When Planets Align

Aug 25, 2014 5:17:19 AM / by bbarr


Back in May of this year, Naeem and I went down to New Orleans to the Global Scrum Gathering to present “Hop on the Release Orientation Trolley”. It was a great experience and we have had numerous opportunities to present the Release Orientation topic to clients and other agile meetups, such as Agile PA and Agile Indy. One of the keynote speakers at Scrum Gathering was Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. Unfortunately, I was not able to get to Rich’s keynote. However, they gave all attendees a copy of his book,“Joy, Inc.”, which I furiously started reading on the plane ride home and finished within a few days. The concepts and the approach resonated with me deeply. I wrote a blog article about it, did some social media, and that provided the opportunity for Rich and AgileTrailblazers to connect. One thing led to another and Naeem and I found ourselves booked to come to Menlo’s “Intro to the Menlo Way” 1-day course out in Ann Arbor, Michagan.

Between booking our Menlo trip and actually going out there, I went to Agile 2014 down in Orlando in late July. It was a great conference. One of the highlights for me was going to see Lyssa Adkins at her “Facilitating Intense Conversations: What to do When it Gets Hot”. What a great session! And yes, Lyssa, you sold me on the art of agile coaching and sold me on getting your book, “Coaching Agile Teams”. I’m not done yet, but I’m learning a ton and really love Lyssa’s thinking and approach to agile coaching – highly recommend it!

Now to the planet alignment. Earlier this week, we flew out to Ann Arbor. While at the hotel the night before visiting Menlo, I was continuing to read Lyssa’s book. In the section about coaching Product Owners, Lyssa recounted a vignette from Rich’s experience – what he calls “Doing Donuts in the Parking Lot”. I won’t get into the story, but needless to say, I was a little freaked out that I stumbled upon this chapter when only hours away from visiting Menlo. I knew right then, I was in the right place that coming day.

What happens when planets align? Well, we had a great day at Menlo. You can absolutely get a lot from reading Joy, Inc. However, I would highly recommend that you sign up for going out to Menlo and see their model in action. Here’s what I saw during the visit:

  1. Singular focus on customer joy (or Business Value of Joy – getting systems that delight their users and lead to business value) leads to so many great side effects – high quality, joyous workplace for associates, solid expectation setting, etc. Their High-Tech Anthropology approach works to truly understand what will bring joy to the end users of their solutions. No more guessing what the real needs / requirements are when coupled with rapid “show & tells” (demos).
  2. Have teams use very simple, repeatable, and physically tangible (where co-located) means of running their iterations. This is such a critical element of how Menlo does business.
  3. Extremely high levels of quality lead to almost no spending on customer support. This level of quality is possible given 2 things: First, unwavering attention to TDD, unit testing, and unit test monitoring. Provides a key measure of “done” at Menlo. Second, pairing / paired programming – no line of production-targeted code is ever written without pairing. Rich made a very good case for this relative to quality but also to productivity. I am convinced.
  4. Culture matters – Rich has done some deep thinking on what makes a great culture for the company and for getting to his mission of joy. He has built his company to make sure that culture is pervasive in his shop.
  5. Menlo has done a great job at making “software factory” a term for a great place to work.
A journey with continuous learning is always worth traveling. Reading great books and visiting other companies that do solutions delivery well are great ways to make your journey.  I’m convinced that if you blaze your trail with continuous learning, your planets also will eventually align along the path.

Topics: Agile, Scrum

Written by bbarr

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