How to Attack a Gordion Knot Problem

TEDx Tampa BayI recently had the great opportunity to speak at TEDx Tampa Bay and I loved it. I got to cut loose, have fun and discuss something that really matters to me. I spoke about Tom Wujec’s “Got a Wicked Problem, First, Tell Me How You Make Toast” TED talk. If you haven’t seen it then invest the next ten minutes and let Tom drop some knowledge on you. It’s one of those talks that’s not obvious at the time you watch it, it’s a talk that’s only obvious when things fall apart and you need a Gordion Knot-cutting knife in your pocket kind of talk.

When to be an ass.

You’re the last bastion of hope for your users. You’re the last thing standing between them and a shit-ass experience. Take it seriously. Without being a routinely overbearing, over-confident, condescending ass all the time, it’s acceptable to stand up for your customers and not accept whatever is flung at them.

What is Agile?

These types of discussions are happening more and more frequently now that Agile 2015 is over.

Somebody: What is Agile?

Me: Have you ever had a software project that you waited twelve months for, and when you got it, you realized it wasn’t what you wanted?

Somebody: Yeah, of course.

Me: Would you prefer to know within one to two weeks whether or not the project was off track?

Somebody: Yes. Obviously.

Me (on soapbox): Yeah, well, that’s Agile. For teams that are new to Agile methodologies, you’ll know within two weeks whether or not you’re building the right thing. For mature teams that have been executing Agile for at least a year, you’ll know whether or not you’re building the right thing and you’ll consistently be able to hit deliverable dates*.

*Keep in mind that software development is a discipline. If you don’t adhere to the rigor of Scrum, Kanban, XP, FDD, or Lean, then you really can’t hope to get the results back out.

Agile Adoption is Cathartic

Bridge of FaithFor those of you going through Agile Transformations, or about to, one of the many things you’ll need to deal with is the complete panic you feel from leaving the old ways behind. Admittedly, everyone knows that things are broken or could be done better, but what’s been used for so long is at least “comfortable” when compared to the unknown. I liken it to the scene where Indiana Jones steps of the side off the canyon trusting that there was something there to catch him. To put it another way – you know those times when you almost fall off a barstool but manage to catch yourself? Yeah, it’s like that. For months.

With Agile there’s no hiding. Every day you’re expected to deliver some sort of value, something back to the team. If you’re not doing that on a daily basis you’re letting the team down. Others start to notice when someone isn’t doing a damn thing. That’s un-nerving for people accustomed to having 9 months before the project gets implemented. The bulk of the work completed in the last 1-2 months with a series of all-nighters. In reality, since you’re getting closer to the deadline, the least critical items of the project should be underway, not the most critical. The highest priority items should be done by now.

Adopting Agile, whether it’s Scrum, Kanban, XP, whatever, is going to expose every flaw in your organization’s ability to consistently and predictably deliver a working product. The product and dev teams will feel more scrutiny and the management team will begin to realize that there’s a rather large gap between what they want to accomplish and what the organization is currently capable of. Everybody is going to be pissed. And that’s why this is cathartic – you begin to understand that executing a waterfall project is “working harder” and an Agile project is “working smarter.” The management teams also begin to understand that telling the teams what day a project is due is not a prescription for enabling them to actually hit that date.

My wife, @IamAgile, and I have discussed this numerous times. Give the adoption one year. Follow the Agile principles exactly, don’t try to adjust them to the organization before you fully understand them. After you’ve made it through a full year, then try to tinker with them. She’s been leading Agile for more than three years and recently had a development team want to cut out the Morning Standups in favor of meeting 2-3 times a week. After the first week they realized that they had not idea what each other was doing and they were in complete disarray. The daily Morning Standups went back in place immediately. Only after you’ve lived the discipline for a while to you really begin to understand when you’re going off course with changes to the process. Stick with it for a single year, get through the pain. Because on the other side is a very disciplined, predictable, reliable organization.

St Pete Open Coffee

I’ve recently started St Pete Open Coffee which meets weekly at Kahwa on 204 2nd S in downtown. Why? Because I’m sick of hearing people say “I didn’t know that was going on or I would Thank you!have come.”  Who knew that BitPay was in downtown St Pete? How about Squaremouth, one of the fastest growing travel insurance comparison websites and recently voted as one of the top 20 places to work in Florida? That’s here. Iron Yard is here too.

St Pete Open Coffee is a consistent place and time where developers and entrepreneurs can bump into each other and learn about what’s going on in St Pete. Think of it as Steve Jobs’ concept of “unplanned collaborations,” how people unexpectedly ran into each other that they hadn’t seen for months, and the often dramatic creative output that resulted. Now apply that specifically to developers and entrepreneurs and you’ll understand the concept behind St Pete Open Coffee.  The real Open Coffee Club went a bit further but this is early stage and maybe we get there, maybe we don’t. But it wants to get started.


Tour of New Zealand! (Auckland)

As luck hard work would have it, @IamAgile sits on the Board of Directors for Agile Alliance for 2015-2018. This years New Zealandboard meeting was in Wellington, New Zealand – definitely one of the most beautiful and diverse countries I’ve visited. The food is all organic, there’s a thriving craft beer community (that knows all about Cigar City Brewing!) and scenes like this one are everywhere. Our tour started when we landed in Auckland and immediately took a downturn. The “Mini” we were supposed to get from the rental car company was actually a “mini” car. A Hyundai Getz with a rockin’ 93 bhp engine, water in the door, right hand drive, and two cubic feet of storage for our 20 cubic feet of luggage. I’ll be blunt, this thing was a piece of shit. And it made the trip all the more memorable and interesting, mainly because NZ (N-zed) is rather hilly.

Auckland itself was beautiful, reminded us a lot of our visit with @MissDestructo and @nbrown10 at the end of last year. The port city had several good bars and… well, a lot of wind. We barely got one day in the city before we headed for Hamilton and Hobbitown.

Tour of Italy!

photo-1415302199888-384f752645d0For @iamagile‘s and my honeymoon we finally got to hit Italy. We’ve both travelled extensively for our careers in Asia, Europe and Australia but never got to see Italy. For almost three weeks we visited Florence, Venice and Rome. First impressions? The art history here is unbelievably deep and wide. Venice is not a place to go drinking heavily after dinner. Sidewalks end abruptly in the canals with no warning. The people? Extremely friendly and helpful. Food? The further off the main streets you get the better, and less expensive, the food gets and the chianti is plentiful everywhere. The only part that got under my skin is a little bit is when I ordered a large beer (about 2 pints.) The response I invariably got was “You want an American size beer. Ok.” After a couple of these experiences I eventually started responding with “No, I want an Irish sized beer. Thank you.” Go back again? Sure, I’d just avoid Rome. A little dirty, people were ambivalent, food was pretty marginal. But the Vatican and surrounding architecture were absolutely incredible and you could spend at least three days in line waiting to get into the Vatican Museum. If you’re up for that sort of experience, be my guest – I’ll stick with Florence, Venice, and if I can trick @iamagile into it, Modena. I’ll just say it’s on the way to Milan.

Writing Software Isn’t Like Building a House

So please stop with the analogy. Writing software is like writing music. Even the most gifted of composers can struggle for days, weeks, or months to get movements to work together. Equating writing software to GOMY9CQSvmjKLxigsfxg_Atticputting PVC pipes together or framing a room is idiotic. I’ve lost track of how many exec’s have said “How hard can it be to get software to do this…?” Well, for starters, go write Hendel’s Messiah from memory. No? Try Beethoven’s Minueto Allegro Molto e Vivace. Because that’s what you’re asking for every time you want a custom piece of software written. Ok, maybe not that hard, but just try writing Chopsticks from memory and you’ll see what I mean. This is not that simple. This is hard, detailed work that requires focus and mastery of the most obscure details. And most of all it requires time. Time to think, to solve, to test (to listen to) again and again until it’s right. If you want it fast then you want it wrong. If you want it right then it takes time.


last_dragonThis post is a little different. It’s about earning self-respect. Respect from others comes from winning or being honest even when it runs against your best interests. Self-respect is earned from winning over yourself. It comes from honest introspection, recognizing your own dragons. And then slaying their asses.

This week my wife called me a ‘chronic procrastinator’ and in a sense, she’s right. I put off the shitty tasks and do the fun stuff. The brain challenging, can I figure this stuff out kind of work. The mundane, every day, boring, administrivia crap? Nope, not for me. But if you let the administrivia go long enough, you’ll die under the weight of the un-done. How did I beat it? I discovered a little book called One Small Step Can Change Your Life. The premise of the book is that your brain puts up defense mechanisms to protect you from pain. Ok, I can definitely relate to that. Unfortunately, there comes a time when the pain of not having it done overwhelms the pain of not doing it.  Then you have to put in the Herculean effort of putting all the fun stuff aside and knocking it out. Taxes are the obvious one. Going to the damn dentist is another. But there’s a trick to all of this that the book points out. Take the big-hairy-I-don’t-want-to-do-it-thing and break it down into the most minuscule of tasks. I’ll take an example we’re all familiar with: writing a term paper. For me, I wrote these the night before it was due. What I turned in sucked and was just enough to get me at the top of the class. But it was excruciatingly painful. Today I do a lot of systems analysis, a lot of research and detail work. Fun? Nope. So what I do is break it down into tiny, insignificant tasks. My brain doesn’t throw up the warning signs saying it’s going to be painful to pull this together and instead, does each tiny task. The result? Great work, delivered early. Essentially what I do it look at what needs to be delivered, decide f it requires A, B, or C level work and then break the deliverable into sub-tasks accordingly. The higher the grade of work, the more sub-tasks I create. If it’s C level work, I create a handful of quick, easily completed tasks and get that shit off my plate. If it’s A level work, I create a lot (a shit-ton actually) of low-level tasks and prioritize them. Understand a client’s systems? Identify the players and their roles, talk to them, get their perspective, take notes. From there you may come up with 150-200 follow up items. But the secret here is that each of those are miniscule. Make a call, talk about X, write down Y. All stuff that doesn’t trigger your brain into thinking that the thing you’re working on is a damn mountain. Before you know it, you’re at item 200 and you’re done. It’s ridiculously easy. Every time you catch yourself starting to procrastinate on a particular task, it’s because you’re working on to many itms all at once and you’re not thinking small enough. Break it down more. Spend an hour each morning making the smallest, most innocuous tasks imaginable. If you’re a “chronic procrastinator” you’ll have this dragon beaten before you know it. And well before your brain can throw up a barrier for you.

For me, this was my last real dragon to conquer.


One of the things I picked up when I worked in North Carolina was a love of barbecue. Over the past couple of months

After 12 hours...

I’ve been picking up a Boston butt when I see one with a good fat cap and putting going low and slow with it. It’s turning out so well that we no longer go out for barbecue. It’s provided a good distraction from everything else that’s been going on over the past year. Breaks are needed. New (or in this case, old) experiences are needed. And sometimes it’s just for fun. Maybe a little healthy competition now and then too. But for right now, it’s breakfast.

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