In my last post, I hinted at another blog entry for this month… And here it is… This week is my last week working at IBM… Starting on June 21st, I will be at TD Insurance in Montreal. The last few weeks have been a wild ride for me and if you want to see my thoughts on all this, well… Then you know the drill, I won’t say anything out here on the main page… You need to click to read on… 🙂There’s so much to say and at the same time, it almost feels as if there’s not much I can say as this is always a sensitive topic… My goal here is not to inflame anyone or burn bridges before I go, but I need to talk about this as it is important. So my approach here is to try to keep things as positive and funny as possible and hopefully convey the end message I want you guys to get out of this.
Before I go to the actual blog entry, I will share a quick story to set some context… One of my colleagues got laid off from IBM last March. These things happen in life and we have no control over them but it got me thinking… How would he describe his so called “IBM Experience”? He had been there a bit longer than me… Surely he could put his experience in words… So I asked him… Well, unfortunately, he did not have a long story to tell. He basically went to the office, did his work (i.e.: create new code or fix defects), and then went home at the end of the day. That is perfectly fine though, that is what most people do…
There’s much to be said about IBM, both good and bad. For your benefit, I want to share with you my “IBM Experience” over the last four and a half years… I will do it in a very personal way, in my own typical style: telling stories, sharing successes and failures…
So my experience started in the the Rational Portfolio Manager team from 2005 to 2007… I got to do many things while on this team. I started out as a software developer and worked my way through leading a usability enhancements sub-team of three to six people. That project was so much fun and so crazy too! My strongest team member was in India, so we had interesting challenges synching up at times. Things got so crazy that by the end of this project, I was even using some interns I was supervising at the time to help in the development. In this project, I had done pretty much everything, from requirements to design to overall project management and coding. At the same time, I was also coordinating deliverables from people in Egypt and Israel as well as working with people in China for globalization purposes. I remember that for a time in this project, I had completely lost track of time. I remember calling my manager once at 6:00 am on his cell phone not realizing how early it was. Lots of 80h weeks… But lots of fun as well!
After that, I was the technical lead for the core development team of 14 people for a six month period. This experience was also tough as I was trying to lead a larger crowd of people and they were not used to having someone nagging them with a project plan. We managed to arrive at the end relatively unscathed though but this project and the usability one showed me was that I had developed strong collaborative leadership skills. One of the last big hurdles of this project was the Translation Verification Testing (TVT) run that I was responsible for at the end of the release. We had over 100 defects in the queue at one point because we were doing Arabic and Hebrew for the first time. That TVT was one of the craziest ones I’ve EVER been a part of (and I did about six or seven in all). The translation coordinators were Paula and Usha and they were amazing in this project. Very cooperative in letting me move dates around so that we could make our end date while letting the development team be in a better position at each pass.
At the end of 2007, I needed a change, so I moved to the WebSphere Business Services Fabric Team at their User Experience Lead and Globalization coordinator. This team was based in Austin, Texas… So I changed to a work from home employee at that time. I started with them right off the bat with a TVT as they were at the end cycle of their release. They had some challenges in their previous TVT and I had some prior experience due to RPM… So I told them to leave it to me and we’d get through. The funny story here was that the coordinator Gary knew Paula and Usha from my previous run (apparently they had t-shirts saying “Steffan is God!”, so there were now certain “expectations” that I had to live up to! rofl! Well, the TVT went very well and I think that Gary asked them for one of those t-shirts (but he’ll never fess up to it!).
At the start of the year, I spent 2 weeks in Austin to visit the team. That was a good experience. After that, I was able to picture the mannerisms of the others while on teleconferences with them. That helped a lot… If you are EVER working remotely as part of a team, you HAVE to go see them at least once face to face… It helps everyone! Aside from that, the next piece of advice I can give you is that Skype is your friend! I did all my one-on-one meetings with my manager over video conference and it helps tremendously!
2008 was also the year I started getting more involved into Agile as my new team was also making the transition. In May, I went to the 2 day disciplined agile workshop session in Ottawa and liked it so much I asked what I needed to do to teach it… So I signed up for the Blue Opportunity (internal stretch assignments board), learned what I had to learn and in September gave a session in Ottawa with another first timer Sarah. We did well enough to be invited to teach the following week in Toronto. In the meantime, I was trying unsuccessfully to coach my own team, this is when I started realizing how much harder it was to influence people when you are remote.
With my own team, I started a new way of documenting the user interface designs using a combination of user stories, use cases and design wiki pages. These pages helped the testers and tech writers do some of their work before seeing any user interfaces from the development team. This was also great for helping the productivity of our team members in Mumbai. The fondest memory I have of those pages was when working on a release with developers in Austin, Toronto and Mumbai, Testers in Austin and Toronto and Tech writers in Austin and Raleigh… Having the documentation there helped everyone do their own piece somewhat in parallel and in the end, although the testers and writers still needed to review the final version for consistency, they still had a leg up versus the old system of getting all the information at the end. For that project, there were over 100 user stories and accompanying use cases that I broke out for the team.
At the start of 2009, I decided to try harder to get my team on the right agile planning path using the knowledge I gained teaching the workshops. I considered a posting on the team wiki on the process, but then decided it would be more fun to write an article on Agile Planning based on my experiences and get is published somewhere. The IBM DeveloperWorks site gladly obliged and published my article at the end of March 2010. Funny story about that… They had completely changed the tone of the article from my first person perspective to a more generic tone, but messed it up in some areas. They never sent me a copy to review before posting it so imagine my joy when I saw the mistakes… I got in touch with them and… gently encouraged… them to fix their mistakes… To make sure they did it right, I fixed it up for them and sent them an updated version to publish… So if when you read the article now, you see a note about the author requesting changes… That’s the backstory! THEY MESSED UP MY ARTICLE AND I TOLD THEM TO MAKE IT RIGHT!!! rofl! 🙂
Regarding making my team more agile, there were so many debates over the silliest things… The great battle of “should we do daily scrums on a daily basis? or is every other day enough?” or my other favorite “should we all be in the same room for our scrums? or is via instant messaging enough?” were … well… I can’t quite describe it and keep the spirit of what I am trying to do here tonight, so I will stop there on those. One thing I will say though is the team progressed throughout the year and got better at understanding the principles and doing their planning in an agile way. Was it perfect? No… But compared to some other teams that I have seen, there is a higher level of transparency to what they do. I coached the team on agile planning and user stories and I also mentored a few team members on the subject matter.
In 2009, I also got more involved in the Agile Community at IBM. I joined a group that was doing brainstorming sessions for a book on distributed scrum. When the initial chapters came out, I felt free to rewrite pieces and reorganize and eventually I was asked to be one of the three “official” authors of the book. Writing the book was a wild ride once again, most of it being on my own time. I easily spent two to four hours a night for months writing or editing content. I am very proud of the final result though and look forward to having it in my hands as an actual book (July 2010 at a bookstore near you!). It’s on this book project that I met Elizabeth, one of the co-authors, who is just about the closest person to myself that I have ever seen in my life. Imagine two passionate people working together for the same cause… Very powerful combination! Kinda scary too at times to be completely honest! We could take a chapter and completely spin it on it’s head in a week, I think at times, we made poor Matt (the other co-author) dizzy with all our e-mails! Sorry Matt! 🙂
At the end of the year, I got to do something else I always wanted to do… Present at conferences… My first one was “Daily Scrums for Distributed Teams” at Agile Tour in Montreal. It was a small place, but interesting none the less. I was presenting at the same time that Scott Ambler was presenting in another room… At the time, I was just thankful I had some people show up at my session. There was also the CASCON event in November where I ran a three hour distributed daily scrum workshop with Matt and Elizabeth. This event marked the first time that all three of us were in the same room at the same time! I was also the featured presenter for two sessions (2.5h total) at the local event at the Ottawa Lab for the 24h Agile Aot Conference. Funny little known story about that one… I got lost on the way and arrived 10 minutes late at the lab… 🙂
You are probably noticing a pattern at this point… A lot of the stuff that was part of my “IBM Experience” were things that I got involved with on the side or when I stretched the boundaries of my job… That is such a key thing… With the book and the presentations last year, my life was quite hectic as I also had the infamous day job stuff to do at the same time… But it’s been so rewarding for me to do these things outside of the regular boundaries of my job. And you know what, I skipped a whole lot of other stuff. The above things are what came to mind as notable I was typing this. If I take a quick look at 2010, I acted as the event coordinator for an internal agile conference and also had the chance to go run a 4h workshop that I created in three different IBM labs.
One last thing I want to note… I have met some truly exceptional people during my time here. Many having moved on to higher positions in other companies and many others that I never thought I could just reach out to via instant messaging. It has been a privilege for me to work for IBM and I truly appreciate being able to say that at one time in my life, I was an IBMer. Who knows, I may end up back there some day for all I know. An environment such as IBM is not for everyone, but if you are creative enough, passionate enough and want it badly enough… You can create a lot of good stuff there.
So all this brings the obvious question right? If you are having all this fun, why go? The simple answer is: Because it was my time to go… All those side things that I got involved in helped make my regular day job kind of dull and boring in many ways mainly because all these new things pushed me to a different level. This new opportunity should put me in the same space where the side work pushed me, so it should allow me to grow some more. I am a great believer that life never puts anything in front of you that you are not ready for (at least is has never done so for me). So in a week, off I go to a new adventure, new people, new environment…
This will be fun!