Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thought around a new society

Two notes of caution before I start:
1.      This post has nothing to do with Scrum, It does, however, have a lot to do with agile coaching. (well… more on the coaching part of it)
2.      All notes here are purely subjective, and are meant mainly as reminders to my future self, your experience may prove the exact opposite :)

This post is written in the train, getting back from an awesome coach retreat in Nantes, while listening to John Cale and trying to record what I learnt, click…

At the end of the day, Irene posed me back a question I asked her the day before – what do you take from today and start applying tomorrow?
-        The answer became clear just when I started answering, and it is even clearer now when John Cale’s “music for a new society” fills my ears and heart:

Note #1 - Check in and take an emotional step back, don’t mix between acute listening (with strong empathy) and emotional involvement.

The event consisted of four (fictional) coaching sessions, each with one person (call her the customer) having a problem (always the same problem) in her agile implementation, two coaches, and three to four observers, and we practiced four different ‘techniques’. I played a coach twice, an observer once and a customer once.

Note #2 – As an observer, you see very clearly the coach-customer relationship and dynamics, as a customer, you see quite clearly the problem (at least part of it), but as a coach you are in total darkness, and along with it comes the responsibility to arrive to a result in a small interval, hence to let the customer leave in a better position that she started with (be it a clearer vision, an action-plan, or a decision (this is why note #1 is so important))

Note #3 – the power of silence: I wrote about it already, but I received feedback on this today, and my (current) conclusion is that it is extremely powerful. when the customer says something strong, states a powerful insight, your natural tendency is to affirm it, say “great!”, restate it, explain it, but saying nothing and absorbing the discomfort of you two (three in today’s case) proved to be extremely effective (as a feedback from both observers and customer). HOWEVER, since it puts the customer in a strong state of discomfort, use it only if the customer trusts you!! otherwise the discomfort will be used to sabotage the relationship.

While I played the customer, during the improvisation of the scenario, I started feeling the stress of my (fictional) situation very clearly.
 my coach did not propose any solution, but ‘just’ walked me thru a clear vision of the project, and suddenly I saw in a flash all of the project’s situation like an epiphany, (the problems of unclear requirements given to dev by the PO, of mistrust by dev, of disappointment by the PO, they are all due to mistrust, to the inability to accept imperfection in the other side, which is caused by a strong pressure from top management, and the solution is to take the dev and product team, and share this insight, so they understand what I (the fictional I) see. )
If the solution I came up with was proposed by the coach, I would have treated it as a shallow one from someone who doesn't know the complexity of the situation.
Coming from me, it seemed extremely powerful, hence

Note #4 – it is waaay better to give way to the customer to see the problem than to propose a solution.

I'm sure there is more, but this alone was well worth it for me!

Many thanks to everyone involved! Was a delight!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The sound of Silence (or one hand clapping)

I think it was one of the greatest philosophers of our time who said: "The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face" .
I led a workshop a short while back where I experienced how powerful silence can be, and I’d like to share it.
But first…
Imagine this post would end at the line above; perhaps you’d scroll down, but find nothing below…
How would you feel?
You would have either of the following reactions (I guess)
  • Oouuf, that crazy bear, had’nough of him…
  • Oouuf, that forgetful bear, again he forgot to save the whole post before publishing
  • Hmmm… I wonder what he meant to say…

And that’s the power of silence; it forces the listener to deal with the void, to fill it with her presence, her reflections, etc.

This works in music (in its simple form, think of how your brain is trying to guess where the song continues after a pause, to the extreme, remember the John Cage piece…), in art (think of a Rothko painting) and for sure in agile-coaching.

A while back, I read a post by an agile coach who was really proud of how he solved a problem between the development (who was producing too much to be tested) and the testers who were not able to follow up, he located the problem, named it, called the teams in (mid sprint), and presented the problem he saw and the solution (VSM). I would have probably taken another way of action:
- do nothing. 
- see what happens. 

A solution to a pain is always stronger if the pain is strongly felt by the team and not by the coach... and who knows, perhaps your perception is wrong. 

So this is a segment of my response...

My response may be provocative, but I am known for this, I hope you find it interesting as well..
Seems to me you located a problem, explained it to the team, and introduced a tool to prevent it.
I’d consider a totally different approach, which is to do nothing, and let the problem happen…
I’ll explain…
Supposing your assumption is right, the sprint would have finished poorly, perhaps even failed, which may waste some work (not a lot, I’d say a few days… since dev was done) but would produce a heated retrospective perhaps some conflicts between QA dev and PO
And THIS IS GREAT! it will boost the team’s maturity and spirit enormously (if handled correctly, and remember – the retro is YOUR tool, this is where you can effect the team the most)
But what if your assumption is wrong? what if the sprint would’t have failed?
what if the QA is overbooked because they over-test? in which case there would be not so many bugs, which may lead to a change in the weight allocated to testing.
When explaining what YOU see is wrong (and you said you had a hard time to do it), and putting a tool in place, you are (IMHO) blocking the growth of the team.
And now for the hardest part for me, an apology:
- It is so easy to interpret a story when it is given to you all wrapped up and you are not involved, I remember how I was so proud with some things I did with the team, and felt so stupid when re-thinking about it months later

In the workshop last week I experienced the power of nothingness first hand. For example – the participants split into teams to gather findings, and then I asked them to present their findings to everyone.
After the first presentation they looked at us (the coaches), I waited a bit, than asked them if there are any questions to the presenter, and then started clapping (everyone joined) and invited the next presenter.
After the second one finished, they looked at me, and I did nothing… fifteen seconds of awkward silence (god – it seemed like eternity :-). 
Than someone started clapping hands, so everyone joined.
When the clapping ended, another awkward silence… people looking around – now what?! Until the next team’s speaker said “I guess now it is my turn” and got up.
For the next presentations - their 'routine' was easier, and they didn't even look at me... hence they took a step toward independence and self organisation.

I hope I made my point, just wanted to add it is not easy to be silent (certainly not for a blabber-mouth bear like me…) which makes it a great experience.

And of course - sometimes you DO have to say something... (@ least I do...)

Would love to hear your comments (silent comments are of course welcome as well :-)

Till nextime!

Yer Bear.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Dedicated to the late great Dennis Potter, half of this post is published in this blog (call it the left side of my brain), while the other is published in the competing blog (right side, etc.)

The two posts are independent, but inseparable.
The Corpus-Colosom part is for the you to exercise (or not).

Before I begin, I want to say something.

In a company I worked a longlong timeago, every employee (all over the world, thousands…) received one day a brown envelope with a book and a small handwritten dedication by the VP. The book was "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seouss

I remember the strange looks on the faces of most of my colleagues, (one that had the air of “we would prefer a bonus…”), and I also remember my thoughts, it was clear to me this guy tries to speak American biz-lang to Israelis, that he wants us to identify with the company and this is a sincere ‘technique’ to do that.

Now looking back, I have a different view of what really happened.

  • One evening, this guy read a book to his kid.
  • A chord struck, he felt – hey! my company is an adventure, just like this book!, its future is open!, this book is about my company!
  • Than a crazy thought emerged: I have thousands of mates on this journey, though I don’t know most of them they are what this is about, they share my vision, I have to show them this book, they will understand!
  • And that’s what he did.
But he lost most of us…
(I still don’t like the book, but now I appreciate his courage)

I don’t know what the moral of the story is, but I know what I’d like to say.
  • In the last few months I’ve been having life changing experiences I want to share.
  • Lots of you don’t know me, of those who do, some of you don’t, of the rest, lots of you won’t understand what the heck I’m talkingbout.
  • If this is the case, feel free to ignore this post. (as you always are :-)

So now, that I got this out of the way, I can start.

A vision is a motion, if we talk Agile, a vision is an everchanging beast that changes form and direction.

I had the fortune once in my life to be a friend and a coworker of a visionary, someone I would have followed blindly to the end of the world and beyond, but I am starting to realize I totally misunderstood his role and the way he perceived it.

He was no visionary, he was ‘merely’ a focal point to the team’s energy, he would come up with a grain of an idea (or would embrace one of ours) and let us toy with it, let us lead it to where it rolls.

I don’t know if he ever realized that’s what he does, he was just thankful enough we played on the same team.

His CV doesn’t mention anything about this, but he breaths agility like a fish that swims in water, not realizing the name of this stuff, or even that there is something else.

Though I didn’t speak to him in ages, he is still my best friend and zen-master, the one who taught me everything I know.

Recently, I have a feeling of a double-déjà-vu.
  • I met his twin, only this guy knows formally what ‘Agile’ means, since he comes from that methodology/ state-of-mind, whatever.
  • I was (and still am) lucky enough to feel the sensation myself, to form a team (see my last post), and experience the sensation of taking responsibility for a group, lead it without knowing where it is going, play with it, see it take a form that is beyond the individuals in it but that consists of every participant and her (there are more she than he there :-) interactions with the rest.
Perhaps I’ll talk about the first point another time, I’d like to keep you up to date about the second.

So where were we?

As I said last time, our weekly meetings are ‘managed’ by me, and I wanted to see what happens if I give them to someone else. Last time we chatted at a coffee after the meeting, and I asked a fellow team-member if she wants a challenge, she jumped right in with great joy and no hesitation…

Not only that, she was stupid enough to pick a subject I knew is hard and frustrating, we worked only with a pencil up to now, and she picked colors as a subject. I don’t understand the first thing about colors, and I’ve been drawing for decades (wow… I really have been…)

And not only that, she didn’t even start to realize what a big responsibility it is, I mean, we talked a bit, she was happy to get any advice, but took it over-easy.

It is so frickin hard to let go, man, I’m tellin ya, till you built the team’s confidence, you invest your soul in it, and you give it to someone who will surely break it.

And on top of all this, she had our meeting at the museum of modern art, what’s there to draw?! Where are all the realistic sculptures with the fine details whose soul we wanna capture?

At the last minute I managed to save the new-comers, I thought that veteran members can withstand a session like this, so I left them at the hall of the entrance, gave her my phone number (for when she will need me, for sure she will need me!), an went to another floor with the new ones.

Such a great team of newcomers it was, but so fragile, I was grateful I didn’t leave them with her.

And you know what happened, right?

It was THE AWSOMET meeting we had so far!

This girl was rockin! The team was flying! You could light up all of Paris with the electricity the team generated (the color session was held in the electricity hall by Duffy)

I’m so ashamed of my doubts; I know I could and should have let her have the new-comers…

I will publish some of the work we did (I had the time to participate a bit) at my other blog, but I am not talking at all about the product.

The PROCESS was awesome! The exchange and the teamwork, she made everyone work with each other, and to start from the least expected.
At the end (demo?), some members didn't know who did what...

You know the funny part? at the coffee we had after the meeting, (where unfortunately she couldn’t come) they gave her complete ownership of the meeting, but they gave me complete ownership as well!

And the really funny part? I proudly accepted it!

Thank you Mari, Thanks A. Thanks K.

And a HUGE thanks to aaaall the team members (some of the things you said or wrote me almost made me cry…), I wish to god (wherever she may be) none of you reads this post…

Till nextime!

(BTW, I still took the last ten minutes of the meeting to do my crazy sh**t, otherwise I wouldn’t have been…)

The Scrum’em bear.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's in a game?

Pssst.., I have a secret to tell you...
- I don’t really like games...
(luckily no one reads this blog, or I’ll be kicked out of the virtual Agile community I belong to.)

Yea, I know some explanation is in order, but first, what the heck am I talkinabout?

Agile games are a part of the Agile coaching toolbox, if you want the team to experience the  importance of small increments of work, give them a task of flipping coins two times, and measure different strategies (groups of 50, groups of 10, etc.), if you want to demonstrate how a spec is less effective than talking, ask someone to write textual instructions of how to draw an image, and someone else to following them from the doc.
The result is usually fun, the team laughs, gets to discuss the different approaches, and end up feeling they learned something….

So  what’s there not to like ??
First of all, it always seems (to me) superficial, and I get the impression it is too detached from the team’s reality, so in real life, they may say to themselves: yeah, but this task is much more complicated than just flipping coins. Or : this is a component the team will surely understand by just reading (and besides, I hate talking to them, they always waste my time, an they are offshore with a strange accent)

Second, I don’t like running a game who's result are expected, if this is a game, I want to be a part of it!

Third, it is often considered by the organisation as a waste of time, and though they are sometimes wrong, they are also sometimes right, and anyway it may create hidden resistance to change.

Solution ? Gamify life (Danko’s Ducks, and more...)

In fact, the alternative was clear for me all the time, but it clicked when I read the following technique (called Danko’s Ducks*) :
Problem : In the team, people tend to cut each other off, which turns discussions to noisy debates.
Solution : Buy a bunch of cheap rubber duckies, and at the beginning of the next meeting give each participant one, with the following instructions :
1.       When you are cut off, or you see someone being cut off, squeeeeze yer Duckie.
2.       When you hear a Quack, squeeeeeeze yer Duckie.
3.       Repeat.
Result :  First meeting, you will have tons of endless quack waves (and laughs), second meeting you will have one or two, and that’s it.
See the difference ? the ‘game’ is introduced to the system, so it is much more effective.

Once I defined it to myself, I realized it was there all along, here are some more :

Vincent’s Mic (**).

Problem : At the standup, people cut each other off, and don’t know who’s turn it is.
Solution : Get a broken microphone you found in the junkpile, and ask people to speak to it.
Result : people hold the mic, do a make-belief fooo-foooo into it, pass it to the left, works like charm ! and the unexpected result: people suddenly speak clearly! and to everyone!

Nicola’s Timebox challenge.
Problem : Team doesn't jump to the water of self-management quick enough.
Solution : See below.
At the end of a long Friday, after a long demo, we scheduled a retro meeting, I ask the team what’s the timebox, and someone (let's call him Nicolas...) smiled with tired eyes and says –« five minutes ?! »
Everybody smiled, so I timed five minutes...
It was finished in four (followup, high/low points and action items)  (***)
Result: the timebox setter role was gladly passed to the team.

Conclusions/ call for action
I have lots of other examples, the thing is this :

I know sometimes things are not that easy...
some radical principles take more energy and effort, but...

We are so used to the work/ play separation, that we are either in a work mode or a play mode
(and sometimes it is even worst since when we learn we often are not allowed to play and are not considered qualified to work,)

Games at work for game's sake give a bad name for gamification, and make it harder to use games for real tasks (such as backlog grooming, for example)

- A game you find inside the work-space may be a great tool to examine and change behavior, enhance creativity, break barriers and lighten things up...

- Look for it! I am sure it is just around the corner!

And once you do, spend two minutes searching for a catchy game-name.
And if you have great game@work stories, comment below.

(*) I won’t tell you who invented this technique, since he specifically gives up any rights or credits in the preface, I’ll just hint that his funny and imaginative book (titled advanScrum) can be downloaded freely here, but fortunately for some, only a Hebrew version is available thus-far.
(**) This one is by a good friend and colleague, I don’t know if he invented it, since he is often too modest to take credit for stuff he comes up with.
(***) you can find in the book above a section about Blitz-meetings, but since I've done em first, (including a red-alert-all-project-management-post-mortem-timeboxed-ten-minute one (with conclusions, action items, and some angry-birds) no credit is given.

Till we meet again.

The Scrum'em Bear.

Oh my...  (giving credit when it's due)
I just realized the grain of this idea was instilled in me when seening this video by Dan Mezick   
So many Dans in one post...
I'm done.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Agile drawing

This time, a personal story.

a few months back, I started a group whose goal is to learn creativity through drawing. (I don't tell them that, I tell them it is to learn drawing through creativity :)

After some sessions, I want to share some observations and thought I had thus far, I'll share just facts, any connection to Scrum/ Agile is purely coincidental.

(BTW - For some details on the group itself, see here )

Creating & maintaining the group

  • When I created the group, I didn't know what to expect, I had some vision but didn't know if I can manage a team, who will show up, if I have the authority and knowledge to pass my vision on, etc. the only thing I was certain of is that I adored my old teacher and his ways, and I want to pass what I learned on (since life taught me teaching is the best way to learn...).
  • I've set a location, a date, wrote a draft for the agenda, and (as they say here) Voila.
  • Once started, it just worked. we set up a regular rhythm (weekly Sundays), a regular duration (3.5 hours) and the team's life is formed.
  • My preparation before a meeting consists currently of writing a loose agenda, deciding on the location, and arriving on time.
  • The team's goal was not really clear for me at the beginning, nor were my motives, they are becoming clearer (and changing) from session to session.
  • My role in the team is mainly to mediate, I spend considerable attention every meeting with newcomers, but after one of two sessions people are independent, even though each meeting has new exercises and challenges.
  • During the meeting, I seldom draw. the main thing I do is watch the team members to detect whether they are bored, confused/ threatened or challenged/engulfed, and try to see what (if anything) I do with the first two, and how I stay the heck out of the third one.
Session structure
  • Planning: every session has a place (a free museum in Paris, since it is warm and free, and there is always something to draw) and a theme (lines, textures, etc.), which is published and discussed with the members when we start.
  • Drawing: People just draw, within (or without) the themes defined, some alone, some in groups, they peek a bit at each other's work, discuss, and encouraged to mainly produce a lot and not be afraid of failure. One rule I strongly insist on (mainly with beginners) is that no erasers are allowed. 
  • Demo: This is THE fun part, we find a corner in the museum, sit in a circle, and show and discuss the group's work, hence - everyone takes all the stuff the person to the left did, and picks up to two works that he likes or is intrigued by, and than shows them to the group, explains what he likes and lets the others say what they think.
    • My role is to make sure everyone sees the drawings, everyone can hear what the person is saying, and that the speaker talks to everyone.
    • People select and talk about other people's drawings because most people feel they draw much worst than the rest :) .
    • When people discuss someone else's work, they really look, they don't just say "I like it", but stuff like "I like how the movement start from here..." or "The horse looks like it is scared" 
    • The people who made the drawing are often amazed about what other people say about their work, not only that someone likes it, but why. what others see. that their work is viewed seriously, and they look at the discussed drawing differently after it was discussed. (I see this as the biggest gift people receive and get during the whole session)
    • I sometimes ask someone (who is too quiet:) to say what he thinks, most of the time (s)he has interesting insight.
    • If there is time left, everyone gets to pick one work he did that was no chosen, show it and say what he thinks on it, people are encouraged to show works they are unsure about.
  • Retrospective: people talk a bit about their experience, was it too hard, too easy, what did they learn, if someone did an exercise that may interest the group, I ask them to explain what it was, ask people what they thought of the place, the structure, and if anyone wants to discuss or ask the group anything. 
  • Celebration: go to a café and have hot chocolate.
Some particular points I wanted to mention:
  • Pair programming: At today's session I tried to pair two people, and have them switch drawings mid-way, starting with two more experienced members, and when it worked invited more members, conclusions:
    • Had this idea for some time, but was afraid to do it since I though people would like to hold on to what they did, or feel uncomfortable when they 'ruin' someone else's work.
    • Actually, worked great!, people laughed, were happy to have the right to mess with someone else's work, and said they learned a lot both by letting go, and by seeing how the other person adds qualities they didn't.
  • Inventions: people invent their own games, drawing on top of an existing drawing, switching medium, etc.
  • Participation: the group is open, and anyone can join. some people register and don't show up, some show up but don't step up (don't play the game..), I try to focus on the rest.
  • Watching: not all participants have the same visibility, I ask myself who is less visible and try to pay them more attention.
  • Freedom: the main feedback from members is that the group frees them, that it is a place with no judgement. where anything is allowed. 
  • Challenge to step up: today I invited someone in the group to take my role next time, and she accepted! I am curious what will happen next, how much will I be able to let go?
To get the answer to the last question, you'd have to wait for next time!

Hope you found the relevance to Scrum and Agility, 
BTW - I just counted, this blog contains more than 30 times the word 'I', I know, it is my blog ;)

Till nextime!

The Scrum'em Bear.

Oh, and for the hebrew readers among you, forget everything I write and read this post from my absolutely favorute blogger