#Mission To Mars! Easter School Mentoring with Software Cornwall

Last week I volunteered as a mentor for the Code Club Cornwall: Mission to Mars Easter School. It’s a great project for teenagers interested in programming, electronics, and computer science.

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Bert and Ernie, two Arduino-powered robots, offer the participants a chance to program self-driving ‘Mars Rovers’. Destined to auto-pilot around the surface of Mars. Functionality is developed using Agile methods and a series of stories. Starting from scratch, developing Bert and Ernie’s auto-pilot capabilities over 4 days.

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Participants work in teams: mob-programming C++, creating breadboard circuits to replicate Bert and Ernie, using GIT*, managing a budget (paid per story), and developing on Rasberry Pis. It was great to see participants working together, learning and having fun. All in a very professional manner. A lot of progress was made, at a rewarding pace, over the 4 days.

My learning points:

  • It’s a great way to learn to code and improve programming skills. A challenge for any level of programmer, beginner to advanced. Mob programming helps the team develop a solution and learn from each other. Bert and Ernie add tangibility, allowing participants to see their work in action.
  • Not just programming, the course offers softer skills development/practice and simulates a professional working environment.
  • Just do it! I’ve not programmed for 7 years, and not touched C++ for the best part of 13. As the lead mentor will attest, I was nervous. This soon faded as the tasks became more and more engrossing, and challenging. With a good level of competition between the teams. I’d forgotten how much fun programming can be.
  • I’m overly dependant on IDEs, auto-saves, auto-completes, and development environments. It was interesting to use a basic editor, and we suffered a ‘classic’ IT moment when our Raspberry Pi crashed. 6 hours of work ‘lost’ because no one had saved (* yeah, we didn’t commit either)… Thankfully, recovery wasn’t too painful and we managed to assign blame on the lead mentor. As everyone in IT knows, if you can shift the blame it significantly ‘lessens’ the issues…
  • A new way to conduct retrospectives! Brainstorming using the grid / 6 boxes shown below. I’ll pinch this for the team and our end of sprint retrospectives.

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Next time I will:

  • Focus less on the solution, and more on coaching the participants. It was hard not to get sucked into making the rover ‘perfect’. I forgot how much I missed programming and in some places over complicated things e.g. the rover needed to move forward 2m and I was driving the kids to make it programmable as a procedure that accepts a direction (forward/reverse) and a distance in MM. The objective isn’t a perfect rover, and a perfect rover shouldn’t be at the expense of the participants’ learning.

    There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

  • Risk an OO approach, and set it up from the start. Our C++ was very procedural. I will do my best to coach the participants in OO programming concepts next time. Creating motor, robot and other sensors / real world object classes, and some design up front to assist with this.
  • I’ll brush up on my C++. Just the syntax, structure, and basic keywords would have helped. Thankfully the course lead was very patient.

Massive thanks to Bluefruit for the use of their office, and for Byran (course leader), Ben, Harvey and Tyler’s time. Harvey and Tyler are apprentices at Bluefruit who’d attended the easter school the year before! Thanks to Glen and Lyssa from headforwards. Please get in touch via Software Cornwall if you’d like to attend, like your kids to attend, or if you’d like to mentor (if I can do it, you can!). Can’t praise either experience enough. DO IT!

Thanks also to IBM, my manager, Jon and his manager, Anita, for their support in being a mentor.

For more information see the Software Cornwall website. Bert and Ernie are regulars at the Saturday Tech Jams. If you can’t make one of the Easter/Summer schools look out for them there and at the Royal Cornwall Show.

Getting out of the ground

Cornwall’s rich mining heritage is one of the reasons we have our land. It is also a cause for concern when it comes to what’s hiding underneath. Fears of contaminated soil, mining features, mining spoil, undocumented offshoots of known/unknown mine shafts, and more.

Ground work
What lies beneath?

All of the above could negatively impact chances of getting a mortgage, and easily cost tens of thousands to fix. To better face and prepare for potential issues we arranged a full mining survey from Wheal Jane Consultancy. Our planning application included an environmental search that suggested the land was contaminant free. However, the search was merely a desktop search: ‘Computer says No’. The full mining survey included digging inspection pits horizontally and vertically through where the footings will go. Offering our first insight into how easy or hard it would be to get out of the ground. ‘Sadly’ this is when the wall came down. Our friendly mining consultant suggested it was unsafe, and needed to come down sooner rather than falling on someone’s head later.

The inspection trenches revealed no nasty surprises and good quality ground:  “Ideal for building”. With planning permission granted the ground work finally began. We’d been warned earth expands when taken out of the ground, and were fortunate in not needing to dig too far to find suitable ground for the footings. Even with this good fortune a small 300 tonnes of top soil had to be removed from the site.

Maen Karne

300 tonnes! The trucks kept coming. We hope they didn’t disrupt our neighbours and village too much. Maen Karne provided a very professional service, with friendly drivers. Their highly skilled drivers, mostly on turn around, managed to negotiate the drive and tight space on site with ease.

Trenches for footings

The footings / foundations are a standard affair:

  • 600-800mm deep trenches: mostly 600mm, and 750mm+ for our stone fronted walls
  • 225mm of concrete
  • 5 courses of tench block
  • Filled with hardcore: recycled 4 inch clean
  • 803 hardcore
  • Blinding sand in the garage with Damp Proof Membrane (DPM) before slab.
  • House is slab on top of 803. Then the DPM. Easier to do this way round and possible because of underfloor heating, and needing to have a 150mm difference between the finished floor height of the house and garage for building regs (potential fluid spills).

Only the drains caused Rich a minor headache. Tolerance for the drop from the furthest drain was tight, down to the last millimetres. Thankfully easily sorted by Rich.

Pretty standard foundations
Digging out lead to lots of discoveries: random pottery, medicine bottles and even a leather tap dancing shoe! Relics of generations passed. Nan is convinced the tap dancing shoe belonged to mother when she was a child. Digging the final tench Sam discovered a further ‘gift’ from the old bus depot, an inspection pit.
Old Bus Depot Inspection Pit
We’re enjoying the continuation of the inspection pit forming part of our garage’s foundations. We’d hoped to be able to use the pit but closer inspection revealed it to be poorly built. Scary to think people worked under heavy busses in it! £400 worth of additional concrete appeased the building inspector. The only additional cost suffered in getting out of the ground.
Once out of the ground we all breathed a sigh of relief. Each completed phase reduces our risks and stress levels: Land ownership > planning approval > mortgage approval > out of the ground >… Greatly looking forward to the roof being on and windows in.
Happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Planning, fun and games

This is draft number 101, and long. My longest blog post to date! It’s taken a lot of revisions and thoughts to convey my points in anything other than a very negative manner. Our experience with Cornwall Council’s Planning department can be summarised as: stressful, miserable and unprofessional. In this post I hope to salvage something positive by sharing tips that helped us. I fear many people endure a similar experience with Cornwall Planning. They’re then so relieved to be granted planning permission, or so busy altering plans, their stories don’t get shared. If anyone else would like to blog or share their story (positive or negative) please comment below and I’ll gladly link to your experiences. This lack of feedback allows planning to brush terrible practises and poor quality of service under the carpet. In our case it cost our architects and us so much, in time and money, we simply don’t have the capacity to file an official complaint. It’s ludicrous that to officially complain you run the risk of incurring significant costs. But that is a minor point in a failing system.

Planning notice

Pre-Planning Application

Our planning journey started when our architect, Jeremy Bradley from CAD, submitted the first draft (featured here) of our plans as a pre-planning application. We concluded this was wise to get the plans in front of planning as early as possible. In theory this lets us find out if they’d have any objections in principle However, we made two mistakes:

Mistake 1: Not having a cheque book we submitted our pre-app and elected to pay by credit card. An option offered by planning. After 3 weeks of hearing nothing a bill arrived in the post. Poorly worded and claiming we owed £60. Planning wouldn’t process our application until we’d paid what we owed. A three week delay before we’ve even begun, and our first interaction is a poorly worded letter demanding money for a service not yet started. I’m considering adopting this practise too. I reckon I will go far doing nothing for three weeks then demanding money owed for not actually starting the work I’ve been asked to do…

Mistake 2: We bothered with pre-planning. After the three week delay we then suffered a further two week delay, and repeatedly had to chase for our pre-planning feedback. At one point Jeremy suggested ‘Could we just submit our full application?’. To be told ‘No, the pre-planning feedback is a valuable part of the process and we should wait’. After a further wait we received a document stating we’d paid for a desktop search. A desktop search that suggested no issues. Great!


Tip 1: Submit everything by email and follow up all interactions. Post adds a higher risk and further delays. When submitting anything call and chase it. Be proactive and ensure anything that needs paying is paid at the earliest opportunity. Planning are ‘busy’, and we speculated delaying sending out bills is a great stall tactic providing an additional buffer for their work flow. Chasing also gives confidence planning have you on their system, and your application’s dates will reflect this. Thus avoiding a three week delay like we suffered.

Tip 2: Be aware that planning officially have ten working days to respond to email, and two days to return an answerphone message. This doesn’t mean they do. It just means they should, and that they have ten days worth of email and two days worth of answerphone messages in a backlog. I imagine this isn’t relaxing or productive. It is no wonder they can sound stressed and claim to be too busy. Log everything and, as with Tip 1’s chase everything, use this log to backup when you sent things and when you are due an answer. Our experience shows if you don’t do this planning are quite prepared to ignore you, and forget you’d like to build a house this decade.

Submitted Elevations
Submitted Elevations

Planning

The Pre-planning (lack of) feedback meant Jeremy submitted our plans largely unchanged, and we crossed our fingers. Learning from pre-planning, the minute we received an email with a number we rang and used the application number to pay our fees (Tip 1). This meant our application was registered on the 30th May with a decision date of the 18th July.

As part of the planning process applications are sent to local Parish Councils. Each applicant is given two minutes to introduce their plans before the Parish Council discuss and vote to support, or not, the application. Both Jeremy (Architect) and Richard (Builder) offered to represent our case. But Sarah and I elected to attend and represent ourselves, with Sarah speaking. Sarah did a great job and gained unanimous approval and support on Tuesday 8th July.

Submitted Plans
Submitted Plans

About now you might be considering a five week delay isn’t much of a issue, and it all seems to be going well. Even the public feedback period yielded no complaints. We thought the same. Then our planning officer (here in referred to as the planner) started ‘thinking’… Walking through the village I’m stopped by a Parish Councillor who said he’s sorry to hear our application is being rejected, and that he, our ex-Parish Councillor neighbour, and other Parish Councillors have written an appeal to the rejection. All suggesting the reasons are ludicrous. When challenged by the Parish Councillors for our Architect’s feedback the planner said we hadn’t provided any. Could this be because this is the first we’d heard of a rejection, and she’d neglected to feed this relatively important point back to us…

Before rejecting plans planners provide the Parish Council with their reasons and see if the Parish will support the rejection. Thankfully the Parish said no, and Jinny Clark championed our case. Without Jinny, the support of our neighbours, and the parish our plans simply would have been rejected. We owe them all a lot of thanks, and a big party when the house is built!

The wall

Thought 1: The wall is historically significant

Despite the fact the Council’s heritage expert is on long term sick leave our planner, and her equally unqualified colleagues, thought the falling down wallm, picture above, was of historical significance. Therefore it needed to be saved. Even though it’s not historic, had nearly fallen down, and there is no mention of it in the World Heritage’s survey of historic walls in St.Agnes.

Out of respect for planning we didn’t pull the wall down straight away. Despite being well within our rights to. Instead Jeremy hired a World Heritage Consultant who researched the wall and documented the conclusion it wasn’t of significance. With the expert’s opinion and a digger onsite we needed to have a mining survey undertaken. This involved digging a trench under the wall. On examining the wall the mining expert suggested it needed to come down, now! Before it fell on someone. Several taps of the digger bucket later and the wall was no more. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a satisfying moment. In amongst the wall’s rubble we found several ‘historic’ breeze blocks and a captain crunch cereal packet from, the very historically significant, late 70’s.

I make light of the wall as it was falling down, dangerous and not historically significant. However, we’re very keen to preserve the history of the plot. Most of the stone we’ve dug up and reclaimed form the wall will be re-used.

Thought 2: The design needs some alterations

The pre-application’s terms and conditions state you may be assigned a different planner for your detailed application. They don’t tell you planning is subjective. So while the planner who processes your pre-planning application might be reasonable, capable of performing their role, and in agreement with your plans, there is no continuation. Sadly, it just as likely you’ll be assigned a different planner who could have any number of personal issue with your plans. They may even try to redesign your house into a one bed bungalow with no garage, hipped roof, and a stupidly huge stacked chimney………. Who wouldn’t want that after spending months with an architect designing a three bed eco family home, with double garage! Especially as this was first suggested in the last two weeks of July. Two weeks before our approval was due and we hoped to start building. Sixteen weeks into the process having only previously been told it’s all fine.

Thanks to Jeremy, Parish Councillor Jinny Clark and our next door neighbours we fought this. Eventually we managed to persuade our planner’s team leader to visit the site. After being on site and submitting our plans through a ‘quality circle’ it was decided our plans ‘didn’t work‘. Not because of a planning law, or article X,Y,Z… Nope the reasons was…

“We approved 84% of plans!” a defensive start…

“If a random passer-by walks into your neighbour’s garden, looks at your property and says ‘that’s too big’ then we have a problem…..”

I challenged this with “You’re seriously saying we can’t build our house because a random person could  walk into our Neighbours’ enclosed garden and think our house is too big. Despite having a letter from the neighbours calling your feedback ludicrous and offering their full support”

“…… Yes……. and it’s my professional opinion too…”


Tip 3: Be prepared to fight. With Jinny, the Parish, neighbours, and Jeremy all in support we weren’t prepared to let our house go without a fight. Our planner’s team lead asked if we were willing to compromise, and I flatly said no. This is our one chance to build here and they’d given me no reason other than an opinion as to why we couldn’t. An opinion no one else agreed with. Looking back this was a pivotal point. Had we agreed to changes planning would have continued to push, or rejected our plans and we’d of had to go to appeal.


After the planners site visit on Wednesday 3rd September, things came to a head the following Friday. We received an email from Jeremy informing us planning were going to reject our application, and we would have to go to appeal. This is where we enter a whole new tier of costs, and our case goes in front of local councillors to be determined. Planning can say what they like during these meetings, and if there isn’t enough time we might not have been able to state our case. However, the email was also CC’d Jinny Clark. Jinny rang our local councillor and explained the situation. He then rang planning, and we received an email stating we’d been granted delegated approval. This is when a local councillor tells planning it’s approved, or rejected! We should expect this to be written up and with us Monday 8th September!!!!

Great Success

Certificate B and the triangle

Monday comes and goes, you can imagine I’m frequently checking my email! Tuesday comes and goes… Still nothing! Wednesday lunch time I’ve had enough, and try to ring our planner to find out what’s going on.


Tip 4: Redial! If you need to speak to someone just keep dialling. The planner only ever once answered the phone on my first attempt to call. It usually took 2-3 presses of redial to get through, minimum. I’m aware this makes me an annoying customer but I was driven to it by their unprofessional nature:

  • Not doing things they committed to.
  • Not replying to emails and calls within their allotted time.
  • Sending emails completely out of the blue containing major updates and issues without enough information to be able to understand what’s going on.
  • Not following or adhering to their own processes.
  • Not updating their calendars to reflect their movements. If you ring the Council’s very helpful call centre they can look up an individual’s calendar and let you know if they are on vacation, on a site visit, or in meetings etc. While this makes me akin to a stalker you try being patient after two days of being ignored when someone is ruining your house build.

If you need to speak to someone who’s trying to derail your house build with their opinion the least they could do is answer the phone, reply to emails, or correctly use their answerphone & calendar.


Paraphrasing, it went something along the lines of……

Me: “Hi XXXXX, it’s Olly. I’m just ringing about our delegated approval that was due on Monday?”

Planner: “Ah, well… In light of all the support we’ve changed our minds and decided to approve the application ourselves [remember that 84% approval statistic….]. However, a Mr.XXXXXXXX (my delightful uncle) has raised an ownership complaint on Monday and I’ve given him until Friday to present his case”

Me: “Errrrrrr… and you didn’t think this was worth mentioning to us on Monday…………….”

Over the summer planning informed Jeremy my uncle had raised a complaint. However, planning weren’t allowed to tell us what the complaint entailed. Our planner’s team lead suggested we could fix the problem by confirming ownership of the land to be built on. We did this, and thought no more of it. Unfortunately on the 10th of September with planning approved but not in writing, we discovered Nan hadn’t been served notice. An oversight on our part. While we own all of the land we intend to build on, we only have right of way over the drive. Because the access is considered part of the build, and the drive is owned by my Nan, we needed to serve her notice. Twenty one days of notice from re-submitting our Certificate B form, and serving Nan. Three more ‘joyful’ weeks of will it won’t it! This was a minor annoyance. The more unfortunate issue was my uncle winding Nan up during this notice period. Over a triangle of land we’d included as the border of our plans. Nan became convinced if our plans were approved this triangle would magically become ours. This was a significant problem for her. Why, she couldn’t articulate. No matter how we tried to re-assure her, she didn’t want to know.

This small triangle of land was included by following the natural border of the drive. We don’t have any rights over it, and it was a mistake on our plans. However, the triangle didn’t feature as part of our build or access requirements. Planning suggested it wasn’t an issue. Jeremy said it wasn’t an issue. My uncle said it was and issue. Jeremy kindly drew up a new site plan without the triangle (see the orange boxes and red border lines below). For this we owe planning a thanks, they allowed us to amend the border without resubmitting our plans, or further delay. Even at this late stage they could have rejected the application, and caused further delays and grief.

Proof my uncle is a member of the Cardiff University National Trust

Finally on the 3rd October our approval arrived! Predictably after I had to ring our planner and chase it. Our potted timeline:

  1. 2nd April – Submitted Pre-app
  2. 20th May – Receive Pre-app feedback
  3. 30th May – Submitted full plans, date acknowledged by planning
  4. 8th July – Unanimous support from St.Agnes Parish Council
  5. 18th July – Decision due date
  6. 3rd September – Site visit with planner and her team lead
  7. 5th September – Email to say it’s being rejected
  8. 5th September – Email to say we’re getting delegated approval
  9. 8th September – Issue with the triangle and ownership
  10. 10th September – Serve Nan notice and submit our amended Certificate B form
  11. 3rd October – Finally granted planning

Only 11 weeks late……


Tip 5: Don’t plan on planning. All being well our application would have been approved on the 18th of July, and we’d of starting building on the 25th. Sadly that wasn’t to be. We were fortunate our Builder is very understanding!

Tip 6: If in doubt request another planner. We were too late to this party, and gambled it would be ok. Planning is subjective. Whether it should or shouldn’t be is another topic, it is! We’ve heard lots of horror stories relating to some planners, and good feedback on others. In theory if everyone did the research and pushed for a good planner it would free up the time of the others to improve, and force the planning team leaders to address the imbalances in the quality of service offered.

Tip 7 – The most important: Have a good team. Without Rich’s patience & advise, Jeremy and Sally from CADs hard work & efforts, the support of the Parish Council, and the lengths Jinny Clark went to we wouldn’t be building now.


My Agile On The Beach 2014

Last year Agile On The Beach 2013 was approached with an excited anticipation of the unknown, and relatively newly having joined the Agile party. With lessons learned and applied from 2013 I was keen to capitalise on Agile On The Beach 2014, and bring new ideas and things to try back to my team.

This year is the first Agile On The Beach to be sponsored by IBM. I looked forward to meeting up with the other IBMers and getting their views on our Cornish Agile Conference. Nice to meet you all, learn more about Rational Collaboration Lifecycle Manager, and see Jon Tilt’s presentation: ‘An Agile Journey – Making The Elephant Dance’. The phone controlled car demo was a great plug for Bluemix… I didn’t spend hours driving it and chewing Rational’s Glen Mitchell’s ear off about cars, the Nürburgring, and anything with an engine… It was also great to overhear two delegates discussing how they didn’t know of Bluemix’s existence before the conference and that Amazon had better watch out.

IBM Blue Mix Phone controlled car

My top 5 (OK… 6, I wanted flow to feature too) take aways:

  1. Value People
  2. Validated learning, to actually learn
  3. Learn to coach
  4. Feedback, feedback, feedback
  5. Forecast, don’t estimate
  6. Flow

 1. Value People

Meeting lots of people is one of the best aspects of attending a conference. Agile On The Beach attracts a diverse crowd, and is all the better for it. There were a lot of reminders to value people especially team members. People are key to everything! Take the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools – The first point, value people over process.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation – People (for the moment, robots will get us eventually) write software.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – People are customers, customers are people too. Collaborating is a people skill.
  • Responding to change over following a plan – People change, part of successfully adopting Agile is to make changing for the better as easy as possible. This means supporting people, and creating an environment they can thrive. Bringing out their best work as a result.

Toby Parkins nicely summarised the event with this tweet:

Meri Williams talk ‘Awesome People Management with Agile’ had lots of awesome points I keep coming back to:

  • Cultivate inclusion, every team member should be able to answer ‘Can I excel here?’ with YES
  • Agile is the team, not an individual achievement
  • Don’t get lost in a process and forget about the people
  • A career is more than just a series of jobs

Treasuring evangelists (people :D) was a running theme in many of the sessions. To learn, to teach, to affect a change, evangelists are key players. Hoping to build on this and get Jon Tilt in to present to my team.

Jon Tilt of IBM presenting 'Making the Elephant Dance'

2. Validated learning, to actually learn

Marcin Floryan’s #NoLearning talk was different to what I expected. Last year his talk the Art of Feedback was a highlight. This year he didn’t disappoint with the premise to learn anything you have to deliberately practise, validate and test under pressure. Challenging yourself with “What have you changed?” as a result of learning. Marcin took this a stage further by introducing Kolb and lots of great examples from History not learning.

“It’s not enough to have the skills. It’s not enough to have the theory. You have to go through a cycle….”

David Kolb

Two other points resonated:

  • The value of certification because it validates learning
  • Expect to get worse before you get better. Marcin posted the diagram below showing learning / deliberate practice’s effect on productivity over time. An important point in setting expectations and planning projects.

Productivity drops when learning, to begin with!

After learning, what have you changed?

3. Learn to coach

Another common theme among the team orientated sessions: “Share more of yourself and your skills”. Coaching and sharing knowledge are a performance improving means to demonstrate value to team members. Investing your time helping develop their skills and careers. Too often I find myself thinking “I’ll do that as only I can”. This is the wrong attitude for creating an environment in which everyone can excel and thrive. The closed doors, single point of failure, approach stints the growth of a team, increases risks on projects and even limits your career. By contrast coaching provides an opportunity to validate learning, share skills, and see things from other people’s perspectives. Helping to explore topics further, reduce risk, evenly distribute work, and grow your team.

Coaching skills, like most skills, can be learnt and improved. I need to look into coaching course, (deliberately) practise and seek feedback from team members. To validate my learning and ensure I’m improving. More time, more sharing of skills and myself with the team.

4. Feedback, feedback, feedback (and Kaizen)

Feedback to people, on processes, on everything. Feedback is key to growth, successfully changing for the better and a nod to Kaizen. The continual improvement philosophy. Ginni Rometty said: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. Good enough is a key part of an Agile project: Minimum Viable Products (MVP – Same TLA as Most Valued Player 😀) unlock interaction with stakeholders, and therefore feedback, far earlier. Early feedback enables requirement, priority, and focus changes that result in shipping a better product sooner. Delivering value faster. It sounds obvious but, like with ‘Forecast, don’t estimate’, if you only review things at the end how do you make the right choices during?

As a team I feel we don’t feedback enough, positively and negatively. It’s all too easy to skip a retrospective, or be ‘too busy’ to revisit issues and achievements after they’ve passed. A few of the sessions mentioned scheduling more time for feedback and meetings. We need to do this. Meri Williams specifically mentioned 1:1s as a key tool for managing an Agile team. Not a status update! Ask the tricky questions and get team members to think (and feedback):

  • How challenged do you feel?
  • Career Aspirations?
  • Plans for growth?
  • Satisfaction in the work you’re doing?
  • What went well / What didn’t?
  • Any issues?
  • What would you like to change?

Asking for, listening to, giving, and making changes based on feedback demonstrate value to team members and stakeholders. Again obvious but… People feel valued if they are listened to and can see their ideas having an impact. Feedback therefore key to cultivating inclusion, and a team where everyone can thrive.

Pia-Maria Thoren, in her talk ‘Agile HR and Agile leadership in a nutshell‘, said “You can’t make a seed grow. You can only nurture it”. This applies at all levels: self, team members, team and product. Feedback is a key way to nurture.

Pia raised two other concepts that stuck with me:

  • Line of sight motivation. Pia shared a slide with two men breaking up rocks and their thoughts. One man looked bored thinking about breaking up rocks. The other was motivated thinking about building a cathedral. Building on the ‘context & why’ lessons learned from 2013’s AOTB.
  • The Burrito Leadership model – Leadership is the bread, just enough to deliver as much filling as possible. The filling is the team’s good work.

Feedback, coaching, context, and leadership are all essential parts of nurturing and creating a successful agile team, and building great products.

Line of site motivation

5. Forecast, don’t estimate

Friday’s Business Keynote from Bjarte Bogsnes: ‘Beyond Budgeting – an agile management model for new business and people realities’ suggested budgeting is broken and needed business to adopt an Agile approach to fix it. Breaking budgets down and converting them into a series of smaller questions. Instead of “Do we have the budget for this?” use “Do we need this, how much value does it create, could it be good enough already?”.

Beyond Budgeting Mindset

This ties in with feedback, and an Agile approach. Don’t wait a quarter or year to find out if you’re on budget and delivering. Keep questioning, smaller iterations. Bjarte mentioned the quote below, and attributed it to Einstein…

“Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.”

Upon a little digging / Googling it appears it is more likely from William Bruce Cameron instead of Einstein.

It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Thanks to QuoteInvestigator.com

Whoever said it the point is valid especially in the contexts of budgeting, estimating, and planning. An agile approach provides more visibility, flexibility, and automation that lead to higher levels of creativity and productivity. Change and quickly reacting to change become opportunities to build a better product if the budget also becomes agile and constantly focusing on what delivers the most value (as that changes with the business’ need).

Sean Moir’s session ‘The String Game’ further built on this by claiming: ‘forecast don’t estimate’. Demonstrated with a clever game of ‘guess the string length’. Combined with a calculation heavy Google Spreadsheet model. Sean suggested deriving a model for a team’s performance: Analysing previous estimates and actuals, calculating ranges, and predicting confidence. Using the model to forecast rather than estimate.

The string length game showed how the model lets you gauge confidence and scenario plan. It could forecast with varying confidence if the next strings were going to be longer or shorter. The question ‘Is it going to take longer than X,Y,Z?‘  is a lot easier to answer than ‘how long will this take?‘ especially if you can backup your answer with the model.

As an optimist planning is a stressful point. This higher / lower approach to confidence using previous tasks vs. the tasks in question is certainly something we’ll look into. Using actuals data from our CLM reports to create and refine a model, and track our progress.

6. Flow

Many of the sessions mentioned the Flow Channel & Flow State. Where performance and productivity are optimal. Many athletes claim being in this state causes time to slow down, and draw a lot of parallels with meditation. Living in the single present moment. I’m keen to delve deeper into this topic especially to improve my swimming, surfing, driving, coaching, and overall well-being.

The Flow Channel

The concept keeps cropping up e.g.

Guy Martin’s Autobiography

* Kaz: Pushing the Virtual Divide (right at the start)

* Davis Phinney mentions flow in relation to Parkinsons, and emotionally draws a parallel between everything slowing down when in the flow state and living with Parkingsons.

See you at Agile On The Beach 2015?

Massive thanks to all who presented and the excellent organising team, rollon 2015! Register your interest here, and see all of 2014’s sessions here. As an added bonus the IBM Rational team were giving away copies of Agile for Dummies, download your free copy here.

Agile On The Beach #AGILEOTB #ATOB 2013 and 2014

Last year I had the pleasure of attending Agile On The Beach 2013. My first Agile Conference and first Tech Conference in Cornwall. As a relatively new team to Agile it was a great launch pad, with lots of great ideas and takeaways to try with my team:

  • Agile should always focus on removing barriers from productivity
  • Iterative Improvement – continually look to improve
  • Automate – Automate as much as you can to free up as much productive time in a sprint as possible
  • Context is key – Everything works better if context is established upfront and people know WHY

The event was a real credit to the organisers. All of the talks were thought provoking and to a very high standard. It was also a great opportunity to network with other attendees. Attendees from a diverse variety of companies, everything from huge (IBM huge) to one person outfits, spanning lots of industries and from worldwide locations.

Dan North's excellent Key Note

Naturally I am biased and view Cornwall as THE place to hold anything but it appears I wasn’t alone in this thought. Many attendees were visiting Cornwall for the first time. Drawn by the world class speakers and then impressed by the location. Lots were suggesting coming back with family and friends for holidays. Answering ‘Where are you from?’ became my favourite activity at break times. Usually responded to by ‘You live here!’ and then a series of questions to understand how that was possible: Agile, Superfast Broadband, Lotus Connections, Geographically Diverse Teams, Video Conferencing, Rational Tools, lots of planning, hard work, a supportive manager and a sprinkling of luck.

Last year I made the mistake of taking too many notes. Furiously scribbling my particular brand of chicken scrawl, look like a 10 year old wrote it symbols, on lined A4 paper. Largely the notes sat gathering dust thanks to the talks being replayable online. This year I plan to only write ideas and actionable todos. Those were the real value for my team from last year, not the pages and pages of notes.

Lots of notes… Not such a good idea

AOTB 2013’s talks – http://agileonthebeach.com/2013-programme/2013-videos-and-presentations/

My favourites:

Dan North @tastapod – Software Craftmanship KEYNOTE: Jackstones – Journey To Mastery – 2 parts, see the above link

Sarah Fairbairn, Sullivan Cuff Software – Playing Games – http://youtu.be/yBOXJX6HdDw

Wouter Lagerweij & Ciarán O’Neill  The “Just Do It” approach to Change Management – http://youtu.be/OYdalj0kvss

Marcin Floryan – The Art of Feedback – http://youtu.be/ukNnceHf4uw

Agile On the Beach 2014 is next week and I’m excited. My business case was in the minute I got back from 2013 and with eager anticipation I awaited the first batch of Early Bird tickets. The final schedule was recently published here: http://agileonthebeach.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2014-CONFERENCE-SCHEDULE-FINAL.pdf and I’m trying to work out how to get the most out of the two days. This year my focus will be on the team element. This helps navigate both days. Knowing the talks will be uploaded and replayable is a great backup and takes some of the pressure off choosing when talks clash.

This year is doubly exciting because IBM has chosen to be a sponsor of the event! IBM’s Jon Tilt will be presenting – An Agile Journey – Making the Elephant Dance. A team of IBMers will be manning a display throughout the two days, promoting BlueMixRational Tooling and the Jazz community.

2014’s AOTB is already sold out but the talks will be available online and I expect the #AOTB tag to start generating a lot of discussion on twitter. If you’d like to come to the 2015 event be mindful to book early. You can register your interest here: http://agileonthebeach.us5.list-manage2.com/subscribe?u=df92726ddfd2ad327f4fd0c99&id=76f054ec4a