New Trends in Program Management – Conference Report

After a busy week and a fantastic five-day weekend, I finally sat down to write my thoughts on the New Trends in Program Management conference I attended last week in my hometown of Gdańsk.

It’s interesting to see that a conference run by PMI would contain mostly presentations on Agile. Is it a permanent change or a fad?

I gave a presentation on my team’s implementation of a LeSS-like structure. You can find the slides online and I can talk about some aspects in future posts. Here’s a rundown of the interesting presentations I attended.

Happiness.jpg

Opening Keynote: Embedding a Culture of Happiness in Program Management (Mohamed Khalifa, Muhammad Ilyas)

I had to check my badge to verify I was at a Program Management conference! But seriously, it gladdens me that more and more people are realizing that happy employees are productive ones – and it doesn’t matter if your motives are selfish or altruistic – your organization will prosper.

A nice touch of the keynote was a survey handed out to participants, where you could rate your work happiness. I verified I was happy (which wasn’t a given), but also realized why.
SAFe – they love, they hate it (Michael Bad Coach.jpgKacprzak)

Looking at the program, one of my goals was to listen to more people practicing SAFe. I’m very skeptical of this methodology – and I wanted to open myself to arguments that could sway me.

Strangely enough, this presentation strayed far from SAFe, but was an interesting look into the life of an independent Agile coach/consultant. There is an interesting tension in having to make a living and declining engagement – either that the organization does not need you or are not ready for you.

Soapbox: Both are a failure of leadership. In the first case, leaders ignore that they have talented people in their organization that know what to do (which is strange, since hey hired them!) – or as I like to quote “you can’t be a prophet in your own land”. The other is, when leadership only pays “lip service” to an adoption or transformation (they want things to change, but don’t want to change), they select methods without being clear on goals (adopt Agile [i.e. Scrum] or else!). 

The letter to Santa Program Manager (Bartosz Rożan)

This was an elementary step through various anti-patterns in day-to-day Scrum with an accent on problems around the roles of Product Owner and Program Managers. While a lot was basic stuff, I think it was well-geared to most of the audience – looking at how traditional Program Management can benefit from agility.

Does SAFe always work? (Konrad Świstelnicki, Astrid Kleinau-Kleffe)

I had more luck in the afternoon, when I to listen to an actual adoption of a SAFe-like structure. I’m appending the “-like”, because this, like every other example I heard of, applied pieces of SAFe that made sense in their context, but not the methodology as a whole – which is how it keeps getting pitched. I also like the presenters take on distributed team planning:

SAFE.jpg

Keynote: Authorization Tiers: A Framework for Project Empowerment (April Mills)

Disclaimer: April is a close colleague of mine and she showed me this frameworks weeks before the presentation.

April take the works of David Marquet and extends them from 1:1 situations to provide a framework for project sponsors and project execution teams to optimize for the ability to perform and adapt – taking out the frustration on both sides the equation. I’m not sure, she’s posted the slides for this, but you can check her blog and get in contact.

Oxford Debate: Control is the best form of trust

While no breakthroughs occurred, this was the funniest event at the conference. I urge the organizers to repeat this next year, but right after lunch – as an energizer!

How engineers learned to meet all deadlines (Niels Malotaux)

Niels will deny and protest, but while he vehemently denies his methods are Agile, I believe they are 100% (OK, 92.67%). In a great case study, Niels presented how even in a company who’s culture and restrictions required following a lot of daunting processes, you could achieve deadlines and have a great product by shortening feedback loops, eliminating waste, and focusing on delivering value. Or as I like to say – Agile.

At this point I had to leave due to other obligations and couldn’t catch the second afternoon events. Apparently I would’ve won a prize in the raffle at the end, but wasn’t present to claim it 😦 Next time, please don’t let me know 😉

I enjoyed myself at the NTPM conference so much, that I regretted skipping it last year. I hope not to make the same mistake next year. I listened to some great presentations, had some great chats over coffee and lunch, a great evening over beers and pierogi with April and Niels.

Thank you to the organizers for a great event and for inviting me to speak.

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Low Stakes

Over the past year I had the opportunity to present at three external conferences:

  • Agile by Example 2016
  • Konferencja PM
  • New Trends in Program Management

The presentation at ABE16… did not go that well. I managed to cover what I wanted, but my hand-drawn slides were a big miss and my voice faltered throughout the presentation. The former was risk I took and failed. The latter I attribute partially to the environment (ABE takes place in a movie theater and when you glance up at a rows of seats with the lights of over the audience – well, it’s a bit frightening), but also lack of experience and a wanting to do a good job in front of my Agile peers.

Konferencja PM was a a different story. Although I was nervous, the presentation was done in a well-lit auditorium, I had taken part in a panel a few hours earlier and I worked my presentation topic into the flow of the other speakers. I was loosened up, bantered with the audience, and had their attention. This time the hand-drawn slides were a hit.

At NTPM the setting was again different – this time a smaller conference room, which gave the semblance of a classroom – and I do teach a number of classes at work. There was more detailed Q&A with the attendees. No hand-drawn slides this time (I chickened out after receiving the feedback from ABE, which came in time to create other slides for this presentation).

So what changed? Well, there is a spoiler in the title of the post – it was the stake level. At ABE I really wanted to recognition that I was on par with the many great speakers they host there. OK, I wasn’t going to be close to Jurgen or Henrik, but maybe I could at least fall above the median. That plus the ambiance completely wrecked my confidence.

Konferencja PM was hosted at the local University, but a student association and while it was attended by both students as well as professors and maybe some industry people, it didn’t feel as important. For one thing, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove to the attendees – worst case, they won’t invite me again. The other thing was that I felt that I was speaking to novices rather than peers, so I didn’t have to prove my knowledge or experience that hard. With the stakes low, there was no pressure, so it went really well.

This helped going in the NTPM conference. I had just proven that I could deliver a good presentation. I prepared more “professional slides” (the hand written ones worked well in a academic setting). I also felt more comfortable with the room. So even thought the stakes were raised, I had a good baseline to work from and my confidence was better.

So look for opportunities to try your skills at the low stakes table and build up from there.

Kudos to Marcin Brodziak for mentally seeding this topic in his ABE16 presentation “Social skills for introverts”.

Konferencja PM

This week I had the honor and pleasure of being a speaker at the University of Gdańsk’s conference on program management.

It is interesting to see how Agile has started to dominate (in the positive sense) the discipline of Program Management bringing in (or back?) the paradigms of focusing on team, removing impediments, and delivering value (vs. following a long-term plan).

I won’t recap the various speakers’ presentations as the subject matter focused on introductory topics. Which is not to say that the presentations were bad or out of place! Actually they were a great way to introduce concepts of Agile (but also program management or networking) to audience.

My talk was on how to succeed as a member of a self-organizing team. I’ll post my slides and give a recap in a future post.

I would like to thank the organizers, attendees, and my fellow speakers for a well spent day.

Regressions

I heard a really cool thing in our last sprint review. I was surprised to see that a new feature was fully enabled, one I didn’t think would be done in time. How did that happen?

Teamwork

And not that the team split up the story and worked on it in parallel, but a more interesting way of helping occurred. Since the engineer that wanted to focus on the story (having experience implementing it in another product) had just finished a big feature, he was still getting some late regressions from sporadic failures or longer tests. The team bandied together and handled these regressions for him, so he could focus on this new work. (And at the same time, probably got an understanding of the previous feature).

Why I’m not pumped today

In a couple of hours, I’ll be teaching a class on Kanban. I should be pumped – I mean it’s expected from a trainer, right? But I’m not.

Why? It’s a “mandatory” class.

At the risk of sounding like a zealot, I’ll admit that I find Agile not dissimilar to religion. Sure, you can force people to come to the temple/church/stand-up, follow the rituals, repeat the prayers/three questions/etc, but unless the people believe in what they’re doing, it’s for naught.

The way to convince people, is to show through your own life/work that these practices make a difference, make you happy, make it easier to achieve your goals. And when they see it, they will want it for themselves.

Hey, maybe if I’m pumped, I’ll convince some of my audience.

 

On Meetings – part one

Love’em or hate’em – meetings are a staple of working in any organization. The key is to maximize their effectiveness and minimize the waste and disruption they cause.

When reorganizing our teams, one issue we faced was how to handle the various ad hoc, one time meetings that would cover specific topics with a selected group of people. Things that couldn’t be handled by collecting a couple of people in the hallway for a brief chat.

When organizing these types of meetings, you typically run into two types of problems – finding a time slot that works for everyone and an empty room big enough to hold all those people.

This is why we created RESERVED. We’ve blocked out 2 hours of time in a contiguous chunk – same day and hour during each week – and booked a room that could fit most of our extended team  (about 30 people). Team members are asked not take any meetings (especially recurring ones in that time slot).

Then on a week-by-week basis, we carve out time from this block for these one-off meetings. Usually only a subset of people attend, the rest has a two hour block to do their work in piece and quiet.

I’ll talk more about assuring attendance in a future post.

Add ‘How’ to

My first opportunity to hear David Marquet speak was at the Accelerate Results conference in 2016. His powerful message spoke to me and I started following his free weekly Leadership Nudges and experimented with putting them into practice.

The one I recently had a lot of success was starting questions with how. Specifically, instead of asking someone, if something will be ready by a given time, I started rephrasing it in terms of probability.

Immediately, I saw less fidgeting and more honest answers, often accompanied by a short discussions. Things that I value greatly.

Why don’t you give it a try.