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Showing posts from October, 2013

Adapt - why success always begins with failure: Tim Harford

Why are you reading this book review?

Adapt came out in 2011 and it's a masterful summary of evolutionary development in economics, society, business and personal endeavour. It looks at the problems of finding solutions in complex spaces, safety measures in complex interconnected systems (like nuclear power stations, domino toppling, oil rigs and banking systems). Harford is erudite, amusing, insightful, anecdotal, informed and at times gripping. It's a great book.

Presumably you're reading this book review because you haven't read it.


You haven't read it?!

Stop reading this book review now! AND READ IT!

What's the quickest way to make a Gantt chart from an agile board?

Don't say it! I know. :-)

But someone actually asked this question this week, adding presumably to avoid embarrassment that the purpose was to "translate reality into management artifacts". He has a point of course. Familiar artifacts can allow people to see new things more clearly; we just also need to ensure that we've all understood what is really different in the new world.

Any way, I suggested looking at the Open Source tool xProcess, which uses its built-in forecasting engine to put start and end dates on a hierarchical collection of tasks or work items based on size estimates and team availability. I reckon if you have a table with task names you can generate such a chart in about 5 minutes.

Here are the instructions. Download xProcess from this site:

1. Create a project by hitting the "New" button like this:

You can choose various templates but just choose Simple Process / Simple Project. It's the.. well …

What is Kanban?

"What is Kanban?" you ask.

Well really that is three questions. Firstly what is a kanban?

1. A kanban is a visual signal.

It is a Japanese term meaning a card, brand or sign. In lean production systems it's used as the signal to an upstream part of the process that items are required by a downstream part of the process.

Which leads to the next question. What is a kanban system?

2. A kanban system is a system for managing work that uses (real or virtual) kanbans to control the flow.

Kanban systems were first used in Toyota for manufacturing but are now widely used in a wide variety of applications including health services and knowledge-based work such as software development. In principle a kanban system is a "pull-system" where work is triggered by demand from a downstream part of the process - ultimately by the demand of the consumer or commissioner of the product. The systems use kanban signals to prevent over or under production in various parts of the proc…

The mechanism of change in agile approaches

"Evolution" and "revolution" describe 2 mechanisms of change:
Revolution: sweep away and replaceEvolution: copy; differentiate; select; amplify; repeat This defines the difference between evolution and revolution - not the size of the change, or even the size of the steps in that change. It's the mechanism of change that is significant, because evolution (surprisingly to most people) can sometimes produce large changes in short periods, while revolution sometimes involves quite small changes.

Perhaps a discussion for another time is how this relates to politics and management, and why it is that many politicians/managers (even conservative ones) favour revolutionary changes - that they can take credit for? - over evolutionary changes, which necessarily require competition between ideas and failure of quite good ones, so that better ideas are amplified.

The mechanism of evolutionary change can be seen again and again in agile methods. I''ve written elsewh…

Improving Waterfall Processes (a thought experiment)

Some recent discussions about whether Kanban is an agile method or not seems to me to miss the point somewhat. The Kanban method is about improving your process, so whether you end up with an agile process depends on two things:
whether your process was agile to start withwhether "more effective" maps to "more agile" The first point started me thinking whether I could design a thought experiment by using Little's Law on that anathema of all non-agile processes - Waterfall! (Just say "no" I hear +Karl Scotland say. :-) More on that below, but let's deal with the second point first. 
Agility is the ability to change direction quickly in response to changing circumstances. A few businesses operate in very stable conditions and can optimise their processes to just these conditions. For them increasing throughput is usually the highest priority - agility may not be high on their priority list. However most of us working in knowledge-based disciplines fi…

Evolution and the culture of an adaptive organisation

One of the books that has most influenced my thinking about agile methods recently is The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker (Random House 2007, McKinsey & Company Inc. 2005). It's a book about economics rather than software products or development processes, so it's perhaps unsurprising it's less well known in agile circles than it ought to be. However it contains some key ideas vital to understanding the context of agile methods, specifically how products and processes evolve. Significantly it points the way for agile methods to focus on the evolution of process rather than simply the evolution of products - an insight Kanban has brought sharply into focus in recent times (not without controversy it has to be said!).

The mechanisms of evolution are the same whether the subject of evolution is a life form or the elements of an economy. These mechanisms - copy; differentiate; select; and amplify; repeated over many iterations - occur in all instances of evolution. Bei…