Most of the time, “selling” Agile is easy these days. Everyone agrees that iterative and incremental development is a better alternative; more user interaction is better; so on and so forth. At some point, I will talk about the importance of a sustainable pace. At that point, most will gloss over and some will simply say that it is nice! When I insist that it is not just nice but it is essential.. Read more…
See this article at the Scrum Alliance website.
Recently I had an opportunity to speak with Alan Atlas, a Certified Scrum Trainer and Certified Scrum Coach of Rally Software. In this conversation Alan shares his insight on the state of Agile and Scrum. He also takes a stab at predicting what is to come in the future. This interview also includes some advice both for budding agile consultants and also for organizations that are trying to transform to an agile way of working. Read more…
December is usually the time of the year when corporations are working on their EPPs – the Employee Performance Plans for next year. Once I had my EPP of which a part of it went something like this 1) Improve Schedule Performance of projects. 2) Ensure that projects are completed according to the corporate mandated milestones. Mostly this meant that if you don’t meet the project schedule within a specified tolerance (say +/-5%), you will not get your full bonus. With this type of EPPs, the corporation is trying to avoid slipping project schedule and most importantly, deliver products on a faster pace. The assumption is that given the cash incentive, people & teams will work harder. If you meet your schedule, you have something to gain, namely, your bonus. If it works according to the plan, it can shape the behavior of the team members. Your team members might give you an evil eye if you were perceived to be someone causing the delays resulting in slipped schedule. Better yet, your team members might lend you a hand if they see you have trouble with your assigned task. So if things work out as planned, you have a collaborative team that helps each other and deliver the product on time or earlier. Team members will be happy because they will all get the big cash bonus. Your customers will be happy because they get their product on time. As a result, your company is more profitable. The principles of carrot and stick in action. Brilliant! Right?
Will the team members act rationally as expected here? Worse yet, would they cheat? Is there an opportunity to cheat in this set up?
It turns out that people may not always act rationally. And yes, they may cheat given an opportunity and a reason. In the HBR article named “how honest people cheat”? [ref1] [ref2] Dan Ariely claims that “most people operating on their own, given the opportunity will cheat – but just a little bit, all the while indulging in rationalization that allows them to live with themselves”. If you have read the book Freakonomics [ref3] [ref4], you know people always respond to incentives, but not always in the rational way you might expect them to; sometimes by cheating. For the teachers, whose incentives depended on students passing the standardized tests had too much out of their control namely those students in the bottom of the list. So what did they do? They cheated! That is right; those teachers, in pursuit of controlling their own destiny, corrected some of the answers on student’s answer sheets. Some of the teachers were really smart; they just quickly went thru everyone’s answer sheets and corrected the answers only to the questions they know are most difficult.
Now what can happen to the projects? Well, at the time when the team starting out on the project, we have too many unknowns. That’s exactly when we are asked to build a schedule. At that point, the team member who is giving the estimates on the individual tasks and the manager who is putting it all together as the project schedule definitely have the incentive to pad that estimate. Furthermore, they can surely find a long list of things that might affect the project and elongate the schedule. This is the rationalization step so they don’t feel so bad that they padded the schedule. (Note: the project manager might publish that list with a title “project risks”!) We all know what happens once we have a long schedule – the student syndrome will take over and the work will fill up the allowed schedule and even spill over.
You might say we knew that this will happen; we knew that individuals may cheat. But these decisions are taken at the team level. Schedules are put together by the team so you cannot cheat and really look into your colleague’s eye straight; can you? In addition we have supervisors and managers who will check the schedule. That is exactly why we have the second EPP goal – they need to meet the corporate milestones. It turns out we are wrong there too. In a 2009 HBR article “The end of rational economics” [ref 5][ref6], Dan Ariely describes some of his experiments and its results to show that even the teams cheat when it is beneficial to each other. In addition, he also shows that this is true even when there is supervision and monitoring involved although it decreased a little bit with supervision and monitoring. It seems that as the members of the team became better acquainted, the tendency to cheat increased.
Let’s be honest, we always padded our schedules. There were good reasons for doing that. As a team member, I want to keep my promises; I have a lot of unknowns; in some cases, we knew the management will push back on us and halved our schedule in the name of the management advice that they have to give us stretched goals. As project managers, we knew which task estimates to pad (remember that aggressive but naive programmer who always missed his schedule?). We also had a contingency bucket.
So here is my prediction. Given the EPP as they are, the projects may meet their schedule. However, the goal of coming out to the market faster will not be met instead the time to market will increase.
So what is the solution? Well, that may be the subject of my next article.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my prediction and line of thinking here? What solution do you offer?
1. Dan Ariely (2008), “How Honest People Cheat.” Harvard Business Review Vol. 86 No. 2
3. Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (2005), FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist explores the hidden side of everything.
5. Dan Ariely (2009), “The end of rational economics.” Harvard Business Review Vol. 87 No. 7/8
This article was originally published at Scrum Alliance on December 10th. Please see the article at Cargo Cult Agile
Is your development team Agile or just iterating?
Read this article at the Scrum Alliance website.
After reading some comments to my earlier post and based on some conversations with some friends who didn’t like or didn’t know about Twitter, I decided to write why I like Twitter. I have been in Twitter only for couple of weeks and I am loving it.
Sure, the question being answered in 140 characters or less is “what are you doing?” Who cares, huh? Well, it depends on who is answering the question.
Think about how you decide to buy a book or a movie on amazon. Like every one else, you probably are looking at the rating and the reviews written by other buyers. Similarly you look at the number of stars a movie has before you decide to rent a movie on Netflix. You check the rating of the seller to help you make the buying decision on Ebay. These are essentially your filters of the world. The wisdom of the crowd is helping you, most often right than not, whether it is worth spending time and money on something or not.
It is even better on Twitter because in Twitter you can choose your crowd. I follow people that I respect or people who I like to chat with. Have you ever had a colleague who usually have some insight to share with you every day? What if you worked with Steve Jobs (substitute any name you like here – You are welcome to use mine!!) and are previewed to what he is working on or what he just found interesting on the web or a great new toy his team is working on. Wouldn’t those be interesting to read? That’s what I think is fascinating about twitter. (Note: I am not sure if the real Steve Jobs is on Twitter. Even if he is, I doubt you will find anything about the upcoming apple product from his Tweets!)
Tweets of the people I follow vary a lot. Some are very trivial such as their plane arrived late or landed early but got stuck on the way to the gate etc. Some tweets are marketing their new product or their upcoming books. Some are links to something interesting they read. I follow the StartupGuru to hear his insight on entrepreneurship. The lotus-1-2-3 fame mkapor always have some interesting links to share. Some like Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO, I follow him just because he is fun.
Would I be able to find most of these information myself on the web? Sure. But if these big shots can filter the contents and bring me those shorter sample, isn’t that great? Come to think of it, people like Mitch Kapor are working for me! Wouldn’t you like that? You can hire them too. Try playing around with Twitter. Eventually you will find the right set of people to follow – the crowd to hang out with.
Did that make a case for Twitter? Are you ready to check it out? Read the Wall Street Journal article “How to Twitter“. It is a good Twitter-101 article. You may also find the Zappos’ tutorial on using Twitter that Tony Hsieh wrote for his employees useful.
Have you been using Twitter for a while? If so, tell us how you are using Twitter. Are you new to Twitter? If so, do you find it useful?
Enjoy Twitting and don’t forgot to follow me!
It didn’t take me more than a few months to realize that life actually is more fun and comfortable in this part of the world than back at home. My Job at a big corporation with a laid-back culture and life in a relatively smaller town certainly helped.
Sure, I missed my family and friends but the fun and exciting activities in the beautiful Pikes Peak area compensated for it. Soon I concluded that going back to Bangalore or Bombay and survive in those big and crowed cities again probably is difficult.
Well, I was not alone! There are research articles to back me up the fact that most of the Indian (and Chinese) immigrants historically do not return, instead tend to call America their home. They cited ease of living and better career opportunities as the reason.
In 1998, during one of those weekend evenings at Chestnut Hill (“solving the problems of our world over a beer” routine ) Anil told me that he intend to go back to India after a “few years” here. I didn’t hide the sarcasm in my voice when I responded, “be sure to call me, say after 10 years to tell me where you are”. Well, last year he called me. The call was from Chennai.
I was still a skeptic. Last weekend, as part of “solving the problems of our world over a beer” routine (I fortunately have another group to do this with now!), a couple of the guys commented, things are indeed different these days. They claimed that work-life balance aspect is much better in India now. I was still not convinced but decided to investigate more.
Timely as it can be, recent Business Week had a one page article titled “America’s Immigrant Brain Drain” by Vivek Wadhwa. The article is based on survey conducted with 1203 people who had went back to their home country (India or China) after living in United states for a while. To my surprise, most of them said their motivation to return home was not visa issues but said it was based on career opportunities, family ties, and quality of life. In fact, a good number (28% of Indians and 34% of Chinese) of the returnees had green cards or citizenship in US.
This business week article is based on the latest paper of a series of studies examining the contributions of immigrant workers in the technology sector and the immigration issues. They state that companies that immigrants founded employed 450,000 workers and generated $52 billion in revenue in 2006. Latest paper (“America’s Loss Is the World’s Gain“) of this study was based on the LinkedIn survey with 1203 people. One of the motivations of this study was to find the effect of long wait and other issues that affect an immigrant in technology sector to obtain a permanent residency status. As mentioned above, this survey shows that the primary issue is not the immigration process. This paper goes on to suggest some possible ways to stop this Brain Drain. One thought is not only make the immigration process of the worker easier, but also to make it easier for their extended family. Think about how that comment will go in United States in today’s economy.
I am not sure if this survey was done on a statistically diverse sample. Is 1203 a large enough sample for this type of conclusion? Including a group of people that chose to stay in the united states both on a temporary visa status and in a Permanent status would have been a good control group for this study. Nevertheless, this is an interesting study.
I would like to hear from you. Please comment and/or send it to a friend. Do you have intentions to go back? If so, do you have plans already? Why or Why not? If you have gone back, do you still think that was the right decision? Why or Why not?
I have been resisting to sign up for Facebook and My Space so far. When some of my friends invited me to join, I either quietly ignored those messages or told them those are not professional enough as LinkedIn. Well, I am going to do it. Why? well, I am afraid, it is true, social media is going to be the media of the future.
What triggered this change of mind?
Thanks to the fellow tweeter, elizabrooks who pointed out the social media based site of Skittles, in her new blog. I have never been to Skittles site before so I don’t know how it looked like earlier. What they have now is unbelievable and sort of crazy! Their home page is a Facebook page. Chatter page is the Twitter page. The products drop down menu items will take you to Wikipedia pages. The Media menu items? you guessed it right, YouTube and Flikr.
What do you think about the Skittles site? Do you have presence in Facebook, My Space, Orkut, Twitter, and the like?
Find me on Twitter
For the uninitiated, Marumakkathayam is the practice of passing on ones wealth to their nephews rather than their own offspring. This practice was noted in ancient Kerala and similar practices are noted in other parts of the worlds as well.
I don’t remember how we got into this discussion that night. A few of us mallu friends got together for dinner that night and was trying to solve the world’s problem over a beer when we stumbled up on this discussion. One question that came up that we couldn’t find a satisfactory answer was how does Marumakkathayam make sense genetically? Your immediate offspring is 50% related to you where as a nephew is only 25% related to you. Wouldn’t the selfish gene in you prefer your direct offspring over your nephew? Has our ancestors been making a genetic mistake by passing on all the riches to their nephews instead of their sons?
I had to sleep over it before I came up with an answer that I think is right. You know for sure that your nephew share 25% (this could be 12.5%, if the sister is only a half sister) of the DNA with you. However, in the case of your son, he may be 50% related to you. Notice the “may be” I used in the previous sentence. This is one of the basic differences between a man and a woman. For the woman, if the offspring comes from her womb, she knows that it is her baby and that the baby share 50% of her genes. For the man, he just has to believe in the woman that the baby share 50 % of DNA with him! Would he believe enough to bet his farm on that belief? Apparently not in those days! So those ancestors were smart to say, sorry son, I love you but the farm goes to your cousin!
Now why didn’t they do it on a case by case basis? That is, if one is sure his son is really his son, wouldn’t they want to just pass on the farm/kingdom to the son instead of giving to the nephew? Well, my thinking is, if this is how it was done, some of them will have to have an argument with their wife to explain why her son is not getting the major part of the farm/kingdom. Now that wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation, would it? How would one explain this to everyone else in the village/kingdom? It was just easier to make a social contract to have everyone have their nephew inherit their wealth.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts?
I think I should start learning to tell jokes! Why, you ask?
I just started reading Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence again. This time another point stuck me that I could use it every day at work – at daily stand-up scrum meeting.
In the third chapter “Neural WiFi”, he talks about mirror neurons – the neurons of an observer that “mirrors” another person’s experience as if the observer themselves is having the same experience (of pain, fear, pleasure, etc). This chapter refers to two fascinating studies. The effect of a shared humorous experience on closeness in initial encounters. The gist of it is that when a group shares a humorous experience together, they have a better feeling of closeness. (The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups)
Here is quote from the book Social Intelligence pages 48-49.
Contagion will seep through almost any coordinated collection of people. Take an experiment in high-stakes decision-making, where a group met to decide how much of a bonus to give each employee from an end-of-year pool of money. Each person in the meeting was trying to get as large a bonus as possible for one or another employee, while still making the best overall distribution to the group as a whole.
The conflicting agendas led to tension, and by the end of the meeting everyone was feeling distressed. But in a meeting of another group with an identical goal, every one ended up feeling good about the outcome.
The two meetings were business simulations done in a now-classic study at Yale University, where volunteers were put in groups to make the bonus decisions. No one knew that one of the participants in each meeting was actually a seasoned actor whose secret assignment was to be confrontational and downbeat with some of the groups, and helpful and upbeat with the others.
In whichever direction his emotions went, his lead was followed: the group members showed a distinct shift in their own mood, becoming upset or feeling pleasant accordingly. But none of the group members seemed to know why their mood had changed. Unwittingly, they had been looped into a mood shift.
The feelings that pass through a group can bias how all the group members’ process information and hence the decisions they make.
Now here is how I think I can use this. May be we could start the stand up meeting by one of the team members telling a jock? If his theory works, this could “prime” everyone not only for a positive and upbeat meeting but even a positive day. If not, we just had a laugh – that is not bad either.
What do you think? Do you have experience with this? Have you used this technique in your meetings?