I blog to learn from my writing and to share. Today, you can skip straight to the sharing bit clicking straight to the “lets play catch” website and signing up to Hal Macomber's mini email course, which I recommend at the end of this blog. Or, you can continue reading and get there just a few minutes later.
A few years ago I came across Hal Macomber’s Reforming Project Management weblog. This was in the days before XML feeds, RSS and bloglines but I was checking his blog every day to pickup his latest gem. Hal seemed, to me, to have GOT what I was trying to GET: he was practice lean thinking, he was well versed in Goldratt’s stuff, he was doing it and he was writing about it. Over the years we have become good email buddies. Even though he doesn’t blog so much these days my respect continues to grow.
Enough gushing. In a few moments, I want to point you to Hal’s latest freebie offering – a mini-email-course – but before doing that I want to tell you my story.
One day I was looking through Hal’s “About Hal” section on his website and I was intrigued when he said that his “preoccupation with operations effectiveness finally paid off when [I] learned about workflow, Fernando Flores' linguistic-action reinterpretation of work.” What?, I thought, A guru I don’t know about? I hunted around the web for more info on Flores but I didn’t find bugger all (apart from this fastcompany article that points out he was once Chile’s Finance minister and a political prisoner and these two WSJ articles). I found a couple of books on amazon.com (here and here), both of which are – to be honest – fairly hard going.
Intrigued, I was, ignorant I remained.
At about the same time I discovered the Agile Software Development movement and bumped into my now good friend Hubert Smits through the AgileScotland group which he had started (and I now run). It turned out that Hubert was working for Vision a Irish-owned consulting company that not only practiced the Flores' stuff but now owned BDA, the company started by Flores. Hubert told me more about Flores' work, I met his boss, we chatted, months passed, one thing led to another, and now – since February – I’m working for them on contract. My boss and good mate Jorge has been sharing the Flores' stuff and I’ve picked up bits and pieces as I go. I see why Hal was impressed:. Flores' theories and practices make things work. He has filled a gap in my own knowledge that I truly didn’t even know was missing.
I’m still an amateur, but Flores’ stuff revolves around conversations, commitments and trust. To put in my simplistic words, it is much easier to manage if people make good commitments that keep. If they keep their commitments then trust develops. High trust organizations need less ceremony, paperwork and bureaucracy to keep things flowing. Conversely, in organizations where people don’t keep their commitments, there is generally low trust, the costs of enforcing commitments are high and they are very hard to manage. Contrast a software development team that keeps its commitments by delivering projects on time and budget with one that doesn’t. Where would you rather work? Which would you rather have as your supplier? Which has the most paper work? Which team’s customer tries to drive productivity by enforcing arbitrary deadlines?
This trust, commitment, conversation stuff kinda obvious I suppose, but it’s not so easy in practice because most of us aren’t taught how to do it. Some of us do this intuitively (not me, to be fair), but what Flores did was figure out a framework for having conversations that result in kept commitments and build trust.
I’ve nicked the following diagram from vision's website that shows what is known by Flores devotees as “the loop”. It shows the typical flow of a conversation.
What this simplified version of the diagram doesn’t show is the many ways and places where the conversation can go wrong. But it’s not hard to fill in the gaps: think of a recent conversation you had where either you made a commitment or one was given to you, match it to the diagram, then think of all the ways it went wrong or might still go wrong. One of the killer problems, for example, in software development is “requirements ambiguity” which in terms of “the loop” happens when the “Conditions of Satisfaction” aren’t clear. Writing the tests for each requirement before building the code and prototyping both clarify the “conditions of satisfaction”, bypassing much ambiguity and preventing lots of expensive rework. [And this is, of course, horrendously easier to do in an iterative/incremental/agile environment than a waterfall environment – have you ever tried to write all of the tests for a 150 page requirements document, up front, when the requirements keep changing all the time?].
Now, finally, back to Hal Macomber. Hal has recently come up with a FREE mini-email-course “lets play catch”, which teaches the fundamentals of “the loop”. Each day he sends a series of brief, daily emails with explanation and simple actions for you to do. He also gives you access to an hour long MP3 webcast which is worth its weight in gold. Maybe one day he’ll write a book about it.
Warning: this is another one of those things, like google, that on the face of it appears simple and “common sense” and so, you might be inclined to undervalued it. Don’t.