Agile Open 2006

The Agile Open conference

27-28 April 2006
Mechelen Belgium


New business books

In a previous post, I urged you to go out and learn a bit more about non-IT stuff, so that you can talk to the rest of the company. I don’t usually follow my own advice, but this time I have: I’ve bought a few new business books.

Competitive Advantage This week I have mostly been reading “Competitive Advantage”. Competitive advantage is a management classic by Michael Porter. It was recommended by John Favaro during his XP2005 keynote.

In the book, Porter dissects the activities of a company in a “Value Chain”. He analyzes how companies can gain and sustain a competitive advantage. A company can either have a “differentiation” or a “cost” strategy.

The book is a 2004 edition, but I was disappointed to see that it’s essentially the 1985 version. And it shows. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but there are only a few vague references to “methods used by Japanese companies”. For example, if we want to respond to the customer faster, Porter recommends to increase inventory or to get surplus capacity. Ouch! What about reducing inventory, increasing inventory turns, removing waste, establishing flow, reducing cycle time, building quality in…?

Rebirth of American IndustryI’m also reading Bill Waddel and Norm Bodek’s “Rebirth of American Industry“. This one is more fun and easier to read than Competitive Strategy. In the book, Bill and Norm describe the history of (car) manufacturing. From the Lean early Ford, over Sloan and Dupont’s definitely not Lean GM and back to Lean Toyota.

Their main point is this: Sloan and Dupont created a management and accounting system at GM that essentially goes against Lean, as it considers inventory an asset and labor a liability. The strengths of the early Ford and current Toyota production system is that they focus on cash flow and empower their employees to continuously improve production processes. The Toyota Production System didn’t spring fully formed from the (brilliant) minds of Taichi Ohno or Shigeo Shingo. They evolved gradually, by solving problem after problem.

The GM management and accounting practices went on to become the de facto methods in American industry. As everyone was doing it, nobody really noticed the inefficiencies in the system. Until the Japanese arrived…

I believe the same is true in software development: there’s something structurally wrong in management and accounting (measurement) of IT projects. These lead us to work in large batches (have to keep those analysts busy!), to count work in progress as value and to have long cycle times. Agile, like Lean, will always be limited to implementing a few easy technical tools that don’t require us to change the way we work (unit tests, continuous builds, refactorings), unless we can change the way we manage and measure. And if the want to do that, we have to speak the lingo. Back to Porter…


Theory of Constraints simulation

Henrik MÃ¥rtensson has developed a simulator of a development team to demonstrate some Theory of Constraints concepts. And it’s in ruby too!

He’s written a series on the “Variance Trap“, where he demonstrates the effects of variance on systems throughput, using the “bead game” and the simulator.

There’s a whole series:

  1. The Variance Trap
  2. Flow-based prediction of throughput
  3. Statistical Fluctuations Game, introducing the simulator
  4. The effect of fluctuation size on completion time
  5. The effect of iteration size on completion time

Well worth reading!


New blog tool

I’ve finally switched. I’m using a real blogging tool.

This blog ran on my Wiki2Go wiki engine, with a few modifications. The main thing I missed was comments. Modifying the wiki to host a blog was easy. Adding comments (with all the spam nonsense) was a bit too much work.

I’ve tried to keep everyting compatible with the old blog (thanks to some mod_rewrite black magic). The only thing I couldn’t keep compatible was the RSS guid. I hope I don’t mess up your feeds too badly, some posts might appear twice.

Don’t hesitate to comment!


Agile Open 2006 coming near


We will organize the second Agile Open conference on 27 and 28 April 2006 in Mechelen, Belgium.

Early registration for Agile Open 2006 ended on Friday. As usual when you set deadlines, a lot of registrations came in on the last day. Student Syndrome at work. Or is it the “Decide at the latest responsible moment” Lean principle at work?

We’ve now got 24 early registrations, that’s as many as the total number of participants last year. For the organizers, that means we’re in the “good scenario”.

Before every event, like the XP Days Benelux, we perform “scenario planning”. We explore different alternatives and decide what we would do in each scenario. We always have at least 3 different scenarios: “bad” , “normal” and “good”. As time goes by, we compare reality with our scenarios and see which one fits best. Of course, we adapt as new information emerges. We also keep a risk list, so that we know how to react when something bad happens. Both of these practices help us to organize an event without too much stress.

Why not try some scenario planning on your next project? Try to imagine a scenario where everything goes wrong; picture another scenario where everything goes well. How will you react when the different events happen? A scenario is not a prediction, a scenario helps you to recognize important events early and to be ready to react appropriately. Of course, you keep updating your scenarios and risk list as you get more information.

If you want to attend Agile Open, don’t wait too long to register, as there are only 16 places left.

p.s. What’s that “A princess arrives…” risk about? During the second XP Day, we heard the day before the conference that a Belgian princess would attend another event in the same location. Due to security reasons, we couldn’t have one of the rooms we had booked. Unfortunately, the replacement room we were offered, was quite far away from the other rooms. In the end things got resolved and we got all the rooms we had booked.Lesson learned: even if you do risk analysis beforehand, stuff will happen. From now on, the Princess is always on our risk list: both Belgium and The Netherlands have princesses. The Princess risk stands for any event where we can’t get the rooms we booked. We’re prepared for that. What new bad stuff will happen this year? Stay tuned…

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