Author Archives: theitriskmanager

About theitriskmanager

A IT programme manager specialising in delivering trading and risk management systems in Investment Banks. I achieve this by focusing on risk rather than cost. A focus on costs can lead to increased costs.

Saint Sebastian and Scaling Agile

Last week we visited Florence and then spent a few days in Tuscany ( instead of attending Agile20xx like last year ). The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was formerly the office of the Medici family and is now one of the preeminent collections of Renaissance art in the World. Truth be told, the buildings and architecture of Florenze are more impressive than the art. For some reason, the pictures of Saint Sebastian (Thumbnails below with bigger images at the bottom of the post) held a particular interest for me.

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After a while I realised that they are a counterpoint for Scaling Agile. The Artists all agree on certain points such as “St Sebastian was male”, “He was bound and shot with arrows”, “The arrows do not seem to affect him” and “He was wearing shorts made of a sheet”. They did not agree on other points though such as “Was he young or old”, “Where did the arrow pierce his body”, “Did the action take place inside or outside”. To the artists and those in the church who commissioned the works, the differences did not matter. All that mattered was that a Christian Saint was shot with arrows for his faith and survived. I sometimes feel that some of those involved in Scaling Agile are focusing on the details that differentiate them rather than the common things that are important. In a particular context, each of the approaches to Scaling Agile may be more or less relevant.

Instead of focusing on the differences, we should focus on the core common elements and then identify the context where the appropriate approach is more appropriate.

For the past year or so, @TonyGrout and I along with a bunch of other coaches have been trying to help a company to Scale Agile. This is the diagram and explanation I have been drawing for the past few months to help others understand the constraints and issues that we face.

Here is the description I’ve used to some success.

The scaled investment process starts with an Investment Decision Process which identifies an ordered list of investment possibilities ( I call it a list of Unicorn Horns as they are not realistic ). The ordering and naming of this list will be culturally specific. Do they use Weighted Shortest Finished Job, or Cost of Delay, or Business Cases, or just Hippos ( Highest Paid Person’s Opinion ). Who decides on the order? Do they call them MVPs or MVFs, or MMFs, or BVIs, or Investments or Stories or Bets or… The point is that the culture will determine the process to give a rough ordering to the list of potential investments. I will call them MVPs for this post.

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The next step is to perform Capacity Planning for the coming period of time (typically quarterly).  For this, the owner/promoter of each MVP contacts all of the groups* that need to provide input to deliver an MVP and asks them for a SWAG ( Sweet Wild Assed Guess ) in units of Scrum Team Weeks. The group puts as much effort as necessary into the estimate ( I recommend a solid five to ten minutes at most ). The group also provides their capacity for coming period ( Default is number of Scrum teams in the group multiplied by weeks in period times by 50% ). <Editor’s note. I realised I have not described this process in full on this blog. Watch this space>

* Group – Random name representing a group of one or more Scrum Teams that can work on a component or system within the organisation.

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During Capacity Planning, the business investors ( whoever they are ) all come together and select items from the list of Unicorn Horns. For each item they select, they reduce the capacity of the impacted groups. This means the groups form the constraints rather than a generic mythical man month notion of organisational capacity. There are two outputs from this process. One, an ordered backlog for the organisation that all business investors agree to which provides direction to the teams. Two, a list of groups that are constraining the organisations ability to deliver. Note that the constraints are dynamic based on the kind of work involved, although most organisations have a few groups that are needed for pretty much everything. The backlog is the focus for those interested in delivery (short term). The list of constrained groups is of interest to those managing organisational liquidity (longer term).

The Delivery involves the teams adding the items to their team Backlogs. They build the things needed for the MVP which eventually results in a release. The release results in an outcome which feeds back into the investment decision process. This is all very standard Agile/Lean practice.

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This is also where our experience differs from standard Agile Doctrine. The belief is that teams will self organise to ensure delivery of the MVPs. This is not what we have experienced. The teams deliver but the organisation does not.

To address this issue we proposed that each MVP is assigned a Product Owner and a Scrum Master who are responsible for its delivery ( I consider accountable and responsible as synonyms. Hopefully someone will explain the difference ).

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The MVP Product Owner is responsible for the value delivery of the MVP (The Outcome). As the teams develop the MVP, the MVP PO will let them know what can be descoped without impacting the value delivery.

The MVP Scrum Master is responsible for the delivery of the MVP. They will ensure that the MVP is initiated properly so that everyone involved is aware of their expected contribution. They will ensure that an appropriate architecture is in place. They will set up and facilitate the MVP Scrum of Scrums and Retrospectives. They will ensure transparency on the MVP to ensure all involved can see the status.

The roles are similar to traditional Project Manager and Business Analyst roles with one huge and significant difference. They have NO authority. They influence using transparency and they rely on facilitation instead of direction. This is particularly important as they will develop influencing skills they need when they operate on areas where they do not have authority or influence such as in clients or other business units. They will be servant leaders. To do this, they will need tools to report and show progress.

So this is the software investment process in full. However, we also need to consider governance. A governor was a device on a steam engine that stopped it from blowing up. Two balls would spin around, their speed a function the steam pressure. If the steam pressure went too high, centripedal force would force them out causing them to rise, opening a va would release steam resulting in the pressure dropping. The purpose of governance of governance in an organisation is the same. It ensures that the risks within the system are managed effectively.

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The risk managers of the system ( another role without authority other than the power of transparency ) is to ensure that the risks in the system are properly managed, and if the individuals do not have the appropriate skills and experience to manage the risks, ensure that they are provided with coaching so that they can. Consider people playing by a cliff. The risk manager would help to make them aware of the danger. They would show them the cliff and help them work out an appropriate risk strategy. If they wanted to build a wall but did not know how, the risk manager would introduce them to people who could teach them how. The risk manager would monitor the risk to ensure it continues to be managed. This is not about control, but more the appreciation that whilst we are playing in the field, we might forget about other things like risks and demons. Recasting definition of done as a set of risks to be managed allows the teams to find the best solution for their context whilst ensuring that the organisation is not exposed to known risks.

These risk managers are responsible for staff liquidity at the team, group and organisational levels. They are responsible for ensuring the overall investment portfolio is balanced as well as ensuring investment is occurring where it should rather than where it is easy. Rather than simply looking at status of a team, they are considering the health of the organisation as a whole as well as in parts.

One of the most critical risks to address is to ensure that the correct approach is taken to building the teams backlog for the MVP.

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The Cynefin Framework is ideal ( and necessary ) for helping teams understand whether they should build the backlog iteratively ( in the complex domain ), or build independent solutions ( in the chaos domain ), or up-front ( in the complicated domain ) or simply let the team do its thing ( for obvious domain ).

A risk management and coaching based approach to delivery and governance is vital for Scaling Agile. It allows software development to fulling integrate with the entire business. However, Cynefin is the “Fifth Discipline” of Scaling Agile to the organisational level, without it, we will be doing the “Wrong things righter, er, The right things wronger”.. without it, we will be barking at the wrong tree.

So have I painted a process where we agree he was shot with arrows? Or does this invite discussion about how old or how good looking he is?

Thoughts?

Paintings of Saint Sebastian

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Starboard! It Greg Brougham about to tack.

Dear All

Please welcome Greg Brougham ( @SailingGreg ) to the itRiskManager family of blogger.

sailing-greg

Greg is an experienced IT Risk Manager with an amazing knowledge of the Cynefin framework. Check out his Cynefin article in Infoq. Greg was the person who explained the practical usage of Cynefin that lead to my taking the course.

Welcome aboard Greg.

Regards

Chris


A tale of two Feature Injections ( A Cynefin tale )

Earlier today I listened to Liz Keogh describe Feature Injection and state that “Feature Injection is a useful model but it does not work in practice”. The Feature Injection Liz describes is nothing like the Feature Injection tools I work with. The one Liz describes is a way of breaking down projects.

To differentiate them, from now one, I’ll refer to the one I use as “Value Mapping”**. I will also describe how you can use it relating to the Cynefin framework.

The key differentiator in Cynefin is between outcomes that are certain and outcomes that can only be known in retrospect.

If you are dealing with a product where the user has choice as to whether they use it, you are almost certainly in the complex or chaotic quadrant. In complex, you need multiple safe to fail experiments. Feature Injection Value Mapping can help by forcing you to look at the value to the user and the organisation. Once the value is better understood, you can identify a number of options (hypotheses) to deliver that value (Those multiple safe to fail experiments). You can then use feature injection Value Mapping to identify the dependencies needed to deliver the value and the options to deliver them. Value Mapping in this usage is very similar to Impact Mapping.

If you are dealing with a product where the user has no choice to whether they use it, you are probably in the complicated quadrant where enterprise software hangs out. You can use feature injection Value Mapping to help the user find the value and then get them to draw the output they need from the system to deliver the value. You can then use Feature Injection Value Mapping to identify the delivery options. One extra point, in enterprise software land you often do not want to specify the user group in advance.

From experience (been using it for a decade now), people on projects tend to zoom in on complicated problems like clever maths and stuff. Value Mapping is great for quickly surfacing complex issues such as necessary changes to business practices. Complicated problems are much easier to risk manage than complex ones… you just need to do analysis or find the right expert.

 

** A name that Dan North came up with.


Say hi to Tony, and play nice people.

Hi All

I’m pleased to announce that Tony Grout ( @tonyGrout ) will be join me as a blogger on the theItRiskManager.com

Tony and I have been working together for the past year. He has been my partner in crime as we use Theory of Constraints and a Risk Management based approach out to support an Agile Roll Out at Scale. Before his important role as Head of Agile Transformation at Skype, Tony had an important Agile job at IBM where he learnt about the importance of data and risk.

All the best

Chris

P.S. He particularly likes it when people leave snarky comments on his posts, especially about the fact that none of the stuff he talks about has anything to do with Agile.


Learning and Risk

How do people learn? Take a minute or two to write down as many ways you can think of.

Now consider the Kolb circle of learning. Below is the way I interpret the Kolb model.

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Now see how the things you thought of fit into the different styles of learning.

Observation : Reading, Watching others, Watching videos, Attending lectures, ….

Modelling : Creating a model to explain the idea you’ve encountered.

Experiential : Doing the thing, pairing. In Nike terms… Just Do It.

Reflection: Talking to others to discuss the learning subject.

Have you ever thought about the risk associated with different learning styles.

From the individual’s perspective, observation and modeling are the safest options. No one need know you are learning a new subject. You can hide under the duvet reading the book by torchlight. There is also very little chance of failure if you don’t actually try to do it.

Experiential learning can knock you back if you find you are not as good as you thought. If you take hours to download an IDE, when you thought you could dance around the code within minutes. That first, ten line, program in Pascal that generates twenty pages of errors when you forget the word “program” at the start. The two hour hunt for a missing semi-colon.

Reflection can be scary as you expose your potential ignorance and naivety about the subject. Especially if the class expert / bully ridicules your mistakes.

From the team or organisation’s perspective, experiential and reflection are the safest options. Experiential is good because the first thing you do is a simple program like “Hello World”. You then try and do something real that reveals your “… in 21 days book” don’t hack it and you hit Bing ( or Google ). Thirty minutes later you solve it or are e:mailing someone to ask for help (Its never anything profound, normally its syntax). You pick another problem to solve, you hit a snag, and before you know it, it sparks an insight that inspires you to write a blog that evokes a response from world experts. You are a world expert* in approximately 0.0001% of the subject and are completely unaware of 99% of the subject. You also have a healthy respect for the subject and the depths of knowledge required.

*An expert in something no one else in the world will ever use, or care about. That’s the beauty of context.

You discuss your successes and failures with your colleagues and friends and anyone vaguely interested. You make a joke about your failure and tell everyone. The joke travels and you inoculate your team and possibly your organisation and community against making the same mistake. The guys who are reading books share what they learned, and guide you to the right books to read. Everyone respects each other for the value they bring, especially the world expert in 0.0001% of the subject.

There is a risk line I draw on the Kolb Model.

kolb risk line

On one side of the line is safe learning for the individual in a culture where a fear of failure is dominant. A risk averse culture.

On the other side of the line is the place where the organisation needs learning to feel good. Not every individual needs to be on this side of the line but the organisation needs a healthy proportion on both sides to ensure that the risk associated with learning is managed effectively.

Just in case you think this is new, Kaplan of Organisational Learning fame said the most important factor in the success of creating a learning community was the leadership’s attitude to failure.

Conclusion

If you find yourself in a culture where no one turns up to learning sessions that are challenging or controversial. A place where leaders create fear or conflict or disrupt learning or make it hard to learn in the way you want…. Run! Run fast!… to avoid the blast radius as the company implodes. Your culture is sitting on top of problems that you do not want to acknowledge. Problems that will blow it up sooner or later, and take the company with it. <Cynefin>Chances are you are in a complicated culture.</Cynefin>


Cynefin as a filter of perception. – Part One of N

For the past few months I’ve been studying and practicing (Praxis) as I move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence about Cynefin (A journey that I’m starting rather than finishing). I treated myself by watching every video of Dave Snowden, John Seddon and Don Reinertsen I can find on vimeo, youtube and infoq. ( Check out wonderful Anthony Green’s playlist on youtube. ). I heartily recommend watching as many of Dave Snowden’s videos as you can. Dave is a bit like Eddie Izzard, the jokes are the same but the delivery is different and as a result fresh. It also means the emphasis is different and you pick up something different from each video. I took his course last year in two sittings because it is modular in nature. I think there is benefit in seeing the whole thing in one go so I’ll probably take it again at some point.

When I originally encountered Cynefin I thought it was a model to classify problems and situations. At some point the penny dropped and I realised it is more a filter of perception with much broader application. In particular you can use it to classify behaviour of agents, people, cultures and organisations. A bit like learning models, people and cultures have preferences when it comes to the five quadrants of the Cynefin model.

These days, most organisations are operating in a complex or chaotic world. Although some situations are obvious (the new name for simple) or complicated, the situations are realistically only those where the organisation can control the outcome (by defintion). The model divides the ordered and the unordered. I prefer emergent to unordered. I also think of the divide as certain and uncertain. From our experience using real options, we know that people would rather be wrong than uncertain. This means that we have a strong in-built preference for certainty over uncertainty, we have a strong preference for obvious and complicated problems to the extent that we will see complex and chaotic situations as complicated ones. The links between Cynefin and Real Options are not circumstantial. Dave used Real Options in the creation of the Cynefin model a decade before Olav Maassen and I started talking about them. ( I urge you to read the paper Dave wrote on Real Options in 1857 ).

Once I realised this I started to see some really interesting behaviours and memeplexes. I have a preference for chaotic and complex situations as I find them easier to solve than complicated ones. Here are some of my observations to date.

Those who crave certainty love hierarchies. Experts love hierarchies as their expertise is formally recognised. If not, they have a certain path to recognition. Those who do not want to be experts can defer to experts. The experts can help them convert complex or chaotic into complicated problems by stripping away context ( and hence uncertainty ). As problems travel up a hierarchy, knowledge of the context is lost or ignored until they become general enough for an expert to be able to opine. The epitome of the complicated quadrant is the “Thought Leader”.

Politicians are masters of the obvious domain. They take complex and chaotic and convert them into simple problems with simple solutions. They also know that they will be out of political office before they can be held to account. For example, Global Warming, the solutions are complicated but the implementation of the solutions are complex/chaotic and much to do with local versus global political aims. A complicated problem that politicians have turned into a complex/chaotic problem for political reasons. Politicians should implement multi-hypothesis safe-to-fail experiments but that removes the politicians from the equations. The leity do not perceive the difference between complex and complicated, this is the realm of the high priest.

People with a preference for complex and chaotic situations favour self organisation and social networks. Communication in networked organisations is much more effective than efficient. Complex problems need collaborations between parts of the hierarchy that typically are not designed to work together. Communication in hierarchies to solve complex problems requires information to flow up the hierarchy which strips off context which is all important. It is also slow. People and Cultures who prefer complex situations also have a preference for flatter organisations where communication across and up and down the organisation is faster.

A culture that is moving from complex to complicated will see the introduction of more layers in the hierarchy as effectiveness is replaced by efficiency. In addition, the culture will discourage communication that by-passes the hierarchy unless through established social networks. Meetings in complicated cultures tend to be bigger, whereas meetings in complex cultures will be more ad-hoc and managers will defer to subordinates with more detailed knowledge. In complicated organisations, meetings will be dominated by more senior individuals. In complex organisations, meetings will be facilitated to ensure that those with the most pertinent information speak about on the problem.

A culture that is moving from complicated to complex will see an erosion of the hierarchy. The CEO will “Go to the Gemba” to acknowledge the cultural importance of front line workers and their superior knowledge. Town halls will be be more spontaneous and less likely to be formal. Communication will be inconsistent and chaotic, and workers will be expected to work based on principles and commander’s intent rather than to be told what to do. As such, there is more risk they will do the wrong thing. People will respect the bandwidth of senior members of the community. They will only communicate if necessary but they know that they have the option. People in complex and chaotic situations are respected for their ability to do things. Respect is afforded by relaying stories of daring deeds and acts of greatness rather than qualifications, publications and accolades (Side note. This explains my unease at being a fellow of the Lean Systems Society. None of the people have worked with me). The epitome of the complex world are “Trail Blazers”, those who travel beyond the map and come back with scraps of maps on paper to show the way. There are lots of them and their names tend to be lost in the mists of time (Historiography)

The opinion of experts (Hippos) is more valued in a complicated culture. After all, if an expert makes the decision, you are absolved of making a bad decision. Data, Metrics and Lean Startup type thinking is more valued in Complex and Chaotic situations.

Gotta go now. This has grown as I started to write it down. I’ll be back to talk about the behaviour and risk surrounding learning in the different quadrants.

P.S. I know that they are not quadrants as their are five of them. I also know it winds up Dave when I refer to quadrants. Pleasure wins over accuracy every time. )

P.P.S. I also know I’m not discovering any new ground here. Simply sending a few postcards from the edge of Dave’s thoughts. Then again, they sell postcards so I’m guessing I’m nowhere near the edge of the map.


Feature Injection and Value Stream Mapping

Feature Injection is a process to help guide Agile Business Analysts. It is formed of three steps*:

  1. Hunt the Value ( An adaptation of value from “The Goal” )
  2. Inject the Features ( Value Stream Mapping )
  3. Break the Model ( Inspired by Kolb’s Circle of Learning and Test Driven Development )
  4. Reduce User Costs / Increase Return on Investment ( UX Metrics )

* Kent McDonald originally devised the three steps.

Feature Injection is a variant form of Value Stream Mapping that adds steps 3 and 4, and explicitly calls out step 1. “Hunt the value”. Without step one, there is a possibility that the “Value Stream Mapping” will create a local optimisation of the process. Hunt the value ensure that the system optimisation is not localised. Some users of Value Stream Mapping start in the middle in their part of the process. As a result they may inadvertently create a local optimisation.  They may also start from the beginning of the process and work forward rather than work backwards which slows the process as you need to keep checking decisions against the value being delivered.

Step 1 of value stream mapping is to identify the value. If you do not know what the value is, how can you map the value stream. If you do not start with finding the value, you are not performing value stream mapping. As the value is always in the outcome, you have to start at the output and work back to the inputs in order to optimise the value stream.

This was first documented in comic strips that were published on Agile Journal by Amr Elssamadisy. These strips were collected into “Real Options at Agile 2009″ that is available here.

 


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