Given When Then – A Cynefin Case Study

Dan and I created the “Given When Then” pattern on August 23rd 2004, or rather, that was the day we realised we needed the “Given” part. On November 30th, I wrote a series of blogs explaining the format that Dan and I had created in its more familiar form. JBehave II , JBehave III, JBehave IV and JBehave and Postmodernism.

This experience report is best explored by considering it through the lens of the Cynefin framework. Although I read the Cynefin whitepaper before this time, I did not understand it until fairly recently.

Obliquity

Neither Dan or I deliberately set out to create the “Given When Then” framework. We were both working on other projects. Dan was working on BDD where he was trying to change the language of TDD using NLP to make it easier for people to learn TDD. I was trying to work out an analysis approach that would work with Extreme Programming. Dan had replaced TDD’s assert with “Should” and was having more success explaining TDD to people. A week or two before, we had traveled back from the Agile Development Conference together and we had realised that “should” was the language of specification.

On the day that Dan and I first came up with “Given”, our goal was for Dan to explain BDD with Mock Objects and Patterns to me as I was going on sales visits to clients and talking about something I had never actually done. As an amusing aside, several years later Liz Keogh told me it took her six months to remove the visitor pattern from JBehave v1.

The key point is that Dan and I were working on oblique problems. Dan was trying to create a better way to teach TDD and I was trying to learn TDD. We were not deliberately trying to create a pattern to allow non technical people to effectively communicate with Agile developers.

Activated Individuals

Dan and I did not create the “GIVEN” word. We tripped over it. It was literally a movie moment when I said something and Dan and I looked at each other realising it was something useful.

The night before I had been to see a friend researching a PhD in Historiography. Historiography is the study of Post-Modernism as applied to how history is understood and taught. Historiography shows us that the way History is taught, understood and interpreted is more a function of the context than the events themselves.

When Dan showed me the code for TDD with Mocks, my head was full of “Context” (thanks to my friend Rob) which meant I recognised mock objects as context. When I said “Mocks provide the context” Dan and I both realised it was significant as our goals had activated us to the importance of the statement.

The key point which Dave Snowden makes in his talks is that you need individuals in a heightened state of awareness to spot something important* You need experts to spot something subtle and significant.

Recipe Books and Chefs

Both Dan and I were “Chefs” in Dave Snowden’s language. I had a decade of experience of Business Analysis and was used to coming up with new approaches when needed. Dan had several lifetimes worth of experience as a developer, and in particular coaching developers.

As Chefs we recognised that “context” was a new ingredient that was missing from the meal shared between Agile developers and non-developers trying to communicate to them.

This was only possible because we had both served our apprenticeships, and had an understanding of how to combine ingredients that we knew the “GIVEN” was a new ingredient**.

Exaptation

BDD was designed for developers to more easily learn TDD. Dan and I adapted it to communicate between Non technical people and developers.

Actually, the “Given When Then” format is an exaptation of TDD. TDD has the steps Setup – Execute – Assert. Dan and I exapted the TDD form into a specification format that non developers could use to communicate more effectively to developers.

Multiple Safe to Fail Experiments.

I went off to develop Feature Injection while Dan developed JBehave and promoted BDD. Rather than focus all his attention on one BDD solution, Dan promoted and supported many open source communities as they developed tools. From JBehave, through rSpec, to Cucumber and SpecFlow, Dan has supported them.

So Dan engaged in Multiple Safe to Fail experiments in his search to realise a BDD tool that worked.

Cynefin

Thanks to Cynefin, I now have a better understanding of what happened when we discovered the Given When Then format. As a result in the future, I will have a better understanding the context I need to create in order for innovation to occur.

  • GIVEN I use Cynefin to understand the world
  • WHEN I look at situations going on around me
  • THEN I’ll find new meaning

* I’ve watched three of Dave’s keynotes to find the point where he says this but could not find it. My wording may be wrong.

**A while later I realised that GWT was a subset of the use case. Unfortunately the Use Case is so bloated as a tool that it is not focused on specifying behaviour. The Use Case has become the jack of all trades and master of none.


Pull – An experimental blog backlog

I would like to try an experiment. I currently have a fairly large backlog of blog posts that I intend to write that are fairly self constrained. Rather than put them out as I feel like it, I would like to try an experiment in pull. So I will give below a selection of posts I’ve planned. If you want to see one more than others, then leave a comment. I will count the comments (if any) on Monday evening. The one with the most comments will be the next one I write.

The backlog

1. Capacity Planning – An experience report on using Theory of Constraints to create an organisational backlog. This will use details (photos) from the experience report given by Lisa Long at XPDay 2013.

2. The role of the Agile Manager – A description of the role and the training for an Agile Manager (Delivery Manager, Risk Manager and Coach ). The importance of reporting.

3. Given When Then – A Cynefin Case Study. An experience report describing how Dan North and I created the Given When Then format made sense using Cynefin.

4. Using Cynefin’s Butterfly Stamping to determine the most appropriate to building the backlog.

5. The ups and downs of Hippos and Data Scientists. How to order your organisational backlog.

6. Something else you want me to write about. Some aspect of Feature Injection? Real Options? Staff Liquidity? Scaling Agile for Practitioners? What…evvva?

7. Tornado Maps and Skills Matrices. How to use your skills matrix and backlog to build a tornado map.

That should be enough. On Tuesday night, Dermot and Simon Cowell will count the votes and announce the vote on twitter.

Chris


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


The Risks of Adopting the Wrong Approach

In Achieving success in large, complex software projects Sriram Chandrasekaran, Sauri Gudlavalleti and Sanjay Kaniyar of McKinsey (1) advocate moving from a functional delivery model that is silo based to one that is based on cross-functional teams that are module orientated. There are two problems with this model that I would like to raise.

The first is that the article describes large project as complex in nature without understanding that in a complex system behaviour is emergent. There is a short introduction to complex system in the recently published Cynefin paper on InfoQ (2). One of the key points is that no amount of analysis or planning will lead to understand of how a complex system will develop. They are dispositional in nature and therefore have a tendency to evolve in certain directions but this is not given and cannot be assumed. In this type of system the only viable delivery strategy is one that iterative/incremental in nature which allows you to manage for development of the systems in a desired direction. Trying to base the delivery based on a set of point in time requirements is unrealistic and fundamentally flawed, which the agile community has known for years. Simply moving to a cross functional model will not address this fundamental issue with traditional delivery models. As an aside Brian Appleyard (3) notes, in his most recent book, that simple solutions don’t work for complex problems.

The paper goes on talk about grouping of the work based on use case to support these cross functional teams so that can operate in parallel. This assumes that work can be grouped by use case but it does not elaborate on how, this in itself will support parallel working. One of the key things that you need to ensure is that the use cases are disjoint and one way that you can ensure this is by relating them to capabilities (4), along the lines of domain driven design (5). This allows for partitioning of the problem space and for parallel stream of work to be undertaken. This allows you to manage the parallelism which is mentioned as an issue with agile practices. It is not really an agile issue but one that is generic in nature of large programmes.

References

  1. Achieving success in large, complex, software, July 2014
  2. Cynefin 101 – An Introduction, July 2014
  3. The Brain is Wider Than the Sky: Why Simple Solutions Don’t Work in a Complex World, Bryan Appleyard, Sep 2012
  4. The Next Revolution in Productivity, Ric Merrifield, Jack Calhoun, and Dennis Stevens, Harvard Business Review, June 2008
  5. Domain-driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software, Eric Evans, Aug 2003

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.


Why we need Managers in the Agile Enterprise

So you’re a manager in an organisation with 500 or more people and you build product that in some way involves software. We could spend a lot of time discussing whether organisations need tens to hundreds of teams. The reality is that a considerable number of organisations operate at this scale. Even if they decided to downsize, that’s not going to happen fast and they’re still looking to improve their agility. The organisation has drank the kool aid around agile and lean startup. From reading the agile literature you imagine an org chart with the CEO at the top, the teams underneath and nothing between. No mention of manager, only self-organising teams.

CEO-Teams

So is it time for that career change into frozen yoghurt making?

Unfortunately not. The reality is that the organisation still needs you and others like you.

So why do we need managers?

Managers in agile organisations have a different perspective to developers and managers in a traditional organisations. They need to look at the organisation as a system. They help increase the value the system delivers by managing the systemic risks

The team handles mitigating or implementing contingency for any risks it is able to. However, the team has to function as a component of the larger enterprise. Now Deming’s statement on component selfishness kicks in.

“A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves in the Western world, components become selfish, competitive, independent profit centres, and thus destroy the system. . . . The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization. We can not afford the destructive effect of competition.”

via W. Edwards Deming – Wikiquote

So at best teams won’t be in a position to see the organisation risks that could occur. At worst they’ll attempt to optimise for their own efficiency at the detriment of the organisation. I use the example that we have the constructs of government, states and local councils in everyday life to prevent individual or tribal selfishness harming society as a whole. We can argue that some are more effective than others but in general we’ve yet to come up with a better model. So in software development this is where managers come in.

Managers are able to stand back and look at the organisational system and see risks at this level. They help balance team, product, organisational and customer risks. Risks such as regulatory compliance, key person dependencies, funding risks, contract risks, third party dependency risks and market competition risks. The managers role is to harvest and manage these risks. Yes, the team could mitigate some of these systemic risks, but they don’t. Why? Because the resolution would be wasteful for them as a team.

So the manager protects the system from this selfishness by applying constraints on teams. These constraints describe what needs to be done but not how. Some call them “guard rails” for the organisation. The team then works out the best way to deal with the constraint. The manager can help here by using Socratic questioning to help their teams come to better ways of addressing the constraint.

Conclusion

Development organisations that employee hundreds to thousands of developers exist and want to become more agile. Their ability to deliver a project or product has many more ways of failing than succeeding.

An agile manager’s job is supporting the CEO in reducing the likelihood of events that can cause systemic failure to happen, or shepherd the organisation around them.


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