Portfolio Management and Organization Flow

I’ll be speaking at RallyON Europe this September on the topic of Portfolio Management and Organization Flow.

Complexity of product development increases as we move from a single team or product focus to a cross-organisation portfolio focus. Organisation Flow is about achieving the Lean concept of flow at an organisation level, not just at the level of a single product or product line.

This session will look at an approach to portfolio backlog management, and describe how to manage the flow of work through a portfolio of multiple products delivered by 50 teams in 6 locations across the US, Europe, India and China.

We will include examples of some core metrics that help understand throughput and flow in the organisation. These metrics tell a story about what is happening in the organisation. Lessons from these stories include understanding impediments to flow, and understanding who and what in the organisation is influencing flow.

I did an interview last week with Hannah Shain from Rally. The recording from the interview is here:

There’s a great lineup of content for the conference. If you’re in London I hope to see you there!

Update: Here is the slide deck I used at the conference:

Understanding the Impact of Technical Debt on the Capacity and Velocity of Teams and Organizations

This is the abstract from a short paper I write for the Managing Technical Debt workshop at the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2013) in San Francisco. A preprint of the paper is available here.

Abstract

Understanding the impact of technical debt is critical to understanding a team’s velocity. For organizations with multiple teams and products, the impact of technical debt combines non-linearly to impact the organization’s velocity. We can think of the capacity of a team as a portfolio. Not all of that capacity can be invested in new features or defect fixing, without incurring negative consequences. A portion of the team’s capacity needs to be invested in the ongoing management and reduction of technical debt. This paper describes a simple technique for visualizing, quantifying and tracking a team’s technical debt as a portion of their overall capacity investment. The knowledge and insights gained through this technique help with better capacity planning, improved forecasting, and helps to justify the business case for investing in managing and reducing technical debt.

Conclusions

This paper described a technique for considering the capacity of your team as an investment portfolio. Investing in technical debt management and reduction needs to be a part of a healthy portfolio. If neglected, a team’s Technical debt will mount over time and impact their feature velocity. Consider the different ways a team could invest its time as Real Options. Make investments in debt reduction explicit and visible, and track actual investments at regular periods. Taken to an organization level, the organization needs to be ware of the amount of technical debt it has, and the overall strategy for investing in managing and reducing that debt.

Slide Deck

Lean Startup in Large Organizations

I gave a talk today at a Lean Startup event organized by Enterprise Ireland and ITAG.

The topic of my talk was Lean Startup in large organizations, and specifically talking about lessons learned from applying Lean Product Development and Lean Startup principles at Cisco.

The three specific lessons I talked about are:

  1. Learning to manage batch sizes and limit Work in Process (WIP)
  2. Customer Development
  3. Learning to see and manage waste

The slide deck is available via Slideshare:

Lean Systems Society

Lean Systems Society

As of May 2012, the Lean Software and Systems Society has officially re-branded as the Lean Systems Society. As part of the launch, a number of founding Fellows have been named. I am honored and delighted to have been invited to be a founding Fellow of the Lean Systems Society.

Purpose

The purpose of the Lean Systems Society is:

to improve the world by improving its systems. The Society organization will be modeled on the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and its “Fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists.” The Royal Society was created to actively encourage thought leadership in the sciences by honoring original thinkers as Fellows, and encouraging their collaboration and debate. It has succeeded in this mission for over 300 years, and is an ideal model to emulate.

The Lean Systems Society Credo

From the Lean Systems Society Web site:

The Lean Systems Society believes that excellence in managing complexity requires accepting that complexity and uncertainty are natural to social systems and knowledge work. Effective systems must produce both better economic and sociological outcomes. Their development requires a holistic approach that incorporates the human condition. The Society is committed to exploring valuable ideas from all disciplines, and fostering a community that derives solutions from a common set of values and principles, while embracing specific context and avoiding dogma.

Fellowship of the Lean Systems Society

You can see the full list of current LSS Fellows at the LSS site. As of May 2012, the founding fellows are:

David J. Anderson Jeff Anderson Markus Andrezak
Jim Benson Barry Boehm Bjarte Bognes
Bob Charette Alan Chedalawada Steve Denning
Israel Gat Hillel Glazer Siddharta Govindaraj
Russell Healy Chris Hefley Richard Hensley
Curtis Hibbs Kenji Hiranabe Greg Howell
David Joyce Michael Kennedy Liz Keogh
Corey Ladas Janice Linden-Reed Hal Macomber
Ryan Martens Peter Middleton Benjamin Mitchell
Frode Odegard Greg Parnell Ken Power ( me!! 🙂 )
Don Reinertsen Chet Richards Karl Scotland
Alan Shalloway Sarah Sheard Chris Shinkle
David Snowden James Sutton Jean Tabaka
Richard Turner Alisson Vale Yuval Yeret
Greg Yezersky Jason Yip

The Fellowship was officially launched at the LSSC 2012 conference in Boston.

Press Releases

The official Lean Systems Society press release can be found here. There are additional press releases on Yahoo News, InfoQ and others.

Looking to the Future

I’m looking forward to continuing to contribute in whatever way I can to the Lean community, and to helping the Lean Systems Society to grow and flourish. The Society’s purpose of “improving the world by improving its systems” is a stirring and timely call to action for all of us.

Enjoy a Lean Coffee

What is Lean Coffee?

Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith founded the Lean Coffee movement in Seattle in 2009. Since then, Lean Coffee events have sprung up around the world. The basic idea is for a group of people to get together to discuss topics around which they share a common interest, specifically around agile, lean, kanban, lean startup, etc. There is also an OpenCoffee movement, founded by Saul Klein in 2007. The intent behind OpenCoffee is to provide an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs and developers to come together, meet, discuss ideas, and find opportunities to work together.

The Lean Coffee format is essentially an approach to facilitating learning and collaboration through group discussions. The ‘Lean’ part of the name has its roots in Lean Thinking, and related areas of Lean Production, Lean Software, Lean Startup, etc. The ‘Coffee’ part of the name obviously comes from that nice drink that some of us are partial to. Meetups typically take place in the morning, at a local coffee house, at the same time and place each week.

Lean Coffee events are increasingly becoming a fixture at many conferences, in a similar way that Open Space has. We had a great Lean Coffee event at LESS2011 in Stockholm last year.

How it works

The Lean Coffee format has a lot in common with Open Space, particularly in the sense that you are asking people to move away from an agenda-driven gathering to a more open, collaborative, dynamic, emergent type of gathering.

The protocol, borrowed and modified from the Sydney Lean Coffee group and Limited WIP Society, is as follows:

  1. Everyone offers topics they are interested in discussing by writing them on index cards (or sticky notes).
  2. Everyone presents his or her topic as an Elevator Pitch (max 1 minute per topic).
  3. Use dot voting to vote on each of the topics.  Each person gets two votes. You can only vote once per topic.
  4. Prepare three columns on a table or wall. Call them “Planned”, “In Progress” and “Done”. Add all topics to the “Planned” column, with those that received the highest votes at the top.
  5. Discuss each topic in turn. Move the index card for the topic into the “In Progress” column. Initially, ask the proposer to explain the topic, then go round the table to give an opportunity for everyone to provide an initial comment, then open discussion.
  6. When the topic is done, move on to the next one.  The topic proposer decides when the topic is done, and moves the index card to the “Done” column.  If someone disagrees, then s/he can raise a new topic.  Expect to discuss 3-4 topics over the space of an hour or so.
  7. Consider time boxing each topic to 15 minutes max.
  8. At the end of the overall Lean Coffee session, run a quick retrospective.  What did you like? What didn’t you like? What are ideas for improvement?

As a variation, particularly if you have a large group, consider splitting into sub-groups if people are particularly passionate about specific topics. Then get back together after the topic discussion to present highlights to, and get feedback from, the wider group.

Lean Coffee at work

The idea and format for Lean Coffee is very simple and effective. It can be used in work too. For example, consider hosting a Lean Coffee event every week in your office. It can be a great way to share experiences and challenges across teams and gather interested people who don’t normally get to discuss these topics together.

If you find your retrospectives are becoming routine, then this is a good way to break out of the rut. There is no leader or facilitator required. The team can self-organize a Lean Coffee style event without any preparation. The team decides which topics to discuss, and how long to spend on each topic.

The only prerequisites are a set of index cards or sticky notes, a set of Sharpies, and some interested and willing people.

References

Some sites for Lean Coffee Meetups around the world:

Writings about Lean Coffee

Happy Memories of the ALE2011 Spouse and Kids Program

I was having lunch with Jurgen, Olaf and others at XP2011 in Madrid earlier this year. The details for what would become the first ALE conference would start to be worked out later that week. Jurgen asked me if I had any thoughts about what we could do that would be a little different. I thought it would be good to find a way to include spouses and children in the conference program – not just bring them to wherever city the conference was going to be in, but actually integrate them into the conference.

The Spouses and Kids Program

Monika KoniecznyOlga Woronowicz and Christiane Lewitz took on the job of leading the Spouse and Kids Program and did a great job organizing the program. Mornings were filled with games and other activities in the conference hotel. There was a trip organized for each day after lunch. On Wednesday, there was a visit to Berlin Zoo. On Thursday, it was the Berlin Communications Museum. On Friday they had a dinosaur tour at the Natural History Museum.

Post-It Art

Last week I wrote about Post-It Wars, and how we tried it out at work. I had the chance to hang out with families of other conference attendees (and my own family) at ALE2011, so I got them all to play too. We started off in the room that was reserved for families. The kids had a great time. After some negotiation, they quickly agreed on the music, picking out the Beatles and Bob Marley. Music blaring, they got to work. It was amazing to watch as a group of kids who had never met until a few hours earlier came together to create pictures using Post It Notes.

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art
ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

While the other conference attendees were in one of the sessions, we broke out into the coffee break area (bringing music with us) and used the windows there too (top left). The parents got in on the action too, and had fun with it. I got some pictures of the work-in-progress from outside the hotel (top right), and their work attracted the attention of some passers by (bottom center).

ALE2011 Post-It Art Collage 1
ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art
ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob
ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob
ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob
ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob
ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo
ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

The hotel windows provided a great canvas to work from, and fortunately the hotel staff were very understanding 🙂 Here is what their work looked like from outside the hotel:

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

Afterwards, we went outside to admire their great art work. Never one to pass up on some fun, Mike came too 🙂

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team
The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

Some of the kids put their new skills to good use at Thursday night’s dinner.

Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a fun game that I often play with teams. You can play it with friends and family too. At ALE2011 I played it with the ALE families. This time they picked Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Bon Jovi and the Beatles. Rock’n’Roll!

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge
ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

Other Games and Activities

Oana Jancu, whose kids were also there, taught everyone ‘Where Are Your Keys?“, an amazing game for learning new skills, particularly new languages. The kids used the game to learn some Portuguese, French, and Irish. Monika played lots of games, arts and crafts activities.  Christiane spent all day Wednesday and Friday with the families. She taught them origami and brought them to the Zoo and Natural History Museum.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour -The Elephants at Berlin Zoo
Learning About Elephants at Berlin Zoo

That’s an elephant’s tooth the tour guide is holding.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo
Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo
ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo
Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Why Include Spouse and Children in a Conference?

There are at least three big reasons why I think its important to include a Spouse and Kids Program in the conference:

  1. Some of us attend a lot of conferences. That’s a lot of time away from home and family. Being able to bring them with us and hang out during and around the conference is a good thing. Even if you go to only one conference, it’s still nice to be able to bring your spouse and kids. Of course you can bring your family on any trip; the difference with ALE2011 is they were an integrated part of the conference. I like that my wife and children could meet some of the people I have come to know and consider friends. It’s fantastic that my kids can have the opportunity to make friends with other kids from around the world. Vasco tweeted that it made his quality of life better; I concur.
  2. It gives our families a chance to see what we do at conferences. It can be hard sometimes to explain to our families what we do for a living. This gives them some insights.
  3. It is an opportunity to inspire kids to consider a career in our industry. Many countries are struggling to find people with the right skills to fill job vacancies, and there is a growing shortage of children (particularly girls) taking science, maths and engineering courses in school and university. This is a real crisis for our profession. Attending a fun conference can leave them with positive feelings and memories. If they can see that what we do can be a fun and rewarding path, and spread the word to their friends, that can only be a good thing for the future of our industry.
ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream
ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

Looking Ahead

It was a great pleasure to meet and spend time with the families of Oana, Vasco, Kurt, Andrea and others. I hope this is a tradition we can continue at ALE conferences, and maybe even extend to some other conferences. Based on feedback so far, including the retrospective output, it seems to have been a positive experience overall. Let’s see how we can make it even better for next time.

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a game for learning about innovation, creativity, teams, collaboration, as well as the value of early prototyping and incremental delivery. Part of the real power of the game is in helping people to identify the hidden assumptions that every project has, and to recognize the value in diversity of team membership.

I came across the Marshmallow Challenge last year, but I didn’t get a chance to play it until I attended the Play4Agile Conference in Germany earlier this year, where Michael Sahota facilitated a great session one night in the hotel bar (which was full of conference attendees, all taking part). Since then I’ve run the Marshmallow Challenge several times.

Running the Marshmallow Challenge Game

Materials

For each team, you need

  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • 1 meter of tape
  • 1 meter of string
  • 1 marshmallow
  • 1 large envelope (optional)

You will also need one measuring tape.

I use my iPod and speakers to provide a soundtrack while the game is in play.

Preparation

Just to add to the mystery I like to prepare in advance the envelopes containing the spaghetti sticks and string, and hand out the envelopes before explaining what the game is.

Playing the Game

  • Hand out the envelopes to each team. I ask them to wait until everyone has one before opening them.
  • Explain the objective of building a tower.
  • Explain the rules.
  • I often hold back the marshmallow until this point. Up until now they know they have to build a tower. Adding a light, fluffy marshmallow is no big deal, right?
  • Everybody starts building their towers at the same time.
  • I like to play music during the game play, something upbeat to add to the atmosphere. I have a few playlists created that are approximately 18 minutes long.
  • Repeat the rules out loud a few times during the session. People will ask for clarification anyway.
  • Draw attention to teams that are doing particularly well (or poorly) – create a little friendly competition.
  • The winner is the team that has the tallest free-standing structure at the end of the 18 minutes. So, if, for example, a team decides to stop building after 10 minutes, their tower must still be standing at the end of the game.

There are more detailed instructions over on the Marshmallow Challenge home page.

Review and Wrap up

The review is where the reflection happens. Think of it as a retrospective of sorts.

Where to use it

I’ve used this at project kick-offs, at the start of release planning sessions, in retrospectives. You can use it in just about any situation where you have a group of people who want to gain insights into working together.

In this picture, I am running a Marshmallow Challenge with 50+ people at the kick-off for a new project.

The Marshmallow Challenge with 50+ People

The winner that day was an impressive 34.5 inches.

The Winning Marshmallow Tower

Here is a TED Talk video by Tim Wujec describing the Marshmallow Challenge:

Bringing Your Work Home With You

I’ve played the Marshmallow Challenge at home too. My kids were with me when I was shopping for supplies, so of course they wanted to know that the marshmallows were for. When I told them they were for a game, they wanted to play too. We had a full house that night, as their cousins were visiting too, so we had enough for three teams, slightly bending the rules on numbers. They were quick to catch on to the value of early prototyping and working as a team. It was a lot of fun – one of the better ways to bring your work home with you.

References