Blackbox thinking for the agilists

How to conduct better retrospective meetings?. What do scrum masters do after the daily stand up meetings?. The social media gets reverberated with these questions every now and then.

The Comet1 which was the world’s first commercially produced jetliner was involved in a number of accidents in which the machines broke up mid air. Eventually the flaw was identified as hairline cracks around the square windows of the plane, spreading across the fuselage and eventually causing the whole plane to breakup in mid air. Comet1 is the reason why air planes  these days have oval shaped windows. After the disaster David Warren, the investigator recommended the nearly indestructible flight data recorder (black box).

Steve Koppel, one of my favorite football coaches looks very aloof during the matches. He is quite different from many other coaches who throws tantrums standing close to the side lines. You can spot Steve very rarely there. Very often you see him partly hidden behind a window of the hideout, cool yet serious, noting down something in his small writing pad as and when something noteworthy happens. I am not sure about what he records there, and I speculate that they are all areas for improvement or triggers to that. This must be a great input when they retrospect in the dressing room after the match, and while developing strategies for the next match. He is always cool and composed. During the last season, he could take his team (not very strong, no big stars) till the final. Their performance was improving game after game. I love Steve Koppel for that.

Sprint retrospectives can become mere rituals if they are not conducted professionally backed by facts and data. A ‘sprint black box’ comprising of the recording of areas for improvements and areas of best results (to be institutionalized) is a great input for effective sprint retrospectives. The scrum master must own it. Apart from acting as a great input for sprint retrospectives, the sprint black box  will act as a great input for removing impediments as and when they happen.

The sprint burn down chart is a great input for effective sprint retrospectives. Conducting a sprint retrospective by analyzing all the crests, troughs and zero progress zones is another opportunity to run a structured retrospective.

After landing his plane safely in the Hudson river, captain Sullenberger wrote ” Everything we know in aviation, every rule in the rule book, every procedure we have, we know because someone somewhere died.” With each crash, future flights become safer.

The velocity of the current sprint is better only because of those failed sprints and the lessons we learned from them. So every data is important. Remember, in the agile world, success and failure does not matter, as long as failure does not become a pattern and we keep improving by doing everything possible to make the future sprints successful. Why sprints alone, even successful life itself revolves around this pattern.



Can we be truly agile?

Just completed a lecture on scrum to the final year MBA students. Everyone was in awe when I said ‘success and failure does not matter, and very often fast failure is success’. In a highly competitive society where every one has to compete with each other to secure that best education, job for that matter even a seat in the bus…forget about driving on the busy streets, it takes a while to drive that point. Agile is never going to solve all our problems in one go, and definitely it is going to highlight the issues very fast, and that will provide us with more time to recover. Over a period of time the issues will reduce, capabilities will improve, provided we are willing to make some investments. Then I rub salt into the wound by making another flurry controversial statements about estimates, to a society which always struggled for ‘very accurate single estimates’ for decades together for those fixed price, outsourced (in sourced) contracts. ‘All estimates are wrong, and we do not spend too much time arriving at a very accurate estimates, we operate based on abstract estimates, which gets revised and refined on an everyday basis based on the engineers judgement…these statements are not just rubbing salt to the wound, they are more like rubbing salt and pepper.

My parents never said things like ‘ do not do this, it is bad’, instead it was always ‘what will others think of you’. This has not changed much after two generations. I keep hearing this from the modern day parents as well. ‘Beta, eat this food, else the security guard will think that you are a bad boy’ is the norm, than ‘eat this food so that you will have more energy to play well’. ‘Do not litter, it is wrong’ has more credibility and appeal than ‘others will think that you are bad boy’. That child, as an adult, is going to behave differently when the boss is around, and in his absence, and can conveniently forget the fact that one can revise the estimate after working on it for eight hours with unwavering attention, irrespective of the boss is monitoring or not. The ethics part is easily forgotten. It is not even part of the curriculum. They say that a child’s character is formed before the age of five, and the rest are all adjustments. So, these values must be imparted before the age of five, not after one crosses the teenage. In a country where majority of the marriages are still arranged, driving the benefits of work volunteering of the self organized teams is another huge challenge. To my surprise, in my country the divorce rates are very low and the happiness index is also very low. Are we scared to make major decisions?. Are we even more scared about accepting and confronting failures with a cool head?. We are used to command and control due to olonialization and we are embodiments of matha, pitha, guru, manager daivam. We attribute excellence to experience.

All these breeds a kind of skepticism within me, and sometimes I think, our genes are better tuned to work allocation (command and control) than work volunteering. Very often this the tailoring of scrum thato happens in my country, and it is more like laying the ax on the foundations of scrum. In the book ‘Art of choosing’, the author explains about the diversity of behavior across nationalities. I think I will be more honest if I say ‘We are like this’ than trying to behave like some other nationality. Two hundred years of Are these just my views alone?. Do we just want to claim that we are also agile than harnessing the real power of agile?. Are we fearful about other’s perception about us, if we do not claim that our agile is pure agile?. Very often acceptance of reality increases credibility.

On becoming a servant leader

Every leader is a servant first and then a leader. The first step to become a servant leader is to have a grateful heart. Today while coaching a group of young engineers in agile project management using scrum, a sense of gratitude towards my parents, towards my teachers,  towards my mentors, towards my family, towards my business partners, towards the audience  who enabled me to stand up infront of a group of intelligent engineers with confidence and add some value to them engrossed me. A grateful heart, attitude is the starting point towards transitioning into a servant leader. Ultimately Iam grateful to my Lord for creating me for a definite purpose on planet earth and for providing me with the talents to accomplish it.


A way of the cross procession in my village

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Like the man who sold everything else to buy the land with treasure,  give us the courage to say ‘No’ to everything that is against your Word. This grace we ask you Lord.


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Thank you Lord for the talents you have bestowed upon me…


Thank you Lord for helping me to share my knowledge and wisdom to this team. Bless them Lord.

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a]and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then hewent away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’