The night #Canada cried

hug

August 20th, 2016. The night where Canadians will remember exactly where they were for the last Tragically Hip concert. To call it a watershed moment like Paul Henderson’s goal would be unfair. Paul Henderson’s goal uplifted the country, Gord Downie singing “Grace, too” broke our collective hearts. Even though the cancer diagnosis happened in the past, it really took this concert to make the situation real.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The Tragically Hip were ‘the’ Canadian band. Not overly successful outside of the country, humble, polite, meaningful, and important. Full disclosure, I was always more of a Rush fan, but there I was crying over Canada’s loss in a friends back yard, listening to the music of a generation of Canada.

I loved that the hip were from a small town, I loved that the lyrics in the songs were from Canada throughout the years, and I loved the fact that the Tragically Hip were always different.

If anything August 20th, 2016 was Canada’s JFK moment. Suddenly our collective hearts were ripped out and we were left to wonder about where do you go from here. And just like JFK, Canadian’s were gathered around the country watching history being written.

Even worse, there wasn’t a person we could despise. Just a nameless, faceless disease that had taken millions before.

Thank you for the bravery, music and words Gord. Thanks for reminding us about what being Canadian really means.

Farewell my friend

Today is a sad, sad day. After 16 and a half years I have to put down a long time companion. One that has been to California, Alberta, Wisconsin, Montana, and many places in between. I first met her on an April day many years ago and she was a perfect match.

But now I can just see the age creeping up on her. She is slower and doesn’t have the same get up and go. She tries to keep up, but ultimately she just falls behind the other SUVs. I just don’t have the heart to keep on applying duct tape to the rust spots.

Yep. I’ve got to let my Pathfinder go.

This wouldn’t be so hard if she didn’t still drive nice and start every morning. She and I have been through thick and thin. That vehicle has seen me through the last 17 years and 3 girlfriends and 2 kids and 1 wife. For those of you counting at home, those 3 girlfriends were before the wife and 2 kids. ūüôā

So how cruel am I?

I’m now driving the Pathfinder to Mazda, Ford, and Hyundai dealerships to test drive other cars. Jesus, how callous and insensitive can I be? I’m such a bastard.

I only hope one day she can forgive me. If it is any consolation I am sure to trade in the next SUV just like I’ve done to the Pathfinder. And I’ll do it sooner, with no regrets.

Goodbye my dear, we will always have California.

Joy and Bacon

There are certain things that inspire pure joy in this world. Seeing your children accomplish something you know they have worked so hard for. Seeing your wife beat cancer with quiet confidence. Hearing a song or seeing a scene in a movie that connects with a moment from your own life. Even better, hearing that David Gilmour guitar solo from Comfortably Numb… you know, the second one. ūüôā

But for me the most of pure unadulterated joy I get to appreciate every year is spring. Yep, just that boring old spring where the snow melts and stuff gets messy.

But when you are from the heart of the prairies where it usually gets to -30 and -40 with the windchill, spring is a huge occasion. I wish I could convey the absolute elation and giddiness to my American neighbours far south. Even fellow Canadians in ¬†Calgary and Toronto probably don’t feel the joy to the same level. They just haven’t felt the wind for all winter long.

Feeling the warm fat spring wind on your face is comforting and tender. It is strange how the wind changes through the winter as it becomes more narrow and skinny and thin as it gets colder and colder. Then eventually the wind feels like a thin sheet of ice making it hard to breathe. Eventually you get used to it and carry on.

But that first day in the spring, with a breeze and temperature above freezing is the definition of Joy. Kinda like if Bacon had a sister.

#Minecraft Code Club – Day 2 #BoysAndGirls

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Well today was Day 2 of the Minecraft Code Club. Actually it was Day 1 again for a second group. This time it was for Grade 3’s. I modified the session a little bit based upon the feedback received in the first session and I think it went even better. We increased the Silent Brainstorming activities before we got involved in looking at any code. The kids did their introductory artwork on their favorite Minecraft things but then I also asked them what they wanted to learn. As usual with Silent Brainstorming, I always see ideas I never expected.

Here are some of the things they wanted to learn today:

  • Build a portal
  • Fight an Ender Dragon (I don’t even know what that is!)
  • Ride a pig, cow, and wolf
  • How to make a castle
  • Make a pig fly
  • Make jewels

Difference between boys and girls 

One thing I was fascinated with today was the difference in a session dominated by boys versus dominated by girls. The first session was almost entirely boys, the session today was almost entirely girls.

As the kids worked through the session, I made the following observations:

1) The girls were much more collaborative and social. They went out of their way to make sure other tables were being as successful as they were.

2) The girls were not competitive. They were more concerned about everyone being successful than about being first.

3) The girls were also much more open to ask questions. There was no hesitation to ask questions and to try and get help for what they wanted to do.

I should also say that my son Matthew also helped in the session and he was awesome. Couldn’t have done it without him and I was very proud how he helped everyone. I joked with Matthew he could be a teacher – he just said maybe and smiled.

Grade 3

The other observation I had was that Grade 3 would be the absolute youngest I would do the class with. Although they picked up on items quickly, they did less exploring and problem solving if they lost their way. They still grasped the concepts quickly, but maybe were a little less comfortable in the game and with a computer. They still did review the Java code and picked out the words that made sense to them. They also grasped what would happen if I assigned a large number to length…

They did validate that the model of teaching code to them that I am showing does resonate. When I talked about giving the Minecraft program a needle with our code, they laughed and understood that we were doing something to change a large program. (although we did have to clarify that the needle would not hurt)

In the next class I’m actually going to show them how we give the program a needle… Yes boy and girls we are going to compile code!!!

Good times

Prairie Dev Con 2015 – SQL Server is cheaper than Open Source #FTW

I’ll be presenting my recent presentation on how SQL Server is cheaper than Open Source at Prairie Dev Con on Monday. If you have the chance, check out the conference. Great assortment of speakers and topics.

Here is the link to my Blog post related to the presentation:

https://agilevoyageur.com/2012/06/22/sql-server-2012-cheaper-than-open-source-database-options/

Are #Estimates Lies? #NoEstimates

One of the statements that causes me angst is the “Estimates are Lies” that I read on the Twitterverse from time to time. So I thought I’d do some research. I decided to look up the definition of a Lie.

A¬†lie¬†is a false statement to a person or group made by another person or group who knows it is not the whole truth, intentionally.¬†Lies can be told for various reasons and with various amounts of success.” – Wikipedia

Under this definition, an estimate is indeed a lie. We know the estimate will be incorrect. But doesn’t the whole statement depend on what the definition for truth is? ūüôā

Truth¬†is most often used to mean in accord with fact or reality” – Wikipedia

Hmmm, so it seems that under these definitions that estimates are indeed lies.

Predictions

The only caveat to the above definitions is that estimates are a specific type of statement. They are a prediction. All predictions are lies by their very nature. We can never be exact about the future as things will always change. The further away the prediction, the greater chance our predictions or lies will be bigger.

So what is the definition of a prediction?

“A¬†prediction¬†(Latin¬†pr√¶-, “before,” and¬†dicere, “to say”) or forecast¬†is a statement about the way things will happen in the future, often but not always based on experience or knowledge. While there is much overlap between¬†prediction¬†and¬†forecast, a¬†prediction¬†may be a statement that some outcome is expected, while a¬†forecast¬†is more specific, and may cover a range of possible outcomes.

Although guaranteed information about the future is in many cases impossible, prediction is necessary to allow plans¬†to be made about possible developments; Howard H. Stevenson writes that prediction in business “… is at least two things: Important and hard” – Wikipedia

Summary

So it seems that estimates are both lies and predictions.

But this is a slippery slope. I tell my wife I will be home by 6 from a new location I have never driven home from before. Turns out I hit a traffic jam and I didn’t get home until 6:30. Did I lie to her? I would say no. I gave her the best answer I had at the time with the information I had and the experience I had. Sound familiar? ¬†In my opinion, a prediction is only a lie if it isn’t my honest, and truthful best attempt at predicting the future.

Let’s state that again “In my opinion, a prediction is only a lie if it isn’t my honest, and truthful best attempt at predicting the future.”

Estimates will always be wrong, but estimates are not lies. They are a prediction given the best information we have at the time. And they are made to help the other person plan. If I refused to give an estimate of my arrival time and said I didn’t know and wouldn’t know until I got there, my wife could not have made plans to pick up the kids. ¬†In our busy lifestyle, this is just not an option to wait until we both got home before we committed to any plans. This is a very simple example but it highlights the challenge of planning without any predictions.

To make plans that affect multiple people or groups or people, you need to make predictions. If you need to make predictions you need estimates. Whether estimates are lies or not is beside the point. We usually need them when working with different groups of people. Like businesses, families, or teams.

Final Caveat

I do agree that once you have direct experience that should replace prior estimates… Once I have traveled that route home a few times, I should use my experience to provide¬†me with a better estimate. In Software Development projects, I should switch to using my velocity as soon as possible and not rely on the initial estimate anymore. Failure to do this corrupts the purpose of the estimate. It is only a prediction until we have more information.

Remember the definition of my estimate was “the best answer I had at the time with the information I had and the experience I had”. If I have new experience or knowledge I am obligated to use that information and re-estimate.

#Agile PMO – A new hope #PMOT

On my most recent project, I have had the good fortune to be asked to help to lead the Project Management Office. (PMO) There had been multiple leads of the PMO before, but each one was not able to provide all the information that the senior stakeholders were asking for. Given my background in Agile, I was very interested in how I could create a PMO that was lean and focused on value as much as possible.

The Project

The project is an enterprise implementation of an SAP solution. All told, there are hundreds of sub-projects that are required. At any given time, there are 20-30 sub-projects that are executing at any one time.  It is a large, nasty, wicked matrix of sub-projects, requirements, and issues. Although I had done extensive Project Management and some Program Management, this was at a scale that I had less experience with. I did have three huge advantages though:

  1. Relationships – I had excellent relationships with the other teams and Project Managers in all of the different sub-projects. I also had previous relationships with the Chief Architect and Project Director.
  2. Trust – I had built up trust with the Stakeholders for the project. We had built up a relationship over the past year where we could have honest discussions on any aspect of the project.
  3. Experience – Although I had limited experience on leading a PMO for a project of this size, I did have the experience of seeing what the previous PMOs lacked. This gave me a head start of what I felt we needed to ensure this PMO delivered. Of course, we would need to validate this with the stakeholders.

My Approach

I knew I wanted to implement an Agile PMO, but what exactly does an Agile PMO look like? I needed to do some research…

Luckily I found the a book titled “The Agile PMO” by Michael Nir. This book was an epiphany. It provided grounding and affirmation on what I felt an Agile PMO should be. The book also provided clarity in the ways that PMOs can go astray. In particular, Michael Nir described the three typical types of PMOs mistakes:

  1. Tactical PMO –¬†The Tactical PMO is created in response to the enterprise’s need for consolidated visibility on the all the disjointed projects that are currently executing. Sadly, there is usually isn’t analysis or planning on what value the PMO should provide other than providing consolidated information.
  2. Methodology PMO РThe Methodology PMO is created to provide templates and standards in the hope that everyone executing projects using these standards will result in more predictability and visibility. Closely related to the Methodology PMO, is the Tool PMO where the adoption of standard tools is seen as the solution to being able to provide more predictability and visibility.
  3. Project Manager home PMO РThe Project Manager home PMO is a PMO that gets created as a Career Centre for the corporations Project Managers in the hope that using standard Project Management will provide value to the corporation.

After I read these three types of PMO mistakes, I immediately recognized all the PMOs I had seen gone astray in the past. Sadly, I think most of my own previous PMO efforts were variations of the Methodology PMO. I felt shame.

Michael Nir then succinctly described the solution – the Value PMO.

Michael’s definition of a value PMO was :

“A PMO creates value through assisting the organization decide where to invest its resources for the optimal return on investments. Tools, methodology, techniques, processes are all nice to have, however they do not constitute an objective in themselves.”

awesome. We now had a vision.

Our PMO

Now that we had a vision, it seemed clear to me that we needed to confirm our PMO vision in three areas and gain agreement from stakeholders:

1) Confirm the Objectives that the PMO would have with the Project Stakeholders

2) Confirm the Value that these Objectives would deliver with the Project Stakeholders

3) Confirm the Service that the PMO would provide to the sub-projects themselves.

For points 1 and 2, the following matrix was developed and validated as being correct for the Project Stakeholders:

Objective Value
1) Validate planning standards across the program Minimize the probability and magnitude of changes required to the amount of project work by confirming that the project scope is understood.
2) Create a program level schedule for key development, testing, and implementation milestones – at the project and feature level Allow Stakeholder visibility on the plan so that we can ensure people are working the most important items. Also allows for Stakeholders to have a line-of-sight so that decisions can be made if the schedule is not acceptable. These decisions can be priority calls, people assignment, or scope inclusion/exclusion.
3) Assist projects in getting assistance with issues Help to resolve project issues asap and minimize the effect these issues have on the project and program
4) Assist projects in creating and executing mitigation plans for identified project risks Reduces the project risks and the effect these risks will have on the project and program
5) Provide consolidated reporting Allow Stakeholder visibility on the execution so that we can ensure people are working the most important items. Also allows for Stakeholders to have a line-of-sight so that decisions can be made if the schedule is not acceptable. These decisions can be priority calls, people assignment, or scope inclusion/exclusion.
6) Provide guidance on enterprise standards for project deliverables Provide consistency across projects to minimize the probability and magnitude of changes required to the amount of project work by confirming that the project scope is understood.
7) Validate Resource Plan across the program Minimize the risk of resourcing issues in the future by validating that adequate resources are allocated and that the resource plan is realistic and reasonable

For point 3, we perhaps set the PMO tone in the most important way. Instead of the PMO telling the project what they needed to do,  our focus was on asking projects how we could help them. For example, we asked:

1. Are there any obstacles we can help to remove?
2. Do you need any additional people, resources, or changes in priority  to keep to the plan?

The story so far

We have received extremely positive feedback on this new Agile PMO. I’ll create a subsequent post on how the PMO evolves as we work with the Stakeholders, but indications are that this PMO is positioned very well to succeed and provide true value to the corporation.

Mostly importantly the Project Stakeholders AND the sub-projects see value it what we are doing…