Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Anatomy-Based Planning workshop with Erik Lundh

Erik Lundh of Compelcon held a workshop on Anatomy-Based planning. Erik was kind enough to invite me. I jumped on an early morning train from Gothenburg, just barely made it off the train at the station in Lund, and found my way to the Lund Institute of Technology where the workshop was held.

The workshop was well worth getting up early for. Anatomy-based planning offers a neat way of coordinating large projects involving several agile teams. The method is designed to get all stakeholders onboard with an overall plan before going into detailed iteration planning.

It is a very fast planning method. All stakeholders are brought together, write the desired capabilities, or "money-making features" on Post-It notes, and build a network diagram showing "in order to have Y, we must first have X" type dependencies between the features.

Anatomies are an implementation of the Blackboard Strategy pattern, an approach to collaborative problem solving. Because it is a very fast planning method, it fits with agile software development very well.

Anatomy-based planning was originally developed by Jack Järkvik at Ericsson in the 1980s. Jack was understandably annoyed with large projects that fell to pieces due to a lack of coordination between stakeholders and because features were introduced in not-so-logical order, making the systems both expensive and fragile.

One of the projects that prompted an early version of Anatomy-Based Planning was the development of a weapons system for a corvette class warship. The system often crashed when the power was turned on. If it survived the startup procedure, it crashed whenever anyone touched a trackball...

I won't go into detail about how to create anatomies (but do ask Erik). I will mention a feature that I particularly like: Anatomies have expiration dates!

In all its simplicity, this is a brilliant feature. Plans tend to go stale, and it is easy to skip updating a plan. By putting an expiration date on an anatomy, you ensure that the stakeholders must meet again to update it. At the same time, the simplicity, speed, and not to forget, the fun, of the planning process, makes this one kind of meeting people can actually look forward too. Just make sure someone brings snacks.

I am very glad I went to the workshop. I learned something new, met some great people, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Erik and I keep in touch, so expect more articles on Anatomy-based planning in the near future.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Callisto on creativity

Callisto Utriainen
I was at a very interesting talk last Thursday. Callisto Utriainen, a creativity coach, talked about creativity, how it works, and how to find creative solutions to irksome problems.

Callisto started off by talking about a great creativity killer: Too deeply rooted habits.

Habits are not bad per sé. Habits free brain capacity up to do new things, like finding creative solutions to problems, but there is a flip side. When we get too deeply entrenched in following the same patterns every day, we may lose the most important habit of all, the habit of thinking and doing new things.

When we get creative, we physically change the brain by creating new connections between neurons.
Callisto also talked about what habits look like from a neurological perspective: Pathways in the brain where synapses (junctions between neurons) have grown strong because they are used a lot.

She talked about how we can induce the brain to create new pathways by deliberately exposing ourselves to a state of confusion, like when someone tells us a joke. First, when you hear a joke, you get confused, then, when you get it, you laugh. Do a lot of this, and the brain will create new synapses, and you will actually get smarter and more creative. (Even if you don't, you'll have a happier and more interesting life.)

Solve problems by deliberately looking for bad solutions, then figure out the opposite.

It is a good thing to get the audience involved when you do a talk. Callisto took us through a problem solving exercise where we began by trying to find the worst possible solution to a problem. As I am sure you have noticed, finding solutions that suck is pretty easy. Usually it is the first solution that comes to mind...

What most people miss is the next step Callisto took us through, that of finding the opposites of the solutions we just came up with. That is where the good solutions are. There are several ways to do this.

The method Callisto showed us is very useful both when solving problems alone and in groups. Business design thinking company XPlane uses a similar exercise they call Anti-Problem to get people unstuck during creative dry spells. Similar techniques are used in other problem solving methods, like the Thinking Process that I work with.

I like the simplicity of the method Callisto used, so I'll include it in my own repertoire of problem solving techniques. If you follow this blog, you know that I work a lot with The Logical Thinking Process, which is rather left-brainish. It is very useful to mix that with more right-brain oriented techniques. Keeps my brain from getting too lopsided. (My brain may already be irrevocably "loopsided" due to my preoccupation with iterative processes.)

The talk was a success. It was also fairly short. Afterwards I heard people speaking about how they wished it had been a bit longer. From a speaker perspective, I think that is great: Leave the audience hungry for more, and they will turn up again.

I had the opportunity to talk a bit with Callisto before her presentation, and it was very interesting. She is a dancer and an avowed right-brainer. I am a management consultant with a strong left-brain bias in how I think. She is interested in creativity in individuals. I am interested in building creative and innovative organizations.

In other words, Callisto's approach is a bit different from mine, and that made her talk all the more interesting. It got both halves of my brain going. As Callisto pointed out, it is important to deliberately break habits and seek new perspectives.

The audience was quite small, about ten people. That did not matter to us who were there to listen, but it does mean a lot of people missed out on an interesting and thought-provoking evening.

The talk was arranged by a business relation network, Framgångsrika Relationer (Successful Relations), and held at First Hotel G in central Gothenburg.

As for me, I intend to spend the rest of the day doing something creative.

Be seeing you!