Learning How to Learn: Stories from our History
Every groundbreaking advance in software engineering – from space exploration to self-driving cars, not to mention the Internet and the Cloud – has followed the same arc. First there is the impossible challenge. Then there is a long hard slog of learning, with all its ups and downs. Eventually a solution emerges, which always looks obvious in retrospect. Finally, copycats try to achieve the same success, but they bypass the learning part; they don’t understand that behind every great success lie a lot of failed experiments.
This talk presents stories of organizations that disregarded conventional wisdom and learned their way through a maze of dead ends – to discover breakthrough solutions for seriously big technical problems.
Mary Poppendieck has been in the Information Technology industry for over forty years. She lives in Minnesota, USA. She has managed software development, supply chain management, manufacturing operations, and new product development. She spearheaded the implementation of a Just-in-Time system in a 3M manufacturing plant and led new product development teams, commercializing products ranging from digital controllers to 3M Light Fiber™.
Mary is a popular writer and speaker, and coauthor of the book Lean Software Development: an Agile Toolkit, which was awarded the Software Development Productivity Award in 2004. A sequel, Implementing Lean Software Development: from Concept to Cash was published in 2006. A third book, Leading Lean Software Development: Results are Not the Point was published in November 2009, and a fourth book, The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions was published in 2013.
Welcome to the Laboratory
Agile is built on experimentation. It is only through running experiments and reflecting on the results that we can learn and improve. When geneticists study inheritance traits they use Mayflys because they reproduce so quickly, and they get the results of their experiments sooner. Agile approaches with their one or two-week iterations also provide rapid feedback on experiments. This allows agile teams to experiment and improve faster than traditional teams.
Agile approaches themselves are the result of experimentation. In 1994 I was involved in the creation of the agile approach DSDM. We had good results involving customers in screen design workshops, so we experimented with user centered architecture and technical design. It was a disaster, they suggested unsuitable designs and technologies and did not care for the advice of experienced software engineers.
We tried a few different formats and teams then concluded user involvement in screen design is good, but user input in architecture is bad. These experiments drove the approaches recommended by DSDM. Seeing the inspect and adapt process applied to the DSDM approach itself cemented a lifelong belief in experimentation and tinkering.
This “Welcome to the Laboratory” presentation looks at experiments through history that lead to breakthroughs in thinking and understanding. We examine the steps of a good experiment and learn about some of the discoveries that even come from unintended side effects.
Mike Griffiths is an independent author, project manager, trainer and consultant living in Calgary, Alberta. In 1994, Mike was involved in the creation of the agile method DSDM and has been using agile methods including FDD, Scrum, and XP for the last 23 years. He serves on the board of directors for the Agile Alliance and board of the Agile Project Leadership Network ( APLN). He is the founder of the Calgary Chapter of APLN. In addition to agile methods, Mike is active in traditional project management. He was a contributor to the PMBOK V3, co-author of the Software extensions to the PMBOK Guide, chair of the author group for the new “Agile Practice Guide” and on the steering committee for creating the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner ( PMI-ACP) credential. He has published two books to help people studying to take the PMI-ACP exam – “PMI-ACP Exam Prep “ and “PMI-ACP Work Book”.