Tag: Continuous Improvement

Resolutions: Why Have Them and How to be Successful

Resolutions

What’s Up With Resolutions?

It’s that time of year! You know, where everyone is thinking back on all of the things they wish they had actually accomplished this year and they’re convincing themselves they’ll get it done next year. It’s time to set some New Year’s resolutions!

But what’s up with that? Why does it take people a whole year to reflect on what’s going right or wrong in their life and try to change their direction? Why does it take you a year to realize your diet and exercise regime is something you couldn’t stick to and you’re no better off than you were last year? Why were you still unmotivated in your career doing the same old thing? Why didn’t you get your head in the game for school? Why did you continue to pursue toxic relationships?

Continuous Improvement

Resolutions are all about trying to get better; we’re trying to continuously improve. Often when I talk to people about “agile” software development, all that I really try to drive at is that “continuous improvement”, in my own personal opinion, is really the important part.

So to continuously try to improve, you need to analyze what’s going well and what’s going not so well, set some goals, try things out, and re-evaluate. It’s a nice iterative cycle. It’s kind of like setting mini resolutions for yourself (or in the case of software development, maybe for your team or teams).

The big difference is the amount of time between measuring whether or not your change is having an effect! Waiting an entire year to try and measure your success would be absolute insanity in a fast moving software environment… why haven’t we gotten better at realizing this for our own personal continuous improvement?

Mark Manson

I’ve been reading a ton of Mark Manson material lately because of events going on in my life and the fact that the way he writes really aligns with how I often talk to my close friends. There’s analysis, there’s some humour, but it’s often a bit blunt and to the point. It’s actually a really nice change from many leadership, self help, or similar content where everything almost feels impossibly positive. This just feels like a real person talking to you.

Mark talks about setting goals in this blog post, and it got me motivated to reflect on my own goals and even write this post. In Mark’s post, he talks about our identities being built up by a bunch of habits, and goes on to state that some research shows that often habits only take about 30 days to form. In his opinion, using a whole year to set a goal of changing, adding, or dropping a habit just allows us to procrastinate for the entire year and then ultimately we fail.

His suggestion? Shorten the time frame.

If it takes on average 30 days to make a habit, why not have a “New Month’s Resolution”? Setting resolutions this way should then allow you to establish a new habit and then at the end of the month reflect on whether or not it worked well. You have less time to procrastinate. Your iteration is much shorter. Interesting.

My Own Goals

I figured I’d wrap this up by sharing some of my own goals publicly. I have a few things I’d like to work on coming up for the year, so I’ll outline them briefly:

  • Read more:
    • I’ve definitely dropped the ball on this one. I always had the excuse for myself that I don’t have time to do it. However, I found when I read the most consistently was when I found a decent book that I could read for a few minutes before I fell asleep every night. No pressure to get through it, but the books were there if I felt intrigued or needed to relax my brain a bit.
  • Try meditation:
    • I’ve always associated meditation with being spiritual or religious. Both of these things don’t really mesh well with me, personally. Mark Manson mentioned meditation in his post that I mentioned earlier, and it gave me a different perspective. I know I get stressed easily and I used to have pretty bad anxiety problems. Maybe this is something I could try out?
  • Write more:
    • I used to blog a lot. Between this blog, my fitness blog, and my car blog, I used to write content multiple times per week. It was always a bit of a social media experiment to get a better feel for how internet traffic works and where different types of content get the best visibility, but it also let me express myself. My content production has been almost nothing over the past year, and it’s something I’d like to look at more of.
  • Try public speaking:
    • This was something my HR Director had a chat with me about as a potentially cool opportunity. We were discussing getting more involved with the community and pushing boundaries, and she proposed speaking to students at local colleges or similar. I was turned off by it at first because I don’t like public speaking. But then the more I thought about it, I don’t know what public speaking is because I’ve never really done it. So why not try it?

But those aren’t my resolutions! Those are all just ideas for things I’m interested in improving. So taking some of Manson’s advice, I’m going to take ONE of those things and try to form a habit out of it for a month. Focusing on one thing at a time allows you to really give yourself an opportunity to establish the habit without worrying about too many other things, and ultimately setting yourself up for failure.

My first resolution is going to be to try out meditation. So for the first month, I’m going to try meditating four times per week for about 10 minutes at a time. I should be able to easily do this for two days on Saturday and Sunday where I don’t really have any external commitments, and then during the week I should be able to find at least two days before work where I can give this a shot.

Small steps, but small steps still take you forward.


Staying Productive

Staying Productive

Background

I wrote a post a long while back about how I started to use Google Keep to get myself organized. Google Keep has been a go-to app for me on my phone for a long time now. I love using it to make lists of things, and I find it much more convenient than a paper notebook.

Don’t get me wrong–I think a paper notebook still has plenty of uses! I love my notebook for long running meetings with open-ended discussions or brain storming sessions. It’s great to be able to take a pen/pencil and doodle down any idea that comes to mind. When I’m having a free-form conversation, I need a free-form way to take notes.

However, my phone is something I almost always have with me–and my paper notebook isn’t. My phone allows me to take my Google Keep notes and email them to myself. It allows me to have a reminder right on my homescreen every time I unlock my phone. It’s just more convenient.

But something happened since the last time I wrote about using Google Keep. I use it more and more, and at some point I felt like I was getting less and less done. This is less about in the office and more about how productive I feel at home. So how can I be getting less done (or at least feeling that way) if I’m taking my own advice and using Google Keep to hack my TODO list?

I have tons of lists and no actions.

I think that’s the big take away. I list all the things I’m thinking about, and I keep making more lists. There’s no time frame around actioning things with the lists I’m making! So, in the spirit of continuous improvement, I set out to make some changes.

Inspiration

I know I wanted to make some changes with this part of my life because it was starting to weigh down on me; I didn’t feel productive. But I knew this wasn’t going to be something I’d answer over night. I kept my eyes and ears open for ideas for a little while before I thought up some tweaks.

The first thing I came across while living my alter ego was an Instagram post by Big J. Big J is this guy that’s incredibly big and incredibly strong. He’s lived the bodybuilding life and has a lot to show for it… And because being successful in the bodybuilding and strength world means being extremely motivated and hardworking, it’s no surprise I picked up this little bit from Big J:

Simple idea, right? Put some time into planning your schedule for the upcoming days. It almost seems to obvious to not be doing. I mean, don’t I do this already? I have meeting invites and stuff in my calendar for work… But, that’s right! I don’t have anything in my calendar for my own personal things that I like to do outside of work. Hmmm…

The next little tip to push me along was after a conversation with a teammate of mine at work. Our conversation was mostly about work-life balance, but my colleague was telling me about something he was trying out around forming habits. Essentially, over a period of time he’s been recording his success at keeping on top of good habits and identifying reasons why he’s sometimes missing them. Definitely right up the continuous improvement alley! Another great point he brought up was that good habits need to be introduced one at a time and only once you’ve been consistent with your other habits. By adding too much at once, you can derail the whole good habit process.

The “Staying Productive” Hack

This is the hack I’ve been implementing for a bit over a week now, and it’s helped tremendously with feeling productive!

Every night when I’m laying in bed, I spend about 5-15 minutes with my phone and I schedule personal activities in my calendar for the following day.

There it is. It’s not rocket science or something Earth shattering, but it’s definitely helping. Taking a page out of Big J’s book and a tip from my colleague, I’ve modified my schedule to introduce a very brief planning period every day. And it’s just one change that I think is helping introduce a good habit into my life.

This has helped me:

  • Stay on top of prepping food (which is a big part of the lifestyle I try to live)
  • Schedule time to relax (yes, I even schedule time for things like video games!)
  • Schedule time to blog (I run three blogs, and sometimes finding time to write feels like a chore)
  • Work on personal projects
  • … Feel like I’m being productive.

And no, I didn’t drop Google Keep–It actually helps feed into my scheduling! It’s great to look over my lists of things and try to create actions for them.

Next Steps

This simple hack is not only nothing particularly fancy, it’s also not bullet proof! But that’s okay when you’re always trying to continuously improve. Some snags I’ve run into or things I’ve thought about are:

  • How do I adjust my planned schedule when unexpected things come up? If someone drops in for a visit out of nowhere, or my car breaks down, or my dog decides to tear up the furniture, how do I make sure I can continue on with my planned schedule? Right now some things drop off the schedule or I push other things off to compensate. This hasn’t been too big of a problem so far, but sometimes this has a bit of a landslide effect and it makes the rest of the day feel unproductive. A little bit of dirt in the cogs seems to throw the whole thing off for me! This is something I’ll be thinking about as I encounter it and I’ll try to thing of some easy solutions.
  • How can I be more like Big J?! Aside from being bigger and stronger, how can I plan for more days? Big J plans every Sunday but I plan every night for the next day. Is there a happy medium? Planning every Sunday would potentially amplify the landslide effect I previously mentioned, but it would be a convenient single planning session for the whole week. Perhaps I’ll continue with the advice of my colleague and modify one part of my new habit at a time and look at planning for an extra day at a time and see how that goes!

If you’ve been making checklists and find that you’re unable to action items, try this approach! It takes only a few minutes every day, and so far I’ve been having great success in feeling productive. It’s not difficult, so it’s worth a try!


Yeah, We’re an “Agile” Shop

Everybody Has Gone “Agile”

If you’re a software developer that’s done interviews in the past few years, then you already know that every software development shop has gone agile. Gone are the days of waterfall software development! Developers have learned that waterfall software development is the root of all evil, and the only way to be successful is to be agile. You need to be able to adapt quickly and do standups. You need to put story point estimates on your user stories. You need retrospectives… And agility! And… more buzz words! Yes! Synergy! In the cloud! You need it!

Okay, so why the sarcasm? Every single software development team is touting that they’re following the principles of agile software development, but almost no team truly is. Is it a problem if they aren’t actually following agile principles? Absolutely not, if they’re working effectively to deliver quality software. That’s not for me to say at all. I think the problem is that people are getting confused about “being agile”, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with how they’re operating if it works for them.

Maybe We’re Not So “Agile”

I work at Magnet Forensics, and for a long time now, I’ve been saying “yeah, we’re an agile shop”. But you know what? I don’t think we are. I also don’t think that’s a problem. I think our software development process is best defined by “continuous improvement”. That’s right. I think we’re a “Continuous Improvement” shop. Our team has identified the things we think work well for us in how we develop software, and we experiment to improve on things that we think aren’t working well. I’m actually happy that we operate that way instead of operating by a set of guidelines that may or may not work for us.

So, why aren’t we agile? When I look at the Agile Manifesto, I feel like there’s a few things we actually don’t do, and we don’t even worry about them. We don’t necessarily have business people working with developers daily through things, for example. Our delivery cycles are much longer than a couple of weeks most of the time. Sometimes people on our teams don’t communicate best face-to-face. I mean, just because we’re not focusing on those things isn’t necessarily proof that we aren’t agile, but I truly don’t think we’re trying to embody all of the components that make up agile.

As I stated previously, I do think that we try to focus on continuous improvement above all else, and I’m absolutely content with that. I think that if over time we continued our retrospectives and our team ended up operating closer to a traditional waterfall process then it would be the better thing for our team. Why? Because we make incremental changes for our team in an attempt to keep improving. Switching to waterfall is a bit of a contrived example, but I definitely stand by it. Another example might be that maybe working with business people daily isn’t actually effective for our team. I don’t know, to be honest, because we’re currently tweaking other parts of our development process to improve them. Maybe we’ll get around to worrying about that at some other point.

I do know that the way we operate, we’re always trying to improve. Whether or not we get better sprint to sprint is for the retrospective to surface for us, but if we took a step back, at least we can try a different path when we try to take our next step forward.

So, We Don’t Need To Be Agile?

I think my only point of writing this post was to get this across: If you’re not actually an agile software development shop, then don’t call yourself that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not living and breathing agile. Maybe you’re a software shop that’s transitioning into Agile. Maybe you’re moving away from Agile. Maybe you have no parts of your software development process that are agile. Who’s to say that because you’re not 100% agile your setup is bad?

I can’t advocate that agile software development is the absolute best thing for all software development teams. I personally like to think that it’s a great way to develop software, but… I don’t know your team. I don’t know your codebase. I don’t know your products, services, or clients. How the heck could I tell you the best way to go make your software?

Again, there’s nothing wrong with not being 100% agile, but we should try to be honest with ourselves. Find what works for your team. Find out how you can effectively deliver quality software.


One on One Evolution

Background

I’m a “middle manager” where I work, but that means a whole bunch of things. My everyday tasks primarily consist of programming, but I do a bunch of work to interface with other departments and teams, and I play a role in managing people on… well, the “people” side of things. For the latter part, I refer to that as people leadership.

I think it’s pretty easy to look at some of the aspects of people leadership and dismiss them as “fluffy” or needless… I consider myself a logical/technical thinker, so I have that frame of mind sometimes. However, I do see the value in actually being able to support my team so that they can operate at the best of their abilities. I try to find ways to do that without it seeming to them like I’m doing “fluffy leadership things”, and in turn, I don’t feel that way about it either. With that in mind, I had previously set out with ways to accommodate team feedback in a way that works best for them.

One on Ones: The Early Days

I worked with my HR manager a couple of years back to establish a one on one template that I could use with the developers on my team. The goal was to be able to identify points of conversation since the last time we met, the individual’s current situation (both positive and concerns), and then identify goals. Ideally, the individual is able to fill this out on the form in as much detail as necessary for us to be able to have a conversation about it later.

I didn’t want this to seem like a chore for people so I’ve tried to identify why this is useful for the individual and for myself. For the individual, it gives them an avenue to discuss anything that’s becoming a problem over the period of a few weeks (i.e. something not obvious all at once) or be able to identify successes in their work. It also allows them to reflect on their goals that they want to set in their career, current projects, or even things outside of work (because improving your abilities outside of work is a good thing too). For me, it provides better insight into the trend of problems people are experiencing, their contributions to their current projects, and even helps me see where people are at with their career goals. Both parties are able to benefit from these!

I’ve left it open in the past as to how people submit them. Written? Sure. Digital? Sure. Whatever is easiest for the individual provided I can get it a couple of days before we meet. I’ve also left it open ended as to how much of the form they fill in. Based on the trends, I think people see value in having more content but sometimes the goal setting is a bit of a grey area. People might be between setting different goals and want to wait to discuss those things. The best part is, I don’t need to hassle the team to fill in more… They just do a great job of providing information for me!

One on Ones: Continuous Improvement

I’m all for continuous improvement in our development processes that we have as well as our management processes. With that said, we’ve made a few tweaks to the one on ones recently that I think have had a great positive impact.

  • Digitized: I’ve got everyone on board with digitizing their one on ones. This is incredibly handy for being able to search for content later on (instead of sifting through paper), so I get a huge benefit from it. Each individual can probably benefit from this too if their ever looking for things we discussed. Archiving digital documents has so many benefits over the paper counterparts that it’s hard to imagine going back to these mostly being paper-based. I can easily print off copies for the individual if they lose them (or if I lose them) and it makes life easier for me at year end. I can quickly scan over documents on my computer to get a good overview of a person’s year right on my laptop.
  • Nick’s Notes: A little tweak to the one on one process is that with the digital copies, I can put in highlighted notes. This allows me to get down my feedback to the individuals before we meet. In the past, I requested documents a couple of days before we meet so I can try to action what I can ahead of time. However, adding my notes and getting it back to the individual before we meet let’s them know things I want to dive deeper on. It gives them an opportunity to prepare their thoughts, and from what I’ve heard, this is really beneficial for them. The other positive thing is that it let’s me provide them kudos on certain things that I don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time talking about them with one on one. It’s improved the efficiency of our meetings, and I think it benefits both sides.

What’s Next?

I’ll be honest in that I don’t have any next steps planned for these one on ones. But that’s okay! I’m going to let a few more rounds of these go through before I try to tweak the process. This let’s me get a feel for how the changes are playing out and then from there I can see where I might need to make some improvements.

If you don’t have a semi-structured system in place for your one on ones, I highly recommend it! Make it something you can at least get a feel for how successful they are. If you can gauge their effectiveness, then you can try to tweak the process over time to improve it! You’ll benefit from the information, and your team will benefit from you providing support for them.


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuing With Continuous Improvement

I wrote about continuous improvement before and how I’ve been trying to tie that into my leadership role through changes to my one on one process. To recap, at our organization we try to roll continuous improvement into most things that we do. We’re well aware that we’re not going to get things perfect the first time, so as long as we have a process in place to learn, reflect, and adapt, then we can make changes to better our situation. It’s something that’s ongoing and it doesn’t really have an end. So long as your organization is growing and changing over time, or the environment in which your organization is changing over time, having continuous improvement baked into your culture is key to success.

Previously, I mentioned that at Magnet Forensics I hold regular one on ones with my team members. I made a tweak to them that included summarizing notes before holding the one on ones and saw a great improvement. I felt that for now this would be a positive change that I’d like to continue on with. I’ll keep reflecting on whether or not this makes sense over time.

What’s next, then?

Recognition

Recognition is something that I think is fundamental to keeping people engaged, but it looks different for everyone. When I comment on things or share things on social media, I often reflect on how recognition is incredibly important. It’s been a goal of mine to try and do a better job at recognizing my team members for the hard work they’re always putting in.

That was my next hack for continuous improvement. How could I leverage my one on one time to do a better job at recognition? Well, if recognizing my team for things they do is high on my priority list, then it should fall high on the one on one discussion list. The first thing, actually.

So now that I create a summary of topics to go over in our one on ones, I reflect on what my team members say they work on and I toss in other stuff they may not have mentioned. Did they have big accomplishments in our sprint? Did they have things outside of work? Did they have tweaks they suggested for the team to try? Accomplish goals they set for themselves? I try to gather that information and comment on a couple of things at the start of our one on ones now.

I want the team to know that their hard work and their success does not go unnoticed and that they should all keep working to the best of their abilities.

Results?

I’ve only been doing this recently, so I can’t quite say that I’ve noticed big differences. In my opinion, the team has been entering a solid groove over the past few months but it’s hard for me to say whether or not these one on one changes had any impact. I like to think that they did. I’ve heard from several people that they’re really happy with where the team is at.

Has this brought about anything negative? Were there any cons to rolling out this change? I’d say no, not at all. It’s no extra effort for me to reflect on what accomplishments each team member has add. I mean, I’m not writing out lengthy documentation on each accomplishment, but I jot down a couple of points on what I want to call out. I think if anything, that quick exercise has been really positive for myself, if not for the other team member.

So, in the end, I think this small tweak has been a positive change for me in terms of doing a better job of recognizing the team. I also hope that the team has a better understanding that myself and others do see their hard work and efforts.

Keep on it, Team Magnet!


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement – Baby Steps!

Our development team at Magnet Forensics focuses a lot on continuous improvement. It’s one of the things baked into a retrospective often performed in agile software shops. It’s all about acknowledging that no system or process is going to be perfect and that as your landscape changes, a lot of other things will too.

The concept of continuous improvement isn’t limited to just the software we make or the processes we put in place for doing so. You can apply it to anything that’s repeated over time where you can measure positive and negative changes. I figured it was time to apply it to my leadership practices.

The One on One

I lead a team of software developers at Magnet, but I’m not the boss of any of them. They’re all equally my peers and we’re all working toward a common goal. One of my responsibilities is to meet with my team regularly to touch base with them. What are things they’ve been working on? What concerns do they have with the current state of things? What’s going well for them? What sort of goals are they setting?

The one on ones that we have setup are just another version of continuous improvement. It’s up to me to help empower the team to drive that continuous improvement, so I need to facilitate them wherever I can. Often this isn’t a case of “okay, I’ll do that for you” but a “yes, I encourage you to proceed with that” type of scenario. The next time we meet up, I check in to see if they were able to make headway with the goals they had set up and we try to change things up if they’ve hit roadblocks.

No Change, No Improvement

I had been taking the same approach to one-on-ones for a while. I decided it was time for a change. If it didn’t work, it’s okay… I could always try something else. I had a good baseline to measure from, so I felt comfortable trying something different.

One on ones often consisted of my team members handing me a sheet of past actions, concerns, and status of goals before we’d jump into a quick 20 minute meeting together. I’d go over the sheet with them and we’d add in any missing areas and solidify goals for next time. But I wanted a change here. How helpful can I be if I get this sheet as we go into the room together?

I started asking to get these sheets ahead of time and started paraphrasing the whole sheet into a few bullet points. A small and simple change. But what impact did this have?

Most one on ones went from maxing out 20 minutes to only taking around 10 minutes to cover the most important topics. Additionally, it felt like we could really deep dive on topics because I was prepared with some sort of background questions or information to help progress through roadblocks. Myself and my team member could blast through the important pieces of information and then at the end, if I’d check to make sure there’s nothing we’d missed going over. If I had accidentally omitted something, we’d have almost another 10 minutes to at least start discussing it.

Trade Off?

I have an engineering background, so for me it’s all about pros and cons. What was the trade-off for doing this?

The first thing is that initially it seemed like I was asking for the sheets super early. Maybe it still feels like I’m asking for them early. I try to get them by the weekend before the week where I start scheduling one on ones, so sometimes it feels like people had less than a month to fill them out. Is it a problem really? Maybe not. Maybe it just means there’s less stuff to try and cram into there. I think the benefit of being able to go into the meeting with more information on my end can make it more productive.

The second thing is that since I paraphrase the sheet, I might miss something that my team member wanted to go over. However, because the time is used so much more effectively, we’re often able to cover anything  that was missed with time to spare. I think there’s enough trust in the team for them to know that if I miss something that it’s not because I wanted to dodge a question or topic.

I think the positive changes this brought about have certainly outweighed the drawbacks. I think I’ll make this a permanent part of my one on one setup… Until continuous improvement suggests I should try something new!


Quality & Agility in Software: Session With Paul Carvalho

Quality & Agility in Software: Session With Paul Carvalho

Quality And Agility

Last week, at Magnet Forensics we were fortunate enough to have a very talented quality expert come in and talk to us. Paul Carvalho was able to bring a great deal of information, perspective, and activities to our development team that truly proved to be an eye opener. We were all extremely excited to get to sit down and hear what Paul had to say.

There’s lots to read about Paul over at his STAQS site, but I’ll re-iterate some of it here. Paul has held many roles when it comes to software development. He’s been a developer, a manager, a tech support person, and part of quality assurance. He certainly has a full perspective on software development. Coming from a science background, he does a great job of explaining why things are a certain way or why you’ll expect results given some conditions. This made understanding his approach to quality and software much easier for me to get a handle on.

It felt like we covered so much, but I want to provide a high level of the take away points that really stuck out for me.

Quality: What Is It?

Paul started us off by getting us to describe what quality means. In the end, we arrived at something that provides value (where value is actually defined) to an audience (again, where audience is actually something that’s defined). So what does that mean? Quality is dependent on who and what you’re talking about, so it’s important that when you’re trying to deliver quality that you are all aligned on what exactly quality will mean.

To illustrate his point, Paul had us perform an exercise where we really only used one method of communicating some information to our partner. The result of the activity proved that even when sitting right beside your partner, you can lose a ton of information in how you communicate. So having tickets written up or having a one way communication channel is almost guaranteed to cause some misunderstanding when it comes to expectations. Part of the solution? Converse. Actually have the person describe back to you what you said. This way, you both start to hone in on what your expectations are. It was a cool exercise, and it definitely proved his point.

Perspective

We also discussed perspective a lot in our session with Paul. He had examples where simply altering your (physical) view point on something would cause you to describe something completely different. From there, we drew parallels into our software development process. There’s the old “but it builds on my machine” scenario that mirrors this really well. Paul really wanted to drive home that product owners, developers, and testers all have different perspectives on things so we need to get on the same page to ensure we can deliver quality.

Paul also asked us what seemed to be a really simple question, which for a few of us meant that it actually had to be a loaded question underneath the obvious. By showing us something on the TV in our board room, he asked us if what was being shown was a particular object. The easy answer sounded like “well, duh, yes”, but he was driving home a huge point on perspective. We weren’t looking at the object, we were looking at a TV showing a digital rendering of a piece of artwork that depicted some object. The answer was kind of abstract, but it was really cool to have that conversation about what you’re really looking at.

Awesome Agile Activity Alliteration

As a team lead, there was one activity I found absolutely awesome. I’m hoping everyone got the same take away form it that I did. Paul had us work as one big group to perform some activity. The goal was to circulate as many balls through every individual in the group as we could in two minutes. There were a few rules that I won’t bother explaining, so it wasn’t necessarily that easy.

Quality & Agility in Software: Session With Paul Carvalho (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Having 15 people shouting and debating in the first planning portion made things pretty tough, but we came up with a workable solution. Paul made us estimate how many balls we thought we could get through, and we felt so poorly about our design that we said only four. We tried it out, and managed to get about 20. Awesome!

We were told to do another iteration, and he gave us another mini planning session. Again, the shouting and mayhem ensued, but we wanted to tweak our first approach. We finally organized, and when we tried it out, we doubled our initial throughput. We were onto something. The next planning session, the shouting was a little less, and we added a few more tweaks. We noticed the following problems from before:

  • We were moving too fast, so balls were dropping.
  • We were only moving one ball between people at a time.
  • Our throughput was nearing the limit of how many balls we had.
  • Our counting was extremely poor.

Solutions? Slow down. Move two balls instead of one, which should be easy if we’re going slower. Recirculate the balls instead of putting them back in the container. Dedicate one person to counting that wasn’t me (the person who would either inject more balls or get them from the end to recirculate). We shattered our previous record, nearly doubling it again. Next planning was similar. We addressed some minor pain points and decided to go for a whopping four balls at once. We added another 25 to our throughput, so we were sitting around 100.

At this point we realized we were nearing the potential maximum throughput for this design and given the time restrictions for planning, we couldn’t generate much to improve upon. We debated a completely different approach for a bit, and realized it was going to be unrealistic–but this added to the takeaway.

So, with that said, what WAS the takeaway from this activity and why did I like it so much?

  • The activity is a direct parallel to our sprints. The balls are the features we’d be developing.
  • The planning process was hectic. Everyone was involved and generated great ideas, but it took a select few “leaders” to actually pull triggers. Otherwise, nobody would agree on ANY of the great ideas we heard.
  • Dropping a ball was equivalent to a problem sneaking through or something not getting done. In terms of quality, this was like a customer seeing a bug. The more people that touched it likely meant that the bug would be smaller or have less of an impact. A cool little quality parallel.
  • We need to be continuously improving. We should leverage our retrospectives to improve our process. It’s important that we keep experimenting with our process to see if it can be improved.
  • There will be a point where we think we can’t improve anymore with our current process. If we’re not happy with throughput, it may require a completely different approach.

Summary

The whole team thought having Paul in was great. We have a ton of things to take back to the drawing board to use and try to improve our processes. I think it’s safe to say any one of us would recommend consulting from Paul. His insights are excellent, he conveys his thoughts clearly, and he has activities that are so incredibly aligned to the points he’s trying to get across.

I’m looking forward to using Paul’s techniques for improving the quality in our software and the processes we use to develop. Thanks again, Paul.

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  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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