– CSRs need to be accountable for accuracy
– Do pages get audited?
– What about when CSRs move on>

Bringing standup back to focus
– Gamify it
– Time people
– encourage brevity: measure it.
– try it for a week and people will start to recalibrate to what a short statement sounds like
– What is the point of the standup? (varies by team)
– Limit who is in the meeting. Only pigs get to talk; chickens get to watch. (In consulting, being a pig or a chicken depends on if you are billable to that project)
– Stay on target
– If what you want to say doesn’t add value, don’t say it.
– Learning questions: Instead of talking about what you did, talk about what you learned.
– Be aggressive about the rathole call: if the discussion is wandering, call people on it.
– For special cases: you can talk as long as you hold the electric ball:
– Don’t have the standup in a comfortable place where people relax. Stand up; make people want to finish and get back to work.
– Save the staff meeting stuff for a staff meeting

How to companies manage customer experience across different channels (blog, ads, help desk, youtube videos, etc)
– Who owns each channel?
– Does old content get pruned?
– Analyze what works
– Who originates content? (NR has engineers write blog postings about new features)
– Solutions can get out of date

Presenting to developers
– Know your audience
– Know your material
– Know your message
– Right amount of emotion in your talk. Engineers can smell a sales pitch and will tune you out
– More interactive/less interactive
– Tell a story. Don’t just recite facts.
– Talk about the “why”
– Get devs talking to customers, out of their comfort zone
– Presentation Zen/Tufte
– Interactivity
– are you trying to influence behavior or just convey information?

Lean Roadmaps
– Once you get past a few months out it gets fuzzy
– Quarterly roadmaps
– features vs maintenance
– Release often and change direction as needed
– All about communication
– still need a vision, even though the specifics may be fuzzy
– 3 months is a long time in technology
– Always question priorities. Are we doing the most important thing?

May 8th, 2013 (Scott’s Table)

photo (1)

1. How do you describe Agile?

– Fail fast
– Start with stories- humans like stories
– Lean – get results in front of people as fast as possible
– Customer driven
—who are the customers in your context?
– Lightweight
– Try Lean Coffee
– An interesting problem, and the generalization makes a lot of sense
– Do civil engineers do a lot of projects that are information based or are adaptable?
– Buildings iterate less well, where is the iteration?
– Examples: A map, a budget
– Iterate: the plan WILL change
– As a ___ I want___so that ___
-structure for stories includes protagonist and goal
– Provide value

2. McDonald’s Theory/Social Hacks

– The McDonalds hack see
– Useful if discussion is deadlocked, or team needs to get unstuck
– Propose something bad then you can get a response, get people to commit
– Posting bad information (to draw out good information)
– Devious trait
– Name Tags with trivia to jumpstart conversations/team building idea
– Adjusting expectations
– Lean coffee
—the structure of lean coffee is a form of social hack
– Personality trait? Learned skill?
– “I’m just a dumb XYZ but…”
– Parenting
—-lots of tricks parents learn
– Names and memory tricks
– Icebreakers, conversation starters (a lot of facilitation/teaching tricks are social hacks)
– Breaking an impasse
– Listening

3. How do you get your creative flow going?

– Pomodora technique
– Should I be doing something? Yes or No? No? Don’t lie, just do it.
– Find your sweet spot (early morning, quiet times)
– Have to feel safe to create
– Self-shaming works to get going
– the “Cone of Silence” (a traffic cone outside the door means don’t interrupt)
– just getting started is the hardest part, momentum matters a lot
– other people – interacting with others, socializing and discussing to get creative flow going
– making opportunity (you have to create your own opportunities for creative work, this is the hard part!)
– get enough sleep (manage your needs and stress)
– long term investment in creative collaborative space

4. How do you work with other groups to determine backlog priority?

– User requirements gathering
– In Scrum, needs to be one person
– Use Lean to get stories up to customer

5. Writing stories for multiple audiences

– Have customer draw out what they want
– EPIC- can be broken into smaller stories
– Scott uses Pivotal Tracker to track
– stories change when the user is presented with a prototype (e.g. screen mockups)
– manage expectations
– the cost of coding is high (iterate the ideas first)
– customers tend to be unengaged at the ‘coding’ phase
story -> picture -> functionality

6. Getting kids interested in STEM
– Coder dojo
– Lego robotics
– Mind storms- Lego Robotics “building a robot”
– Make it fun and relevant
– Chemistry teacher makes it a little dangerous (teens like that)
– dangerous experiments (encourage their inner pyromaniac)
– Must be learner driven (if they don’t control their own engagement they won’t be interested)
– “We lack a ‘moonshot'”
—disagree, our moonshots aren’t as well known, and are less ‘personal’ than e.g. an astronaut
– unstructured?
– exciting
– visibility of the job?

7. What makes a good LeanCoffee topic?
– Relevant to participants
– Something someone is curious about
– How do I (??) so that I can (???)
– collecting topics (during the week note when you have good lean coffee topic thoughts)
– Ice Breakers
– Engagement
– Something people have a stake in
– “How do you…” (asking good journalism questions) Perhaps these tips apply:
– Good questions lead to good stories
– catharsis (but be careful of too much dumping)
– some good questions are based on relationships (asking for help with a problem, sharing thoughts, story telling)
– genuine (artificial topics don’t do well, contribute based on your own true interest in discussion)
– multiple P.O.V.s
– Sharing
– diversity
– a wide variety of styles, focuses, topic range,
– specific question vs broad prompt,
– opinion with commentary vs asking for help.

8. Best LinkedIn groups for Agile resources?

– LinkedIn is a little business-y (not that agile)

– Alicia is moderating this group: Agile Project Management (non-software)
– She is finding this question popping up across LinkedIn groups- Agile Alliance, Agile Project Management; will try to direct to Agile Project Management (non-software).
– Agile open NW
– Agile is a ‘toolkit’
– Variety
– “Scrumbut” (i.e. “we do Scrum, but….”)
– Lean Coffee!


May 8, 2013 (Justin’s table)


Topics that made the cut:

  1. Clipboard, Habit Maker, & Retro follow-through
    • Shared tools for helping changes from retrospectives stick
      1. A very large picture is put on the wall. Then covered with post-its that represent behavior changes to make (e.g., pair on a task). As team members complete the behavior change tasks, they remove the post-its. The first team member to guess what the image underneath is gets a prize.
      2. Behavior changes are put on a clipboard. A team member caries the clipboard and visits team members reminding them of the change. This is not a governance activity, but a reminder.
    • Justin points out that a group has to get to planning actions before they can follow through on them. Considered using a technique from above as “bait” to get a team to form actionable changes from a retrospective.
  2. Accelerated Learning
    • Framework for learning from Willem Larsen. Featured in the book-in-progress Name This Book.
    • 5 Items: Alive, Fluency, Signal, Focus & Setting.
    • If you take only one thing from the model, create learning environments that recognize people’s humanity.
    • Noted that the “environment” and setting for retrospectives can greatly affect their effectiveness.
  3. Water-SCRUM-fall, is it worth the pain?
    • When a program is structured very large and slow, with a staged release plan (e.g. in the first year, we’ll build the db…) but is to be run “agile” this causes pain for teams. What do to?
    • Team members tend to see activities such as iteration planning, backlog management, retrospectives, demos, etc. as “stupid” and “a waste of time”.
    • If you don’t have a purpose, it’s hard to know if you’re making
      progress toward a goal. Team may need to set its own sub-goals, if the business isn’t providing them.
    • Need to get the big program focussed on results. Outcomes, not output.
    • May come from fear of actually releasing. Business may not want the
      changes that would come from producing a result.
  4. Agile/Kanban as Organiz. Design
  5. Tricks for breaking out of ruts
    • I’m in a rut. How do you break out of ruts?
    • The Plateau Effect may help.
    • What about the 5 rules of Accelerated Learning?
    • Try getting others to see the same problem you see. Then you are not alone in working on the problem and not alone in the rut.
    • Ruts represent a conflict of desires. Boredom comes from prevention from doing what you want to do.
  6. How do you use Lean for your extra-work creative projects?
    • Talked a lot about Personal Kanban
      • Books: Personal Kanban, Factory of One, David Starr has written a book about it, featured in WSJ.
      • Tools: LeanKit, trello
      • Beware the tyranny of the list. Kanban does not remove this.
      • Differentiate between “holding” and “blocked” items.
      • Can try to sort tasks by size. Then when presenting with time to take on a task, grab one that fits the available time.
      • How about Family Kanban?
    • Briefly touched on family retrospectives.
  7. Merging two overlapping products and technology stacks
    • Merging (through acquisition) two products that overlap in both audience and functionality.
    • Anti-recommendation: bigwigs decide how people will work, ignoring realities. Instead, try to bring people doing the work together early and give them a chance to solve the problem from the engineering perspective. Create value teams.
    • What does success look like? What will failure look like?
    • Is there common understanding of the overlap? Figure out how to make the people excited about doing the work – technical challenges? how will it build their careers?
    • Recognize what’s been learned so far.
    • Focus on merging people over merging technology
    • What do the people stand to gain?

LeanCoffee through the lens of a single topic

LeanCoffee is off to a great start. We’ve moved to the amazing New Relic offices on the 28th floor downtown and the conversations have become as soaring as the view. Often New Relic employees showing up bleary eyed to work encounter a passionate discussion raging in their lunch room and wander near to see what’s got everyone so charged up before 8 in the morning.

LeanCoffee is great for sharing and learning. Its agenda-less nature lets the group determine the most interesting topic and spend the most time discussing them via democratic voting. Looking at a single topic from the last session, here’s what I leaned in just the first 10 minutes.

Fresh from ProductCamp this weekend, I was turning over the role of Product Owner in my head. At AgileOpen NW, I was surprised to hear knowing jabs at the role. In such an inclusive and supportive environment, it seemed out of place. Or perhaps I was just sensitive as that job is what I do for a living? Why are people so disappointed with their POs? I came across this attitude again while getting my Scrum Master certification. In the small class, the teacher was surprised to have a PO interested in taking it and over the course of the two days I heard many more snarky digs at the role. What gives?

So in an attempt to use the LeanCoffee format to tease out an answer, I suggested the topic “Product Owner faux pas”. It got the most votes and was the first topic of conversation. We ran through the first 6 minutes then two additional 2 minute sessions (10 minutes total). People were all too happy to share where they’ve seen POs fall down and I learned a lot.

After I briefly introduced the topic…
Diana suggested that while the role seemed like a good idea during the creation of Scrum, none of the architects had actually held the role.
I offered that the Scrum coach mentioned the PO is often not treated as part of the team.
And then around the table it went…
PO is the most reviled role in Scrum
POs often have many projects and aren’t available to the team as they should be
As engineers think ‘we just have to fix this PO’, ProductCamp showed that POs think they should fix engineers
Companies don’t make the PO role a priority
At what point does an ‘on-site customer’ lose their relevance
Upon mention of proactive backlog grooming and story estimation: Oh, I wish my PO would do that!
In just a few minutes I learned pain points from the perspective of teams and POs which can immediately help me be better in my job. That’s the beauty of LeanCoffee: lightning rounds and rapid idea exchange around highly interesting and relevant topics.

There was a lot more territory covered and in each an opportunity for learning and reflection. Some of my favorites:
New Relic’s customer service model of having their engineers rotate into a Support Hero role
Using the Pomodoro timer as a way to set expectations for office mates to allow for uninterrupted work flow
Creating a Rumor Control Board on the wall to allow for not only the validation and squashing of rumors, but also the frame that until validated by someone, a rumor is only a rumor.
Above all the session is infused with laughs and mutual support. It’s a great way to wake up: getting caffeinated with smart people and sharing unexpected ideas and war stories. I’ve always left richer than when I arrived.


Free Tickets for the next LeanCoffee are at Eventbrite

April 24th, 2013


Topics that made the cut

  1. Product Owner Faux Pas
    • Product Owner, the most reviled role in Scrum
    • Part of the problem is that the PO role was designed by people who did not perform the role
    • At what point does an on-site customer lose their relevance?
    • Sometimes an organization fails to make PO duties a priority
  2. Mixing development and customer support
    • New Relic teams rotate “PS hero” duty. Incorporate it into planning. While on hero duty, the hero’s primary responsibility is to resolve PS work that is escalated.
    • Dev teams need to see PS problems and deal with them in order to learn more about their product, their customers, etc.
  3. Software “Soft” Skills
    • How do devs develop soft skills, such as
      • Looking to see if the problem they are facing has already been solved
      • Talking about software or development in non-technical language
      • Working in a team environment
    • Listening skills drive soft skill development
    • Would like to see academia teach team skills and TDD. Curriculums provide a major impediment to seeing this widely adopted in college/university.
    • So you’re a shy introvert who needs to learn to listen. Try staring at their shoes.
  4. Future of Education
    • How does self education fit into job prep?
    • How are sites like coursera, Kahn academy, etc changing education?
    • Some employers are dropping degree requirements
  5. Getting uninterrupted time to work
    • Most importantly, when you interact with people, you are training them on how to treat you. If you are responsive to interruption, you are training people to interrupt you.
    • Pomodoro Technique ( can be used to set boundries. Teach people to look at the timer and come back when you are done.
    • Pairing can be used to focus people and scare off interrupters, especially if you pair with someone who intimidates people.
    • Often, if you ask someone to wait even ten minutes, they won’t need work from you later
  6. Opportunities for Part Time Coaching/Mentoring in Portland
  7. What have you put on the wall that improved work?
    • Saved the world today counter to recognize individuals who respond to unforeseen problems
    • Rumor Control Board. The work environment was suffering from too many rumors. The Rumor Control Board was for posting rumors and official information and responses to them. A very significant benefit was that placing a rumor on the RCB labeled it as a “rumor” and lead people to take it less seriously.
    • Big Visible displays have a half-life. After a while, they lose their effectiveness or relevance and need to be reconsidered, less they become waste.
  8. Tell us about Product Camp
    • Disappointment with the structure.
      • Sessions were centered around presenters wanting to share a specific topic. (As opposed to facilitators who want to learn about a specific topic)
      • Participants reacted negatively to people choosing to leave a session
    • Some participants had seen an anti-product owner bias from developers at Agile Open Northwest. At Product Camp, they saw an anti-developer bias. “Well, we just have to fix the engineers.” Perhaps we shouldn’t solve our problems by getting someone else to change.

April 10th, 2013 (Trial Run)


Topics that made the cut

  1. Other uses for Lean Coffee

    • Scott tried it for family meetings, but struggled to get participation from adolescents. Hypothetical suggestions included staff-meetings (which put a burden on managers to sell topics, instead of just announce them; but carried a risk of political power derailing the topics)

    • Talked about using Lean Coffee in other industries, which lead to talk about agile in other industries.

    • Dan has shared LC with his sister, who works in aviation. But she has yet to apply it.

  2. Being on a software team in a non-software company

    • Group talked about communicate gaps with stakeholders and sponsors. Most often, about unrealistic expectations that software be simple, easy and quick. Some stories were shared about the opposite, when stakeholders expected long, complicated cycles for what was a very small task.

    • Three Potato Day!

  3. The Phoenix Project

    • Talked about “The Phoenix Project” by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford. Only one of us had read it yet. Focused conversation about aligning development and IT work with business objectives. Talked about how this requires talking about the core business. Tech folks have to face a risk of talking outside of their domain (tech).

  4. Conway’s Law

    • Paraphrased as “organizations will build structures that conform to the communication patterns of the organization”.

    • Talked about aligning organizational structure and desired technical architecture.

  5. Remote work/collaboration

    • Talked about Marissa Mayer and Yahoo!

    • Patrick shared success stories about teams with remote devs and remote clients. Main obstacles were retrospectives.

    • Talked about using skype and shared desktops for remote pairing. Many had found that remote pairing resulted in more engaged pairs than on-site pairing.

    • Justin realized he’s against remote work because of the low levels of collaboration he sees in on-site work.

  6. Interviewing for a senior dev/Hiring, what to look for on both sides of the table

    • Talked about interview techniques, including “stress to applicant” and see how they perform. Rich impersonates angry, irrational customers.

    • Companies hire to fill gaps. Seek candidates that satisfy that gap.

    • Some candidates look for a gap between themselves and the job. Find the right thing to grow into.

    • Do we expect senior developers to have time for github, etc? Maybe they are too busy having a life.

    • Agreed that we’d expect senior folks to have figured out how to work forty hour weeks and go home.

  7. Suggestions for QA tools/QA in an agile environment/What could you test (automated) that you don’t yet test?

  8. Backlog Grooming: How often/Regather Requirements

    • Found a general need to have someone represent the customer on a day-to-day basis, as most customers don’t take on daily backlog maintenance.

    • Big backlogs need to be thrown out.

    • The relationships for a team/project determine who can add to the backlog. With high-trust and daily attention to the backlog from the PO, anyone can modify the backlog. In low-trust, restrict write access.