Rants and Blogs

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are You Ready for Gen X Leaders and Gen Y Workers?

Is your company being led with an agile mindset or by a narcissistic idealist?  We have all heard the phrases "That's how we've always done it" or "If it isn't broke, don't fix it."  Sadly, it’s my belief that these two simple phrases are setting corporations on a track for disaster.  We live in a time where Baby Boomers are at the top, but on their way out, Gen X is trying to take over, and Gen Y (millennials) wants nothing to do with it.  Is your company agile enough to pass the reigns?

Let me first set the bias by stating that I am Generation X. For lack of a better term I will say that I am near the XY Cusp.  When I think about those two statements within a corporation I relate them to the boomers or BoomerX cusp.  Coming right out of wars they joined the workforce and attempted to move up the corporate ladder, and many have done just that.  They have this idea that if you just work long and hard the results will be positive.  That sounds great and I am sure that it once was, but with the rate of technology today you will fall behind if you are working long at anything.  Other common attributes from this generation include continual promotion from within and keeping harmony amongst the employees.  Agility is often foreign to this generation which leaves us with 20 year old equipment punching out the same pieces of metal.  Again, each of these values or beliefs worked great and long standing companies are here today because of them, but these practices are failing today.

Now we are on to Gen X; the degenerates.  Our entrepreneurial, agile, and creative ways are a wrench in the system that worked so well for the generation before us.  We are often referred to as demanding and said to have issues with authority.  In defense to this, I would agree that we are demanding and say that it is questioning the status quo of those that deem themselves entitled for their twenty years of hard static work.  We often move around from one company to the next, but struggle with always wanting to improve the system.

By the 80’s and 90’s Gen Xers were well into the work force and technology changed drastically.  This was our opening to move and make something of ourselves.  Those simple phrases that we started with leave a lot of businesses headed down the wrong track while others continually adapt.  This also opened the door leading to our entrepreneurial ventures.

Today’s workplace sadly is often more of a battle ground than a collaborative pool of tried and true methods that only the experience of the boomer generation can provide and the agile practices and rapid development of technology that Gen Xers bring to the table.

Gen Y seems to want nothing to do with this battle or a cubicle.  They think less about a dead-set 20yr retirement with one company than even the generation before.  This generation will be very interesting to say the least.  They are highly intelligent being that they do not know what it is like to not have a computer in their home or two cell phones in their pocket, yet they are spoiled in a sense and will drop work for play without a second thought.

I am in no way saying that any one generation is wrong in the way they worked.  The fact is that we are a product of our environment.  The key to that is “the way they worked”, past tense.  We need to change and adapt to the methods of the rising generation.

Companies with a long history that are still being run with these Baby Boomer values need to adapt quickly.  They must give way to the next generation’s values before they experience the shock of immediate change when that generation retires.  The loyalty is more apparent if discussing marriage.  Baby Boomers got married and are still married, Gen Xers are often on their 3rd marriage, and the millennials want nothing to do with it.

The way we do this is to give way to the ideas of agile practices.  Build an environment that allows for iterative delivery/development.  The Gen Xers are all over this idea and it simply is not being welcomed by the traditional leadership in today’s corporations.  Allowing these practices into your business will improve the way that you work, appeal to Gen Y, and greatly improve time to market.  More importantly, now that you are agile, you eliminate the risk of losing that “tribal knowledge” that your business thrives on today by eliminating the need for it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On the Same Page or In the Same Boat?

What is a ScrumMaster Really?

Are you asking yourself what Scrum is?  Search for it on the Internet and you will find either Rugby references or a bunch of diagrams with arrows or big blocks turning into little boxes.  Now, do you know what Scrum is?  Yeah...  That’s what I thought…
You or someone that you know is one of the millions in today’s world who has had to pull their belt tighter.  You find that your mailbox is filling with bills that you cannot fully pay.  Sitting down at night you lay out each of the bills on the table and now you can see what is in front of you reflecting on the pay changes and economical responses of the company you work for.  At this point you have a few choices.  You can do nothing and drown in debt, plan how to pay them when you find a new job, or you can get started and dig out.
You only have so much money in your account and won’t have any more until payday so you call each of these companies and ask if they can wait for two weeks.  Some of them work with you, some don’t, and others would accept a partial payment now.
At this point you know what has to be done so you turn to the wife and kids and ask who can do what to get this done.  Your child says he can mow the lawn so you no longer have to pay for lawn care and the wife speaks up to say that she is going to start cutting coupons.
Each morning before everyone heads off to get gas for the mower or pick up the papers for coupons, you briefly hold a family meeting to find out what they did towards their goals yesterday and what it is that they plan on doing today.  Before everyone takes off to do just that you ask, “What problems are you running into?”  The wife found that often she needs a coupon from each side of the paper.  When she brings this to you, you decide to get a second paper while she cuts the first allowing her to acquire both coupons.  Maybe you instead have her continue cutting and filing while you search online for a website that allows her to print these coupons.
Doing this just got you to next payday and it is time to pay up on what you put off so you begin this routine again.  It worked so far, right? Pay off the some and pay on others.  Now that you have once again determined what has been done and what needs to be done you go back to the family and thank them for what they did.  Your child turns and says,  “Hey, I can take the bus to school with my new friend so you don’t have to use gas money to drive me each day” and the wife says, “I had some time the other night and found a new user group online that shares coupons allowing for more relevant coupons to the household.  We no longer need the papers.” Now you’ve speak up to suggest that next time the lawn is mowed that it should be cut shorter to extend the time between cuts, thus saving on gas and time.  Again, whew, you are on your way to the next pay check and everyone has picked up a piece of the solution to get you they’re allowing for optimization along the way.
Now let’s look at what you have accomplished.  The companies wanting their money (Product Owners) laid out what they need with some foresight (The Bill and Summary).  Some could wait and others were ok as long as you gave them something and got started towards the end product via negotiation, even though they have independent agendas as product owners.  You just groomed your Product Backlog.
Next you met with your family (Team) (Sprint Planning Meeting) and each member took on what they could establishing your Sprint Backlog.  While they worked on what needed to be done, you managed to keep them on those goals by removing any problems (Impediments) that came up.  These impediments were discovered as they worked and put on the table at breakfast, the Daily Scrum.

You – Scrum Master – Removed Impediment, checked the psychology of the team, provided feedback and alternative solutions to the product owners, and negotiation prioritization for seemingly unrelated products.

Family – Team – Worked to improve the way the work was done, let the product drive the work being done, and kept their promise to keep communications on the table.

Companies – Product Owners – stated what they needed, worked with the team to establish a common acceptance criteria, and left the team alone during the sprint. 

Two weeks went by (Sprint) and you got another paycheck.  In contacting the companies you review what was done (Sprint Review Meeting).  Then you met back with the family, talked about how it was great that they accomplished what they needed to and how you can do it better, such as mowing the lawn shorter (Sprint Retrospective).  You plan for the time between now and the next paycheck (Sprint Planning Meeting) <-- again...Life finds a way.
What did Scrum do for you?  You might be thinking at this point that this is no way to live.  Why are you living paycheck to paycheck rather than planning long term and getting out of this?  So, let’s go back to the original options…  You can do nothing, plan long term while acquiring late charges and possibly having your cable turned off, or you can start the work and dig out.
Break this nightmare down into to manageable sizes (Sprints) and start working with those that you owe (Product Owner).  As you find a new job, get more information or whatever steers you away from the chaos you will find that you are not two months behind on your bills now.
Now for the most important lesson in Scrum.  So now you have a new job and rehired the lawn crew.  Apply this framework to something else chaotic in your life and simply pay your damn bills going forward.
Establish and apply standards for your time/place in time boxes and congratulations!  You are now a Scrum Master.