Agile Retrospectives   


Originally posted on:

Retrospectives are a way for a software development teams to discuss and figure out ways to resolve issues when an increment of work is done.  The strength of the retrospective comes from focusing on the team members and how to improve as a team.  For the team I am working on, the increment of work just so happens to be one week.  Our retrospective definitely helped us fine tune our team on the iteration basis.  At times, I feel like our retrospective has become routine and rushed because the sooner we can finish, the sooner we can start coding since we are on a short iteration.  I decided to check out Retrospective by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen to see if there is anything we can do to revitalize our retrospective.  Overall, I found the book to be really helpful and easy to read and understand.  The book encourages very structured and well planned out retrospectives, which I feel is our weak point.  The book suggested five phases listed below:

1.  Set the stage
2.  Gather data
3.  Generate insights
4.  Decide what to do
5.  Close the retrospective

Set the stage phase: Basically an ice breaker that the retrospective leader will facilitate in an environment that allows the team members to focus and participate on the retrospective.  According to the book, this is one of the most import phases of the retrospective, and many teams usually skip it.  As you can guess, we also skipped this phase with our past retrospectives as well.  In order to have a successful retrospective, all team members need to participate early, otherwise people are less likely to say anything in the later phase.

Gather data phase: This s a great way to put everyone on the same page before getting to the meat of the retrospective even if you are on a short iteration.  It is much easier to determine shifts and patterns by looking at hard data.  On our team, most of the time we do not have hard data, so at times we rely on team members’ subjective feelings as to how things went.  This can be problematic because it is hard to have a constructive discussion when people have different views on what went on.

Once the team starts to see some patterns and shifts, it is now time to move into generating insights by looking at the big picture and figuring out root causes.  We tend to have pretty good discussions in this phase, but it usually went on longer than needed because we do not have hard data to help us. 

Deciding what to do is the meat of the retrospective.  This stage is pretty self explanatory, but the important point here is whatever the team decides to do, the team must commit to it. 

Closing the retrospective is very helpful for the team to fine tune the next retrospective.  Like anything else, it needs to be tuned every once in a while, so do the retrospectives.

The description I provided above is by no means comprehensive.  If you feel your retrospective is not as effective any more, this book is for you.  The book provides many activities for each phase of the retrospective, so you do not have to stick with the same old activity over and over again.  We followed the format of the book, and ran two retrospectives with a great deal of positive feedback from the team members.


Simon and Jackie Go Crazy   


So, I visited Montreal Simon to read his latest post, which was a condemnation of the Scheer Conservatives and their fans who are bringing USA-Repugnican style hatred and violent rhetoric up here. It started off well with a picture of some sub-literate right-wing moron holding up this ridiculous (and frightening) hand-made sign:

I've said on numerous occasions that stupid people must have the same right to vote as non-stupid people. But there needs to be gatekeepers to prevent the rise of stupid ideas and rage-fueled political movements from having any prominence greater than the level of three city blocks. Alas, for reasons of selfish cynicism our media and corporate elites see fit to pander to these cretins and stir them up. As well (whose kidding who?) from their own behaviour and the words that flow from their mouths, pens, pencils, keyboards, many among our elites aren't all that intelligent either.

Montreal Simon goes from trashing right-wing assholes calling for Trudeau to be "hung" (or run over by a truck) for taxing them, for verbally acknowledging global warming, for admitting Syrian refugees, for marching in PRIDE parades, and etc., ... where was I? .... Oh yeah, ... Simon goes from condemning those assholes to conflating them with progressives who yell at him for buying the TMX pipeline (so as to bail-out the Bay Street parasites who invested in that bitumen project) and praises Trudeau for asking his supporters (booing the guy) for tolerance as he lets his security drag the man away.

Immediately afterwards Simon mentions a guy who threw an egg at Trudeau during a climate march in Montreal, but it's unclear from the Global News video what that guy's agenda was. Personally, I've never gotten too incensed about ordinary people throwing pies (or, now, eggs) in the faces of politicians.

"What if that pie/egg had been a gun or a bomb or a knife?!?"

Yeah. But you're missing the important point that it wasn't a gun or a bomb or a knife. It was a cream-pie/egg. You could just as well shriek that the hand of someone extended for a handshake could have been a gun. But it wasn't. The person sticking their hand out to a passing politician just wants a handshake. Just as the person with the pie wants to make a statement and not kill anybody.

Simon then starts his spiel about how Justin Trudeau is the most activist politician fighting climate change EVAH!!!! because of his carbon tax and his investments in renewable energy industries. But, if Simon were honest (or not honestly ignorant) he would know that this is mere tinkering and that it is all cancelled-out by his continuing to develop the Tar Sands. Which is par for the course for a liberal politician. They're the masters n' mistresses of using empty words to gull their deluded followers. They "feel your pain." They "want to see all people rise to their full potential." They "don't want to see anyone left behind." They say the things we want to hear in order to get elected and continue to say those things as they enact policies that contradict their flowery words.

The end result of political cowardice and deliberate deceit by politicians like Justin Trudeau is going to be the extinction of most of the earth's life-forms. It will AT LEAST mean the deaths of tens of millions of people. Given this, it was justified for that protester to yell at Trudeau for his sickening devotion to the TMX pipeline. And it is the height of stupidity to conflate environmentalists with legitimate grievances with Islamophobic, racist, right-wing homophobic shit-heads threatening all their adversaries with murder. (Notice how that protester at the Liberal rally stayed right where he was and didn't make a step towards Trudeau.)

And, of course, the first "commentor" was Simon's in-all-but-name co-blogger "Jackie Blue." I haven't (and won't) read her entire densely-packed, extended comment. But she basically says that leftist "shit-disturbers" are as big a threat (to "rational centrists") as right-wingers. Now, given the evidence from Simon's own post, anyone not an idiot can see that isn't true. She then goes on to whine about the progressives who didn't vote for mass-murderess, corrupt scumbag Hillary Clinton. Because "Jackie Blue" continues with the bullshit story that she's a US-American and she continues with the bullshit belief that Hillary Clinton wasn't a murdering scumbag.

Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War you stupid fuck! She voted for a war based on obvious stupid lies. The war she voted for has KILLED ONE MILLION IRAQIS and maimed and traumatized millions more. And that's only one of her colossal "mistakes" that she made while servicing the oligarchy and becoming a multi-millionaire herself. And it was Hillary's own sense of entitlement that led her to rig the Democratic primary to defeat Bernie Sanders and thereby bring on the presidency of Donald Trump. Hillary gave us Trump you imbecile!

As a species, we have to do the hard work of overthrowing his rotten, inhuman, ecocidal system. And the longer that (mostly decent-minded) people like Montreal Simon pledge hysterical allegiance to hucksters like Liberals, the longer (and perhaps TOO LATE) will it take to start that job in earnest.

(I'll end by saying that I probably won't be voting. My riding is a contest between the Libs and the Cons. And, from reading this article, I'm pretty much deflated about my choices anyway.)


What The Heck Is A Chief Innovation Officer? (And Does Your District Need A Proactive Change Agent Visionary Leader To Transform Your Human Capital With Capacity-Building Systems?)   

My college job was in the private sector, working in the education and communication department of an industrial manufacturing company. In ways that my college education could never hope to, my time there drove home how there are plenty of folks making a good living using language to obscure rather than reveal, the there's a whole art of using language to try to convey importance and weight while cloaking the actual content of those words with smoke and mirrors. On the one hand, it's appalling, like watching someone use the Mona Lisa to scrub the grime off their car. On the other hand, it's its own kind of hilarious language, a linguistic emperor's new clothes. We entertained ourselves by cranking out faux bulletins in corporate argle bargle; I actually have a bound collection of our best work.

I am reminded of all that when I read some of the corporate baloney unleashed on education (not that education doesn't have its own ridiculous jargon). Take, for instance, the new-ish corporate ed reform job of Chief Innovation Officer. Right off the bat, we know this is corporate-style baloney, because of the desire to signal this is a Real Important Job by making it C-level with a Chief in front. The whole trend of turning school administration jobs into "chief" jobs is about "translating" education-speak into corporate-speak.

The Center for Digital Education offered its own balonified exercise in explaining CIOs in 2013; you know from the very first paragraph it's going to be richly foolish:

Chief innovation officers are slowly popping up in school districts around the country. Some say they fill a gap in leadership that's preventing education from moving forward.

First-- "slowly popping up"?? I'm trying to imagine slow-popping popcorn, or a jack-in-the-box that emerges like an arthritic octogenarian. Nope. If you're going to pop up, you can't do it slowly.  Second- "some say"?? Some what? Some corporate guys who want to remake education in their own image.

It turns out that "around the country" meant "in at last four school districts" in 2013. The article features plenty of unfounded assertions, like "Right now, probably 70% of school districts  need a complete makeover." Don't expect any support or elaboration for that. The article interviews a new CIO who's supposed to provide "visionary leadership" and who says an "exciting piece" of his job is "to empower people  and build capacity in a way that inspires." But the article also notes that the CIO job description is varied from place to place; in Detroit, the  job is simply "to better prepare students for college." What that has to do with innovation is not clear.

Not that the corporate world where the term originated knows either. The term supposedly comes from a 1998 book, Fourth Generatio R&D,  and wikipedia says it's for the person most reposnible for managing change, who comes up with new ideas and who recognizes them when other people bring them up. Inc offers its own explanation which involves championing innovation and driving new growth. Back in 2009, Forbes was sure that you needed one for your company. LinkedIN shows close to 200 openings at the various times I looked.

Education has always been where corporate fads go to die (before Outcome Based Education, there was Management By Objectives), but modern ed reform, with its belief that education needs to be run like a business, has accelerated that process. So as we saw above, CIOs were a coming thing in 2013. In 2016, edWeb was explaining why schools needed a CIO in the same graceless language

Education is experiencing an extraordinary transformation that requires Innovative Leadership to implement major change initiatives and redesign numerous systems within a school district. A strong movement driven by Future Ready Schools is charging toward a personalized learning environment to prepare students for college, career, and life readiness that links the learning in the classroom to a real world setting.

It just sounds so smart, you know. Major change initiatives. Redesign numerous systems. Charging toward a personalized learning environment. It has the solid ring of corporate argle bargle-- you almost know what it means, close enough that you assume that with some specialized training you'd have a better idea what exactly they mean. That's a more charitable assumption than figuring that they are keeping the language vague and grand because they themselves don't know exactly what they mean, but they still want to make the sale. It's like moving a product by giving it a fancy designation, like JSB-400; it makes it sound hard-edged and sciency, even if you just made the whole thing up. Corporate reform wants to sell itself as hard-nosed scientific management, and so we get this language to hide the fact that they are just as vaguely fuzzy-headed as those bleeding heart humanists who want to call teaching an art.

Meanwhile, you can get a CIO certificate to prove, I guess, that you are a visionary change agent of environmental disruption. And higher education is being scolded for having only 25% penetration of CIOs.

To really capture the baloney-fest, here comes Bellwether Partners with an interview with two CIOs-- Margo Roen (Education First) and David Saenz (Forth Worth ISD).

Roen's view of the job is more entrepreneurial-- grab data, look for "gaps," fill gaps through "internal capacity building or external partnerships," and then "formalize these strategic partnerships through performance contracts that clearly lay out expectations, autonomies, and supports for partners." So, figure out what test  prep you need and hire  some companies to provide it. Saenz is more managerial-- the CIO handles "change management" with various projects and communications with "internal and external partners," plus knowing how all the parts of a school district works. So, pretty much a superintendent.

Roen notes that there is still "not one prototype for the role" which is charming but really, what other job could get away with that. Certainly nobody's response to "We need more evaluation and accountability for teachers" is not "Well, there really isn't one prototype for the role." Roen believes innovation "can help create new solutions and more equitable systems, and use a more focused process to surface innovation needs." So, figuring out what  problems ned to be solved and solving them-- is that really innovation, or just basic management?

Saenz gets to describe a typical week, and it's mostly meetings, but wow, what meetings. His typical week is "centered around meeting with a wide range of stakeholders to help foster collaborative decision-making as we address gaps in our district." He facilitates the work of the Office of Innovation, including the Innovation Action Team, a "cross-functioning team" with  all sorts of key officials (including the "human capital office.")

Saenz also talks about the supports in place, like a "district culture" that enables CIOs "to push the limits of their district's capacity and form new schemas for how we manage our schools." He also lapses into plain English long enough to say that a lot  of this is about charter school authorizing. Which for some of you will come as no surprise at all, because "innovation" these days is a euphemism for "privatization."

Which brings us to the last question in the interview-- why would a superintendent want a CIO. The argle bargle answer is that they are too busy with the daily problems and putting out fres that they lose the big picture. In other words, reformsters have found that getting their agenda fulfilled sometimes takes a back seat to actually running the district, so if the district could have someone working on privatizing full time, that would be a big help. Or, if you prefer, someone "who who is solely focused on the big picture, who shepherds forward an annual cycle of proactive evaluation and planning, and wakes up and goes to sleep every day thinking about the range of options and quality in the district."

All of this noise is generated in service to two obscure two things: 1) nobody pushing this stuff can offer  a specific, concrete explanation of what it is and 2) it's about  privatizing and profiteering.

It also reminds us of a point that is perhaps not made often enough (my hat is tipped here to Andrea Gabor, who addresses this really well in her book After the Education Wars) -- that we have a problem not just with reformsters who want to use business methods to manage education, but with reformnsters who want to use lousy business methods to manage education.

For teachers, the important point is to believe your own eyes and ears. You know language, and you know baloney when you see it. When it looks like someone is trying to fake you out with a bunch of baloney, they probably are. In this case, they definitely are. If you think you can see the emperor's bare ass, it's because you can. Do not be intimidated by what a friend of mine use to call Big Wig Lingo.

And for the people pushing this stuff. Take a step back, really looking at what you're saying, and ask yourself if anyone should take this kind of billowy jargon seriously (spoiler alert: the answer is no). If you really have something to say, you'll do better in plain English.

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