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Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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Agile and Guaranteed Success

July 13th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

In many ways, using agile development guarantees success by definition.

I was recently reading of a failed Federal government software program. Of course hundreds of millions of dollars were spent with nothing to show for it. The tale of woe consumed pages.

Then there was one more paragraph that stated, “the government hired another contractor that used agile development and succeeded.”

WOW! That was all that was needed. Agile meant success.

Funny thing about this story: I have read the same story a dozen times. Agile always led to success. That is A M A Z I N G…but I couldn’t leave that alone, I had to ponder it a bit. (Woe is me!)

Agile development is basically:

  1. Start with an idea
  2. Build a little
  3. Learn a little
  4. Alter the idea
  5. Repeat steps 2. through 4.

At some point, we are at step 5. and declare success. We are HERE and have traveled some Agile path to arrive HERE. Agile succeeded in bringing us HERE. Therefore, when applying Agile, we cannot fail because where ever HERE is, Agile brought us HERE and this is the Agile result.

Perhaps, however, we should have arrived THERE, not HERE. Aha! That statement is wrong. We cannot judge HERE by any other criteria. Those judgement deny the fundamental five steps of Agile stated earlier.

Therefore, by definition, Agile leads to success. No matter what HERE is.

Any questions?

→ No CommentsTags: Agility · Success

Tired of Being an Adult? Try Agile

July 10th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Now that the title has infuriated everyone…let’s consider what Agile development does for me the customer.

In the previous millennium, customers would decide what they wanted software to do, tell that to a group of persons who wrote software, and come back later at the delivery date.

Time marched on, as it usually does, and we decided (no one asked me for my vote on that day) the above pre-post-modern method no longer worked. We needed to do things another way. We needed a method that allowed me, the customer, to change my mind. I often changed my mind. My mind was full of so many swirling ideas that I couldn’t settle on any one and “stick to it.” Besides, “sticking to it” was one of those pre-post-modern artifacts like chiselling words into granite. We had word processors and, well, you know.

We invented the agile development methods. I could change my mind every two weeks. Huh, sometimes I could change my mind everyday! We had someone called The Scrum Master (why didn’t we name that a Jedi Master?) who would guide everyone like only a Master can guide.

In Agile development, the Agile team, led by the Agile Master, managed my swirling mind with all its daily insights of brilliance. What could be better than this? This is certainly superior to the previous millennium where I had to manage myself.

Aha! Perhaps that is it.

I love Agile because it allows me to hire someone else to manage me. I no longer have to manage myself.

Perhaps I should lie down and take a nap and stay out of trouble.

The above has some humor in it. I hope the humor masks the other stuff.

→ No CommentsTags: Agility · Communication · Management

Those Darned First Impressions

July 6th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It is usually my loss when I form a first impression of another person.

“You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Blah, blah, blah, and on we go.

Most of the cliches about first impressions tend to put the burden of work on the new person trying to make the impression. What I find, however, is that those meeting the new person have to work hard or we lose.

First impressions are lasting. That is because us old hands meeting the new person tend to be, let’s see, how should I write this? Stupid.

We hire a person to do a menial job. They earn a degree or two while working with us. We never give them credit for their advancing education and skill. We still see the menial task doer who walked in the first day. Hence, they leave and go somewhere else where someone will appreciate them for what they can do. We lose. We are stupid.

The Washington Redskins find themselves in such a stupid predicament at this time. They have a quarterback whom they drafted in a late round the same year they drafted a supposed, but not realized, super-duper star. They can’t move past their first impression of their current quarterback. They can’t sign him to a big contract because they still see that skinny guy who drove up in a cheap old car and took his seat in the back of the room. They are, uh, er, stupid.

Well, let’s try not to be so stupid. The persons who walk in the door each day are not the same persons who walked in the door yesterday let alone five years ago. Each person changes and grows each day. Let’s be smart enough to value each person each day.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Change

What’s In a Name? Programmers and Such

July 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We consider what the world calls “computer programmers” these days.

Developers. That is what we seem to call computer programmers these days. I work in a building with perhaps a hundred developers. “Are you a developer?” people ask me. Sigh.

The trouble is, these developers are not developers because they aren’t developing software. They are maintainers because they are maintaining software. No one calls anyone a “maintainer.” At least I haven’t heard that term.

Let’s back up a few steps and consider software maintenance. The majority of computer programming is in software maintenance. Hence, the majority of money for computer programmers is in software maintenance. Few, however, consider the latter $$$.

(For more information on software maintenance, search Amazon.com for many books. A classic text is listed here.)

Software maintenance starts with an existing computer program. The maintainer changes the software in one of three ways:

  1. Adaptive
  2. Perfective
  3. Corrective

Adaptive changes adapt the software to new requirements. This is the most development-oriented type of maintenance. Perfective changes to software so that it is better in some sense (faster, less memory, less electric power, etc.). Corrective ensures that 2+2=4, not 3.

Consider Microsoft Word (why not?). The first version was released, well, I don’t know, some long time ago. Hence, 98.6% of all work on MS Word has been software maintenance.

Consider Agile Development (everyone does this, right?). The first release comes after the first sprint or whatever we call that first short period of time. Thereafter, all programming is software maintenance.

Simple stuff. Simple title. Rarely used. Oh well. We carry on, sometimes in reverse.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Programming · Word

The Best Writing Often Comes at a Simple Writing Event

June 29th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Some of the best-written pieces were done “on the spur of the moment” at a writing event. That includes week-long events and one-hour events.

The summary above is true in my experience.

I have read pieces written in five-minute exercises, “Okay, everyone write. I will ring the bell in five minutes or so.”

I have read masterpieces written in one-hour exercises, “Okay, everyone write. I will call you back in an hour.”

Why? Okay, here is a brilliant insight. Some persons attend a writing event ready to burst. They have years worth of writing inside them. They settle into the event, and someone says the magic word, “Write.”

That’s about it folks. The magic word carries with it, “(I give you permission to) Write.”

A-h-h-h-h-h. Permission. Safety. Release. It flows. Magic.

The “teacher” at the writing event is actually the “giver of permission,” and nothing more. Want to appear to be a genius? Host a writing event, give permission, and look brilliant.

→ No CommentsTags: Risk · Trust · Writing

Best Schools, Less Ruin

June 26th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The best schools: do they teach any better or simply ruin fewer students?

Ah, here is yet another list of the best schools (this one is about computer science). I didn’t attend any of these as I could not afford it. Rich kids go to these schools. Their rich parents’ extraordinary tuition checks pay for scholarships for the poorer and smarter others who attend.

Do these better schools teach any better? I doubt it. Math is math. History is history. Java and those other programming languages…well, you can learn them in a free online course.

How is it that the graduates of these “better schools” do better than the graduates of those lesser schools (like the ones I attended)?

Here is a thought: the students at the better schools know more when they arrive. The students either went to expensive private schools all their lives or they were poor but actually talented.

The better schools start with brighter students. Still, there are bright students attending the lesser schools. What happens?

Here is another thought: the better schools don’t ruin as many bright students as the lesser schools.

Consultant and author Jerry Weinberg has this saying (apologies as I can’t remember it exactly, so here is a bad paraphrase) regarding his goal as a teacher:

the students leave class not being less interested in the topic as when they arrived.

Paraphrase of the paraphrase:

he doesn’t ruin the student.

Here is a tip for the lesser schools: learn how you ruin students and stop doing those things.

→ No CommentsTags: Education · Learning

Visa, Immigration, Jobs, Salaries

June 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Yes, immigration fuels the economy. I love it when skilled persons enter the US. The current situation, however, isn’t so lovely.

The H-1B visa battle continues.

Let’s step back to my naive childhood. America wants skilled persons to come here and improve much of this nation in many ways. We grant entrance to the skilled and productive. We discourage those who take, but don’t give.

Enough childhood naivete. Let’s move into adulthood and our current situation, which is obfuscated by content-free screams from the many political factions.

Companies are bringing in talent from abroad (good), but paying them half salaries (bad). There is a shortage of skilled talent that works for half wages. There has always been a shortage of skilled talent that works for half wages.

Some persons are happy to live in America at what most Americans consider a low standard of living. I understand that as I have lived most of my adult life at a standard of living that is below my income.

The trouble with these half salaries is that skilled Americans are unemployed. Free markets? Sure. Servitude? I think we outlawed that a while back.

Much of the tech talent being imported into America today is a post-post-post modern version of tenant farming. We’ll bring you to America—a country club by the standard of most of the world—and you’ll work for us for five years or so at half pay. That half pay is how you pay us back for plane tickets and graft. Okay?

This is becoming ugly.

→ No CommentsTags: America · Immigration · Jobs · Work

Agile and the Kitchen

June 19th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

In which I consider what happens in a kitchen and ask, “what was it those guys with the manifesto invented?”

For years, my wife has managed kitchens in all-volunteer organizations. For years before that, my wife’s mother did the same. Consider the situation:

  • There is unprepared food
  • There is an end-state—prepared food
  • Some volunteers walk in with mixed and largely unknown skills

The person in charge (PIC) gives a task to each volunteer and observes. When a volunteer nears completion of a task, the PIC tells them of the next task. The “next task” depends on what the PIC has learned about the volunteer’s skills and how fast the volunteer is learning.

Some volunteers leave after a task or two. Some volunteers appear at some point during the preparation of the food.

As the food preparation progresses, the nature of the tasks changes. The PIC works through the tasks with the volunteers

This all sounds like agile software development. The PIC is the SCRUM master (in one set of agile terms). The volunteers are the team members. There is a start state and an end state. One meal is one sprint. There is a backlog of features. And so on it goes.

Really, so we have to have a certified SCRUM master or someone to be the PIC? This backlog or kanban or something is all new? Learning while working is also something new?

Hmmm, seems like a lot of people have been preparing a lot of meals for a long time, and none of them went to an Agile conference or anything.

So I have to ask again,

“what was it those guys with the manifesto invented?”

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Adults · Agility · Learning · Observation

Artificial Intelligence and Other Misused Terms

June 15th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I realize that my plea won’t do any good, but could we please use the right terms in describing “artificial intelligence?”

Everybody is doing artificial intelligence (AI) these days. Really? Consider…

  1. Artificial intelligence
  2. Deep Learning
  3. Machine Learning
  4. Neural Networks
  5. Pattern Recognition

The vast majority of what people call AI today is really #5—pattern recognition. People have studied and applied pattern recognition for decades. There is nothing new here. Feed a million photos into a system of equations, adjust the coefficients, and viola, you can recognize a flower and a cat. Of course it’s a bit more difficult than that, but really, that is what we are doing.

Tell me when deep learning can solve,

“It is May 2, 2017, what should and could I do?”

Answer: Mothers Day is coming (that’s the first answer). Now create something wonderful, i.e., consider your mother’s life, as you know it, and do something delightful.

That answers considers the entirety of your mother’s life—as you know it, the entirety of your life—as you remember it, and what you and your mother consider delightful. You can’t adjust the coefficients to create something delightful.

That delight is intelligent.

Of course this little blog post won’t change anything. The marketers will continue to holler AI-this and AI-that and all that wonderful stuff so please buy our processors and software APIs and our people (yes, we even sell people here). And the coefficients will adjust and we’ll expand the order of magnitude of the coefficients again and recognize patterns in super-duper-ultra-really-big-high definition video and allow a novice to back an 18 wheeler into a tight spot. Oh, wait, someone solved that problem decades ago, but everyone forgot to look it up (true statement, not fake news).

And please call me when an algorithm can create delight. I really do want to see that in my lifetime.

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Learning · Technology

Analysis of Questions about Analysis

June 12th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

For 30 years persons have asked me questions about analysis. I continue to give the wrong answer.

“How are your analysis skills?”

I remember the question as if was asked this morning. I was coming out of grad school and trying to find a job. It was 1986 (yikes, that long ago). I had no answer. What in the world did the guy mean by that?

A little background. I was working on my PhD with research in artificial intelligence and computer vision, i.e., teach a computer to analyze an image. Hence, I was working in meta-analysis or the analysis of analysis.

My problem was that I didn’t understand the question and didn’t give the meta-analysis reply I should have. Instead, I gave the wrong answer.

Today, I hover around data scientists and data analysis and all the new words we have made up in the last ten years that describe the same things we have been doing for the last few centuries.

“Can you pivot tables in SQL, R, and Excel so that we can wrangle the data?”

My answer, “Huh, uh, no, but five minutes Googling and I can.” ooops, that is still the wrong answer. Perhaps I should talk about meta-analysis this time or the next time.

It is a shame, but I am still giving the wrong answer to these questions about analysis.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Questions