Sunday, August 30, 2009

Agile 2009 Notes - Wednesday

The following material describes the sessions I attended.

Wednesday AM

Daryl Kulak (of Pillar Technology) – “5 Symptoms of Mechanical Agile and Being Change Ready”

Got up early to hear this talk since it was a vendor presentation scheduled for 7:30am in the breakfast area of the Hyatt and I was staying about 8 blocks away and it was raining and ….
In any event, Daryl identified “mechanistic” signs and, later, ideas to make an organization more change ready (that I have associated with the mechanistic practices though they were discussed separately):

Agile Expert Syndrome – people continue to do things because the expert brought in to help at one time did so. (Later on in the talk Daryl said “If you see a Best Practice by the side of the roads, kill it” and referred to Mary Poppendick’s “good practices in context” quote.

Separation of Decision-Making from Work – Daryl used an example of decisions made by a process group (SEPG) separated from the teams which resulted, not surprisingly, in much overhead and resulting in “seepage” as the pronunciation for the process group acronym. Daryl’s advice, of course, was to close the gap between decision-making and work.

Blame the [other people, team] Person, not the System – here, the advice was to remove boundaries and encourage connectedness between teams.

Just Tell Me What to do, Boss – the material on this topic basically recommended learning to value unstructuredness.

Competition Between People and/or Teams – didn’t fine a direct “answer” to this as the last change-related point was to “avoid over-engineering your requirements, people and processes.”

David Hussman“Coaching and Producing Agility”

This was an all morning workshop on the role of the Agile coach and how to improve one’s coaching capability. Most of the time we worked in pairs (though “promiscuously” since we changed for each exercise like canonical pairing suggests). David divided the session into four (not necessarily equal) sections, which, in case you wonder, were using a music production theme as David’s former life was as a record producer and musician:

Coaching Personas (Your Coaching Style) – In this section, we were all asked to create/identify a persona for ourselves with a short phrase summarizing our style, a possible graphic to illustrate it, a series of words describing ourselves and a series of words identifying values we hold. Mine ended up being Socratic, Story-Telling, Scorpio with a graphic of "? my blog logo ?". My descriptive elements were: (Talkative), Organized, Inquisitive, [Musical], Teacher. My values were: Synthesis, Experimentation, Openness, Learning, Self-Direction.

So, to explain this, my approach to teaching and consulting has been to ask questions and guide people to answers rather than tell in as many cases as it seems reasonable to do so (a “Socratic” approach). I employ a lot of stories as examples since I’ve been around software development of various kinds and industries for over 37 years. And, though my astrological sign is Gemini, with Capricorn rising and moon in Ares, Scorpio is at my mid-heaven – I used to be in a band where one person’s wife was into astrology and she did my chart. So the Gemini represents the inquisitive, experimenting, open, change-ready aspect of my life. Capricorn represents my organizational inclination (which is often what people see over time). People’s mid-heaven sign usually represents their success mode, so Scorpio represents my synthesis approach where I try to take ideas from many places and produce some whole out of it that takes pieces from each. My logo represents this (see my first blog where I describe it).

The other elements of the persona I’ve covered more or less. Talkative has parens around it since I see that as something I need to contain as a coach and Musical is bracketed because I have a band/recording background and it just popped in there but I’m not sure how it fits exactly other than the band metaphor working better for me than team sports ones so common in business similes/metaphors.

Preproduction (Getting Ready to Produce) – This section addressed interviewing, which we practiced with one another by using real world project examples from our own experience. During this part of the session, David recommended a descriptive approach (”This is what I have seen work”) rather than a prescriptive one (“This is what you should do”) in doing our coaching. He also briefly touched on the Satir change model then collected typical agile practices together to show valuable, related groupings:

For Community-Teams: Chartering, Common Workspace, Information Radiators, Iteration 0
For Iterative Delivery: Burnup / Velocity, Acceptance Tests, Test Driven / Refactoring, Continuous Integration
For Products-Planning: Product Backlogs, Personas, User Stories, Release / Iteration Planning
For Tuning -Improving: Stand Up Meetings, Product Reviews, Retrospectives, Continuous Feedback

We completed this part of the session with a coaching plan development exercise to (1) take practices (what do you want to do?), (2) identify the value of each (why?), and (3) give an example of each (how might it work?). The goal was to arrive at a base approach each of us could use for coaching.

Finding Your Groove (Getting Productive) – David started this part of the session recommending a couple books: The Black Swan and This is Your Brain on Music, quoting from the latter:

“Groove is that quality that moves the song forward”
“When a song has a good groove, it invites us into a sonic world that we don’t want to leave.”

Five things help build “groove” in agile coaching: iteration planning, story-telling, stand ups, acceptance tests/reviews, and retrospectives/indicators. We spent time telling one another, again in pairs, stories to illustrate situations from real projects. David emphasized that each story told should be about somebody doing something of value. He also commented on the traditional story-writing format for agile requirements: he doesn’t like it because, I believe, he sees it as constraining ideas about expressing value, being ritualistic if treated dogmatically.

(Regarding story estimation he noted an idea I have heard before, which he said comes from ThoughtWorks, that people use a paper-rock-scissors approach to sizing since, you always have your materials with you.)

Keeping the Band Together (Staying Productive) – The final part of the session was about sustaining what is built through earlier coaching work. Davbid mentioned the traditional “5 whys” used to do root cause analysis, but recommended a “5 whats” approach since, psychologically, “whys” can lead to blaming of individuals. Of course, retrospectives were noted in this part of the session, including doing retrospectives on one’s own coaching using the coaching plan format of practice-value-example. Finally, David mentioned The Beginner’s Mind and the need to maintain curiosity about the work.

Wednesday PM

Esther Derby and Diana Larsen“Esther and Diana's Excellent Retrospective Adventures”

This was another long workshop, taking the entire afternoon. Most of it was based on Esther and Diana’s book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. The session began with an activity for teams of 5-7 people, of which there were ~7 in the session. We were all charged with building an “objet d’arte” with materials such as sheets of paper, colored pipe cleaners, stickers, etc. (but no tape). The “specs” for the project were that the result needed height, stability, and beauty. We were allowed to ask Esther to come over and ask her questions, as our “customer.” When we asked about height, she pulled out a sewing measurement tape to about 24”. When we asked about beauty, she mentioned she liked “motion.” Stability we took for granted as understanding (and perhaps lucked out there). Lots of “structures” resulted, but, as you might guess, the exercise was all about having something to use to practice retrospective technique.

Before we started doing so, however, we were provided with a proposed outline for a retrospective, beginning with Setting the Stage which included (1) identifying the focus/goal of the retrospective, (2) congratulating the team on their iteration, (3) checking in by getting everyone to say a word or two that described how their felt/reacted to the iteration, and (4) defining the agenda. The agenda would consist of: gathering data, generating insights, deciding priorities, and coming to a close. For each of the agenda elements, we performed an exercise.

For Gathering Data, each team generated a radar chart covering things like use of resources, customer satisfaction, quality of work life, etc. Each member of the team was asked to rate (0-10 scale along the arms of the chart) their experience with each element of the chart. We were then asked to identify the variances and commonalities among the results, discuss what we heard and saw, and recognize the high and low points for each element.

To Generate Insights, we were asked to identify what we felt were underlying causes for the major results (pro and con) using a four section matrix: what we felt good about, what we did not feel good about, what were ideas & insights, and what “bouquets” we wanted to give anyone. Each of us created stickies with things which could go in any of the portions of the matrix.

From this we moved to Deciding Priorities by listing actions in a table with the columns labeled: Action, Impact, Effort, Energy and Commitment. The last two deserve some clarification since they require people to indicate how dedicated they are to taking the action as a group and as individuals. The process was to list all the actions, then all the impacts for each action, then the effort expected for each action, followed by the energy people felt they had for the action. In case of apparent ties (since not all actions could reasonably be done in a single iteration), the energy column was to be used to break ties. However, people have to be willing to “sign up for” (commit to) doing any action, not just place votes and estimates on them. Of course, if people were not willing to ultimately commit to an action, what did their energy statement really mean? Finally, it was emphasized that we should end up being able to “take a card into the planning” for the next iteration that described the task to be performed (not as a story).

Coming to a Close involved doing a brief retrospective on the retrospective itself, revisiting commitments, and thanking the participants for their involvement.

Following this, there was some open discussion and question time. One question was who should facilitate retrospectives. A number of ideas were suggested: team coach, trained facilitator from outside the project, and rotation of team members. Esther and Diana recommended the latter and said it could help participation in the retrospectives since people would not want to withhold from participating since they would want others to be active when they facilitate. So this would help establish a more constructive retrospective “culture.”

One final idea about retrospectives and team interactions was that the absence of conflict is not harmony, but apathy.

To close, we were directed to a Yahoo group (, mentioning this class) as it is a moderated group. Also a book by Sam Kaner (and others) called Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making was recommended.

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