Archive for March, 2008

Bloomberg on Agile Part II (Risk Analysis)

March 27, 2008

Continuing on the theme of sharing agile project management techniques in the wild, here is another example of Bloomberg’s approach to risk management and planning. For Part I (on the benefits of working from a heap) click here.

As quoted from his book, Bloomberg by Bloomberg:

Don’t think, however, that planning and analysis have no place in achieving success. Quite the contrary. Use them, just don’t have them use you. Plan things out and work through real-life scenarios selecting from the opportunities currently available. Just don’t waste effort worrying about an infinite number of down-the-road possibilities, most of which will never materialize.

Think logically and dispassionately about what you’d like to do. Work out all the steps of the process – the entire what, when, where, why, and how. Then, sit down after you are absolutely positive you know it cold, and write it out. There’s an old saying, “If you can’t write it , you don’t know it.” Try it. The first paragraph invariably stops you short. “Now why did we want this particular thing?” you’ll find yourself asking. “Where did we think the resources would come from?” “And what makes us think others – the suppliers, the customers, and potential rivals – are going to cooperate?” On and on, you’ll find yourself asking the most basic questions you hadn’t focused on before taking pen to paper.

As you discover you don’t know it all, force yourself to address the things you forget, ignored, underestimated, or glossed over. Write them out for a doubting stranger who doesn’t come with the confidence in the project’s utility – and who, unlike your spouse, parent, sibling, or child, doesn’t have a vested interest in keeping you happy. Make sure your written description follows, from beginning to end, in a logical, complete, doable, path.

Then tear up the paper.

That’s right, rip it up. You’ve done the analysis. You’ve found enough holes in the plan to drive your hoped-for Bentley automobile through repeatedly. You’ve planned for myriad what-if scenarios. You’ve presented your ideas to others. You’ve even mapped out the first few steps.

But the real world throws curve balls and sliders every day, as well as the fastballs you practice against. You’ll inevitable face problems different from the ones you anticipated. Sometimes you’ll gave to “zig” when the blue print says “zag”. You don’t want to detailed, inflexible plan getting in the way when you have to respond instantly. By now, you either know what you can know – or you don’t and never will. As to the rest, take it as it comes.

I like Bloomberg’s approach to risk analysis and mitigation. Worry about the stuff you can handle, and don’t sweat the rest.

You are always going to be able to find reasons for not going forward with a project. And you can rest assured your plan won’t have events like loose lead programmer here, or have primary customer be poached by competitor here (both of which have happened to me). You just gotta deal with it and move on.

As the lord’s serenity prayer says:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

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Bloomberg on Agile

March 19, 2008
Bloomberg by Bloomberg
Bloomberg by

A couple months ago I got tired of hearing Michael Bloomberg’s name and not know much about the guy. So, over Christmas I went out and picked up a copy of Bloomberg by Bloomberg – a self styled autobiography.

Turns out Bloomberg is a pretty interesting guy. Before becoming mayor of New York, he was a partner at the now defunct Salomon Brothers on Wall Street. After being let go (with a severance of $10 Million), Bloomberg went out and started up his own financial information company. Thus was born the Bloomberg terminal (a dedicated computer for bringing stock and bond traders market information rapidly). To make a long story short, Bloomberg did very well, and almost ran for president this year.

So what does all of this have to do with agile?

Read the following passage from the book, and observe the parallels with agile in how Bloomberg handles classic too much to do, and not enough time problem.

In computer terms, doing it whenever needed, on the fly, is working from a “heap”, not a “stack” or a “queue.” Working from stacks and queues is the rigid, bureaucratized method of operating; it makes you take out things in a pre-described order (i.e. last in, first out for a stack). But if you work from a heap, where input and output are independent, you can use your head, selecting what you need, when you need it, based on outside criteria that are always changing (e.g., what’s need now, such as responding immediately to a customer complaint or getting a gift for your spouse’s birthday when that day arrives and you’ve totally forgotten).

Michael definitely gets it. He knows things won’t go according to plan. He intuitively understands that priorities are going to change. And he places great value in being able to respond immediately to a customer (or significant others birthday).

Something I have grown to feel over the years is agile is nothing new. If anything it is as old as time. It is a natural way of working, that people instinctively do all by themselves.

This was just another example of an entrepreneur being agile back in the 80s.

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The 3 fundamental laws of software project management

March 18, 2008

I read this somewhere (can’t remember where, but I think it was DeCarlo) and it has served me well. These laws have certainly held true for every software project I have ever been on.

1. The requirements are going to change.

2. It is impossible to gather all the requirements at the beginning of a project.

3. There will always be more requirements than time and budget allow.

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The best advice I ever got

March 13, 2008

I am constantly looking for examples of, and stories around leadership. It is one of those timeless topics that captures people’s imagination, and people always seem to enjoy hearing more about.

This months edition of Harvard Business Review (March 2008), I came across has a short interview with Kris Gopalakrishnan, Cofounder and CEO of Infosys Technologies ($3.1 Billion revenue, 80,000 employees).

In the interview, Kris describes the best advice he ever got on leadership from a tough, grizzled, old chain smoking physics professor while pursuing his undergraduate degree.

Between problem sets one day, the professor stopped and said, “You don’t need to worry. You’re good at this, you enjoy it, and you’re going to land on your own two feet. For now, just concentrate on your studies.” Immediately after that, Kris’s grades shot up, and he ultimately earned a place in India’s top ranked physics masters program.

At one level, my professor’s meaning was simple: Do what you love, work hard at it, and all will go well. But the specifics of his message, and the way he delivered it, go to the heart of every leader’s toughest challenge – motivating people.

I use his actions and his words as a model for spurring people on to superior performance. And I focus, just as he did, on three important things.

1. First, I constantly seek ways to get my love for this business across. When I display enthusiasm, employees are more likely to listen to what I say and draw extra energy from mine.

2. Second, in talking with employees, I seldom focus on numbers but instead on big ideas and their role.I don’t think that talking about revenue targets or market share projections will get people inspired. Instead, I try, just as my professor did, to help people imagine a future in which their unique contribution has an impact.

3. Finally, I get people to focus on the future impact of how they manage the task at hand.

A large part of Infosys’s business comes from maintaining legacy applications. On the surface this is not the most exciting of software development work. But Kris constantly finds ways of motivating employees by showing them the impact their work on many of their global clients, and the world at large.

This is a great example of leadership not by numbers, but by heart. The simple act of making people see the bigger picture, and the impact their work has on the lives of others can get the creative juices flowing and motivate us to try new things.

Kris’s job remains the same today as it did in 1981: to motivate one individual at a time.

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Pottery class

March 11, 2008
Pottery class
Pottery class

Rob Austin’s characterizations of artful making (low reconfiguration and exploration costs) reminds me of a story of a teacher and a pottery class:

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. All those on the right would be graded solely on their works’ quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group; 50 pound of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

At grading time, the works with the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of clay.

There is something to be said for failing your way to success.

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The class of March 2008

March 7, 2008

Just a quick note thanking everyone who attended this week’s Agile Project Management training here in Calgary.

It was great fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the discussion, debate, and laughs we shared together.

For those who are curious what we covered, you can find a description of our intensive 4 day course here.

If you are interested in joining us at our next training camp, leave a comment or drop me a line at:

jonathan.t.rasmusson at

Class of March 2008
Class of March 2008