Sunday, December 4, 2016

Elevator going down...

The longer I’m an Agilist, the less tolerant I am to non-agile artifacts…
- Or, what could possibly go wrong with an elevator?! (be ready for an extra-long and frustrated post!)

I’ve been working in a brand-new high-rise building, with 5 elevators.

And man, I used to take elevators for granted so far!

These elevators seem like they were designed by an evil scientist!

1. Tap-dancing

It starts when you come to the building

Usually you are just standing in line for the elevators that go to your floor, right?
No! Here, the elevators MUST know where you are going!
And there is a great touch screen interface everyone must pass!

  • So there is a large touch-screen where you needs you to tap your two digits.
  • In case you are successful (*) the screen will tell you in advance (meaning - minutes before the elevator actually gets there!) and during 2 seconds (to keep you alert) which of the five elevator will serve you. (regardless whether it will be soon stuck on some floor for a minute or so, you’ll just have to wait)
  • It will not show you in advance if anyone reserved the same floor (so everyone must press the screen), since it can't use the space to show a list of floors and reserved elevators, and prevent this tapping. (after all - what's a touch screen if you are not obliged to touch it?!)
  • In case you were busy during this two seconds doing a victory dance, you have no f**ing clue which elevator to wait for, and to find out - you have to re-tap (and hope you didn’t miss it)

2. Mis-tap re-dance

However, there is a big chance you mis-tap it:
  • The touch screen is built for normal height, so tall people (like me) usually get the wrong number tapped, hence I have to bend and re-tap (and an elevator will go to a place no one wants…)
  • It also has small sensitive areas, so ‘normal’ people often miss-tap the number.
  • It is so bad, that there is someone whose job it actually is to tap the number for you and tell you what elevator to take (but only on ground floor, if you take the elevator TO the lobby - you are on your own)

3. The ride itself

The ride is characterized by:
  • Solidarity: The ride is actually fun, nothing brings people closer than a crowded elevator and a common frustration, so you can always start talking about the elevator!
  • Serenity: since you can’t choose your floor inside the elevator, you have to let go, which (depends on your personality) may be a growth incentive.
  • Stress: one thing the screen does display is the time, but a few minutes later than the actual time, so you may be stressed you are late for a meeting (though, since everyone uses the elevators, you are probably not alone)
Strangely, the elevator displays all the requested floors, but not the floors it will stop at if someone requested it on the fly.
The no smoking sign is appropriate, since it makes me want to take on smoking again...

And the great thing is that the elevator-making people (assuming they are people), are reluctant to handle it since:
  1. Its expensive to fix (see below how expensive it is not to fix)
  2. They use the same mechanism in other buildings (meaning - we should be less miserable knowing other people share our misfortune)

So, what’s the connection to Agile?

I’m sure the elevator is built like that because someone thought it is better than the usual interface:
  • Two buttons on the outside (or three)
  • 50 buttons on the inside
  • Occasionally, a division of elevators, some going to low floors, some to high floors

But before solving a hypothetical problem, one can validate the problem exists (see lean startup approach)

I’m sure not one of the designers spent a day inside one of the elevators they built, talking to users, measuring actual average time of wait, elevator charge, etc.

A lean-startup elevator would start by someone standing for a day in an elevator, pressing buttons according to an algorithm and validating it before implementation.

Or a random satisfaction survey of user.

Or something...

I’m sure no one calculated the cost of not fixing it! hence the cost of:
  • People coming late to meetings
  • People coming to work frustrated
  • Electricity of stopping in mis-pressed floors
  • People associating the brand name with defective products
  • People leaving work frustrated and taking it out on their surroundings

And that’s why non-agile projects make me sad (/ drive me mad).

Just as an anecdote, my current rush-hour strategy to get fast to the floor I have to go to is:
  • Take the first elevator that arrives, to a floor as close as possible to the one I need.
  • Get out, and reserve an elevator to the floor I need.
  • Or (once the stairs will be open) use the stairs for the rest.

The way to fight rigid elevators is to outsmart them!

What’s your non-agile project example?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

About the importance of the space

One more in the Tao series...

This weekend, we had a great meetup in Bangkok.

A full day that started with a Lean-Coffee, and ended in an Open-Space.

These two are events that are designed as a shell, an empty space to draw a discussion.

These formats are meant to be a perfect vessel to contain the right sort of content from the participants.

Hence, what's more appropriate than to continue the Tao thread by talking about...


The Void (verse 11)
Thirty spokes unite,
At a wheel's center
Except the spokes -
The wheel consists Just of Emptiness

A Pitcher’s
Main use
Is its empty space

The void has a function,
And emptiness
Has a valid

A house
Is just squares of air.

A door between two rooms
Simply connects
Empty spaces,

A window
Connects a square space
With the big void

the form
a cover
and an excuse

While the void
the real


And what about Agile?

- The way I understand Agility, the vessels we use, the frameworks we put in place, are crucial for a successful journey.

- When you put in place a new team, when you try to create 'Agility', the process may be delicate, and the smallest of details matters.

For example: 
- If you do a daily meeting sitting down, its form may not suit its purpose.
- But the form should also not be too rigid, if a team member can't stand up, the form should accommodate her.

- Scrum or Kanban are just empty vessels, they are a modest support to the growing of a new team, or of a new process.

However, the right environment is sometimes more crucial than the seed quality. 
And the wrong sort of vessel will fail even the best of seeds.

- Same for the meetings (/ceremonies) we do: Planning, Stand-up, Demo, Retrospective. they give structure to a discussion, and the structure stands out and gives form to the content. 
- That's why it is important to keep a taste of 'ceremony' (or 'ritual') in them, so we don't lose the right form along the way.

Trying to force the content may do harm, it is better to take care of the right space and nourish the content that grows from it.


  1. This translation, as the previous ones, as based on the wonderful translation of Nissim Amon, which I tweaked a tiny bit... with hope to be forgiven...)
  2. In this series I try to clumsily touch (and connect) the two doctrines I hold most dear to my heart, please treat this post lightly, I by no means mean to preach, just to amuse...
  3. As a bonus, here is a post about the void in a more 'artistic' context. 

- 'till Nextime!

The Tao of Agile, part 1

In the division of Agility vs Stuff, please consider this post as Stuff ...

- I've been 'doing Agile' for quite a few years now, and it changed my life (see previous posts :)

- I've been reading and re-reading the book of Tao for the last 5 years, and it changed my life.

And the more I deal with these two, 
- the more I find the Book of Tao to be the most concise Agile guide.
- the more I find Lau-Tzu to be the most incredible Agile mentor.

Hence, I'd like to start a series of posts to let you into this world, with ease and attention, since ...

A journey




But first, what is the Tao, and what is Agile?

- To get the root definition of Agile, you can just go here.

- To get the root definition of Tao, here is the first verse in the book of Tao, where Lau Tzu explains what it is:
(Based on the wonderful translation of Nissim Amon, which I tweaked a tiny bit... with hope to be forgiven...)


The eternal Tao (Path)
can not be captured by words
Trying to give it a name
will not help reveal its true core

is the source
of heaven and earth
Without title
is the mother
of the tens of thousands of objects (1)

While blinded by desires
you can only see the external things (2)
you can see the unseen (3)

There are many things in the world
And they all bear names.
Yet there is one big mystery
both behind and beyond (4)

The great mystery and the world of things
differ by name
yet their source is one
They spring from the same source
Live without fear
Feel the world
Breath the obstacles (let them in) (6)
Know this world

Beyond The Phenomena gate
Flows The river
Of Tao
And now, some of my comments (take them with a grain of salt, please, I'm just trying to share my humble understanding :-)
(0) Translations of Tao also include:  'way', 'path', 'route', 'key' or sometimes more loosely 'doctrine' or 'principle'
(1) All the objects you see (this screen, a car, a pen, an apple, your parents, your country) have their name, but the one big thing they belong to has no name ('everything' is not its name, since it is 'every thing', not the unity of all)
(2) If your desire is hunger, you will see apples and bread, if your desire is sex, you will see breasts and torsos, if your desire is money, you will see prices,
(3) but if you desire nothing you will start seeing beyond these labels, you will start seeing the apple and tree as one, you will start seeing body features with no name, you will see objects with no regard to their cost.
(4) The big mystery is the single common source of all that exists as one entity. and the sum of all that exists.
(5) Here Lau-Tzu becomes directional, he instructs you how to behave in order to connect to what he described (or, how to become (what later will be known as) a Taoist.)
(6) Instead of ignoring obstacles (or pain), denying it or fighting it, just observe and accept it with no judgement.

So, what's this to do with Agile?

Basically, Agility (as I perceive it) is a mindset, a way to see a problem, a project. to look it in the eye and understand it. and then to address it while it keeps moving and changing.
While the 'old-school' approach is
- to understand the situation, and then close our eyes and react (opening them only when we are done with our plan, if ever)
Agile means starting to react facing a moving target.
Also, not to assume you understand or know everything.
In the upcoming posts, I'll talk more about things like:
- The inspiring structure of the Manifesto, as a set of values that stand side-by-side.
- The clear division of Vision and Execution (Yin-Yang)
- The importance of maximizing the work not-done
- Agile and non-Agile ways of governance.


Stay tuned :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Say NO now (ask me how)

In the series of learning useful skills, this time, lets talk about saying


But first...


Image result for why

It all started when (the fictional) me met Tai (pseudo-name) in a (fictional) cafeteria a few days back...
She (allegedly) seemed really stressed, and said she stays evenings at work, since she is 120% charged...

The conversation might have gone something like this...

Q: Why are you so charged?
A: I under-estimated my charge, and said yes to 100% capacity... since I don't like not being useful...
But now I am 120% charged... 

Q: Since you stay late, do you manage to deliver the 120% you committed to?
A: Not really, it is too much for me... the overload burns me out.

Q: Imagine you were just 70% charged now, and had 30% time with no obligations, would you be able to actually deliver more than now or not?
A: (after a deep moment of thought) - actually yes! and in a calm way.

Q: So in fact, if you would say NO to the remaining 50% (120-70), you'd be able to make more people happy!!, right?
A: Yup.

Q: And you'd get to go home early! right?
A: Yup

Q: So why not insist on 70% capacity?
In fact, this will make: 
- The 70% more happy - they can rely on the yes they got.
- The 50% less frustrated - they receive no early and not on the (over-)due date.
- One happy (fictional) Tai leaving early and not stressed!

< A more serious explanation >
When we over-commit, we try to deliver beyond our capacity, hence we will probably 
- The easy stuff (which is not necessarily the important one)
- Half-baked output (since we don't have time for quality)
- A random selection: we know (though we can't admit it) not all will be delivered, and finally some people will receive a bad surprize at the last minute, by either
    - Getting on time not what they expected.
    - Not getting on time what they expected (getting it with an unpredictable delay)
    - Not getting anything, without a notice.

A much better approach is to promise less and be reliable... isn't it?
< end-of the more serious explanation >

So if we could say no, we would contribute to world happiness!


By now, I hope you are convinced it is an important skill... 

- There is only one question remaining...

- So I did some personal research...

My first instinct would be to 

- Then I remembered my inclination to get fired, which is correlated with this response... 
So I started some deep research (TED videos, articles, and a great lecture in Agile-Tour Bangkok this year!)

To sum up my findings,

Here are my tips...

 (feel free to add yours in comments!)

1. ⏱ Wait before yes

When you feel a yes is cooking, delay the answer...

If you feel the urge to say yes, breath deeply, and think if the answer is urgent...
- Will there be any harm to give it after some reflection?

- Try saying: I have to check if I have time to do this, I'll let you know later today. (did it work?)

2. 🔍 Demand details

Such as:
- What are the deadlines? Are they hard or soft ones? 
- Why are you of all people being asked? did someone else already said no?
And most important - what is the expected impact? 
     Meaning - what will it change in the life of someone if this is done?

Once you understand the impact it leads to the third stage...

3🔨Think (and propose) simplification

Now, that you understand the expected impact, think simplicity...
- Is there a simpler way to make the same impact? 
- Does it need to be an excel, or is a paper & pen calculation enough?
- Do you need the full calculation of just the result? 
- Do you need the exact figure, or just the estimation?
- Or perhaps just a Go/No-Go answer?

Note: This step is super crucial, since it saves the world energy!
- The total amount of work done (by the whole organization) may be significantly reduced!! (see here)

4. 🚓(In case you are over 70% capacity) say NO clearly!

and with no big apologies!

In case you decide to say no, don't be defensive, it is is your right! something like:
- I'm really sorry, but I can't do it now, since I am booked. 

Don't over apologize! (just like a car doesn't apologize it is out of gas)

- In case you need to, explain in a calm tone that if you take more work now, experience shows I will actually deliver less! 

- show this post as proof, if needed!! :)

In case you apologize, you are just risking wasting the time you try to save! you are inviting a someone to walk together on a guilt-trip...

Note: Silence is not a clear no, it will still sit as an open issue in your mind and the mind of the requester! clear communication is essential!!

5.  Offer alternatives: 

Try saying out-loud one of the following:
- Sorry, could you come back in a few days, perhaps I'll have the time.
- Perhaps ask <someone else>, maybe they are less charged....
or even... (advanced level) 
- I don't have the time, but it is quite simple, let me show you how to do it yourself!
- I have other stuff to do, but if you take one of my tasks (or make it go away), I'll gladly do it!

Be creative!
Think solution and impact!!
And don't be over polite!!!

...for now

A final note (or two):

- You may be thinking this is a radical approach, but in order to learn a new skill (and unfortunately saying no is a rare skill) one is sometimes required for rigorous training...

- Remember that you are doing this out of altruistic egoism, to protect yourself and the world from waste and overload.

Oh, and just one last thing:
- If you ever get fired for saying no:

1. It was probably a horrible workplace anyway.

2. Don't blame me! ,I'm just your silly old bear... ;)

Enjoy life!

- The bear.