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Friday, October 22, 2010

What can we learn from illusions that helps us manage projects better?



Just had the opportunity to watch a BBC documentary about illusions.

The show went on to detail how we as humans get deceived by our own senses. There were 3 things that opened my eyes in that documentary:

The things that caused me to think were:

  • when we mix senses one of them tends to take over: this is the case when we are watching a magic act. The example on the documentary was a magician throwing a ball in the air for a few times, and then making the same gesture but keeping the ball in his had. Although the subjects eyes stayed on the face of the magician, the brain perceives the movement of the ball and later realizes that the ball has vanished.
  • some of our senses are completely/100% contextual (see image above): the example they had here is a cube with many small squares on it's faces. Some faces are lighter, others are darker. When asked about the difference between 2 specific squares in the faces of the cube people would clearly state that the colors were different. However, when you moved one of the squares to the other face of the cube, you could see that the colors were exactly the same! Our perception of color was completely dependent on the colors surrounding the colors we were comparing.
  • we can learn new senses if we are exposed to the right stimuli: The amazing examples they had for this was a blind-person that had learned to use sound and echo to see and used that learned sense to ride a bike (while blind!) The second example was quite amazing. A person would use a belt what was wired with buzzers/vibrators (like mobile phones) so that they could constantly feel where the magnetic north was. Later they would use that learned sense to navigate their way in a place while blind folded!


All of these observations from the documentary point to one thing. We are not wired to perceive reality. We jump to conclusions far too quickly, but we can also take advantage of that if we train our brain with the right stimuli! That was the most interesting find from this documentary.

The implications are huge in a software project setting, where it is quite common that people use only a very small number of stimuli (some reports, a couple of graphs, etc.) to jump into conclusions. We need to "learn" how to sense the status of a software project, and that can be done by following the example of the person who was taught how to "feel" the magnetic north...

Can you think of applications of this knowledge in your project?

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Short multimedia review of LESS 2010 conference

The
LESS 2010 conference just ended on a positive note of shared knowledge, bridge building between different communities and celebration of great work in the area of Software Development.

LESS was started with a great ambition of combining, from the starting point three different communities globally. Those communities were the Agile community, which is focused on the improvement of the software industry. The Lean community with both people from manufacturing as well as from software industry. And the Beyond Budgeting community, which comes from large financial and industrial companies and represents a turn in the way those companies tackle the problem of managing large organizations.

I hope that you have the chance to dive into each of these communities' body of knowledge as there are great contributions from each of those complementing what we have been doing in the Agile community for nearly a decade.

There was one piece of data that particularly impressed me. That data does emphasize something that many of us have felt, but putting a number on it does make it even more impressive. The first keynote presented a figure from an evaluation of work done in a company. The amount of tasks that were blocked (could not progress) was 62%. This is amazing, most of the work in that company was blocked, and so people would start new tasks and, guess what: get blocked on those. The queuing theory's prediction of "the more tasks you start the less you finish" was quite clear here.

There was one talk and one paper that were highlighted by the organizers as the best in the conference. These selections are always subjective, of course. But it's worth highlighting them as they were very good sources of information about Agile adoption (the paper) and new ways of looking at the organization and inform the way we adopt Agile and Lean software development (the talk).

Maarit Laanti received the award for the best paper of the conference. Here's Maarit receiving the award.

Paper: Agile Transformation Study at Nokia - One Year After

Here's Maarit receiving the award:
UPDATE: This video has been removed


Jurgen Appelo
received the award for best talk in the conference. His talk: "Complexity vs. Lean, the Big Showdown". You can find Jurgen's slides here.

Here's Jurgen receiving his award:

Jurgen Appelo receiving award for best presentation at LESS2010 from Vasco Duarte on Vimeo.



Finally the conference ended with the gala dinner, which I thought was a wonderful way to end the event where we meet so many new people. We celebrate the fact that we spent time together trying to understand the issues that we face every day, but with the help of different points of view and mental frameworks.

Very good 3 days. I'm already looking forward for next year's conference!

PS: Watch this space as I'll publish an amazing surprise that the LESS2010 organizers prepared for the participants! :)

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