Friday, January 20, 2012

The Transparent Gorilla: If you can see through me, you can see me.

In response to Agileexam Gate:

"Hey. Can I ask you about project Pompeii's status?"

I tensed up , turning slowly to face Molly. She was the program manager on another project, which had some dependencies on my project. Okay, had a lot of dependencies on my project. I plastered a smile on my face. "Sure, Molly, what's up?"

Looking down at her notes, she said "You're reporting green on the phase interlock grid?"

I nodded, "Absolutely, PIG is on track."

Molly scratched her head, "I'm confused, it's supposed to be fully complete in two weeks. We've yet to be able to deploy it without everything melting down. Is there a problem with it?"

"Problem?" Damn, my voice nearly squeaked. Fighting it back under control , I answered, " Look, it is nothing we can't resolve. We said it would be ready, it will be ready."

"I'm just concerned, we only have two weeks of slack, if PIG misses those dates, Prometheus is going to go down in flames," she said.

My smile slipped away. "You have an issues, take it to the PMO. I said it would be ready and you're questioning me? We're on the problem and we'll have it ready. Now excuse me, some of us have real work to do."

I spun about and stalked off to my office. The nerve she had! Of course PIG was risky. I mean how often to you integrate a phase oscillating projector into a self healing data grid? We just needed to focus and get the work done. It was on my and my teams shoulders to do. We didn't need to tell anyone about the process, we just needed to get it done. We all knew it would work, everyone else needed to just back off. I strode into my office and collapsed in my chair. I so needed a nap.

"Transparency… " Hogarth said from his corner of the office.

I didn't look at him, making every pretense of counting the holes in the acoustical ceiling tiles. I so didn't need a gorilla telling me about see through plastics.

Hogarth sighed, and heaved his bulk up. Lumbering over to my desk he leaned in to loom over me. "If you hold up a metal shield to me, all I see is myself. If you hold up a window, I see you. "


Make the insanity stop!

I rarely tackle current event issues. With twenty years of my own mistakes and witnessing a lot of strange things, I've got years worth of blogs . But I wouldn't be true to Hogarth and all I stand for, if I didn't stand up now.

Note: You have to read the Agile Scout's blog on his fact check of for this to make sense. Also you may want to read Jesse Fewell's blog on the same subject.

Even in it's current form, Agile Scout's blog calls into question the business behind the product Agileexams. I don't think anyone I've talked to denies that the product is a good idea and it has value. What Peter Saddington (Scout) is calling into question is the business and marketing practices behind Agileexams.

Point and Counterpoint:
So, first off we have to ask the question, "Could Peter have done more research on his article?" or "Did Peter act too fast to get out his story?" The answer to this is a fully qualified "Maybe." I don't know everything Peter did to research the story. What I can say is that the person who's testimonial he highlighted had one hell of a name. Even having the full name of the person, it took me ten minutes to get the PMI certification registry to cough up his name (It's not a Google like search at all). I also know that I can't for the life of me figure out how to not show my certifications and that the default is for your certifications to be shown, you have to opt out. I do know that Peter reached out to me for my experience and reportedly he asked Agileexams' owner to answer questions, but was declined. So could he have done a better job in the first place? Possibly. But that's an answer you can probably give to 80% or more of all journalism done.

Now let's look at the response. Getting bad, questionable press is naturally something that no one wants. What you do about it though tells the world a lot about your character and causes people to form their own opinions. When Toyota had their gas pedal issues, they weren't raked over the coals for the problem. They were lambasted for how they responded to the problem. When Herman Cain was hit with the sexual misconduct scandal, people were shocked, but the real damage was in how he handled the accusations. No one was happy with the fact BP had their oil platform go boom, but people were furious with how BP responded to the disaster. 

Now let's urn it around . When the Twin Towers fell the rescue response was immediate and sustained. Resources poured in from all over the country and the response was incredible and public reaction was equally high. More recently, EMC's RSA division was hacked and that exposed hundreds of companies to security risks. EMC got in front of the issue, admitted the breach, worked with the affected customers and reissued millions of RSA tokens. In their next quarterly report, the RSA division reported great earnings. Their customers were so impressed, they bought more product, they didn't run away.

When faced with adversity, tackling it head on and with complete openness has proven to be the right way to go time and time again.

Following the Toyota way:
Unfortunately, Agileexams followed in the footsteps of Cain, Toyota and BP.

Before Peter had even published his article, before the content was known at all, Agileexams was threatening Peter with legal action.

After the article was published, Agileexams first responded by urging its customers to respond if they were harmed and to blog in defense of Agileexams. In this email, the company said it was considering legal action.

Then an email thread began, in which myself and several others who'd made comments on Peter's blog were treated to a front row seat between Agileexams and Peter. Errors in Peter's story were pointed out and Peter quickly made corrections to his article and apologized to both Agileexams and the individual originally cited in the testimonials section. That didn't end it. Agileexams demanded a full deletion of the article and a public apology. Using words like Unethical and "Not agile". In the same emails that were flat out demanding change.

Other questions have remained completely unanswered. More than just Peter have asked about what is the definition of "100 years of combined experience" or how "#1 PMI-ACP Exam Prep Resources" is justified. Is Agileexams just one person, or many?

Does it matter?:
Does it really matter if they have 100 years of combined experience, or if they can't substantiate being #1. If the company was just one guy, a stack of agile books and a website, would it change?

Yes and No:
No, it wouldn't change, if Agileexams was up front and open. Instead of spending time and money on a slick marketing campaign just focus on the product and make the product great. Quality is its own magnet of success. I personally recommended the site because of the sample tests, not because of any of the slick marketing.

Yes, it would change. If you fail to be transparent and open, customers lose trust. This is even more so in an agile community. Trust, Transparency, and Collaboration are all hallmarks of agile. You don't succeed in agile by reaching for a loaded lawyer as your first recourse.

The Gorilla's Stance:
I find myself in a difficult position. One I would much rather avoid than confront. The problem is, if I did avoid it I would be going against my own ethics, going against just what I was advocating in my blog on having a PMI-ACP credential. I am one of the first 515, I have a responsibility to the community. That doesn’t make it any easier.

I think Agileexams, as a product, is excellent. I had nothing but positive interactions during my time using the product. I think it is a good tool that doesn't slip to far down the Test Mill "were just here to get you to pass" rat hole. I had even approached Agileexams about writing some questions for them. Let me say this again. It's is a great product. I really hope it will succeed.

Which is why I'm so saddened by the perception that the business is not on the up and up. Perception- Hogarth and I really have to talk about this one in detail someday. The short form is, Perception is 9/10s of reality. You don't have to like it, you don't have to agree. The reality is perception matters. Just look at Bill Clinton. Did he, or didn't he? It doesn't matter, perception is he did and it will forever hang over his head. The Perception is Agileexams is not being open. The Perception is Agileexams will reach for legal solutions first and foremost. The Perception is Agileexams is hostile to inquiry. The Perception is Agileexams is not agile.

For me the straw was the closing line in the email thread I've been given front row seats to. The line was  in response to Peter's, both posting of the article and not issuing a public apology. Agileexams wrote- "What you did was not Agile."

Hello? Let's take a look at this.

Agile Value 1- Individuals and interactions over process and tools.
Agile Value 3- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

Agile teams don't reach for a baseball bat when they disagree with a customer. Agileexams threatened legal action before Peter ever posted his blog. Like it or not, Peter is as much their customer as the rest of the internet. Customers want to know what's going on. They often ask hard and embarrassing questions. Being agile means you respond open and truthfully, not with threats.

Agile Principle 6- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-face:

Face to face is not possible be, but all of us know that email is the worst medium for communication. Pick up the phone and talk. Whether Agileexams intended to or not, they have been perceived as hiding behind an email address and first name only.

Agile Principle 2- Welcome changing requirements...

Peter reported what he knew. When he learned more, he amended the report. Then he amended it again. All based on one of his customers inputs (In this case Agileexams was his customer). But you don't throw out the entire project. If you make a mistake, you don't toss yourself off a cliff, you make it better.

So what does this mean to me? What does it mean to all of you?
Good question. This entire episode is being touted by some agilists who think the PMI-ACP was a bad idea in the first place. They are pointing to this as proof of credentials being evil . It also raises the "Test Mill" specter. Is Agileexams just in the business to get you to pass? Faithful Hogarists know how I feel about Test Mills and the ACP, so that one is doubly concerning to me.

I believe in agile and I believe in the value of a certification (done right).

Given that I can't in good conscience recommend Agileexams until it modifies its practices to be more transparent.

It's not about me, it's not about Agileexams, it's not about Agile Scout.

It's about AGILE.

Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla?
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP