Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Hunter and The Outfit (comicbook adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker novels)

This comicbook series is a superb adaptation of the Parker novels by Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark). Tightly written, cleverly plotted, and witty in unexpected places, the novels' protagonist is Robert Parker, a thief with a surprisingly strict and simple sense of moral code.

In The Hunter Parker returns from a long hiatus to go after Resnick, a former heist partner who betrayed Parker and left him for dead. Parker simply wants his money back, but things escalate quickly when Resnick asks for protection from a criminal syndicate known as The Outfit. So Parker shifts his sights to get his money back from The Outfit, who somehow can't believe that Parker is crazy enough to go all the way to the top just just to recover, get this, the exact amount of money that Resnick stole. But Parker is a sociopath, and it is often said that many sociopaths are geniuses.

Parker executes a plan that, in the end, gets him back his money. How he does this is the highlight of the story, so I will not spoil your reading pleasure.

What is interesting about Parker's character is the turmoil of internal conflict operating within his psyche, which he all somehow controls with internal strength. Parker's world is ruled by fairness: you get what you deserve. If you take something from me unfairly, I will take it back from you, no more, no less. Parker will not hesitate to use force on violent adversaries but he will not tolerate harming people not involved in the conflict.

The Hunter inspired three movies Point Blank (starring Lee Marvin), Payback (Mel Gibson), and Parker (Jason Statham). Darwin Cooke's minimalist drawings and sparse coloring evoke the original milieu in which the Parker novels happened.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The benefits of Scrum come naturally

The benefits of Scrum come naturally if you keep the practices and understand the Agile principles behind them. 

The ceremonies and artifacts performed each sprint, combined with regular inspection, adaptation, and transparency, motivate the Team to get into "The Flow". In turn, "The Flow" allows the Team to surmount any obstacle, getting better and better at each iteration.

As long as we learn and grow, the team enjoys what it does. When the team enjoys what it does, it delivers an enjoyable product. The end of each sprint makes the Team look forward to the next sprint. We go home highly satisfied.

See also: Shu ha ri.

How to learn scrum more effectively - shu ha ri

When I was trying to learn tennis, my coach taught me to first focus on my form before even trying to hit the ball. 

"Just go through the motions and don't worry about returning the ball," he would say. 

Then he'd lob a ball at me and I felt silly swinging my racket, missing the ball by a foot or more. I had lots of questions, but it was more important to practice the sidestep and the swing, he said.

Learning Scrum is much the same thing. First you struggle with the rules. You just go through the motions and feel silly. But the books said to do this and not that. Why is that? There is much questioning and helplessness at this stage.

Part of the difficulty of my first Scrum Team's transition was that I was coming from 15 years of project management tradition. We had doubt, lacked confidence, and had questions like:
  • On time boxing. What do you mean no deadline extension? What happens if we don't finish things?
  • On the Product Owner (PO) making the product decisions and priorities. What happened to the Project Manager (PM)? Don't developers have a say on this? What if the PO is clueless on technology?
  • On testing: My goal is to become a programmer so why should I do my own testing? Testing should be done by someone else because I know my program too well.
Many of these questions turned out to be misconceptions carried over from a PMBOK tradition. 

Here are two important lessons I learned during this critical transition.
  1. You need a Scrum/Agile coach. Just like a basketball team needs a good coach, your Scrum team needs a good coach to guide you when you're groping blindly in the dark, to cheer you up when your team is feeling helpless, and to challenge you to perform more when you start to get bored.
  2. Remember the principle of shu ha ri
  • Shu - trust and follow the rules. Achieve mastery by focusing on just one way of doing things.
  • Ha - break the rules. Branch out and learn from other masters. Experiment.
  • Ri - be the rules. Adapt Scrum according to your own needs.

Looking back at my learning process, I realized shu ha ri was happening. 

Chapter Shu. At the start, we were just going through the motions, like renaming our feature list to "product backlog," tracking burndown charts --  without really understanding why. We were trying to approach Scrum from the wrong perspective of PMBOK. 

Lots of questions came out of this plodding along and I felt I needed to understand more. I read up on Scrum. Discussed with the team, felt we grew a little, but it still felt wanting. Which brings me to...

Chapter Ha. Feeling helpless, I enrolled in a Scrum Alliance course conducted by Bas Vodde. I must have had lightbulbs in my head popping every five minutes in that course. Bas's lessons started linked back Scrum and Agile to lean principles and knowledge management -- a domain I knew well as a management practitioner. 

Bas rekindled in me the meaning of the Agile manifesto and the values that drew me to Scrum in the first place. I was reborn and ready to impart what I learned. And I had lots of practice, working with private and government Scrum teams.

Chapter Ri. What I love about teaching is that I get tons of questions that help me sharpen my knowledge. I enjoy answering the usual ones, but I look out for the surprise questions, the challenging ones like: what do we do if we discover a new requirement in the middle of the sprint? Is it possible to do a Scrum with outsourced team members? Do we have to do the scrum on a daily basis? Can we do the daily scrum via Skype?

As I worked with various teams, my understanding and confidence grew deeper. I evolved a style that could switch depending on the team. 
  • I could be a hardliner, pulling rank and experience for teams that are just starting up. 
  • I could switch to a nurturing coach that allows the team to make its own decisions. My role here is to just give my observations and suggestions and let the team form its own solutions, cautioning them about risks and nudging them towards the right direction when they need it.

"Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters." 
-- Ch'uan Teng Lu, The Way of Zen

Monday, February 17, 2014

Scaling QA using just-in-time QA for Agile teams

I'm often asked how to integrate QA into sprints, especially for teams transitioning to Agile and have limited QA people (eg., 1 QA for 10 developers).

JIT (just-in-time) QA is one good way to do this. The QA acts as a consultant for the team/s and is brought in early into the process, as early as the planning stage. This also develops a QA mindset among the developers themselves as they begin programming while mindful of bugs to anticipate ("Begin with the end in mind!").

Here's how Atlassian does JIT QA:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Innovating a ketchup packet

I like Heinz for continuously innovating their ketchup packs. 

Saw this today at a fast food joint. You can use it two ways depending on whether you want it as a dip or to squeeze out the ketchup onto your food. 

Innovative Heinz Ketchup Packet

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Doing what we can to help Haiyan/Yolanda survivors

My wife and her fellow Fulbright scholars in the US set up an event to raise funds for Haiyan/Yolanda survivors.

They have a simple but achievable goal:
Hi! We are Filipinos currently studying in the US.

Our goal is simple: help typhoon survivors in Central Philippines get safe drinking water, now! We pledge to walk 50 miles for your donations. If you donate $15/mile, we could afford to send one box of Aquatabs (50,000 liters of water) in a week. Help us and thanks in advance!

-- Data Canlas, Jay delos Reyes, Lyrica Lucas

The fund drive is aimed at Filipinos and friends in the US, but they accept from everywhere. Please click the picture below to find out how you could help (will lead you to a public Facebook Page). You don't have to donate money. Just forwarding the link to their FB page to friends who may be interested will greatly help.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Yolanda/Haiyan, public leadership, and hope

Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan is the biggest storm in the world's recorded history and it struck the Philippines. Like all Filipinos, I've experienced many such big typhoons, like Yoling/Patsy in 1970 (Wikipedia entry), a storm that inundated our town for nearly a month, if my memory serves me right.

These natural disasters bring out the best and worst in us. There are lots of stories of heroism, like people I know from media who helped rescue stranded citizens at the height of the storm. But there are the inevitable bad stories, like the massive looting of a mall in one of the devastated cities.

This provided fodder again for some fellow Filipinos who lamented "the problem with Pinoys," typically comparing us to the disciplined response of Japanese citizens in the aftermath of the tsunami in Fukushima.

But here's the rub. When people have lived a lifetime without receiving any care from their public officials, it's everyone for themselves. If your family hasn't had anything to eat in three days and no contact from public leaders, you're pushed against the wall. In fact that's how one looter put it, after shamefully admitting to taking part in the looting.

Japan's governance is way better than ours -- their government serves the people. Contrast this to local governments in the Philippines, especially in the remotest provinces, whose officials systematically loot the public coffers and continue to build unfinished roads, bridges, and basketball courts while pocketing most of the funds. So we should see this as a problem of leadership, or the lack of it.

In my simplistic view, our corrupt public officials have failed us on many levels. They have kept themselves in power through patronage politics, sustained by denying people proper education, jobs, and reproductive health rights. It is the same system that has failed to formulate proper disaster preparedness in a storm-ridden country. It is the same populace that keeps voting them in place and so the cycle goes on. Yolanda is as much a man-made disaster as it is natural.

Still, there is hope. Through time, I have observed our disaster response getting better. There's a dearth of good public officials, but quite a few exemplary leaders have risen. We're still a long way off but we've slowly chipped off the leadership neglect that entrenched itself during the corruption in the Marcos years.

Disaster preparedness does not happen the week or month before the storm.
It happens in the way governance is done, in urban and social planning. It degenerates when settlements are allowed to mushroom in an area vulnerable to floods, when flimsy structures are allowed at all to be erected, when evacuation centers are not located on safe ground, or when neighboring local governments refuse to coordinate with each other on matters as simple as traffic and garbage collection.

A friend said that now would be a good time to reset the country. I agree. To draw another parallel with our Asian neighbor, it would be like Japan after World War II, rising from devastation and despair and emerging a better nation.

This should be our turning point. This should be where we realize what public service really means.  This should be the time to make our public officials accountable.

I hope that's not too much to hope for.

* * *
Update: Nov 12, 2013. This came in today from a friend:
"When it comes to preparation, the Philippines may want to study two countries that have made major progress in coping with typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes: India and Cuba.Read the full article here.  

* * *
If you wish to help the relief efforts, please share this poster on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. My wife and her fellow Fulbright scholars in the US will walk/run 50 miles to help give typhoon survivors access to safe drinking water.