The fairy tale of predictability

Once upon a time there was a great king who had ruled his country for many years. He also had a beautiful daughter, who grew up with frogs and dwarves, but that is completely irrelevant to this story.

The king had learned to protect his kingdom successfully against invaders and raids and had fought many a battle. He had a big, strong army, so nobody dared to attack; there was peace in his country for a long time. 

But more and more travellers reported incredible changes in other parts of the world.  Previously unknown kingdoms rose rapidly, while others disappeared into insignificance at the same speed.

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“First they ignore you, then…”

Do you know what happens next? This: “…they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.”(1) A sentence often quoted by politicians, the weight of which is increased by the reference to Gandhi and with which you can always make an impression. Thus the populist politician Frauke Petry felt inclined to twitter this quote on 24.09.2017 to the result of the Bundestag election. Hmm…. But actually people say it didn’t come from Gandhi himself but from the US-American trade unionist Nicholas Klein a good 100 years ago.

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You can stay the way you are! – ?

The trainer has organized a transfer exercise in the seminar so that the participating manager can translate what he or she has heard and said to his or her working environment. Unfortunately, this transfer does not always work to everyone’s satisfaction. The manager takes it upon himself to change special points in his own behaviour, to organise himself more efficiently or to introduce new methods. But this often does not work as ideally conceived in the seminar. Then the environment was often “to blame”, which hindered  the application of new approaches. But that is only half the story.

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Riding a dead horse

According to Wikipedia, Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution is “a word creation originating from a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, which promotes the computerisation of manufacturing.” Is this now the panacea for all the problems of the manufacturing industry? Is it enough to network a factory?

An industrial revolution is characterised by the fact that it brings about fundamental changes in all areas of social life and thereby changes and reorganises the economy. But a few more sensors, some big data here and a pinch of cloud services there are not enough. It’s about more than integrating planning, production and resources. Many companies have to ask themselves whether their business model will still function at all in the future in the environment of new technical developments and social changes.

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Beschuitjes met muisjes

New frontier experiences on my gastronomic journey through the Netherlands

When a baby is born, this happy event is of course duly celebrated, and in Germany there are numerous possibilities for this. In my homeland, the Ruhr area, where things tend traditionally to be rather robust, fathers often buy a round in the pub and let “the baby pee”. I’ve also heard of the grandmothers’ huge cake creations, but I don’t know of any nationwide tradition of celebrating the arrival of a baby across state borders.

In the Netherlands it’s different: in the whole country when the baby is born, there is almost the same culinary variant to which people are invited -beschuitjes with muisjes. “What’s that?” – you will ask yourself.

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Kartoffelklöße, Flädlesuppe and Soleier (aka potato dumplings, pancake soup and soused eggs)

On unsettling Dutch experiences of the culinary kind in Germany

Fairness obliges me in the second part of my series on the differences between Dutch and German food, to give the Dutch their chance to marvel at the peculiarities of the German cuisine.  In my experience this mostly occurs with regional specialities. 

When my husband first set eyes on potato dumplings he asked why anyone would want to grate something as perfect and tasty as a potato into a sort of dough only then to shape it back into something that looked like a potato! He thought that was completely inefficient – and I have to admit he is not absolutely wrong.

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Croquettes und Bitter Balls

After the appearance of my article “Food – a Test of Courage” I was asked by German travellers to the Netherlands to go into more detail on the peculiarities of the Dutch cuisine. Some of the host country’s culinary offerings are very confusing for German guests.

That applies the other way around too, of course. My Dutch husband, who, like all honest people who don’t like cooking, rarely gripes about the food prepared by others, once said quite horrified: “Well, I just don’t understand the German health department ever allowing this!” The subject of this comment at the time was potato dumplings – but more on this in the second part.

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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.

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