A Virtue of Imprecise Measurements

I’ve talked about The Importance of Precise Estimates. In that post, I said,

My advice is to

  • measure your progress
  • watch the trends
  • project the trends tentatively into the future

and relax.  It’ll work out the best it can.  False precision won’t make it any better.

Now I just read The Virtues of the Imprecisely Measured Self by Alex Knapp at Forbes. He tells the tale of a study in the journal Psychological Science April 2011 that indicates that precision, whether false or not, inhibits success.  Alex summarizes,

Precision can actually be the enemy of performance goals. To be sure, feedback is definitely a positive thing. But it appears that if you want to keep yourself motivated, it’s best to get a more generalized, imprecise feedback that lets you know you’re heading in the right direction, rather than the precise coordinates of where you are on the path.

It’s something to think about.


Process Metrics

My good friend Jack Ganssle commented over at EETimes (also available on the TechOnline India site, with different comments) about my recent post on process standards.  In it, Jack cautions against relying on “a strong feeling that ‘things are better.'” He recommends using measurements to bring it back to the realm of engineering.

Bob Pease, analog engineer at National Semiconductor and writer at EDN Magazine, used to say, “when something seems funny, measure the amount of funny.” That’s easier done in the engineering domain than the people domain, of course.

These two simple guidelines will help: (Continued)

What is an Agile Coach?

Recently a friend asked about the definition of the title, “Agile Coach.” Googling “agile coach” informs me that there are about 205,000 pages with that term. Obviously the term is in widespread use.

I don’t typically call myself an Agile Coach, though I’ll use that term informally if it’s the term used by those with whom I’m having a conversation. Instead, I call myself a Software Development Coach. To me, the goal is developing software more effectively, not becoming Agile. Agile processes and practices happen to be excellent tools for effective software development, but lousy goals in themselves. Or so it seems to me.

This morning, I got a call from a recruiter looking for an Agile Coach for a client. They were a bit unhappy when I gave them my daily rate. “The client has a budget and will never pay that much.” When I asked what rate they were expecting, they said $50/hour, all inclusive.

I made more than that a decade ago as a contract programmer. I cannot imagine finding a competent experienced coach for that rate. I’m sure that you can find a body to sit at a desk, though. Is there value in that?

This low rate, and the fact that cost is a primary factor, but value isn’t even mentioned, makes me wonder about what this role of “Agile Coach” has come to mean to organizations looking to hire them. (Continued)

Podcast: Story Granularity

Bob Payne has released another of our conversations, this one on the granularity of stories (and a little tidbit on home remodeling–that was a surprise). We talk about what makes a good story, and how to get them smaller to make iterative-incremental software development easier and more sustainable.

Process Standards

There’s been a long discussion on one of the mailing lists about software development process standards. Someone quoted Robert Glass from his essay “A New Way of Looking at Software Productivity” in Software Conflict 2.0: The Art and Science of Software Engineering

Data show that good people do various software tasks 7 to 28 times better than others… Could we, for example, find out what the good people do? And once we found out, could we transfer that technology to others?

Now, I haven’t read this paper, so it’s quite possible that it’s taken out of context.  But it was introduced to me with the question

This sounds like the goal we are trying to do, to discover the most effective way to do something and then enable others to work the same way.  Does anybody disagree with this as the goal?

That sounds so logical, doesn’t it. (Continued)

Losing Customer Focus

Southwest Airlines has long been known for two things: low prices and attention to customer service. Since they instituted the “reserved place in line” so I wouldn’t have to stand for a long period of time, I have come to check their website first, and only rarely look for alternative flights. Sadly, they’ve taken their eye off the ball. I suspect that the focus on customer service has been replaced by a focus on growth (given their in-progress takeover of Airtran).

Some months back, I noticed that their website had become bandwidth greedy with javascript doodads. This made it painfully slow on many hotel internet connections. They seem to have backed off from that a bit, but have now broken it in a way that prevents me from buying the ticket I want. (In addition, when I call the “Southwest Airlines Customer Representative for assistance” as prompted on the website, I find they no longer have enough to handle the call volume. I wonder if they’ve reduced the support, or if the call volume has increased, or both.)  There’s a lesson here about considering all of the important user stories when implementing new functionality, so it bears describing. (Continued)

Do Not Drive Beyond Your Headlights

I’ve heard stories where organizations have “tried Agile” and the results were so bad that they’ll never make that mistake again. In some of these stories the blame is laid at the feet of bad coaches. In some it’s blamed on lack of coaching. In some, the blame is placed on clients who aren’t ready for Agile . If blame is to be lodged, then any of these will do.

The more interesting question, to my mind, is how can we achieve a better result. (Continued)

Seeing the Wind

I’ve just spent the past week at Junior Sailing Camp, helping kids circa age 10 become better sailors. At this age, they’ve learned many of the basic concepts: that pushing the tiller to starboard turns the boat to port, that they need to pull the sail in when going upwind, and let it out when going down.  Yet they often struggle to get the boat going in varied conditions.  They steer too vigorously  in light air or choppy waters, killing the delicate momentum they’ve achieved.  They position the sail inefficiently–sufficient for a moderate breeze, but insufficient for zephyrs. And in heavier air, the wrong sail trim may result in an impromptu capsize drill.

Much of my coaching depends on helping them observe these varied conditions and how the results of their actions are affected by them. Their current skills work fine when the conditions match the way they practice them. When conditions change, the same actions fail. Without keen observation, the cause of that failure is a puzzle.

I’m teaching them to see the wind. (Continued)