Welcome to my blog! Please keep these three things in mind:
1. Everything on my blog is my point of view and does not represent the view of any company I've worked for, past, present, or future.
2. If you want to respond to anything I've written, use my Contact form.
3. The previous version of my blog is partially available online, but I put the best parts of it in my first book, Minority Tech: Journaling Through Blackness and Technology. You should buy it. It's fun.
I believe that company and team culture are vital aspects of any Agile team. Culture plays out in every day interactions from how we treat each other to how we conduct meetings. I have found it useful to help my teams come up with a Code of Conduct and Team Constitution to document the culture of the team.
Team Code of Conduct
This is an agreement for how the team will interact with each other. It is similar to a Bill of Rights that list the things the freedoms to which each member has a right. Here are some examples from teams I've worked with in the past:
This is how the team handles routine activities. I can't share specific examples, but here are some of the questions that Team Constitutions should answer:
“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
Famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz uttered these words to underscore the power of the camera. While we live in a time when cameras are everywhere, Stiglitz began his career in the 19th century when photography was a mere novelty. Photographs were not taken as seriously as other art forms such as paintings, sculptures, and music, and this drove Stieglitz to tirelessly labor for an increased appreciation of the pictures that cameras could produce.
We are now seeing the emergence of another medium that struggles to gain the respect accorded to established media forms: virtual reality (VR). While consumers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to movies, television shows, and video games, VR has yet to present content compelling enough for mass adoption. However, VR is poised to make the leap from novelty to ubiquitous technology far faster and with wider implications than photography.
The evolution of VR in the next few years will offer exciting possibilities that will touch the lives of nearly every person on the planet. While we are in the early stages of what VR can offer, enough progress has been made to make predictions about what mature VR products will eventually make possible.
I believe that the evolution of VR has to achieve three P’s before the technology’s benefits can gain traction: Presence, Price, and Personal. The good news is that we have already unlocked the first two P’s.
Presence is a term used to describe the almost overwhelming feeling of “realness” when a person experiences VR. The product that showed us the possibility of presence was the Oculus Development Kit 1 (DK1). The DK1 was superior to previous VR products with its expanded field of view and improved resolution. By providing the interface through a headset tethered to a computer, VR became something that anyone could wear and become immersed in a realistic digital experience.
Samsung’s Gear VR demonstrated that VR could be delivered to the masses at an affordable price point. Although a Galaxy phone were required for the Gear VR to work, millions of those headsets were available to consumers, often subsidized by wireless carriers. The Gear VR demonstrated that virtual reality could be priced at a point that anyone who owned a smartphone could afford.
With presence and price now at the right levels, the next obstacle that VR must hurdle is the creation of personal experiences. VR applications for the next few years will continue to be mass produced for the general population. While the technology will rapidly develop, VR will have trouble crossing the “uncanny valley” that results from our brains refusing to fully believe the virtual experience. However, once VR can convincingly trick the human brain, the technology can then be tailored to individual tastes.
The ability to create truly individual VR experiences will be tightly coupled to the evolution of the physical form factor of VR devices. The current state of the art are headsets that, while portable, are still bulky. It’s difficult to predict how VR technology will evolve, but we do have a possible pattern in one of the most personal technologies available today: the artificial cardiac pacemaker.
The first pacemakers were invented in the 1920s and were large bulky devices that were immobile and had to be plugged into electrical outlets. Pacemaker technology progressed over the decades with the devices shrinking in size and gaining portable power supplies. By the 1950s, the devices were small enough to be externally placed on the body of patients. The 1960s marked the emergence of the first people with pacemakers implanted inside their bodies. Today, pacemakers are shrinking down to the size of a multivitamin.
The evolution of pacemakers from large machines that were tethered to their users to internal devices that no one, including the patient, can see offers a predictive path for VR technology. Initial implementations will probably take the form of goggles followed by contact lenses, but VR implants that interface directly with the brain will soon follow. When VR becomes integrated into the physical body of the user, that will lower the first barrier to the truly personal experience.
Another pattern we can take from the evolution of the pacemaker is opposition based on moral grounds. Scientists and medical professionals took pacemaker testing underground for most of the 1930s and 1940s due to complaints by groups who thought the devices would unnaturally prolong life. It’s possible that VR technology will also face the barrier of those who fear exposing people to “false worlds” where longstanding moral and ethical beliefs may be impossible to enforce. However, pacemakers now enjoy wide adoption, and it is my hope that, once the initial fear mongering subsides, VR technology will quickly outmaneuver those who oppose it based on religion or philosophy.
The next and final barrier will be the creation of VR experiences. These experiences will be many and diverse, but obvious examples are entertainment, sports, exploration, society, and education.
VR will transform the entertainment industry by changing content from passive in nature to active experiences. Instead of watching a two dimensional representation of a book, television show, or movie, consumers will be able to move inside the story and fully control the experience. Instead of being constrained by the camera angles, pans, and zooms selected by the director, VR will let users choose where they want to experience each scene. However, content creators won’t lose control. In fact, they can expand the story by placing events that can only be seen by viewers placed in a specific location who pay attention to a certain set of events. This will broaden storytelling by allowing multiple paths through the plot instead of one linear story.
Sporting events are now starting to be made available as VR experiences using current technology. However, future uses of VR will revolutionize many aspects of modern athletics. Most sports require the construction of seating areas for spectators ranging in complexity from simple stands to massive stadiums. Providing a way to view sporting events using VR will significantly reduce the investment in building spaces for spectators. Furthermore, the best seats, whether at mid-court or mid-field, will be able to support an almost unlimited number of customers who can all enjoy a premium experience. The sound of the sporting event will be provided by real time surround sound, and users can also chose friends around the world to privately join them during the event. VR will provide the experience of a private suite in an athletic arena to far more people than possible today. It’s also possible that VR will reverse the trend of building progressively bigger stadiums. Eventually, sporting events will require spaces not much bigger than the playing field.
The travel industry will also be radically changed by VR. Virtually any place on land, sea, or space will be accessible to anyone regardless of their age or level of physically ability. The Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, or even the surface of the Moon can be explored at a price that most consumers can afford. VR may even make space exploration easier by launching rovers with VR recording equipment to places like Mars to map the surface of the planet. These maps will be used to create immersive VR training sessions for astronauts on Earth well before they make the long journey to the Red Planet.
VR will also provide a way to bridge the differences that often divide our society. We live in a world of various privileges (gender, racial, physical ability, religion, etc.) which create inequalities in society. VR can provide people with privilege the opportunity to live without privilege. Men can literally experience what it is like to walk in a woman’s shoes, White people can understand the experience of people of color, and those blessed with the full function of their bodies can see how difficult it can be to have a debilitating physical handicap. VR may remove the “otherness” that is often the root cause of prejudice and societal strife. If we can be virtually exposed to the lived experiences of those different from us, then we may be able to embrace our shared humanity.
Another societal benefit of VR will be the ability to live out your true self. Some people feel that they were born in the wrong body and yearn to experience life in their true form. VR can provide a way for people to virtually reincarnate themselves as an expression of their inner self-image. Whether as a different race, gender, or species, VR can provide a way for individuals to enjoy the psychological benefits of true self-actualization. Therapists will find this aspect of VR to be a fertile proving ground for treating their patients by leveraging the ability to observe their behavior when exposed to realistic, albeit simulated, scenarios. It’s possible that cures for many mental diseases that we struggle to treat today may be discovered through the use of VR.
The field of education will also be revolutionized by VR. Middle school kids will experience historical recreations of events like the inauguration of past Presidents, speeches made by great orators of the past, and current events around the globe. Subjects like physics, chemistry, and biology will be illustrated by VR models of atoms, molecules, and anatomy. Pre-med students will virtually observe the world’s greatest surgeons no matter where they are in the world. VR will change the learning experience from a one way flow of information from teacher to student into an exciting exploration of topics and concepts.
While VR will transform many fields, the intersection of VR and other emerging technologies will provide the most profound changes. For example, when VR technology is combined with robotics, people who are gravely injured or born with extreme defects can be placed in humanoid machines that are controlled using VR interfaces. Other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology will be augmented by the integration of human senses with VR technology.
I am excited about VR because it is one of the few transformational technologies that will be within the reach of ordinary people. As VR experiences become more personal, anyone can be immersed into any time or any place. The technology is very young, but, if VR advocates could borrow and slightly modify the words of Alfred Stieglitz, I think they will soon be able to make this statement:
“In VR there is an experience so pronounced that it becomes more real than reality.”
I have a lot of email accounts. I have a work account as well as several personal accounts on Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and even an old AOL email address. At one point, I was receiving hundreds of emails per day, and my multiple inboxes were seas of unread mail with islands here and there of the few messages I was actually able to read. A friend of mine named Scott Hanselman made me aware of the term "psychic weight" . That is the burden that impossibly full inboxes (and other electronic notifications) have on the mind: so much email, so little time.
I know I'm not alone in struggling under the pyschic weight of what feels like a million messages. There's even a term for what people do to deal with the problem: email bankruptcy.
There have been a number of solutions proposed to solve the email overload problem, and the most famous is probably Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" concept. This is the idea that inboxes should be regularly zeroed out to free yourself from the mental burden of so many unread messages. Merlin proposed a five step system: delete, delegate, respond, defer, do. I like Inbox Zero, but I don't think it really covers the way to not only truly get control over an overflowing inbox but to also pro-actively reduce the rate of incoming messages. It also doesn't provide a nifty acronym; unless D.D.R.D.D is a word.
I've come up with my own system for email management, and it does have a nifty acronym: D.R.A.F.T. It stands for Delete,Reply, Archive, Filter, and Transform. You apply the method by starting with the first message in your inbox and deciding whether to delete it, reply to it, archive it, filter out similar messages, or transform it (yes, like Optimus Prime). Some messages require more than one action to be used, but the overall goal is to unshackle your productivity from your inbox and direct it toward more efficient tools like your calendar, To Do List, knowledge base, etc. More importantly, you'll be less tempted to tend to the care and feeding of an overflowing inbox after work when you should be doing important things like spending time with the people you love (or your therapist).
The Pre-D.R.A.F.T. Principle
Before we get into the D.R.A.F.T. email management method, I have to make sure you understand one key principle: Fire and Forget. That means that you only deal with an individual email once. You may apply more than one action from the D.R.A.F.T. method to an email, but once you've dealt with it, don't go back to it.
Your first goal for every email should be to delete it. This is especially true for those emails that flood into your inbox because you signed up for the free newsletter of a person or business you can't even remember. One of the best ways to organize your inbox in a way that facilitates deletion is to sort your inbox by sender or by subject. If you use Outlook or some other desktop email client this is usually easy to do. It's a bit harder if you're using a web based email system through a web browser, but there is usually some workaround. For example, to see all messages by a particular sender in Gmail, hover over the sender's name in your inbox and then click "Emails" in the window that pops up. You'll be taken to a screen where all messages from that sender are displayed, and you can delete away.
If you can't immediately delete an email (if, for example, it's an email from your boss, significant other, probation officer, etc.), then your next goal should be to immediately reply to it. If writing your reply takes more than one minute, add it to your To Do List. Your inbox should not be a replacement for a To Do List!
So, you may ask, "What if I immediately reply, and that results in another reply from the original sender?" I'm glad you asked because that is why The Two Reply Rule exists. If your reply triggers another reply, then reply again. If that triggers yet another reply, then pick another communication channel because email is clearly not working. I've seen emails with more than twenty replies going back and forth. After the second reply, a phone, telegraph machine, or sign language should have been used. Email is not the medium for deep discussions!
To clarify The Two Reply Rule, here's how it works:
It's perfectly fine to send a summary email of the discussion, but don't try to have the discussion using email.
Perhaps you may not be able to delete an email due to its importance, or you can't immediately reply because a reply may not be warranted. Maybe the email is an interesting article that you actually want to read later. I personally don't get interesting emails like that, but, hey, I respect the concept. What I don't respect is leaving those emails in your inbox. Archive those suckers out of your inbox and continue to convince yourself that you'll read them later.
Deleting, replying, and archiving messages in your inbox will go a long way toward getting you to an empty inbox. However, those actions can only occur after the damage has been done (i.e., the email lands in your inbox). It is far better to preemptively keep emails from getting into your inbox altogether. One of the best ways to do this is to set up a filter that automatically performs an action on a message based on criteria you establish. Does the office cafeteria send a weekly menu? Create a filter that automatically files those emails into your "Gross But Convenient Lunch Options" folder. Does that runner girl at the office (who you don't even work with) keep emailing you with requests to fund her next 10k or half marathon? Email her your bank account and routing number with the subject "Use Wisely" and automatically filter those messages into your "Pay It Forward" folder.
Another way to preemptively keep email out of your inbox is to unsubscribe from email newsletters. If someone wants to get information to you, then they should publish an RSS feed and let you subscribe to it via Feedly or some other RSS reader (but, c'mon, Feedly is the best). Don't let those email newsletters clutter your inbox. Filter them out.
A lot of people think they have an email overload problem, but they really have a time, task, and file storage problem. As I said earlier in this article, your inbox is not your To Do list because tasks simply get buried and searching for them makes them even harder to complete. Furthermore, your inbox is not a calendar reminder to set up a meeting. Your inbox is also not your file storage system. I know we all get great attachments full of amazing content in our inboxes, but it is a disservice to the greatness of those attachments to keep them trapped in your inbox.
So, transform those messages! Instead of waiting to schedule a meeting, immediately add it to your calendar and use the body of the email to create the agenda for your meeting. Then Delete or Archive the email. If the email is a task that takes more than a minute to do, add it to your To Do list and then get the email out of your inbox (if it takes less than a minute, do it immediately). If the email has a great attachment, detach it from the email and put it in a file storage area or inside your corporate knowlege base. I prefer Dropbox for the former and a wiki for the latter.
Delete, Reply, Archive, Filter, and Transform make up the D.R.A.F.T. Method. Like any other method, it is only useful if it is used, and you have to use it over and over again to make it a habit. It will take some time, but you'll have a much more manageable inbox if you D.R.A.F.T. your emails.
I started speaking at technology conferences in 2009 when I gave a talk at Podcamp Houston 2009 about "Restoring Tech Cred to Houston" (http://www.slideshare.net/anjuan/podcamp-houston-v2). This helped me realize that, in addition to my career in technology, I could speak about topics that I'm passionate about: social media, leadership, design, and diversity.
I continued to give internal technical talks at client sites in my professional career about topics including project management and Agile software development. I earned a spot at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin for the first time in March 2010 when my co-panelist and I discussed "How Social Media Can Destroy Your Business Model": http://www.slideshare.net/anjuan/how-social-media-can-destroy-your-business-model-final
I have spoken at South By Southwest Interactive three additional times:
• "Star Trek UX|UI Rules for Phones, Tablets, and TVs", http://www.sxsw.com/interactive/news/2014/2014-sxsw-interactive-session-spotlight-star-trek-uxui-rules-phones-tablets, SXSWi 2014, Co-Panelist
• "Race: Know When to Hold It and When to Fold It", http://schedule.sxsw.com/2012/events/event_IAP13715, Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR12rGLHiqc, Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LojoCRRkrY, SXSWi 2012, Panelist
• "What Comic Books Can Teach Mobile Application Designers", http://lanyrd.com/2011/sxsw/scqyc/, SXSWi 2011, Solo Panelist
I've also spoken at other technology related conferences:
• "Debugging Diversity", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDAnWK--PT8, codeconf 2015 (http://codeconf.com/), Speaker
• "The State of Black Social Media", Black Social Media Summit 2013 (http://bloggingwhilebrown.com/black-social-media-summit/), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn02khvE0ZE, Panelist
• "Three Careers Strategies for Minorities in Business ", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIu2--YvzJ0, Texas A&M Mays Business School, Diversity Weekend 2012 (http://mays.tamu.edu/full-time-mba/opportunities-to-learn-more/diversity-leadership-forum-weekend/), Presenter
I have an MBA and have also given several business related talks including:
• "Effective Negotiating", http://www.slideshare.net/anjuan/effective-negotiating, Speaker Series 2013, Sam Houston State University, Presenter and Panelist
• "Hitting the Public Speaking Circuit for Fun and Profit", Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFF6s7-aYLc, Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZLM-WJCPOE, Blogging While Brown 2011, Speaker
One of my key goals in 2016 is to speak at more technology conferences. I want to continue to speak about design and diversity, but I also want to speak more about Agile development and leadership since most of my talks in those areas have been behind corporate walls. I also want to have more of my talks recorded since I have very few videos of my presentations.
The field of medicine has made the general public aware of the concept of "patient zero". This is the person who is the first recorded example of a disease that has changed into an outbreak. Outbreaks of diseases like HIV, ebola, cholera, and typhoid have been traced to a patient zero. Finding patient zero is especially important in cases where that person is still alive and spreading the disease their their personal networks.
When I joined a software company a few years ago, I was introduced to the first user of the company's product. I dubbed this person "User Zero" since she was the first recorded example of proof that the software could be a break out success. This was the first person to validate the hypothesis of the value that customers would gain from the software. Without this first confirmation of the company's value proposition, the company may have never existed.
Most companies focus on gaining new customers and neglect their User Zero. I believe this is a mistake. Your User Zero has experiences and memories of your application that few people can match. Your User Zero can hold you accountable to the ideals and principles upon which your company was founded. This accountability is vital because those ideals and principles are easy to lose in the race to close the next sale. Furthermore, your User Zero is often the biggest champion of your product. You should regularly meet with your User Zero and keep her abreast of the features you plan to add to your product. Your User Zero can then become an even greater advocate for your company, especially if she has a large social media following. Just as patient zero is key to understanding the spread of disease, your User Zero can be a vital part of understanding the infectious power of your software.
Ideally, you will bring your User Zero into your company as an employee and have them actively involved in developing your product. I have seen several companies turn their User Zero into a very effective Product Manager (or Product Owner for Scrum teams). By drawing on her domain expertise, industry knowledge, and history with your company, your User Zero can help you find features that have a high value to your existing customers. By integrating your User Zero tightly with your Development Team, you can mine these features to find the ones that can be delivered at the lowest cost. Delivering high value and low cost features to users is one of the best ways to delight both your customers as well as the internal business functions of your company. The key to unlocking this dual-delight effect is your User Zero.
Agile software development methods continue to be popular ways to build software. Agile principles have expanded to other industries such as car manufacturing and construction. However, while there are many books and courses that teach Agile, the principles have to be experienced to truly understand them
After learning the principles and practices of Agile development, the attendees will split into groups of Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and Development Team members to complete the first exercise. This exercise will simulate the use of a Scrum planning board including breaking down work into cards and moving them along workflow steps.
The next exercise will take one person from each team and make them into a group of Customers. The attendees will then play the MVP Game which simulates the difference between how requirements flow in iterative versus waterfall project management methods.
The attendees will then play a game of Planning Poker which will illustrate how to rapidly plan and estimate work. This exercise will show how requirements can be further broken down and estimated by the entire team.
Attendees will leave the workshop with direct experience using Agile development techniques and a head start on leading their next Agile project.
Here is a question that was posted in one of the Agile Linkedin groups I follow:
Here is my response:
I would be wary of any "process" for tailoring the various Agile practices. That would be similar to a process for having a successful marriage. The realities on the ground are so varied and diverse that any process quickly becomes wrong.
You need someone experienced in understanding what's going on in your organization and applying the Agile practices that best meet your needs. This requires an organic and iterative approach that will take time to demonstrate results. Anyone who says they can provide a "silver bullet" that will immediately please upper management should be ignored. If upper management wants immediate results from an Agile transformation, then you have already lost.
I usually start with a presentation of the 12 Principles behind the Agile values to both the people doing the work and any relevant stakeholders. If they don't value the majority of the Principles, then I know that Agile will fail at that company.
I've been in meetings with many CIOs where the CEO demands to know when features will be done. CIOs inevitably resort to framing their answer in terms of individuals and time. This is fine in a waterfall environment, but this framing is often done on Scrum projects. I usually (in private) coach the CIO in a discussion or email that goes like this:
I wanted to share with you my thoughts about communicating to upper management when things will be done. During the last meeting I attended that included you and the CEO, this exchange happened several times:
CEO: When will this feature be done?
YOU: It will take one developer # weeks.
I think that communicating timelines to the CEO in terms of individuals and time estimates is, while common, sub-optimal. This is based on two theories:
So, based on these two theories, exchanges with the CEO would go like this:
CEO: When will this feature be done?
YOU: That feature is, relative to similar features we've done in the past, # points. The team has a velocity of X, so, if the team only worked on that one feature, it would take Y sprint(s).
By doing it this way, you give our CEO an estimate based on everything needed to truly finish a feature. Of course, it's even better if the size communicated to her comes from the team that will do the work. However, I know the investment of time required for team estimating may not be possible before giving an estimate to our CEO.
This exchange has to be done in the context of the team assigned to any given project. It is natural for velocities to vary widely between Scrum teams.
Of course, there is no way of communicating estimated times to complete that cannot be gamed or questioned by a CEO. However, I think that using points and velocity gives the CEO what she wants with a reasonable degree of accuracy.
A friend recently asked me this question about becoming a hired speaker:
@anjuan: Where did you start with presenting yourself as a hired speaker? Organizations? Inner network? Free engagements then started to charge? Was it a massive email saying you were available? #seriousinquiry
Here's my answer:
• You’ll probably have to speak for free before you can speak for a fee. Start hitting up local meetups and bar camps and volunteer to speak. You won’t get money for these talks, but you will get extremely valuable experience speaking in front of crowds and honing your public speaking skills. Make sure you connect with your audience before, during, and after your talk. Post your speaker slides, notes and pictures to social media.
• As you get more experience, apply to speak at conferences. Ideally, you will have several talks that align with a conference track. Again, start local and branch out to your greater metro area. You will probably have to drive to these conferences and pay for your expenses. Continue to connect with people and project your content via social media. I think that creating a newsletter that people can subscribe to is a great strategy. Email marketing is very powerful.
• In time, you’ll find conferences that offer to cover your expenses when they accept your talk. However, even if not offered, you should *always* ask to have your travel (flight and hotel) expenses covered. Of course, your registration expenses will be covered as a speaker. Some conferences offer an honorarium, but that is fairly rare.
• You will eventually reach a crossroads. You can seek speaking gigs that offer more money, but that requires full dedication to life as a public speaker. While I know people who are full time public speakers, it is a life of constant travel and all the complications of life lived out of a suitcase. Or, you can enjoy a set number of speaking gigs that let you travel around the world and talk about your passions. You’re not making enough money to support yourself, but you are getting some nice air miles, hotel points, speaker gifts, and cool relationships.
I’ve chosen to take the path of a handful of speaking gigs each year that require me to keep my day job but allow me to get in front of audiences around the country and share my ideas. This path supports my current professional and personal goals while gratifying my love of performing on stage.
As a Scrum Master, I often write emails to my Development Team to bring them back to First Principles. This is an email I wrote when we were struggling with a feature that we knew could not ship with the polish we all wanted it to have. The team had to meet a hard deadline so, as is the case when time is a constraint, scope had to be reduced.
I've been thinking about how to balance the implementation of this feature between Perfect Software (which never ships) and Crappy Software (which ships all too easily). How do we get to Acceptably Shippable Software?
I hope we can all keep in mind that this release won't be the last time we touch this feature. If we can find an acceptable implementation for the majority of our users, we can iteratively improve that implementation one to two sprints after the release. This will allow us to firm up our thoughts about the feature and also hear from our customers. In addition, shipping by our deadline will provide some internal relief that I think we can use. As I've said, "Shipping heals all wounds". The assumption, of course, is that you don't ship pain.
I trust that the team can find the right balance as we work together.