Agile Transformation

My employer lets take one day a year as a "Day of Caring" to be used at a non-profit organization of our choosing. I did mine with an associate pastor of Life Community Church in Columbia IL. I’ve spent two and a half years immersed in Agile software projects, and the way we manage teams is different to anywhere else I’ve worked. We spent the day doing an Agile Transformation bootcamp on these subjects:

  • Incremental improvement
  • Experiments and the scientific method
  • Big visible metrics
  • Kanban and acceptance criteria
  • Brainstorming and dot voting
  • Time-boxing
  • Meeting agendas
  • Stand-up status meetings
  • Retrospectives and feedback
  • Office layout

The goal was to improve visibility into who is doing what, put in some lightweight structure around projects, and make sure important stuff got done. We did a brainstorming exercise, a demo of Kanban using Trello, some ways to make meetings short and useful, and a lot of time management and project management lessons.

My plan is to return around February and continue the Agile transformation. It’s cool to see the tools and methods I’ve been taking for granted applied in a completely different setting, but still be amazingly useful.

Notebooks

I work in a software company, but I couldn’t do my work without paper notebooks. I’m running several at once:

Five Year Diary

A gift from Paul six years ago and again last Christmas, this book from Levenger gives me five lines a day, for five years. It’s eerie to read back several years and remember what I was writing about, I’m about to finish year #1 of volume #2. I love the short snapshot format. I write this first thing in the morning for the preceding day, while I’m sitting in front of my light-box.

Gratitude Journal

I started this in August 2013, but made it a daily practice on September 1st, 2015. Only good things go in here, it is my second morning journal. I read some of Janice Kaplan’s book The Gratitude Diaries, and I liked her ideas. This feels like a good exercise to remind myself of good things when I can’t currently see good in my world. This is a Rhodia Webnotebook in a (now discontinued) Saddleback Leather cover.

Sketchbook

After the five year diary and the gratitude journal, I do some sketching in a Strathmore wire-bound sketchbook until I fill up a page. 28 days straight as of December 20th. There’s some progression in my doodles and I’m finding I want to draw things from sight, not by memory, so I’m staging a few objects there, including a small model of a person, a wooden bead, and a piece of driftwood from my parents.

Diary

This is the all-purpose book I carry around with me, I leave 3 pages blank in the front for an index and hand-number the odd pages. When it’s full, I put a full index into Indxd and make a written index of highlights in those first three pages. It holds song lyrics, quotes, diary entries, musings, answers to questions, notes from talks I attend, notes on books I’m reading, sermon notes, this is my catch-all. It’s another Rhodia Webnotebook in a Gfeller cover periodically treated with One Star Leather balm, which has saved it from a leaky water bottle.

Work notebook

My daily companion at work, this travels with me in a waxed canvas clutch. Meeting notes, status updates, doodles during meetings, lists, all the work-related note-taking lives here. I use a Clairfontaine 1951 notebook in a custom leather cover from Graham Keegan. I’m on the third one of these and I managed to put this one into the holder upside down. I’ll need a new notebook soon because it’s well over half full.

Task list and Mood Log

I use a Word notebook for task lists with personal tasks in the front and work tasks in the back. Twice a day, at lunchtime and around 5pm, I put a mood rating in a second Word notebook, from 1 (hideously awful) to 10 (best day ever). I average over the week and keep an eye on the week-to-week trend. Walking into your annual check-up with metrics gets a doctor’s attention. These two travel with me in a Nock Hightower case.

End of day notebook

This is new, an experiment from Shawn Blanc’s Elements of Focus course, which is a free video course with small assignments. One assignment is to leave myself a note with what thing I should do first tomorrow, another assignment is to list what I accomplished today, and two things I’m grateful for. It’s going to be interesting to compare the gratefulnesses with the gratitude journal over time. This is a 3×5 Calepino notebook.

Handbag notebook

This is another Calepino notebook in a One Star Leather cover that lives in my handbag. It’s for out and about notes, things I think of while driving, songs I want to buy when I get home. I don’t write in it while I’m driving, but I have pulled off the road into a store car park to jot something down.

Nine notebooks, and all of them have their own purpose, I didn’t realise it was that many. I have a preference for the Rhodia and Clairfontaine papers because they can handle a fountain pen. I’ve already filled a Mood Log, a Task List, a Handbag Notebook, two volumes of Diary, and two Work notebooks this year.

Now – October 26th 2015

I used to do snapshot posts a while ago of what was on my mind and what I was working on. I read Shawn Blanc’s Now page, which refers to Derek Sivers Now page, so I’ll put mine up periodically. Link in the sidebar or these posts. I’ve added a category of Now so I can find them again.

Reading: (updates and archives here)
Travis Bradberry, Jean Greaves “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” (working through this in work with two people I’m mentoring)
Kate Fox “Watching the English, second edition” (a slow read)
Marcus Aurelis “Meditations” (feels like this is the source book for a lot of others I’ve read)

The To Read queue is getting unweildy, I might use Blinkist to knock some of these out if they’re available.

Knitting:
Second of two hats as a wedding present for a friend
Orange Feather and Fan scarf
Really need to finish the Jackeroo cardigan, it has POCKETS. So many pieces of women’s clothing are lacking a functional pocket.

Thinking about:
My 2015 NaNoWriMo novel plot, with AI and genetic algorithms, my 11th NaNoWriMo novel
A Core Curriculum I’m building (inspired from this Shawn Blanc post) using a Levenger Circa notebook
How to start and maintain a daily sketching habit
How to learn enough JavaScript to create a simple, deliberately broken website
How to run a team of 30 software QA people in 3 offices across 2 states without micro-managing them
Stoicism
Creativity

Workouts:
Strength and endurance training at the gym, definite improvements since June in lunges, wall-sits, planks and kettlebell swings (20lb weight)
Training for black belt in Chinese Kenpo at Tracy’s Karate, several black belt techniques still left to learn.

Résumé do’s and don’ts

(Written for a friend who was teaching a class of young people.)

Do be selective. You don’t have to list every job you’ve ever had. Highlight the relevant ones, and highlight specific things you learned or did at those jobs.

The purpose of a résumé is to get you an interview, not tell me your life story.

Never send a ten page résumé, or a seven page one, or even a five page one. If you can’t prioritise what to put on a résumé, you’re showing that you don’t have that skill, which is really useful in many jobs.

No-one should need any more than three pages at the very longest for someone with decades of experience. Don’t make your résumé a wall of text, give me enough to get my attention and move on. Hit the highlights and the most relevant experience.

If you’re applying to be an X, make sure your résumé mentions being an X, or training as an X, or research into being an X. Never apply for a job as an X and send a résumé telling me you’re a Y.

Read the résumé out loud before you send it. When you read it aloud, odd sentence structure or awkward wording is a lot more obvious. Have someone else read it to you.

Don’t refer to yourself in the third person, it’s weird (“Mary is a creative and visionary professional”). It looks weird, it sounds weird, you wouldn’t speak like that.

Never put it on your résumé if you’re not prepared to talk about it in detail. I leave JavaScript off mine, because I can hack my way through with Google and Stack Overflow, but I’m no expert and I don’t want to get grilled on it. If it is on the résumé, it’s fair game for me asking you questions about it.

Don’t inflate your skills. If you say you’re an expert at X but you can’t answer basic questions about X, then that makes me wonder what else is untrue on your résumé. Don’t lie, exaggerate, or make stuff up.

There should not be ANY typos, spelling errors, or grammatical errors in your résumé. Print it out and red pen it. Then get someone else to red pen it.

Stick with basic fonts: Times, Georgia, Ariel, Helvetica. Stay away from Comic Sans and Papyrus. Don’t use clip art, or colours. If your résumé gets printed, it’ll almost always be on a black and white laser printer, colours make it pale and harder to read.

Make sure your contact details on the résumé are correct, it’s the only way to get hold of you. If you set up a separate email address for the résumé, check it multiple times a day.

Don’t belittle your past employers on your résumé. We know you want to leave, but bad-mouthing them on paper makes me wonder what you’ll say about my company later.

If you have gaps in your employment history, be prepared to explain why.

If you’re applying for an entry level job, research what the skills are for someone in that job, and showcase those in your résumé. Even if you don’t have the experience, it shows you did the research and know what you’re looking for.

Nonfiction reading

Starting November 2013, I’ve been reading more books from the business, management, leadership, and creativity sections of the book store. By a wild coincidence, I took on more leadership-ish things at work around then. These are ones I’ve finished so far:

Jurgen Appelo "Management 3.0"

Laurie Helgoe "Introvert Power"

Sheryl Sandberg "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead"

Robert Sutton "The No Asshole Rule"

Robert Sutton "Good Boss, Bad Boss"

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons "The Invisible Gorilla"

Steven Pressfield "The War of Art"

George J Thompson and Jerry B Jenkins "Verbal Judo: the gentle art of persuasion"

Jim Collins "Good to Great"

Sunni Brown "The Doodle Revolution"

Patrick Lencioni "The Advantage"

Currently in progress are "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry, Jean Greaves, and Patrick M. Lencioni, and "The Speed of Trust" by Stephen M. R. Covey. Next up are "The Art Of War For Women" by Chin-Ning Chu and "Scaling Up Excellence" by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. Some are recommendations, some are my own finds. Most have been useful, some more than others. I didn’t like "Lean In" one bit.

I’m trying to alternate business books with fiction. Too much nonfiction makes me cranky, the last time I surfaced from a nonfiction binge I tore through a bunch of Dresden Files books and didn’t touch nonfiction for a while. Having ten years of book reading history is fascinating.

What’s in a title?

Riffing off the sci-fi novel "Bowl of Heaven" with Husband, I was sad to find out the second book in the series was not "Spoon of Heaven," or "Weetabix of Heaven," because it would fit perfectly. We came up with some other novel titles that could be tweaked:

  • Rendezvous with Breakfast
  • Bun Diver
  • Revelation Spork

George R. R. Martin gets his own section:

  • The Song of Fire and Ice Cream
  • A Game of Toasts
  • A Clash of Crumpets
  • A Storm of Soup
  • A Feast for Croissants
  • A Dance with Donuts
  • The Winds of Wintergreen (forthcoming)
  • A Dream of Spring Rolls (forthcoming)

Then there’s the Jim Butcher section (I skipped some titles):

  • Storm Fridge
  • Full Moon Pie
  • Blood Pudding Rites
  • White Chocolate Night
  • Turnover Coat

Travel lessons

Airplane travel

Some day, you and your checked luggage will be parted. Maybe for a day, maybe forever. Have enough in carry-on that you can survive a day while you get replacements for the essentials.

Medications go in carry-on bags.

If you fly more than twice a year, do the TSA Pre-Check and get a Known Traveller Number. You can keep your liquids in your bag and use the short line for screening, and it lasts for five years.

Driving for business

Classical music is not your friend. Find something with a beat that you can sing along to, especially if you’re driving multiple hours.

Drink lots of water and take stops every hour. The one may facilitate the other.

Don’t be the fastest thing on the road.

Chocolate left in your car all day will probably melt, especially in summer.

Bring one book, not three.

General travel

When you’re in a new city, ask people for recommendations of places to go and places to eat. Then take the recommendations. This got me to Askinosie a fantastic chocolate factory in Springfield MO, and Farmer’s Gastropub, which is the closest thing to a British pub I’ve found in America.

Explore on your own.

Take the time to introvert and be alone.

Back to back travel is best avoided. You need a break in between trips.

Coming home is the best part of travelling.

How to have a meeting that doesn’t suck

Have a defined end-point for the meeting, and get there as soon as you can.

Take your own notes, by hand, on paper. You’ll notice what’s relevant to you and the act of writing helps you recall it.

Allow audience participation, it’s not a lecture or a class, it’s about collaboration. Someone else knows information that’s relevant and they can’t speak if you never leave space for other people’s words.

Count at least seven seconds of silence when you ask a question. People start squirming at that much dead air and someone will fill it. Some people can tolerate more silence than others, watch for them and ask them questions directly.

If your meeting room is a fridge, people are too busy being cold to pay attention to what you say, and they probably hate you for keeping on talking.

Multiple-hour info-dump meetings will be forgotten by morning. Multiple-hour meetings that are also cold will be remembered only as cold and too long.

Humans need regular bio breaks. Having to ask to be taken to the rest room as an adult, because you require a security badge to get back in and you’re not handing those out to visitors, is humiliating. Don’t be that company. If you can’t get around the badge issue, schedule a break every couple of hours and get people up and moving.

If it’s a meeting where people can phone in, make sure they can hear you over the phone. Repeat questions before answering them, and speak clearly and more loudly than usual.

For a video conference, have a dry run of the technology the day before to make sure everything is working OK. Do not make your meeting the first time you turn the video camera on.

If there’s any way possible you can get everyone in the same room, do that.

Patience, a story in one hundred words

Rain and grains of hail bounced off her hide with a metallic ting, falling to the cobblestones below. Solidified iron draped over her crouched form, holding her in place and burning her skin every second of every day, eyes propped open, ears half-blocked, muscles aching to stretch and open her wings to fly away. She caught the scent of greasy hamburgers and fries and her claws twitched. So hungry. A teen boy pointed up at her, waving his food. "Ooh, scary gargoyles!"

One day, she thought. Five hundred seven years of her sentence complete, only nine more to go.

(This is a drabble, a story in precisely one hundred words, written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge.)

2014 round up

My 2014 resolutions were:

  1. I will not stab anyone in 2014 (just one more year…)
  2. Get my second degree brown belt and make a run at 1st degree.
  3. Finish book #2 and write book #3 for NaNoWriMo

I have not stabbed anyone this year, fulfilling my annual resolution. Punching anyone at the karate studio doesn’t count because we use control and we spar a lot.

Got my 2nd degree brown belt in June with a new instructor, and I’m in reviews for my 1st degree brown belt. The belt test after that is 1st degree black belt, when I can officially call myself a Shodan.

I wrote book #3 of my multiverse four-part series of novels (there’s a part #0 prequel), and wrote the ending scenes. The back end of book #2 remains undone, but writing book #3 gave me an idea how to deal with the monster.

By year end, I will have gifted 18 knitted things. I have worked on 25 projects this year, and finished almost all of them (2 cardigans outstanding right now but one is almost there, a pair of socks in progress).

I was promoted to Director of Quality Advocacy at work, and I have business cards to prove it. I’m running a team of 20 bad-ass diabolically creative software tamperers. I taught a 2-day workshop class solo on Agile software QA, and did a solo Lunch and Learn on Object Oriented Programming basics. Both are scary things off my 2015 work goals list. There’s another Lunch and Learn planned for January 7th, probably more Agile QA classes too.

We went to the NaNoWriMo Night of Writing Dangerously for the first time, travelling to San Francisco in November.It was great to meet people in person we’ve only emailed, and see my writerly tribe on their annual celebration.

It’s been a pretty good year.