December 31, 2013

Setting your new year goals with agile - Happy Agile New Year!!

The last few weeks of the year are already upon us. The end of the year, for many also means a time for a resolution and setting new year’s goals. Let’s reflect on how some basic Agile principles and tools can help us set and achieve our new year’s goals and keeping our resolutions.

December 29, 2013

Change is the new habit – Personal Coaching with Agile

Shirly Ronen Harel and Avi Naparstek

Something is happening for several years now in the high–tech industry. An evolution called Agile. Agile is a working approach that entered the high-tech world in around 2001. It entered into the day to day activities of the industry employees and introduced an agenda of working with simple tools that leverage their natural abilities, empowering them and giving them motivation to continue to grow. Tools that have inspired, directed action that brings quality results. One of the growth engines of this change is the ‘Agile coaching’ that Tangent to the life coaching, professional coaching, business coaching or in fact any other coaching method that leads to growth. 

One of the biggest problems in high-tech is the astronomical cost - each project is costing a fortune, every delay costs money and risking on losing potential customers or business opportunities - sometimes bungling of such an opportunity could cause the Company to fade completely.

"The need to develop study habits and adapt to changes is the root of many coaching methods - if it is that the programmer needs to deal with new operating systems, or a parent that has to deal with changes in the needs of his children"

In addition, the pace of technological change is one of the highest ever for the history of the industry - techniques and methods which we experts only a year ago may no longer justify themselves today.  There is a constant need for learning new things, standing at the forefront in technology and business. You cannot even wait a few months to produce your products, you need to work fast. You need to get use to change, and not just get used to it, in order to survive in this industry you should embrace change as a way of life, as your new reality. Customers are not waiting; they change their minds because their reality changes as well. Manufacturers must recognize that and develop methods to get used to the change.

One of the things we're working on in agile coaching is reducing these risks and teaching the agile teams’ new ways to respond quickly to change, Improve and internalize practices that change rapidly. The pace of change in the world is only growing. We'd better get used to it!

The need to develop study habits and adapt to changes is the root of many coaching process - if it is the programmer that needs to deal with new operating systems, or a parent that has to deal with changes in the needs of his children and his role as a parent, or if we need to take on a diet, quitting smoking, changing business dealing and so on.
Change and the human need to deal with, is universal.  As coaches we all recognize this need, particularly the difficulty that our coachees , learn and understand what they need to change , and mostly the need to preserve this change, so it will not dissipate within a week and a month, but will become a habit of a new life. Which is exactly what agile coaching does - helping coachees to change old habits effectively and quickly, to leave the comfort zone and make a habit of dealing with the new change.

So what can we learn from agile that can be related to personal coaching? Among other things:

●  Create constant Heartbeat Or constant pulse -  Agile teaches us to produce a pulse of constant action - setting objectives, walking towards the goal immediately, collecting feedback from the environment and learn from them and setting a new destination. And back again, creating a uniform and constant ‘doing and reflecting’ rhythm. This type of “Rotation" (of placing a goal – moving toward the goal – collecting feedback - and a setting new target) is usually set to be from 1 week to four weeks, while the tasks are relatively small - sometimes the whole process takes an hour or even a few minutes.

The 'secret' that enables persistence over time is to maintain a constant Heartbeat. A team that finds that it work for them with the rhythm of the round of every two weeks, would be good if they continue with the exact same rhythm over time.  The team should not be tempted to "change the pace" - even if there is pressure to finish something just in a week and a half. Using Agile We have learned that changing the rhythm of things is like changes in a human heart rate – the price we pay in the long term is greater than the immediate shock that we may make.

 Visibility - Is key . Things happen when you see them. We will visualize all that stands in front of us and we will manage it. In some cases we will place big whiteboards and sticky notes that will symbolize the road a head and the goals we see and though create full transparency for ourselves and our friends to the journey.

Using agile teaches how to reflect clearly in a way that cannot be ignored-(processes, mindsets, priorities, problems and solutions)  . Using big visual boards) Information Radiators) Has become commonplace in agile teams. You will not find them looking at a computer screen, looking for a file with a list of tasks, but standing together in front of a huge board on the wall, where you see the tasks, failures, obstacles, strengths of the team and their shared vision.  The entire team related information is large and clear for all to see, in an atmosphere of trust, mutual support and joint motivation for action (Team Spirit).
In Agile personal coaching we use similar tools to help the coachee manage the process of his transformation. Using the board’s visibility allows the change to become a sustainable habit over time.

●   Kaizen - Routine of continuous improvement - The idea of continuous improvement is first of all, do it all the time, and in small doses. It is particularly effective when adapting a routine or (the way we like to call it) a pulse, which we examine our doing all time.
Agile holds a structured processes called Retrospective- This is an hour of  "coaching session", held once a week / two weeks (depending on the rhythm of the team), the session is run by a coach (or by a Scrum Master). The purpose of the meeting is to allow the team - together -to define goals and objectives of improvement – related to the process of their work, interpersonal conduct, dealing with obstacles and problems, and basically anything they see as contributing to or interferes with their effective conduct together as a team.
In agile Personal coaching we also employ similar methods to create a pulse of progress, improvement and problem solving in the coachee. Make the improvement itself - a habit for life

●  Value Focus- Value as a motivator in order for me to be able to recognize the value generated for my own benefit, its best that I will embrace an approach of which I think of myself as a customer that his money is important to him and his quality requirements are high, and also think about myself as a provider, and provide myself the best service I can.

A very important agile principle is placing myself in my client's shoes (as a product manager or as someone that is responsible in any way to provide a service). This allows us to think like a customer and make decisions - sometimes not easy decisions – that will ultimately serve the customer, and will allow us to deal better with pressures directed against us from management, other stakeholders, and most importantly - ourselves.  Agile developed structured tools and techniques to define customer needs from the perspective of the customer himself. Sometimes (and highly recommended to do it as a routine ) we will seek our customer real feedback.
In agile personal coaching we apply the same principle -we Identify the true value for the coachee in every decision or in any progress direction, in order to get to the bottom of it (and quickly), and realize what the coachee really want and need in life.

●  Baby Steps  - walk in small steps   - Smaller is easier to control, easier to make a mistake and easier to fix.

In our experience, Effective change and the ability to make things happen  - Better be happening gradually and Incrementally. Using Feedback Loop will allow a proper understanding of the events in the changing reality.
An agile Heartbeat (mentioned above), in small doses produces the ability to cope with changes, react to them and learn. This pulse, in small doses, creates a flow of action, and routine, but a kind of routine that creates special feeling of success. Once we get used to it, this routine will become a part of us and embrace the change as a habit.

●  I am my own organizer and director, and I learn to do it well even after the coaching is long over and not just as part of a coaching period.
The concept of self-management and self-organization Is fundamental in agile -  It enables employee empowerment, allowing him to discover and invent for himself the best way he could function.  It's not as simple as it sounds - it is necessary to create supporting frameworks and set clear boundaries. The role of the manager is turning at 180 degrees here – from a manager that decides for his employees their tasks to a manager that defines responsibilities, supports, protects workers against interference and allows them to maximize their abilities (Servant Leadership).
The principle of self-organization, decision making and taking responsibility for them and for your own actions (both over the successes and over the failures) - is also an essential part of the agile personal coaching – it’s the accountability and responsibility the coachee in the coaching process, to his own life and those around him
There is so much more to write about agile ... so much .... There is an entire infrastructure in the heart of the agile practices that ultimately enables action and constant growth,   Continuous improvement in work habits and life.

So what's next?

We wish to take the knowledge, methods and concepts of agile into the world of personal coaching – we initiated a project called Jelly – agile coaching. This is the first article in the series.

And best of all .. Do not forget to enjoy the way - it's also one of the most important agile principles. **

Shirly Ronen Harel and Avi Naparstek - both personal trainers and activists for many years in the high-tech industry. Members of the Agile Life group  Whose goal is to take the agile into other areas of life (education, art, society, etc.) and project partners Jelly - Agile coaching- designed to bring the world of agile into the  personal coaching area.


December 26, 2013

Visual Thinking With Mind-Map Apps

Mind Maps are diagrams containing a central idea with branches for related topics.  There are a million and one uses for mind mapping. So if you need to solve a problem, study for a big exam,  brainstorm, plan the next big thing, one of these Mind Mapping Apps may be just what you need.

November 24, 2013

Taking SWOT personally –self-diagnosing to successfully reach feasible personal objectives

It’s not enough to set personal goals and objectives, even if they are targeted at what I really want to reach in life. It’s also not enough to set out on our journey based only on our vision. One of the most important things is to understand what I have that will help me succeed and what I should avoid. And that is also not always enough. For most of us, it’s not easy to distinguish between our internal means and obstacles and the external, environmental powers that have potential to help us grow or get in our way. And more so, it’s important to align internal and external forces to help us get things done.

This distinction, the ability to see all the pieces of the puzzle and deduce a course of action is what the SWOT tool enables. In fact, with SWOT as a preliminary tool and some agile guidelines, achieving our personal objectives can become quite a simple task.

So what is SWOT?

SWOT is another of many tools that lets us discover our strengths and abilities. It is used by organizations around the world to asses strategic decisions, organizational capabilities, possible directions, products and more.

Let’s take a look at the SWOT definition from Wikipedia:

Strength   Weaknesses   Opportunities   Threats 

SWOT analysis aim to identify the key internal and external factors seen as important to achieving an objective. The factors come from within a company's unique value chain SWOT analysis groups key pieces of information into two main categories:
1.     Internal factors – the strengths and weaknesses internal to the organization
2.     External factors – the opportunities and threats presented by the environment external to the organization 

SWOT is not limited for use by business organizations. This wonderful tool can be used on a personal and team level as well.

So the benefits of SWOT are that it can take all the factors - internal and external, positive and negative - and use them to help us focus on a realistic plan to achieve our goals.

So let’s get started:


1. Our initial assumption is that we have a vision or end-goal we want to reach.

2. Creating the famous SWOT matrix:
Draw it on a sheet of paper, or better yet on a whiteboard - and place it somewhere that will be visible to you most of the time (maybe on the refrigerator, or on a wall in the living room, or on the billboard in your study?)

This is what it looks like:

3. Understanding: I’ll ask myself questions relating to my end-goal or vision. I’ll write the answers on post-its and stick them in the proper quadrant of my SWOT board.

The first part is questions about me - S, W

* S: Regarding my vision, what are my strengths? What makes me unique and advantageous in this event? Is it knowledge? Experience? Good physical condition, money, family support? etc...
* W: Regarding my vision, what are my weaknesses? What do I lack that I need to go forth, that originates from me? Lack of experience? Lack of knowledge? Low self-esteem? Lack of family support? etc...

The second part contains questions about my external surroundings - O, T
* O: Regarding my vision, what opportunities exist? Is there a specific job opening that just opened up? Political situation? Family? Financial? etc..
* T: regarding my vision, what threats may there be? What will hold me back? Is it starting from lower position? Income? Residents?

** it is recommended that you take those questions and get some feedback from your soundings. Show them your SWOT and ask them what they would say about you regarding these questions. I know it’s its not that easy, but true outside feedback is something very important. It gives a different point of view over the issues at stake for me. And you may be surprise how others see your strengths , weaknesses and how they related to threats that may be different from what you initially thought.

Let’s take a simple career change example as in the following image:

**few words on visibility: the probability to get things done increase when I see the things I need to do. When I see it, I can relate to it, I can relate to it more often and it will probably catch my attention more than other things around. If you really want to take SWOT from theory to action, make it visible. leave out the pen and paper and take it to the level where it is visible where you most needs to see it.

4. The analysis: Examine, ask ourselves few questions related to our vision.

·         Our goal at this stage is to understand how we can use our internal straights toward achieving our vision.
·         Furthermore, we would like to get the full picture over the situation.
·         We would like to start taking actions, set some goals as part of our journey  toward achieving our vision
·         The answers we give , should be completely subjective to us (the owner of the SWOT)

So.. let’s ask them:
·         How can I take my straights and take advantage over the opportunities in my journey toward achieving my vision?
·         What is the best way to use my straights so I can reduce the threat?
·         How can I make sure, my weaknesses will not hold me back from the opportunities ahead?
·         How can I reduce the threats and weaknesses so they will less influence me in my journey towards my vision?
·         How do I overcome threats in general
·         How do I use the opportunities, and when?

5. building the most basic building blocks for  the journey .

·         According to what we’ve learned in the previous steps, Create a list of all the tasks, goals you need to do/archive.
·         Add this list to your task board
·         Select few of the tasks to take as action in the near time frame (or sprint)

A good execution may be that we take one or two actions, examine them in our day to day reality and then go back to the SWOT and see if something has changed.

Few important guidelines for the way :

·         SWOT as presented here is not a judgmental tool. It is a personal and subjective tool therefore, it is highly important that the SWOT owner will understand his board as it reflects his own subjective reality.
·         Visibility – Make sure you see what you need to do and where you‘re at. Place the SWOT board in a location where you can relate to it frequently.
·         Since SWOT is not just a onetime evaluation tool, make sure to revisit your SWOT and change it accordingly. Did I gain some more straights? Do I have new opportunities? Did I eliminate threats? Improvement will happen when we will create the routine of continues change and continues improvement.
·         Pick your relevant execution actions according to their highest value for you. There is no need to take to action all the SWOT tasks at once.
·         Start small! Take one step at a time. Sometimes it’s enough to understand something “just enough” and start executing, instead of examining endless options and sides of the same situation. Anyway, the most important feedback will start flowing once you start executing your actions.
If you’ve taken to execute an action related to weaknesses or straights, start small. Small tasks are easy to get done, easier to get feedback, has a good impact over the feeling of success and achievement and..if you fail, you fail small.
·         There are many ways to achieve your goals and vision –SWOT is just one of them.

References and further reading

●     Humphrey, Albert (December 2005). "SWOT Analysis for Management Consulting"SRI Alumni Newsletter (SRI International).

November 03, 2013

My most effective time to get things done

My most effective time to get things done
Beyond the fact that I hold a backlog including all those tasks I need to do, I do need to get them done in the most effective and efficient way. With all other things I need to consider and plan I also need to pay attention to the timing of those tasks. After all, there are tasks that are bounded by time. For instance, what good it will do to brush my teeth and then eat a good meal just before going to bed and not the other way around? 

As part of the agile method and especially when implementing scrum, we are used to stop at the end of every sprint (iteration), look ahead and plan our coming sprint tasks. This is also a good opportunity to take a look at those tasks timing and reflect over the best time to execute them. There may be a verity of reasons to execute tasks in a specific time frame or another, after all each of us holds different goals, tasks and time considerations.

As in any new techniques, we don’t have to start using it if we have no problem executing our tasks. It really aims to those tasks that needs a special timing consideration such as :  an outstanding bunch of tasks; Tasks that require a special concentration; Tasks that holds dependencies to other tasks; Tasks that holds progress from other activities and many more…

All you have to do is:

  • Look ahead and identify those most effective time frames (according to the task time, urgency, needs, time frame limitations, priority…)

Ask yourself, what are my best weekdays to perform those tasks? What is my best time of day to perform those tasks?
It may happen that in each week there are different time and week days to perform the same tasks.
For example:
Maybe you are a morning/night person? So there are types of tasks that demand a high level of concentration that you want to perform at this time frame only.
Will it be easier to address emails at the beginning of my working day or at the end of it? Maybe both? Or maybe if I just take few thin slices of time during the day to cover the accumulating amount of emails and messages will be the best timing for this task? (BTW , the last one is my favorite)
There are tasks that weekdays and day time will enforce our timing, such as…the best time to work with my sun over his final class assignment will be the weekend.  Or , the best time to walk the dog is in the morning, otherwise…

  • The next step will be to Create visibility to those most effective hours.A task board with special time zones may be great, or tasks divided according to weekdays and more…
  • Act accordingly.
  • Make sure to retrospect over the effective and efficient of the performance of those tasks according to the time frame set. If needed, change it.
  • And as always, don’t forget to have fun.

Lets take a look at few examples I have gathered:

A father that marks Wednesdays in his calendar as the best days to spend some time with his kids. Obvious, right!?
Keep in mind that this visualization not only acts as a good reminder but also creates a level of commitment to this type of task.

The clock- the clock creates a good understanding over the time we may or may not perform a specific task. These can be used for homework tasks, play hours and more….

The following table presents a time frame where I produce the most value during the day. Therefore, I will target my tasks to these hours.
It may be that my type of work is such that I would prefer doing the ”paper work” early in the morning, and the coaching stuff, meeting and face to face communication later on intothe day when other people are around.

The following is a chart showing Light and Time of Day. What's the best time of day to go painting outdoors?

When is the right time to publish one of my blog posts?
On Sunday when no one from my American readers is on the web, or on Friday when no one of my Israeli readers is on the web?

October 28, 2013

The Retrospective Session for Everyone

It’s continues improvement aimed meeting, taken place at the end of each sprint. Helping the team to improve their performance effectives and efficiency ( We look back as a team, learning from what we did wrong and how to improve in the future. And learning from what we did well and how to recreate it.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most important sessions to take place as part of the agile rituals that lead us to continuous improvement.

Don’t skip this session!

Why ?

Because it’s a learning meeting. We Communicate our performance on a regular basis (end of each sprint) we retrospect over our performance and pick action for next sprint.

** Just before we continue , please note, I will be using the term “team” as a general reference , but, you may apply this to family members, classmates, teachers group and any other form of ‘team’ with common goals.

Why retrospective?

·         Because improvement does not come alone. Having a heart beat  of improvement sessions will take us forward.
·         Because we if want to constantly improve  we need to have this official place and time, and it goes without saying that talking about our performance is what we naturally do, Regardless our results.
·         Because continues improvement and learning can come only when we are set to reflect over our performance, effectiveness and efficiency.
·         Each team member sees things differently, if we wish to improve as a team we need to get everyone’s opinion to the context of the team.
·         Without a retrospective session, the team will probably continue to make the same mistakes all over again and the improvement items will be randomly, based on crisis and the rate of improvement will be lower than it can get.

Who attends the retrospective?

Team members only! Those who have tasks on the board. Pigs , remember?
Managers are not allowed. Why? Because it’s a self-organized team, remember ?  Because the team should be accountable for its performance, therefore accountable for the improvements.
The team will decide whether to share or not retrospective items.
The scrum master can conduct the meeting  few first times , but later on it is recommended that The team will conduct the meeting.

Things that should take place during the retrospective:

·         The retrospective is an open discussion
·         Set up goals
·         Assign tasks to goals for next sprint.

In this session, we will ask ourselves questions:

1.    What should we continue doing?
2.    What should we stop doing?
3.    What should we start doing?
Or :
What were our successes “+” , or things we wish to improve “_”

The session should take place at a time when it’s convenient to chat, in a sharing atmosphere. Each team member should feel entitled to comment and contribute to the session and to the three questions.
We sometimes encountered people who avoid this session with various excuses, such as “we don’t have time for yet another meeting”,” we don’t want to share our thoughts and feelings with others”, and so on. Team members may be afraid to share their thoughts and opinions, especially if the managers are very 'command and control', ordering team members around and managing the team tasks.

Two types of retrospective as important to mention:
·         We can have a goal oriented retrospective, which is aimed to talk about a specific issue. For example – our relationships as a team with our interfaces.
·         Or we can have what I call  as “free hand” retrospective , which is  more of an open discussion over issues bothers the team , and from there the discussion will scope over the most important issues that the team thinks needs discussion.

Setting up a retrospective session:

     Allocate about an hour of team time.
     Conduct the session when just the team members are present, especially for the first few sessions.
     Have the session where you all feel comfortable. Don’t take it outside, at least not at the first times.
     Set the ground rules: for example: everybody can talk , we are here to share our view, don’t interrupt when one team member is talking and more…

As usual, the format may vary, and you can employ more creative methods than just conversation or writing tasks down on sticky notes.  Here are few examples:

Example 1 :

     One team member will review the weekly tasks. Preferred to be the scrum master Along with the rest of the team, the scrum master will summarize the sprint: main events, achievement, outcomes.
     Each team member says, in his turn, what he thought of the sprint, what can be done better, what we should keep on doing and what we should we start doing.
     One team member needs to summarize what the team says. This shows that we are taking the session and the things the team members are saying seriously.
     Pick a few tasks (not many) for preservation, changing, or to start doing.
     Assign a team member to each task. His role will be to follow this task and make sure we discuss this task in the daily family gathering.
     All team members are committed to the retrospective tasks and outcomes.
     In each retrospective session, bring up the outcomes and progress of the previous session’s action items. You may even choose to bring up the previous tasks as something we may want to deal with in our next sprint.

Example 2:

1.    Draw three columns on a white board or piece of paper:
     Things we would like to keep on doing.
     Things we would like to stop doing.
     Things we would like to continue doing.
2.    Pass around sticky notes.
3.    Each team member writes down issues and adds them to the appropriate column. Don’t comment or criticize team members over issues they add to the board.
4.    Once all finished, the team chooses the first team member to go to the board and make his case. Explain that you should start off with the positive things.
5.    When a team member finds that another team member wrote the same thing he did, he may approach the board add his sticky note together with the one presented.
6.    When a team member start presenting the issues he thinks requires improvement, start asking questions.
7.    We now have a good overview of the issues that occupied our mind during the last sprint. We also know what are the most important issues we need to improve, as we listened to all the team members' opinions.

8.    Now, it’s possible that some issues will create a lengthy conversation. If this happens, it is best to stop the discussion, and ask the team members to talk about it after the retrospective session.
9.    After all the tasks and team members concerns are on the board, lets select the tasks for improvement, to keep or to start doing.
10.  We can move the selected tasks to our ongoing tasks board, and put the rest in the backlog. This way we make sure the improvement will be followed (during the daily meeting) and will take place.

You can perform this session in many more creative ways, as long as you remember to have :
Open discussion:

o   Remember to get into the mood of active listening. Ask questions during the session.  Don’t let slogans to stay as is, get to the root cause of what happens.
o   Visualizing and sharing your issues as a team on the board, as part of a team dialog, makes it easier to talk about issues and address them.
Set up goals

Achieving goals with agile – using Kanban and scrum with kids and at home

Why spiders can help you achieve your goals

Assign tasks to goals for next sprint.
o   Just make sure not to select too many tasks for improvement. Focus on the important ones.
o   By the way, this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. By choosing the important tasks, we find out what the other family members are thinking. We may find out that there are specific issues that bother more than one family member, and we can focus on those for improvement.

More creative retrospective sets:

Attention and techniques:

•       Don’t let this session become a status reporting meeting and then to be delivered later to managers.
•       The past looks all black and the retrospective becomes a sad or angry meeting?
•       Use future spective technique to look at the future and make things better.
•       When we delay issues to the retrospective instead of solving them on the spot.
•       Raise the issue in the retrospective and make sure to bring the message that issues can be solved outside the retrospective as well..
•       Too many problems rise in the retrospective?
•       Set priority and take issues offline to task forces.
•       Deal with one issue at a time

You can use “retrospective” session whenever you have something you want to check and improve , you don’t need wait to  have a retrospective session to make a change or improvements. All you need to know is how to talk about things.

o   Credit “agile kids book “