Tag Archives: science

Agile as something you do

I have spent the last 2 evenings in Birmingham listening to talks by @diaryofscrum at @ScrumUK and @stevejpitchford at @bcsbrum about management and ‘Agile’ software development, which brought some of my own concerns into sharper focus, particularly about the Scrum framework. In many discussions with practitioners over the last couple of years, I’ve heard the following phrases:

“Agile is an adjective not a verb”
“Agile isn’t something you do, it’s something you are”
“Agile is a philosophy not a method”
“Agile isn’t a process”

Someone who ISN’T agile has to start somewhere. They typically need to DO something, to write software. Would we claim,”Scientific” is an adjective not a method? We wouldn’t, because it is both. The scientific method is a function which delivers what we call “scientific knowledge” as its value. If it didn’t, it would be pointless.

Managers are generally trying to get things done. Each team must agree its own Agile Operating Model (thanks to BCS’s ‘Agile Foundations’ book for that useful phrase.) What came out of the last couple of evenings was pragmatic application of philosophy. Many organisations take Scrum as a starting point, without realizing that “framework” is to be taken very literally. Scrum doesn’t paint the complete picture. It is (part of) a process to organize work. It says almost nothing about how to do that work. It is an alternative to writing a project plan “up-front”, when you know least.

An Agile Operating Model is a process which delivers a value, so it is a function. My scientific hypothesis is that it delivers valuable business function change, sometimes in the form of software. It is itself a business function. Agility has business functions as first class citizens. It doesn’t meet general expectations of a process because it can recursively self-modify. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one. As the kids say, “get you an agile function that can do both”.


Is this Important or Urgent?

This post refers to a technique often used in Agile software development, including within the Scrum framework. It is not an introductory text so not recommended for non-agilists.

‘user-stories’ are classified as: Must (do), Should (do), Could (do) and Won’t (do), known as: MoSCoW. User-stories are then usually prioritised by an integer representing value, which represents a calculation of return on investment, or benefit:cost.

Paul Oldfield, Chief Referee at LinkedIn ‘Agile & Lean Software Development’ group said:

I find a bit of a problem with MoSCoW – distinguishing between “Must have eventually” and “Must have in release 1”. Get beyond release 1 and a high value “should have” can be prioritized in front of a low value “must have”.

And then, a lot of the “must have in release 1” turn out not to be, if we look closely.

“If you want all these in release 1 you get nothing for 6 months.
Or you can get these in 2 weeks, those in 4 weeks… would you like that?”

I gave (a slightly worse version of) this reply:

I think MoSCoW is about ‘importance’ not ‘urgency’.
Urgency comes into the prioritisation choices when the benefit of the story is time sensitive.

Delivering benefit early starts summing value for longer, so total value delivered in the life-time of the product or service will be higher but now we’re talking about delivering a different absolute ‘spot value’. Putting it another way, value can be a function of time.
e.g. “If this isn’t ready in 2 weeks then we’ll be fined by the regulator” or
“We need this before the Summer Sale starts. If you miss that, it’s useless until Christmas.”

I didn’t know this before today. I’m sharing the idea in case it helps someone else or they can improve it and give me a copy. It’s how things worked before¬†science had to make a profit.

Human Evolution: from belief to evidence

The notes below started with me reading the phrase “policy based evidence” somewhere, in the last week. I returned to previous thoughts about the different meanings of the word “believe” in the context of religion, politics and science. I went slightly off track but I found it useful to recognise that politics sits somewhere between religion and science on the scale of rationality. Science is led by your experience of life. Religion leads your decisions in life. Politicians try to persuade you to choose their proposals of how to change your life experience, through an inadequate communication system. The rules you are expected to follow seem to be:

Religion : take your values from an old book you get from your parents or someone else who is kind to you. The book will tell you what to believe without question to avoid going to hell; so only listen to evidence that agrees with the book. You don’t want any doubt creeping in and damning you for eternity. Try not to think too hard. Pray instead. Learn to keep conflicting ideas in different parts of your brain. What you do now only matters when you are dead.

Politics : decide whether to believe in individual accountability, shared responsibility or a compromise. Pick a political party and learn what your values are and what to believe, from the elders of your chosen tribe. Only listen to evidence that supports what your party believes. Learn to convert people to your cause by selecting which statistics to use.

Science : learn from others whose opinion is based on evidence. Consider everything you are told and check everything you doubt. Consider arguments against anything you believe, in case it is wrong. Weigh the likelihood of either side being right. If you still aren’t sure, do your own experiments. It is OK to be uncertain or to change your mind when what you believe is wrong. Base your values on what you learn about humanity and the environment we live in. Live the very best version of your life you can, because it is probably your only chance. Appreciate the elegance, beauty and complexity of the universe.

Never talk about Science, Religion or Politics

Science is about deciding what to believe by considering evidence.

Religion is about learning what to believe from a book, despite evidence.

Politics is about deciding what to believe then selecting evidence to prove you are right.

There is a lot of overlap between politics and religion, because of science.

(This is Version 2 of an earlier Twitter draft. It was brought to you by Science, or the Holy Internet Whale or your generous overlords. You decide.)

The Construction of a Subatomic Idea Collider

For a while now, I’ve had the idea of artificially generating creativity by deliberately colliding bit-streams at high speed. As reported here, my thinking was refined recently by the charitable donation that ideas may not only exist in atomic form but as subatomic (or “half-arsed”) ideas, out looking to hook up with a partner (whether they know it or not!)

About a week ago, I became aware of the visit to Birmingham by canal and bed of ‘The Artist Currently Known As Bill Drummond’. Now this originally confused me greatly, as I already know a Jim Drummond and 2 Ben Drummonds of and around the Birmingham music scene but consequential tweets by Eastside Projects convinced me that this was not a text-merge but a fourth, unique Mr. Drummond and I was directed to his bed-making activities https://twitter.com/eprjcts/status/451346186814099456

From there, I was sufficiently intrigued by the antics of a fellow loon to go here http://www.penkilnburn.com/paintings/twin/words.php and discover his inventive kettle-twinning project, in the suburbs of Kensington(s).

So, what might look to the casual observer like “a wasted morning” has “in fact” led to the birth of the idea that ‘The Collider’ may not be a solely scientific endeavour but that it has the makings of a polymathematical extravaganza. I don’t know quite what that is going to look like but I’m game if you are.

Let’s look at “The Facts”:

  • I’m already collecting evidence of coincidences during research, to use in my book(s)
  • I want to learn more about web technologies
  • I constantly see connections between apparently disparate areas of my life and the lives around me. I don’t think this is ‘fate’ but an emergent behaviour of the human creative impulse. I’d like to play with that a little, rather than just think about it.
  • I have a visual creative side that is long over-due for a work-out

I don’t know quite where I’m going now but…

This morning, I watched a Status Quo video on YouTube, posted by ‘resting’ God Damn Guitarist Dave Copson. Next to it was a new video by The White Stripes which showed a non-Newtonian fluid on a speaker, as I once saw in a video by Kate Spence in an art piece at Trove. I tweeted Kate to show her, because we last spoke about her organising an air-guitar competition and I think she’d appreciate a bit of Jack White.

My mind is now full of a complex network of past connections and coincidences between the people I’ve mentioned and others who I haven’t. My worry is that I may not be able to keep up. Branch, merge and mutate. You heard it here first.

Do words matter?

Before we get into whether information is matter, do words matter?

I think I should have learned to care about the precise meaning of words in English lessons at school but I had to settle for learning only to love words. I came late to linguistic pedantry, under the influence a computer scientist. When you are asking a question at the edge of your understanding, someone deliberately failing to understand you because you have not used precisely the correct jargon words is ‘character building’. Someone made me this way deliberately! Blame Education, not me.

We know what we think. Words are the way we attempt to communicate those thoughts into the minds of another. They are thoughts in transit. They need to be accurate and unambiguous, unless we wish to deliberately confuse, like a politician or a poet. I heard that Stephen Fry (off Twitter) claim, on his ‘Fry’s English Delight’ programme on The Wireless, that we cannot think about a concept until we have a word for it. Clearly, that can’t be true. He also said that native Japanese speakers can’t hear the difference between some Western pronunciations, unless they are exposed to them at an early stage in their development. Were those sounds invented in early humans by children, in an early form of Yoof-Speak, unintelligible to their elders? That’s more believable.

How do we agree on the meaning of words? Generally, we don’t. We absorb them. We learn by example. Since the invention of the dictionary, we may look them up occasionally and get them defined in terms of some other words we think we understand better. It’s a bit like science. We build on what we think we Know, until someone embarrasses us by proving we were wrong.

As a culture, we move forward; defining new words, selecting which are the best and most useful ones to keep, refining and adjusting. We develop the nuance and subtlety that allows us to progress then occasionally we make a pointless ritual sacrifice. “Methodology” is such a word. It has a perfectly good meaning: ‘the study of methods’, where a ‘method’ is a way of doing something. Somewhere along the way, some idiot, probably in marketing, decided that if his company was going to make a killing telling people how to glue a few methods together in a fairly obvious way and pretend it was new, they were going to need a more impressive word – maybe something that sounded a bit clever. Ologies are clever, they’re all sciencey! They could call this “methods framework” (yes kids, there was a perfectly acceptable alternative) a “methodology”. They could spend a gazillion Euro-Dollars on promoting it until more people have heard of this usage than of the actual science.

Now what do we call the study of methods? We don’t call it anything without a debate and confusion and ambiguity. It may be easier to just stop THINKING ABOUT methodology altogether and BUY one. They’d like that wouldn’t they?

If someone is trying to sell you a methodology, they’re saying you look the kind of person who doesn’t like to think too much.

Call yourself an ‘Information Systems Engineer’?

A few years ago, I was on the cusp of becoming a Chartered Information Systems Engineer. The night before my peer review interview, I sat imagining questions I might be asked. I had long been aware that there is no agreed, consistent, meaningful definition of the word “systems” but I suddenly realised I didn’t know what “engineer” meant either. Once again, the word has been so horribly misused that its value has been depleted. Luckily there remains a core meaning that an engineer applies scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. But everyone does that, surely? I preferred a definition I found that evening, “an engineer is someone who can do for ten shillings what any damned fool can do for a pound.” It has an element of quality and value. We were getting into Zen.

Many years later, I was working on a ‘Knowledge Management’ project; to capture snippets of information provided by engineers and scientists. I started to think about the difference between data, information and knowledge. I wasn’t convinced that you could build a computerised ‘information system’ that could store ‘knowledge’. At about the same time, several people around me were getting interested in blogs and wikis. With my colleague, a librarian, I attended a ‘Knowledge Management and Social Software’ event. There was an open question session so I asked the assembled experts what they understood to be the difference between information and knowledge. There was an awkward moment before someone tried to answer me, then a fairly rapid intervention by the chair, who said it was a very theoretical question and we all understood what we meant. A noticeable wave of relief radiated out as people retired to their comfort zones.

I’m still not sure if this had been discussed so many times, without reaching a satisfactory conclusion, that they were bored or if they didn’t want to think about it because it’s A Hard Question. I was forced to conclude that I didn’t even know what ‘information’ was. Awkward!

I’ve thought about the subject a lot since. I have a few ideas but I’m not there yet. I’ve decided to think of it as “Information Metaphysics”. What is information? Does it exist? What is it made from? How does it work? Some people think the universe is made of information. I think they are Wrong. I think information is related to matter, energy, order, disorder, chaos, entropy, intelligence and culture.¬† I think it is probably unwise to settle for ignorance. That is rarely a good idea. We need more information – whatever THAT is.