Thursday, 17 May 2018

Begin with the end in mind… shall we?



So, we’ve been reviewing the ‘Agile thinking’ training, together with my friend and lead trainer Jonathan Moss and we jumped into a short philosophical discussion.

At the beginning the training itself teaches that in Agile thinking we should:
1. ‘Begin with the end in mind’ (a well know ‘habit of highly effective people’)
2. ‘Understand the context’

My challenge to Jonathan was, that both of those could be wrongly interpreted by the trainees. The point is - when we adopt Agile mindset and values, we rarely think about the end, I would even argue that there is no end at all. The beauty of our mindset is that we only need a vision and short-term goals in order to deliver value, again, and again, and again. We start seeing our products, services, achievements, even our life goals as a journey, and not as a destination anymore... gotcha, there is no end anymore. Yes, we agree we have a long-term vision. And that’s it – more we see as a waste, as a subject to a change in the future anyway… so why bother?

On the opposite we have the visualization techniques and principles, which are indeed extremely powerful.
First you need to imagine your dream -> (then) visualize it in details -> believe in it -> work your a** off – in order to achieve it
Conor McGregor’s achievements are great example of how far such thinking & believing could lead you in life:


Bending the reality, objecting the facts, trying to tame the Universe so it obeys and supports us in achieving our dreams in details are indeed amazing, extraordinary and powerful tools and mindset…  But those could also lead to a life dedicated to chasing illusions…

And as Agile-thinking-monkeys, most of us are a little bit more practical. We know that ‘Only the ladder is real… the climb is all there is :)’ (by Petyr Baelish's Chaos is a ladder)… And so often we are fine, to bend our dreams, our products, even change our vision in order to deliver value and satisfy our users and clients – here and now. And it is something to be clearly communicated over the ‘Agile thinking’ training. We don’t expect to visualize/understand/know ‘the end’ in our mind in order to start delivering value and get feedback…

Pretty much the same goes to the ‘understanding the context’ principle. We do not expect to understand everything, or even the majority of the surrounding area (the context). We only need to understand the context for the next iteration (step), to work our way through the darkness, just to illuminate more and more of the context with each delivery and feedback.
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Monday, 26 March 2018

Empower your decisions



(images by EPAM Bulgaria)

Last Thursday I did a talk as part of the lunch & learn initiative at EPAM, on topic I’ve been curious about for years: “Empower your decisions”. In 21st century we have so many opportunities, so many options and so many decisions we are eager to make, often just to feel frustrated later when we couldn’t put the necessary effort into them to get any of the benefits. Healthy living, working out regularly, new business or hobby, great relationship, or even getting rid of bad habits like smoking – all of those are important decisions, and if empowered would significantly improve our lives.

Preparing for the talk I did a lot of research but mainly relied on my experience as a coach and mentor to provide the audience with successful strategy, hints, tips, and most important: way of thinking and attitude.

1. On 11.02.1990 James ‘Buster’ Douglas defeated the ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, the fight became the biggest upset in boxing history. When asked how he managed, Buster Douglas started crying and told the story of the last 6 months. His mother got sick and entered a hospital. She was worried about the upcoming fight, and Douglas promised her he is going to defeat Mike Tyson. And about 20 days before the fight his mother passed away. Douglas was ruined and what left for him was only to fulfill a promise to a dying parent.

The lesson we learn from the story is: behind every decision there is a ‘Why?’, and if you don’t know what your ‘why’ is or if your ‘why’ is not strong enough, your decision will just become a failure. Just like Buster Douglas, who managed to defeat ‘the monster’, only to lose miserably 8 months later when he was demolished by Holyfield and defeated in just 3 rounds. Douglas simply did not have his ‘why’ anymore.

2. Interesting statistics were proven in the USA, concerning patients with cardiological problems. Many of them already undergo expensive and dangerous procedures. In a last attempt to save the patients the doctors tell them they exhausted the medical options and if they don’t change their diet and lifestyle drastically they are going to die. Surprisingly, only one out of ten patients managed to change their lifestyle (long-term), even in the face of death. The habits our brains developed fort years are proven to be very difficult to destroy and replaced with new once.

The strongest possible weapon is to strengthen our curiosity to support us on getting out of our comfort zones more regularly. Remember, when we were little children our curiosity drove the day, not our habits. Get curious about something new and do something new to train yourself to get out of comfort zones regularly, this will make your brain less resilient on making difficult decisions and turning them into reality.

3. ‘No decision is still a decision’
Looking at donorship consent survey from 2003 across EU countries a loop in human beings’ decision making is clearly visible. In a situation where the decision is complex we tend to stick to the default decision and make ‘no decision’. The countries with 90%+ consent have a survey checkbox ‘check here if you would like to opt-out’ and countries with about 10% consent have the survey checkbox ‘check if you would like to opt-in’. In both cases people tend not to check the box as the decision is far too complex, and they just go with the default option. But ‘no decision is still a decision’, and it’s a clear example how we let others decide our fate.

4. ‘A diet dies in the supermarket, it doesn’t die in the kitchen’
Temptations and distractions are all around us. The marshmallow test, with little kids attempting to predict who will be more successful in life, clearly shows that our willpower is no match for our instincts. The lesson learned is to stay literally far away from distractions and temptations, contradicting with our decision. If you want to quit smoking – don’t get nearby stores selling tobacco, or colleagues who would take you for a smoke. If you decide to work on your new business idea turn off your phone, to avoid risking distraction by your friends.

5. Perfectionism is the death of decision making
We all live in a society where mastery and perfection are craved and desired. In school we compete for better grades, as well as in the university, then in our work environment we are trained to be as perfect and efficient as possible. And when we want to make an important decision we usually start by researching, then communicating with friends and relatives, planning… and postpone the action. In fact, preplanning the whole journey would most certainly scare our brain off and it will find a way to discourage us from even trying.

‘How did you manage to outrun/outswim the others?’ they asked the top athletes and the answer was simple ‘I never allowed my brain to see the whole distance – it will just scare and paralyze me, I only allowed it to see the next minute, the next couple of meters, the next step.’ The lesson learned is ‘Think only one step ahead.’

6. Why do we procrastinate?
Let’s admit it: we all procrastinate. It seems to be a response in our ‘psychological immune system’. Our brain is permanently stressed and when we are to introduce more stress (by let’s say deciding to work out regularly) it refuses, by gently delaying the execution of the decision… if possible forever.

The cure for procrastination is to get started: ‘Act small – act now’. Trick your brain by promising yourself only 5 min. work out, working on your new business or doing whatever you decided. Then try to enjoy the process, most of the people go beyond the 5 min. as it is easier for the mind to keep up the state it is already in, than change it. Nevertheless, be honest to yourself and make sure you do not burn out. Stop if you start feeling tired or disengaged and need your willpower to push you over. Then continue on the next day (just for 5 min. again). You are building a long-term habit that way.

7. Use your body
Human beings, we are much more physiological creatures than psychological. Usually in a process of decision-making we sit in front of our computers in the worst possible posture. Sitting for hours has many negative impacts and is deadly to decision making. Instead take a 10-min. walk outside, breathe some fresh air, put your hands in the air, jump a little bit, do some stretching. You will immediately feel empowered and capable of acting and achieving. You will feel energized and ready to conquer, build and create. Use your body always when you want to empower yourself.

Those are the top 7 lessons to help you empower your decisions and turn them into reality. Would be great if you share what do you think and if you have more to add in the comments below.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

(image by EPAM Bulgaria)

“It was very useful, and I had quite a lot of fun… please keep it this way”, I was told after we completed the Agile & Scrum foundations training for business and administration edition. And I felt happy… really happy for delivering the training in a way I believe every training or talk should be delivered. To tell the full story - it is one of the few things I remembered clearly from WEBIT ’11, until today. The mantra was constantly repeated by Marvin Liao (Yahoo) “useful + fun = valuable”, and it became something I truly believe in.

It was challenging, but also interesting to adapt the training for the business team so they, not only understand what Agile and Scrum in software development is, but also get something useful to implement in their work and even everyday life.

So, they got a game to create product backlog, and learn how to write user stories and acceptance criteria. Followed by prioritizing, estimating and committing to items from their backlogs for the week (sprint).

We taught them simple relative estimation (by sizes) techniques, but also the folks experienced the ‘entire joy’ of playing planning poker and how difficult it could be to agree on a simple ‘5’ :).

In the middle of the training we did (my personal favorite) sprint simulator game where the experience included some random / real-life events, which could happen during the sprint and the teams had to adjust and adapt to.

And we ended up with review on the last day of the training, where the teams had to present if they managed to complete their sprint goal and demo the results of the completed user stories, followed up by retrospective session to inspect and adapt. As a trade-off the topic of XP and some of Kanban was kicked-out, but all for good.

It was so much fun, and the vibe and energy were amazing. It’s really cool to train folks not involved in software development in Agile & Scrum.

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Here is some of the feedback, as usual:

‘The idea of involving non-tech people in such a training was pretty cool in general. I liked a lot the way, the additional sessions were presented. It was very useful not only to learn the general information about Agile/Scrum but also to see it in practical exercises and examples’

‘I liked the most the part with creating our own backlog (product) where everyone should focus on defining epic, user stories and AC / tasks for them. It helped a lot to have better idea of additional tasks and how to prioritize in a good way’

‘The training gave me the opportunity to understand that flexibility is important, as well as change, during project management’

‘It should have been a little bit longer – there are many other useful practices, which we could learn. I am waiting eagerly for e second edition of the training’

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And yeah, it was privilege and real joy to train such enthusiastic and energetic group of people.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

3 coachees, 3 lessons


Recently I started doing extraordinary practice. Each time I do coaching or training sessions I write down the most valuable lesson I learn from each of the coachees/trainees I meet. Then I read those reminders every day, for at least one week ahead, and act on them.

Lucky, last week I had the pleasure to work with three extraordinary gentlemen. Their common trait is the desire for improvement, so my role is to coach them in the journey of improving their lives.

The first one, let’s call him Nigel, a very intelligent, small-business owner, craving interesting lifestyle and looking for new stuff in life.

Nigel has the luxury of achieving complete financial stability at his young age and is obsessed with bringing more quality in his life. His business is going great, he loves sports (16-20 workout sessions per month), and he is fascinated by smart and successful people.

His major goal is to find what drives him in a long term. How to get a sustainable motivation for life? Nigel has challenged himself to do 10 major challenges in a month, record them and share in our next session.

In one word, Nigel reminded me of ‘curiosity’. For a person who achieved quite a lot he has insatiable appetite for new and interesting things in life. He reminded me that when we stop being curious we get old, and eventually die (one way or another).

The second guy, I’ll call Luis. He is very emotional, even artistic, he experiences ups and downs, and often feels insecure.

He is good at deeply connecting with open and friendly people. And in the next month his challenge is to motivate his best friend and 4 other random friends. He also would be working on his negotiation skills and deliver a solid pitch to convince a professor in sharing slides at the Uni.

I was amazed when Luis looked me in the eyes and said ‘I want to give love to the people, that’s my goal’. We (especially I) often forget that people not only need to be trained, coached, satisfied, or challenged. They need to be loved. They need to feel somebody truly cares about them and loves them no matter what happens, and they need to feel it every day in order to unleash their full potential.

My third coachee is Vlad (another fictional name to another real person).
He describes himself as worried, creative, self-improvement enthusiast, optimistic and not-self-sufficient. He uses a lot of filters when communicating and often doesn’t believe in himself.

And what an interesting character – Vlad is quite sporty and goes for a swim 4 times a week, while doing street workouts almost every day. He doesn’t look bulky and possess great amount of strength, he defeated me in friendly arm-wrestling competition.

Vlad is going to beat the crap out of his insecurity by meeting and communicating with quite a lot of random new people for the next thirty days.

So, what did I learn from him?
Showing more respect and appreciation to my parents. Vlad has a very supportive family and shows his appreciation every day. I have a busy life (we all do), but taking a minute or two to call my parents and just show my respect and appreciation is something I was reminded to do much more often.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Agile & Scrum foundations training


Last week we completed another Agile & Scrum foundations training @EPAM Bulgaria. It’s been very intense and at the same time quite pleasant to train the wonderful group of young and hungry (for knowledge) developers at the company. 

Agile and Scrum foundations is training I have been conducting for years. The goal is to fully prepare any team or team members to start doing efficient Scrum and adopt the Agile values and mindset. It covers the following topics:

Agile mindset & values
Introducing Agile thinking and mindset is the most important topic. The idea is not only to help people understand the Agile way of thinking and doing, but also to test if it fits the personality of each participant.

Basics of Scrum, benefits of Scrum and the Scrum team
We talk about Scrum from a high-level point of view, discuss why we use the framework, and what the roles in the Scrum team are. It is followed by a game of Scrum roles. 

User stories & backlog refinement
How to write good user stories and how to initially refine the backlog is covered in the session.

Agile metrics and planning poker
I teach the secrets of relative estimation and we play a game of planning poker.

Scrum events, Scrum artifacts & tools, Kanban
We dig deeper into the Scrum events, artifacts and tools, discuss the basics of Kanban and how it could help the team.

Sprint simulator
A turn-based game, simulating a sprint for the participants to experience it in fast-forward environment.

There are also sessions about XP, retrospective game, and Agile & Scrum test so everybody could check what they learned and how to implement it in their work.

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Some of the participants feedback:

What was good?
- Short sessions. Well-structured and filtered info – no waste, only value. Recap sessions with questions. Real life examples.
- Games and the practical tasks.
- It was fun, engaging and had real life examples. The games were very practical-oriented.
- Presentations delivery was interesting, not in a boring way.
- The emphasis was on games, practical tasks and teamwork to strengthen the experience.

What could be improved?
- Include more real-life examples.
- Even more games :)
- Make it longer.

Most useful?
- Games :)
- XP and Kanban knowledge.
- Practicing the Scrum events.

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In conclusion, it was intense… but it was quite a lot of fun too. What is planned next is to deliver the Agile & Scrum foundations training for business and administration to support them in their day-to-day activities. Stay tuned :)