Sep 092010

I had sent an “attaboy” email to one of the developers on my team for doing a great job in communicating and being visible to the rest of the team.  (Don’t punish bad behavior, “catch” and encourage good behavior, right?)  Not having previously received encouragement for anything less than heroics, the developer was perplexed upon receiving my email.  Was I upset with him?

No, I explained, I just noticed he was being visible and wanted to encourage him to keep it up.  “Consider that email a round of applause,” I said.  Brian (another developer on the team) overheard this and then told us of his “Praises and Curses” email folder.



As it turns out, Brian collects emails from people when they thank him for doing a good job, or when they are upset and wish he had done something differently.

But he doesn’t just collect them — he reviews them.  At least once a year prior to performance reviews.  And sometimes more frequently.

Now, just to put this in context, Brian also uses the Pomodoro Technique in his daily work.  So what we have here is an individual — a so-called “technical” person, no less — who:

  1. works in discrete intervals, identifying interruptions and tracking velocity
  2. inspects the feedback received as a result of his work

I gaped.  What an incredibly good idea: building in the means for self-improvement that just sort of “happens.”  No need to depend on the performance review as the only means of formal retrospection, simply collect the information as it comes in, and review at your leisure.

How many of us set up these kinds of mechanisms in our lives — feedback mechanisms which help provide awareness?  What would life be like if more of us did this?

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Sep 062010

So, I’ll be participating in Scrum Beyond Software in Phoenix later this September.

I have a bubbling head full of ideas to share there, and as a collaboration junkie, I’m making them visible for comment.  Suggestions? Criticisms?  Want to join me in Phoenix and collaborate?  Leave a comment!

Topic 1 — Science: A Framework to Aid Scientific Research Teams

Scrum is, at its heart, a simple empirical framework for learning and discovery.  Often it’s used to “discover” the unbuilt-but-needed features of a software product, and so people confuse it with a product development methodology.  But it’s more than that — Scrum is also useful for process improvement or organizational change.  Scrum is even self-modifying: it can be used to “discover” the best way to shape the framework itself to help make the team using it more effective.

When you generalize Scrum this way, it seems pretty obvious to try to apply it to how teams “do science”:

  • backlogs as analogs of hypotheses
  • swarming as part of research
  • team-synchronization via standups and lo-fi tools rather than long publishing processes
  • scrum of scrums to synchronize multiple teams
  • demos and retrospectives as analogs of findings and conclusions

These are fairly naive mappings; I hope to make richer ones in Phoenix.

Topic 2 — Healthcare: A Framework for Training Medical Teams

I first mentioned this in a Twitter post inspired by discussion at the 2010 Conference of the International Association of Medical Education.

It seems to me that much of the thought in medical education views education as a rather linear, deterministic process, using what Bob Marshall calls “analytical models,” as contrasted to empirical, stochastic or even chaordic models.  Example:  a “learning process” depends on:

  • a set of initial “learning outcomes”
  • guided “deliberate practice” where students work either on medical tasks, or simulated scenarios (as a team, no less!)
  • “reflective learning” where students debrief and self-assess.

To a Scrummer like me, this just screams “backlog, whole-team execution/delivery, retrospection, REPEAT” and also embracing student/team learning as a chaordic rather than deterministic process.  Unfortunately I see some of the literature and discussion in the medical education world take a rather “one-shot” approach to training:  Students come in, execute, and now they are “trained.”

Some topics and questions I’d like to raise in Phoenix:

  • How might we frame learning in the context of Scrum?  By individual lesson (sprint), and as an entire curriculum (release)?
  • Comments from people in the medical training/simulation field? How have you used something similar to Scrum?
  • What are the problems with taking an approach driven by feedback loops rather than a stepwise process?

Topic 3 — Healthcare: Patient-Centered Treatment

Inspired by Compassion as a Golden Rule for Healthcare and Real Participatory Healthcare Starts With Assigning the Patient to Your Team (same author)

I need to give more thought on this — or ideally jam with another collaboration junkie — but the nebulous ideas here are:

  • Linda Rising’s talk at Agile 2009 about how people who solve problems together, despite their backgrounds or knowledge, feel more empathy and understanding for each other
  • How this effect brings diverse skillsets on an expert team together, despite egos and fears, and makes the team more effective at problem-solving
  • Mapping the patient, and patient’s family into the role of “user”; mapping the medical staff into the role of “team”, and then:
  • Using the Scrum framework as a structure in which to allow these roles to interact.
  • How this is very different from the standard model of “lead physician interacts with patient/family, and specialists mostly  interact with lead physician”
  • Who should be the ScrumMaster and Product Owner?
 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Mar 102010

I have many ideas for blog posts as a result of attending and presenting at ScrumGathering 2010. But I’m going to take a first iteration here, lest I never get around to all my big ideas. How Agile, right?

I didn’t want to just post my fond memories — if you didn’t go to the beach, do you want to look at someone else’s vacation photos?  What I want to do here is  to dump my experiences into your brain. I recognize that you aren’t me, so if you had been there you would have had a different experience than I did.

But if you were me (or are someone who shares certain similarities with me) and you simply didn’t get to attend, here’s a brain dump for you (the session or person I learned each item from are listed at the bottom):


  1. B = f(P,E) Behavior is a function of the Person and their Environment; you can change behavior by changing their environment – CSelf
  2. We often mis-label things as self-organization. An example is self-assembly, such as how people board an elevator. True self-organization has a nontrivial definition, and is worth learning and remembering. – CSelf
  3. The “best friend, worst enemy” game, and how working to protect yourself results in team fragmentation (posted previously) – CSelf
  4. People are self-organizing systems. Naturally. As a species, we have over 13 billion years of experience with this, and only recently have we tried to manage people as things. — HOwen
  5. The “inventor” of OpenSpace Technology synthesized the genesis of OpenSpace after having a martini. He leaped into brilliance and realized that it would only work if there were minimal rules after his second martini. We underestimate the negative impact our everyday rational minds have on our ability to innovate — HOwen
  6. Many of the major catastrophes we’ve created come as result of trying to organize self-organizing systems — HOwen


  1. People’s emotional response to a situation depends on how much it challenges them, and also how much ability they have to handle it. You can change their response by changing either of these. – CSelf
  2. Three words you need to remember to help grow self-organizing teams: “LEAVE THEM ALONE” – CSelf
  3. Powerful questions are those which invite a transformative experience in the person being asked. They tend to be context-free, and totally open-ended — CCoach
  4. There are still plenty of “leaders” who blatantly destroy the elements critical to good teams (by moving members around between teams, for example) and yet are okay with paying to send someone to ScrumGathering. — Recep
  5. Team performance, production velocity, process effectiveness, and personal feelings can all spiral upward or downward. This fits in with my model of positive and negative feedback loops, and has been proven in empirical studies. Yet many people reject the concepts as “fluffy.” — Positive

Coaching and Training :

  1. A great way to ask for silence in a class is to have an agreement where, when you hold up your hand, everyone else goes silent and holds theirs up too. The class self-assembles into silence because they receive the visible signal from everyone else. — CCoach
  2. Being an independent coach/consultant can be isolating, but there are ways to keep in touch with the community. I hope to join in with growing this community — Recep, GK
  3. “Super Pecha Kucha” (a slide every 5 seconds) seems to be the up-and-coming presentation trick. Jurgen Appelo’s audience exploded when he finished his presentation like this. — DoltGuide
  4. Scrum people can be nakedly honest, and yet completely kind about it. I watched an interaction between Joseph Pelrine and Jurgen Appelo that was so gratifying it caused me to laugh in delight. — DoltGuide
  5. Pecha Kucha is completely doable with two people. — OurTalk
  6. Given enough practice, explicit signals between co-presenters are unneccessary. Don’t plan, iterate, even in your interactions. This takes the the meta-level conversations (e.g. “your turn”) and “bakes them in” to the presentation itself. — OurTalk
  7. If you are doing a dense PechaKucha talk, consider either paring it down still more, or warning people how dense it will be. — OurTalk
  8. Be prepared to see your own images turn up in other peoples’ presentations. Work hard to ensure that someone else’s don’t turn up in yours. Give credit where credit is due. Fix the problem when it is discovered (Jean, your image is now attributed correctly :) — convo, JT

Relating to People:

  1. Social media can be used bi-directionally, to truly connect people. Social media can be used unidirectionally for selfish reasons. I prefer the former. – Convo, SB
  2. As @ccarfi says, people can engage in “hunting” (one-off transactions) or “gardening” (long-term relationships). Watching Twitter posts clearly showed who was doing what at #sgus — Twitter
  3. Coaches and trainers can be one-sided in their conversation; talking but not really listening. Does this come as a result of being the “center of attention” in class all the time? Or are people like this attracted to training? Either way, I resolve to pay real attention and listen more. — convo, SB
  4. ScrumGathering this year seemed so much more focused on people, collaboration, and teams; less focused on process and mechanics. This was in large part due to my choices of interaction, but also on the overall content. I am grateful to the conference organizers. — convo, SB
  5. Conference energy can be addictive. Receiving attention, engaging in interactions, discovering new things. Leaving is actually like a physical and emotional crash. It reminds me of closing night with a theatre troupe. I was not the only person to have this reaction. — Twitter
  6. Being positive is not an attitude, it is a practice. — Positive


  1. I was recognized publicly for my assistance to Luke Hohmann in helping the ScrumAlliance set new direction for 2010. Gratitude, humility, joy. — Convo, LH
  2. The “Castillo Fort” room at the Gaylord Palms is a gorgeous place considering it’s entirely man-made. Like an open-air cave. — Recep
  3. You can get a cool thing that fits around the iPhone to turn it into a near-professional camcorder — Recep, GK
  4. The Twitter fountain was extremely cool. Google it. It was a large screen showing a constant feed of attendee posts over an ever-changing background of pictures posted — Twitter


The Sessions and Conversations:

  • CSelfOrg — Joseph Pelrine, Coaching Self-Organizing Teams
  • CCoach — Lyssa Adkins, Coaching the Coaches
  • Recep — reception
  • DoltGuide — Jurgen Appelo, “The Dolt’s Guide to Self-Organization”
  • OurTalk — myself and Scott Barnes, “What Is Scrum? Changing How You Think About What You Do”
  • HOwen — lunch keynote, “All Systems Are Self-Organizing” with Harrison Owen, known as the inventor of Open Space Technology
  • Positive — Lyssa Adkins, “Positive Psychology and Team Performance”
  • Twitter — staying involved “remotely” via the #SGUS Twitter stream, after I had left the conference
  • Convo — misc conversation. If initials are given, the conversation involved:
    • SB – Scott Barnes, @cryofx
    • LA – Lyssa Adkins, @lyssaadkins
    • GK – Gerry Kirk, @gerrykirk
    • JT – Jean Tabeka, @jeantabeka
    • LH – Luke Hohmann of InnovationGames
 Posted by at 9:59 pm
Mar 082010

Edit: This should properly be titled “Dispersion and Implosion in Teams.” See Tobias’ comment.

Exercise at ScrumGathering 2010: how simple internal models (“rules”) can have very different effects on team behavior.

In the first situation, each person has to use their “best friend” to protect themselves from their own “worst enemy.” (In this case, you “protect” yourself by moving so that your “friend” is between you and your “enemy.”)

Notice how the group fragments and disperses.

In the second situation, there’s one little change: each person has to protect their “friend” from their “enemy.”

Bit of a difference! The overall behavior is toward cohesion.

P.S. “Kids, don’t try this at home!” This exercise works because the participants agree to the rules. It does NOT imply that you can simply give people rules to follow and expect to get the desired behavior. Why not? Because people aren’t machines, that’s why not! :) The art of the team is, of course, in coaching and coaxing the teams such that the individuals experience a shift in their own “internal rules.”

Best Friend Worst Enemy

 Posted by at 1:30 pm
Apr 062009

Abby over at Haxr Chick cites Ken (Schwaber, co-inventor of Scrum) as comparing Scrum to a live-in mother-in-law who is constantly pointing out how you can improve.  Great post, and I like it.

But the discussion in the comments is just one variant of the many similar conversations I’ve heard about Scrum.  It goes something like this:

  • Neo: “Scrum is great, but we have to adapt it to fit our organization.”
  • Morpheus: “You must not adapt the Scrum framework.”
  • Neo: “Whoa.  Now you’re getting all religious on me.”

The whole point of “getting religious” about the Scrum framework is to detect when you are, ah, let me find the right extension to the metaphor here, drugging the mother-in-law rather than dealing with what she exposes.

If we can prematurely adapt Scrum to our situation, we have the freedom to adapt it such that we are comfortable within our dysfunction, rather than improving our dysfunction.*

Ken harps on 2 things to keep us from this pitfall:

  1. keep Scrum simple – 3 roles, 3 artifacts, 3 meetings, associated rules for each; and
  2. don’t adapt the Scrum framework (although adapting the process which you evolve around the framework is not only allowed, it is a must!)

By keeping Scrum simple, we reduce the temptation to tinker with it, and we reduce the amount we have to “interpret” it.  By keeping the framework constant, it gives us the same benefit as keeping rulers constant:  we get to adapt our behavior to improve rather than adapting the thing which exposes our behavior.  It would be some odd clothing made by a tailor who adjusted his measuring tape just to make me feel better about my 44″ waist.

But excuse me, I must be getting religious. :)

 Posted by at 1:29 pm
May 242007

A colleague writes:

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been digging into links, blogs, forums using this term (Post-Agile)… Have you seen this term? Followed it’s discussions? Any comments?

…Pliant Software is another term that seems to be associating itself with Post-Agile…

I think the software world is sort of like a customer who has an idea of what they want or need, but can’t put it into words. But, and after several iterations of “Requirements Gathering”, has come out of the room with more terms and an RD that is better than it was at the start — but not perfect, yet!

(italics mine)

Yes, I have comments!

  1. I agree that the newness of agile has worn off, and the immediate benefits from it have been tapped dry by many.
  2. I’m annoyed at the PliantAlliance site’s claim for “a new way of thinking about developing software” — pliant sounds like adaptive to me, and Scrum has been saying this for a while.
  3. While the immediate benefits of agile have been tapped, the deeper benefits that can be realized by changing the way we collaboratively build product — not just the way developers write code — have a long way to go. Before we decide that “agile didn’t work,” I’d like to see more organizations actually practicing basic agile behaviour, and I’d like to see actual practices in use catch up to the huge body of literature describing deeper agile practices.

Good Software is a craft, like smithing or theatre. There was never a school that turned out expert blacksmiths; novices had to progress from apprentice to journeyman to master. The “Fame” school doesn’t promise its graduates fame, they have to go out and earn it through experience.

Good Software is the result of human thought — not just human labor — and is highly resistant to being made into a detailed process/algorithm, or body of knowledge.

Good Software is the result of collaboration. Social Science and more enlightened ways of interacting can help, but trying to describe them is missing the point.

I understand that post-Agilists see themselves as giving a name to an existing movement, rather than trying to create a new movement. But it smacks of picking a new name for your club because one member of your club is acting silly, and people are now making fun of you: you fragment the group, you tacitly approve of the bad behavior by distancing yourself from it rather than correcting it, and you spend too much time and energy on labels rather than action.

My friend’s point is right on: the SD world is like a user with a poor Requirements Doc, who “knows what they want, they just can’t describe it yet.” Trying to describe it, trying to codify it, is ulitimately a losing game and a waste of time — just like writing big RDs is a waste of time.

Build successful, adaptive teams who can make good, useful software, point to them and say “THAT is what Agile is.”

Apr 162006

Facilitators, has this happened to you?

You have a nice four-hour block for your working requirements / product planning / process re-engineering / whatever meeting. You allot a “generous” 30-minute chunk near the beginning for the definition of terms. You put a few domain-specific words up on a flipchart to get ideas flowing, point to the first term, and prompt the team:

“So, everybody, what is the definition of _______ ?”

(Two hours later…)

DefinitionsOne phrase is detailed to a precision that would satisfy most German engineers, the total number of terms to define has tripled — but none of them have been defined — and you have had to break up three near fist-fights.

A common vocabulary is important, but does it have to be this hard? I recently had a delightful experience which suggests that it does not.
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