Competition should be core to OpenStack Technical Meritocracy

In my work at Dell, Technical Meritocracy means that we recognize and promote demonstrated talent into leadership roles. As a leader, one has to make technical judgments (OK, informed opinions) that focus limited resources in the (hopefully) right places. Being promoted does not automatically make someone right all the time.

I believe that good leaders recognize the value of a diverse set of opinions and the learning value of lean deliverables.

OpenStack is an amazingly diverse and evolving community. Leading in OpenStack requires a level of humility that forces me to reconsider my organization hierarchical thinking around “technical meritocracy.” Instead of a hierarchy where leadership chooses right and wrong, rising in the community meritocracy is about encouraging technical learning and user participation.

OpenStack is a melting pot of many interests and companies. Some of them naturally aligned (customers+vendors) and others are otherwise competitive (vendors). The vast majority of contribution to OpenStack is sponsored – companies pay people to participate and fund the foundation that organizes events. That does not diminish our enthusiasm for the community or open values, but it adds an additional dimension

If we are really seeking a Technical Meritocracy, we must create a place where ideas, teams, projects and companies can pursue different approaches within OpenStack. This is essential to our long term success because it provides a clear way for people to experiment within the project. Pushing away alternate approaches is likely to lead to forking. Specifically, I believe that the mostly likely competitor to any current OpenStack project will be that project’s .next version!

Calls for a “benevolent dictator” imply that our meritocracy has a single person with perspective on right and wrong. Not only is OpenStack simply too complex, I see our central design tenant as enabling multiple approaches to work it out in the community. This is especially important because many aspects of OpenStack are not one-size-fits all. The target diversity of our community requires that we enable multiple approaches so we can expand our user base.

The risk of anointing a single person, approach or project as “the OpenStack way” may appear to streamline the project, but it really stifles innovation. We have a healthy ecosystem of vendors who gladly express opinions about the right way to implement OpenStack. They help us test OpenStack technical merit by finding out which opinions appeal to users. It is essential to our success to enable a vibrant diversity because I don’t think there’s a single right answer or approach.

In every case, those vendor opinions are based on focused markets and customer needs; consequently, our job in the community is to respect and incorporate these divergent needs and find consensus.

Doing is Doing – my 10 open source principles

2013-07-14_17-28-21_468Open source projects’ greatest asset is their culture and FOSS practitioners need to deliberately build and expand it. To me, culture is not soft or vague.  Culture is something specific and actionable that we need to define and hold people accountable for.

I have simple principles that guide me in working in open source.   At their root, they are all simply “focus on the shared work.”

I usually sum them up as “Doing is Doing.”  While that’s an excellent test to see if you’re making the right choices, I suspect many will not find that tautology sufficiently actionable.

The 10 principles I try to model in open source leadership:

  1. Leadership includes service: connecting, education, documentation and testing
  2. Promotion is a two-edged sword – leaders needs to take extra steps to limit self-promotion or we miss hearing the community voice.
  3. Collaboration must be modeled by the leaders with other leaders.
  4. Vision must be articulated, but shared in a way that leaves room for new ideas and tactical changes.
  5. Announcements should be based on available capability not intention. In open source, there is less need for promises and forward-looking statements because your actions are transparent.
  6. Activity (starting from code and beyond) should be visible (Github = social coding) – it’s the essence of collaboration.
  7. Testing is essential because it allows other people to join with reduced risk.
  8. Docs are essential because it reduces friction for users to adopt.
  9. Upstreaming (unlike Forking) is a team sport so be prepared for some give-and-take.
  10. It’s not just about code, open source is about solving shared problems together.  When we focus on the shared goals (“the doing”) then the collaboration comes naturally.

my lean & open source reading list – recommendations welcome!

Cube Seat

I think it’s worth pulling together a list of essential books that I think should be required reading for people on Lean & open source teams (like mine):

  • Basis for the team values that we practice: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni (amazon)
  • This is a foundational classic for team building:  Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) Tom DeMarco (amazon)
  • This novel is good primer for lean and devops The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win Gene Kim and George Spafford & Kevin Behr (amazon)
  • Business Focus on Lean: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses Eric Ries (amazon)
  • Foundational (and easy) reading about Lean: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Eliyahu M. Goldratt (amazon)
  • One of my favorites on Lean / Agile: Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash Mary Poppendieck (amazon)
  • Should be required reading for open source (as close to “Open Source for Dummies as you can get): The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary Eric S. Raymond (amazon)
  • Culture Change Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia–Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things Brad Szollose (amazon)
  • More Team Building – this one is INTERACTIVE! http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx

There are some notable additions, but I think this is enough for now.  I’m always looking for recommendations!  Please post your favorites in the comments!

I respectfully disagree – we are totally aligned on your lack of understanding

Team FacesOccasionally, my journeys into Agile and Lean process force me down to its foundation: cultural fit.  Frankly, there is nothing more central to the success of a team than culture. That’s especially true about Lean because of the humility and honesty required. If your team is not built on a foundation of trust and shared values then it’s impossible keep having the listening and responsive dialog with our customers.

Successful teams have to be honest about taking negative feedback and you cannot do that without trust.

Trust is built on working out differences. Ideally, it would be as simple as “we agree” or “we disagree.” In an ideal world, every team would be that binary.    Remember, that no team always agrees – it’s how we resolve those differences that makes the team successful.  That’s something we know as “diversity” and it’s like annealing of steel to increase its strength.

Unfortunately, there are four  modes of agreement and two are team poison.

  1. Yes: We agree! Let’s get to work!
  2. No: We disagree! Let’s figure out what’s different so that we’re stronger!
  3. Artificial Warfare:  We disagree!  While we are fundamentally aligned, everyone else thinks that the team does not have consensus and ignores the teams decisions.  We also waste a lot of time talking instead of acting.
  4. Artificial Harmony: We agree!  But then we don’t support each other in getting the work done or message alignment.  We never spend time talking about the real issues so we constantly have to redo our actions.

I’ve never seen a team that is as simple as agree/disagree but I’ve been at companies (Surgient) that tried to build a culture to support trust and conflict resolution (based on Lencioni’s excellent 5 dysfunctions book).  However, there’s a major gap between a team that needs to build trust through healthy conflict and one that wraps itself in the dysfunctions of artificial harmony and warfare.

If you find yourself on a team with this problem then you’ll need management by-in to fix it.  I have not seen it be a self-correcting problem.  I’d love to hear if you’ve gotten yourself healthy from a team with these issues.

Signs of artificial agreement syndrome include

  1. Lack of broad participation – discussions are dominated by a few voices
  2. Discussions that always seem to run to the meta topic instead of the actual problem
  3. Issues are not resolved and come up over and over
  4. People are still upset after the meeting because issues have not been resolved
  5. People have different versions of events
  6. Lack of trust for some people to speak for the group
  7. Outcomes of decision making meetings are surprises
  8. Lack of results or missed commitments by the team

Lean Process’ strength is being Honest and Humble

Lean process and methodology is important to me because I think it is central to the work that we are doing in the community.  Even more, it’s changing how my team at Dell creates and delivers products for customers?
This post may be long, but my answer to “why Lean” ends up being very simple: Lean process is honest and humble.
I believe Lean process is more honest because it assumes a lack of knowledge.  It’s more “truthy” to admit there are a lot of things that we don’t know (we can’t know!) until we’ve started doing the work.  It’s very hard to admit we don’t have answers for things until we are further along because we want to feel like  experts and we to lock deliveries.
The “building software is like building a house” analogy is often used to claim that Lean lacks the design “blue prints” that other processes have.  The argument goes that builders needed to understand how the entire house works with structural support, plumbing lines and electrical circuits and things like that.  However, if I was going to build a house I would still leave a lot of things to the last-minute.  The process of building a house evolves so that the basic outlines of structural elements are known. In a lot of cases the position of rooms, the outlets, air conditioning ducts, a lot of the functional components, even windows and doors while they are often placed in the design can easily be moved and changed as you go through.  You can do a walk-through of a house after it’s been framed out and make all sorts of changes and adjustments.  As things go forward in the design of the house things become more and more difficult to change. You are building a brick façade, moving the windows within the façade are very difficult. However, interior places they aren’t.  Likewise, I don’t want to order my life-gem counter-tops from the blue-prints – it’s much safer to order off actual measurements.
Software projects are also building projects. You build a façade, you build a structure and within that structure you have a lot of flexibility. As you go you make more decisions and your choices become more limited. But, that is the nature of building.  For that reason, saying “we don’t know everything we want” is not just good practice, it is much more honest.
But honesty is not enough for a strong Lean process.  The need for humility in Lean architects and business people really stands out.  The Lean process is humble because it starts with the assumption that we don’t really understand the value, drivers, interests and features that make our product special.
We need very strong ideas and a vision; however, we need to be motivated by making something that is significant to other people.  They are the ones who give it value.
We have to give up the idea that we can convince someone who our idea will be significant to them – we have to show and collaborate instead.  The most important thing in building any project and taking any product to market is listening to the people who are using your product and understanding what their needs.  Instead of telling them what they need;  show them something interesting, interact with them and get their opinion.
Contrast that to waterfall methodology where the assumption is that we can put smart people in a room, have them figure out what the requirements are, build a team, get everything ready to go and then start executing.  That assumption is highly optimized and seems very efficient, but it has a huge amount of hubris in the process.  The idea that we can sit down two years in advance of market need and identify what those features and capabilities are seems outrageous to me in the current technology market.  It is so much harder to try to get that information correct and then execute on it that get a directional statement and begin and then get feedback and interact, it is a world of difference between the two processes.
Ultimately, Lean process about having requirements that are less defined or well-known.  It’s driven by giving respect to the people consuming the product.  We can hear their ideas and their reactions.  Where the users’ input can be evaluated and taken in to account.  It’s about collaboration.
Humility it not just about listening and collecting feedback: it is about interacting and building relationships.
So just as our customers are building a relationship with our product, they are also building a relationship with the people creating that product. And that relationship is what drives the product forward and what makes it a great product and it is what gives you a strong and loyal customer base, rather than dictating, “This is what you wanted. Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.”
This is a completely different and powerful way of delivering product.  I believe that honesty and humility in a Lean process inherently creates stronger products and ones that are both faster delivered and better suited to their markets.

OpenStack Summit: Let’s talk DevOps, Fog, Upgrades, Crowbar & Dell

If you are coming to the OpenStack summit in San Diego next week then please find me at the show! I want to hear from you about the Foundation, community, OpenStack deployments, Crowbar and anything else.  Oh, and I just ordered a handful of Crowbar stickers if you wanted some CB bling.

Matt Ray (Opscode), Jason Cannavale (Rackspace) and I were Ops track co-chairs. If you have suggestions, we want to hear. We managed to get great speakers and also some interesting sessions like DevOps panel and up streaming deploy working sessions. It’s only on Monday and Tuesday, so don’t snooze or you’ll miss it.

My team from Dell has a lot going on, so there are lots of chances to connect with us:

At the Dell booth, Randy Perryman will be sharing field experience about hardware choices. We’ve got a lot of OpenStack battle experience and we want to compare notes with you.

I’m on the board meeting on Monday so likely occupied until the Mirantis party.

See you in San Diego!

PS: My team is hiring for Dev, QA and Marketing. Let me know if you want details.

Which side of the desk are the drawers on? (Dunkelisms)

Back in 2001, I had the pleasure to have some long conversations with Phil Dunkelberger.  The impact of those meetings still resonates with me today in a collection of “Dunkelisms” that are an invaluable part of my kick-ass-and-take-names tool box.  I can’t find any Internet source, so I’ll take it on myself to archive these jewels!

Which side of the desk are the drawers on?

I was sitting with Phil and complaining that our web site was not updated and the information was inaccurate.  He looked at me and asked me “which side of the desk are the drawers on?” and completely threw me for a loop.  He explained “when you’re the boss, you sit on the side of the desk with the drawers on it.  You have the power to make changes.”

I whined back that it was Marketing’s job to update the content.  I squirmed under his glare until he asked “as a programmer, do you have ability to update the web site?”  When I said, “yes, but…” his glare wilted my desk plant and the rest of my excuse died with it.

His reply was very crisp, “you have the power to fix it because you have access to the web servers.  If it’s a real problem then the drawers are on your side of the desk.  If it’s not a real problem then help Marketing solve it or move on.”

I’m not saying it would be the right move politically, but it was amazingly powerful to acknowledge that I had the power to fix the problem if I needed.

There are many situations where we voluntarily give up power even when the drawers are on our side of the desk.  For example, when my team is planning we expect Marketing to set priorities that drive development.  Engineering goes along with this for a lot of good reasons; however, the Engineering has the drawers on what really goes into the product.

This Dunkelism helps me align priorities and eliminate roadblocks.  As I dig deeper and deeper into community driven open source projects, I find that the idea behind this expression is a mantra that drives projects forward.

I find this expression very powerful in many situations.  I hope you find it helpful too!

Work with me! Our Dell team is hiring architects, engineers & open source gurus

If you’ve been watching my team’s progress at Dell on Crowbar, OpenStack and Hadoop and want a front row seat in these exciting open source projects then the ball is in our your court!   We are poised to take all three of these projects into new territories that I cannot reveal here, but, take my word for it, there has never been a better time to join our team.

Let me repeat: my team has a lot of open engineering and marketing positions.

Not only are we doing some really kick ass projects, we are also helping redefine how Dell delivers software.  Dell is investing significantly in building our software capabilities and focus.

Basically, we are looking for engineers with a passion for scale applications, devops and open source.   Experience in Hadoop and/or OpenStack will move you to the top of the pile.   These positions say Hadoop, but we’re also looking for OpenStack, DevOps and Chef.  We think like a start-up.

Ideally in Austin, Boston or the Bay.  We’ll also be happy to hear from you if you’ve got l33t chOps but are not as senior as these positions require.
If you are interested, the BEST NEXT  STEP IS TO APPLY ONLINE.
If you don’t want to click the links, I’m attaching the descriptions of the engineering positions after the split.

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The Tao of Agile: focus on delivery while still dreaming BIG

This post is a continuation of the Agile Strategy post.

So, how do we get into the right frame of mind for roadmapping?

You must embrace the Tao of Planning.

There are two conflicting principles behind roadmapping: you must keep thinking out of the box while keeping work deliverable. Neither of these principles is difficult in isolation. The challenge is the keep them in balance and to make sure that the whole team is included.

For my team, we struggle to find group times when we can do some big thinking. The challenge is not the thinking – it’s the TEAM aspect of working on strategy together. Our sprint planning needs to focus on the “keeping work deliverable” objective; consequently, there is precious little time in planning to have big ideas. To make the meeting duration manageable, planning meetings should have a tactical focus. Unfortunately, that leaves a strategy gap.

So, where does a team go to dream?

I wish I had a clear answer to this problem. Ideally, sprint review meetings should extend into deep thinking about where things could go. Strategy during Review is a natural extension because a review mindset should be forward looking. Reviews help us think about how we’re going to use what we delivered and the audience should bring external perspectives. If we could do this then it would be very empowering and exciting during review.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate, play, reflect and pause. All work and no play leaves a team that makes very dull products

Note: the Agile decorations that I use are: Sprint Planning (commits that plan) -> Stand-up (daily sync meeting -> Review (demo/sprint close) -> Retrospective / Hats (team feedback, improvement).

Agile takes discipline: having a strategy means saying “no” more than saying “yes”

With the Crowbar release behind us, it’s time for my team at Dell to do some Capital “P” Planning. Planning for us includes both tactical (next release) and strategic (the releases beyond the one after next), but each type of planning looks very different. I’m going to call it “roadmapping” because planning means something specific and tactical in Agile.

I love roadmapping but I’m a pain to roadmap with because I’m a ruthless prioritizer.

When I sit down for roadmapping, I always do it from a 1 to N list without ties. That means that when marketing asks for a new feature (double the foo on the bar!) we put it on the list relative to other work that needs to get done. If you add something at the top then something else will fall off the bottom. Effectively, we’re using the list to say no to a lot of great ideas. This is essential because “the great is the enemy of the good (Voltaire).” It’s hard, but that’s the cold reality of delivering product.

The most important part of strategy is figuring out what to push down to make room for the precious few yes items.

Successful roadmapping is negotiating the splitting of big ideas into smaller ones. Decomposition is a circular process because one compromise may require another, but one change may force a cascading assumption fault. If you get too emotionally committed to one feature or subset then you’re going to slow down the process. It’s vital to approach roadmapping in free fall.

As always, my advice is to not mix meeting objectives. If you need more strategy then you’ve got to make time for it.

Interested in more…stay tuned for Agile Tao: balancing tactics & strategy