Tag Archives: network

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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Open Rights (in Birmingham)

Last night I went to this: https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/94628536/ , the first meeting of the ‘Open Rights Group Birmingham’, to see what THAT is all about.

There was a table full of us, gathered from the worlds of computing, art and politics. Thinking about what happened, I’ve realised that although I’m interested in all three areas, I’ve never experienced them mashed-up before. We were in the cafe at Birmingham Open Media, after closing time, like radicals, ready to change the world.

Our mission from HQ, should we choose to accept it, was to consider what Brum could do to help ORG’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ campaign: “We demand an end to indiscriminate retention, collection and analysis of everyone’s Internet communications, regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime. We want the police and intelligence agencies to have powers that are effective and genuinely protect our privacy and freedom of speech.”
https://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/dont-let-the-snoopers-charter-bounce-back

What fascinated me most was the different intuitive responses of the three groups. The techies saw it as a problem to be fixed or provided with tools. Those in public services and the world of politics saw a policy decision to be campaigned on and influenced, using their knowledge of the tools of our broken democracy and those from the art world saw it as something to be responded to, to influence public opinion. That is a heady combination: identify a problem, motivate popular demand for change to generate political appetite, provide a technical solution. It also demonstrates that politicians are often the blockers rather than the enablers of societal change.

I’ve also watched a video on the societal imperatives driving the move of businesses from hierarchies to networks. Imagine that applied to democracy. Netwocracy?

My Mindmap Wants To Womble Free

I’m writing ‘a book’ (possibly four) at the moment. I’ve already made public my idea that the ‘social networks’ that we’ve knitted out of the Internet can be used as an “idea collider”, to generate creativity; in the same way that particle accelerators are used to increase the rate of improbable collisions and accelerate scientific data collection and discovery.

Last night I read a tweet from Dave Winer. He both wrote and uses the outline editing tool Fargo to collect his creative sparks. Dave linked to an article by Alex Hillman on ‘Lifehacker’, which suggested that we should all keep such a ‘spark file’ for our light-bulb moments. This excited the idea particles floating in my brain. You might say it dropped a ‘spark’ on the dry tinder I’d been collecting and I replied. Dave didn’t understand a word I said. This post is an attempt to clarify what I think, at least to me.

What I didn’t look at last night was the embedded video, ‘outlining’ Steven Johnson’s book. It ends, “Chance favours the connected mind”. Steve smashed into my thinking the notion that we are not colliding ideas but idea components. We may not be bouncing ideas off one another, hoping for more sparks but fusing together half-baked ideas to make a whole. Almost like ‘society’ still exists on the Internet. Yikes!

Fargo is a web-accessible, scriptable, outlining tool that uses Cloud storage. “An outliner is a text editor that organizes information in a hierarchy”; what we often call a tree but is more often represented as a root system, drawn from the side.

Trello is one of many software implementations of ‘Kanban boards’. The idea was adopted from the Japanese automotive industry to become very popular with Agile software developers and several other more specialised software implementations exist. Trello’s blog proposed “The great horizontal killer applications are actually just fancy data structures. Spreadsheets are not just tools for doing “what-if” analysis. They provide a specific data structure: a table.” Trello’s specialist data structure is ‘List of lists’.

My own brain problem is not memory fragmentation but memory capacity. The fire-bucket I’ve used to catch my sparks for the last few years has been Mindmapping. A mind-map is a tree (or root) drawn from above (or below.)

The first point I failed to express last night was that ‘outlining’, Kanban boards and mind-mapping are topologically equivalent activities.
Hierarchies, list of lists and mind-maps are sylistic variations of exactly the same idea. My Spark File tool of choice is a mind-mapper called Freemind. I particularly like it because (it’s Free, ) it is graphical and allows links between branches, at any level. It breaks the hierarchy. The results are often ugly – just like reality.

Albert Einstein said that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler. Human society is not a hierarchy but a complex network built on personal relationships interspersed with imposed structure. One of our favourite models is a delusion. If you doubt this, look at a platypus. Yes, I believe there is a better model but I’m still Wombling for half-baked ideas.

References:
Dave Winer’s tweet that started this <https://twitter.com/davewiner/status/448587642813546496
Alex Hillman on Lifehacker <http://lifehacker.com/5941997/defrag-your-brain-with-a-spark-file, including the video outline of Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’.
Trello blog entry on data structures http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html

Tools:
Outline Editors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliner
Fargo http://threads2.scripting.com/2013/april/introducingFargo
Kanban boards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board
Trello http://blog.trello.com/trello-ios-2-5/
Mindmapping http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map
Freemind http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page