Black Hat / White Hat

Why We Strive

In early Hollywood depictions of the Western genre, a common trope was to subtly identify the ‘good guys’ by the color of their hat or their horse. The arrival of the wandering drifter atop his shining stallion almost always heralded that things were about to change. These days, the image of the masked rider coming to set things right, is replaced by the arrival of management consultants. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to judge the impending experience based on anything as simple as the color of the consultant’s hat.

At least that’s what I thought…

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Metric System

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  “How we deal with death, is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” – Admiral Kirk

Have you ever been faced with a concept or idea that just refused to go away?  I think my least favorite one is “Service Level Agreement (SLA)”.  But right after that one is “Metrics”.

As an Agile Coach, I often encounter requests from clients to provide a list of Metrics.  I can hear the collective groans from a lot of you.  The funny part is that some of you groaned because you take the position that Metrics mean you can be held accountable (judged), and some of you groaned because you think I’m about to tell you that Metrics are evil.

You’re both right.  Kind of.

Let’s come together and agree that Metrics are a necessary evil that can allow us to gauge performance of a system.

BTW, there was a third set of groans.  Those groans came from the agile coach in an agile center of excellence who were tasked with creating a list of Metrics for the organization to adhere to.  With trepidation in your heart, you presented a simple, standard response… and things went sideways.

Metrics is not an easy subject to discuss in the agile world — partly because Metrics are so prevalent in the non-agile world.  It was difficult for agile methods to be adopted in organizations that prided themselves on their ability to measure things.  Meaningfully.  They demanded the same of the agile insurgency.  More’s the pity, because agile cut its teeth by opposing the inappropriate application of those metrics.

Metrics are a tool.  I recall a manager at one of my clients adamantly insist that Metrics are just measurements, and measurements are not evil. They are just numbers.


Metrics are tools, and as such are capable of helping us achieve great things. Tools are also capable of causing a lot of damage when that tool is used in the wrong way.

At the Chicago Coaching Summit 2018, held in Chicago this past October, I led an Open Space discussion on Metrics.  It was widely attended, and actually extended into a second session.  We started our discussion with the premise that the call for metrics was not going to go away, so let’s talk about the metrics we’ve used successfully, and also the ones that we tried to use that led to unexpected outcomes.  We decided that Metrics had attributes that we would discuss.  We chose:

  1. Metric Name
  2. Intended Use
  3. Unintended Consequence
  4. Appropriate Level
  5. Good or Bad?

There was a side conversation that centered around a model of Metrics-building called GQM (Goal, Question, Metric) which centers on the concept that you start with what you want to achieve, what question could you ask to find out if you are achieving it, and measure something that gives you an answer to the question.

The Metrics are summarized in the following link:


Are We There Yet?

A friend of mine was once put in charge of the Innovation group at the company where we worked.  Whenever we would talk about the state of Innovation, he always seemed preoccupied with creating an “innovation organization”.  But the conversation never seemed to get far beyond that point.
Continue reading “Are We There Yet?”

Instilling a Sense of Urgency

The team just isn’t demonstrating a sense of urgency.

The manager looked earnestly at me across the table.

I took a deep breath.  “If I may clarify.  Is your wish that the team understands the urgency of the situation, or that they demonstrate a sense of … panic?” Continue reading “Instilling a Sense of Urgency”

All Hands on Deck

My wife and I sat in the family room, watching a recent episode of Deadliest Catch.  At this particular moment, the focus is on the Cornelia Marie the boat formerly run by Captain Phil Harris, who died several seasons ago.  Since that time, the Cornelia Marie had been off-camera, without owner or without anyone to serve as her captain.  Phil was survived by two sons, who were both taken in by the other captains in the fleet to teach them what it would take to run their father’s boat.  As the seasons passed, the younger son decided he wasn’t cut out to run a crab boat, and left.  The elder son, Josh crewed on the other boats, and then in a surprise this season, came back into the picture as the new “owner” of the Cornelia Marie.  Josh was far from ready to run the operation, so he hired Captain Casey McManus to run the boat, and teach him what he’d need to know to take over the wheelhouse in the future.  Throughout the season, we’ve watched Casey and Josh together in the wheelhouse, taking turns at running the boat.  A week or two before this, the fishing hadn’t been so hot for the Cornelia.  Time was running out on opie season, and in order to help hit their quota, Josh volunteered to join the rest of the crew on deck. Continue reading “All Hands on Deck”

Hitting the Agile Reset Button

I may have mentioned this before, but I serve as the board president for the local chapter of the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) here in Chicago ( Over the years, we have heard a lot of success stories from smaller and medium sized companies, or small pilot projects within a larger framework. We have even heard some stunning success stories of Agile taken to a very large scale. But you would not believe how many large corporations we come across that attempt to bring Agile into their processes because they hear it can improve performance, and then settle for a half-realized implementation and lackluster results. Continue reading “Hitting the Agile Reset Button”

Agile vs. Waterfall – Improved Performance is NOT Guaranteed

I am frequently asked to give a brief overview of Scrum to people who are unfamiliar with Agile concepts. In the course of giving those lessons, I almost always see a look of shock at the almost cavalier way that we agilists claim that Agile methods will give a better result than traditional methods. I like the look of shock. It shows that they’re paying attention. Continue reading “Agile vs. Waterfall – Improved Performance is NOT Guaranteed”

Team Building: Five Dysfunctions and Four ‘Ormings

There are dozens of books out there on management and leadership styles.  There are dozens of books about Agile methods and the application of Agile principles.  There are probably hundreds of books on the psychology of groups.  In my opinion, there are not enough books that combine these concepts.  The interconnections and application are left as exercises of the reader. Continue reading “Team Building: Five Dysfunctions and Four ‘Ormings”

Sailing Metaphor for Agile

When I was in high school, my friend Scott and I took his father’s sailboat out on the lake where our families spent summer vacation.  We had each been sailing numerous times; always as crew, never at the helm.  We both knew the lingo; “Come about” and “Pull that jib in tighter!”.  I had taken a boat safety course, so I knew all about life jackets and right-of-way.  There was even a page in the safety manual that talked about sailboats and gave a handy chart for the points of sail.  We were set for adventure! Continue reading “Sailing Metaphor for Agile”