Archive for August, 2009

So I happen to be re-reading Larry Niven / Jerry Pournelle “Footfall”, and I am struck by this passage:

“…as far as I know, though, Michael is the only quick and dirty way we have to get a battleship into space.”

“Michael?” The President asked.

“Sorry, sir. We’ve already given it a code name. The Archangel Michael cast Satan out of Heaven.”

“Appropriate enough name. However, our immediate problem is to get them out of Kansas…”

At GreenHouse, where I am the Chief Technology Officer, I am in charge of bringing bleeding edge, revolutionary, creative and inexpensive business optimization tools to bear for all strata of the company in order to make my teammates and executives have productive and fun days doing what we are doing. Which, by the way, is changing the world for the better. Nothing, not even the iPhone, comes close to the wonders we have achieved with a $14 4′ x 8′ piece of tileboard and a $20 Expo Dry Erase System. That’s right, people: I am talking whiteboards. Again.

Stick the clutch and change gears with me for a minute. As many of you know, I had a previous life teaching; college, high school, tutoring, Boy Scouts, by example… Due to the necessity of the ever-evolving requirements at our company, and the need to foster teamwork and agile communication, I have been teaching GreenHouse Scrum. Honesty, embracing change, active collaboration, knowing you have a team with you, daily standups, squeaky toys — all of the soundbyte stuff that sticks well in the mind. Meanwhile, a routine is being built; expectations are being set; issues bubble up to the surface instead of being swept under the rug or left for someone else to discover; you stop working in a vaccuum and one person can communicate what the rest of your Team is doing while you’re the only one of them going out to lunch with the business owners.

This started way back in history…when I moved in with Kleptus and brought a whiteboard, which I would occasionally would draw on to make a point about Delicious Cake. Or he would draw the islands of Hawaii and point out the Na Pali coastline. When we started working together at GreenHouse — in the office affectionately named “The Armpit” — I got two of the aforementioned sheets of tileboard, hijacked some underused dry erase markers, and a roll of paper towels for an eraser and we got busy:

  • Lists of Things to Do
  • Important Phone Numbers
  • John Galt is Talking to Me and My Head Will Explode if I Do Not Write This Down
  • Nature Is Pissed (a sticker at the top of one of the tileboards)
  • My Brain Hurts (a sticker on the other whiteboard)
  • Flowcharts
  • Tension Maps
  • Charts, Graphs, and Other Wildly Inaccurate Sketches
  • Treasure Maps
  • “-ISMS” (quotes heard ’round the office that stopped productivity for a minute or two due to uncontrollable laughter and repetition of the phrase)
  • Grand Schemes, Miscellaneous Plots, and Unattainable Goals
  • Etcetera

Here is the simple truth about whiteboards: If it is writ large upon the wall, it is semi-public information. Which makes you much more aware of whatever it is. Especially if it is your responsibility to get it done. Fact. Try it. Post your to-do list on a little whiteboard — or even a clipboard (easily scavenged office supply) on your office door or cubicle wall in plain sight, and see how uncomfortable you are with that often-trumpeted and rarely attained goal of transparency.

That is why, when Kleptus and I moved into what we dubbed “the War Room” from “the Armpit Office”, we made the most of it: we plastered tileboard EVERYWHERE. Add a conference room table, a bunch of chairs, and a leather couch, and we had a command center for GreenHouse Energy and Builders to operate in.

Then, we introduced Scrum.

Scrum is not — as it might sound — a new strain of Swine Flu; rather, it is an agile project management methodology. In my experience, Scrum is best applied with liberal whiteboards. My teams — which, by the bye, are kicking ass — have all their progress project-by-project slapped on the wall of the War Room every day. These notes are then photographed and inserted jumbo-size into the Google Doc of notes from the Daily Scrums. Business Owners can peer into these notes whenever they desire; they can’t, however, come interrupt a Daily Standup Meeting (though they do). Battle Plans are drawn. Logistical Nightmares. BHAGs. The best is when we as a Team can point at a couple square feet of wall and say “those were the stack-ranked priorities, and we got them all done”.

For my Scrum-certified sisters and brothers out there, who are undoubtedly gouging their eyes out with the edges of their Story-and-Task sticky notes, their velocity and burndown charts, and their accurate-information-filled Scrum boards, I say you this: results are the fruit of Scrum, and measurable, incremental, agile steps forward from the Sprint the week before are the hallmark of change management, not a wholesale paradigm shift. No organization has embraced Scrum as wholeheartedly as GreenHouse has, because the benefits are too numerous to mention — and too nebulous right now to say it is true Scrum traction. But daily communication, weekly due dates, and almost a month of proto-Scrum under our belt has produced phenomenal results, and I am very honored to be a member of the three Teams that I am a part of at my workplace. We get iiiissshhhht done.

So the point of this personal blog post — and from whence the title is derived — is the fact that I have a whole two bedroom, one bath house to myself, and I had this dream I had a formal dining room where I could have sit-down dinners and invite people over to enjoy themselves. You know, stemware, matching silverware, whorederves, etc. I just hung two framed whiteboards in my dining room. I think I will measure and install hidden screws behind them so I can take them down and quickly hang thrift store art in case I need to “be formal” in that room, but for now, my dining room is my personal War Room. Whiteboards galore. My laptop and a printer and broadband Internet. A conference (dining) table for six in case I need a bigger Team. What works at work is sometimes the best way to get things done at home. Personally.


  1. Use your War Room
  2. Feasibility Study and Stack Ranking
  3. Sprint

My Blog is — apparently — my Whiteboard. Keeps me honest, agile, and communicating!