About a week ago I was looking at my screen in the morning and wondering how to improve how I handle my e-mail. My key problem was lots of mail that is not spam but is also not real e-mail nor something I want to read every day – stuff like LinkedIn notifications, discussion groups, E-bay notifications and the like. I started to think of creating a filter structure to sort it out of the way, but didn’t get to implementing it when Google announced “Priority Inbox”.

GMail’s “Priority Inbox” is basically a spam filter in reverse. Rather than trying to guess what is junk it tries to guess what is it that the user would really like to read. Great idea – and pretty well implemented.

I was already using a GMail extension called “Multiple Inboxes” so my GMail screen was divided into three regions: the inbox, just unread e-mails and starred e-mails. Priority inbox plugs right into this set up and creates a fourth region – e-mails Google’s filter “thinks” I want to see.

Since I still keep on using an e-mail client (Thunderbird) with my GMail accounts I was glad to find that the “Priority Inbox” is also exposed as an IMAP folder.

So far I’m really enjoying this new feature. Even though it makes me more addicted and dependent on Google’s GMail service it came at exactly right time for me.

Jesse Fewell – a long time proponent of building bridges between the world of traditional project management and agile – has brought to my attention the newest initiative by Alistair Cockburn – “The Oath of Non-Allegiance”:

I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation.

This should be obvious in the context of looking for ways to better run projects, but clearly it is not. The world of agile is full of divisions, bickering and discussions that remind me of good old days of comp.os.advocacy. As Jesse points out, even the thought leaders of the agile community practice very little collaboration that is the cornerstone of this whole approach. Why?

I think there are two reasons for this.

First, for some agile – or, worse, just one flavor of it – has become something akin to a secular religion that gives their lives sense and meaning – the one and only true way to not only run software projects, but also “transform the world of work” and people’s lives worldwide. It doesn’t matter if this attitude is true or faked – believers will fight with each other over slightest details always defending their chosen flavor of agile. They will also savagely attack anyone who dares to suggest agile is just a tool.

Second, once money is added to the mix things are bound to get hot. People have built their livelihoods around teaching and promoting certain “labels” and, naturally, they will fight to protect what they consider to be their turf. This is exactly same reaction as the one we are getting from “traditional project managers” when promoting agile – they feel their jobs are at risk from methods with no room for someone that will tell workers what to do.

Both attitudes are normal and very human indeed, however they should not shape the world of agile. I think most of us – people involved in agile – want to get things done. I’m enthusiastic about Scrum not because I think it will put the whole world as we know it on its head – but because I know from first hand experience that Scrum simply works on software projects. I’m pretty sure there are projects where it would fail – and I would use other, more appropriate methods there.

I’m sure there are more pragmatists like me and it is a good thing that their voice is heard. I signed the Oath.

As some of you may know I have been on a committee led by Harvey Wheaton, that was tasked with selecting the candidates for the two vacant seats on the Scrum Alliance’s board. I was pretty surprised with the proposal to be a part of this group given some of my views, mostly about CST process etc., that I express also here, but I took this as an opportunity to help the Scrum Alliance.

It turned out to be an interesting experience. Since SA’s bylaws didn’t prescribe a process we should follow, so we had to self-organize and devise a process that would be – in our opinion – fair. It worked out better than – I think – anyone of us expected. We managed to come up with a pretty good selection pretty quickly with just e-mails and two confcalls.

The process was pretty simple – on the first call we decided we want to learn more about potential candidates who expressed interest, especially what they want to bring to Scrum Alliance, so we have created a simple questionnaire for them to respond to. Some obviously didn’t saving us work, but 17 people did submit responses varying in length. As it turned out on the last call all of us took time and read through those responses, some even more than once. Thus prepared we were able to reach a consensus during the second call and present a very balanced list of candidates.

Personally, when reading the submissions, I was looking for concrete vision and addressing SA’s real problems (damaging and unnecessary rift with Ken and Jeff, certification process in dire need of an overhaul – incl. the CST process, lack of vision and openness in what the board does, Scrum being pushed aside by the “Kanban camp’s” marketing efforts etc.) rather than general statements on promoting Scrum etc. I think a board member is responsible for steering the organization in a (hopefully) right direction, not for defining what is Scrum for example (“Scrum Guide” by Ken and Jeff does this well enough).

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the candidates that we selected – the list will be published on the SA site pretty soon.

Now it is up to members to vote and choose, keeping in mind that those two board members will have limited influence and can be outvoted by the incumbents anyway. However, at least they can probably influence the Scrum Alliance in the right way or tell the rest of the members how the board works or what it decides and why.

It is about time to reinvigorate the Alliance and save it from fading into irrelevance – which is what can happen if those pressing points I mentioned above are not addressed – so vote carefully.

Everyone knows the iPad – Apple’s newest toy, a crossover between an iPhone and a computer. It is nice, sleek, innovative and will sell like hot cakes (in fact, it already does). But there is one paradigm change it pushes that I find troubling: Apple’s software distribution system.

Ever since “personal computers” (as they were called back then) made it to people in late 70-ies owners could load whatever software they wanted onto their machines. They could code their own, buy a copy or upload a shared (“pirated”) software. Whatever they wanted. No one knew what they have on their machines and no one could change that.

Apple’s model is that you can only get software from the central App Store run by Apple. Period. You can’t download off the Internet. You can’t buy a box at a media market nearby. You can’t use Open Source stuff from someone’s site. And you can’t make your own – unless you have another full-blown Apple computer and sign up for a special account in the Apple Dev program. That means your machine is no more entirely yours, it’s just a terminal to a store with shiny toys you have to pay for. And Big Brother Steve controls what toys are there.

This also affects the software business by introducing a new risk for software vendors. Normally your sales don’t depend on the operating system or machine maker. They can intimidate you, buy you out, introduce nasty tricks in the OSs new release you will have to work around, introduce their own bundled, free product to compete with yours (IE) but they don’t control your distribution. Host OS vendor could make your life harder but not kill you overnight.

Numerous times I’ve read complaints about Microsoft being a bullying, ugly monopolist – in fact I wrote a couple myself – but even in the maddest fit of furry Steve Ballmer can’t pull the plug on your entire business just like that. Steve Jobs can and will, with a smile. One day you might be selling hundreds of downloads of your app on the App Store and the next day your revenue stream is gone and your business with it. If that doesn’t make Apple an evil monopolist I don’t know what else they have to do to earn the title.

To be fair Apple didn’t invent this model. It was first introduced on a large scale by Amazon with their Kindle device. It is in fact a terminal to a paid library of books you can’t ever really own – you just rent them at a price to read them (I think Amazon’s stating that you “buy” them is misleading advertising). It is the ultimate perversion of the great concept of public libraries on steroids. Apple just applied that first to iPhone with great results and now it tries to do the same with computing. I’m afraid it won’t end with the iPad…

The thing is I can whine on my blog, and so can others, but this won’t change anything. The carrot, the bait is too big for both consumers and vendors. Consumers get easiest possible way to get software, vendors get instant access to huge market. So everyone will, sadly, play along. It could have been done better – for example through a community-run “App Store” or something – but for the time being the only thing I can do is buy a Linux-powered netbook and thus revert to my roots.

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