Mr. Waterfallon & Mr. Aguilero – Episode 3

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Mr. Waterfallon & Mr. Aguilero – Episode 3

Prologue

Dear reader, a friend of me and I are starting this story about Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero. It is a stage where we can hopefully can kick-off some not so mission critical but nevertheless important trains of thoughts about our professional life.

For my whole life, I have seen, perhaps a little too much, the potential for innovation and smart growth. This has a local near term view where I simply see new money when the right things are done with the right technology in the right way. It is a painful role, as you are by definition a minority and have a hard time to sell it and to get it done. The new word for this is Digital Evangelist. It has also a long-term view where we, or what can be considered as we after the singularity finally happened, are spread out through the galaxy and Mars is just one of the colonies in the solar system. This is my Mad Scientist hat. Keep this in mind, when you stumble over some sarcastic, fatalistic statements – it is just a self-protection mechanism.

However, in our professional life, I see an intensifying Filter Bubble that massively distracts us from the bright future and the work that has to be done to get there. Everywhere around us, we read the posts we want to read. This includes travel pics from friends on Facebook, great inventions, success stories on how smooth the digital transformation works in big companies and of course, as we are so uber-intellectual, spiced up with a well balanced media mix on political achievements, the permanent critical global threat level, the latest sport results and – weather!

I also see that Deep Work is buried in short term-ness and actionism and people are still happy to pretend they are multi-tasking all the shit flying from all the fans around them. As research shows, this is simply wrong. As research also shows, this is linked to skills we acquired in our recent near term history. The ability to build entirely virtual stories, to share those by language and to even believe those.

In this environment, or reality, I have a hard time to match the great success stories with my personal, professional experience and I know nobody, who does not admit the same, even though it may take one or more glasses of wine.

So, curtains for Mr. Waterfallon, Mr. Aguilero, and friends…

PS: The overuse of all current buzzwords is a good way to pass through most Filter Bubbles in my network neighborhood. I also apologize for overstressing the typical attention time span.

Episode 3

Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero are fictitious freelancer project managers, agile coaches, and digital evangelists. Today they attend the kick-off meeting for a large-scale agile project for a big blue chip company.

The CIO Mr. Werewolf is giving a speech to his new digital transformation team. In the past, he was not a real agile fanboy. When he buys a story, he makes sure it will be his story. The crowd is assembled in the conference room on the top floor of the company headquarter skyscraper. The view of the sunset is gorgeous, but all eyes are on Mr. Werewolf. Everyone knows that Mr. Werewolf is not amused if you are not listening.

WEREWOLF

…and the Blockchain will be our new Internet for transactions. My IT-team will lead the transition to a bright future. With Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, IoT and Big Data we will build the software factory which will transform the whole business model and drive the digital revolution towards a smarter way to work.

Our agile approach is a key part of this initiative and may become the new industry best practice.

The whole management is dedicated to take control and help wherever it is necessary. You all know, I hate surprises. However, bad news must travel fast. But I am confident, there will be no bad news.

Mr. Werewolf makes a pause, smiles like Jack Nicholson in Shining, makes eye contact with everyone in the audience and concludes:

WEREWOLF

We will lead. We will manage. We will succeed. Thank you very much.

The crowd spends frenetic applause. Small talk. Cheap coffee. No one wants to leave the room first. Hand-shaking. Boot-licking.

Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero shake hands with Mr. Werewolf, mumble some compliments about the visionary and encouraging speech, withdraw and take a seat in comfortable armchairs to see the breathtaking view of the setting sun.

AGUILERO

You see, it works. He gets the air time for an agile story which he fought against for years. Now he is capturing this agile story and turns it into his very own truth because he is the one controlling the storytelling channels. This truth is then the foundation for even more budget he is allowed to burn, even though it will have nothing to do with the agile mindset.

Mr. Aguilero rolls his eyes and throws up his hands in a gesture that reminds of worshipping ancients gods after an epic defeat.

WATERFALLON

Yeah, he is still the old one. He works on his dark dream of ultimate control in his software castle, why not just follow the alpha male?

AGUILERO

Look, he is just CIO, he is still having a hard time on the board of directors, as he is perceived as the tech guy, even though he has the best handicap. He is just looking to run the shop smoothly in an environment with less budget, less time to deliver and higher operational pressure. In our days IT has little in common with innovation, which is my part and you know I have a hard time to find sponsors for this. The true power is the CEO and strangely the COO. Actually, I see no reason why we need a COO and a CIO. Both run the company and you can not isolate IT from the rest. It is again silo thinking, just agiler.

WATERFALLON

The agile manifesto has been digitally transformed, reinterpreted, demystified. You know why I am a fan of agile now! Because it gives us delivery managers the ultimate control over teams, to measure their inefficiency. It provides a wide selection of scapegoats if something fails. I love it, as Mr. Werewolf, I can put nearly any story in the velocity or other KPIs my clients think are useful for them. They fake us, I fake them.

AGUILERO

I am not contradicting you. The current agile hype is the greatest danger to the agile idea. The dark powers of dogmas and culture are about to engulf this fragile idea and ultimately kill it as they have done with so many in the past.

WATERFALLON

Backlog items in, product out, and some work accidents in between. A factory, right? In our modern agile world, we do not even need real blood or human sacrifice – it is OK to tell a story. You should be happy, in ancient times you would have been dead so many times!

AGUILERO

Why do you think we are here? Let me guess: you are confident to have mastered the software factory fake story and you assume to be now immune to his tricks? Never forget you can only control what you measure, you should only measure, what you can influence and you can only influence the people around you. So your delivery job is one predefined story at the very end of a large beast. Do you know his full agenda? I am confident, against a better rational judgment, that I can contribute some few dents in the universe for a better future. In the past, this role has been often misused for propaganda. Future is innovation and requires change – a bad thing for the predominating conservative mindset on C-level.

Creating software has always been part of designing, building, and running organizations. A factory is a part just of the day-to-day operations. Creating and designing is full of risk and uncertainty. It’s for the entrepreneurs and visionaries. The operation is for the bean-counting managers. It’s so absurd to organize the creative process of software design and development with an operations management approach.

WATERFALLON

But we are already doing this in oh-so agile projects. Sprints are just sections on the assembly line. WIP management and this is what we still do. Well, the metaphor sucks, but you know what I mean, right?

AGUILERO

You are absolutely right. We do not expect an assembly line to come up with an invention, but that is exactly the dilemma software is facing. Maybe I have to go back in history, to make my point clear.

WATERFALLON

Please do not! Do not re-tell eons to explain why something failed yesterday. Please…

AGUILERO

It has always been a complex world, and it was hard enough to cope with it in the past. It was complex even in times when there was stability. Brick and mortar factories were built on best practices learned at a time before the industrialization started. Steam and electricity paved the first wave of corporate evolution.

WATERFALLON

In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, developers were real men coding machine language, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

AGUILERO

In the beginning, there was only one variable for business: the counter. It was much more important what to do than how to do. With scaling the denominator came into the game…

WATERFALLON

Getting tired already. Please proceed!

AGUILERO

Those companies were built to last for decades if not centuries. Then, from the 50ies until Netscape was released, came the digitalization. Most like to call it computerization, and only the current topics digitalization, but it is just marketing. It is typical business lingo bullshit that sounds great and is as wrong as describing great inventions as a quantum leap. How ridiculous is a statement from a company like PwC claiming they are digital?

WATERFALLON

Yeah! We are playing bullshit bingo now! Bingo! Four in a row!

AGUILERO

Shut up and listen! I lost my train of thought. Ah! Digitalization was the second corporate evolution, still with the same mindset of WIP-management. Methods of operations research, which are OK, as long as applied to real world problems and a set of over-simplifying methods from the not-so-scientific world of economics, rooted in linear models and a deep belief in rational decisions based on facts – the causality misassumption. Correlation is not the same as causality – read Wilmott and Taleb. You may learn stuff you could apply to your world. However, it helped us to integrate SCMMRPCRMPIM, many other TLAs and to get to the next level of optimized mass production. We were still building cars, incredibly more efficient but what about effective? The damn cars still do not drive themselves or fly.

WATERFALLON

And now we integrate WTF and LOL. Aren’t cars close to autonomous driving? My kids turn into teenagers and may never need a driver’s license.

AGUILERO

Filter Bubble! Do you really think that our automotive industry is willing to give up lessons learn in the last century? Do you really think our politicians are able to pave the way for the discussion on new laws that are necessary to make this happen?

In the last century, business could be planned. When the plan did not fit, marketing mesmerized the masses to carve whatever was pushed into the markets. At the same time, messages were transported from top to bottom – and middle management jerks felt important in doing so. They learned the cooking receipts that worked at that time. Now they are in charge, and the cooking receipts are deeply embedded. Cooking receipts became routines, and routines became the culture – the hidden immune system in organizations. It assimilates all that fits and spits out the dead carcass of anything that is different. As it is so typical for most big companies, it also turned into dogmas, the dark matter version of culture, which is embedded in the society itself.

Other as biological entities that have an increasing probability to die, culture and dogmas have an increasing probability to become immortal! This does not match very well with the typical project time lines I am facing.

WATERFALLON

Here we agree. If you say all that too loud, you will be spat out. Preferably from the top story of the corporate headquarter skyscraper. The setting sun will underline the dramatic message: Look at Mr. Aguilero. He denied the software factory. What a creep, but we knew it from the very beginning. We have both witnessed this ceremony many times, and Mr. Werewolf has always surprised us with a new level of unprecedented cruelty.

AGUILERO

Funny. But please do not behave as a goldfish and be patient! Here is the point: Complexity and speed have not just increased, it is growing exponentially – it is exploding! Still, our core brain is mostly reptile. 2% of our thinking is aware. We are mostly on autopilot and driven by the old fight or fly reflex. We are not rational beings, we do not act rational, and we have a hard time to assess facts in an objective, unbiased, non-emotional way.

WATERFALLON

I read Kahneman, too. Nice read. So what?

AGUILERO

We just cannot assess risk and uncertainty, but we measure and plan on an incredible detail level. Software is soft…

WATERFALLON

so many of your arguments are…

AGUILERO

…but software supports real hardware and the emotional animal inside us, the ideas we try to articulate using a tool that is 50 thousand years old and the culture of the tribes we live in. Hardware is less virtual and potentially better understandable – it can be engineered. Hardware can be crafted. Engineering provides the method set for stuff that is already known. It can be planned as long as it is not a real innovation.

WATERFALLON

Software can also be engineered. In complex environments, there is hardly any alternative to do so.

AGUILERO

But then it fails to unveil its real power! As I said, business has two sides: One side, the denominator part, is about optimizing existing business. It is close to engineering and can be planned. The other hand, the one that counts, when it comes to true substantial growth, requires innovation. This is more a form of art. It requires creativity and it can not be planned. Large corporations miserably fail at innovation. So they have to buy it.

WATERFALLON

Yeah and please do not forget, they just brought us to create the illusion of a creative process while we’re squeezing the last drop of blood out of our scrum teams – all to meet Mr. Werewolf’s timelines. I am happy to deliver him exactly what he deserves, a nice story with no link to reality, except my banking account…

AGUILERO

Again why are we part of this great transformation initiative? I can not tell why, but I have a bad feeling. I have the bad feeling we are very special guests at a scarification ritual.

What is your true influence on the package you should deliver? What are my possibilities on influencing the business behind the lighthouse projects we should work on? Why am I not allowed to directly talk to stakeholders? Why is the project site so far away from the HQ? Why is our contract just for the first four months and not longer? Why is he not working with one of his smart asses he is so proud of? What is his true agenda behind the shiny agile transformation story?

WATERFALLON

Ask this Mr. Werewolf directly. But maybe you want to catch him in the basement of the building for safety reasons. Oh, I guess this sprint is over – without any shippable conclusion, too bad.

Suddenly Mr. Werewolf drops in to collect some more merits for his visionary speech and the two have to stop their debate. But don’t expect this conversion to be over yet.

To be continued…

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