[2021 kcdc] black holes and revelations

This post is my live blog from KCDC. For more, see the 2021 KCDC live blog TOC

Speaker: Sarah Harper

Twitter @sarita1119


Why work gets stuck

  • Work moves through the system until it gets stuck in a phase
  • We like to think of things as a process problem. However, often a behavioral issue (not like major HR leve problems)
  • Reasons: someone out sick, not enough people know how to do something, blame testing
  • Agile black holes!
  • Detrimenta to process and team morale
  • Not obvious what problem is
  • examples: deployment, business requirements, code review, qa
  • Biggest black hole is the backlog

Back hole theory

  • Any work status which acts as a “holding pen” for work items will eventuallly turn into a black hole
  • Once enough are blocked for same reason, all future items will becme blocked
  • It becomes acceptable for things to get blocked there
  • No work appears to be done to outside observer – unclear who working on or what it is up to


  • Queue busts – something wrong and swarm around it. Teams decides to focus on something like a customer service queue.
  • Eceeed WIP limits
  • Blocked column
  • Too much in “done” or “ready” columns
  • Long staging cycle time

Learned Helplessness

  • Exercise: everyone got a piece of paper with three anagrams and people raised their hand as solved
  • One one side, first two not soleable. One other side, first two easy. Then same third one.
  • Taught first group learned helplessness.
  • Trained to give up.
  • I tried X times to change this

Locus of control

  • Exercise: how much control do you have over weather, food you eat, comute, home, projects at wor, team member participation. (Scale of none to all)
  • Think about what under control
  • Don’t blame others for things can control
  • Be alert when someone says can’t/imposssible

Self handicapping

  • Don’t try so can’t fail
  • Fear of looking bad
  • ”give to X because X can do fastest” – setting team up for failure if that person can’t do it.
  • That person becomes busy and a black hole
  • ”You miss 100% o the shots you don’t take”

Somebody else’s problem and the bystander effect

  • Brain edits it out because someone ese’s problem
  • Everyone ignores
  • May or may not actually be someone else’s responsibity
  • Bystander effect – assume someone else will take charge

How spot black holes

  • If have to scroll in a kanan board, have a black hole
  • Not obvious

Visual principles

  • Excercise: think about your kanban board For each of these principles
  • Figure ground – foreground vs background. What see vs ignore. Showed optical illusion of face/vase. Usually digital boards have a white background so white cards disappear into background. Can make a different color to stand out. Also, if something has a date contraint or a high priority, add contrast.
  • Common region – when obects located in same region, we perceive them as being grouped together. If everything looks the same, can’t tell. Change blocked cards to a different color
  • Similarity – thinks that look the same are assumed to be the same.
  • Proximity – things close together appear to be more related than things spaced farther apart. This is more of an effect than similiarity
  • Continuity – Elements on a ine are considered more related. Lines follow the smoothest path.
  • Focal point – watever stands out visually will attract and hold our attention
  • Closure – we try to find recognizable patterns
  • Just noticeabe difference – hard to see Jira dots for how long in state
  • Idea: have blocked work in a different color, in a lane on top. So you can see status blocked in.
  • Avoid too much color

Game: https://getkanban.com/pages/free-version

Escaping back holes

  • Have team talk about problem
  • Visualize future state and take action
  • Use a physical board or customize digital board as much as can
  • FInd an influencer on team that will give good feedback and help team accept idea
  • Queue bust (swarm around problem)
  • Root cause everything

My take

I learned a lot at this session. I like how it was different than a lot of agile talks. I have a bunch of things to take back

Responding to a co-located/fully remote/hybrid article

I read Should Your Organization Be Co-Located, Fully Remote, or Hybrid from Scrum Inc. It’s nice to see the agile community starting to accept that co-location isn’t necessary to be an agile team. (I’ve been on a team for many years with people in multiple locations and it never stopped us from doing Scrum. We even figured out how to make in person agile games remote. A few takeaways/responding


I really like this quote

Uncollected feedback is perishable; the longer you wait the less reliable it is

Many years ago (even before doing Scrum or remote.), I noticed that people had trouble recollecting what they wanted to contribute to the retrospective. They were quiet at meetings and didn’t remember problems not fresh on the mind.

I solved this by putting a shoebox and post its in a common location. This let the team put in their thoughts right as they happened.We had someone organize the post its by topic and used the retrospective time to discuss them.

Over time, that shoebox became electronic. But the benefits still stand. Real time opportunities to record those thoughts. I really like the perishable quote and am sharing it with my current team at our next retrospective!

Purpose of an office

The article lists the following benefits of an office. It was interesting reflect on how much of this applies to me and my troubles over the last 15 months. The table shows my thoughts on them both for work and the high school robotics team I mentor

Item from articleWorkRobotics
Collaboration, communication, and the sense of belonging that comes with colocationI’m not sure. It’s definitely good seeing people, but my team has been distributed for years. So a lot of my connections were with people not on my team anyway.Definitely. The kids noticed how much they feel not being able to hang out, have team dinners, bond over dodgeball, etc
A place to work away from the distractions of homeYes! This is one of the problems I’m having. (I put not having a good physical work space in this area. A subpar work environment is certainly distracting.)Some of the students share rooms or have distractions on calls.
Creation of physical products and use of specialized tools n/a – our tools are computersDefinitely. Not having access to the lab, tools, robot greatly limits what can be done.
Space for gatherings and training While I don’t need to see my teammates every day/week, we do all meet in person on occasion. In person meetings allow for more flexibility and cross training
A need to directly interact with customersn/an/a
A place to focusAnother one for me. I only have so much energy to focus at home. It’s less than 8 hours worth which isn’t even enough for a day let alone fun things after work. I also notice, I can’t carry as many thoughts in my head at home.Not sure.
The status and stability a physical location conveysn/an/a


Another quote I found interesting:

Working more hours to get less done is not a recipe for success. 

For most of the weeks of the pandemic, I refused to work more hours. (I made an exception for the a month and there was a high cost. I’m still recovering to get myself to the point I was at the week before I made that exception.) I got less done but it wasn’t from more hours.

Most of my colleagues get the same or more done at home. They should be able to to telecommute forever! I am not one of those people. At the office, I have a desk so I can see more stuff at once. I have two monitors so I can work faster. I can hold more thoughts in my head

And also

There will be times when after-hours work will be needed. These need to be the exception – not the rule.  

I agree with this. And I made that monthlong exception intentionally. Also my employer passed the “test” of it being important. I worked one weekend day in exchange for a comp day. So at least it was my employer’s time too, not just mine.

I hear a lot of people say “since I’m not commuting, I can work more.” I strongly disagree with this. I used my commute time productively. I read the news in the morning and a computer book on the way home. (My computer book reading is also down because my at home energy isn’t available when I have time to read now.) Commuting time belongs to me, not my employer. It being gone isn’t a reason to work more hours.

Hybrid workspace ideas

The article also lists some ideas for hybrid work. My thoughts on those

Have designated team days for in-person workWe did that when we were a colocated team with telecommuters. (Monday was the day nobody could telecommute.) I consider this a crutch that we long moved past. Luckily we became a multi-city/time zone team after I no longer needed that crutch!
Institute policies to fight ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and burnoutThe article suggests holding 10 minute breaks between meetings. I’ve had meetings 9:05-9:55 for as long as I can remember. So meetings i control do come with those breaks.
Always hold team events in virtual conference spaceThis one we didn’t quite do. We did have people at the same site connect from the same room rather than everyone being at their desk. But everyone did contribute equally. It wasn’t most people in one room and a handful alone at home.
Publish all meeting notes in a visible space which can be accessed remotelyEverything is electronic. While we do publish notes, we aren’t an async team though.
Only use virtual whiteboardsDefinitely! The only time we used physical whiteboards was for pairing when the two people involved happened to be in the same location.

[2020 devnexus] metrics that matter

Speaker: Joel Tosi @jdojoandco

For more, see table of contents


  • Finishing on time doesn’t matter if do wrong thing
  • Can’t just say happy; need to know how much costs
  • Who cares about metrics: managers, product owners
  • People tend to measure what is easy to measure
  • Goal is to make people happy (and make money)

Bad metrics

  • # people trained as measure of agile transformation
  • measuring just a piece. Doesn’t matter how fast deploy if deploying wrong thing. Sub-optimizing

Simple metrics

Good place to start if have no metrics now. (but not always good metrics)

  • Number of defects
  • Velocity
  • Lines of code
  • Number of teams (not x% transformed b/c y teams have done it)
  • Code coverage. (bad if game system: ex: tested all getters/setters to increase)


  • Easy to collect
  • Doesn’t tell customer impact, right or usable
  • If don’t have insight, can help

Directional Metrics

Take time to capture

  • Increase in code coverage
  • SQALE (from Sonar)
  • Reduction in % of defects
  • Cycle time
  • Deployment frequency
  • Average time a bug takes to get fixed
  • Number Checkstyle violations over time
  • Size user base


  • More sustainable. Ensures not killing team in meantime
  • More depth
  • Still not measuring impact to users

Impactful/Economic Metrics

  • Reduction of cycle time for a delivery that mattered
  • Systemic cost reductions
  • Stopping bad ideas


  • How do we get rid of noise in the system
  • People need to agree to do these types of metrics
  • Need psychological safety. Must be safe to be wrong

Process Behavior Charts

  • You deliver value with a system.
  • A stable system will continue to deliver outputs within a range if you do nothing different.
  • Goal is not to react to noise.
  • Process Behavior Charts help separate signal from noise
  • Need to understand what measuring
  • Chart data in a time series
  • Calculate the moving average
  • Calculate the upper/lower bounds by multiplying by 2.66
  • Introduce change and continue to measure

Supporting Knowledge Work

  • Better decisions if faster access to info
  • Onion – team, manager(s), business, execs. Who can answer a question. How many levels need to go through


  • Measures of Success: React Less, Lead betteer, Iprove More – Mark Graban. Covers health care.
  • Understanding Variation – The Key To Managing Chaos – Donald J Wheeler. Explains why 2.66 and more complex charts
  • Principles of Product Development Flow – Donald G Reinertsen

My take

Good talk. I like the interactivity to supplement the slides. I was thinking it would be more concrete. But I liked what it was actually about. I hadn’t seen process behavior charts before and found that particularly interesting.