Search This Blog

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Agile Workshops in Manila

As an Agile Coach I want to help people learn how to be Agile so that they can achieve the success I have seen others realize. 

Acceptance criteria: People are thinking Agile and approaching their work in an Agile manner. 
Teams are working in an Agile environment, experiencing improvement over time and enjoying themselves.

Most of the early work with a business transitioning to an Agile environment is facilitating training sessions where everyone learns what Agile is and the basic outlines. 

At its core Agile is a framework of guidelines with a menu of practices. Each organization, and each team within that organization, must start by working within those guidelines, inspect and adapt what is working and what isn't, and then make changes as necessary; and repeat this process over and over. 

The initial interpretation of those guidelines is critical. I have seen Project Managers take the guidelines and simply place what they know into them. This can work, however if this person is also acting as the Scrum Master we can expect to see a less than Agile team result. There is a conflict of interest between the command and control aspects of Project Management and the servant-leadership role of a Scrum Master.

Similarly, developers, testers, and analysts must understand that they are not doing the same thing they have done before just in the 'Agile way.'  If they are open to the opportunities Agile offers them as a part of the larger group they can really impact what the company is doing and how.

I have seen managers profess their acceptance that things must change and that Agile is the way they want to go, only to begin to exhibit far more controlling tendencies once their teams are truly beginning to be Agile.

The financial section of companies have their own processes and require certain information; we begin to experience friction when we’re developing product in an Agile environment but must still forecast what each resource is doing and on what project and when before we are able to plan anything.

Agile is truly a mindset change that should result in business model innovation. Because if the model we’re using is working, then why are we moving to Agile? We need the innovation prospects that Agile offers. 

My workshops are primarily interactive because they must be; I could stand there talking for hours but no one ever really learns from that do they? Case in point, the number of college graduates who have no idea what they studied once they’re done. But I digress.

We have a lot of fun in the workshops, you can see that in the photos, but how do I know the teams are really learning Agile? Good question.

I ask them as we work together in the sessions and I generally get confident feedback that they are grasping the concepts and understand why this might work better than how things have been done in the past.

I also run surveys after each workshop to find out whether the information and the way it was presented was useful and whether the attendees feel they learned something, but that doesn't tell me how they will do when applying it themselves.

My grandmother used to say “the proof is in the pudding” which is a shortening of the original phrase that roughly translates, you have to try something before you know whether it’s good.

I tell the attendees in every workshop, it will take a while to truly assimilate the concepts and it will take trial and error and the actual practice of being Agile for them to see whether this is going to work and how.

After the initial training workshops are complete, we set loose all our trainees and ask them to now do what we have taught them, but far from dropping them all into the deep end of the ocean and leaving them to sink or swim, we remain to coach them through the early fits and starts.

This is the serious part of transitioning to Agile. If we can’t maintain the excitement and awareness these people felt during the workshops as they move through their first iterations—and generally falter—then we risk losing the chance to help them see the value in what they’re doing.

I tell the people in the workshops that part of learning Agile is to evangelize Agile to their family, friends, and co-workers. Because what better way to learn about something then to have to explain it to someone else?

I know they won't all take on that challenge, but those that do will help their teams be better at applying Agile concepts and every team that succeeds will be the catalyst for another that is just getting started or the support for one that is having trouble.

My user story is really an epic and I won’t be able to answer the question of whether I am done for some time. But I will circle back from time to time and let you know how we’re doing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The 15 hour time difference

As an Agile Coach working in the Philippines, I need consistent contact with my home base (US) so that I can communicate and receive information.

Acceptance Criteria: Schedule daily touch points with appropriate people.

Schedule daily touch points with appropriate people... much more easily said (and written) than done. There is a 15 hour time difference between Manila and Phoenix, Arizona; which is my home base. I'm a day ahead and am just starting my day when they are ending theirs. Factor in that we must also loop in New York sometimes and things get more complicated.

When I was on the other end, I was aware of the time difference but am ashamed to say I had a pretty ethno-centric approach; the "offshore" people should be available when we were working; during our "core hours."

Now that I'm on this side, I see how difficult that is and how unfair. Our colleagues in the Philippines are people too. They have lives--families and children--with schedules and needs that must be met.

When the VP I work with kept saying things like, 'I don't want people to forget that we are part of the team too.' I honestly thought he was referring to the tendency to forget to include us in meeting invites, etc, but what he meant was that our colleagues in the Philippines (and India) are referred to as "offshore" and really are not considered part of the team. We are the red-headed step-child.

Now that I'm here in Manila, I am 'offshore' and often run into the issue of being asked to attend meetings that are scheduled long after going home time; sometimes 10pm Manila time or later. I have agreed in many cases to keep the information flow going but after awhile this takes a physical toll that cannot be sustained.

One of the things I teach as an Agile coach is that we all must work a sustainable pace to ensure we don't burn out and allow people to have lives outside work; which makes us better employees who are more productive.

However, when we start to talk about how we can achieve the overlap we need to keep the work flowing smoothly, the onus all seems to be on the offshore component of the team. The current proposal is the Philippines office will need to alter our schedule to come in at six in the morning. This would give us a two plus hour overlap with the US; we would be starting at about 3pm their time.

Our day would then end about 3pm Manila time; which sounds great, right? Get home for the kids, etc. and have daylight hours to do other things. As we have been talking about it many of the people I work with have said this will be difficult for a variety of reasons and that many probably won't leave at 3pm. They already work more than 8 hours a day normally.

So this may actually push people to work even longer hours. Especially since we already have a mid-shift group that doesn't come on until 3pm and we need to have overlap with them as well.

But even if it did work out well, what this doesn't do is share the change or sacrifice or responsibility for ensuring we can keep information flowing without delay on all parties in this team. It puts it all squarely on one set of team members; the Philippine contingent.

I don't have all (or even any) of the answers and have not yet figured out how to make this work, but I have learned a very valuable lesson. We must think in wholes, not parts which make up the whole. Onshore and offshore should only be explanations for where people are, not for their function or value.

While difficult, it is not impossible. Distributed teams must bridge the time, geographic and, sometimes, philosophical gap to ensure they can continue to work as an integrated whole.

We're still working on it. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 10, 2015

More on Filipino art, culture and history

 As a new resident of the Philippines, I want to immerse myself in the city so that I can enjoy my stay, learn and share cultural knowledge.

Acceptance Criteria: Attend cultural events, visit museums, tour the cities, ask questions.
In the Ayala museum, there are three floors of exhibits. The fourth floor is the gold (see last week's post), next on the third floor are the porcelain and ceramics. 

Lots of interesting pieces covering the history of trade between the Philippines and China over a thousand years. Which makes sense give the proximity and the fact that many Chinese settled in the Philippines, but still had ties to their native country.

The collection includes many pieces that were new to me. They had a selection of what is known as iron spotted pottery, because the artists dropped iron onto white porcelain which created brown spots, and white ware, which is, you guessed it, an all white ceramic glaze. Apparently, very prized.

The familiar blue and white ceramic we associate with China is here as well, and there were some really nice pieces of that and the green ceramic too; ceremonial tea pots, jars and bowls.

Also, on the 3rd floor are some more textiles; woven and embroidered and an exhibit of the artist Fernando Zobel; a Filipino who moved to Spain in his thirties to become an abstract artist. Some of his work was very interesting, but I think the museum is owned by his family and that is why they only had his art.

Then on the 2nd floor are the dioramas and model ships. The model ships appear to be an interesting afterthought, maybe something the owner really liked. There are Chinese junkets as well as Spanish galleons and some others I didn't recognize. And the smallest was probably 3 feet long; the largest about 6 feet.

But the dioramas are a walk through the history of the Philippines and the Filipino people.

Dioramas are an interesting way to depict any country's history; a little like using a comic strip. However, being new to the history of the Philippines--I knew a little of the Marcos' time but didn't really know the history--I thought this could be a good way to get the lightweight version. Again, I was wrong.

The dioramas start from the time of the earliest known Filipinos and cover the Spanish invasion and Chinese infiltration, Chinese pirates and Catholic priests, and the rise and death of Jose Rizal, General Aguinaldo and the American invasion; right on through to the rise of the Aquino's and the end of the tyrannical rule of Marcos.

I was a little emotional when I got to the end, the assassination of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino and the sudden thrusting onto the political stage of his widow, Corazon, was very moving. It didn't help that they had videos running of speeches made by the Aquino's and footage of the actual march on EDSA during which (similar to Tienanmen Square) tanks were sent by Marcos to take out the marchers. Very intense moment for me because I really didn't know what was going to happen.

But the people climbed onto the tanks and exhorted the soldiers, their Filipino brethren, to break from the Marcos' and their despotic rule and march with them for freedom. They offered them food and water and solidarity and the soldiers climbed out of the tanks and joined them. 

That was when I understood the sculpture outside the Yuchengco museum. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Filipino art, culture and history

As a new resident of the Philippines, I want to immerse myself in the city so that I can enjoy my stay, learn and share cultural knowledge.

Acceptance Criteria: Attend cultural events, visit museums, tour the cities, ask questions.

Staying in Makati was probably the best way to be introduced to the Philippines because it is home to two museums with great historical information about and artifacts from the Philippines.

The Yuchengco museum is the private collection of a man who straddled both the Philippine and Chinese cultures. He was a well-traveled ambassador who rubbed shoulders with many heads of state.

His collection includes paintings, sculpture, textiles, interactive art installations as well as static, and his collection of maps, war memorabilia, newspapers and coins from all over the world. There is also an interesting mini-collection of things distantly related to Jose Rizal; ostensibly the hero of the revolution against Spanish rule in the Philippines.

I say distantly because it includes furniture from the home of a woman purported to be the love of Jose Rizal's life (who was apparently quite the playboy), but she was married to someone else.

The art of the local artists is beautiful; very colorful. It reminded me of Gauguin, especially the paintings from his time in the tropics.

My favorite was the Hanging Garden or the Zen Garden; which is an art installation made entirely from recycled materials.

Outside the museum is a large sculpture by Eduardo Castrillo called Spirit of EDSA, which depicts the People Power Revolution which resulted in the Phiippines independence from Marcos' regime which I really didn't understand until I got to Ayala museum.

Ayala Museum is part of a mall area called Greenbelt. It is well known for a couple things; the landscaping which is quite lush, jungly and beautiful, and for the stores--Prada, Gucci, Hermes, Chopard, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton... you name it they have it. Very high end. Very chi chi (pronounced shee shee).


The museum (450p = $10) is fronted by a large art installation of a carriage of sorts  It lights up at night and looks like a carnival ride. It is a mash up of Filipino history and a Japanese anime show the artist liked as a child, but is meant to remind people of the dark history of the Philippines.

Inside the museum has several exhibitions that held my attention for several hours. First on the fourth floor is the gold; Philippine gold and its history. Now, I like gold as much as the next person and I figured it would be interesting to see this exhibition, but I had no idea. 

The gold, its history and the pieces they have on display are phenomenal. I could not take photos but I pulled some from the internets to share with you because I was floored. Many of the techniques we see today in very expensive jewelry and associate with amazing artisans from Italy, Spain and elsewhere are present here from some very primitive peoples and times.

When you walk onto this floor a video begins that tells you much of the history and show you many of the pieces. Awe-inspiring and beautiful, I was certain these were recent pieces that they used in the video to depict what they believed was the type of metal work done by early Filipinos. Boy was I wrong. 

The museum is very modern, all glass and shiny metal, with raised floors under which they display artifacts.  I couldn't take a photo inside but once outside I got this shot of the glass enclosed stair case inside. The floors were very much the same as these glass walls with the x's supporting each pane of glass in four corners. It felt like you were walking on air and about to fall through at any moment. Remember the floor in the James Bond movie Die Another Day? Like that.

Under those glass plates were relief maps of the islands of the Philippines showing where the gold was discovered or mined and where certain designs originated, as well as where Catholic priests settled in order to control the gold. It was used for adornment of the natives and to indicate wealth, and was used for trade as well.

They have more than 1000 pieces of gold displayed in the exhibit and it ranges from tiny remnants of gold buttons or decorations to complete necklaces and head dresses or crowns, death masks and earrings, tassels and belts, bowls and bracelets, and it is all archaeological. That is, no one saved it and handed it down from generation to generation; it was buried with people. It was all discovered as they dug up the ground to pour foundations for buildings. 

 This is a goddess; she was damaged--crushed and somewhat mangled--but this close up shows you the amazing detail.

This is a bowl which has a detailed design around the rim and though I'm not sure what these flat pieces were they show how deft they were with the repousse technique that created this design.

These bracelets were tubes that were bent and soldered closed or pounded and decorated with hot drops of gold or repousee. 

This necklace is made of beads, which they had to make before they could string them... on more gold.

This belt is a combination of beads and woven gold strands, which you can see in the close up.

This ceremonial belt was really the piece de resistance (and not from the Lego Movie). The intricate weave and beading, as well as flat sheets used for the buckles just blew me away.

All in all, a great two hours of time spent oohing and aahing over jewelry.

Check out the next blog for Part two of the Ayala Museum and its treasures.