On a Cusp

I’m hours away from what is generally seen as a significant point in one’s life: the beginning of my sixtieth year.

My thoughts about this waypoint in my journey are likely to be similar to those of others or even yourself: what a trip it’s been, I’m really 60?, what does the future hold for me and the seven billion I share the Earth with, especially the seven and seventy who are most dear to me.

Decades ago, I wrote an essay about the time and perspective. It wasn’t so much an essay as a letter written late at night to a dear friend, but I expound and address the gathered crowds even in my letters. It’s a grand — or grandiose — tendency I have.

In that long-ago letter, I wrote of Glenn Gould, a Canadian pianist. I first learned of him and his work from my first wife, who was well-acquainted with music and a wide range of topics about which I knew little.

Gould was unique, and even reading the Wikipedia entry on him you’d see what I mean. He began his career brash and supremely talented, and we can hear proof listening to his first recording from 1955, of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The photo of him on the jacket of what was then an “album” showed a 22-year-old who clearly was making his own music, his own way — he insisted on artistic freedom in his first recording contract, at 22 years old, not at all common at that time. 

Since 17, he’d been studying the Variations, little known and performed little. His debut recording sold an astonishing number of copies, then and later. Gould had made a statement.

Yet he soon retired from public performance, preferring studio work where he could try again and again to play perfectly. He acknowledged that mistakes happened; he just didn’t want those to be what he and others heard. Thanks to recording techniques and multiple takes, he could create what he regarded as perfection…in the studio.

Decades later, he recorded the Variations again. While his first recording was stunning in its virtuosity and speed (and length: Gould tended not to play the repeats as the music and tradition dictated), his last recording is somehow even more astonishing: slower, deeper, each passage, each note having been considered for decades. It’s much longer, and steeped in what strikes me as intimacy over virtuosity. 

These two recordings bracket my coming into existence, in May of 1957, and my coming into my own, in 1981, when I left school and began discovering how I would affect the world around me and how it would affect me.

I took a bit longer than Gould to discover what I really meant by being affected and affecting, experimenting and failing, rejoicing and realizing. 

There’s something about those 1955 and 1981 recordings that I discovered late one night, listening at top volume in the dark. Gould, he who insisted on perfection in performance and recording, can be clearly heard in many of the pieces humming along a he played. 

In 1955, Elvis Presley recorded much of his music in one take; that was typical at the time, and Gould’s multiple takes were eccentric and expensive. 

These days, we’re used to perfection, or the appearance of it — AutoTune, recording magic, lip-syncing. By 1981, multi tracking and multiple takes and splicing was typical — but here’s Gould humming along like you or I would when we hear our favorite songs on the radio or our iPhone.
In 1955, what Gould produced was astonishing, superhuman, and perfect. By 1981, it was him, humming and all. This was Bach not performed by him, but channeled through him. He brought the Variations to me, through him, in a way that stays with me always. I’m listening to them, to him, as I write this.

Glenn Gould died of a sudden stroke, days after he turned 50, having channeled Bach, Canada, and himself briefly and brilliantly…and having greatly affected my life.

I’m not Glenn Gould. I’ve only in the last decade or so come in to being Michael J. Tardiff. I’ve spent the last decade or so helping myself be myself, helped and encouraged and shaping and influenced by so many of you, readers and those who barely remember my name. That same dear friend to whom I wrote that letter long ago once told me she loved attending my presentations, because she sensed that even I didn’t know what I was going to say until I said it. In a sense, then, I was channeling myself, in the presence of others.

I’ve spent the years since Julie’s spot-on assessment trying to reconcile the me that is me with my perception of who I am. And here, on the cusp of ending my sixth decade, I’m beginning to feel that I came into being, first son of Arthur and Dorothy, to channel my self, to shine forth. And in the last decade, that’s been my work, guided and inspired by patient friends and idols and geniuses, but even more so by those who sideswipe my life, passing by a little too fast and a little too close,  leaving paint marks on me and taking some of my color along with them as they disappear over the hill.

So here I am, well past the middle way, having spent forty years discovering who and what I am, only to discover that I am a part of all that I have met, and they a part of me. I’ve been asked throughout the years about my aim, my goal, and my answer since my twenties has been the same: to connect, to share, to discover, to learn, to just be…and to be happy. I’d wondered if wanting to be happy was selfish, and it is self-ish. What I haven’t realized until recently is that my connections, my discoveries, my learning, my happiness has a purpose — to affect others, and to effect change towards happiness for others and for all. It seems like an unreachable goal, yet I don’t care: each bit of paint we leave behind makes a bit of a difference, and that difference may be what it takes to make something happen.

You do that, in your own way. I’ve noticed. I’ve benefitted. I’m grateful. I’m who I am because of you.

Help me celebrate. Please give money, time, or anything at all to something that helps other people. Donations, work, things — and to anyone you choose or prefer, from homeless people to needy people to causes or efforts or schools. And make the donation/gift/effort in your name, not mine. Make a mark, a scratch, a dent; leave happiness, betterness, and joy. Please.

And happy birthday.

[For a taste of what makes Glenn Gould so important to the world and me, read his remarkable New York Times obituary.]

Make Resolving Impediments a Habit

Agile Tools


I’ve talked a lot about the rigors of finding and resolving impediments for a team. There is one thing that I have left out: the people part. I learned this lesson at a conference that I was co-hosting. I had been in charge of setting up the food for the event. Getting the caterer, arranging for meals, that sort of thing. As you might imagine, it’s a pretty tough job to satisfy the dietary requirements for a very large group of people. I learned of whole categories of food allergies and needs that I had never even imagined existed! There was a little bit of every imaginable combination. Everything from your standard gluten free diet all the way to lacto-ovo-pesca-leguma-veganitarians (OK, I made that last one up).

We did the best we could to satisfy the needs of most folks and pretty much called it good. About halfway through the conference…

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Mending Walls

Scrum is focused on teams. But who’s on the team? And how can others help?

Not too long ago, a manager told me, “It’s seems like you’re saying that Scrum separates me from my team. That doesn’t feel right, because I’ve worked hard to create an open atmosphere here.” And he had a point: the language we often use when talking about Scrum teams includes “protecting” the team, focusing on the people who have “hands on the keyboard.” We think we need to separate the Scrum team from their partners in the organization.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
– Robert Frost, “Mending Wall

That conversation reminded me of a time, years ago, when I was working with a team whose managers had asked me to help them learn how to deliver using Scrum. These folks worked in what some technology professionals might see as an extremely stable company; many people had been at the company for double-digit numbers of years. They worked together, celebrated together, knew each other’s families and kids. They knew a lot about being together before I ever came into their lives.

When it came to the time when we were forming the Scrum team – choosing who’d work on which team, who’d serve as ScrumMaster, and so on – we got a bit stuck. “I think I should definitely be on the team,” said Richard, who was the manager of most of the developers and testers who’d be working together. “I need to see what the team is doing.” Others piped up, remembering what we’d learned about cross-functional delivery teams, and offered that Richard didn’t have a delivery role; he was a manager.

The brand-new ScrumMaster, Amy, suddenly brightened. “Richard,” she said, what if you were a ‘team friend’? We’re going to have lots of challenges as we learn to work using this Scrum thing, and we’ll need all the help we can get. And friends are important: they care about you, they’ll listen, offer advice…they’ll pitch in and help you out when you’re in a tough spot. Sometimes, they’ll even lend you money!”

Amy had captured everything I’d wanted to say about supportive work environments and empowered teams. Our team was going to need friends to survive our learning and adapting times ahead. And so Amy made a poster labeled “Our Team Friends” and invited Richard to come over and sign in as our first friend.

When the poster went up on the team’s wall later that week, it quickly attracted attention from others whose work brought them into frequent contact with our team. “Can I be your team friend too?” they’d ask, in all earnestness. Amy would explain what our expectations were from friends, and to our surprise, one by one they happily signed their names.

Here’s the best part: we soon discovered that one of the team members had to be gone for two entire sprints, and the team felt shorthanded without him. Richard heard our concerns, and said, “Could I help? Could you use an extra hand?” The team was surprised at his offer, but quickly accepted it. Richard, like a true friend, backed us up wholeheartedly – he temporarily moved out of his office and onto a table in the team room and there paired with team members to deliver software, complete stories, and accomplish our iteration goal. Reflecting on Richard’s contributions at our retrospective a month later, we realized we couldn’t have done it without him. And the team felt that they had a real commitment from management to support them through this time of change.

I wished that I’d remembered Amy’s idea when I was working with that recent team and its involved, supportive manager. But it’s not too late for them, nor for your team. Consider inviting the support, understanding, help, and trust of those “outside” your delivery team. Make more friends, and try to keep them. And don’t forget to invite them to the post-sprint celebration at the pub!

Lost. Moved. Somewhat.

Anything we wait for long enough happens.  And that’s the story with my old Web home, MichaelJTardiff.com; that address now points here, where I have (some of) my (old) blogs posts. But what’s missing is what was at the old site: my bios, pics, resumes, and the like.

With the advice and assistance of folks more capable in this realm, I’m moving the whole kit and caboodle to a new home. In the meantime, here’s the place I’ll be.

Should you want some of the info that used to be at michaeljtardiff.com, drop me a line. I’m pretty easy to reach.


Lost, Now Found

I’ve been away for a bit.

But now, here I am, aloft and winging my way home to Seattle, deciding that it’s time to actually write the 482 posts that I’ve sketched out, started, even nearly finished.

I have a lot to say; I need to get in the habit of actually saying it, here.

Here’s what got me going again, inspired me, really: reading Steve Job’s resignation letter. The man has, for ever so long, had a knack for being essential, spare, and very, very clear.

As even this post indicates, I do not have such focus, discipline, or talent.

But let’s see what I do have, shall we?

It’s good to see you again.

The Agile Coach: “Establishing Trust”

Where it all happened

You’ve been patient, and I appreciate it. Here’s your reward: the second episode of The Agile Coach, entitled “Establishing Trust.” (Oh, wait—if you only follow my blogging here, this is the first you’ve heard of the podcast. No matter; the first episode was all about introducing ourselves, and if you want to listen to that one, just visit iTunes and download it. This time, though, we start getting meaty.)

In a little over 20 minutes, we—Skip Angel and Michael Tardiff—explore how an Agile coach establishes trust with those she or he is trying to help…and what can happen when that trust is lost. We tell stories of our successes and a few failures in this crucial aspect of coaching…and we barely scratch the surface of the subject. You can expect future episodes on different dimensions of trust.

Getting out the second episode of the podcast (the first one with real content), was trickier than we thought. Some unexpected travel forced us to try a “double-ender,” where the two of us, separated by 3,272 miles yet joined by the Internets, each record our own high-quality audio while watching and listening to each other using Skype. (The picture above is of the “studio” I set up in my childhood bedroom to record my end of the show.) To our astonishment, it worked, although not without a few complications and a bit of variable audio quality. We’re learning, and we expect that not distance, nor rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night will stay this podcast from its appointed schedule in the future.

Some of you have written to tell us you listened to and liked Episode 1, which was pretty content-free, really. If you liked Episode 1, you’ll love Episode 2. For the rest of you who are a bit harder to please…try Episode 2. You’ll like it. Let us know what you think, because that’s what makes all this work. Tell us what worked, what didn’t, and what you want to hear in the upcoming episodes by sending us a message

We think we’ve worked out the syndication issues, and we’re now on iTunes: search for “The Agile Coach” or just click here.

We promise that Episode 3 will come along a lot sooner than this one followed the first!

Let Your Fingers Do the Tossing

pixellated-walking-fingersI just threw away all of the telephone books.

For years, they’ve been delivered to my doorstep, from a few different companies. For years, I’ve unwrapped them and placed them on a high shelf. For years, I’ve never touched them. Why, oh why, have I bothered to waste time and space for all those years?

Because losses loom larger than gains.

I first saw that phrase in Chris O’Leary’s brilliant, one-page distillation of the the forces behind successful innovation. Chris points out that “people find the threat of loss to be far more motivating than the promise of gain.” And I see this every day as I work with teams that are trying to get better at doing what they spend their days doing, delivering business value to their customers through software.

“Change? Sure, that sounds like a good idea. There are lots of things wrong here. Wait…I need to do stop doing that? But I’ve always done that. Why? It’s the right way. Results? Well, yeah, when we do that, it doesn’t always work, but that’s just because Dave over there isn’t thinking things through when he…”

Change is what we want other people to do. But the rule is this: if you want to engender change in a group dynamic, go first. Be the change you want to see in the world. Charity starts at home—wait, that’s a different maxim. But you get the idea.

So I no longer have telephone books at hone. What’s next? The land-line telephone’s already gone; maybe I drop the VoIP service I got to save my long-time phone number? Stay tuned and see.