Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Using Naikan as an Agile Practice


In the agile world, there are framework practices, e.g., iteration planning, daily stand-ups, retrospectives. There are engineering practices such as continuous integration, pair programming, collective code ownership etc. These are highly emphasized. There is also a focus on framework related values, e.g., the Scrum framework has values such as commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect. 

There are also many soft practices that a team can follow and these soft practices can be quite useful for the team members. Software development or for that matter any development work, is primarily a human collaborative effort. At the end of the day, the software is built by people. Collaboration happens among people. It’s people and only people who are capable of reflection and taking actions. Soft practices help team members work with each other energetically, and positively over a sustained period of time. 

In this piece, I’ll outline one such soft practice – Naikan. I believe many of you would be hearing this term for this first time, particularly in the context of Agile. 

What is Naikan
Naikan is a Japanese practice and loosely translated means “inside view” or “inside looking”.



Naikan provides an approach to have self-reflection and to reflect our relationships with others. Naikan differs from introspection on the latter part, i.e., reflecting our relationship with others. Let’s understand how. 

No one in this world could accomplish anything without the support of others. In our everyday lives, we need support from many individuals, groups and even inanimate objects. With this awareness, we realize that we impact others and we are also impacted by the world around us. 

Two Examples
Take a simple example of a developer cutting code and checking into the repository in a team of generalizing specialists such as testers, deployers, integration members, project manager, product owner etc. Can the developer check-in the code if the branching is not available? Can he or she check-in without doing the needed testing? Can the developer work on it without having other dependent files being available (otherwise it may break the subsequent build)? 

So, for a very simple work of code check-in, the developer needs support from other team members. Isn’t it?

Another example - your early morning chores. All of us can easily relate to it. The water tap, the water itself flowing in, the tooth-brush, toothpaste – all of these are created or provided by someone.  Without this support, you can no way do the morning chores properly. 

Naikan asks such questions in a simple way and it works as a constant reminder system for us. It constantly reminds us that in this world whatever we do, we are dependent on others. These can be seen or unseen hands, known or unknown actors, animate or inanimate objects. Hence, the practice of Naikan asks ourselves to see things from the world’s perspectives instead of solely our own. 

Three Questions in Naikan
In Naikan, three simple questions are asked:
  • What have I received from _______?
  • What have I given to _______?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused _______?

The area to be filled up above, i.e., “_______” can be a person, community, group, team, an organization, a country or the entire world.

As Scrum or Kanban or any Agile development framework are team-based approaches, you can reword these questions slightly. Then the questions are:
  • What have I received from the team?
  • What have I given to the team?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused the team?

As you can see, these questions not only ask what you have received, but what you have also given. It does not seek what troubles or difficulties are caused by others to you, rather what difficulties you have caused to others. This in turn asks you to think from the others' perspective - in this case your team's perspective. 

In essence, like Naikan asks us to see ourselves from the world’s perspective instead of our own, the agile soft practice of Naikan asks us to see ourselves from the team’s perspective, instead of only our own. 

Naikan is Action Oriented
Naikan, as defined earlier, is mainly about self-reflection with the 3 questions, but it’s also action-oriented. How? 

Think about our first example of a developer working on a piece of code. When the developer is practicing Naikan, what are the chances you will see conflicts happening, when:
  • A broken build happens and hence the developer can’t work on the latest.
  • A database schema, which is not supporting the object model.
  • A fresh co-developer, who mistakenly checked-in a non-compiled piece of code, or
  • Finger pointing when things don’t go right.

As you would have realized by this time, it’s expected to be quite less. The developer knows that there are so many things happening for him or her by others. Hence, the developer won’t get into any conflict, but will be more of a collaborative nature to fix the build, to counsel the fresh engineer on the utility of compiled code, and to work with others, instead of finger pointing. 

Remember, I mentioned earlier that Naikan is a constant reminder system and it asks to look at the world in relationship with others, not solely from own interest.

Where Naikan Can be Used?
Looking at the above three questions in Naikan, one would immediately relate it to the three questions  asked in daily stand-ups (or daily scrum). These are put in its simplest form.
  • What I did yesterday?
  • What am I planning to do today?
  • What are the impediments?

But the questions in daily stand-up and Naikan are not the same. Revisit these questions to see the differences and reflect upon them! 

However, the team can use the practice of Naikan while doing daily stand-ups, i.e., the team members have the self-reflecting practice of Naikan built-in, as the questions are put forth during daily stand-ups. 

The best use of Naikan actually can happen in various retrospectives and intraspectives. 

Use in Retrospectives
In a recent article on retrospectives and intraspectives (link), I defined retrospective as:

“A recurring workshop in which the team looks back on their work over a period, reflects upon it, and learns. The team applies this learning in future work to improve people, processes, and products.”

In the above article on retrospectives, I’ve mentioned various stages and various techniques that can be applied. The practice of Naikan can be built-across the fabric of retrospectives, i.e., before starting a retrospective, the team members can have these reflecting questions as a start. 

Tip: As a starting point, you can use the 3 questions of Naikan along with the Norman Kerth directive when the retrospective session begins.

This improves the spirit of discussion. Also, as Naikan helps in self-propelling actions, it gels well with retrospective, which is also action oriented. 

Use in Intraspectives
In the above article for retrospectives, intraspective has been defined as:

“An inspection or reflection for the team, within an iteration.”

Again, while doing intraspectives, Naikan can work as a reminder system for every team member when the practice is well-established. 

You may think Intraspective and Naikan are same. However, there are two key distinctions:
  • Intraspective is for the entire team, whereas Naikan is for you in the perspective of the team.
  • Intraspective happens within an iteration, whereas Naikan is a constant reminder throughout the retrospective or intraspective or Sprint or even the entire project. 

Final Words
I came to know about Naikan sometime in 2014/2015 and liked the simplicity of it. I also found it to be effective. You can expect the following with the practice of Naikan: 
  • Asks you to think again, before taking an action. 
  • Keeps your stress low.
  • Will stir positive emotions on what you have received.
    (Because we usually receive more from the world than we give it back.)
  • Compels you to call or meet people if things don’t go exactly as expected and there is friction. 
  • Makes you thankful to the world to have a life and breathe another day.

Try Naikan for a few iterations or few releases and you can see the results. And because Naikan has just 3 questions, it is simple and can be easily remembered. 

Also, as I noted earlier, it’s a practice and because it is a practice, the more you work on it, the better you get at it.


References:
[1] The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology, by Gregg Krech

[2] Article - Retrospectives and Intraspectives for Agile Practitioners, by Satya Narayan Dash


Wednesday, January 01, 2020

PMP Live Lessons Success Story: Satya's Live Lessons will Ensure That You Clear the PMP Exam

By Bhavani Sankar, PMP




Introduction
Until I decide to immigrate to Canada in 2018, I didn’t realize the need to go for PMP certification. The main reason was the job prospects. In this part of the world, the PMP® certification is considered Gold Standard. It pushed me to go for it and achieve the credential.

PMP Coaching Experience
I took classes from Satya before I left for Canada. After his intensive classroom training, I got an idea what it’s like to be a PMP credential holder and the efforts needed to pass the exam. I realized it needs some serious preparation and commitment.

At the outset, I would like to say that the PMP Live Lessons for sure helped me to understand the concepts, and helped me gain confidence to go for the exam. Further reading of PMBOK® gave me the holistic view of what Project Management is all about.



Own Study
I have a toddler at home, he wouldn’t allow me open computer or book, so I chose to study either in office or Library. I have studied for 2 to 3hrs per day on working days and on Saturdays I’ll spend 6hrs. On Sundays, I used to rest. However, in the last month I studied for 3 hrs every working day (8am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm) by reaching office early and staying back in the evening. On Saturdays, went to a nearby public library and on Sundays either early morning or afternoons whichever worked.
  • I took about 1 week for each chapter for the first review of PMP Live lessons. I repeated videos till I got solid understanding. 
  • Second review is Satya’s ‘I Want To Be A PMP’ book and do the chapter end questions – one chapter a day.
  • Third review is thorough reading of PMBOK and some mock tests for 10 days. By this time, I’m familiar with concepts, so it was easy to read PMBOK.
  • A week before the exam, I took full mock tests from the Live Lessons and one quick final revision.
I also tried to study Andy Crowe book, but didn’t continue. I took simulator tests from Rita Mulcahy, which helped me practice the timing and gauged my knowledge.

Satya’s PMP Live lessons, his ‘I Want To Be A PMP’ book, Rita’s simulator tests and the PMBOK guide are all that helped me pass the PMP exam.

I sat for an exam like PMP after 20 years, so I wasn’t confident initially whether I will be able to commit long study schedule with family and work commitments, but the PMP journey gave me that confidence as well as discipline to stay committed. You can do it, too.

I fell sick several times throughout the PMP journey. Being a new immigrant in Canada, all the family members were attacked by flu several times until we got a vaccine. But after I recovered every time, regained my strength to start the prep and get back on track. It was painful! Trust me. Because I didn’t want to drop the ball and go through the painful schedules and sacrifices all again.

Review – PMP LIVE LESSONS
The primary reason I went for PMP Live Lessons is because of the success stories at this site and reviews by many successful PMPs. It made me go for it.


As I proceeded with it, one unique area is the way key concepts and process flow diagrams are outlined. It helped to get an idea of how the input and outputs are used among processes. For example, you will find: flow of Resource Calendar, Team Charter, Change Requests (CR), Deliverables and many others. These flows made me understand the concepts.

Also, the Live Lessons helped create an environment like I’m in a classroom with a trainer teaching me A through Z for PMP.

I particularly liked the way tips are given and reminders for revision. The chapter end questions were of good quality.

Full length questions were of good quality. In fact, to be frank, the question banks set the bar high. Sometimes, I could complete only max 165 questions in 4hrs, though not sure about others' experiences. I didn’t face that with online simulators even though questions are of same size.

PMP Exam Experience
I have scheduled exam 4 months in advance, chose PearsonVue centre at North York-Toronto which is a convenient location from where I live. Glad I was able to make it without need of changes.
Following was my strategy for the exam:
  • I took 3 mock tests from PMP Live Lessons: 200 Questions in 4 hours. These tests acted as a rehearsal for actual exam to understand how many breaks I would need, e.g., water, food, breathing exercises etc. It helped me so much, I just repeated the same in actual exam as well. 
  • I took a break for 3 minutes after first 90 minutes and took another break for 2 minutes after completing 2.5 hours into the exam.
  • Every 30 minutes, I would take a break for a minute, without moving from the chair. This I took to do the breathing exercises in order to relax my nerves. It helped me regain the focus. Find out what works for you.
  • In the exam as I started to answer each question, my strategy was that ‘not to worry or think about the end result and whether the earlier marked questions were correct or not’, just only focus on current question and move on till the end. I wanted to keep the worry part at the end after clicking ‘end exam’ button. It really helped me focus on the present. It’s like current and future performance is not entirely dependent on past performance.
I have scheduled exam for 10am as I was early and was asked if I can start right away, I did, but as people continued to enter up-to 10am, it caused a bit of a noise as they settle down. It did not cause a lot of inconvenience, though overall, but I felt I should have started exam right around 10 am.
I expected exam room would be cold and carried a sweatshirt. And I was right in that because the exam centre was cold even by Canadian standards.

Preparation in all aspects is the key for any exam, PMP is no exception. There is nothing called more preparation. I faced following types of question in the exam.

Types of Questions Faced
  • I had most of the questions as lengthier ones: Five to six lines and the answer choices were lengthy, too. I’m not a quick reader, had a hard time.
  • I had only three mathematical questions – one each from expected monetary value (EMV), critical path measurement (CPM) and earned value measurement (EVM) one each. They were straight forward.
  • As expected almost every question is situational and tricky. I was prepared for it and expected it and hence, no surprises.
  • I had most questions from Change Management, Risk Management, and Quality Management.
  • A number of questions were from Stakeholder Management.
  • My strategy was to spend enough time up-to 65 seconds or less on each question as required to choose the answer choice and mark no more than 15 questions for review. If the question is completely unfamiliar, no point to mark for review. I executed the same strategy in the exam.

Suggestions for PMP Aspirants
Along with many other useful tips around, below are based on my learning through the PMP journey, I hope it helps for PMP aspirants.
  • Three to four months is usually good timeframe for preparation, the longer is risky as priorities might change, the shorter schedule will be very hectic and risk the goal itself.
  • Take care of your health, rest well and give short breaks while studying. I fell sick unfortunately, couldn’t study for a couple of weeks, but managed to catch up later.
  • Book exam well in advance, so with target in mind helps keep you on track with the study schedule.
  • Have a solid plan and execute it, continue to track the progress and make changes as necessary, but stick to the plan. Based on your work schedule and commitments, create a study plan for daily study, how much time you want to take for each chapter, revision etc.
  • Be consistent and brutally honest to yourself to meet the set study schedule, no exceptions! Make sure to catch up with additional study if any slips.
  • Please read PMBOK at least 2 times fully, it’s a must along with whatever material you choose to study. It is relatively easy to read PMBOK after you have gained a good understanding of the concepts by going through PMP Live Lessons. PMBOK is quite hard at first but start developing interest by visualizing the concepts and correlate with your project environment. Give special attention to Appendix X6 (Page 685) and Glossary (Page 695) in PMBOK 6.
  • Don’t underestimate that exam will be easy and direct. It will be tough and tests your PM capabilities in every possible way (concepts, time management, patience, handling stress sitting for 4 hrs straight, tackling 200 different scenario questions one after another)
  • Please don’t do the mistake of applying your prior PM knowledge based on experience, PMP exam expects your answer to the questions according to PMBOK only.

Conclusion
The PMP journey gave me a whole new perspective about Project Management, if not everything I could adapt some of the innovative practices at my work, especially following the Close Project or Close Phase process.

Brief Profile
Bhavani Sankar, PMP: Technical Project Manager – Wireless PMO, Freedom Mobile Toronto, Canada, since January 2019.

As part of Wireless PMO, I manage projects related to Applications migration to Cloud, Network expansions, and Implementation of new services in Freedom network.

I did Bachelors in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Madras with overall 10+ years of experience including Project Management and Customer Service Operations at MNC’s based out of India and Singapore.





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