Essence and Problem Solving Blog

November 16, 2019

Let’s start a conversation on integrating Essence into day to day activities as a thinking framework and general problem-solving tool

I received a question on the title of last week’s blog– “The value of listening to people who think differently from yourself.

To clarify, if it wasn’t already clear to you, there are two distinct groups of people I was referring to.  First, are the SEMAT volunteers from around the world who shared their different perspectives based on their own experiences and culture.  The second group is the reviewers of my “Shy Boys” book who– as I explained in the blog– shared their own experiences and perspectives in helping me write a better book.

This week I would like to start a conversation (or get your feedback) on an idea I received from one of those book reviewers that really appeals to me, and I am particularly interested in hearing the thoughts from those of you who are in the education field.

This reviewer was a software developer in industry and had gone back to the university to teach software engineering to our next generation of software professionals.

Let me first give you some context for the reviewer’s comment.

In Chapter Fifteen of the book I refer to a discussion I had with Watts Humphrey shortly before his passing in 2010 and I state:

Part of training in how to act professionally includes how to listen, learn, improve and work collaboratively as a team member. These essential elements to software engineering success are found within the Essence framework Team Alpha checklists.”

This reviewer made the following related comment:

“Most Computer Science programs have a Software Engineering class, but the common issue is that the ideas are isolated within that particular class. In many programs, mine included, the software engineering class  is presented in the third year, after the basics are taught. You highlighted in this book the idea that you believed Watts wanted to make sure graduates had the proper attitude. One class in a computer science degree, as I learned over the years, doesn’t influence students enough to keep it present. I think we need to take a wholistic approach… We need a curriculum that integrates these ideas into the day to day activities without having to detail the activity in a text. While I was pleased that you and your colleagues produced a textbook, I think it might be more helpful to use “stealth mode” within the classroom environment. How to accomplish this could be your next book!”

 This comment got me thinking about how such a “wholistic approach” might be implemented in a university environment and one idea that occurred to me was to use Essence as a thinking framework to aid problem-solving in multiple computer science courses.

Just to provide a few examples where I think Essence could be integrated into existing courses, consider the fact that most computer science curriculums today have distinct courses in Cybersecurity, Computer Ethics, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, and Software Requirements/Design/Testing.

Each of the computer science courses mentioned above provides its own unique perspective into critical challenges related to developing software.  Each of these perspectives brings its own set of common problems, or challenges, that students need to be exposed to, and learn how to go about dealing with in a professional way.

As a common ground for all software engineering endeavors, Essence could be used in each of these classes to demonstrate to students how to go about analyzing such challenges, identifying related root causes, and assessing options and consequences of possible decisions.

What I am suggesting could provide a path to achieving the “wholistic approach” my reviewer referred to by helping to teach our next generation of software practitioners what it means to act professionally when it comes to the common challenges they are likely to face when they enter industry.

One potential advantage to this idea is that it doesn’t require university professors to make major changes to their existing course curriculums as Essence is integrated into the existing course material as a tool that aids critical thinking and problem-solving.  This approach also can help students learn practical ways to use Essence to address common challenges they are likely to face in industry.

Another potential advantage to this idea ties back to one of the potential problems we are trying to solve with Essence as I state in Chapter One of my “Shy Boys” book.  That is, the fact that “there isn’t commonly accepted software engineering terminology so when new graduates come out of school with computer science degrees and go into industry they have a whole new set of terms to learn, and then if they change  jobs and move to another company they  have to relearn a whole new set again.”

By integrating Essence into multiple computer science courses as a thinking framework and general problem-solving tool we can continually reinforce the Essence standard terminology so it becomes the natural language of choice for new graduating computer science students as they enter industry.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this idea, particularly from those of you within the education field.

If you believe this idea might have merit, I am also interested in hearing about any specific problem scenarios you may be currently using, or thinking about using, in your course material.

We can then use such scenarios to continue this conversation by providing practical demonstrations of the power of Essence as an aid to critical thinking and problem-solving related to these timely computer science topics.

To be clear, what I am suggesting is not intended to replace a first course in Software Engineering using Essence, but rather to show how Essence can be effectively integrated into other common computer science courses as an aid to critical thinking and as a general problem-solving tool.

Looking forward to hearing your feedback and keeping this conversation going!

November 8, 2019

The value in listening to people who think differently from yourself

Filed under: Software Engineering Method & Theory (SEMAT) — pemcmahon @ 8:18 pm
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October 30, 2019

In 60 seconds, motivation for my latest book: “Shy Boys”

June 9, 2019

Scaling “Essence in stealth mode” and why you should care

Filed under: Software Engineering Method & Theory (SEMAT) — pemcmahon @ 12:57 pm
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In this blog I would like to address one of the comments I received on my last video-blog, titled, Using Essence in “stealth mode” to help solve a Cybersecurity Challenge.  

Following is the comment in italics:

“I think it is a great approach for a lone consultant. ‘Stealth mode’ seems to me by definition to be ‘not a scalable model’, since what you are making visible and selling is very specifically ‘the consultant’ and very specifically not Essence (which remains completely invisible to the customer).

 One might ask of this example, ‘Which really comes first here, and plays the primary and critical role throughout?’: the knowledge, experience and analysis skills (“wisdom”, if you will) of the consultant OR the Alpha State checklists. Realistically, the critical success factor in this scenario are consultancy skills and knowledge like:

         Listen first – listen deeply and seek to understand

         Start by trying to understand the problem

         Do root cause analysis

         The critical importance of the big initial “buy, build, reuse” decisions

         The critical importance of dependencies on external organizations

         The need to control key risks relating to competitors and IP

         Adopting “need to know” principles in such circumstances as this one

         Knowing the true meaning and role of good leadership 

 …

Put another way – one gets the feeling in this case that Paul would probably have been basically successful here even if he didn’t know Essence, and likewise a less “wise” consultant would not have been so successful even if armed with a pack of Alpha state cards …”

I think this is a great comment which is why I am devoting an entire blog responding to it.   There are four points I want to make in response.

First, it is a misunderstanding to think that Essence remains completely invisible to the customer when used in “stealth mode”.   Let me give a concrete example.

When I use stealth Essence as in the referenced video-blog I don’t tell the client about it upfront because what they care most about is getting their problem solved.  Once we have accomplished this, then they are much more likely to listen and be interested in learning about Essence because it has proven itself.

In the Cybersecurity video-blog reference about nine minutes and thirty seconds into it on slide 10 when my client says,

“I like this approach and I am starting to see how our team can now meet this challenge.” 

This is where I might reply to the client with,

“I was able to help you partly because of my experience. But that is not the only reason.  If you are interested in learning about a framework that I use and could teach your team members to use so they could solve similar challenges themselves in the future we can discuss this further.” 

Often, at this point, my client is interested and this is where I discuss Essence with them more explicitly.  The right time to make a customer aware of Essence and how to use it, is after it has proven its value, not before.

Second, let’s address the issue of the “knowledge, experience, and analysis skills” of the consultant versus the value of the Essence checklists. It is certainly true that when I help my clients I am relying on my experience that I have gained over many years.   But when we developed the Essence checklists many experts from around the world came together and shared their own experiences.  Through numerous discussions over a period of two years (often held weekly) we arrived at what was agreed to be the “essence” of our common experiences which were captured succinctly in the Essence checklists.

Now, when I conduct training and when I work with my clients on specific challenges, such as the referenced Cybersecurity challenge, I utilize more than just my own experiences.  When I use Essence, as I say “in the back of my head”, it isn’t just my experiences anymore, but rather I am accessing the broader community of experiences that were captured in the Essence standard.

Third, let’s address the point of “stealth Essence” not being a scalable model.  Just as the Essence checklists strengthened my own base of experiences that I draw from in helping my clients so can each practitioner use it the same way to broaden their base of experiences they draw from to help make better decisions, regardless of their own level of experience.

Today, I don’t just use Essence to help clients by giving them recommendations based on my own stealth Essence approach.   I use it to coach practitioners in how they can access this same base of experiences in making their own decisions.

I have often said that my primary job as a coach is to “work myself out of a job,” by teaching my clients to solve their own problems so they don’t need me anymore.  This is what I believe all coaches and consultants should be doing.  Our goal should be to teach practitioners how to make their own decisions and how to help their less experienced teammates.  Teach your practitioners how to use Essence as a thinking framework to help solve their own problems and watch how fast it scales almost by itself across your organization.

Fourth, with regard to the final point about my being successful even if I didn’t know Essence, and a “less wise” consultant being less successful even if “armed with a pack of Alpha state cards”.   I do not disagree with this point, but by providing concrete examples, such as the Cybersecurity example, demonstrating how experienced consultants and coaches use Essence to solve problems we can teach others how to do the same thereby raising the competency level of our less experienced team members faster.  And isn’t that the real goal we are all searching for?

As always, feedback is encouraged.

May 16, 2019

Using Essence in “stealth mode” to help solve a Cybersecurity Challenge

December 27, 2018

What does Essence and science fiction have in common?

One of the things I like most about Essence is how the alphas help you look at what is going on from multiple perspectives.  Often the root cause of a problem only becomes evident when you step back and look at the problem differently.

A few years ago I learned that Larry Constantine writes science fiction under the pen name Lior Samson.  I first met Larry at the SEMAT (semat.org)  kickoff meeting in Zurich in 2010.   Learning about this other side of Larry intrigued me and I investigated his work further and found he doesn’t write fantasy science fiction, but science fiction that makes you think about a common problem we all face a little differently.

I had started writing science fiction myself over twenty years ago,  but let it go when I started my own consulting business.  Larry’s story motivated me to revive my science fiction writing as I approached my retirement years.  Please note here that I am NOT planning on retiring, only taking up once again an old interest that I let go as I move into what some people might refer to as my “retirement years”.

I have just released my first science fiction book, and like Larry (or Lior) I now too have a pen name (Fred E. McMichaels), and my science fiction writing, like Larry’s, isn’t fantasy either.

Like Essence, my intent is to encourage my reader to look at common problems we all face a little differently.   I have, in fact, discovered that science fiction writing can be an avenue to problem-solving as it encourages people to open their minds to possibilities they might otherwise miss.

If you are interested in learning more about my new venture you can check out my new blog at fredemcmichaels.com and you can learn more about my first science fiction book below.

September 12, 2018

Cybersecure Software: New twists to well-known questions every developer should be asking

In this short video new cybersecurity twists to well-known questions every software developer should be asking are explored.

Alternatively, the video could have been titled:

What do we really mean when we say Essence checklists are not “check-the-box” checklists, and you will understand why as you get into the video.

As always, feedback is encouraged.

April 6, 2018

Making the Heart of Agile concrete: Essence

Did you ever pick up a book, expecting to learn a new approach to software development and you get about 50 pages into it, and you stop and think, “What the heck is new here?”

If this resonates with you, then you might be interested in a talk I am giving at the Heart of Agile conference in Pittsburgh in just a few weeks on April 26.

http://heartofagile.com/heart-of-agile-conferences/heart-of-agile-pittsburgh-2018/

In this talk I explain how the software engineering community can solve this frustrating problem we all face.  And I will share concrete examples and success stories demonstrating how your coaches and developers can use Essence today in what I call “stealth mode” to strengthen your teams implementation of the Heart of Agile, regardless of your agile implementation approach.

Hope to see you in Pittsburgh!

 

February 21, 2018

Making software development as simple as possible, but not simpler

This short video blog explores a recent claim by Alistair Cockburn that agile has gotten too complicated and it does so in the context of what Albert Einstein once said about simplicity.

February 10, 2018

The essence of how Essence makes practitioners better for life

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