Month: February 2020

Three Factors in Choosing the Best Technique

Three Factors in Choosing the Best Technique

In Agile, many techniques can be used to improve different aspects of the processes. Many of them may on the surface appear to be similar in purpose. But when you look closer, there may be a distinction that favors one over another for specific situations.

So, how do we determine which technique is appropriate to address the specific issues we are seeing?

When deciding which technique to use, the three factors I look at are the Horizon, the Audience, and the Context.

Horizon

In other articles, I’ve talked about the Three Horizons – Strategy, Initiative, and Delivery. Understanding which Horizon we are dealing with impacts which set of techniques is available.

Some of the usefulness of some techniques spans across all Horizons. Others may be in two or only one. Appropriate understanding requires understanding the purpose of each Horizon, remembering that a Horizon is not so much a time frame as it is a level of decision making. Decisions can impact an initiative from any of the Horizons.

For example, if a project is actively being developed, the Strategy Horizon can realize there needs to be a change in direction. Just because we are actively delivering the product does not mean Strategy has ended. In Agile, all three Horizons can be active simultaneously.

And that feedback can go both up and down through the Horizons. So understanding which techniques are appropriate to each decision-making level – to each Horizon – is essential.

Below are 4 charts which identify the various techniques as well as which source they are discussed – the Agile Extension or the BABOK Guide

Techniques for the Strategy Horizon
Techniques for the Initiative Horizon
Techniques for the Delivery Horizon
General Agile Techniques

Audience

Next is the Audience. Answering the question of “Who,” the Audience can be condensed into two broad groups:

  • Part of the team
  • External to the team

So, Who is the Team?

In Agile, the team is considered to be those involved in identifying and delivering a solution to a problem. The team may be further broken down to those working at a specific Horizon – for example, those working with organizational strategy are part of the team, but they are not delivering the product. One would be the Strategy Team, the other the Delivery Team. But for our purposes, that distinction is covered when you consider the Horizon in choosing a technique.

Those that are external to the team is everyone else. External to the team can include individuals such as Customers, Subject Matter Experts, Vendors, Regulators. These would be anyone who is both interested in the success of an initiative, but not involved in bringing the project to life. And they may or may not be part of the organization.

Context

Now we are getting to the heart of the matter – why do we need this technique. Context is another way of asking, “What is the purpose?” or “What do I hope to achieve?” It is the “Why” of the decision process.

There are five categories of Context.

  • Communication
  • Process Analysis
  • Product Management or Refinement
  • Requirements Management
  • Understanding Your Customer

So let’s look at each of these.

Communication

Techniques that fall into the Communication context when, not surprisingly, the point is to communicate information. The receiver of the communication is determined by the Audience, which I mentioned above.

Some examples of Communication techniques would be things like Planning Workshops, Portfolio Kanban, Visioning, Retrospectives, Backlog Refinement, and Reviews.

Process Analysis

Process Analysis involves looking for ways to improve processes. This may be processes involving the team, or in the solution itself.

For example, a Process Analysis may find gaps in the solution.

Another example, Process Analysis may reveal that the team is getting bogged down at a certain point in delivery. Perhaps the team needs to adjust to prevent that from continuing.

Some examples of techniques useful for Process Analysis include Value Stream Mapping and Impact Mapping.

Product Management or Refinement

Here we are concerned with delivery schedules or other items associated with defining the product. These answer questions like:

  • What is necessary?
  • When do we make a decision?
  • How does this align with our objectives?
  • When will features be delivered?

Examples include Minimal Viable Product, Product Roadmap, Purpose Alignment Model, Real Options, and Kano Analysis.

Requirements Management

For Requirements Management, the concern isn’t the requirements themselves so much as how they are collected, sequenced, reviewed, prioritized, or refined. For analysts involved in Agile, this can be a large portion of the work.

Several examples of this context include Relative Estimation, User Stories, Job Stories, Spikes, Story Elaboration, Story Decomposition, Story Mapping, and Behavior Driven Development.

Understanding Your Customer

The context of Understanding Your Customer involves techniques in which details about the usage or motivations can be conveyed to the team. Many times, understanding the motivations can have an impact on the final design.

Some examples include Personas, Storyboarding and Value Modelling.

Goals of Agile Analysis at the Delivery Horizon

Coming into Delivery, the Strategy has identified a need to be met, and the Initiative Horizon has identified a solution and its features. When working as an Analyst in the Delivery horizon, the key is to expend the least effort to discover information and support informed decisions about the solution.

I’m sure you realize it is not easy.  It requires a great understanding of what information is useful for decisions on the solution, as well as how to find quickly, and present it in a timely, understandable fashion.

Someone introduced me to the concept of “Planned Spontaneity”  That is where the person has things set up so that if they want to go on various kinds of excursions, they always have bags and supplies packed and ready to go. It takes a lot of planning to be spontaneous. Or, as Rod Stewart used to sing, “Her adlibbed lines were well-rehearsed.”

So when this “Challenge” involves the least amount of effort, I think that also consists of a lot of planning to make it happen, so that the work at the time it’s needed is minimal. To do this, the Delivery horizon addresses two questions. First, looking at the unfinished but defined backlog, the Analyst asks what has the highest value. Then the delivery team asks how to deliver value most efficiently, with the least waste.

A Ready Backlog

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 6.3.1

In the Agile Extension, there is a discussion of how to know when a requirement is ready, as well as when do you need to have it available.  On the first of these questions, the Extension talks about “Invest” criteria.  For now, we’ll say Invest stands for “Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Sized Appropriately and Testable.” I intend to get to the techniques later and will elaborate more at that time.

Whether you are talking about User Stories or other formats for requirements documentation, the INVEST criteria work well.  The point is that the requirement is well constructed with Clear and Concise acceptance criteria and is achievable and Desired as shown in Prioritization

For the second question, sometimes the requirements should wait and be ready in the near future. Agile suggests having things prepared for near term development. If something has to wait, then having it ready now is wasted effort, which takes away from the closer requirements.

Additionally, some frameworks offer suggestions for how far ahead to finalize requirements, so that you don’t rewrite the requirements as better understanding surfaces.

Prioritization and Sequencing

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 6.3.2

The next element of the Delivery Horizon is Maintaining the Backlog. Here we work with the Product Owner to Set priority and sequence to deliver value quickly. The purpose is to support near term development, and the outputs are decomposed features and refined requirements.

Supporting Delivery

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 6.3.3

The Agile Analyst’s efforts prevent obstacles in several different ways, such as facilitating a better understanding of dependencies, coordinating efforts with other groups, and removing roadblocks.

How do Analysts remove Roadblocks?

This question requires an understanding of the Analyst’s role versus other leadership roles on the team. Then, within the Analyst role, what are the roadblocks that can occur.

The first one is a lack of understanding. If the team does not understand, it will cause churn or will prevent the story from being worked.

Another is the interrelationship between features internal to the solution.  Without these interrelationships being understood so that proper sequencing can occur, you may be trying to develop against something that doesn’t exist.  So when it’s delivered, there’s no way to know if it works.  Remember, we’re delivering working software.

Another is external dependencies, which are much like what was just discussed.

Ensure Learning Happens

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 6.3.4

Next, there is Ensuring Learning Happens in the Agile Context, and in this, we first are talking about Processes. By Processes, we are talking about how the team works, not how the process works, or the stakeholders will use whatever is being delivered. 

The team is observing how well they are working, and can they work better.  These observations include feedback to the Initiative or Strategy Horizons because they need to know how to help Delivery better.

The other learning involves the product itself.  Constant feedback determines whether the value is being delivered and the expected results met.  This feedback may affect prioritization and also other horizons. Here is one of the distinctions between Agile and Waterfall – that feedback from Delivery can affect the other horizons. Waterfall would say, Delivery is the result of planning, so there’s nothing that goes back in time to fix what has been done.  Perhaps that’s a bit oversimplified. The Agile Mindset recognizes this project is not performed in a vacuum.  The speed of delivery affects resource availability for other initiatives and other needs.

Focus on Vision and Value

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 6.3.5

Finally, there is Maintaining Focus on the Product Vision, Customer, and Value. The Agile Analyst’s work continually promotes a shared understanding of how the work achieves the vision. Focusing on value means the most valuable things are prioritized and delivered early.

The Will to Overcome All Obstacles

About two years ago, I started on a journey that has changed my perspective on everything. At that time, I was overweight and had just come out of pneumonia, followed by the flu, back to back. I was disengaged from my family because I was constantly tired. And I decided it was time to do something about it.

I read about Keto and decided to try it. I added up what I ate every day and it was atrocious. I cut out all fries and sugary sodas, which cut my caloric intake in half. I cut carbs 80%. And I did full fasting once or twice each week.  Within three months, I lost 30 pounds. I felt great. My mind was alert. I was not tired anymore. That’s where the story begins.

Then came the obstacle — a huge one.

The Obstacle

I have had a problem with my gallbladder for a long time, so this isn’t Keto related. But it was time to do something about that too, and I had it removed on May 8, 2018. Later the doctors would speculate that a gallstone must have escaped during the surgery.

A week after the procedure, I started having complications in the form of violent pain and nausea. I went to the ER, who treated both symptoms and sent me home. And I returned the next night with the same signs. I was admitted to the hospital this time.

It turns out that the escaped gallstone had found its way into my pancreas and blocked a duct. That means the enzymes produced had nowhere to go except back into the pancreas. It was eating itself.

While in the hospital, I was also diagnosed with two blood clots.  One was in the leg, the other in the lung. This created all kinds of problems as treatment for one could not interact with the other.

For pancreatitis, they pumped fluids in me. The 30 pounds I had lost was put back on me in 2 days. The fluid was to keep my blood pressure up. Pancreatitis patients can die from low blood pressure as the body attacks the issue by diverting blood to the organ. I had six IV bags going at any one time.

Then the hiccups started. Uncontrollable. I couldn’t rest because of them. For days, every 20 seconds. And the staff all but laughed when I asked if there was something they could do about it. They did say to hold my breath or drink from the wrong side of the glass.

Lack of Trust

So I had a trust issue with this team. Some of the doctors included the same team that performed the surgery. I was in the same hospital that sent me home from the ER only to return the next night. And the physicians were telling me one thing but the staff something else.

On the 3rd night, I moved into a standard room. It was tiny, with a slit of a window positioned in the wrong corner so you couldn’t see out of it. I think Johnny Cash “heard a whistle blowing” through that window that allowed no “sunshine since I don’t know when.” It was depressing.

I assured my family it would be OK for me in that room. But after they left, I had a lot of time (between the hiccups) to think. Am I dying? What will happen to my family if I do? And I resigned myself to trust God to work out whatever my family needed, whether I make it or not.

Get Out NOW

About 2 am, I heard His response. It was so jarring when I heard it, but gentle at the same time. “Bill, you’re the project. This leadership team doesn’t know what to do. Get out of there before they kill you.”

All of a sudden, it made sense. God speaks to you in the language you understand. God was making it known that He was not done with me yet. Let that sink in a bit. I knew I was going to make it. In addition, He was reminding me that when project leaders do not know the way, the project always fails. And if I am the project…with this leadership team, I was going to die. Change the team NOW.

But I’m in a hospital bed with 6 IVs. I can’t just walk out. Somehow I had to get out.

I texted my wife, Kimberly. It was about 2:00 am. She was up trying to research everything she could. I told her to get me out and, they’re going to kill me if I don’t get out of there.

She contacted the hospital immediately and initiated the request for a transfer. We asked to transfer to either of two hospitals in Lexington and eventually got accepted into Good Samaritan, which is part of the University of Kentucky. It took until 6 pm to get the transfer on the road.

I would spend the next 2+ weeks at Good Sam.

Now I refer to this transfer from the local hospital to Good Samaritan as the time I fired the hospital.

A New Team, A New Vision

At Good Sam, they did the opposite of everything the previous hospital had done. They outlined a plan to me within an hour of my arrival and stuck to that plan throughout the stay. They took the fluid off (which required countless trips to the bathroom). They treated the hiccups (and replaced it with bathroom trips). And they paid attention to everything.

Between both hospitals I went probably a 10 days without any food. For a time, the only liquid was through the IVs.

The Damage is Done

Kimberly did not share her research with me until later. She found, among other things, an article called “The Atlanta Classification for Acute Pancreatitis.” This article outlined mortality rates for Walled Off Necrosis and explained that the best treatment is not to treat it. Any effort to drain the necrotic material risks infection. And because there are no surviving blood vessels through the necrotic material, there is no way to get antibiotics to treat any infection.

The damage to my pancreas is severe. 70% of it has been liquified – a condition called Walled Off Necrosis. I became a type 3c diabetic, insulin-dependent and requiring digestive enzymes.

The Importance of Kindness

Dr. Calder was finishing up his residency at UK that month. I was one of his last patients before he finished. Several times, he wheeled me out of my room and ate lunch with me. I still get emotional thinking about that simple kindness.

I finally made it out of the hospital. I walked around the yard. Then twice around the yard. Eventually, I returned to work.

I lost another 20 pounds after leaving the hospital. So that means I lost 30 over three months before the surgery, gained 30 in two days, lost 30 in 2 weeks, then lost an additional 20 over the next two months. Now that I’m diabetic, I do not try the Keto diet. That does not mean I’m against that diet, just that my organs already have some extra strain so I choose to be more normal.

The Importance of Community

But the obstacles were not done. Every demon tries to kick you one last time as it is banished.

Back in May, just before the surgery that started all this, several people were let go from work. Our staff of Business Analysts was cut from six, counting the director, to three. About two weeks after returning, I also was released.

One of my friends, Richard, who had been released in May, provided me contacts for jobs he had worked. So, I landed a new job without missing a paycheck.

Between my family, Dr. Calder, the staff at Good Sam, and Richard, I owe so many people so much.

Full Recovery

When you look at me now I look and act as healthy as most people. I have more energy than most. My mind is sharp. The only difference is that I must know how many carbs I am eating so that I know how much insulin to take. As long as I know, like most diabetics, I can eat what I want. With that in mind, I also have to know if my blood glucose is high or low, so I can adjust my insulin dosage accordingly.

If you see me jittery, that means I’m running a bit low and I need something with sugar in it. I have a built in excuse for junk food. But really the best thing is 100% juice with the sugar.

At the beginning of this article I talked about how this medical event changed everything. Since the medical event:

  • I started taking the stairs at lunch. In December 2018, I was able to climb up to 21 stories. Not bad considering the building was only seven stories, and I could barely walk around the yard in June 2018. No one else was doing that in the building.
  • I understand how viewing things through a project lens can illuminate the need for change. I believe God used my project oriented mind to save my life. If you think that is exaggeration, then read this again.
  • I am grateful for simple things. I do not want anything fancy at all. I just want things to work. Simplicity is the key to abundant living.
  • I’ve completed my AAC certification from IIBA and my PSM-1 certification from Scrum.org. And I’m currently working toward Salesforce Administrator. This is on top of my CBAP certification from IIBA.
  • I’ve developed a course to teach AAC certification to other Business Analysts. The course has caused ripple effects in my local IIBA chapter, causing a change in approach to other certification courses. (See, this article is relevant to Agile Analysis).
  • I started this website, and in doing so, I taught myself WordPress and took some courses on writing. Related to that, I revisited a course on Web Development.
  • I’m working to improve family relationships that were damaged through my neglect back when I was fat.
  • I have convinced my family about changes we all need to make for long term financial stability.
  • I am always aware of my health. I’m not obsessive about it. But I have to test between four and six times each day, inject insulin with meals and bedtime, and take enzymes with meals. With that kind of regimen, it is impossible not to be aware.
  • I realize the importance of being your own health advocate. I know that you must make people listen when it comes to your health. I’ll never know how much less damage there would have been if the ER admitted me the first time. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO FIRE THE HOSPITAL. I DID.
  • I have had a personal revival of faith. Although I had never walked away from my faith, I had gone through the motions there for too long. I am currently reading the Bible through for the second time since the medical event, this time my goal is in 4 months. And by reading larger sections at a time, I am making connections that I had missed before.
  • I am constantly listening to podcasts that inspire and educate me toward goals I am attaining. My favorite is ChooseFI, which I’ve binged in it’s entirety, and talks about everything, not just finances. Between that, my family and my faith, I consider this one of my major sources of motivation.

I’ve been told to never make more or less than three points. I just blew up that rule. That’s twelve different areas of improvement in about 18 months.

Summing it up. I no longer neglect my family relationships, my faith, my health or my career. I thought I was taking care of family and career before. Now I am seeing how much more I can and will do on all fronts.

Do I want my pancreas back? You bet. Am I better off now than before? If that is still in question, then read the last section again. Because…

Obstacles are there to make you better in all areas of your life.

If there is anything to take away from this story, I hope it is one of these three ideas.

  • Simplicity is the key to abundant living.
  • Be a vocal advocate for your own health, even if it means overriding what professionals say. Don’t be afraid to “Fire the Hospital” if you have to.
  • Obstacles are there to make you better in all areas of your life.