Blockchain Current Events: 2022 Technology of the Year

Technology of the Year, 2022 Edition

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I’m a blockchain critic (in the company of countless others, as noted in the evergreen postscript on Blockchain Bunk), but I hope that this year’s Progressive CIO Technology of the Year doesn’t surprise you.

The Ethereum Merge was, in my eyes, the most important technology achievement of 2022.

Proof of Work was a reasonable way to kick off the cyber currency revolution, but it is not sustainable in its scalability, and the decentralization ideals behind the model have proven dubious. If the evolution of blockchain structures has taught us anything, it’s that decentralization continues to be alien to us.

My professional lifespan has been bookended with philosophical engineering movements whose aim was to prove that decentralization makes more sense than centralization. Over 30 years ago, Microsoft introduced Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), followed by IBM and Apple’s collaboration on OpenDoc. During those years, I served as an IT Director for a small publishing company, whose leadership was intrigued by these ideas, which were more academically interesting than practical. It was certainly neat-o for Joe’s PowerPoint to point to an Excel range in a document resident on Jill’s hard drive as well as a paragraph from a Word document on Mark’s drive. But who would want to keep track of the existence of these documents to ensure that Joe’s PowerPoint would function properly? What if Jill wanted to trash her ideas? What if her computer was off? What if Mark was fired, and his work proved to be a toxic force? Who was responsible for ensuring good enough computer hygiene to guarantee this would all work?

In those days, I remember asking my boss: if IBM thought peer-to-peer document links were the right architecture for enterprise work, wouldn’t they have designed the IBM System/360 in accordance with these ideals? So why didn’t they? Because anxiety:

  • Would you want your home to have its contents scattered between you and your place of work?
  • Are your cooking implements found in several rooms around your house?
  • Are your toiletries in your kitchen and living room?
  • Do you use a different keychain for each key? Do you keep each key in a different place?
  • Do you have a different bank for each dollar in your savings?
  • When shopping for groceries, do you enjoy visiting more than one store to gather everything you need?

We all want related things to stay together, as much as possible. Decentralization, in the vein of OLE and OpenDoc, makes us anxious. “What if Jill’s computer dies?” “Where is this information coming from again?” “Explain this to me again? How do I know it won’t move or disappear?”

In the wake of the thought experiments of OLE and OpenDoc, the Internet happened — boom, like that — bringing renewed and awesome focus to centralized information sources. OLE went on to become ActiveX (with a very different focus), and OpenDoc died. The client-server resonated with the human spirit, and it still does. With the Internet, every information resource had a canonical location, and it Just. Made. Sense.

Here we are, nearly a third of a century later, and the cryptocurrency movement asserts that we’ve been doing currency all wrong for 5,000+ years, calling centralization into question once again. No matter what the blockchain diehards assert, however, decentralization remains more theater than reality.

The Ethereum Merge was a risk not just in its technical execution, but in its philosophical positioning. It was the boldest of bold moves in a year overflowing with crypto failures that boggled human comprehension in more ways than one.. It has advanced the public dialog about transparency and decentralization theater, eschewing decentralization religion in favor of human comprehension.

While OpenAI, ChatGPT and the like might be popular candidates for this year’s award (and, despite widespread coverage, are very much works-in-progress that demo well for a few minutes but whose limits are quickly reached—better candidates for a future award), Ethereum’s move to Proof of Stake was a bolder statement. It is an honest and transparent step toward something more controversially centralized. The model, while lacking the abstract and religious purity of the Proof of Work blockchain, is easier for people to comprehend. The Merge didn’t just reduce Ethereum’s power consumption; it made it more possible for people of average intelligence to comprehend WTF is going on with the underpinning value proposition of ETH. Beyond that, more importantly, it increases the chances that cybercurrency will either have to significantly transform itself in order to meet a real need, or disappear altogether. Either of those things will be better for humanity than what we have today.

All this said, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t remind you: there’s a lot more work to be done. The Ethereum Merge didn’t solve many things:

  • The misapplication of blockchain to physical goods;
  • The unfounded assertions that blockchains are hack-proof;
  • The fact that today’s cryptocurrencies are actually investments with significant risks associated with them, and that they need to be regulated by bodies like the SEC;
  • The entire idea of Web3, which needs a decentralization reality check of epic proportions.

If a technology move is significant enough to drive public discourse about the state of the human universe, it deserves our attention. This is why the Ethereum Merge is the Progressive CIO Technology of the Year for 2022.

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Albums of the Year Current Events: 2022

Albums of the Year, 2022 Edition

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My third year into this journey, I look forward to writing this piece more than ever. It is, however, always more difficult than the others. This year saw music recover from the shroud of our post-pandemic doldrums, with some exceptional albums that are worth your attention. It seems that many EOY 2022 lists have placed Beyoncé’s Renaissance at the top, ostensibly because of its post-pandemic-dance-your-butt-off feel and its admirable nod to many LGBTQ+ artists. That album is, though, lacking in many areas that bring me joy: variety, melody, and suspended chords. Truth be told, too, I would rather hear “I Feel Love” than a sample from it in “Summer Renaissance.” Yes, I’m older than the average Beyoncé fan, but that doesn’t stop me from loving more than my fair share of music from our younger generations. Without further ado, here are my favorite six albums from 2022:

1. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention

While the world hasn’t seen a proper Radiohead album since 2016, Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood have created an album that is as exciting to absorb as anything their entire band has ever created. The album is a complete thought — something that invites you to hit play at track one and leave the buttons alone. There’s a sense of well-tuned control in Thom and Johnny’s mix of polyrhythms and composition on this one; it’s got the same sort of approachable balance that made OK Computer a classic, with a set of fresh statements about our current state of affairs that you’d expect.

2. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

It was as clear a year ago as it is today: this is a great album from a great new band. It’s fun, catchy, witty, musical, and everything else you want in rock and pop music. Wet Leg is Devo for the modern age, and deserving of more than the “Indie Pop” label. The world needs more pop music like this, because we need to be able to joke about the state of things while allowing our ears to be tickled.

3. Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow

My goodness. The second part of what promises to be an outstanding trilogy, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is deserving of far more attention than it’s been getting. Natalie Mering is precisely one-half Joni Mitchell and one-half Aimee Mann, blending not just those voices but their artistic sensibilities. It’s a delightful fusion. Each song is a journey, and your ears will be taken to unexpected places if you allow the songs to simply flow. I can’t wait to hear part three.

4. Harry Styles – Harry’s House

This is the best pure pop album of the year (and of the decade, so far), hands-down. My hope is that it and reinvigorate the genre, which has lacked proper bridges and engaging melody for far, far too long now. Welcome back, pop.

5. Wilco – Cruel Country

Inasmuch as I am a diehard music fan, and diehard music fans are expected to like certain bands, Wilco is not a band that I’ve cherished. It’s always been about Jeff Tweety’s voice. I have certain tolerances for out-of-tune singing in rock music (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and classic Bob Dylan being my borders), but in classic Wilco, Jeff Tweedy never even seemed to care about being in tune. Well, as it turns out, he does. While it would be great (for me) if Wilco could go back and re-record Sky Blue Sky and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in the vein of Taylor Swift, Cruel Country is ample compensation. It’s as fine an album as they have ever done, with Tweedy’s best singing ever, fantastic ensemble playing (helped, no doubt, by being present in the studio as a proper band), some of the best songwriting the band has ever seen, and topped off with an outstanding audiophile recording quality. Plus, Many Worlds might be the best song of the year, period.

6. Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

If Harry Styles led the year in great pop music, Phoenix provided the follow-through, with superb pop hooks and collaborations with the likes of Ezra Koenig. A warming end to the year, with promises of melody ahead. I look forward to 2023; I’ve a feeling it will be the best year for music in ages.

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Antipatterns Empathy

A Vacation and a Cell Phone Walk Into a Theme Park…

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“I suppose,” I said to my family, “that this is a sure sign that I am getting old, having a hard time relating to the younger generation.”

“No,” replied my 20-year old niece. “All my friends say the same thing. They hate it, too.”

This particular exchange occurred while I was vacationing with my family this past Thanksgiving week. We had just discovered that — despite a distressing amount of preparatory work that should never be required for something called a vacation — there was no place where we could sit down to a simple lunch without a reservation. We were informed that we had to find a place willing to feed us; enter a lunch order on one of our mobile phones; and wait for a time to pick our food up, sit down, and eat.

Imagine our family of seven, all perusing menus on our phones, finally passing around a single phone (I don’t recall how we chose the winner) to enter our orders in the midday sun, taking time to review everything one more time before pressing “submit order.” Then began the indeterminate countdown to lunchtime. How does it feel to spend 30 minutes out of an expensive 8 hour day doing something so “non-value-added?”

Then I looked around more closely, and saw that everybody else was doing the Same. Darn. Thing. Thus began a weeklong journey in lessons of customer experience.

I don’t know that I ever imagined a day when Walt Disney World would find so many ways to alienate its visitors.

I once had rule that I would not touch a computer when I was on vacation. Then airlines began using phones as a primary means of alerting us all to delays, and that rule began to erode. Leading into this particular vacation, it became clear that web sites and phones were going to be part of the daily experience. We needed Magic Bands. We needed the My Disney Experience app. All of this, as it turns out, is part of a concept Disney calls MyMagic+. Part of this is the Disney Genie+ Service. Please read those last two links. They are lessons in missing the point.

As our first day wore on, and my family worked hard (!) to achieve the experiences we desired, I could not unsee the vast amount of time people were spending on their cell phones rather than enjoying real-life experiences.

The afternoon of November 21, 2022 at Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

These photos were taken on Sunday, November 21, 2022…just hours before Disney’s Board of Directors brought Bob Iger back as CEO. That day led to a week of me pondering: Should a vacation require that you so regularly employ personal technology? How did Disney get here? This is not The Disney Way.

As that evening wore on, shortly after the Iger announcement, I began to recall a passage from the book User Tested: How the World’s Top Companies Use Human Insight to Create Great Experiences:

In the 1950s, smooth-tasting Arabica coffee beans began to rise in price, in part because they were delicate and prone to dying under cold or inclement weather conditions. So, in 1954, Maxwell House, a popular brand of grocery store coffee, began blending Robusta beans into their mix to lower costs.

Not only are Robusta beans cheaper and more plentifully grown—they’re pest and weather resistant.(1). Unfortunately, they taste bitter and harsh. To mitigate this issue, Maxwell House introduced Robusta slowly and gradually so customers could acclimate to the flavor. They performed user tests along the way, asking longtime drinkers of Maxwell House to weigh in, and virtually none of them noticed a difference between all-Arabica and Arabica cut with a hint of Robusta. So they continued to add more Robusta, test among loyal customers, and roll out blends with less and less Arabica.

For many years sales boomed and profits were healthy, but over the decades, sales began to decline. Maxwell House’s U.S. market share in fresh and instant coffee sales fell from 8 percent in 2013 to 6.7 percent in 2019, and in April of 2019 parent company Kraft Heinz was attempting to sell off the once-iconic brand.(2) So what went wrong?

Maxwell House consistently found that longtime customers were happy with their product. Weren’t they doing everything right?

Not quite.

The company was only asking current customers for input, the people who had been slowly acclimating their palates to a Robusta-dominant blend. New customers who tried Maxwell House for the first time frequently hated it, so the company was failing to attract new buyers.

Had they run user tests with both current and prospective customers, they may have avoided this mistake and saved their brand.(3)

When you’re planning a round of user testing, you can’t invite just anyone to the party. And, surprisingly, you can’t always just invite your current customers to weigh in either. Deciding who to consult to get the perspectives that matter to your company requires a thoughtful approach.

Substitute “Disney cast member” for “customer” above, and I think you will get a sense for what I was thinking. This experience was the result of insidiously-introduced Robusta without enough new taste testers to spit it all out. But here we were, Arabica drinkers all…

If it weren’t for my niece’s comment, I would have been surprised to find this set of Google results as I was reading about Bob Iger’s return that Sunday night.

Google search results: “disney world too much tech not enough fun”

Since so much has already been written about Disney’s current state of affairs — prior to Iger’s return, and since — it has taken me three months to decide if I have anything meaningful to add to the canon. The piece you are reading has been in flux during those months; I finally decided here in early February what it was that I wanted to share.

In the teaching side of my career, we spend considerable energy encouraging software engineers to define metrics that can be used to help articulate success or failures in their products and processes. Rarely have I ever seen a team define “reduced user engagement time” as one of those metrics. One smart blogger I found seems to get it, but this particular search will help you appreciate just how upside-down the world can be.

A key goal of every piece of technology (with the exception of games and related experiences) should be: get all users done with it as quickly as possible so they can get back to other things. How many of your own projects actively strive for reduced user engagement?

I’m fairly certain that Bob Iger wasn’t forced to use his phone for anything during his recent visit to the park.. What does “going back to the office” mean for him? I suggest that it means that every employee responsible for UX at Walt Disney World strap on a Magic Band, plan a week at the park, and let their bosses know at the end if working at home was actually more relaxing. I know what my answer would be.

My family has long loved the Disney experience. But this trip left all of us with the same feeling: there is no need to go back as long as this is the way things are. Several post-vacation discussions have revealed that my family is not alone in feeling this way—and let’s not forget my niece’s friends, either. While I have some good memories from my recent trip — it wasn’t all bad — one stands out above all others: a renewed interest in doing everything in my power to ensure that reduced user engagement is a part of every technology initiative I undertake. On top of it all, I will seek vacation experiences that underscore these values.

The notion of vacation involves leaving something; one of those things should be the trappings of technology that we have every non-vacationing day of the year. Walt Disney Land and Walt Disney World both existed for decades before cell phones did. There is no reason other than shareholder return that it can’t operate the way it once did. Disney shareholders would do well to understand the correlation between reduced user engagement and long term shareholder return, lest they find themselves delighting in Robusta while missing out on investments in companies who care more deeply about the human experience.

The best software is the kind you can finish using as soon as possible.

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Read Other People’s Stuff

Read Other People’s Stuff: 3

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From Stephen Wolfram, this is simply the most lucid (but lengthy) analysis of how Large Language Models like ChatGPT work:

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Current Events: 2023 Read Other People’s Stuff

Read Other People’s Stuff: 4

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After naming the Ethereum Merge as The Progressive CIO 2022 Technology of the Year, I thought that some people might think I was out of my mind for looking past ChatGPT, which I didn’t think was all that remarkable of a technical achievement in comparison.

Here we are a few months later, and Noam Chomsky & friends put words to the feelings I could not readily express in December.

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Humility Vulnerability

Self-Confidence: The Misplaced Key That Unlocks the Door to Many Workplace Solutions

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It’s been a while since I have written a new long-form piece. My day job has been keeping me busy; I hope you can forgive me. I’ve had this piece in my mind for a long time, and I hope you get as much out of reading it as I did thinking about it. Cheers!

When an employee acts brashly, insensitively, selfishly, or in other emotionally-unintelligent ways, there is an opportunity for the people responsible for their care to take a step back and ask: Where is this person along their journey toward true self-confidence?

Aging has brought me many gifts, and one of those is the discovery that self-confidence issues are the heart of nearly all our thorniest problems. This is particularly true in the workplace, where we are paid for our skill and knowledge, and where exposing our weaknesses seems to be in direct conflict with our employers’ expectations of us. Part of my life’s journey has involved confronting this paradox, which, as a recovering low-self-confidence sufferer, I find fulfilling.

I am always fascinated listening to people’s answers when I ask:

How would you describe a person who is self-confident?

If you are smart, you have, will have, or have had, an issue with self-confidence at some point in your life (if not your entire life). This has been a barrier to your sense of forward movement and attitude about the world around you. It has affected the number and quality of your relationships. It has stunted your emotional growth. It has caused you anxiety and, perhaps, depression. It has caused horrible arguments. It has left you feeling lonely and confused. It might have amplified addictive behaviors and underpinned many others.

Smart people share many issues, and the most ironic is an ability to see how ignorant they are about many things, which is a common cause of constantly-unsettling private distress. Those who are ignorant of their own ignorance are truly blissful. But as we effortlessly declare ourselves the apotheosis of intelligence, we cite our self-ascribed superiority as fact to our children the moment they begin to inquire about our companion creatures on this planet, setting them on a confusing inner journey of self-doubt that is embarrassing for them to confront aloud.

We’re gentle to our children during their earliest learning years, but with the arrival of kindergarten, each child sees the commencement of years of punitive, competitive schooling. If knowledge failure is shamed, why would a child want to admit mental shortcoming? The inward spiral of self-humiliation knows no bounds, and we craft façades to shield intruders from our ignorance.

As adults, if we aim to strengthen — rather than raze — the know-it-all façades we have been programmed to build, they become barriers to the success we are paid to achieve. This is a shame, yet the pattern is rampant. Unraveling this fact requires us to take the time to examine what true self-confidence really looks like.

So: How would you describe a person who is self-confident?

Take a breath and ponder for a minute before moving on.

Which of the following is true about people with true self-confidence?

  1. They consistently speak with remarkable authority about any topic imaginable.
  2. They are seemingly-impenetrable to criticism.
  3. They have a way of ensuring that they are always “put together,” exerting great effort into appearing polished in every way, from their jewelry to their body to their vehicle.
  4. They work hard to exemplify the superiority of the human race.
  5. They work hard to make sure people like them.
  6. They are consistently assertive and decisive, never showing chinks in their armor.
  7. They readily and eagerly admit when they are wrong.
  8. They try to speak sparingly and carefully.
  9. They understand their limitations and are open to criticism.
  10. They earnestly apologize for wrongdoing and make amends.
  11. They appreciate their weaknesses, and enjoy an opportunity to share and discuss them with others.
  12. They balance assertiveness and decisiveness with vulnerability and humility.
  13. They care more about doing right by others than being liked.

How did you answer?

  • If 1–6 were among your answers, you have grand opportunity ahead to experience the relief and power of true self-confidence.
  • If your answers included elements of 7–13, you are on the road already.
  • If all of your answers were from 7–13, you fully understand what true self-confidence is.
  • If you live 7–13, you are a truly self-confident individual.

Those Who Are Self-Confident…

Let’s take a close look at the hallmarks of people who are truly self-confident:

They readily and eagerly admit when they are wrong.

Truly self-confident people are not afraid to share and explore their misunderstandings. They know that a lack of knowledge and understanding is a universal experience, and they don’t fear the possibility that others will think less of them because of it, however real that possibility may be.

They try to speak sparingly and carefully.

Truly self-confident people recognize that they generally stand to learn more from listening than from speaking, and they choose their words carefully to stimulate, rather than control, conversation. When they open their mouths, they try to do so without attempting to raise their status.

They understand their limitations and are open to criticism.

Self-confident people are curious to learn more about their weaknesses. They find comfort and opportunity for companionship with humans from all backgrounds and statuses. They welcome criticism that is delivered with good intention, because they know that it is a gift that is difficult for many to give.

They earnestly apologize for wrongdoing and make amends.

Self-confident people are not afraid of admitting when they are wrong, and they are not afraid of an apology’s amplification of that admission. They also understand that an apology offered without amends might be merely self-serving. An apology without amends is a Where’s the Beef? moment.

They appreciate their weaknesses, and enjoy an opportunity to share and discuss them with others.

Self-confident people enjoy the comfort that comes from connecting with others about their shortcomings. They laugh together, and feel less alone. You’ve seen old people do this when they talk about forgetting things, sharing gaffes, and comparing age spots.

They balance assertiveness and decisiveness with vulnerability and humility.

Truly self-confident people may have strong egos in certain areas where they have developed experience, but they are also likely to demonstrate their vulnerabilities and shared humanity when confronting their weaknesses, and they do not hesitate to ask for help in these circumstances.

They care more about doing right by others than being liked.

Self-confident people will act in the best interest of others whenever possible, even if their actions might diminish their superficial likability. Interestingly, Roman Catholics consider doing otherwise a sin. In a country whose politic skews Christian, why does this seem like a lost value?

Those Who Lack Self-Confidence…

How do we know if an individual lacks self-confidence? Back to numbers 1–6:

They consistently speak with remarkable authority about any topic imaginable.

People who lack self-confidence tend to have a significantly diminished ability to demonstrate vulnerability. They like to “show off” how much they know in every situation imaginable, hoping that it compensates for the doubt that they feel inside. They believe that imparting knowledge — not lack of it — boosts their status in the eyes of others.

They are seemingly-impenetrable to criticism.

People who lack self-confidence tend to make excuses when criticized, not wanting to show the chinks in their armor.

They have a way of ensuring that they are always “put together,” exerting great effort into appearing polished in every way, from their jewelry to their body to their vehicle.

It is natural to care about looking nice and having nice things. But with the possible exception of people who are in a courting mode of life — or stars and models who are paid to look a certain way — people who exert unusual energy on perfect looks and outward signals of success in a showy sort of way are more likely ashamed of something resembling the lack of those things. Think of the person who posts a photo of the Rolex on her wrist in front of the steering wheel of her Mercedes on Instagram. Conversely, think of the old man down the street who is not afraid to pick up his mail or newspaper in his underwear. Who is demonstrating true self-confidence?

They work hard to exemplify the superiority of the human race.

What do humans gain from assuming that our self-ascribed intelligence makes us superior to other creatures on this planet? Does intelligence have intrinsic value? Does our worldview get in the way of looking more objectively at the capabilities of our non-human companions? Is it OK to feel as insignificant as an ant or a cockroach? The more we are able to embrace our microscopic significance in the universe, the more we will appreciate that our need for others is not a weakness, but an opportunity.

They work hard to make sure people like them.

When we are too focused on being liked, we miss opportunities to do the right things by others, which might have an impact on our popularity. See “They care more about doing right by others than being liked,” above, for the rest of the story.

They are consistently assertive and decisive, never showing chinks in their armor.

Many people mistake this characteristic for self-confidence. But while many self-confident people will justifiably have an ego for things that are underpinned by significant, hard-won experience, truly self-confident people leave room for uncertainty, allowing others to come in to refine even their deepest areas of expertise.

How Can We Help One Another on Our Self-Confidence Journeys?

Given all the above, you may say to me, “Drew! It sounds an awful lot like you are saying that an ability to show weakness is a sign of true self-confidence!” To that, I would say, you are correct. Our current public standards seem to indicate that we are on a helter skelter ride in regard to true self-confidence, so there isn’t a better time to amplify these conversations than the present.

My experience has taught me that there are typically a small handful of early life events at the root of all self-confidence issues. When working with a person on their self-confidence journey, it’s helpful to begin by talking about the concepts we’ve been pondering here together.

Start with the question at the top. I can assure you, the answer will be fascinating. Listen actively; allow more than a few moments for details, and consider where they fit into the spectrum outlined above.

If the answers paint the common picture of misunderstanding, gently ask: what might have happened in your life that makes each or any of these things difficult for you? Sussing out the answers to this question will take more time, because they are likely to be deeply buried or involve significant embarrassment or trauma.

If you are in a position to lead an individual through these discussions, your ability to share stories about your own journey will be invaluable. Nothing is as powerful as a personal demonstration of vulnerability in helping open the dialogue about self-confidence. With sensitivity, time, and multiple rounds of shared storytelling, we all stand a chance to appreciate — and laugh about — our shared weaknesses so that we can build genuine strength.

True or False?

People with genuineself-confidenceare consistently assertiveand decisive.

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Current Events: 2023 Willingness

ChatGPT Challenges Us to Focus on Better Things. Are We Up for It?

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Is a written piece inherently valuable?

Does the world need more writing?

Does it need more writers?

Or would it benefit from more original thought?

While I am not exactly mesmerized by ChatGPT, I do enjoy it as much as any new toy I’ve had in my hands throughout my life. There is no doubt that it can — and, likely, will — have a significant and positive role in the development of our civilization. I am aware that this is at odds with much of what is being written of late, so if you choose to proceed reading, I appreciate your willingness.

I am thankful for the public discourse that all manner of generative AI has spurred in the last five months, but as with all major shifts, it is amusing to watch people struggling to keep things in historic perspective. As with Clever Hans or many other magic tricks, it’s wise for onlookers to get a grip on the reality behind the illusion. Generative AI is merely the world’s most advanced parrot, underpinned by an ingenious application of statistics. If you haven’t read that last link (courtesy of Stephen Wolfram), you owe it to yourself, because it is simply the most lucid explanation of ChatGPT that has ever been written for people unschooled in the art.

TL;DR? Generative AI uses a corpus of previously-written material to generate new-ish content that is statistically derived from that corpus. In other words, the likes of ChatGPT are superb at repeating phrases that have already been uttered across all of written history, at lightning speed. And that is about it.

People are worried, as they always seem to be when it appears that the need for certain skills might disappear. Once you’ve taken it all in, however, you might feel relieved about the potential for large language models and generative AI to refine the menial work that we do so that we can focus on better things.

In the world of software engineering education, where I spend some of my most interesting off-hours, some are concerned about the ability for generative AI to interfere with learning the art of programming. Nonetheless, the best educators already have experience with the manual means to the same end: things like Stack Overflow, SourceForge, GitHub, and other similar repositories that amplify the adage that discourages us all from reinventing the wheel: “The best programmers are lazy programmers.” Because of this, these leading instructors are in the process of inverting their curricula with an emphasis on expository exercises that have students explain what their generated and third-party code is doing.

Education asks us to learn, and learning involves a balance of creation and understanding. Is one more essential than the other? Does one have to be able to create in order to understand? Or is one better off developing understanding to foster creation?

You may recall grade school science projects that involve electricity…wiring up a battery with a light bulb to make a quiz circuit; generating electricity from a potato; electromagnets; crystal radios; and so forth. My father and two of my older brothers were in the electronics industry. When I came home one afternoon in the late 1970s with my sixth grade project assignment, my family’s expectations took me by surprise. They felt I needed to present a project that plugged into a wall outlet, involving electronic components. They proceeded to conceive of a flashing neon tube project that involved a diode, a resistor, and a capacitor, similar to what you see in this video, but finished cleanly with professional soldering and clear heat-shrink tubing, installed on an attractive piece of 70s-era plywood paneling with labels on the back.

I was puzzled. Was my family encouraging me to cheat? They assured me that I wouldn’t be getting away with anything. They demanded that I learn the principles of the diode, the resistor, the capacitor, the physics behind the neon tube, and had me explain those back to them, countless times, in my own words, before I set foot in school with my assembled project.

I sat alongside them as parts were selected and as the project was assembled.

The day I walked into class with my paneling-mounted electronics, I watched a few presentations that employed D-cells and lantern batteries. When I was called, I nervously walked to the front of the room and plugged my little project into the outlet in the black-top lab desk. While I got a small thrill from being different from everyone else, I was still nervous, and I am sure I remember the teacher looking a little worried himself.

It went well. My fellow students were as astonished as I was about the bright, blinking light. We all learned something in the process. My classmates learned about things that weren’t in the curriculum, and I learned this: It’s one thing to make something; it’s a whole other thing to be able to explain how and why it works.

My teacher surprised me with an “A” grade, and I learned not only something about electronics…I learned a lesson in education that I still can’t forget.

At some point in the next 10 years, our workforce will see the demotion of scores of software engineers who eschew generative AI programming. If you don’t believe this, then ask yourself: would you, today, tolerate a software engineer or IT professional who refused to use a search engine to find solutions to a technical problem? Of course not; you’d fire them as soon as you could.

I’ve heard some software engineering instructors wonder how bad generative AI will make things for liberal arts educators. But the answers are strikingly similar on that side of campus.

In this blog, where we discuss matters relating to the nexus of liberal arts and technology, it’s worth referencing a simple but commonly-overlooked fact: writing itself is a technology. Predating the written word was the oral tradition, where people composed stories of easy-to-remember “epithets” to create stories like Homer’s Odyssey. The invention of writing liberated people from epithets, allowing people to string together create fanciful combinations of words that — to people’s horror! — could not be remembered without referring to the medium to which they were committed. If you are curious about the details of this consequential and antique technological transformation, I could not recommend a work more highly than Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy.

Since writing is a technology — and not at all natural – we would do well to remember that enhancements to any technology are normal, and not to be considered at odds with what is natural. Much writing that we do today is what one might call “perfunctory.” Think of the vast number of forgettable emails and text messages that we hurtle back and forth each day, whose purpose is merely to drive a larger conversation about a single concept. It’s perfectly fine to have help typing those thoughts out in a way that relieves our fingers and saves us time.

We have names for certain classes of communication. Linguists have a term for the most routine communication that we employ every day: phatic. The world of generative AI presents us with an opportunity to expand our palette. Consider the following:

  • Phatic communication (greetings and other similar pleasantries)
  • Perfunctory communication (emails; simple essays about basic concepts; text messages; common persuasive communication; and other forgettable acts of discourse)
  • High-value communication (first-person journalism; original documentary writing; poetry; creative writing; lyricism; cognitive dissonance; and other forms of inventive discourse that are designed to be memorable and durable)

Generative AI is likely to find its greatest application helping us deliver perfunctory communication with breathtaking ease and speed, in the very same way that calculators help us all with a wide variety of perfunctory mathematical tasks, allowing educators to focus on teaching skills that support high-value communication, where we ask the human mind to be entirely engaged.

Consider works such as:

Want to be the first person to put “Expert texpert” in front of “choking smokers?” Generative AI isn’t going to get you there. Inventive combinations of words like these are at complete odds with the statistical models behind generative AI. They are high-value in that they are landmark works that have inspired millions if not billions of people through their originality of construction. Imagine a world of liberal arts education that focuses on the ability to craft these sorts of works? The degree in “letters” might be transformed, for the better.

What does all of this portend for education in any discipline that is affected by generative AI? We would do best to ensure that we engage students to explain the reasoning behind their work in real time. This is not a new concept, but it’s an unfortunately rarified one, reserved for pivotal moments like the defense of a thesis. Education would be transformed, but teachers would have to work much harder. Of course, things that are hard are things worth doing.

Consider what it might be like to re-focus on the talents that have been neglected since the days of the oral tradition: speaking that inspires and creates movement.

Imagine a day when we frown upon PowerPoint presentations, and look forward to our fellow humans speaking extemporaneously and creatively, from their hearts, providing insight and inspiration at the times we need it most.

Imagine a day when our programmers are freed from writing login screens, and where they can focus on creating user experiences that not only save us time, but touch our hearts and souls with software that provides insight and inspiration.

Many are concerned about how “correct” generative AI is; they are alarmed by the potential effect of “hallucinations.” But these notions are not new; every book on every shelf of every library is written and edited by fallible human beings, a great deal of whom acted out of not only ignorance, but out of self-interest or with ill intent. Consumers of information have always had a duty to think critically before acting on that information. They still do.

Technology changes how we live. Writing’s initial gift was a reduction in our need to remember details. Writing’s second gift was its ability to be mass-produced, bringing us more-or-less perfect one-to-many communication. Writing’s third gift was its ability to show us how repetitive and perfunctory so much of our communication is. Generative AI gives us a chance to make perfunctory communication — and programming — even more perfunctory, liberating us for better things…if only we allow ourselves the opportunity.

Once more:

Is a written piece inherently valuable?

Does the world need more writing?

Does it need more writers?

Or would it benefit from more original thought?

Since writing is a technology — and not at all natural – we would do well to remember that enhancements to any technology are normal, and not to be considered at odds with what is natural.

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Humility Read Other People’s Stuff

Read Other People’s Stuff: 5

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In regard to, here’s an interesting read:

I happen to be writing something that is related to this topic…coming soon. Stay tuned!

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Enterprise Surgery

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I apologize for the large gap in my writing. I’ve been focused on a large-scale ERP and WMS transformation that has been in the works for the past five years, and which was successfully launched about a month ago. This was neither a phased or parallel deployment; it was a “big bang” approach, and while it had its share of expected issues, we are all justly proud of how it went.

It inspired me to write this piece. I hope you find it useful.

There have been countless reflections about what’s important to focus on in ERP & WMS transformations, but after decades being involved in these events, I have my own take: an initiative like this is a lot like major surgery. I’ll do my best to show you what I mean in the paragraphs that follow.

With our most recent transformation, we didn’t do all of these things perfectly. But we did enough of them well enough to make a positive difference.

Part I: Mise En Place — Things You Need Before You Even Start

1. Ensure a Healthy Culture Is in Place.

When you’re having major surgery, you want to do everything possible to keep well in the days and weeks leading up to it, because it will take a toll on your body, both physically and mentally.

I believe all good corporate cultures are built upon the eight foundational values we focus on here:

You will not be able to have complete and honest conversations if these values are not practiced. Additionally, culture requires hygiene; you must have pathways in place to review and nurture these values on a regular basis.

2. Why Are You Doing This?

Is your surgery elective? Or do you have a specific illness that requires addressing?

There are many reasons to switch enterprise systems, and too many of those reasons are not terribly sound. You’ve probably met people who want to bring a system from their last position to their new employer, with assurances based upon their “first hand experience.” But one person’s comfort isn’t a foundation for progress.

Senior leaders benefit from exploring this question every once in a while: What does it mean for our business to perform well? It’s good to follow this with: “How do our current systems support that?”

Even if your organization is not actively considering switching systems, teach your organizational leaders the skills to develop well-written user stories. This requires them to nurture their ability to think functionally, rather than technically. The third blank in every user story is the hardest to write…it is the most critical…and it is where you will best discover the answers to the questions we ask ourselves above.

Assemble your user stories into a backlog, and review the backlog often. If you find those stories are achievable with your current systems, it’s a strong indicator that a system change many not be in order.

3. For a Risk Like This, There Has to Be a Big Reward.

Is surgery the only option? Is it the best one?

Apart from familiarity for your newer recruits, another common rationale for a system change involves a hunger for something sexy and new. If your primary concern about your current system is its age, pour some water on yourself and read Things You Should Never Do, Part I by Joel Spolsky. Here’s a teaser:

The idea that new code is better than old is patently absurd. Old code has been used. It has been tested. Lots of bugs have been found, and they’ve been fixed. There’s nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t acquire bugs just by sitting around on your hard drive. Au contraire, baby! Is software supposed to be like an old Dodge Dart, that rusts just sitting in the garage? Is software like a teddy bear that’s kind of gross if it’s not made out of all new material?

Old software doesn’t rust. It may, however, not be able to handle the volume of business that you currently have. It may run out of memory and resources, and hardware upgrades may not be enough to address that sort of thing. The people who wrote it might have employed languages or technologies that you are hard-pressed to find experts in. The combination of both of these dynamics is a good example of a situation that calls for consideration of a system change.

4. “Buy-In” Is Deeper Than You Think.

Who will take care of you in the days surrounding your surgery?

A lot of writing on ERP implementations focuses on “Executive” or “Top Level” buy-in. That’s critical, but what does it mean? I’ll touch upon that in item 5. But buy-in from the next level of leaders — those who report into senior leadership — is as important, if not more so.

These leaders are the ones who are most actively engaged in moving your business forward on a daily basis. Their need or desire for change is the nucleus of any sort of organizational transformation. These are the folks who should be engaged in recording user stories as a part of their job. If there is a clear blockade in their backlog, they will know it before senior leadership does.

5. What Does Senior-Level Buy-In Really Look Like?

What specific things do you need from the people who will be taking care of you?

In preparing technology teams for ERP transformations, CIOs and other tech leaders are used to spending time helping the technology teams absorb a lot of the anxiety of the organization. After all, they are at or near the top of the support chain, and what is support, if not a friendly and responsive ear?

In our implementation, the president of our organization made clear that it was the senior team’s responsibility to own and manage the day-to-day anxiety of the people within their departments. This means that the senior team members were required to engage their people, to understand their fears, and, more importantly, to help them navigate those fears. In turn, this involved ensuring that each associate’s voice was heard, and that they stayed involved and trained and aware of the current state of things at all times, participating in the ongoing dialog.

In practice, that’s what senior buy-in really means: true ownership of the anxieties surrounding the change.

6. Do You Have Business Analysts?

Who is advocating for you in the days surrounding your surgery? Are they qualified with the right mindset to really look out for you, even if you wind up in critical condition?

Believe it or not, some businesses have never heard of the business analyst role. If yours is one of them, work hard to change that as soon as you can. In many cases, you will find that they exist in practice if not in name, scattered within departments across the organization, and you can create a career path for them by providing the title and career development support that will clarify their work and energize these individuals.

Many ERP implementations take key people out of each department for a period of a few years to temporarily support this function, but those people are typically important to the success of the business in other ways, and this can be quite disruptive. Plus, a good BA is a permanent role, and not a transient one. A good, well-empowered BA who enjoys the role will reduce the burden on individual departments throughout your ERP transformation, and beyond.

The best BAs have a lot in common with another job that is typically only seen at high-tech organizations: the systems engineer. A systems engineer is responsible for the engineering of a system of systems, which, no doubt, your organization is. Good BAs are familiar with all of the inner workings and departmental idiosyncrasies of your organization, and work to mediate organizational process change and compromise. No organization has written with as much passion and experience about the art of systems engineering than NASA, and of you want to know what to look for in a good BA, read Valuable Systems Engineering Traits and Behaviors at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Here are some key traits:

  • Willingness to work with people with different views, goals, and objectives.
  • Sets clear system objectives.
  • Holds the vision of what the end product should be, and communicates the objectives by being appropriately directive.
  • Patiently makes sure that everyone is heard, including any dissenting opinions, before a decision is made.
  • Builds trust by getting out of the way of team members so they can do their jobs.
  • Gains professional respect by respecting others and building positive relationships.
  • Willing to probe and ask tough questions, even if doing so reveals a lack of knowledge or understanding.
  • Remains calm under pressure.
  • Doesn’t over-react.
  • Patiently listens to each team member or discipline expert in to assure that everyone gets heard and that all diverse opinions are considered.
  • Frequent communication — daily, hourly, whatever it takes to keep the project on track.
  • Welcomes divergent opinions by creating an atmosphere where team members feel the freedom to openly express their opinions.
  • Looks for answers that may not be readily apparent.

7. Strong Leaders Know That Patience and Realism Are the Keys to Success; Lazy Leaders Lean on Deadlines.

Surgery is only a part of the solution. Are you prepared for the pre-op, the post-op, and the physical therapy? Are you OK with the fact that your body is unique…that all of the predictions are guesses…and it may take longer to get to a place where you are comfortable than you had planned?

Getting your organizational culture right — so that there is plenty of user story writing and regular conversation about backlogs — might take as long as two years. The process of selecting a vendor using this information might take another 6-12 months. Your subsequent implementation could take 2-4 years, depending upon a variety of things.

Too often, deadlines are arbitrary, and an easy way for people to set others up for “failure.” Our organizations have no tolerance for these sorts of deadlines. Shooting for a specific deadline on any of this is a fool’s errand, because the lowest common denominator will always be people, and if you have good people, you need to listen to them and honor their concerns.

If you don’t have good people, please go back to point #1. Doing things right is always preferable to doing them within an arbitrary timeframe.

Part II: Finding a Surgeon, and Establishing the Relationship.

8. People Matter

Take plenty of time to find the best surgeon for you. They not only have to be competent; they need to show you that they understand you and what you really need.

Software is more than code. It is the people supporting the code that matter even more. For each of your finalist vendors, make time to visit them to articulate your culture, and make time to have them visit you as well. Make ample time for this step; it matters. People who break bread together get to know each other better.

9. Care for Your Master Agreement & Statement of Work

Understand every aspect of your relationship with your doctors.

There are many things you will want in your Master Agreement with your ERP vendor. Many of those will be dictated by your organization’s vendor management standards, so I won’t spend too much time here. But others may not be so obvious.

One thing that I’ve learned over time is that it’s good to have a defined conflict escalation path in your Master Agreement. Consider three levels:

  • Your Project Manager : Project Manager at Vendor
  • Your IT Director or CIO : Executive at vendor in charge of delivery
  • Your President/CEO : Senior Executive at Vendor

Beyond this, make sure you have a conversation about source code escrow. Depending upon the vendor, this may be off the table. But if your organization’s revenue is larger than your vendor’s, it’s especially wise to put some effort into this.

Also: consider a time & materials approach to your engagement. This is, in my opinion, the best way to ensure transparency in your relationship. There will be customizations that are more complicated than anybody imagined during the proposal phase, and your vendor won’t feel pressured to skimp or otherwise creatively shift resources in order to provide what you ultimately need…which is what happens all too often in fixed price engagements. After all:

If you’re having a tumor removed from your body and the surgeon needs an extra unanticipated hour to do what’s needed, do you want her to stop at the time she planned…or get it right?

10. Make Sure That All Key Resources Agree to Visit Your Business in Person.

In an ERP transformation, bedside manner matters.

While the COVID era proved that distributed teams are incredibly effective and happy, your ERP vendor won’t be effective if their resources don’t see your business operate in person…often. This includes everyone from professional services to software engineers. Watch out for ERP vendors who believe otherwise. They are wrong. See #8. Work this expectation out in your master agreement, or ignore it at your peril.

Part III: Some Things That Aren’t Like Surgery

11. What They You Do Versus What You Do.

One lesson I’ve learned over my years: The big guys (SAP & Oracle) are worthy of consideration for the areas of your business where you simply strive to be industry-standard. But if you have an area of business that is a distinctive innovation, you should plan on internal ownership of the software engineering behind it.

12. APIs.

Speaking of internal software engineering, make sure you carve out significant time to articulate your needs for APIs. Will they simply be access to stored procedures? Or do you want something more modern, like JSON? Make sure you set clear expectations in your master agreement or statements of work.

13. Take Time to Define Time.

You’re over a dozen items into this. Thank you for being a serious reader. Those of you who gave up before this will miss one of the most important points: the temporal aspects of enterprise software are given short shrift all too often.

Between dashboards and mobile software, there are areas of your business where you want your employees to have “real-time” data. Make sure that your vendor has a clear understanding of what that means, because data changes quickly, and it’s easy for the parties on both sides of the table to have completely different ideas of what “real-time” means. Work hard to get it right.

14. Teach it Right.

While your vendor might have some standard documentation that you can use as a basis for training employees, every organization is different. Consider adding an instructional designer to your team, for the long haul. This person can create training that is specifically geared to the idiosyncrasies of your business, including right-sized lessons and quizzes that fit into people’s work schedules. This learning can be programmed into a learning management system as a durable part of each employee’s human resource record, to help track and guide personal growth objectives.

Part IV: The Pre-Op & The Surgery

15. Your New System Will Never Be Like Your Old System.

Surgery has a profound and typically permanent effect on your body. Get ready for that.

Software is codified process, and when you replace your software, you’re replacing your codified processes. Unless you have an entire organization of people with OCD, you will never remember and appreciate all of the hidden codified processes your organization has. If you did have an entire team of people with OCD, you probably would never get anything accomplished anyway.

So remember that your new system will not only be different from your old system, but if you thought sufficiently about #2 and #3, it should underpin some key organizational transformations that you want to take place.

This is why….

16. You Will Experience at Least Some Disruption.

Surgery is not a cakewalk. That’s why we need anesthesia.

When you transform your organization, it will be uncomfortable, and in some places, you will not have thought about everything in advance. That’s perfectly normal, but you must plan for it and talk about it regularly in the years and months leading to your “go-live.”

Be honest with your fellow employees: change stinks. If you sugarcoat this, you will lose credibility. Create a collective understanding that there will be pain, and the more we work together as a team, the higher the chances we can absorb the pain.

If you don’t experience some discomfort, then you probably did something wrong.

Make sure to keep your business partners posted on the changes as early as you can. They may get paperwork and/or data from you, and they need documentation and time to prepare for the change as well. They will appreciate you being proactive.

17. Start Converting Data From Day One, and Do It Often.

There are many things you need to do to be prepared for surgery. Don’t waste a day without doing some of those things. Exercise, if you doctor permits it. Eat appropriately. Listen to your doctor about medications you should be taking and not taking. Get plenty of rest. Keep your doctors informed about any changes you notice.

The best ERP vendors will ask you to work with them to extract your existing data for transformation and loading as early as day one. The more you practice this, the better your vendor will understand your business. Even more importantly, you will maximize the chances of uncovering sporadic business issues that could cause you a lot of grief if you discovered them after going live with your new system.

18. Your End-to-End Tests Are Important, and It’s OK to Do Them More Than Once.

We don’t simply hop on an operating table. The pre-op exam ensures that our blood, heart, and other systems are in good working order to ensure good outcomes. Sometimes we discover that our medications need changing, or that we need some other treatments before surgery. Listen to the results, and make the required changes. Get tested again, and make sure everything looks good before the knife hits your body.

This is where enterprise systems and surgery are identical.

19. How Do You Know You Are Ready for the Operating Table?

I once had a kidney tumor that required that my kidney be removed. On the morning of my surgery, I woke up with an unexpected feeling: the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to have my kidney (well, tumor) removed from my body.

The sure sign your organization is ready is the widespread (cross-departmental) desire to get the change over with. Until you have that feeling, you are not ready. See #7.

Another litmus test: Are your key resources able to take a vacation in the weeks before your go-live event? Or do you still need them there, every minute, to ensure everything goes right?

Hint: your key resources need a vacation before you go live, so that they are refreshed and have renewed energy to confront the challenges they will face. If this can’t happen, then you aren’t ready.

20. The Patient Needs Care, Feeding, and Physical Therapy.

Plan on some intensive care during and after surgery.

Your organization needs food, fuel, and love. They will need lots of round-the-clock care and feeding in the weeks following your transformation, which is why your key resources need a break before your go-live event.

21. It’s Never Really Over.

Your post-surgery body is different from your pre-surgery one. You’ll probably have to make some permanent changes to how you live.

One thing about software is that it’s designed to enable change. Otherwise, we would just build some hardware and be done with it.

Plan on doing a lot of listening to what your employees say in the months after you go live. If you did this for the right reasons (see #2 and #3), you did it because your organization needed to go in a new direction, and the emergent requirements that support that new direction will need evolution and refinement. Be cautious about requests to go back to the old days, unless that’s truly what you need.

But once the dust of your implementation settles, make sure your key resources take some time off. Vacations provide clarity, and the superheroes who got you to where you need to be deserve a break, and perhaps even a glass of their favorite beverage.


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Agility Priorities Scrum

The Condition of Satisfaction for Agility

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“What does it mean to be agile?” might be the most common conversation starter in agility’s entire canon.

I don’t really care what people do to achieve agility. Scrum, Kanban, XP, Scrum-ban…whatever you want to practice, it’s fine by me. So long as you are:

  • Trying different things rather than standing still;
  • Not afraid to fail;
  • Accomplishing something — even if it’s learning — rather than nothing;

…you are being agile.

But I’ve come to believe that the entire point of an agile approach is to reduce the anxiety of analysis paralysis. If your agile methods aren’t doing that, then they aren’t serving the intended purpose. Be agile with your agility, and keep trying other things until your anxieties start to decrease. Then — and only then — will you be on the right track.

If you are scratching your head, continue below the graphic…

The condition of satisfaction for agility is the accomplishment of something through an alleviation of anxiety.

How do you mean, Drew?

Look at any of the prescribed techniques of agility, and each seems designed to chisel away anxiety in one way or another:

Scrum’s “three pillars”

  • Transparency: people agree to talk regularly — and not hide or make mysterious — their issues, progress, concerns, deliberations and accomplishments.
  • Inspection: people agree to share regularly — and not hide or make mysterious — their progress, learning, and accomplishments.
  • Adaptation: people agree to change in response to lessons learned, thinking only as much as is necessary in the moment, making choices one step at a time.

The backlog to-do list

  • People agree to have a single place to record their needs so that they are always ready for review, never to be forgotten, and readily re-prioritized as needs evolve.

The user story

  • People employ this simple device that democratizes and simplifies the articulation of functional specifications, something that once was the domain of highly trained engineers.
  • Product owners are liberated to merely articulate the who, the what, and the why of their problem, without having to carry the sole burden of the how.

Meeting reduction

  • People employ agile frameworks with an aim, to one degree or another, to reduce the number of random and/or unnecessary meetings that they have to have.
  • Agile teams recognize that many meetings are a response to a lack of regular information sharing, and a “smell” of something awry. If meetings are an opportunity to “catch up” and allow conversation when everybody has been working separately for too long, something else needs addressing.


  • People are asked to break large, abstract needs into small, approachable, and interchangeable chunks.


  • Each small step in an agile process provides genuine and meaningful value that addresses present needs. Even when a past solution is replaced with something else, all participants can appreciate the value it provided en route.

Prioritization methods

  • Whether a Kano analysis, Theme Screening, Risk/Value Assessment, or others, prioritization methods remove guesswork from the pressures we face when trying to be objective in determining priorities.

Other tools

  • Planning poker: An antidote to the dangers of groupthink, ensuring that each person’s unique perspective is shared and understood without bias from others.
  • Backlog systems like Jira, Azure DevOps, Trello, and others allow collaborative work on backlogs that significantly reduce or eliminate email communication, ensuring greater visibility into the conversation and progress behind each item in your…ahem…to-do list.

Are there things you think are missing? Email me!

I’m hard pressed to think of any agile techniques that increase anxiety. If you can, email me that, too!

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