Kurt's Blog

January 9, 2013

Retrospective 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kurt Häusler @ 10:46 am

So this will just be a short note to let you know what happened last year and how I felt about it.

We started the year off in a new city and with a new job. I had already spent the previous 6 months doing something other than being a software developer, internal Kanban coaching and process improvement, but at the beginning of 2012 I became a consultant at a company claiming “The Agile Organization” as one of its areas of core competency. After a slow month settling in I was sent off as a part of a team to my first client, where my job was to help improve their Scrum process. The Scrum process was already pretty good though. I was able to make a couple of suggestions which were readily accepted, but there wasn’t a lot to do there full time for 4 days per week. I started to notice some other issues at the technical and management level, which were actually connected, but they were either hard for an external consultant to directly fix or outside my mandate.

I ended up feeling a bit bad about being there counting billable hours that I felt were out of proportion to the amount of value I was providing and convinced my boss I should probably finish up and leave the team to get on with it.

And that was basically it. Month after month I was sitting at home (turning up to the headquarters on Fridays) waiting for another customer, only collecting 70% of my salary.

Now this job had a variable salary. I was guaranteed 70% each month, but the other 30% were based on billable hours. At the beginning it was explained to me that it should be no problem working enough billable hours to make the full 100% and the idea behind the variable salary was that in previous years people had worked so much that they had no time to write articles and attend conferences etc., and that the variable salary means people can choose not to take on a client project and still get a reduced salary. It was not explained to me as a system for allowing the company to save money in case the projects dried up, while still keeping me hanging on so they can assign someone to work in short notice without having to recruit.

Now you have to understand that in Germany you get a generous unemployment insurance of 70% of your last salary anyway, so it became clear to me that variable salary is of no benefit to the employee, and only benefits the employer. Basically you are unemployed, receive the same amount of money as if you were unemployed, but you are not free to start work elsewhere, you have to wait out your notice period.

What I should have done was to set the base level at the 100% and enjoy anything I get from over that from billable hours as a pure bonus. Then it wouldn’t have been so bad.

As it turns out, after taxes I was getting roughly half as much as I was in the previous year and what I expected, and after things like rent and insurance came out I only had around 10% discretionary spending money than I had in the previous year and what I expected.

I had lots of free time though. Not much money but lots of free time.

But I don’t want you to think money was the main issue. I certainly reduced the number of conferences I attended in 2012 because of money, and also because I wanted to be free in case we got a client. The main issue was frustration with not doing anything.

I had developed a lot of interest and knowledge in exactly the area the company wanted to specialize in. I knew there was a lot of demand for expertise in these areas. I knew other consulting companies working in this area had more work than they had people to do it. The fact I was so extremely keen and reasonably well qualified to work in an area where there was so much demand, and it was an area my employer wanted to specialize it, it was just plain frustrating not to be able to work! I think they had problems developing a marketing strategy as there was a lot more meta-conversation about how to find customers than actual discussion about agile organizations and what it means to be one.

There was an attempt for me to write articles and presentations solving potential problems that future customers might have, but I don’t think that works so well in the agile world. I think so much is context dependent, and of course “complex” that any solutions can only come about when an actual problem exists and a mechanism to allow a solution to grow via feedback etc. I came up with a few bits and pieces but never got to try them out, so for me they remain unrefined, unvalidated, and essentially spoiled milk (which is an analogy for any work invested that expires before it gets a chance to realize value).

Anyway I made the decision before my 6 month trial period that I have to do something, so at the same time as waiting for a client via my current employer, I decided to open up a search into finding work through other channels. I noticed there was a lot of interested in me personally either as employee or freelancer, either as developer, coach or consultant, but little interest in having a team of consultants coming in selling a box with “The Agile Organization” written on it.

As it turned out the company and I had fairly different ideas about what the agile organization actually is. For me it was something larger than software development, and involved a significantly different management system and culture than what exists in the typical organization. I had imagined helping organizations realize the vision shared by people in the Rightshifting and Stoos communities. My employer was really focused on just helping companies with the way they develop software mainly by scaling Scrum, and helping with some of the issues that companies face with using agile approaches while still attempting large-scale projects with several interdependent teams without having to change too much at the cultural level, or affect the management system outside of the software development departments too much. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There is certainly demand for it, but it is something I find somewhat less interesting than enabling my vision for the future of the workplace: small teams of motivated individuals having fun delighting customers supported by leaders acting and thinking according to a synergistic or chaordic mindset, rather than merely developing software a bit faster while still being constrained by the same old analytic management culture.

But I was patient, and not under any real pressure. It would have been ideal if a client came, and I could have remained employed as a consultant, but other opportunities simply won the race, and I now have an interesting job at a company that mostly develop and maintain web sites for advertising and marketing, but not exclusively.

They have an interesting structure based on the Scrum team. They have a number of super-teams. Each headed by a Process Master (analog to a Scrum Master) and a Business Owner (analog to a Product Owner). Outside these super teams are minimal roles. Senior management, administration and office. All other functions are contained within the super-teams that enjoy a fairly high amount of autonomy. Within these super teams we have a number of roles like product owners and scrum masters, developers, engineers, information architects and the like. They are divided into cross functional project teamlets, some of which use Scrum some not. Many teams also use Kanban in various ways.

I applied for a Scrum Master job, and was offered a role as Process Master which is like a Scrum Master of Scrum Masters and has some extra management responsibilities that a Scrum Master would typically not have. I have also been working as the scrum master for one of the projects within my super-team.

So far so good. I am still getting used to many aspects of the role that are new to me.

I did attend a couple of conferences this year. Notably the Stoos Stampede, and Lean Kanban Netherlands where I also gave a talk for the first time.

After a bit of a rough start I am pretty happy with how 2012 ended and I am excited about how 2013 might look.

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