Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Change Artist Challenge #2: Making One Small Change

     I report a conversation with a colleague who was complaining that he had the same damn stuff in his lunch sack day after day.

     "So who makes your lunch?" I asked.

     "I do," says he.
     When I heard his response, I thought, "This is about the smallest, least difficult, safest, change I can imagine. As such, it makes a perfect test for beginning change artists, a way of "measuring" how difficult it will be for them to change anything.
     So, your next challenge will be to undertake a change project of your own, but to seek support in making this change. The purpose is to launch your career as a change artist by experiencing some of the theoretical learnings in the "real world," but in as small and safe a way as possible.

The Challenge
     Choose one small thing about yourself you want to change. Novice Change Artists tend to be too eager for their own good. If you want to eat a whole elephant, start with single bite. If you finish one change, you are free to do another, and another—so don't worry that it's too small.
     Find an interested change artist, or associate, or some willing person, meet with them and explain the change you want to make, and contract with that person for the kind of support you think you need to accomplish your change. Check with your supporter periodically to update him/her on your progress.


     Let's examine a few instructive experiences of other change artists accepting this challenge to make one small change.

1. When I have a hot idea in a meeting, instead of blurting it out, I write a little note to myself and wait a couple of minutes. I noticed that about 60% of the time, somebody else comes up with essentially the same idea. Then, when I support the innovator, the idea has a very great chance of being adopted.
     I've increased the number of my ideas that get adopted, but I'm not getting credit for them. At least not directly. But several people have told me that I've really become a leader in meetings. This was a surprise, because I thought they would consider me a leader when I had the most ideas—and they didn't. My supporter explained that I seemed more "statesmanlike," more calm and more respectful of others.

2. I take a break every hour when I'm alone, or when I'm in meetings. This was really hard to do. I didn't want to interrupt anyone, but my supporter gave me some good suggestions about how to "test the waters" before doing it in a meeting.
     To my surprise, most people welcomed the breaks, most of the time. I learned that people (including me) often don't say what they want, and this has transferred to the practice of polling groups more often to find out how they feel about what's going on in meetings.

3. I posted hours when I would be uninterruptible, and hours when I would always be available for interruptions. At first, people didn't respect these hours, as they didn't believe I would really do it. I couldn't say no to anyone, so my supporter actually came into my office from 4 to 5 one day (the busiest time) and coached me on how to dispatch people to the posted schedule. This worked pretty well for me, but it was a strain for some of them. I then realized that 4 to 5 would be a good time for drop-in time, so I changed the schedule.
        After two more schedule adjustments, the thing seems to be working. I've learned that it's impossible to plan anything perfectly if it involves other people—you have to try it out, then be prepared to adjust a couple of times.

4. I keep my wallet in a different pocket. The first time I reached for my wallet, I was in an absolute panic—I was sure I lost it.
     My supporter pointed out to me that this may be the way people feel when I change things in the system and don't tell them—even if I do tell them, because they have the habit of finding things in certain places.

5. I made a healthier lunch for myself. I learned that I don't like "healthy" food. My supporter told me that I'm too healthy anyway, and the kind of lunch I made was rather fanatic. I guess she's right.
     It made me aware that I'm a perfectionist, but that it's not in the nature of human beings to be perfect. If I eat a pickle now and then, or a cookie, the world won't come to an end. Also, of course, if my teammates make a mistake in their code from time to time, or don't design something perfectly, we'll survive.

     Here's a challenge about the challenge:
     When you accept this challenge, I'd love to read about what happened and what you learned. Hundreds of readers would like this, too. Besides, it will probably do you much good to sit down for a few minutes and recall your experience. Good writing practice, too.
     For more about Becoming a Change Artist, you can read the book and try the entire sequence of exercises.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Change Artist Challenge #1

In an earlier post, I said that in order to be more effective introducing new techniques and technology, we needed to become practitioners of the art of change, as described in the seventh volume of my Quality Software ebooks: Becoming a Change Artist. In that book, I present a series of challenges taken from our change artistry workshops. In this and subsequent posts, I plan to present each of these challenges, roughly one every week. If you take each challenge, I guarantee you will substantially increase your change artistry.

Your first challenge will be to undertake a change project of your own, of a very specific nature. The purpose is to have you experience the Satir Change Model and some of its emotional consequences.

Challenge #1
Your challenge is to go to work tomorrow in a different way.

The first experience of this assignment is what goes on in your head and heart when you first read it. Here are a few typical examples:

1. I immediately experienced panic (Chaos). What if I was late to work? I've already found the optimal way to work, because I've been driving it for four years. Suddenly, I understood exactly how it felt being in the Late Status Quo, and I knew that I would have more consideration for the people whose work I was trying to change.

2. My first thought was "impossible!" I simply could not think of a single alternative to the well-developed route I took to work. After all, there was only one bridge across the river. What was I supposed to do, swim? I decided I simply wasn't going to do it, which allowed me to relax. Then I realized that the assignment said 'in a different way,' not 'by a different route.' I hadn't even understood the foreign element, and I had rejected it.

Now consider some of the comments after doing the assignment:

3. I decided to go to work wearing a tie, which I've never done before. The reaction of other people was totally unexpected, both the number of people and their intensity. I learned how easy it is to be a foreign element, and that you can't change just one thing.

4. I went to work with a different attitude—more positive. The whole day was entirely different. It's a much better place to work than it was last week.

5. In driving by a different route, I got lost and discovered a part of the city I'd never seen before. I was late to work, but it was fun. I decided to go a different way each day, and I've been doing it now for six months. I like it.

6. I always go to work in a different way every day, so I wasn't going to do the assignment. Then I realized that a different way for me would be to go the same way. So I drove the same way every day for a week and learned a couple of things. First of all, the same way isn't the same way, if I pay attention. Second, I'm not the same every day. Some days I can't tolerate waiting for the light at 35th Street, but other days I welcome the time to reflect about things. I used this learning to reintroduce a proposal that had been rejected last month. This time they loved it.


Your next opportunity to participate in some change artist training is our Problem Solving Leadership Workshop (PSL). It takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
August 28-September 2, 2011

After that, your next opportunity will be the 11th Annual Amplifying Your Effectiveness Conference (AYE) in Cary, North Carolina, USA
Sunday, October 30 – Thursday November 3, 2011

Thursday, June 09, 2011

If you're a writer, or hope to be, please read this article:

Monday, June 06, 2011

Beyond Agile Programming

After being in the computing business now for more than half a century, one thing worries me more than almost anything else: our lack of a sense of history. In order to contribute my bit to addressing that problem, I've posted this essay—one that's sure to infuriate many of my readers, including some of my best friends. So first let me tell you how it came about.

While reformatting my book, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design for e-booking, I noticed a few places that might have needed updating to present realities. The version I was using was more than 20 years old, from just after the peak of excitement about "structured programming." In particular, there was a whole section entitled, "Beyond Structured Programming." As I contemplated updating that section, it dawned on me that I could almost update completely by substituting the name of any more recent "movement" (or fad) for the word "structured.

 I also knew how smart most of my readers are, so I figured they would see the same possibility without my updating a thing. Instead of changing the book, I decided to update the section and publish it on this blog. Why? Because I think it shows an important pattern—a script where only the names have changed over at least five decades. So, here is the section with "agile" substituted for "structured," just as "structured" had been substituted for some other fad a generation earlier.

The Restructured Essay
Before I proceed further with the task of rethinking systems analysis and design, I'd like to express myself on the subject of another great "rethinking" in programming—the agile programming revolution. Although this essay was written a generation ago (now two generation), and the agile programming "revolution" is now an exhausted fad (for most programmers), most of what this essay says still applies—though to the next rethinking fad, and the next, and the next. I believe it will still apply long after I'm no longer writing new editions. Why? Because our industry seems to require a new fad every decade to keep itself from being bored. So, just apply the lessons to whatever fad happens to be dominating the computer press at the time you're reading this.

Before anyone becomes overly enthusiastic about what the rest of this book says, I want to take stock of what this great agile rethinking has done. I don't claim to be starting a new revolution of the magnitude most of the fads claim, so I'd like people to realize how slow and how small the agile programming movement has been, in case they think this book is going to make much difference.

My own personal stock-taking on the subject of agile programming is based on visits to some forty installations on two continents over the past ten years, plus a few hundred formal and informal discussions with programmers, analysts, managers, and users during the same period. Because of the conditions under which these visits and interviews took place, I would estimate the sample is quite heavily biased toward the more progressive organizations. By "progressive," I mean those organizations more likely to:
• Send staff to courses
• Hire outside consultants, other than in panic mode
• Encourage staff to belong to professional organizations, and to attend their meetings.
Consequently, my stock-taking is likely to be rather optimistic about the scope and quality of the effects of agile programming.

The first conclusion I can draw from my data is this:
Much less has been done than the press would have you believe.
I interpret the word "press" very loosely, including such sources as:
• Enthusiastic upper management
• The trade press
• The vendors and their advertising agencies
• The universities, their public relations staffs, and their journals
• The consulting trade.
Although this may be the most controversial of my observations, it is the most easily verified. All you need do is ask for examples of agile programming—not anecdotes, but actual examples of agile behavior and agile-produced code. If you're given any examples at all, you can peruse them for evidence of following the "rules" of agile programming. Generally, you will find:

a. Five percent can he considered thoroughly agile.

b. Twenty percent can be considered to follow agile practices sufficiently to represent an improvement over the average code of 1990.

c. Fifty percent will show some evidence of some attempt to follow some "agile rules," but without understanding and with little, if any, success.

d. Twenty-five percent will show no evidence of influence by any ideas about programming (not just agile) from the past twenty years.

Please remember: these percentages apply to the code and behavior you will actually see in response to your request. If you ask software organizations at random for "agile examples," about two-thirds will manage to avoid giving you anything. We can merely speculate what they do, and what their code contains.

My second conclusion:
There are rather many conceptions of what agile programming ought to look like, all of which are reasonably equivalent if followed consistently.
The operative clause in this observation seems to be "if followed consistently." Some of these conceptions are marketed in books and/or training courses. Some are purely local to a single installation, or even to one team in an installation. Most are mixtures of some "patented" method and local adaptations.

My third observation:
Methods representing thoughtful adaptations of "patented" and "local" ideas on agile programming are far more likely to be followed consistently.
In other words, programmers seem disinclined to follow an agile methodology when it is either:
1. Blind following of "universal rules"
2. Blind devotion to the concept: anything "not invented here" must be worthless.

My fourth observation:
I have other observations to make, but now I must pause and relate the effect these observations have on many readers, perhaps including you. I recall a story about a little boy who was playing in the schoolyard rather late one evening. A teacher who had been working late noticed the boy and asked if he knew what time it was.
"I'm not sure," the boy said, "but I know it isn't six o'clock yet."
"And how do you know that?" the teacher asked.
"Because I'm supposed to be home at six, and I'm not home."
When I make my first three observations about agile programming, I have a similar reaction—something like this:
"These can't be right, because if they were right, why would there be so much attention to agile programming?"

In spite of its naive tone, the question deserves answering. The answer can serve as my fourth observation:

Agile programming has received so much attention for the following reasons:
• The need is very great for some help in programming.
• To people who don't understand programming at all, it seems chaotic, so the term "agile" sounds awfully promising.

• The approach actually works, when it is successfully applied, so there are many people willing to give testimonials, even though their percentages among all programmers may not be great.

• The computer business has always been driven by marketing forces, and marketing forces are paid to be optimistic, and not to distinguish between an idea and its practical realization.

In other words, the phrase "agile programming" is similar to the phrase"our latest computer," because each phrase can be used interchangeably in statements such as these:

• "If you are having problems in information processing, you can solve them by installing our latest computer."

• "Our latest computer is more cost effective and easier to use."

• "Your people will love our latest computer, although you won't need so many people once our latest computer has been installed."

• Conversion? No problem! With our latest computer, you'll start to realize savings in a few weeks, at most."

So actually, the whole agile programming pitch was pre-adapted for the ease of professionals, who have always believed "problems" had "solutions" which could be mechanically applied.

My final observation is related to all of the others:
Those installations and individuals who have successfully realized the promised benefits of agile programming tend to be the ones who don't buy the typical hardware or software pitch, but who listen to the pitch and extract what they decide they need for solving their problems. They do their own thinking, which includes using the thoughts of others, if they're applicable. By and large, they were the most successful problem solvers before agile programming, and are now even more successful.

There's yet another lesson in all this that's much bigger than agile programming or any new hardware or software or process:

Our profession contains few, if any, easy solutions. Success in problem solving comes to those who don't put much faith in the latest "magic," but who are willing to try ideas out for themselves, even when those ideas are presented in a carnival of public relations blather.
Based on this lesson, I'd like to propose a new "programming religion," a religion based on the following articles of faith:

• There's no consistent substitute for a thorough understanding of your problem, though sometimes people get lucky.

• There's no solution applicable to every problem, and what may be the best approach in one circumstance may be precisely the worst in another.

• There are many useful approaches applicable to more than one problem, so it pays to become familiar with what has worked before.

• The trick to problem solving is not just "know-how," but "know-when"—which lets you adapt the solution method to the problem, and not vice versa.

• No matter how much you know how or know when, some problems won't yield to present knowledge, and some aspects of the problem nobody currently understands, so humility is always in order.

I realize writing a book is not the most humble thing a person can do, but it's what I do best, and how I earn my living. I'd be embarrassed if anyone took this book too seriously. We don't need another "movement" just now, unless it is something analogous to a bowel movement—something to flush our system clean of waste material we've accumulated over the years.

Where to read the original
If you want to check on my historical work, you can find the original essay (and many others) in Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design, which is an ebook on Smashwords (where you can probably see it in the free sample) and Kindle and Barnes and Noble.

Problem-Solving Leadership Workshop
Reminder: The second (and last) PSL Workshop for 2011 will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, August 28-September 2, 2011. Only a few places left for participants, so for more information, see <>