Keep Austin Agile 2018 Trip Report

This Thursday, both myself and my boss (the SVP of Engineering at Alienvault) went to Keep Austin Agile, the annual conference that Agile Austin, the local Austin agile user group network, puts on!  I used to run the Agile Austin DevOps SIG till I just ran out of time to do all the community stuff I was doing and had to cut it out.

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It’s super professional for a practitioner conference, and was at the JW Marriott in downtown Austin one day only.  It was sold out at 750 people. I figured I’d share my notes in case anyone’s interested.  All the presentations are online here and video is coming soon.

DevOps Archaeology

My first session was DevOps Archaeology by Lee Fox (@foxinatx), the cloud architect for Infor. The premise is that it’s an unfortunately common task in the industry to have to “go find out how that old thing works,” whether it’s code or systems or, of course, the hybrid of the two.  So he has tips and tools to help with that process.  Super practical.  Several of my engineers at work are working on projects that are exactly this. “Hey that critical old system someone pooped out 3 years ago and then moved on – go figure it out and operationalize it.”

I basically wrote down the list of cool tools that help with this process…
  • Codecity – visualizes your code as a city
  • Gource  – visualizes the evolution of your codebase over time
  • Signaturesurvey – scan for patterns in code
  • Logstalgia – visualizes historical traffic to a Web endpoint
  • Proxies – setting up proxies helps understand what’s going on, at an even deeper level than flow logs.
  • Monitoring – you know, all the usual monitoring tools.
  • Logs – you know, all the usual log aggregation tools.
Then he had a bunch of AWS-specific tools too.  All our stuff is in AWS, so super useful.
  • Cloudtrail – AWS API logs, yeah.  We pump our cloudtrail into our own USM Anywhere instance to report on weirdness.
  • Config – new service, have it report on things not tagged right, if volumes are encrypted, whatever kind of rules you want to set up.  Nice!
  • Trusted Advisor – well, don’t trust it too much, I’ve learned the hard way there’s lots of limits and stuff it doesn’t know about.  But useful.
  • Macie – “machine learning” (I always put that in scare quotes nowadays because of its overuse) to identify weirdness in your environment. Detect high risk cloudtrail events, unusual locations of activity, and so on.

And, some discussion of testing, config management, and so on.  Great talk, I will look into some of these tools!

Brewing Great Agile Team Dynamics

This talk, by Allison Pollard (@allison_pollard) and Barry Forrest (@bforrest30), wasn’t really my cup of tea. It did a basic 4-quadrant personality survey to break us up into 4 categories of Compliance, Dominance, Steadiness, or Influencer.  Then we spent most of the time wandering the room in a giant circle doing activities that each tool 10 minutes longer than they needed to.

So I’m fine with the 4 quadrant thing – but I got taught a similar thing back when starting my first job at FedEx back in 1993, so it wasn’t exactly late breaking news.  (Driver, Analytical, Amiable, and Expressive were the four, IIRC.)  As a new person it was illuminating and made me realize you have to think about different personalities’ approaches and not consider other approaches automatically “bad.” So yay for the concept.

But I’m not big on the time consuming agile game thing that is at lots of these conferences. “What might turn you off about a Dominant person?  That they can be rude?” Ok, good mini-wisdom, should it take 10 minutes to get it? Maybe it’s just because I’m a Driver, but I get extremely restless in formats like this. A lot of people must like them because agile conferences have them a lot, but they’re not for me.

Modern Lean Leadership

Next up was Modern Lean Leadership by Mark Spitzer (@mspitzer), an agile coach. I love me some Deming and also am always looking to improve my leadership, so this drew me in this time slot.

First, he quoted Deming’s 14 points for total quality management.  For the record (quoted from asq.org:

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on price alone; instead, minimize total cost by working with a single supplier.
  5. Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Adopt and institute leadership.
  8. Drive out fear.
  9. Break down barriers between staff areas.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce.
  11. Eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for management.
  12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the annual rating or merit system.
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work accomplishing the transformation.

His talk focused on #7 and #8 – instituting leadership and driving out fear.

Many organizations are fear driven. Even if it’s more subtle than the fear of being fired, the fear of being proven wrong, losing face, etc. is a very real inhibitor.  Moving the organization from fear to safety to awesome is the desired trajectory.

He uses “Modern Agile” (Modernagile.org) which I hadn’t heard of before, but its principles are aligned with this:

  • Make People Awesome
  • Make Safety a Prerequisite
  • Experiment & Learn Rapidly
  • Deliver Value Continuously

So how do we create safety? There’s a lot to that, but he presented a quality tool to analyze fear and its sources – who cares and why – to help.

Then the next step is to determine mitigations, and how to measure their success and timebox them. I’m a big fan of timeboxing, it is critical to making deeper improvement without being stuck down the rabbit hole.  I tell my engineers all the time when asked “well but how much do I go improve this code/process” to pick a reasonable time box and then do what you can in that window.

OK, but once you have safety, how do you make people awesome? Well, what is awesome about a job?  Focus on those things.  You can use the usual Lean techniques, like stop-work authority, making progress visible (e.g. days without an incident), using the Toyota kata for continuous improvement, using Plan-Do-Check-Act…

In terms of tangible places to start, he focused on things that disrupt people’s sleep at night, doing retros for fear/safety, and establishing metric indicators as targets for improvement.

Another good talk!

How The Marine Corps Creates High-Performing Teams

Andy McKnight gave this interesting talk – explaining how the Marines build a culture and teamwork, so that we might adapt their approach to our organizations.  I do like yelling at people, so I am all in!

Marine boot camp is partially about technical excellence, but also about steeping recruits in their organizational culture. (In business, new hire orientations have been shown to give strong benefits… And mentoring after the fact.)

What is culture?  It is the shared values, beliefs, assumptions that govern how people behave.

Most organizations have microcultures at the team level.  But how do you make a macroculture?  Culture comes first, teambuilding second.

  1. shift your org structure to align with the value stream instead of functional silos
  2. measure as a team

The 11 Marine Corps Leadership Principles:

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
  2. Be technically and tactically proficient.
  3. Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates.
  4. Make sound and timely decisions.
  5. Set an example.
  6. Know your people and look out for their welfare.
  7. Keep your people informed.
  8. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.
  9. Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished.
  10. Train your people as a team.
  11. Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities.

On the scrum team – those necessary to get the work done

The two Leadership Objectives – mission accomplishment and team welfare, a balance.

Discussion of Commanders Intent and delegating decisions down to the lowest effective level.

Good discussion, loads of takeaways. At my work I would say we are working on developing a macroculture but don’t currently have one, so I’ll be interested to put some of this into practice.

Agile for Distributed Teams

And finally, Agile for Distributed Teams by Paul Brownell (@paulbaustin). At my work we have distributed teams and it’s a challenge. Lots of stuff in the slides, my takeaways are:

  • People’s biggest concern – not understanding enough context, not sharing values
  • Use multiple communication channels – video, chat, email.
  • Get F2F time.  Quarterly.  Make it happen. Use ambassadors.
  • Expose the team to Other parts of the org, get users involved
  • Establish rules of engagement – hours, channels, etc. for clarity.
  • Teams will have local subcultures – make a space for shared learning, encourage lateral communication, emphasize early progress.
  • Use icebreakers in standups etc – something about your week
  • Teambuilding- slack channels, scavenger hunts
  • Sprint planning – one or two meetings? Involve the team.
  • Standups – try all on headsets to level the playing field for in room/out of room.
  • Online whiteboards
  • Retros – be creative, get written feedback ahead of time

All right!  4 of 5 sessions made me happy, which is a good ratio. Check out these talks and more on the Keep Austin Agile 2018 Web site!  It’s a large and well run conference; consider attending it even if you’re not an “agile coach”!

 

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