Tag Archives: hierarchical

Tooling-up for agile state-transition

This post started out in life as an answer to a question about ‘backlog tooling’ on the LinkedIn ‘Lean & Agile’ group. Someone had given the culturally acceptable answer that the best solution is simple cards or post-it notes on a board or wall. I normally just let that pass because I don’t have a better solution to offer but this time, THIS happened:

I’m about to be intentionally provocative. We know that we are engaged in transforming a multidimensional network of business functions from one poorly understood and transient state to another, currently ill-defined, future state that we hope will emerge from the mist as we travel in it’s general direction. In organisations of any size, this change process is likely to run in parallel with other change programmes, some of them probably deliberately kept secret by people whose pay grade exceeds their ability to make rational judgements about the basis of who “needs to know”.

Amongst this chaos, the chosen tool of ‘the Agile Community’ is a single, 2-dimensional view of a ‘list of lists’, sometimes known as ‘a tree’ or ‘a star’, all of which are topologically equivalent representations of items’ states in the backlog of each Product development. Our best software tools are little more than a model of cards on a board.

Why do we expect the complex, dynamic agile change process to map any more adequately onto a tree of cards than it does onto a hierarchical management structure? Have we learned nothing from our mistakes of modelling within the limitations of the filing cabinet and the typewriter? Perhaps agilists don’t value tools because our tools aren’t fit for purpose.

If all you have is lists representing vague descriptions of changes between two mental models you hope your whole team all share, perhaps the limited nature of the backlog tool isn’t your biggest problem. The backlog items reference changes to an implicit model of roles and the objects in the business domain of your product. My advice is to make it explicit.

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Loose-Leaf Thinkmanship

Armed with the knowledge that I have foolishly volunteered to give a talk about Intertwingularity to the good people of ‘Web Staffordshire’, which needs to be condensed into a 10 minute slot in serialised space-time, I thought I’d start work 2 weeks earlier than normal. Being brief takes longer.

I read a sentence, “Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial” in my notes, for the nth time, where n is not an especially small number. Gutenberg, printing, books? Why hadn’t I noticed this before? (I can answer that: I was thinking about what information ‘sequence’ is last night. I had to do that before I could see this. The order in which ideas are presented matters a great deal. I had nowhere to hang the new idea until I had constructed the hook labelled “sequence/serialise/order/sort”.)

My mental model of books has previously been pseudo-infinite rolls of paper, like long web pages, chopped up at appropriate page boundaries to fit between book bindings, but I should have KNOWN that isn’t right. Shakespeare’s ‘Folio’ was a collection of earlier, shorter documents. Medieval scribes wrote important works on vellum and calves don’t come in ‘Size Infinite’. I have never held a real scroll. I don’t know how to operate one.

Was there an index in the jars which contained the Dead Sea Scrolls? Has Mr. ‘hypertext’ Nelson been telling me all along that hierarchy came in with the printing press, as a way to manage text ‘at scale’, like an army, and I’ve been ignoring him? Imagine these fixed-leaf binders defining and thereby constraining ‘correct-sequence’ of text-chunks that were once free to wander?