Agile Experts Follow Up

A few posting back I challenged the Agile community to bring to light their process and methods.   My blog is posted on Twitter, LinkedIn and a few other places, at the very least a few thousand people get notified of an update.  A few folks in the community responded but I would like to repost Dave Lamp’s comments here because he has a deep understanding of people, process, methods and use of tools from a military leadership perspective, a government contractor perspective, and a government civilian perspective.    Change has to come from a cultural normalization with practice.   A faster more effective and efficient approach to development requires TRUST.   If we were to analyse my blog, the word that would be used most across every post would be TRUST.   It is central to all that we do and it is critical that we work to gain and manage our trust relationships carefully.    Here is Dave’s comment :

You’re not wrong in this assessment of agile, but probably are pointing out clearly the fact that most program managers are the sad and unwitting victims of the dreaded and highly contagious condition known as REIFICATION–the mental state where one believes that something is real when it is only an idea. So we continually talk about about agile acquisition, “rapid” fielding, crowd sourcing, social networking…ad nauseum…as a means of making ourselves believe that these words are making something happen by our use of them, rather than doing what they would logically demand–using Scrum techniques and shortening delivery schedules, for example!

The biggest danger of this linguistic condition is that a chronic malaise sets in usually accomplanied by a fetid and seemingly endless discharge of…PowerPoint slides! The person so infected will exhibit an emotional and tersely worded unwillingness to entertain their worsening infection, citing such things as or Govloop as illustrations of how the Defense Department is already even now moving into this rapid fielding of agile acquisition capability. The fact that their projects do not use these methods, that no process exists for sharing specifications for web service development does not prove their disease, since such outcomes are “not in their swim lane” or that their program was not funded to “boil the ocean” or “solve world hunger” which such actions would certainly illustrate.

So….how do deal with the worsening condition of governmental IT professionals? I believe that what someone must do is to create a simple, safe and secure method of creating web services, just as has been done with the Ozone Widget Framework for visualization services. If a web services development toolkit (WSDK) could be found on as an “app” for regular warfighters to build a “data-as-a-service” container that could be used by anyone for a particular function, you would catastrophically transform the Defense Department’s web service development process. We would begin to see a rapid migration to agile development by end users who would be able to take their spreadsheets, their Access databases and store them as a service for others to consume as a reliable and accountable source of specific information about a particular function, location, mission or task. As “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) data services proliferated, leaders would then demand for similar web services on other classification levels. It would be success without fighting, a way of winning recommended by none other than the ever-quoted Chiense general Sun Tzu!. After all, producers have no incentive to do this since they are all too often trapped by the “cost, schedule, performance” tyranny of the old-school program manager. So they have to console themselves that someone will eventually give them a contract to do things this way. However, all too often the old-school program manager has a doppelganger at the contractor’s management who see no value in a course of action that would lower billable hours, shorten the billable schedule and “undoubtedly” destroy overall IT development performance! NOT!

If I were able to do it myself, I’d build such a toolkit out of Google Apps that connected to JackBe’s mashups, OWF widgets and SharePoint portlets. However, I’d like to recommend it to you as one that could be done by the wise and capable readership of this blog! This could become a shared “trailblazer” project worth doing in Forge and could be a shining example of how this collaborative environment was designed to work–safely, securely and sanely in a sweetly agile way! Let’s do this!



Lead… Follow.. Etc..

I am happy to say that one of my friends has taken on a new position and is leaving his current post.   I am going to see him off with a dinner which has become very common these days.   What makes this different is that my friend is  a Government Civilian GS.     I have seen many government officials over the years complain and I have seen many move around internally but very few (VERY) few have I seen that have taken the initiative and have had the courage to move on to another organization holistically.   

From my perspective it is very telling.  Most people spend their days complaining and DO NOTHING.   In this case, he did something.   Beyond the fact that he actively looked for work, he did his job and from my view he did it well.   I used to work for him while working at Joint Force / Staff and I appreciated the relationship.   We can sit idle and complain,  we can bitch and moan and go to the office everyday or we can stand up for what we believe in and maintain our integrity.   We can lead and if folks don’t want to follow, we can ask them to lead, and if they don’t want to lead we can get out.   It works in both directions, if a situation is not tolerable we have to have the same courage to leave as we do to stand up for what is right.  So..  I say congrats to my friend Gregg, I wish you well and thank you for having the courage to stand up for what you believe in. 


Experts.. I am inclined to believe that Agile in its pure form “as defined” by itself without modification cannot work in the Department of Defense as it is written today.   I don’t think the DoD is prepared to implement agile in the way of policy, standards or effective and practical guidance.    I don’t believe that agile project management as defined aligns with DoD IT acquisition.   Tell me why I am wrong. Show me examples and show me where DoD enterprise policy, standards and guidance align outside of HR 2467 which to me doesn’t say much.    I am asking because my research is telling me that agile is great for small teams and great for well controlled environments and great for developers but not great for the Department of Defense.     I have a strong desire to learn where I am wrong here and if you can educate me on this I will republish and use this information for my projects and beyond.

Short history:

A few years back I was working on a project as the System Integrator for a fairly sizable enterprise wide SOA project.   My career path was different from most in technology as I started by processing silicone wafers.    I was a production operator for an IBM holding called MiCrus.   After some time and interest in computers from years of playing with them as a hobby I started assembling them professionally.   I worked as a technician for a small BBS and later internet provider and so began my career.   I always worked alongside developers but I never became one.   I actually had no interest in programming other than determining when code was a problem.    As most technicians I played around with anything I needed to in order to resolve problems.   Over the years I moved from technical support on a local level to helpdesk and technical support on the enterprise level.   Not long after, I started to learn and become proficient in enterprise system deployment and project management.     Over the years I continued to work with developers and engineers.

Fast forward a few years… I have now configured and deployed large systems pulling together all of the components and people required to meet and exceed organizational goals and objectives.   I became involved with SOA concepts and enterprise services.  Thomas Erl pulled together a group of experts and they started working on the SOA Manifesto.   The SOA Manifesto was created in the same spirit and idea as the Agile Manifesto.    I haven’t been formally trained in Agile methods and I am actually signed up to take a class in a few weeks but right now from my point of view Agile sucks relative to working in the Department of Defense.

I want agile experts (SCRUM Masters and practitioners) to explain why agile methods are good, where they are effective in the Department of Defense.   On my DoD project we took an agile like approach but it wasn’t “AGILE” as defined.   When I have spoken to experts they told me that I did it wrong.    Recently I have become more involved in understanding agile in the formal sense and so far I don’t like what I am seeing.    I have written about this in a few posts starting here and I have asked questions to folks that are either part of an agile team or are working in a related environment and I haven’t heard or seen one success story yet.    It seems to me that agile may work well with small teams in a commercial environment but the shoe doesn’t seem to fit all feet.     I recently heard of a project that has 8 Scrum masters.     I have spoken to people in the Army, the Navy,  Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Joint Staff, and others.  One seemingly success story may come from an old colleague at Booz Allen I am not sure that Joel is working in the DoD now or not.



Teaming on DoD projects … Tackling Fuel

If you are a team leader working on a DoD project there are challenges that you face which are unique simply because you are working for the DoD.  There are some very basic concepts to understand in order to create or facilitate success.

1) Do what you can with what you have.

You have to play the cards as dealt.  You are in a situation where turkeys are all around you!  Expecting things to get better is unreasonable and won’t help you.   Working to get everyone to see things the way you do, MAY not work either.   People that you work with or around may not give a crap about what you are doing and there may be no adverse impact to them if they ignore you.   What I have found that seems to work somewhat is to be clear about what you are working on and be clear as to what you expect your team is expected to accomplish.   I normally come up with a Plan of action with milestones but I add mission, vision, scope, objectives and a mapping of what we are doing to why we are doing it via policy, standards and guidance.

Historically speaking about 70 – 80% of the team is ok with this and on board to do the work.  If you think that is a low number, chances are you a commercially oriented person or a military commander.  What I am talking is somewhere in between those two guys/gals.   The difference is that even though YOU are supposed to be in charge, YOU have no real ability to enforce a consequence.   In that situation, some people ignore you.  When that is the case, I don’t ignore them but I talk to them about the situation and try to come up with an understanding. Sometimes it works, sometimes they wind up playing solitaire or reading the news paper all day, everyday.

2) Write and remember.

I normally keep a high level log of events, like a journal without all the feelings!  I do this for a few reasons, firstly because I have no idea what I did last week without it.  Think back to September 29th, 2011, you were supposed to have the project implemented already.   You needed to get your IA accreditation, your system needed updates, you were supposed to be supporting 2000 users and you had 15 client deliverables.  Oh by the way it was a Thursday.   How would you know what happened that day or any other?  Make and keep those notes.   They are important for many reasons.  You need them for Project memory, and for turnover if you need to do that.  You need those notes for reporting on deliverables or reasons why you failed to deliver.  If you are looking to win other contracts, you can use those notes to discuss and document your quals.   These notes are critical to your project because chances are no matter what you are working on you will restart at some point in some fashion and you should be able to get a head start with what you have already.   For my notes I use the personal brain now called “thebrain”, mind maps, discussion threads (in my case on Forge.Mil).  I do use documents as well but I normally map them by linkages in a system so that everyone can see what I have written.

3) Too much information is bad.

Just kidding, I think it is up to you to know how much information to use.  Every client is different and it really depends on your trust relationship.   If you are a civilian project leader meaning a GS-type,  this is still relevant.  Sometimes too much information is presented at one time and leadership is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data.   In that case you just go with something like the 10-20-30 rule.   10 slides max, 20 minutes at the most and 30 point font.   Even that can be too much, General Mattis who now is in charge of CENCOM didn’t seem to like power points, he just wanted the facts on one sheet of paper and as I remember (tell me if I am wrong) you had to keep it to 10 things.   Other leaders I have personally worked for liked marathon all day planning and discussion sessions.  I have seen 8-10 hours of work breakdown and discussion.

4)If you are angry chances are you care.

If you are angry or frustrated, there is a good chance you care and/or you are taking yourself or this project too seriously.   Here is a note about me,  I get frustrated because I care .  The problem is that caring is great but it doesn’t get results.   A senior leader and friend once told me “Howie, worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair, you can do it often and get nowhere.”  I am sure that he took that from somewhere but that is what and how he said it to me.   Fact is, he was and is right.  At the time when he told me that I was working on a multimillion dollar project that had “must have” deliverables and kept me up nights and weekends.   Not long after I left the project all of the work was put on a shelf .  It was like watching Indiana Jones when they boxed the Arc.    I was like “whhaaaa”  That being said, of course we should care about our work but we should not allow it to bleed us.

5)Any project or program method is OK as long as at the end of the day your client, customer, boss etc gets what they need.

If you like Agile project management or you are a PMP it really doesn’t matter.  How you choose to run your project is really up to you and your team.   By the way, if you think it isn’t up to your team see 1) and take the number from 70-80% to umm 5-10% because the only one that will be working is you if you don’t get your team on board.   Once you figure out what you are doing and what process you are going to use, go back to the person you are working for and make sure you align what you are doing with what they need.   What this means is that you are going to do things the way you know how and meet their needs.  A lot of people would say figure out what the client needs first but I am not talking about requirements, I am talking about how you are going to work your project.  Those are two different things.    “Howie, I want you to build me a race car… make sure it is fast and has lots of lights!”  OK… yes I can do that..  Of course there are lots of questions I would ask to get the car specifications but unless my client hands me a “how to” guide, I need to be trusted to execute the process with my team the way WE feel we should.  The METHOD is up to the project manager or team leader.    This is where trust comes into play, and you need trust.   So.. SCRUM if you want!


Really, what I am saying here is that as a team leader you aren’t alone and there are people out here that understand your frustration (pain).  Working together we can help each other by sharing ideas and information.  Ultimately, everything boils down to communicate, collaborate, cooperate!


Happy Sunday


They tried to get me to do some teamwork and I said NO NO NO..

Why you should think about taking down your power poster.

1) Teamwork will only work if the people are on board.

  • If you don’t recognize yourself as a team member or you aren’t a team player it is difficult to be on a team.
  • If you think that everyone on your team is stupid, you probably won’t work well with them.
  • If you don’t want to participate because you don’t like teams, it probably won’t work out.

2) Teamwork isn’t just an image on a poster.

  • A man walks in a room and on the wall is a poster of a bunch of dudes rowing a boat in the same direction.  What the poster didn’t say was that all these guys like boat rowing, they are all fit, and they are all looking to win a physical trophy and a date.  In other words, they have a lot in common!

3) You don’t like sports.

  • You ever notice that people who don’t like sports are kind of averse to team work.

4) You don’t have a coach.

  • Teams need a coach and a captain if you don’t have either, it probably won’t work.

5) When leaders talk about teamwork but they are really lying and you know it.

Often times we think that teamwork is critical to the success of an organization.   I have thought it, and I have been guilty of feeling that teamwork in a lot of instances was stupid as well.   You ever sit in the back of the room and watch everyone?  Sometimes it is like watching a television show. Every actor is playing their role.  At the same time watching them never made me feel smarter than anyone.  It wasn’t about being smart; it was and is for me about getting the work done.

Most people want to find ways to either work less or work themselves into a different job.  If you are looking for the next team to work on, how can you have any allegiance to the team you are supposedly on?

I don’t really have lots of answers, I do have questions.   More often than not I am reading what I should and shouldn’t do. There are five ways to work effectively with a team or ten ways to shut up and color with your teammates.   I like reading those articles and lists but none of it seem practical.    I have tried in a lot of ways to practice the suggestions and guidance.   What I am saying is behavior and culture is extremely important.  That being said, sometimes what you do won’t matter and you will be on a team.   They will label you as something and you will be that something because that is the persona they gave you.   This isn’t a Myers-Briggs situation where you take the test and you are an INTJ or whatever.   This is what you have been labeled by people who may not even know you.

What can you do?

A man goes to his doctor and says “Doc, I have a rash, what can I do about it?”   Doctor says “I don’t know!”   More often than not every situation is different, there isn’t one thing that you can do to solve the problem.  Business like medicine is a practice.   You have to put your big boy or girl undies on and figure it out.   If you can’t fit in with the team or group, you need to decide if you are going to stay or leave.   That isn’t easy as a matter of fact it may be really hard.  For that you might just have to shut up and color.

Welcome aboard!

A Little Humor… Men.. Don’t do this at the office..

Men and women have been working in the office together for many moons.  What I have seen working in a military environment always surprises me.  When an attractive woman is in the office she hovered over, she is annoyed, she is interrupted, she is constantly asked out and given little and sometimes big gifts.    This week while at the office I had an opportunity to laugh at one man’s attempt to court a friend.

This guy is either brilliant or challenged..

Dear Beautiful Lady,
(words that didn’t matter)….
I would love to invite you to a relaxing evening at my house at a
date of your choosing – hopefully sooner than later.  The menu will
consist of one of my favorite foods – Tacos – in addition to some
additional Mexican fare – that is of course if you like Mexican.
(Mariachi band not included – and you really don’t want to hear me sing
– not a good thing).  Following dinner, we would adjourn to the living
room and relax in the love seat – it is quite comfy and watch a nice
movie.  For dessert, there is a half gallon of Peanut Butter Swirl Ice
Cream in my freezer with two spoons in it.  I promise that my furry
roommates will be on their best behavior.P/S
Hope you got some rest yesterday and that today is not too painful.
Holler if you need a fresh cup of coffee or other caffeinated drink
delivered or just a nice smile and warm embrace to start your day off.
If that is not an option, you could drop by today on your way home – you
left your program from the play here and I think you should have it for
the weekend.  Plus from strictly a personal, selfless note, it will give
me a chance to see that beautiful smile of yours and possibly steal
another warm, comforting hug – something I wish would have lasted a lot
longer.  🙂
Dinner at Casa de Jane – Real Powerpoint..
Cordially Invited – What he meant..
Have a great day.  Sincerely,
Dude that shouldn’t be asking women out at work in front of other people.