Thursday, May 27, 2010

Time to move on

From my darling wife:

Well, folks, it's finally happening... the Hayes family is leaving town. We've been very happy here for the past nine years, though, and we're certainly not going to leave without saying goodbye!

We've decided on a date for a big going-away 'do, but we don't have a venue yet. (We've decided we're not quite crazy enough to have this one at home, especially with no furniture!) So here's the deal: you let us know if you're free, and we'll find a spot for us all to raise a glass together.

Date: Saturday, June 12
Time: Afternoon - maybe 2ish until 6ish?
Venue: TBD

Kids are welcome, just please let us know how many!

RSVP ASAP to this Here's hoping you can make it!

Much love,

Steve, Amanda and Jamie

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Assisted Suicide

While I normally blog about software development, today I'm going to blog about something much more personal, something that most of my friends probably don't know. The trigger is the debate on the right to assisted suicide in the UK and on the right to access even information about assisted suicide in Australia, which would be blocked by the proposed internet filter. While I won't be as articulate as Sir Terry Pratchett I want to present my personal experience.

I was in my mid-20s when my partner's mother, still in her 40s, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though she lived in Cairns, a rural centre, she received excellent care, including flights on the air ambulance to city hospitals when she needed them. That experience, and my own health issues growing up, cemented for me the importance of free national health care, but my brush with assisted suicide came towards the unfortunate end of the story.

Despite a radical masectomy and many other treatments the cancer spread to Margaret's bones, and eventually she deteroriated quite rapidly. One day we got a call that if we wanted to see Margaret alive we needed to come to Cairns, right away. My partner was in Melbourne, I was in Sydney, one of my partner's siblings was on a prawn trawler in the Gulf of Carpentaria, but we all dropped what we were doing and went to the airport. I remember walking out of the office, telling my boss that I was leaving right away and I didn't know when I would be back, and him simply replying "Ok, do what you need to do" (thanks for that Brian).

We all arrived in Cairns and started a vigil by Margaret's bedside. She was immobile - her bones were so weak and brittle that the nurses needed to be careful not to break them when they changed the bed - she had difficulty breathing, and she was very weak, but she lingered. She was pleased to see all her children, but it was obvious that she was unhappy and she was not going to get better. One morning she told us, in short breaths, that it was impossible to hold your breath until you died - she'd tried it the night before and it didn't work.

Margaret had been estranged from her husband before the cancer got very bad, but they had moved back in together to look after her and their youngest child, who was about 12. He was pretty rung out and wasn't really part of the decision-making around Margaret at the time. He was a diagnosed manic-depressive and we were concerned that he might commit suicide after Margaret died, so we talked about how to handle the care of the youngest child in those circumstances. We also needed to talk to Margaret about formalising her will (if you haven't, please do that now, as handling it on your deathbed is no fun for anyone). As the older partner of the oldest child, some of the responsibility for these things rested with me. Eventually the conversation also came around to Margaret's death. It was clear that she was ready to die, from both her actions and her words, and we could see that she might ask one of us to help her. What would we do? What would I do?

I don't know what everyone else thought. I think we talked about it without making any final decision as a family, but I also know that I made a decision in my own mind. If Margaret asked me to help end her life I would do whatever I could to help. I would do it with tears in my eyes (like the ones I have in my eyes now, writing about this more than 20 years later), but I would do it nonetheless. And it would be illegal, and I would bear the consequences - the legality or otherwise of the action made no difference to the decision and the act, though it might have made a considerable difference to my life.

Margaret peacefully and quietly passed away one night in her sleep, with her eldest daughter at her bedside.

Assisted suicide isn't a theoretical issue for me, it's a hard, practical one that I faced head-on, and having made that decision once I know that if the circumstances arose again I would make the same decision. I believe that as a caring and compassionate society we should be able to extend the right to die with dignity at the time (and if possible the place) of our own choosing to everyone. I believe that the benefits of providing that right outweighs the cost and effort of monitoring to make sure that the right is not abused.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quality - I wish we'd be a little more precise

Many years ago I worked at Bankers Trust Australia, building derivative product applications with VMS Cobol for the user interface and Fortran for the numerically intensive parts. I mention the technology so that you can understand that this was the early days of the derivatives markets when there were only a few players in Australia, using relatively unsophisticated technology. I remember how proud we were of the first release, particularly of the way we validated all the user input and provided field-by-field feedback to the traders. Then I was lead into a trap.

"Wow, that validation is really impressive. It must have taken you quite a while to do that", said a trader.

"Yeah, it probably took a few weeks to get it all right", we replied.

"So you could have delivered it a few weeks earlier if you hadn't done that?"

"Yes, but the application would have crashed each time you made a mistake and you'd have had to start again", we said.

"We're pretty smart, and we can learnt to deal with that. Next time we'd rather have the features two weeks earlier so we can make some money from them thanks".

The underlying problem was that we hadn't talked to them about what was important (my excuse is that it was a long time ago and I was young and naive), but the lesson has stuck with me. In that situation, an input function vomiting it's guts on the screen was a scope issue, not a quality issue. In the years since I've regularly heard people say "we cut quality to go faster" or "we cut quality to finish earlier", but when I dig deeper I invariably hear that they altered the behaviour from the end-user perspective, and to me, a developer on a software project, that's cutting scope. I appreciate that other people with different perspectives might consider these features to be the difference between a high-quality or low-quality application, so when we start talking about "quality" we probably need to clearly understand which perspective we're talking about.

I was reminded of that by a recent post by Uncle Bob that starts with "People often make the argument that time to market is more important that quality. I’m not sure just what they mean by that. Do they mean that it’s ok if 20% of the features don’t work so long as they deliver quickly? If so, that’s just stupid.". I think that would be stupid, but what I think people mean is that the internal quality of the code has been sacrificed to reduce initial time to market, which is a very different proposition.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The end of passion

I'm supposed to be doing my US tax return right now, but I got distracted (what a surprise) and read this post from March 2009 by James Shore. At the end of the post James says two things that resonated strongly with me:

"If the point is to Be Agile, there's no need for Agile to actually work."


"Starting now, I'm reorienting my business to focus on people who want to be great."

Last night I said goodbye to me colleagues at Cogent Consulting, and one of the things that I meant to say but forgot was that for me interesting agile consulting work in Melbourne is now rare. I would have struggled to say why until I read James' post - I think it's that once-upon-a-time my consulting work was mostly with people who really wanted to be great, regardless of their current performance. It might not have been everyone in an organisation, but in each organisation it was enough people that greatness was the dominant theme. At some point those gigs dwindled - on the new gigs some people may have wanted to be great, but the team/division/company as a whole wasn't really interested. They pay lip-service to greatness, but it's the "we want to be great so long as we don't need to change too much of what we do" variety. My drive is to help people be great, and as that work has withered so has my passion. I may be willing to do work I'm passionate about for peanuts, but I think there's a thread in my mind which says if you can't give me work I'm passionate about then show me the money (and I think that makes me, well, human).

Now my soon-to-be-colleagues in Goldman Sachs may read this and shake their heads, so I need to be clear. I've always felt that enough of the people at GS wanted to be great to make working there worthwhile. It would be naive to think that it's everyone, everyday, but in my experience it's definitely enough. So I hope to have the pleasure of having my passion rekindle there as well.

I think this reinforces Cogent's recent decision on medium-term focus as well. The future of Cogent Consulting isn't to help other people with their agile transitions. The future is to blend Cogent's passion for software development with the needs of people who are passionate about their own domain, outside of software development. The result will be delivering excellent solutions that change people's lives - sometimes because no one else could do it economically, sometimes because no one else could build the partnerships that Cogent could build, and sometimes because no one else could do it at all.

Helping people transition to agile development - 10 years

Forming my own consulting company - 2.5 years

Finding outlets for my passion - a lifetime

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Am I?

** Updated 26/3/2010 **

If you read this blog regularly then you will know that I'm about to embark on a career change. Part of this will be moving from a relatively safe environment where I have a reputation (Melbourne) to a challenging environment where I'm a relative unknown (London). When I meet new people in London (professionally) I'd like to have something I can point people to that gives them some background and helps to set their expectations. I'm personally expecting to be meeting quite a few new people, and I hope that this can accelerate the familiarisation step a bit.

First, I'm incredibly introverted. I've learned to be vocal in some situations, but sometimes that confuses things because people don't notice just how introverted I really am. How does that manifest?

  • I'm pretty quiet in meetings

    Particularly if I don't know all the participants I tend to listen more than I speak. That doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about the matter, or that I'm not interested, it just means that I'm not talking :-)

  • I think slowly

    Sometimes experience gives me intuitive leaps, but I'm often the person who comes back the next day and says "that thing we talked about yesterday isn't going to work, and here's why". Even when my intuition gives me the right answer quickly it can still take me a while to come up with an explanation. When this happens it's not that I'm being uncooperative and trying to work outside the meeting/collaboration, it just means it look me a while to get to where I was going

  • I understand pairing gives better development results, but it doesn't come naturally to me

  • I'm unlikely to join you at the pub for a beer

    It doesn't mean I don't like you, but it's not an environment that suits me.

  • I'm not into public celebrations

    This can get me into trouble, especially when I'm meant to be "leading". It's not that I'm opposed to celebration, it's that it's not something that I volunteer for. If you happen to suggest my team needs one I'm likely to agree and ask you to arrange it!

  • I don't deal well with conflict, particularly if it happens quickly

  • I'm pretty analytical, but emotions can be a bit tricky for me. I need to gear myself up for situations where there might be conflict, and if one springs upon me unexpectedly I'll usually disengage. It's nothing clinical (empathising comes fairly easily to me), but it is something I've learned about myself.

I've managed to add a few layers to this introverted foundation. I'm a reasonable public speaker, I generally enjoy it, and I'm happy to talk about software development to any group that's interested.

I've been referred to as a "code quality freak". My attitude is that you should work on the micro-level details of programming until they've become muscle memory, so that you can free your brain up to work on the complicated stuff. This covers all the stuff you'd find in coding style guides and books like Bob Martin's Clean Code (though I have to fess up that I haven't read that yet). Even at the micro-level I like to use tools to tell me where I've let me standards slip, so I'm keen on tools like Simian, Checkstyle, Complexian and their equivalents in other languages. These days I'm also interested in visualisation of the output of these tools, though I don't have as much experience in that area.

Another metaphor I use around code quality is that it's like hygiene in a hospital - we shouldn't need to talk about it, we should just do it. If we can't maintain hygiene then everything else is going to get a lot, lot harder. Some people suggest that you can clean up your technical debt by having dedicated iterations - to me this is like suggested we let crap pile up around a hospital and clean up every couple of weeks. It doesn't work for me.

I love automation. I have a very small brain and I'd rather use it for processing than storage. Manual processes are slow, tedious and error prone - I want to get rid of them.

I don't think that software development is predominantly a technical problem, I think that in most cases it's a social problem - how to we organise the people and technology we have to delivery an effective solution as cheaply as possible. Commercial constraints demand creativity and make software development challenging.

I like agile practices and processes, but they are means to ends. I think that as humans we are all imperfect - we should accept that we make mistakes, but try to reduce the consequences of our mistakes and try not to make the same ones over and over again. We can continually improve, but to do that we need to continually reflect and continually learn. I'm very keen on the ideas emerging around expertise and deliberate practice.

I'm sure I'll think of more and extend this post, but there's a start :-)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Seven Norms of Highly Powerful Software Teams

I found this, a handwritten copy no less, while cleaning out a filing cabinet tonight. At the bottom I've written "Charlie Alfred, Education Services Manager, Object Design Inc, Object Magazine, May 1994". Apparently I've been carrying this around for almost 16 years. Since Google didn't find the article, I reproduce here for your pleasure (and so I can find it again myself).

Affinity for win/win

We strive to create an environment where the personal aspirations of each team member contribute to the goals of the team. We each are personally committed to achieving the goals of the team without sacrificing our lives outside work. We firmly believe that on the strongest teams the goals of the team agree with the goals of its members, rather than supersede them.

Common Mission

We share a common mission that is challenging, worthwhile, and clearly understood by all. This mission may be perceived by others as impossible or not worth the sacrifice. In this way, the mission helps us to identify our partners. Also, the more impossible the mission seems, the more we are forced to work together if we hope to succeed.


Quality is at the core of everything we do. If something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing right the first time.

Understanding Requirements

We strive to fully understand the requirements of the systems we plan to construct, including being acutely aware of how those requirements evolve over time. Furthermore, we actively validate our understanding of these requirements with the system's intended beneficiaries.


Individually, we each contribute strengths that counterbalance each other's weaknesses. Collectively we possess all of the skills, attitudes, and habits necessary for team success. Wherever an essential skill, attitude or habit is missing (or lacking), one or more of us makes it a priority to develop it, or we seek to add a new member who possesses it.


We are open to sources of new ideas and new ways of doing things, and use the norm to resolve conflict. We listen to each other's points of views, aware that our commitment to the same mission means that differences of opinion identify alternate paths to the same goal rather than competing paths to different goals. Also, we continually learn about and apply the latest paradigms, processes, and products in our technical, organisational and interpersonal activities.


Around here we work smarter, not necessarily harder. We sprint all out toward our goals when it is necessary to do so, but also know how to relax and rejuvenate. We make the 80/20 rule work for us. We take no shortcuts and cut no corners on the 20% of our tasks that produce 80% of our results. If any sacrifices must be made (in the interest of time), they always fall in the 80% of our activities that produce 20% of our results.

Thanks Charlie!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Netflix Culture

Many of you may have seen this already, but if you haven't I think it's an essential read. "Freedom and Responsibility Culture" describes how Netflix resolves the challenges involved in growing rapidly while maintaining a culture that supports rapid innovation and excellent execution. It's a good explanation of why they don't adopt the process-bound, complex-compensation approach that I see at many organisations. Some of what they do is consistent with what we do at Cogent, but some of it is radical even for me (for example, there is no vacation policy!). I wish I had read it earlier.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cogent Departure, Part 2

In an earlier post I mentioned that I'd pass on more details of my Cogent departure as they became available. I'm at that point now, but before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story (a tribute to my 6y.o. son's Captain Underpants fandom, which is another story altogether).

Twenty years ago, come March, I moved to London. It was the height of Thatcherism, and shortly after I arrived I went to a matinee at the theatre. At the end of the performance someone came on stage to say there had been "a bit of bother" and we should avoid Trafalgar Square. As an ignorant new arrival I didn't know how to do that, so I ended up walking through the debris of the Trafalgar Square Riot. Welcome to London, Mr Hayes! London is an amazing place, with deep history and so many things to see, but the next year is tagged in my mind with impressions of tension and antagonism. I've visited since and found London to be far more pleasant than it was in 1990.

Ten years ago I was working at Goldman Sachs in New York. I was leading one of the best development teams I have ever had and we were implementing XP on a full project - a first for me and a first for Goldman. Early the next year I did something very un-Goldman - I resigned. I used my bonus to pay off my last debt (the mortgage on my house in Sydney), Amanda and I travelled around America (20,000 miles in just over 100 days), then we moved to Melbourne and did as little as we needed to to cover the rent. There were about 6 people in Thoughtworks Australia doing "agile", but they were working remotely on the Caterpillar project, and that was it. I spoke to as many groups as possible about XP, and things grew from there. Essentially this was the beginning of the path that lead to Cogent Consulting.

This year I'm going to complete some decade long cycles. The current plan is to return to both London and Goldman Sachs, as EMEA Controllers CTO (EMEA is "Europe, Middle East, Africa", but from a technology perspective that's Europe). Before anyone gets excited, there are lots of CTOs in Goldman Sachs - I think I'll be responsible for technical direction for about 0.5% of the banks IT staff, and I'll be in a matrix with many other architects. Regardless of scope, I think this is a great opportunity for me and will be a great experience for my family. We're tentatively scheduling a move in April, but plans are on hold pending the tabling of financial services legislation in London that may impact GS staffing. I still plan to finish up with Cogent at the end of March and to take some leave if there is time.

On the other hand, my infrequent blogging and twittering will probably become almost non-existent. GS holds things very close to its chest, now more than ever I expect, and is very careful that random technical comments don't get associated with the GS brand (for either better or worse). Since I'm an expert in random comments I'll need to watch my mouth fairly closely. :-)

If you're in London and you'd like to catch up later in the year please let me know - part of this opportunity is the chance to renew (and create) relationships in the northern hemisphere!

PS. Some people have read this and wondered why I would move to a job in management. At GS architects at all levels code 80% of the time, so if anything I'll be doing less management than I do at Cogent and in my current consulting roles. I suspect a lot of it will be up to me. I still expect to have plenty of opportunities to influence behaviour.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why Post-Agilism isn't

I have a strong dislike for the term "post-agilism" and it will take somewhat more than 140 characters to explain why. Sorry twitter.

Post-agilism is a strawman argument. It postulates that agilism is zealous, doctrinaire and narrow-minded, and then posits that because of these deficiencies we need something that is "post-agilist". Implicit in this is that people who call themselves "agilists" have got it wrong.

This is simply another turn in a vicious circle. The "post-agilists" solution is a restatement of agile principles. Agile didn't start with hype, it didn't start with zealotry. On the contrary, Agile by declaration is adaptive and focussed on getting working software delivered. If you say you're doing agile but you don't believe in these principles then I'm sorry folks, you're just wrong. You probably weren't there at the beginning, and you've been misinformed, quite possibly by people who cherry-picked things out of context. We don't need another revolution, we need help with the swinging pendulum of the current phase.

So for the "post-agilists" out there - change your message. Say "wow, lots of people are doing agile wrong, we need to stop that, let's do agile right". Otherwise in 10 more years we'll have post-post-agilists decrying the shortcomings of how people have interpreted post-agilism (though more likely because of a lack of any structure than from too much).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cogent Departure

With sadness and trepidation I need to tell everyone that I plan to leave Cogent Consulting. I appreciate that you're not supposed to leave your own company, but I've rarely let what you're "supposed" to do govern my career. My departure from Cogent will create a hole, but I'm perfectly comfortable that the hole will be quickly filled. Marty Andrews will take over my role as decision-maker-of-last-resort, and I expect that most people, both staff and customers, will notice little difference on how Cogent runs or the quality of the service that it provides.

The decision to leave Cogent isn't an easy one, but sometimes opportunities come up that you simply can't ignore. I'll leave out the details of this particular opportunity since it isn't finalised, but I believe it's in the "can't ignore" category. It's quite possible that it won't turn out as I hope and I'll be back, but I need to find that out for myself. As my lovely wife said, "If you'd never created Cogent, you would have regretted it for the rest of your life. If you don't try this, you'll regret it for the rest of your life." Or as she said to our son, "would you like to have a family adventure this year?".

I'm very proud of what Marty and I have accomplished to date. We're running a company using approaches we were told were unrealistic, that simply wouldn't work, and Cogent's existence is proof to me that they can work. All the books of the company are open to all the employees, we don't put people on gigs they wouldn't choose to do themselves, and we try to make as many decisions as we can as a group. We share our profits in a fairly egalitarian way, and we've done some product development. We don't do any of this perfectly, but our hearts are in the right place. I'm a little more balanced about the pros and cons of these approaches, a little less naive, but I suspect that Rupert would still call me a Trotskyite. I wish I'd started this ten years earlier.

In many senses, as an individual I'm not important to Cogent. It's the principles, values and quality of the staff that separate Cogent from other companies and help us deliver great solutions at great value-for-money. All of these things will survive my departure. Cogent has always been managed by a small group with contributions from throughout the company, and this will continue. The trepidation I mentioned earlier is for myself, rather than for Cogent.

I expect to finish up with Cogent at the end of March, and I'll pass on more details as they become available.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Waste that we watch for

  • Partially Done Work
  • Relearning
  • Hand-offs
  • Task Switching
  • Delays
  • Defects
  • Extra Features

Cogent Principles

Just in case you're interested :-)

  • Feedback over Technical Elegance
  • Reliability over Feedback
  • Relationships over Code
  • Learning over Producing

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Are we there (agile) yet?

I get asked this a lot, and let me say that I personally don't care very much. I do care whether or not the development process is effective or not, and mostly you know the answer to that before you ask me. But if I needed to form an independent opinion here are some questions that I'd ask you about feedback cycles. The underlying assumption is that a team will almost continually make mistakes (that vary dramatically in size) and that a lot of our practices and processes are about exposing those mistakes as quickly as possible. So how long is it between the these mistakes and the practice/process/activity that will expose that mistake, and how do you make that period smaller? These questions aren't presented in any particular order.

  • A feature doesn't add any value

  • Our code is unmaintainable

  • We have duplicate code (or other quality problems)

  • A developer introduces a new defect

  • We've broken an existing feature

  • What we're building doesn't match what was expected

  • A feature is costing too much to be worth implementing

  • A feature is unusable

  • A feature works in isolation but not when integrated with other features

  • The entire project is costing too much

  • The project is going to cost too much

In addition, how long from a the time a feature is requested to the time that it hits production?

There are certainly other things that can go wrong with a project, but I think that reducing feedback cycle duration (time between event and feedback on the event) requires applying many agile principles and practices.