Month of Decluttering

Disclaimer: Lately I’m getting into Tiny Houses and Minimalism. I’ll write about these topics at  wenigerballast.tumblr.com/ in German and reserve finding-marbles.com for work related musings. As I had already started the following post, I’ll publish it here anyway, just this one article.

To make space for the baby, my husband and I defragmented our flat prior to the birth. We’ve thrown away what feels like half our furniture (probably was about 1/6th). We could easily have outfitted at least one other household with all the stuff we got rid of. I was afraid the living room would look cold with so little furniture, but instead we love the new spacious feeling. Somehow, tidying up and getting rid of stuff is good for the mind and soul, too. At least my mind and soul ;)

This clean out gave way to an intense interest into Tiny Houses. This movement’s central question of “What do you really need?” ultimately led us to Dusseldorf’s 1st minimalism meetup. There we got introduced to the “Month of Decluttering” challenge: On the 1st day of the month throw away 1 thing. On the 2nd day 2 things, until on the 30th it’s Bye-bye for 30 things. We decided to start right away in February so that we only have to go up to 28 things.

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Changing Lanes – Servant Leader to Developer

switching-lanes-194044-mIn a way I have come full circle: I started as a web developer in 1999 and I returned to being a web developer in January 2014. Intermediate steps: Studying Computer Science, creating e-learning content, usability & UX, scrum master, mashup of project manager & agile coach & product owner, and at good long last a Sabbatical.

During my Sabbatical in 2013, I figured out that supporting roles such as Scrum Master and Product Manager are not as satisfying to me as developing had been. I would have liked to thrive on serving others, but I don’t. Not yet anyway. I hope to get there one day. I’m good at it (better than I am as a dev) but not happy. Consequently I took a deep breath and switched back to being a web developer. The change of role brought along some funny changes in perspective:

Retro appreciation

I love retros. To me, they’re the most important of the agile rituals. When I was a scrum master I didn’t really get why developers were so often reluctant to attend. Now I totally get it: As a scrum master it is my job make sure retrospectives happen and result in change. When a retro tanked (no clear actions to take; talking about side issues, not the elephant in the room; …) I would look forward to the next one and plotting how to improve.

As a developer I’m a much harsher judge of whether it was a good use of my time. My main job is to create something useful for our customers, not meetings. So, I want each retro to improve us as a team and when the last one was meh, I now drag my heels as well. I could be coding in that time!
On a more abstract level, I still consider the retro incredibly important.

Obsessing over problems

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Link

There are a couple of new 1-pagers I created for Wall-Skills.com:

A Mini Design Studio is a short workshop to design single elements such as a graphical interface, short text, etc. It’s useful for product teams that jointly want to shape their product’s face.

Simplicity is 1 of 5 core values in eXtreme Programming, but what does “simple” mean exactly? Check out rules for simple code.

A good user story fulfills the INVEST criteria

A Sprint Goal allows the dev team to make good tradeoffs even if they can’t check back with the PO.

The Lean Household

kanban-door

My Kanban board on the outside (!) of the bedroom door

One of the joys (?) of adulthood is seeing the world through the lens of your job. Like my friend who used to be a dentist’s assistant and still scans the teeth of everyone she meets. Or me who turned her bedroom door into a huge personal kanban board and does quasi retros with her husband. And started to value streamline daily routines…

Bread spreads in the vegetable drawer

You see, in Germany the usual breakfast is sliced bread topped with something – cold meat, cheese, jam, Nutella :) , … You name it. Dinner is often the same.

breakfast-spread-drawerEvery single day you spend a few minutes going back and forth between your table and your fridge getting (or storing away) various bread spreads. That’s what I’ve done and seen others do all my life. Until one fateful (Exaggerating? Me? Never!) day a few years back: My in-laws where storing all the spreads in the fridge drawer. That drawer is intended for vegetables, but hey, if you store your bread spreads in there, you can get them in or out in one go instead of many! Mind blown! We’ve never looked back. What a time and stoop saver. I really should have called this post “Save 2h per month with this one weird trick” :D (Assuming 2 minutes saved per meal. 2 meals per day, 30 days per month = 30×4 = 120 minutes)

Everything on the table

Lately our lean mindset zoned in on other things as well. Once you start thinking about it, our kitchen layout really doesn’t make sense: Continue reading

What’s in a logo?

Last week I looked at this site and the logo jumped out at me. My side projects Wall-Skills and Mail-Skills have carefully crafted logos and my own blog was stuck with something I cobbled together one evening. :/

finding-marbles_logo_old

Old logo

Worse, I (co-)maintain 4 sites with 3 different logo styles. To my mind the sites are a family and the logo should reflect that. So here’s the new logo:

finding-marbles_logo

Shiny new logo

The colors of the 3 marbles in the brain reference Mail-Skills, Wall-Skills and Retr-O-Mat respectively. The latter one will keep its different style for the time being, but 3 out of 4 projects now show that they have something in common:logos-nebeneinanderThis is important to me because I’ve started to work on a book project that is kind of the love child of Mail-Skills and Wall-Skills. So far it’s great fun and I’ll be ready to share details soon :)

Fabulous Finding Marbles Newsletter

2015 is upon us, so I’ve decided to use this cutting edge new technology called “email” to spread a so-called “newsletter” to everyone who wants to stay in the loop about my projects. Some of them (Retr-O-Mat, Wall-Skills, Mail-Skills, …) are pretty useful, if I do say so myself. ;)

You’ll get at least 1 mail per month and at most 1 per week containing:

Convinced? Subscribe to the fabulous Finding Marbles newsletter now! :)

How metrics shape cityscapes

If you ever come to Aix la chapelle (Aachen) and walk through the charming old town centre you’ll see very slim houses. When you enter them you’ll find that they are deep, tube-like.

For a long time I thought that that’s just how they build in medieval times and maybe that’s a factor, but a metric was important as well: Turns out that taxes were paid based on how wide the front of your house is. This metric drove people to build slim houses to minimize costs.

Once I was in an older building in Spain. Curiously the floor labeled “1″ was already the 3rd floor. Strange, huh? Not if you know that houses used to be taxed by number of levels. That’s why people invented names like “entrepiso” for the 1st floor and sometimes even 2nd floor and henceforth did not count them as levels. Now you’ve got 8 level buildings, posing as 6 level ones.

Photo by Marina Micheli

Photo by Marina Micheli

In Sweden many people have a summer house on one of the islands. These summer houses may not exceed a certain size. This is verified via helicopters checking roof sizes. But they don’t check the number of houses. In effect, where in other countries you’d build an additional room, swedes build a new tiny summer house, dedicated to a single purpose. Just like a room ;) Continue reading

The Sketchnote Handbook

Taking notes during presentations helps me stay focused and to remember the content. Visual notetaking aka sketchnoting is more fun and the result is more interesting to others.

If you’ve never tried sketchnoting, check out “the sketchnote handbook” for a head start.

The book practises what it preaches and is very visually engaging. I especially enjoyed the guest sketchnotes at the end of each chapter. They introduce you to a range of styles and elements. Very interesting!

What does it take to succeed with agile?

sipgate, my employer, has come a long way since introducing Scrum in 2010. Overall I’d consider our journey a successful transformation. Today, we can ship much faster with better code quality and information is readily available to every employee – to name a few advantages.

Of course there are many factors that contribute to a successful agile transformation (yep, you got me, the title is clickbait), but if I had to pick one single most important factor and draw a diagram to represent it, it would be this:

roomsize

What do you think this might depict? Take a few seconds to come up with a guess, before you scroll down.

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Questioning the status quo without stepping on toes

Remember my “Resistance Against Change as a Way to Save Face” post? James described an interesting situation in the comments:

Here’s the thing. Im my organisation call centre workers are managed based on adherence to roster. The roster is a plan, based on a forecast of customer demand, telling staff when to be available to take calls, and organising when they can spend there time on other activities. Managers believe that this is a customer focused approach. They seek to maximise adherence to roster, and they reward staff for doing so. However it takes no account of real demand – just forecast demand. I would argue that when the forecast is wrong it is right to move away from the plan to help the actual customers, but this systems prioritises the hypothetical customers in the forecast above the real customers on the phone (or any other change in circumstances not accounted for in the plan.)

It’s idiotic. Any suggestions about how to address this folly without making those who implement it feel foolish.

James asks about a process, not someone’s individual ways, which is similar but not the same. For this scenario I do have ideas:

Be curious

Why is the current process the way it is? Become a researcher and find out. This works best if you are new to the company or the department.

Caution, for this to work you have to be genuinely curious and prepared to change your mind. People can smell a hidden agenda. And who knows, maybe the current process makes perfect sense if seen as part of a bigger picture.

Do you know who came up with the current process? If they’ve left, this will make your life easier. If not, talk to that person first. Alone, so there’s less reason for them to be defensive. Be careful how you phrase your question and offer your observations. Words like “folly” and “idiotic” would rub everyone the wrong way. [I don't really thing you'd put it like this with them ;) ]

I’d try it like this: “Do you have a minute for me? I’ve noticed something surprising in the way we handle things and would like to understand why we do it like this.”

Best case scenario: There was a reason to do it the current way which doesn’t apply anymore. This becomes apparent to others while you research the history of the process and you change how agents are rewarded, because the current way causes pain.

Very important aspect that, the pain.

Who feels pain?

If no one in the company feels the pain, there is no reason for them to change*. Continue reading