Friday, July 13, 2018

Introducing: "SWARMing"


Hello all! I popped into Dan North's blog to see what he's been writing about lately. Dan North introduced BDD (Behavior-Driven Development) to the world which bridged a huge gap between the Customer and the Team.




His latest post "In Praise Of SWARMing" grabbed my attention. I thought it was going to be about "swarming" a problem as in Kanban. But it's actually a different-ish approach to adopting Agile at Scale. SWARMing is Scaling Without A Religious Methodology.






His ideas really hit home with some great points! There are some harsh criticisms of competing methodologies. Those are somewhat tasteful. And I have to warn you, its a bit wordy. At over 4200 words, it's quite a bit more than your average "browsing the internet" post.


Here are some things that really jumped out at me.

The Good Parts



I particularly like the contrast between "moving the work to the people" and "moving the people to the work." This translates to reorganizing. The term "self-organizing teams" comes to mind.


I do prefer the flat structure of "every part of the org is geared in delivering value" vs the slanted structure of "sales makes the money and everyone else spends it." It allows businesses to utilize all their assets in focus of value delivery.




I read once that value is expressed as the benefit for the cost. A "good value" doesn't necessarily mean inexpensive. It means you actually got a return on your investment, monetary or otherwise. I wonder if looking at your organization from a "good value" perspective would make a positive difference.


Speaking if value: There are a couple terms worth following up on. OKRs are a relatively new way to set and measure goals. I learned about Risk-Adjusted Return on Investment, which is your profit plus or minus risk.


The Bad Parts

The post is long. It has quite a few run-on sentences. The upshot is that it's not an easy read. My concerns are that you (dear reader) won't see through to the beneficial parts. Please press on, it's worth it!


You've also got to see past the sales-y aspects. He's pretty tough on competing methods of implementing Agile at scale. He's right with those points, but it drags the article and makes for a slightly bitter taste. Sorry.


I get it, he's selling consulting services and differentiating from his competitors. But that wouldn't really be necessary if the most valuable points were laid out without the cruft. Maybe do those parts in a future post dedicated to a comparison.


The last "bad part" is the focus on hard numbers. These days, organizational psychology says to keep your focus on doing good for your customers. But that depends on perspective I suppose. Those with the pocketbook will care about the revenue aspect, especially when they're being told to rethink how they allocate funds!

The Rest




Somewhere past halfway, Dan iterates over eight points about how to be SWARMing. Some of those go into depth with definitions of types of leaders: servant-leader and leader-leader. This section has some practical advice for hiring services to help with your transformation process. The successful transformation will be a long and investment-intensive road, so buckle up!

Conclusion

I sent Dan an email asking if he had a more concise description of SWARMing. One that, hopefully, lays it out without the heavy padding. Those things are valuable to support the idea, no doubt! But I can't exactly expect busy execs to read such a lengthy argument all at once. Especially when it's a new idea which asks them to rethink their organization from top-to-bottom, front-to-back, and side-to-side.


All in all, I'd say it's worth taking the time to read his post. With the right packaging SWARMing could be a catalyst for much needed change. I hope it gets that with a bow on top.





Thursday, July 5, 2018

Book Review: To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

I've never posted a book review on this blog, so here goes!

I've been inspired in the past by Daniel Pink when I read his bestselling book Drive, I subscribe to his newsletter, I've written him a couple emails (to which he responded). You might call me a fan. Maybe I am. I did, after all, read another of his books - To Sell Is Human.

Here are some things you might like about it (I know I did)...

What's It About?


In this book, Daniel Pink points out that we all sell. He makes a distinction between sales and non-sales selling. Sales selling is the traditional kind that makes you think of a used-car salesman from the 70's. Non-sales selling is the kind we all do - all the time!

Daniel takes you on a sales call with Norman Hall, the last remaining Fuller Brush Man. Norman is a "door-to-door" salesman. He is resilient, friendly, and has specific characteristics that make him a perfect seller. We should emulate Norman!

We go on other journeys to find out more about non-sales selling. Daniel takes us along to a training session with VPs, CEOs, and other business folks who are sharpening their selling saws. This book is packed with practical advice and results of studies to substantiate his claims.

So, Why Does Traditional Sales Suck?

The book shows us how we generally think of traditional selling in a negative light. Then it opens our eyes as to why. Spoiler Alert! The sales we think of - used car sales from years ago - is an unbalanced transaction. The sellers have all the power. That power was so often abused that the decent folk got pushed out. Why did they have all the power and what changed?

I'd recommend that you read the book and find out for yourself. But, since there are so many goodies in To Sell Is Human, I don't feel sorry about giving away this bit. The equation changes when buyers are informed. For example, we can find out everything we need to know and more about a used car before we buy. And we're not as limited in our options. We have the internet. The "information superhighway" for those of you old enough to remember the TV commercials.

Traditional sales used to suck, but it doesn't anymore. It's been transformed into more of a partnership. The role is more about discovering problems and applying solutions than it is about tricking uninformed consumers. Sure, those types of salespeople are still around feeding off the bottom. But your real sales jobs are much more elevated. Think about this...who is running the company you work for? Do they know how to sell?

How Do I Sell?

And then there's non-sales selling. You already do this. Whether you sell the dentist to your kids, a vacation to your spouse, or a new procedure to your boss you're selling! Daniel gives us plenty of practical advice we can all use in everyday life to make the sell.

He presents the new ABCs of selling (Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity) in an entertaining and digestible way. There's a lot to learn for those of you who have a hard time selling your ideas. There's some for those of you who think you have it all figured out too!

Besides those ABCs of how to be, he shows you what to do. Pitch, Improvise and Serve.

But, I'm an Introvert! I can't Sell...

This may come as a shocker, but extroverts aren't much better at selling than introverts! It turns out that ambiverts, those who are in the middle of the spectrum between intro- and extro-, are the best sellers. And chances are, you're more in the middle than you care to admit!

"vertedness" isn't binary any more than "brainedness" is right or left. Both are a spectrum, and most people are somewhere in the middle. Find your middle ground and become better at selling! Too much extro- leads to pushiness and not listening. Too much intro- leaves you under-assertive and too quick to walk away. Balance is better, despite what folklore says.

What Can I Take With Me?

This book is a perspective changer. It has shocking revelations! It has practical advice! It's fun to read! To use one of the techniques in the book: To Sell Is Human is a great read, you'll be pleased indeed!

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Big Five + Johari Window: Creating the Holy Grail of Personality Tests

As for personality tests, there are many options to choose from but which will guide us to the truth about ourselves? Meyers-Briggs? What kind of Ice-Cream are you?

Grouping and Sorting


We like to group and sort. At a young age, we learn this skill. But it doesn't mean that the world fits the models we create so nicely! And that's just it—we create models as substitutes when reality is beyond our comprehension.


Models help us communicate more easily with others. Imagine explaining a bird, for example, by iterating the entire set of species within the bird family. We didn't really get the classification of planets right until we found such an outlier that we had to redefine what it means to be a planet!

Binary Choices

We seen to like binary choices - 'A' or 'B'. A-B testing is the common paradigm for proofing a new feature design in application development. We default to two political parties in the US almost to a fault! I've noticed that my children respond more readily with binary choices. It's just easier to reason about!


The trouble is, binary choices are mis-leading. If you have two compasses, and they're slightly different, which do you follow? Either you need a third compass to prove out the faulty one, or you need to just pick one and go with God!


Is it accurate? When you move beyond the fervor of political campaigning, can you thoughtfully agree with everything on one platform vs another? Am I an INTP or an ENTJ? I've come out with both! Sometimes I align with E and sometimes I. Sometimes I'm Perceiving other times Judging. Seems logical that I straddle the line on those two factors.


Finally, with Autism they've done away with binaries. It isn't as if one is either autistic or not autistic. It really that we're all autistic to varying degrees. It's just another way of thinking 😔.

Beyond Binary Lies a Continuum

As it is with many things, our personalities lie on a continuum. If we take something like the Big Five, and rate each of the five traits on a continuum we will have a closer model of reality.
There is, however, a specific problem I want to address in how we collect the data. Self-selected ratings are prone to bias. Therefore, those surveys you take for yourself are highly prone to error. They may tell you more about how you perceive yourself or how you'd like to perceive yourself than how you actually are. And what good does that do you? After all you know yourself anyways, right??

Crowdsourcing

Besides the self-affirming nature of those questionnaires, the sample size is way too small—it's one! Thankfully we have social networks of friends who are generally willing to participate in social games. If only we can make it enough of a joy to participate in the game, that they'll readily participate. 50-100 question surveys aren't very rewarding! Enter Johari.

Making it a Game

The Johari Window model is kind of like a game. The subject and his/her friends, relatives, and colleagues choose adjectives that best describe the subject. The intersection of those choices fall into four quadrants: Arena, Façade, Blind Spot, Unknown. They're classified by whether or not the adjectives are chosen by the self and others.

The adjectives in a Johari Window are generally good traits such as "cooperative", "intelligent", and "friendly". There's an inverse called the Nohari Window which uses negative traits like "Stubborn", "Quarrelsome", and "Dense".

Combined, the Johari and Nohari Windows can give you a pretty decent view of how you perceive yourself compared to how others perceive you. The tricky part is to get enough participation to get a well-rounded view.

If you're interested in doing your own Johari Window, this one at Kevan.org is pretty darn straightforward. There are some other fun things at Kevan.org including this personality test.

 #   |.
###u#+.
     |)
If I were a NetHack monster, I would be a unicorn. Most people are only after one thing - I try to maintain a quiet and respectful distance until I feel sure that I can trust someone.
Which NetHack Monster Are You?

How about that...I'm a Unicorn after all! And here I was all along thinking I was a Bridge Troll.

And... if you haven't lolled off into Kevan-land by now, I'll be getting to the point soon.

Participation

Getting participation for something unfamiliar or that's going too much out of one's way is challenging. As previously mentioned, social media can help with this. It has familiarity, where an unfamiliar and poorly designed website can make others standoffish. You've got to expend some social capital on getting folks to participate.

That's not good. We want to build social capital with these exercises, rather than spend it!

Combining FTW

I'm thinking of combining concepts from the Big Five (or six, or whatever) with concepts from the Johari/Nohari Window.

This will work like this:

  • Use traits from the Big Five or HEXACO or some other number of traits
  • Present adjectives that fit with each trait (positively and negatively correlated)
  • The subject participates and asks for participation from acquaintances
  • From each trait group, participants choose 3 adjectives to describe the subject
  • There are two questions about the participant's relationship with the subject
    1. What type of relationship (choose all that apply): business, friend, family, acquaintance
    2. Scale of 1-10, how well do you know the subject
  • The subject answers the same 2 questions about each participant.

Additional Setup Details

Adjectives in each trait group vary in scale. For example, for the trait "Openness" some adjectives might be as follows:
  • accepting
  • progressive
  • open-minded
  • close-minded
  • conservative
  • curious
  • dull
  • intolerant
  • tolerant
Another option is to use emoji or some other visual indicator which is more culturally neutral to represent the adjectives.

Scoring

The strength and number of times each adjective is chosen are combined to give the rating scale for each trait. For example, if the traits given for Openness were selected as follows:


adjectivestrengthweight
close-minded-55
dull-72.5
intolerant-42
conservative-17

The subject would be considered low in Openness (-57.5).

Besides the ratings scale, the quadrants of the Johari Window can be brought into the model to provide more useful information to the subject. The concept of "known to self" and "known to others" is powerful in realizing how well we know ourselves and how we present ourselves to others.

In our example of Openness, we can also see that the subject did not pick any adjectives which are positive indicators of Openness. Therefore, the subject is not blind to this trait. This is the Arena quadrant of the Johari Window.

Anonymity and Sample Size

Two must haves in order for this to achieve useful accuracy are anonymity of the participants and large enough sample size of participants. They support each other. Large sample size secures anonymity. Anonymity allows more people to participate without fear. Additionally anonymity allows one to be more candid with their responses.

Diversity

A diverse sample is also important to get a more holistic view. The subject will be known in different ways by different people. This is the nature of relationships.

Conclusion

By combining concepts from the Big Five and the Johari Window, a better personality test can be created. What's more, is that this type of test will find more willing participants because of the fun nature of choosing a few adjectives rather than using something like a Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, neutral, etc.). This test is not strictly self-reporting, therefore not as subject to bias.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

You Need to Know: Shadow IT

Troy Hunt just posted a new free Pluralsight video about "Shadow IT." That term sounds nefarious, but it's actually quite innocent. It's someone creates or uses software or a resource that hasn't been documented in the IT inventory and approved for use inside the organization. Because it hasn't been through the on-boarding process for IT resources, it also hasn't passed security checks.

Some examples include: A Google Drive or a One Drive to store or share files. A share drive with open access. Cloud services on Azure, AWS, Google Could, IBM Bluemix, etc.

What Are the Issues?

It's not that using these resources are an issue in and of itself; it's that they present potential security and management issues.

Security

Because the security of "Shadow IT Resources" are unknown to the organization, they could open security holes. Those security holes can be either external (exposing information outside the organization) or internal (exposing information to unintended people inside). It may not always be a problem per-se, but either scenario could really cause problems for the organization. Those problems can result in loss of business, legal proceedings, and even cause the business to fail.

Web app services on Cloud platforms are designed to be open to the world be default. They can be secured by deploying them inside a VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) which is accessible from within the network only. This same concept applies to many other Cloud services.

Besides Cloud services, there are countless tools, games, and application that are easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Security problems unknown, these could contain malicious code which is designed to leak information

Cost

Besides the costs of recovering from an information leak, another potential cost concern is an unplanned expenditure. Particularly with cloud services since its relatively easy to create a new resource on a cloud platform. Cloud services are pay as you go so it would be a slow-burn rather than a fast explosion that leaked information would present.

This kind of issue is easier to resolve since all activities are logged and can therefore be monitored easily. Services like Alert Logic and Stackify give you insight into activities on the Cloud.

Scaling is another source of cost. Cloud resources are made to scale -  meaning new servers or service handlers are created to handle increased traffic. Configure scaling appropriately and set limits to ensure that a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack doesn't end up costing you a fortune overnight. For example: the cost difference between a single small AWS server and many XXXL servers is in orders of magnitude of 100x the cost.

Goldilocks

Despite the aforementioned concerns, it's not worthwhile to be too restrictive when it comes to using the tools available. The trick is to find a path that's just right.

The Tale of Goldilocks According to Me

In the classic Goldilocks fable, Goldilocks happens upon a cottage in the woods. The cottage is the residence of three bears (papa, mama, baby). She "innocently" does a B&E (Breaking and Entering). Besides the unauthorized entry into the abode, she eats their food; sampling the porridge of each until she finds the one that's not too hot and not too cold, but just right! After that she samples the chairs. Baby's chair is just the right size, but she breaks it. Then she proceeds upstairs to the bedroom and tries all the beds: papa's is too hard, mama's is too soft, but baby's is just right. She falls asleep only to be awakened by the angry bear family returned from their morning walk ready to maul her. She barely escapes with her life after her little crime spree.

Lock-Down?

Besides the rampant crime in the story, Goldilocks has to try what's available until she finds what's right for her. Follow this practice, starting with most restrictive. However, do be open about the strategy so that those in the organization aren't taken aback by the sudden lock-down! Some of what exists in Shadow IT-land may be business critical! In that case a total lock-down would cause serious business disruption. Consider that they do lock-downs in prison when a fight breaks out...

Stay Calm and Keep Innovating

Another extremely important factor in applying the right level and doing so with care to respect the autonomy of individuals is the innovation factor. Theodore Henderson of the Forbes Coaches Council notes that "Innovation Is Crucial To Your Organization's Long-Term Success." He cites many success stories of innovative products that have lead to serious growth of organizations. One such example is GMail, which is the fruit of Paul Buchheit's 20% time according to Time.com (free time given for the purpose of innovation).

Disallowing the use of applications and services can seriously stifle innovation. It can do so in two ways:

1. Denying access to tools that can make people more productive.
2. Making employees feel less autonomous.

Autonomy is important to innovation which stems from motivation. Going into total lock-down mode can make people like they're under total external control which stifles their innovations and productivity. As a business model, that isn't going to go well unless you're business is 20th century line assembly.

Concluding

While it may be natural to knee-jerk and enter into total lock-down, it's important to find the right level of control. The right level of control means keeping Shadow IT to a minimum and plugging security holes while keeping all employees on the same side as Info Sec and Governance.

Read Troy Hunt's post here: https://www.tyroyhunt.com/new-pluralsight-course-the-role-of-shadow-it-and-how-to-bring-it-out-of-the-darkness/

Friday, March 9, 2018

Do The Gemba Walk

As a developer or analyst, you should sit in your users' seats so that you fully understand how to meet their needs. Interviewing is merely an introduction to those needs. In Kanban, they do a Gemba walk, which means going to where the work is done. We call it management by walking around. This is fine for management, but for actually creating something that helps the users or the business, one needs to actually do the work to comprehend the actual problems in order to solve them in the best way
While doing so, keep in mind the user's technical skill and framework. You may find that your applications have more than one persona using the application. A persona is different from a role. You can have many personas in each role. Let's say a Legal Assistant is a role. Those users may or may not be tech savvy. Consider that in your UX design!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What a Story! An Agile Story


You've heard of this thing called a User Story right? Perhaps you've even seen the template:

"As a <type of user>,
 I want <some feature>
 So that <some goal>."

But perhaps you've wondered how to put a feature like "read the users name from the database and put the value in txtbxUserName" into that format.

Occasionally, I write about Agile on this blog. In that entry, I wrote about a broader view of Agile from a developer perspective. In this one, I made a case for leaving the work up to the pros. This time I'm focusing on something much narrower — the User Story.

The Wrong Way



Perhaps not "wrong" way, just not something that's going to align very well with the benefits of Agile.

"As the one telling you how to do your job, I need you to write code that reads the username from the Users table and put that value in the txtbxUserName field so that it shows up on the page".


Or perhaps "as the project sponsor, I want a check box there so the users have to check the box before they can submit the page."

It can be a bit awkward to put those kinds of instructions into User Story format...especially when the goal is not for the user but for the project sponsor or manager to tell a developer what to do. You can succeed at writing good user stories if you frame them in more general terms — don't think about implementation details. A good test is — if it's awkward it isn't right.

Maybe Better

"As a user with access to multiple user accounts, I want to know who I'm logged in as so I know which account I'm using at any given time."

"As the company's legal counsel, I want the user to accept responsibility for using our services so that we have a leg to stand on if something goes wrong." That's the "I have read and understand the 30,000 words of legalese" checkbox.

Real Life Example

For another look, let's imagine were doing some work for a burger joint where their customers expect one thing — getting their food quickly. They want to order quickly and they want everyone else to do the same so the whole thing can flow like clockwork and they can be on their way to consuming those cals in under 5 minutes.

What does that story look like? Actually it may be helpful to have multiple User Stories since there are multiple user types or personas. Let's see about defining those now:

Regular Customer - knows what they want and orders the same thing all the time.

Infrequent Customer - didn't visit much and needs a minute.

Bulk-Orderer (team mom) - is ordering for the office or a party and has a bunch of items to order.

A story from each persona might look like this:

"As a regular customer, I want to place my usual order and get on my way so that I don't have to hassle with getting my food."

"As an infrequent customer, I want to take my time browsing the menu so that I can figure out what I want to order."

"As a bulk-orderer, I want to place my order without confusion so everyone gets what they wanted."

We're going to need a lot of cheeseburgers to feed that many Air-Force Cadets!
Who ordered no onions?


Next Steps

Now that we see the user stories in a more "user-need-goal" format, we can start to think through different ways to resolve the issue. That part of the process is a conversation. A conversation between the team and the customer.

That's a Wrap...(for now)

In this entry, we've seen how we van write User Stories from the perspective of the users, through different user personas. I haven't captured all of them and that's inevitable. The magic is that as we start rolling out features to support the users based on their stories, related stories will filter in.

You may have heard a little about different roles such as Team Member and Customer — especially about who plays which roles. We'll take a look at how that works in the next entry — there are some things to think about depending on your organization.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Web Basics - TLS/SSL https

We've been looking at the basics of the internet. If you've been wondering about how it all works or are interested in web programming, you need to know the things in this series of posts.

Today's topic is TLS - Transport Layer Security. The transport layer is essentially the connection itself. The web can be divided into a model with 4 layers - two of which we've been talking about: application (HTTP) and transport (TCP and UDP). The other two are "network goo" that we really don't interact with directly. They're important, don't get me wrong, just not important to this series.

As we saw in the last post on TCP, your information is flying around the world at light speed. With the right equipment and wrongful intent, someone looking to make a buck could easily tap into your data in transit (that's what we call it when its on the move) and sell your information (usually a big batch of information) to someone who will exploit it to steal money. That is, unless its scrambled before it's sent, then unscrambled on the receiving side. Enter encryption.


Encryption



The newest big business buzz of currency - crypto-currency -  is all possible because of encryption (that's the crypto- part). It's built on the premise of uniquely encoding a "block-chain" and adding that to the existing chain to make it more valuable.

Encryption took off during WWII because radio transmissions were used by all of the militaries participating in that war. As we know, anyone can tune into radio frequencies and listen in (we can also listen to the radio transmissions of the cosmos - all the way back to the beginning of our universe!). Unless you can send a message in a way that only the receiver knows how to understand, you're toast! Every one of your moves will be known. It would be like playing chess while thinking your whole strategy out loud - you just can't win that way!

So they encoded the messages. With the messages encoded only those listeners with the decoding sequence would be able to understand. The U.S. got really good at cracking the code - which was one of the main reasons why the Allies won. Another was the perseverance and sacrifice of millions of lives of Russian soldiers. And the third was massive industrialization in the U.S. - both automated and manual industry.

History lesson aside, encryption has been used to protect privacy long before the internet. In modern times, it is used to protect data both in transit and at rest (in a database or on a hard-drive). TLS represents encryption in transit. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the outdated predecessor to TLS - it's been deprecated by the authorities on internet security (the IETF*) as of June 2015.

TCP establishes a connection to communicate between two servers. TLS secures that connection by ensuring that all information transmitted through it is encrypted. The mechanisms for applying this encryption involve a certificate.

Certificates



Certificates operate on a trust basis. There are companies that issue certificates (issuer). Those companies are called certificate authorities (CA) and your computer has their root certificate pre-installed. If you are securing your server, you would purchase a certificate from one of those companies. Your URL would then be registered to that certificate. You install the certificate on your web server. When https requests are made to your server, the requester gets a copy of your certificate. Your certificate is used to establish your authenticity. It's kind of like a driver's license, passport, or other form of id.



If you are the requestor, your browser will check the certificate's signature against the signature you have on the root certificate of the issuer. The domain in the URL also has to match the domain name on the certificate you receive from the server. If there is a match, the server has been Authenticated. Once the Authenticity of the server has been established, your computer and the server will generate an encryption key for the session. All of the information shared between you and server will be encrypted and decrypted on either end using that key.

Issues

This site is not https, but it's readonly - you don't exchange any sensitive information. Be careful when you have sites that require sending sensitive info and there is no https or it is mis-configured.
This site is configured for https.


This is how most of your information is secured on the internet today - provided you and the server are using https properly. Often we see misconfigurations on servers or servers that still support unencrypted http connections (http without TLS). There are also different versions of TLS which creates more configuration issues. The best you can do is pay attention to what your browser is telling you and think a bit about what kind of information you are willing to compromise - and remember some hackers are fairly sophisticated and can piece information together from multiple sources if you are a specific target (e.g. have a lot of money or power or work for a target organization/industry).

TLS works well to protect us when configured properly, but we should still remain vigilant. It can be easy to think that https solves all of our internet security problems, but there are other ways that hackers will try to pwn you.

Continued Learning



Encryption is a vast subject in and of itself. It comes in many flavors and varieties. There are one-way and two-way hashing algorithms, asymmetric and symmetric keys, private-private and private-public keys. And it all involves some pretty intense mathematics. Crypto-masters are a rare breed but the work they do is vital to our lifeblood - secure data!


IETF - Internet Task Force



OWASP is the go-to for internet security - they have great info about TLS



Some certificate authorities along with more details are listed on WikiPedia here:


Wikipedia has a lot on the subject of TLS in general: