Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blocked by multitasking

Blocked by multitasking!

Teams who struggle with delivering software seem to share one common characteristic that has turned out to be a recurring theme in my consulting work - the tendency to multitask.

As I mentioned earlier it is very easy for a team to be busy all the time – even so much that they might be on the verge of a breakdown – while a lot of the work products go stale because they sit around idling for extended periods of time.

Chris Matts and Olav Maassen do a wonderful job of debunking the myth of «effective multitasking» in their graphic Novel Commitment. When they talk about hidden queues they explicitly mention that multitasking is just that - a queue of things unfinished. In fact, at least from my experience, the queues created by multitasking with the best of intentions (I can't finish task A so I'll just start on task B until I can work on task A again so that I don't have to idle an burn precious development time) are much worse than defined queues in the process because they tend to be barely visible. On one hand these concealed queues hide the fact that Task A is blocked. On the other hand the have to be managed in the back of the head which adds to the cognitive burden of the person working on the task(s). This more often than not this leads to “I can't finish task L so I'll just start to work on task M... oh, wait task D seems to be workable ... hmm but so is task H ... ”.

So, if you want to do yourself and you colleagues a favor, please apply the hackneyed but true optimization rule to multitasking: "Don't do it" ... or switch to the advanced Version of that rule "Don't do it – yet".

Make blockers – which would drive you to multitask – explicit and squelch them as soon as possible. And visualize any kind of queue you start to create, so that you and others can manage it.

'til the next time

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Let's Scale the Small Team Approach?!?

After the chaos report came out in the mid nineties and made the public statement that 53% of evaluated projects where "challenged" and only 16% of them could be considered "successful" a lot of people started to focus on the errors that supposedly had been made in the 53% of challenged projects. And from the tries to eradicate those errors from all future projects a lot of the so called ”heavy“ processes where born. For the curious: the remaining 31% of projects got cancelled before they ever saw the light of day.

Yet some people focused on the question what the 16% of successful projects did differently – in line with the old coaching mantra of "catch them doing something right." Amongst other things a lot of these projects followed what today would be called an agile approach - kind of living and breathing some of the principles behind the agile manifesto even though that didn't even exist at that time.

Although the principles could be weighed differently one of the key concepts in my perception always was

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

which also requires the teams to be of manageable sizes – the magic number 7 ( plus or minus two ) comes to mind.

Because the number of required communication lines grows exponentially with the number of team members it quickly gets impractical to have face-to-face conversations with larger teams and this in turn contradicts the whole idea of "scaling agile."

Of course it's possible to develop software in an agile manner with more that just one team, but then something else has to come into play. At least "Agile" as defined by the agile manifesto doesn't account for scaled agile. Scrum tried to address this topic with the Scrum-of-Scrums, but I think nowadays there are more obvious ways. Like integrating agile teams via a lean organization. You might want to give it a try.