what does the agile librarian do between library jobs? Pt. 2

No longer between library jobs. Big Yay! Started a new part-time library job last week. But continuing the discussion of Agile application to HR issues.  (Don’t fret, we’ll bring the Agile discussion back to librarianship soon enough. In the meantime, taking this HR detour might eventually be instructive). Today, we are going to take a brief look at the history of Agile methodologies.  Later in the week we will look at some considerations when converting or transforming existing processes to Agile ones.

Agile History

It is easy to trace the history of Agile to the Agile Manifesto of 2001 and the twelve principles that followed in its wake.  Easy but far from sufficient.  We need to look at a few of the antecedents to that 2001 gathering to know what is really going on.

Lloyd Wilkinson, in Agile Development: A Brief History, traces the roots of agile project management thinking to Toyota process in the 1950’s, more specifically, kaizen, or continual improvement in automotive manufacturing processes.  In case you haven’t already clicked on the link, kaizen is a Japanese word that is translated as “continuous improvement.”  In lean, or just in time manufacturing systems, the process itself must “continuously change in order to deliver value to the customer.” Before we take a deep dive, it is necessary to say that one might make an argument that HR systems bound by rigid rules and regulations are not capable of continuous change.  I would argue (1) that the multiplicity of rules and regulations, all overlapping, is precisely what opens the door to flexibility and dynamism and (2) what manufacturing process was more rigid that automotive assembly line production, and yet, Toyota’s introduction of Kaizen practices made it a world leader in the automotive industry.  But back to the subject…

Kaizen has a few foci that are particularly relevant to HR processes.  First is the Kaizen 5S concept: sort, or removing anything from the space not needed for daily operations; straighten, or placing the essential things in the right place for optimum operations; sweep, or removing anything that is clutter and repairing anything broken; standardize, or codifying best practices; and sustain, or establishing new, more efficient standards and resisting the tendency to return to old ways of doing things.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 08.33.10

Second is the concept of employee involvement supported by employee trust. Specifically, this concept has as its antecedent, the work of Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne Effect (please click and read!).  Very briefly, Mayo concluded that

  • The aptitudes of individuals are imperfect predictors of job performance.
  • Informal organization affects productivity. The researchers discovered a group life among the workers.
  • Informal organization affects productivity. The researchers discovered a group life among the workers.
  • Work-group norms affect productivity.
  • The workplace is a social system.

A moment here on James Martin and Rapid Application Development (RAD). James Martin, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 book, The Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrow, introduced in 1991 an approach to RAD that involved iterative development and the construction of intermediate prototypes. These two elements would play a critical part in Agile project management thinking in subsequent years.

For extra reading, this article also looks at the history of Agile thinking: The roots of Agile project management.

Later in the week we will look at some of the challenges and possible pitfalls of adopting Agile thinking to existing processes.  And to raise eyebrows, we will call the next post: “The Road Less Taken, or, People are software in any production process.”

In the meanwhile, a bit of Sarah Vaughan for the Labor Day Weekend:

what does the agile librarian do between library jobs?

My relocation created an employment gap of sorts and I found myself between library jobs. But luckily for me, my old, former career reached out and steered me towards part-time employment focusing on finding solutions to HR challenges in a federal bureaucracy. Little did I know initially that that opportunity would open doors to fascinating potential applications of agile thinking and agile methodologies. (I’m hearing a combination of two tunes, Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, and Stephen Stills, Love the One You’re With. Will include the you tubes at the end of this post.)

There are striking similarities between HR work and the software development challenges that gave rise to agile thinking. Various types of HR work exist in a dynamic bureaucracy and each type has various phases. We will focus, for example, on the onboarding process, i.e., bringing new employees onboard for the first time.

Initially, the customer or client, in the HR case, the manager decides she/he needs a new position to fill the expanding needs of the office. Ideally, that manager will work closely with his HR colleagues to define the requirements of the new position, i.e., what work they will actually perform, and the skills any prospective employee will need to accomplish the work. A position description results.

The position is advertised. Hundreds of applications pour in. The HR staff winnows down the applicants whose qualifications actually meet the position requirements. Traditionally, this is a phase that is pretty much accomplished exclusively by HR. But we all know that excellent applicants get weeded out unnecessarily during this process.

Managers are handed a bundle of applications and a list of names for assessment. They make their selection, HR makes sure everything is in order, and the person is hired.

So why does this process take 4 to 6 months in government? The waterfall method may have clues!

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 06.53.41

A busy HR section may have several positions being filled at once, all at various phases, similar to software products being developed. And there are various places where “stacks of things” pile up, i.e., in HR as well as with the manager. And in the absence of a constantly updated tracking mechanism, no one can say for sure where the roadblocks in the process are located. As a result, managers blame HR for slowdowns in the process, and HR blames managers for their slow responses, and problems don’t get solved, until eventually, six months later, a person is hired (though not the best applicant, because she, exasperated with the process, finds just as good a position elsewhere).

So how can we apply the agile method to onboarding to make the process simpler, quicker, and just as efficient?

How about a picture!

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 06.53.03

From previous posts, we know the agile method values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. Nice words, but how do we “do” this?

The first “principle” of agile software mentions early and continuous delivery of valuable software. From the HR perspective, this means program managers have to take the time to consult with HR staff about the new position, and HR staff have to make the time to consult with program managers. If it is the case that program managers already have a candidate in mind (and we know that happens!), that should be communicated to HR staff. As applications pour in, there should be regular comms between HR and the program office, expediting that winnowing process. The point of the matter is constant communications that lead to greater efficiencies.

The second principle addresses changing requirements and harnessing change for the customer’s competitive advantage. This may be a bit difficult, HR-wise, because positions are posted to USA.gov, which allows little alteration in the process. But locally, if requirements do change, there is no need to “re-create the wheel.” Again, the key to applying slight requirements changes is communications between HR and the program managers. This could be a bit tricky, but it is manageable.

The third principle: deliver software frequently. Traditionally, HR units pile up stacks of applicants (time consuming), then pour through them (time consuming), then deliver winnowed stacks to managers after a period of time (time consuming). Then managers postpone going through the stacks, and hopefully eventually go through them (time consuming). In an agile environment, that feedback loop is tightened through frequent engagement. But the onus is on both HR staff and program managers to reduce the wait time at each stage and to reduce the repetition of stages themselves through efficient communications.

OK. There are nine more principles and you can find them here  (The “Agile” in Agile Librarianship) in a previous post (your homework assignment, dear reader), all relevant, and all pertinent to HR processes. If we go through them all here, we will never get to the videos!

OK.  Dessert at the end of the meal.  The videos:

The “Agile” in Agile Librarianship

Agile “is a set of methods and methodologies that help your team to think more effectively, work more efficiently, and make better decisions.” (1)

Well, you might say, that could apply to practically any business process and to most non-business activities, and not just to software development.  And you would be right.  We’ll say more later about Agile applications to librarianship project management and to teaching and learning methodology (#digped) in subsequent postings.  For today, we will focus on some of the Agile founding documents.

Here is the language of the original 2001 “manifesto:”

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.(2)

And here are the twelve principles, hammered out by the signers of the original manifesto, originally at the same 2001 conference, but refined at subsequent meetings:

We follow these principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.(3)

If you are thinking that this, again, could apply in many instances, and not just to software development, you would be right again!  That is the whole point.  I look at it like this:  in the past twenty years so much energy and effort have been applied to getting software right, that in the process, industrial processes have been developed that are generally applicable and that work, too!  The same (or similar), of course, can be said about all the effort that has been poured into warfighting against non-conventional forces in the last 15 years, i.e., that processes have been developed that can be successfully applied to other fields of endeavor, and we’ll get to that in just a second…

But for the moment, back to the topic at hand.

Every library I have every been associated with, as a librarian, as an intern, as a student worker, as a student and researcher, and merely as a member and a patron, while on the surface may appear to be a very calm and peaceful place, behind the scene is a veritable factory of projects, processes, and activities, a true site of productivity. These projects and processes, including but not limited to acquisition and procurement, disposal, cataloging, contracting and leasing, repair and preservation, circulation and interlibrary services, strategic planning, instructional design and delivery, and research and reference services, all exist on various timelines and with various objectives. They require a wide range of skills, talents and training, not necessarily limited to what one may consider the traditional skill set of the librarian.  It is an area ripe for Agile applications and methodologies distilled from years, from decades of software development.  This is where we are…

OK.  So let’s just take the deep dive.  The work of librarianship is nonlinear because the output of the system is greater than the sum of its parts when the parts are isolated (superposition) and when the system multiplies, its output multiplies more than proportionately (homogeneity).(4)  Library workers and software developers will know what I am talking about, as will war-fighters.  Work (production) is going on all over the place, at different rates of speed and in different directions.  And wise, strong leadership is required to steer this ship on a steady course, so to speak.

Let’s sum up.  Agile is a management style, and a leadership style, and a way of thinking that provides effective and efficient control of what might otherwise be considered an unwieldy and even chaotic set of industrial processes that exist in a nonlinear system.

More on Thursday…

(1) Stellman, Andrew and Jennifer Greene. 2014. Learning Agile.  O’Reilly Media, Inc.  Sebastopol, CA.

(2) The Agile Manifesto accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.agilealliance.org

(3) The Agile Manifesto accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.agilealliance.org

(4) Lynch, Justin. 2015. Nonlinearity and the Proper Use of Buzzwords. Small Wars Journal. Accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.smallwarsjournal.com.

Blogging 101 – Moving legacy content from Blogger to WordPress

Many folks (like me)  have legacy blogs and content in Blogger that they would like to transfer to WordPress. Yes, it is possible, and actually quite easy.  It’s basically a two step process of preparing the blog contents for export in Blogger, then importing that package into WordPress.  I will outline what I did here.

First, go to the blog you want to export in Blogger.  Click on “design” in the upper right corner, then click on “settings” at the bottom of the left side, then click on “other.”  At the top of the next page, under Blog Tools, select “Export Blog.” The contents of your Blogger blog will be downloaded to your default place with a name that looks like this: “blog-month-date-year.xml.”  That will be the end of the export stage.

Now go to the destination blog site in WordPress.  Click “My Sites” in the upper left corner, then click “WPAdmin,” then “Tools.”  Under the Tools menus, click “Import,” then “Blogger,” then chose your file from the location where you downloaded it.  Then the magic happens, and your old Blogger content populates your new WordPress site.

Easy peasy!

This also works for exporting from other legacy blog platforms.

And today’s Epictetus quote:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 09.33.31

Blogging 101 – Index, looking back on the course, & making some social calls

It occurred to me that it might be useful at some point in the future to have a one page index of all our assignments in the course. That is what I’ll do here:

Blogging 101 – Day 1: Introducing myself to Blogging U

Blogging 101 – Day 2: Getting the title and tagline right

Blogging 101 – Day 3: Getting to know the blogosphere neighbors

Blogging 101 – Day 4: Identifying my audience – poetry lovers

Blogging 101 – Day 5: Selecting a theme (Lovecraft to Libretto to Lovecraft)

Blogging 101 – Weekend post. Just submitted a poem to Goodreads

Blogging 101 – Day 6: Brushing up the About page

Blogging 101 – Day 7: Personalizing the blog

Blogging 101 – Day 8: Reaching out to the neighborhood

Blogging 101 – Day 9: Be inspired by the neighbors in the blogosphere

Blogging 101 – Day 10: Adding a blogroll, or two, or three

Blogging 101 – Day 11: Blogging around a prompt – community service

Blogging 101 – Day 12: Comments in the community

Blogging 101 – Day 13: Try (another) Blogging Event – #reblogwednesday

Blogging 101 – Day 14: Extend your brand

Blogging 101 – Day 15: Create a Feature

For those still reading.   Filomena and I and some friends went to the Goethe Institut last night to catch one of the movies in the African Diaspora International Film Festival, Nginga, Queen of Angola.  We spent two very memorable years in Luanda, 1998-2000, so the movie had special meaning to/for us.

More information on Raina Nginga is available here (Wikipedia).

And here we are at Nando’s for a Portuguese-South African repast after the film:

At Nando's after seeing Nginga Queen of Angola

Blogging 101 – Day 15: Create a Feature

Our final assignment is Blogging 101 is to create a feature, a regular, repetitively scheduled blogpost that readers can anticipate and look forward to.  I have an idea…

I decided to “hook” the blog to a Facebook fan page for branding, and I named that fan page “Agile Librarianship.”  So, on Mondays, I propose posting something on some aspect of Agile. And on Thursdays, I propose posting on some cutting-edge aspect of librarianship.  And in the “in-between” days, we’ll post whatever pops up.  Also, on Mondays and Thursdays, we will link the blog post to the facebook fan page.

So stay tuned!

p.s. I just added Small Wars Journal to the list, in the right sidebar, of cool blogs.  It is a blog that I have followed for several years, especially its posts on nonlinearity. Just as war is often non-linear in its progression, I am learning with Agile that project and program management both often follow a nonlinear pattern or progression from start to finish.  A surfer in Angola (who was working on a PhD at one of the big California universities) first introduced me to the idea of nonlinearity in foreign affairs, but that will have to be the subject of another blog post.

Bom fim de semana, and nihayaat al isbuah!

Blogging 101 – Day 14: Extend your brand

Day 14 task is to extend your brand, using a custom site icon, a facebook fan page, or a custom image widget.  I chose to create a facebook fan page, though later I may also add a custom image widget because so many folks are swearing off of Facebook. these days

So, I created the fan page and invited over 400 facebook friends, and at last count I had 18 fan page likes.  I think I’ll get a few more when we hit facebook drive time, around 6pm when folks get off work and check their facebook feeds.  Here is what the facebook fan page looks like so far:

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 14.10.28

Still got some work to do on its appearance, but we are on the way!

Below, because there has been so much talk about the 14th amendment to the US Constitution by Republican candidates, I decided to reproduce it here for y’all to check out.  The language is pretty unambiguous:

14th Amendment

14th Amendment

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

I took a constitutional law course many years ago at #FAMU that the University President taught.  He (President Humphries) said there were three amendments we had to know cold: the 13th that freed the slaves; the 14th that conferred on them citizenship; and the 15th that gave them the right to vote.  And there were three Supreme Court cases we had to know cold: the Dred Scott decision, that said blacks, freed or enslaved, had no rights; Plessey v Ferguson, that enshrined American Apartheid (separate but equal accommodations), and Brown v Board of Education, that abolished Plessey V. Ferguson.

And following yesterday’s tradition, a new quote from Amilcar Cabral:

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 14.39.36

Blogging 101 – Day 13: Try (another) Blogging Event – #reblogwednesday

Our Day 13 task is to join a different blogging community and follow their prompt (or something like that).  I chose #REBLOGWEDNESDAY after hearing an interesting interview on the radio.

We are radio listeners, normally, almost always erring on the side of public radio stations. Some days we hang out with #NPR local affiliate, #WAMU, and some days we listen to a local C-SPAN station, and some days, especially mornings, we go straight to #WPFW, a local non-commercial community radio station that we support.  Today we started with Democracy Now on WPFW, which was much more interesting, at least today, than the regular dribble on NPR (which used to be cutting edge, but now, it seems is pretty much MSM).  It was followed by an interview with a local activist who mentioned a blog post that gave a different slant on #BlackLivesMatter.  Well, I was frankly looking for a different slant, because the current slant was doing nothing for me.  You know what I mean?

The blog mentioned was #FreeTheLand, maintained by a PhD student at one of the DC universities, and the post was entitled “Six Lessons #BlackLivesMatter Can Learn from Amilcar Cabral.”  It captured my attention for two reasons.  One, reading about Amilcar Cabral as a teenager influenced my decision to go to his country, Guinea-Bissau, many years later for my first foreign service assignment.  And that is definitely a story for a different blogpost.  The second reason was that I had been thinking those people needed some lessons from somewhere, and this seemed like a suitable source.

Well, one thing led to another, and I started thinking about my time in Guinea-Bissau, which led my to a different blog to find out what was going on there these days, Ditadura do Consenso, where I learned of the country’s present political turmoil.

So, joining a different blogging community can lead to all sorts of interesting twists and turns!

p.s. Today’s very stoic quote comes from Amilcar Cabral:

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 17.06.32

p.s. For purposes of nostalgia, purely, here is a link to a poem I wrote at the end of my tour in Guinea-Bissau, just for context: My Return to Mother Africa


Blogging 101 – Day 12: Comments in the community

Commenting was fun.  Browsing through I found other posts not necessarily related to community service, and I commented on some of them too.  What is most amazing is the community of bloggers and bloggings we are developing.

Here is something a bit different, a poem by Rumi posted by one of my ModPo classmates:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 11.33.50

Blogging 101 – Day 11: Blogging around a prompt – community service

Today’s assignment is to build a blog post around a prompt, and the prompt provided is community service:

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.52.39

Part of my post (a big part, quite possibly the only part) is going to be to define my community.  Where to start?  I have my birth communities: my families (the Maxwells primarily of Guilford County, NC, along with the Rankins, and the Hairstons of Rockingham County, NC and Pittsylvania County, VA); and the churches and church-sponsored activities in Greensboro where I grew up; and my racial community, African-Americans, expanded later to include all people of African descent of whatever race.  Then I have educational communities that I am presently involved in: the Woodberry Forest Alumni group; the Stouffer Scholars group; the NC Governor’s School Foundation group.

pause …. catch breath…

College alumni communities’ fundraising efforts won’t let me forget them, and frankly, I love my alma maters: FAMU (BS), SOAS (MA), CUA (MSLIS).

“And reverence the wombs that bore you; surely God watches over you. ” Holy  Qur’an 4:1Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.34.04

One finds oneself connected socially and even politically to professional communities, which, in my case, include submarine, and in general, Navy veteran groups, and foreign affairs groups like AFSA and ADST, and Diplopundit readers and supporters. And most recently, by virtue of my recent entry into the library and information science profession, an entire new librarianship community emerges, a community of practice that also includes instructional designers, information architects, critical (and hybrid) pedagogues, and rhizomatic practitioners.

And finally, there are hobby communities that last a lifetime.  These include the community of poetry lovers (and writers and readers), the related community of life-long learners and MOOC enthusiasts, the community of gardeners and beekeepers, the community of art museum devotees and, in general, artists of all stripes.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.10.43