Delivering Value With The Kids

April 27, 2012
“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
1st principle, Agile Manifesto

No, I’m not selling the kids to the circus…yet. Actually, my wife is out of town, so I get the kids for the weekend. Aside from making it the usual “Dad weekend” with all the pizza and cake you can eat, I’ve been trying to think of some ways to share this whole “delivering value” lesson with them. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

  1. Teach the children to cheat on their math homework using the Ruby interpreter
  2. Teach kids to play blackjack or 5 card stud
  3. Take kids to the horse races and show them how to place a bet
  4. Have them make my stock picks – if the numbers are up, they get desert

They are going to have a blast! I’m just getting started. It’s going to be  great weekend!

Of course what I’m doing is playing with the idea of value. Are there bad values? Is there value that we deliver that has a negative effect on our customers? How does that affect our ability to deliver?

Feeding the Value Machine

April 26, 2012

In my effort to explore living the first principle of the Agile Manifesto this week I have found myself asking the question, “How can I provide value for you?” Of course that presumes I have something useful to offer. So if I take a brief inventory of useful or valuable stuff I know, here is what I come up with:

  • Software Development knowledge & experience (programming, practices, etc.)
  • Team building (facilitation, training, negotiation, games, & other soft skills)
  • Sailing knowledge & experience
  • Boat building
  • Wood working
  • etc.

All of it has some component of knowledge and learning associated with it. I had an interest in these things and took the time to learn more about these topics and perhaps more importantly gain experience with the subjects I was passionate about. Could it be that this is the pool of value that I have to offer? If so, then an important activity here is growing that pool of useful knowledge, experience (or value). It doesn’t just happen by itself. We have to make a conscious investment in these activities in order to improve our knowledge (and the corresponding value proposition).

That means that not only do I need to  be asking how I can add value, but I also need to invest some of my time investing in growing or maturing the value that I’m able to provide. If we take a look at the first principle from the Manifesto Again:

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

Let’s face it, continuously providing value is a daunting task. It seems almost impossible at the individual level. Part of providing that value is going to be continuously nurturing the capability within ourselves. How can we do that?

  • Read books
  • Get out there and try out our ideas (experience)
  • Share the ideas with others
  • Expand the variety of activities we engage in

All of these actions will help to nurture the value that you may offer. In order to be providing lots of value you need to “feed the machine” and seek ways to improve or grow the value that you offer.

Shut Up and Focus

April 25, 2012

So I learned a few more things about creating value today, especially with regard to creating value with training.

First, as a trainer I’m not always creating value when I’m talking. In fact, I may actually be discouraging much more valuable input from someone else by dominating the conversation myself. So sometimes there is more value in knowing when to shut up and listen.

Shutting up is hard for me, not only because I simply adore the sound of my own voice (Me, me, me!), but also because the people attending the training want you to give them the answer. When you ask a question and then clam up, the increase in pressure in the room is almost tangible. Of course the real value in the training is when they come to a realization on their own. Then they are much more likely to retain that knowledge. That means you have to be able to ask them to work out the problem without you telling them the answer. It sounds trivial, but it can be excruciating to live in those anxious moments of silence that exist between the end of the question and the first tentative answer.

Summary: there is value in silence.

Second, focus enhances value. So today we used a timer when we did our training. The two of us each had a seven minute time limit on any given topic before we had to hand off to the other trainer. We kept this up for nearly eight hours (with some breaks). Having a deadline serves to focus the mind and accelerate the delivery of value. We were right on topic and right on time all day long. Whereas the previous day we had tended to drift off topic occasionally, now we were much more focused on making point, sharing an idea or delivering an exercise.

Another benefit of the short timeframe (also related to focus) was that we didn’t have much time to drift or daydream. You got seven minutes off while the other trainer was working with the class, but you had better be paying attention, because you were guaranteed to be back in the hot seat in just a couple of minutes. There was no time for distractions. The overall feedback from the class was that they liked the change.

Summary: focus enhances value.

Finally, we added a “yellow card” system where the members of the class could flag a topic as dragging on too long or less useful. This gave them a way to give us feedback about the value that they were getting out of the class in real time.

Summary: continuous delivery of value works best when there is a mechanism for feedback from the customer.

Value Creation is a Dialog

April 25, 2012

Day two of trying to live the first principle of the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto (“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”). So far so good. I spent much of the day co-training a class. It was a unique training because we asked the attendees to pick the topics that were most valuable to them, prioritize them, then taught the material. Finally we finished up with periodic retrospectives throughout the day. It seemed fairly obvious that this was a great example of asking the customer what they value, delivering the value, then checking to see if they thought it was really useful. After an entire rather exhausting day of this, it occurs to me that continuously providing value is actually a dialog (or perhaps an ongoing experiment) that works like this

  1. Ask what value you can provide
  2. Attempt to provide that value
  3. Ask the customer if they got the expected value
  4. Adjust and repeat

I think that value cycle lies at the heart of a lot of Agile processes. You see this in the sprint reviews and retrospectives on projects. It really is the PDCA cycle all over again. But speaking for myself, I think I’m going to have to modify my approach this week. Here’s a sample:

  • Ask friend: How can I provide value
  • Friend: Buy me a beer
  • Beer provided
  • Ask friend: So, how’s that beer?
  • Friend: Excellent! Too warm! Too foamy! bitter, etc.

Value delivered.

Early Continuous Delivery of Value

April 23, 2012

This is the first week of my experiment to try and live each of the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto. It’s day one of the first week, principle #1:

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

So what does that actually mean? Right now I don’t have any plans to go out and write valuable software every day. That could change, but it looks like this may take some rethinking on my part. So how can I live by this principle in a meaningful way? There are a few questions that arose for me as I considered this principle. First, who is the customer? In my case there are many possible candidates for the customer:

  • My Family
  • My Team
  • The Folks Who Read My Blog (both of you)
  • My Friends

That’s actually not such a bad list. The big question is what do they really value? If I intend to deliver value for these folks early and often, then I better figure out what they want. As I pondered that thought I realized that I was going to have to ask a lot of questions. So, with more than a little trepidation I spent my day asking the question, “How can I add value for you?” As you’ll see, results were mixed:

  • My wife: “Don’t ever wake me up to ask that question again. And put on a pot of coffee.” Done and done! This is going to be easier than I thought!
  • My kids: “What’s value? You mean like candy? And TV? Can I have an American Girl doll?” No, no, no. This is not going well. I’ll write you a nice story kid.
  • The folks who read my blog: So what represents value in this blog? I presume it has something to do with the writing. Maybe I can do more of that?
  • My team: Oh boy…I’ve got a lot more questions to ask
  • My friends: “You add value when you buy the beer.” OK, point taken.

You know, this sort of inquiry could easily lead you to the conclusion that most customers have no idea what value is. It seems as though this is going to require some of my own vision of what providing value is. Otherwise I will end up chasing my own tail in short order. Maybe I just need to focus?

All of this running around asking people questions seems to lead to a very external sort of mindset. I spent much of my day concerned with what was valuable to others rather than what was valuable to me. It was a curious sort of re-orientation that took place. Of course it is just day one. The good news: so far no one has asked me to deliver software. But the next challenge is perhaps more daunting, “How do I deliver value early and continuously to my customers” Identifying the value is only the first step. Now I have to figure out how to deliver value – a LOT of value. Fast.

Assessing Impediment Cost

March 29, 2010

If you are trying to resolve a particularly difficult impediment, try calculating the cost of the impediment to the team/customer. Often putting the damage into dollars and cents will help translate the problem into something that business stakeholders understand and respect, namely profit and loss.

I have a cost column in the spreadsheet that I use for tracking team impediments. I can’t always fill it in with a number (which is usually a signal to me that I need to better understand the issue), but when I can associate a cost with the impediment, I find it much easier to garner attention to the issue from executives and other key project stakeholders.

In fact, if you grab your dusty old copy of Kerzner, you will find an entire chapter on assessing the costs of risks and using it for decision making (Monitoring and Controlling Risks). We can incorporate this work into impediment management for agile teams.

The fact is, meaningful impediments cost your project, your company, and your customers money. Impediments are a threat to a team’s ability to rapidly deliver value. You could probably put it into an equation:

Stories – Impediments = Customer Value