Author Archives: neumanagement

Agile Principles Constellation – A Retrospective

Have you ever wondered if what you are doing is “agile?” Sometimes the work you’re doing doesn’t feel like it has much “agile” to it, especially if you are being asked to do a specific set of work in a specific time frame. Damn you, iron triangle!

Agile Principle of the ManifestoYour workplace isn’t “agile” or “not agile.” Certainly there are parts of your organization that will be aligned with agile principles, and there are some aspects that are likely not. This retrospective is designed to explore your organization’s alignment as it relates to agile.

Here is the outline of the retrospective. Feel free to adapt it as you see fit. If you do adapt it, please let me know what changes you made.  If you use this retrospective, I would like to hear how it went. You will note that the general flow for this retrospective matches the outline in the book Agile Retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.

Set the Stage With One Word Check In

One word check-in. Consider something like “how did the last sprint feel?” This gets everybody to talk at least once.

Gather Data Using a Constellation

The constellation exercise is a way to visualize the degree to which people feel a principle is present or absent from their work. Here is how to conduct this activity:

The facilitator reads one principle out loud, and then places it on the floor near the center of the room.

People then position themselves relative closer or farther from the statement based on how much they feel the principle is present in their environment (e.g., team, organization, company, whichever you chose). If somebody feels it is strongly present they would stand close to the principle you placed on the ground. If somebody feels it is not present or “anti-present”,  they would stand very far away.

Give people a moment to observe the pattern and perhaps jot down anything they noticed.

Pick up the principle you just used, and move on to the next one. After all twelve principles have been read, move on to generating insights.

Generate Insights

Ask people what they noticed about the constellations that took place during the Gather Data activity. Some question you might consider include:

Which of the principles were strongly present? Which were strongly absent?
What similarities or differences did you notice about those principles?
Which had the most disagreement amongst the group?
Which had disagreement by role?
Which had some individuals who felt differently than the majority of the group? What unique perspective might those individuals have?

Decide What to Do and Closing

I would encourage you to determine what kind of activity makes sense for your team to use for the “Decide What to Do” and “Close”. If you want to get more options for these phases, jump on over to the Retromat and give it a spin.

Retromat Screenshot

Background on some of the decisions

Why did I choose to do all twelve principles before generating insights?

I didn’t want to do a deep dive on each of the principles. I was more interested in having the team see the constellation that formed for each principle, and then generate insights on a subset of the twelve.

Why did I choose not to do a constellation based on the “left side versus the right side” of the Agile Manifesto itself?

Certainly, you could create an activity around the values in the Agile Manifesto. However, I have found that the values of the manifesto are a little too vague for this type of conversation. While the principles are more specific, they are still general enough to generate deep conversation.

Preparation and Supplies

Plan to use a room that is fairly open, leaving enough room for people to move about freely.

In preparation for this retrospective, print out each Manifesto principle on its own sheet of paper.

Have a note-card for each individual participating, so they can make notes about their observations. Maybe pre-print each Manifesto principles on a separate 3×5 or 4×6 card for each person.


It is very important for individuals, teams, and organizations to explore the principles behind how they operate, and not simply follow the rules of the framework-du-jour. The goal of this framework is to explore those principles. Please feel free to add your thoughts.

D-Day Reflection of an Agile Coach

For some reason, I got to thinking more about D-Day this year than previous years. Both my grandfathers served the war effort, as did my grandmother Neumann. Intending no disrespect to the contributions of the Neumanns, my thoughts have turned to my Grandpa Dubie. He rarely spoke of the war. Much of what I know comes from a single conversation. I’m not sure why he felt like sharing that day, but I am glad he did.

Grandpa didn’t storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. As the story goes, he entered Europe the day after, by way of the beaches. His brother also served in the US Army, but with the war going on, he had no idea if his brother was part of the D-Day invasion. As he came ashore, he said he felt like he wanted to turn over every dead service member he passed, fearing that one was his brother. I can almost hear the emotion in his voice as I recall the telling of his story.

I don’t know how long after entering Europe that Grandpa earned his purple heart. He and his partner were digging their fox hole that day. It was Grandpa’s turn to dig, and he went into the hole head-first to make more room for his toes. That’s when the shell landed. The next part of the story was his flight back, calves badly wounded, and the army medical personnel removing the maggots that were being used to clean out the wound. His partner, and most of his squad, did not make it back. Had he not been burrowed into the foxhole making more room for his feet, he would have returned in a casket.

While he survived the physical trauma of the war, the emotional scars remained. Forty-five years after  returning to the US, he related a recurring nightmare; walking through a barn and having a German soldier jump down from the hay loft and repeatedly stab him in the chest. Grandpa said that he’d awoken pounding himself in the chest. I can only imagine the terror that must follow so many of our soldiers after their service.

So, what’s the point of this? First and foremost, it’s to share the story and honor just one of the millions of service members. Second, I think it’s important to maintain perspective. I have the pleasure of working as an Agile Coach. I work with people whose biggest complaint might be that they don’t have as much autonomy as they would like. Maybe their manager acts more like a boss, or the pace of their work doesn’t seem sustainable. Yes, those are things that can be improved. But, in the grand scheme of things, remember to be thankful that you’re not being shot at on a daily basis. And for those service members that do put themselves in harms way on a daily basis. Thank you.


To Inspire Teams, Forget Goals. Define Purpose.

Howard Schultz on PurposeWhat’s your team’s purpose? Is it a real purpose? Whose life is better because of what you do? What pain do you relieve? What new reality do you make possible? Who would notice if your team stopped delivering? If you easily answered those questions, congratulations. If not, you are like a lot of teams. Many don’t have a connection to a real purpose.

A lot of teams simply have goals. Maybe you are working to improve code coverage with automated tests. Maybe you want to increase code quality, reduce defects, or pair program. Those are worthwhile goals, but they are not purpose. Here is how I see the difference between goals and purpose:

Goals provide a target.

Purpose provides inspiration!

Failing to meet a goal leaves people feeling deflated.

Working for a real purpose gives a rallying point when times get tough!

Goals are used for evaluating individuals.

Purpose is about changing lives!

I hope you see the value in having purpose. For those teams that don’t know their purpose, how do you uncover it? Try these suggestions to help you identify your purpose:

Imagine –This is perhaps most appropriate when you are starting a new venture. How do you see the purpose of the organization? If you can be clear about the purpose early in your team or organization’s life, it can be used as a filter against which to test all the ideas and opportunities that come at you. It will help you say the most important word in the world: “No!” Having a well-defined purpose helps you stay focused and not get distracted by opportunities that don’t fit.

Interview customers – Talking to a customer can have a profound impact on how you see your team’s purpose. What did they struggle with that led them to your product or service? Ask them how you make their life better. Why do they use your product? If the product were no longer in existence, how would their life be less well off?

Visit your customers where they use your product – Interviews can be helpful, but sometimes people are too close to the situation to really see what is happening. When you see your customers “in the wild” you may end up with insights you didn’t have before, and notice behaviors they exhibit that they weren’t even aware of.

Business model canvas – The Business Model Canvas is a convenient way to collect information about how your business operates. There are two aspects of the canvas that apply to the topic of purpose; the Value Proposition and the Customer Segment portions. These will help you articulate what makes you unique from other groups, as well as identifying for whom you are providing that value.

Don’t be efficient about it – All too often, in the name of efficiency, I have seen too few people involved in activities like customer interviews, site visits, and wrestling with the business model canvas. I challenge you to engage the whole team in these activities. You  will get deeper insights when you compare what people saw and heard. You will definitely create a deeper connection between the team and the purpose they saw. Be inefficient, and prepare to be surprised at the positive results.

You might know, but your team might not. How can you help the team to really make the purpose part of their conscious?

Talk about it – Whether you are a team member or a leader, it is important to have a dialog about the purpose of your work. You might have said it before, but there is so much communication noise that it is likely people forgot, especially if it was lost in management mumbo jumbo. Just saying it once is not enough. Invite conversation with your team about the purpose. How might they see it differently? Talk about it, and then talk about it again. There is value in keeping it in the forefront.

Make it relatable by telling a story –Humans have, for millennia, told stories. We are wired to remember stories. PowerPoint slides with bullet points are no substitute for a true story of connection. Ditch the slide deck, and practice telling and rebelling the story. And remember, the good stories need to be told repeatedly. If you don’t have a good story to tell, go see your customers and find the story.

Make it visible – When somebody walks into your business or team area, what do they see? Is it obvious what your purpose is? If not, it is time to do some redecorating. Create visual reminders about the team’s purpose. Make them personal. Do not have eagles soaring over still lakes with motivational phrases on the bottom. Have something that is specific to your team and it’s purpose. Keep the visuals fresh. Don’t let them become wallpaper.

So, ask yourself: Does your team have a goal or a purpose? Goals are, perhaps necessary. Purpose is inspiring. If you find your team has only goals, dig deeper. Identify the purpose for your team’s existence, and unlock the possibilities!

Arduino Ultrasonic Sensor

In addition to Agile Coaching, I enjoy projects that require building skills. While working with a new Arduino Ultrasonic Sensor from RadioShack, I came across a question on the “Find your way with the untrasonic sensor” page. Below is a photo showing how the I chose to hook up the wires. Hopefully it helps others…

Arduino Ultrasonic Sensor

Arduino Ultrasonic Sensor

The yellow wire is connected to Digital Pin 7, the blue wire to the 5V pin, and the orange wire to GND.

When connected this way, the Serial Monitor for Arduino showed expected output (a distance to an object). When I disconnected the yellow wire, or had it in another slot, the Serial Monitor would show “0” for the distance.

Take a Trip to the Principles Office

Agile Principles PresentationUnderstanding, and embracing, the agile principles is fundamental to becoming Agile. That is why I chose to present my session “take a trip to the principles office” at the Agile and Beyond conference in Dearborn, Michigan. I want to encourage people to consider the principles as they encounter novel situations and work to determine their best path forward.

The presentation Take a Trip to the Principles Office is available for download as a PDF.

The Take a Trip to the Principles Office worksheet is available for download as a PDF.

If you are interested in the journey lines activity, you can find that on the Coaching Agile Teams site.

The Challenge of Getting Components Working Together

Will the components work together?If you take a large, complex process, break it into components, give separate components to different software team, and then recognize teams for their completion of individual components, you run a risk that when you stick all the pieces together that it won’t work. So, if you are in a component-centric delivery teams, what can you do to help have the best chance of producing a working solution for your users? I’d like to share three tips for giving your team the best chance to build a working solution.

First, make sure that folks are vigilant for the functionality of the whole system. You might opt to have a separate team be the watchdogs for the system, but ideally it is everybody on the individual teams, too. Building a complete system requires a mindset for thinking about the whole, even when working on just a part of it. Without a mindset for the whole, it will be impossible to do anything to retrofit the quality into the work product.

Second, once folks are vigilant for the system as a whole, the next simplest thing to do is to make sure that each team is engaging with the teams that are “upstream” and “downstream” from them. Individual component teams should make sure that the adjacent component, those that you consume or the team(s) that consume the results of you work, work together as intended. Engage those teams to identify the points of interaction and define the behavior that each side expects. It is important to have a conversation that goes deeper than just what the structure of the data is going to be. Be sure to agree on what the data is going to mean, and what the anticipated behavior is going to be based on the data. Once you agree on what the structure is, and the behavior that will be driven from it, you can “mock” the interfaces, creating a dummy interface to work against until the actual system to interface with is in place.

The third bit I would like to share is to move toward an end-to-end suite of automated tests. Consider defining the tests that need to pass before you build the system. Then, you automate the tests, and components are only “done” when the tests for the whole process pass. The test-first approach forces the conversation about what should happen in the system, versus trying to catch all the things that do happen. This type of change will not happen overnight. It takes time and technical skill to put it in place. But, you have to start somewhere, and work toward a robust framework for components to be plugged into.

So, in summary, here are three important elements to have a complete quality picture for your product

  1. Build awareness and a mindset in team members
  2. Get teams to coordinate with the teams who build components that need to be interacted with
  3. Begin working toward test-first automated suites

Being good agilists, it is unrealistic to think that all the behavior will be implemented at once. Agree on the general plan for iterating toward the complete solution. Over time, you will build up a more robust, higher performing, system of people and technology.

Why should you care about Lean Startup?

Sometimes this is the path that big, risky development efforts take. Don't let it be yours.

Sometimes this is the path that big, risky development efforts take. Don’t let it be yours.

Imagine working on a project for years, investing huge sums of money, and not knowing for sure that you will have customers when you finish your product. What if you finish it later than stakeholders expected? Even if you do finish it, Imagine that you build it and your customers hate it!  If you have ever participated on an effort like that, or been close enough to watch the havoc it wreaks on the individuals that pour themselves into it, it is not a pretty sight. Efforts like this become cautionary tales that you tell your coworkers at your next employer.

Lean Startup is an approach to discovering what your customers want in a highly uncertain world. Lean Startup is a mindset that looks for ways to validate hypotheses about what your customer wants. They’re not big, dangerous experiments. It’s relentlessly testing small theories.

There are many different ways of testing your hypothesis. Some of the common ones include:

  • Conduct problem interviews
  • Conduct solution interviews
  • Use a survey
  • Provide the solution manually before automating it
  • Make a paper prototype
  • Run a Google ad to test for interest
  • Ask somebody for a token amount of money to hold their spot when the solutions is available

Notice that none of these approaches involve building a scalable, redundant, transactional, anything.

If you want to learn more about Lean Startup, consider reading books about Lean Startup and Customer Development. But, in the spirit of limiting your initial investment, the best way I have found to learn about Lean Startup is to be around practitioners. If you are interested in learning from those who have “been there, done that,” find a Lean Startup Circle in your area , and attend their meetup.

If you are in South Bend, join us at The Branch for a live streaming of the Chicago Lean Startup Circle on Thursday, July 18th, where GrubHub co-founder Mike Evans will share his experience as a Lean Startup practitioner.

I Committed an Act of Civic Hacking

And you can, too!

The weekend of June 1 and 2 will be the Day of Civic Hacking. While helping to organize the Hack Michiana event, I discovered that I committed an act of hacking. Let me share it with you, and then make a case for you to join the hacking on June 2 in South Bend.


My hacking started with something I found annoying. Every day I drove to work, I passed by any number of houses that must have had municipal code violations. Code violations are things like grass more than nine inches tall, broken windows, those sorts of things; they create major quality of life issues for the city’s residents. It was never clear whether the city knew about the problem, or not, and if anything was happening with the matter.

The Initial Situation

It turns out that the city of South Bend has  a site where you can look up code violations one at a time by doing a “case search.” While this approach is useful if you are trying to look at a single property, it is not that useful for identifying trends, clusters of properties in a certain geography, or identify patterns where single landlords might be responsible for a whole host of houses that are in violation of municipal code.

There had to be a better way!

Search By Case

Eureka Moment

I noticed that as I drilled into individual cases, looking for the status, the URL with case details contained an attribute for “Case Year” and an attribute for “Case Number.” Lo, and behold, the case numbers were largely sequential. Sure, sometimes there were gaps, but for the most part they went up sequentially.

What are computers good at? They’re really good at following patterns.

Requesting Assistance

My software development skills are no longer what they use to be. I knew it should be possible to create a program or script that would crawl the cases and pull out data into a table that would be more useful than looking up individual cases.  I contacted a former coworker of mine, Charlie, and asked for assistance with this project. Before too long, Charlie had written a Python script that could increment the case numbers and pull the interesting data elements off the web page. What we got was a file with information like Owner Name, Street Number, Street Name, Case Type, Case Status, etc.. All of the sudden, we a collection of data and not just individual data points.

Visualizing the Data

The next challenge, now that we had a bunch of data, was to tackle the visualization. Again, asking a favor of a former coworker, Ken. Ken agreed to help out. The Google Maps API was something he had been interested in, and this project was an opportunity to explore it for a particular purpose. After some tinkering with the API, we decided that an interim solution was to use an service called BatchGeo, which would geocode a file and visualize it in Google Maps. It was a crude solution, but adequate for where we were at the time.

Map of South Bend Code ViolationsWhat we ended up with was a map of the code violations in South Bend. The color coding shows the issues that are closed, and those that are open. You can zoom in or out, filter, and search. You can go down to the street level and then click through to the City of South Bend’s web site for additional details. Pretty nifty, I think.

Now What?

I wanted to give one example of some civic hacking that I fell into. There are lots of challenges, and you can help solve one. Join us on June 2 for Hack Michiana, our local participation in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

Civic Hacking isn’t  about technology. While it is interesting to scrape data, geocode it, and then visualize it on a map, the real value comes from being able to foster positive action based on the liberated data. That is where we need a broad range of people to participate in Civic Hacking. You can help turn information into action!

What might one do now that they can see more patterns in the data?

What collaborations between concerned citizens, community organizations, and the government might be possible once people really grasp the situation?

We need your participation. It might not be for this project, but there is a project somewhere that you could become passionate about and make huge contributions to.

More Information on Civic Hacking

This video is a nice introduction to Civic Hacking. Take a few minutes to watch it, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, June 2.

The Endurance Race of Business

Wayne Christopherson IndianaTrail100 For the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of getting to “pace” my uncle as he ran an endurance race. And when I say “endurance”, I mean 50-miles, on foot, in under 12 hours. My role was to pace him for the last third of the event. It was a powerful experience, and led to many reflections. I want to share the business reflections with you. For those continuing from the web magazine, you can continue reading below.

This spring, Indiana got a phenomenal amount of rain in the weak leading up to the Indiana Trail 100. The rain led to flooding on many parts of the course. Despite detours to try to avoid some of the unexpected water, there was plenty of mud, standing water and running streams that the athletes had to go through. At one river crossing, there was a rope that the racers had to use lower themselves down the steep embankment, into the icy water, and then pull themselves up the embankment on the opposite site. The trail conditions, combined with temperatures barely above freezing, and you have an extreme, potentially deadly, set of race conditions. Below are some of the lessons from my 16 mile run.

Choose a Sustainable Pace

In racing, as in business, you need to maintain a sustainable pace. It doesn’t do us any good to go so fast that you can’t complete what you started out to do. Prioritization and deciding what not to do will help you find this pace.

Take Little Breaks

There were several aid stations set up along the trail. Aid stations allow the athletes to pause, get something to eat and drink, adjust their shoes, and then start out again. These stations are important breaks in an otherwise daunting journey. From a utilization standpoint, they’re “inefficient,” wasting time that could be spent running. Consider what it would be like without aid stations. Without the break, runners wouldn’t be able to complete the course. Make sure your business team has opportunities to rest and refuel, even if it appears inefficient.

Walk Up the Hills

When faced with a challenge, how tempting is it to charge through? Charging uphill wastes a lot of energy and does not improve your results. In fact, the wasted energy may prevent you from finishing. Are you facing an uphill climb at your business? Consider slowing the pace to get through it.

Iterating Makes it Safe

The morning of the race, I wasn’t confident that I was in shape to run a full 16 miles. However, looking at the course, there were multiple opportunities where the trail crossed a road, providing an opportunity for me to easily get back to the race start/finish line. These opportunities were about every four miles of trail. Knowing that I had a way out, I was able to incrementally decide if I was able to continue on the race. I was not making a 16 mile commitment, I was making a series of 4-mile commitments.

Embracing practices that allow you to deliver incrementally and iterate as you learn create competitive business advantages. Look for those opportunities to make a series of small steps, and do not make the false premise that you have to make one big bet that will either succeed or fail.

Let Them See The Path

I’m about four inches taller and a little wider than my uncle. I spent much of the pace lap either running beside or behind him. At one point, probably 13 miles into my lap, and 47 miles along his total run, he was tired. The path narrowed, and I took the lead position, running in front of him. Shortly after that, I began to offer insights about the trail. One of my comments went something like “There’s a hill. Want to walk up?” His reply was “I just need to see the trail.” That was my queue to get back behind him.

In business, how many times have you seen a manager try to provide some direction to the team. The manager is well meaning, attempting to help the team along the path. I fell into that trap. I got in front, instead of simply providing support and allowing him to see the path that was coming and make adjustments to his style from there. For your teams, strive to provide support. When they know the goal and can see the path, the team will benefit most when you lead from behind.

Check Your Vitals

Is your project healthy? How do you know? One of the athletes I was around stopped into an aid station where his vital signs were checked. The result? His body temperature was down two degrees. The race had taken its toll and it was no longer safe to continue. He withdrew, but will be able to make another attempt at the full distance in the future.

As projects progress from their inception to completion, there can come a time when warning signs emerge. Too often companies try to just proceed as planned, resulting in an experience that may have long-term negative impact on the employees, company financials, and company reputation. Some the proper course of action is to withdraw the project and move on. Don’t turn your projects into a “death march.”

With endurance events, whether business or sport, there are important lessons to be learned. The three that stand out most to me are: find a sustainable pace, iterate, and make sure you stay healthy. I hope you take a moment to share your comments on the ideas above.

Coworking is a Smart Move

I recently had the pleasure of writing an article for the publication Small Biz Forward, an electronic newsletter produced by Nancy Becher. In the article, I talk about why coworking is a smart move for freelancers and small businesses. I encourage you to check out the publication. There are nice articles from a number of small businesses in the Michiana area in the e-pub.

Coworking in South Bend

The Branch

While the phrase “coworking” is a new phrase for some folks, the concept resonates with them. There are coworking options in the Michiana area, and each coworking location has its own personality. There will be a new coworking space in South Bend, called The Branch. The space will be opening in spring. The Branch is designed for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, not-for-profits, and folks who moonlight. The downtown South Bend location provides access to the restaurants, coffee shops, and other professionals that work in downtown. If you are interested in joining The Branch, let us know through the web site.

There is a brochure available, if you are interested in more information, as well.

Other spaces in South Bend include LangLab, and Maha Luna is planning a coworking space in the future.

Other Coworking in Michiana

If you are in Sturgis, be sure to check out Business Success Unlimited, who is having an open house on March 23.

If you are near Plymouth, check out The Midas Center.

If there are other locations that you are aware of, please feel free to comment and share them.