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Friday, July 14, 2017

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Complex Adaptive Systems Are Everywhere

I think a lot of people work for companies and then decide that they want to go off on their own and either do consulting or start their own businesses because they are not in situations where they are learning (which usually translates to they are not making enough money). Sure, there are isotope people with an idea that makes them not fit in with the rest of the nice, cyclical world, but more generally people are just prone to being dissatisfied. 

Couples are dissatisfied too, but their dissatisfaction becomes their standard and “well, it could absolutely be worse. I am lucky.” If there was a widget they could grab onto that would take them to the next level, they would be grabbing, but if there was a widget they would have done what I did – and more on that later. Ask my wife (who is just over 5 feet tall): you can only reach so high without standing on something or getting a boost.

Example of complex project management software

Professionally, I was in a similar spot. I did not have an idea that translated into billions of dollars but I am a very large fellow with an amazingly hot wife that happens to be a Doctor, and so it is quite easy for me to feel adequate and not toss and turn at night thinking that I am somehow a failure as a man. Let me be clear; it is not that I am so smart. I am not so smart. I just work hard and do not have the option of failure. My personal life presents me with a uniquely challenging situation and I am at once constantly struggling to position myself for success and stay true to the tenets of professionalism while not becoming too academic (it is a hard line to see at times but I can show it to you - and I owe Scott Ambler a lot, so no disrepect). It is not that I am so smart. It is that within Project Management, Agility is not new. It is not cunning. It is not anything we did not do 15 years ago. It is plain old prosletyzing when people argue Scrum versus Kanban. I will tell you the answer; it depends. It always depends on the situation and all that comprises it. I will also tell you, there is no such thing as Project Management. We created it as an idea to describe a set of circumstances. It works, because we are a Complex Adaptive System. More on that (too much, maybe) soon.

Project Managment exists on paper (this is an imaginary form that allows people to argue about nuances between RUP and RAD and so on and if there is value in a Scrum Master). If you read my blog you know I keep pointing to Ayer’s Universals versus Particulars. It is crucial. In my opinion. Please add this to your IT book shelf. People will look at you weird (if they do not already), but if I have learned anything it is to question even the obvious. Kids do it. We get them to stop. Shame.

There is also Project Management as it exists as a bucket that catches tasks that need to be done – this is what we try to describe in a generic fasion – some of these things are known and some are unknown but all real and likely to manifest. Projects are Complex Adaptive Systems. Project Management is a CAS because it does not exist by itself except for in theory and unless you are a PMI-thumping zealot, you recognize that sometimes new things come along that do not fit into the plan and although PMI recently realized they had to accomodate for Agile, Project Management is still a CAS because technology is changing so rapidly and Project Managers exist within dynamic environments. It took me a long time to realize that up until a point you are learning and past that point, you are just bickering about inconsequential theory upon the imaginary. The “Thoughtleaders” make me cringe. That is not exactly true. The term makes me cringe. Honestly. Part of that is because they are called Thoughtleaders when they stray from the norm and this is unique to IT – you can be dead wrong but still be a Thoughtleader. If that is the case, hoo boy am I a Thoughtleader. Where is my book tour?

People like the guys across the hall that do Scrum and do it well even though it might not be Scrum as Schwaber or Sutherland would call it are doing it right. They might not be Thoughleaders, but they are getting things done. They are plain old leaders. They are also a Team and a CAS. This is not to say Schwaber and Sutherland are not productive and important people. They are. They are brilliant, as is Scott Ambler and the rest of the guys I take pot shots at for fun and to see what might be uncovered. 

However, Jane Doe who is learning Scrum by doing it or who is building an application in an extensible fashion is *just as* important and I would argue perhaps more important than those who had the initial spark of an idea. This is horrible to admit in public, but I have always had a problem with authority. You’re not the boss of me. Please, earn my respect before you expect it. Recognize that unless people call you their Leader and treat you as a Leader or see Leadership value within you, “Leader” is just like a Burger King crown you put on your head. Paper. Disposable. Fragile and common.

So I was consulting. I had no sparks of ideas that translated to dollars outside my hourly fee although I dare say I loved working alongside brilliant people and solving problems together. I just was not learning. I would go to work and try things that I never tried before even if I had no indication they would work just to see if they would. I did it all in line with Best Practices, and I tempered it all with reality and responsibility, but there was nobody to say I was doing it wrong because in truth, it is not all on paper even if you try to put it all on paper and I have been afforded a lot of responsibility over the years, thankfully. I have had projects fail. I have had more succeed.

I got on Twitter a few years back when nobody really knew what it was for (including myself) and totally overshared. You do not care that I just had a great steak dinner unless you were the cow. In fact, years later with Loopt and the like you would learn that I was at Great Steak Restaurant and then go rob my house because I was so accustomed to assuming the Leaders were truly leading that I was safe following them (I never personally did this, but many smart people did and continue to). The people who started Twitter loved that I told the world I just bought a toothbrush, but in reality, there is no value there except for in the fact that technology is a Complex Adaptive System and like a coral reef, will try new things and grow in that direction if nourished or fall off and die if not. The wildfires in CA showed the potential of Twitter and it adapted. Hashtags became standard. Having @joshuamilane on business cards (mine, at least) became commonplace.

Things evolve, for good and bad depending on what side of the fence you are on. The Dodo bird was on the wrong side. Twitter was on the right side. People are things. These things are Complex Adaptive Systems. Tip from before I was married: if there are girls around and you want to impress them, you can talk about a CAS so they have to ask what you are talking about because who in their right mind does not swoon at acronyms – especially when used together – and who would not be totally turned on by the concept of a Complex Adaptive System? The great thing about three letter acronyms is that you can almost become a poet just by talking your lingo of choice.


You get the point. Yes you do. There is no point. Without the ability to bring things together, we meander like a rivulet of baby boogies. There is direction somewhere (usually towards the mouth), but nobody is steering the ship. The ship must be steered, and Thoughtleaders are not steering. Great ideas implemented by regular people are steering, collectively, as a CAS.

I can stand here with my arms at my side and look like a bull standing on his hind legs. Nobody will talk to me. I know this, trust me. If I say hello, however, one of two things will usually happen; I will hear “hello” back or that person will run. Once in awhile they will just ignore me. If I extend my hand, I have made a connection even if nobody takes it because they can recognize the potential for connection. If I just talk to you, I have made a connection. If I maintain that connection, it is akin to my growth. Our growth.

How romantic, yes?

 The CAS gets larger. That is why, in my opinion, it is important we build things with extensibility in mind and with a solid foundation before we rush to slap the latest hot topic out of the box. I do not want Enterprise software that tells me how to display my tweets. I want to dictate that myself because I might change my mind.  I probably WILL change my mind eventually. I could build anything in software. Why build something that limits when the very nature of software and being human is to be part of a system that extends itself, grows, and as the future manifests, accomodates the world and it’s people? The Thoughleaders are not the ones who decide where we will go next because in the end, although they may sell books, there are checks and balances in place just as in nature and a few failures will spread into a buzz which will be louder than the prosletyzing salesperson. We dedide what is next. You and I do. The community does. Some roads are laid out for us and very attractive because they are soft and easy to walk down, but that does not make them good. That makes them marketable.

Build with extensibility in mind. Build with the ability to itegrate in mind. Be Agile. Deliver value quickly. That is easier said than typed, really. If you build in a way that allows for web service calls, consumes and passes XML, operates under a service-oriented architecture (SOA for you who are still giddy from my poem), or otherwise takes advantage of the fact that we do not know yet then you are doing it right. from

Remember Legos? A big pile of what looks like junk. How many units did it sell and how many types of Legos were made? You have Star Wars Legos, Construction Legos, Army Legos, and all sorts of others. All they do is allow you to build in an extensible fashion. This concept of waste or muda, specifically, is in my opinion off-base. If I have left over Legos but built something I love, the leftovers can either sit there happily useless or I can build something small out of them. You might be seeing that in a Complex Adaptive System, POTENTIAL is where the value and where the magic lies.

I was not learning as a Project Manager. Could have been my fault. Could have been bad luck and a bad choice of situations to put myself into. Could have been that as a Consultant, it was because I knew Agile that they hired me. I was not being paid to learn (although I did learn about *other* things besides Project Management). Potential was low. I was losing my ability to grow a CAS, which is what your team is. Someone asked on Twitter (it was this guy) “Do we all accept that teamwork and team-oriented practices have proven themselves and finally triumphed over the lone-genius model? ” Because I like to push buttons and keep things interesting, and because as much as I think Bob (that guy) could write fortune cookies for a living, I asked if the Team could not be the Genius. He said no. He may have been kidding. Fact is, the team and the CAS is the Genius.

Even if it is one person, it is their ability to connect that makes for genius. The validity of “genius” aside, we are talking value here. I could be a genius at stacking pop tarts and nobody will care except the guy who sells me pop tarts. I was, in fact, becoming really good at stacking pop tarts, but pop tarts made of concepts like Kanban, Scrum, Lean, etc. I love that stuff, don’t get me wrong, and I still very much enjoy helping Teams find their inner Agile, but it was getting academic.

Which brings me to the point of this blog entry.

I recently joined Sitecore as a Regional Sales Manager for New England. Yes, it is quite different than being an Agile or PM consultant. Hugely different. Keep you up at night different. However, there is a very good reason I did this. I know the value of a CAS and of being around people who are smarter than you. Sitecore grew 60 percent last year. Competition is nervous, and there really is none. Look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant and the .NET platforms this year. What joining this Team did was allow me to take what I was talking about for all my 16 years in software and actualize it not as back and forth over theory, but as an advocate for a tool that will make a real difference and allows for all the benefits of a CAS within a CMS / WCM.

I am an Open Source fan, because well, it is open. The benefit of being open is extensibility and customization. Sitecore has that as well, but within the .NET framework. How many refactoring projects have I been on that were written in .PHP and wound up as dyspeptic (if digestable at all) spaghetti code? Probably 50. It is true that .ASP to ASP.NET can be hard, but Sitecore is ASP.NET, integrated with Visual Studio, and it does not hand you a solution and take away your ability to play with your Legos like so many do. It is powerful, but you are as powerful as it is. The other very cool thing about Sitecore as a company is they only implement (I guess I should say we only implement) through partners. If you are a Sitecore Partner, you must be good and you are able to focus on your job and the Client.  

Okay, so let’s look back. We started very far from Sitecore. We wound up here. I did not predict this. I just knew I needed to write something in my blog because it has been awhile and there are people outside my house with signs screaming for an update. Yesterday someone threw a tomato and so I knew I had to sit down and write. It makes sense to write about what is relevant. Right now, I am kind of grooving on this whole “being part of a kickass team” thing. That, and some of Jimi Hendrix’s more eccletic work like “Third Stone from the Sun” (highly recommended, thank me later).

The fact is that a well oiled machine does a lot more than any one of it’s pieces alone, but each piece has an important function. A Complex Adaptive System exists within each one of us. The lone Genius model never existed, although it did on paper (sorry @flowchainsensei). I have made the move from being a self-propelling agent of Agile to an agent of Agile who can point to an actual tool that helps BUILD instead of track projects. Learn about Sitecore and you will see why, but it is all about extensibility, being able to reach your hand out easily and integrate with another system, and being able to recognize not only who you are presenting a site to, but how they are viewing it, who they are, and how your site was made to be rendered for people. Not browsers, but people.

If you want a demo, and you do… trust me… get in touch with me. If you are a .NET shop with talented developers, give me a little of your time. You have my word it will not be wasted. I am excited at this opportunity and think you will see why. I am choosing to get get into the acronym dance here because it will not have much value. I am choosing to not talk theory here because it will not have much value. I am talking about potential for the rapid delivery of value. I am staying Agile, but grounded. Not the lone genius by any means, I am suggesting that if you are curious why I would make such a significant change at a time of my life where I (really now) cannot afford to fail, let me know.  I will make sure you see. Until l saw I thought it was a song and dance.

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