The Land of the Rising Lid

Recently I was asked for a holiday recommendation, to which I unhesitatingly responded: Asia. ”Ooh, nah, it’s hot and dirty there” was the reaction.

Our recent experiences in Japan proved the exact opposite. The first thing that strikes you as you speed into Tokyo on the high-speed train is how clean the place is. Crowded, yes, what do you expect if you cram 38 million into a city? But the houses are spotless and well-tended, no graffiti is to be seen, and the streets free of litter, chewing gum and dog souvenirs. They say they had to remove all the litter-bins after the sarin attack on the underground, but that alone cannot explain such cleanliness.

Continue reading “The Land of the Rising Lid”

Bear Truth

When I was in Canada one guide gave us an important piece of advice about bears: “Black bite, brown down”. In other words, black bears can be intimidated (unless they’re with their young or cornered), so make lots of noise to repulse them. All you can do with brown – or grizzly – bears is make yourself as small as possible on the ground and pray they may lose interest. Good advice for the workplace? Not all of us are bear whisperers.

Big Brother is alive and living in Canada

…or how I learned to stop worrying and love Big Data.

For the last couple of years I have been dabbling with genealogy. My family in England has always been convinced we were related to Jack Cornwell, a 16-year-old Naval recruit who died a heroic death at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. My mother was German so I was curious about that side of me too. Most of my relatives are dead, so I had just a few recollections of family anecdotes and a handful of old photographs to start with.

Internet to the rescue! Mormons in Salt Lake City, whose mission in life is to find salvation for their forefathers by genealogical research and ordinances performed by proxy for them, run several online sites to help you “discover your family’s story.”  The story goes that before and after the Second World War dozens of Mormon researchers photographed and transcribed huge numbers of church and public records in Europe long before anyone had thoughts about data security. There are now millions of records on their databases.

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The Christmas Project

Last Christmas you might have noticed no one under 20 talked about Christmas any more, just Xmas, so I suppose we Harlequins ought to accept the paradigm shift and refer to the X-Man instead of Santa! As Xmas 2018 is rushing towards us it is high time to get down to Christmas, sorry, Xmas preparation Sprint Planning, and to post a few pre-Xmas tweets. A few likes on Facebook for our favourite Christmas songs will put us in the right Xmas groove and optimise our click level.

The beginning – Xmas Kick-Off

The kick-off meeting for the first sprint (aka first Sunday of Advent) was already held at the end of November. As a result the first come-together of the SCRUM teams which was facilitated by the Xmas Product Owner and one of X Man’s elves as SCRUM Master, had to be held via video link.

Then we moved an agile kick-off to an earlier slot in which we discuss the roles, objectives and ideas for presents discussed and determined in workshops. In this way we shall establish clear roles and responsibilities, a Christmassy performance and optimised present allocations.

Santa Claus/X-Man as the Xmas Product Owner will in future consist of max. 4 weekly sprints, and is planning a PMI certification for agile Xmas Planning. An essential element of this will be regular visits to the Christmas Market (Xmas Stand-Up) to review user stories and groom the backlog/hangover.

Xmas Stand-Up – optionally without alcohol

These meetings will also serve to keep team performance at an optimum level, as well as secure the vulnerable interfaces with the local mulled wine producers. With an eye to globalisation the Christmas Market will also be accessible via the Internet as virtual reality. The accompanying imbibing of virtual mulled wine and virtual Xmas cookies is low in calories and has no impact on your driving abilities. In this way valued partners – virtual service providers (angels, elves and reindeer) will at last be integrated. A whole bundle of incentives and change agent-led team-building events in various virtual locations have been designed to enhance motivation levels and simultaneously help to foster the Christian Corporate Culture within the Xmas Identity.

The proposal to allocate a personal coach to each angel has been provisionally shelved due to budgetary considerations. Instead it was proposed on a Kanban-Board that we should set up a pilot project for an Xmas Facebook account for spontaneous Christmas wishes – a complementary Twitter channel is also in planning.

MIST helps gift planning

Our sophisticated Management Information System (MIST) has enabled benchmark-oriented best-of-breed controlling for gift planning. A burn-down chart consisting of advent wreath and calendar serves to visualise performance data with completed and outstanding work.

Regularly changing chocolate deliverables in addition serve as giveaways and accompanying marketing initiatives. We reached a surprising consensus in the WhatsApp group on our new Mission Statement: “Driving Home for Xmas” will replace the previous”Merry Christmas”. In view of the threat of diesel bans in towns a courageous move.

X-Man (formerly known as Father Christmas) originally had doubts about the historical Corporate Design. After intensive review of corporate learnings (Xmas hit lists of the last 20 years) he finally accepted this loyal step and thus acknowledged the impressive creativity of his elves and harlequins.

Buffers or the Fear for the Unknown

Isn’t  it interesting that in the second decade of the 21st century after yet another CHAOS Report tells us that only 21% of reviewed projects deliver the agreed scope on time and in budget that many of us still cling to the illusion that accurate estimation is merely a question of training, practice and discipline? What amazes me is that I know a handful of people who can consistently correctly guess how long a project will take.

Most of us mortals regard projects as an adventure into the unknown. At the beginning of the journey you have scant information about what you have to deliver and then your sponsor has the nerve to ask you exactly how long it’ll take or imposes an unrealistic deadline.

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Are Business Requirements Modern Alchemy?

In the Middle Ages Alchemists were often regarded as charlatans or fanatics who were convinced they could change iron into gold. I hope that the comparison with Business Analysts is not accurate. I have to confess as a methodologist I once belonged to the second group, torturing poor subject matter experts for hours with my methodical stringency in the search for the holy grail of the “Truth” of the requirements.

Recently I was training a group of Business Analysts at a global bank. Proudly they informed me that all their projects were now “agile”. As we went through various elicitation techniques I realised that few of the participants had any experience of Use Cases, Scenarios or even with Data or Process Modelling. Instead they showed considerable proficiency in analysing code or listing User Stories.

Where has all the methodology gone? Continue reading “Are Business Requirements Modern Alchemy?”

Project management in internal Projects – a Survival Guide

I was pleased a while ago when I read Oliver F. Lehmann’s proposed project typology. He included a number of characteristics of internal projects that I recognised. As an external consultant I regularly experience that companies behave quite differently when their own employees are allocated to internal projects, particularly in business departments.  “Just do it,“ seems to describe it nicely.

In customer projects there is at least an attempt to adhere to a particular methodology, as in the end there is a price tag on the endeavour. Internally, however, it is often hard to identify a clear owner or sponsor. You do have lots of stakeholders that do not agree about the project’s objectives or its requirements. Scope is described vaguely at the start so the project lead, who can feel lucky if he or she was privileged enough to enjoy a two-day crash course in project management, discovers there is no clear framework for his/her work and has to improvise. Worse still if he/she and their “team” will only be working part-time on this project. There are after all more projects, tasks and other (often unspoken) priorities. Continue reading “Project management in internal Projects – a Survival Guide”

Outsourcing or Hollowing Out

Thanks to the likes of General Motors, Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 80’s transferring internal or public services to external contractors has been regarded as progressive and above all cost-saving. Anything that does not belong to the core business is regarded as ballast that would be better in the hands of “specialists” who are reputedly cheaper and deliver better quality. It sounds temptingly logical, especially when senior management has a focus on short-term profits.

In the meantime business finds itself in a tricky spot: there are repeated reports of glitches and outages, poor quality and almost extortionate dependency. Spontaneous “insourcing” is then practised to minimise the damage, but it is often a doubtful quick fix. Continue reading “Outsourcing or Hollowing Out”