Archives for the ‘Communication’ Category

Who is Agile?

Yves Hanoulle, a fellow Agilista, started an intriguing book called “Who is Agile” to coincide with the celebration of Agile turning 10 years old in 2011. The latest version of the book features the profiles of 56 Agilists who answer a common set of questions. You can buy the book here and decide the price you pay!

To give you a flavour of what the book’s like, here’s the piece I wrote about myself submitted to Yves and his team. A big “Thank You” to Yves for making me think!

Portia in Wonderland

Who is Agile? Featuring Portia Tung

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

I didn’t always study and work in the field of IT. My first degree was in English and French during which I spent a year out in Paris, France as an English language assistant.

My most memorable moment was during my first lesson when an African young man asked me, in French, “Will you give me a lower grade because of the colour of my skin?”

My brief language assistant training hadn’t prepared me for this. I was so surprised by the question that I had to re-parse his question several times in my head to be certain I’d heard correctly. I’d grown up with prejudice in many different guises, so his question struck a chord.

And so I drew on my limited life lessons up to the tender age of 19 and replied gently, yet firmly, “When you are in my class, the only thing that matters is how much you want to learn. I will help you if you are willing and your grade will reflect your endeavour.”

Looking back, that year abroad marks the starting point of my passion for the love and science of lifelong learning. That’s when I began my lifelong pursuit of realising human potential, that in others as well as in myself.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

Most probably a teacher and a writer related to social enterprise. In practice, I have similar roles in IT: as a trainer, coach and international conference speaker (presenting in English and sometimes even in French!) as well as being a blogger and storyteller.

As for the social enterprise element, I collaborate through giving and sharing what I have whenever I can by making my games available under the Creative Commons licence. It’s my small way of “doing good”. Great things can come from humble beginnings I’m told. My projects include: Agile FairytalesPlaymaking

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

It’s tough to admit this, but my biggest challenge is myself. I’ve come to realise that the only thing standing between us and our dreams is ourselves. It’s easy to make excuses about why we don’t have the things we feel we deserve.

Using the concepts from Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, I’ve come to realise that both our span of control and sphere of influence are much bigger than we think. If we put our heart, mind and body into our endeavours, we can achieve what we need to be happy.

I’ve also come to realise that the value of our life’s journey can be amplified with love, patience and understanding of others and, most importantly, of ourselves. After all, only you can change yourself for the better.

What drives you?

The thought of succumbing to the fate of an adult sea squirt. Did you know that once an adult sea squirt finds a rock or some place to live out the rest of its life, it ends up devouring its own brain and nervous system since it no longer has need to think and learn?

To avoid becoming a human zombie, you have to “use it or lose it”. This can be hard work at times and that’s why I invest so much effort in making learning fun. It keeps me growing regardless of which way the tide is flowing.

What is your biggest achievement?

To love what I do AND be doing what I love.

It’s taken me years to realise that I’d always had the power to create my dream job. Bit by bit, with each day that passes, I’m realising that dream to a greater degree. Work is the means by which I become more competent, develop my creativity and my ability to innovate. Most importantly, it’s the main vehicle by which I achieve my life’s purpose of serving others.

My work requires me to be many things, such as trainer, coach, speaker. It’s also a source of great inspiration for my blogging and storytelling.

I have a theory that for a human being to make the most of their human potential, they have to love what they do and do what they love. For most of us, one eventually leads to the other. In my opinion, these are the two pre-requisites for achieving “flow”. Flow, in turn, leads to achievement, excellence and fulfilment.

What is the last book you have read?

“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about the journey and adventure of a woman experiencing a thrisis (a midlife crisis in one’s thirties). Elizabeth is a funny, quirky and talented storyteller. She tells it like it is, warts and all. Although I’m not a religious person, Elizabeth’s story has helped me better see the interconnections between spirituality and Systems Thinking, how we are all part of a greater whole. It has shown me how we can apply the principle of Global Optima, not just to our decisions and processes at work, but to our daily lives at at large.

I strongly recommend seeing and hearing Elizabeth Gilbert in action on

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

Q: What is your worldview?

A: “Enough is enough” by which I mean I think there is enough of what we need to go around. And if we choose to share, then we will discover there is actually plenty. That’s how I strive to operate at work and at home. Instead of hoarding resources, information and opportunities, I choose to share. I call it “sustainable philanthropy”.

What question of one of the co-authors do you also want to answer?

Q: Where do you go to learn? (From Jenni Jepsen)

A: It’s my modern day oracle. I type in the keyword/topic I’m most interested in at a given moment in time and end up on many adventures that span cultures, disciplines and experiences. My latest favourite Ted talk is one by Alain de Botton about “a gentler philosophy of success”.

Who should be the next person to answer these questions?

Martin Heider: A larger than life fun-seeking and appreciative coach who constantly challenges people to be the best they can be.

Katrin Elster: A fun-meister who’s crazy about creativity, people and play

Vera Peeters: For co-creating The XP Game, the first Agile game I ever played and marked the start of my personal and professional Agile adventure!

Pascal Van Cauwenberghe: For co-creating The XP Game and showing me that doing what you love is a reality we can all make happen if we choose to!

Animal Farm

Mule for thought

What our experience tells us but we ignore

What do smart people all have in common? We’re driven, focussed and hardworking. Once we have a goal, we go for it, powering through and tugging hard until we gasp, regardless of the obstacles.

“The difference between winners and losers are that winners keep trying,” we mutter to ourselves quietly in the toughest moments. And so we keep striving and straining, cursing the rope that’s holding us back.

Look around you

Now imagine you’re in a meeting. Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? When people come together, it’s usually to formulate a plan to reach a goal. And it’s usually something we’ve in common.

The problem is, we often become blindsided by our “own” goal. We fail to listen with an open mind. We fail to set aside our own viewpoint for long enough to see what’s as plain as the light of day. Not to mention the bale of hay behind us. And all the other bales of hay around us.

By failing to see the bigger picture, we all risk going hungry in spite of being surrounded by a wealth of resources.

See the bigger picture

To make hay while the sun shines, step into each other’s shoes. Then take a step step back together to see the big picture. This way, we can make hay together, come rain or shine.

What do you want to learn about Games Facilitation?

Dear Reader,

I’ve been invited to present a 90-minute session about Games Facilitation at Deep Agile 2010. And so I would like to exercise the Wisdom of Crowds and ask you this: what do you want to learn about Games Facilitation and why? Reply by submitting a comment (or two!) and I’ll convert them into a set of presentation goals with acceptance criteria.

All ideas by 1 May please! Many thanks and hope to see you at Deep Agile 2010. Be there or be square!

Help grow a Learning Tree!

April Smarts

 Be an artist today!

Ahead of Marketing

It was great to have celebrated this April Fool’s Day by seeing Seth Godin present ‘Ahead of Marketing’ live in Antwerp, Belgium. The event was organised by Flanders DC (District of Creativity) with around 1000 attendees awaiting with bated breath to hear words of inspiration from one of the most famous marketers around.

Seth Godin in Short

Seth shared 7 core messages with the audience:

1. Abandon instructions. According to Seth, we’re all conditioned to strive for mediocrity from school age. It’s this conditioning that stops many of us from daring to be remarkable. We set our own limits.

2. Do work that matters. Seth urged us to make a difference regardless of our job title. Make solving interesting problems a key part of our job.

3. Become an artist. Make a splash of genius by solving a problem like no one ever has before. Make people think. Instead of treating our jobs as a mere means to an end, we should use it as a platform for our ‘art’.

4. Real art demands courage. ‘Art that matters always involves going the other way,’ said Seth.

5. Ship! Ship! Ship! Real artists ship their creations. Ship early and often.

6. Give gifts. Paint pictures. Make the world better.  Give away your art often. Giving makes you create more.

7. Teach people to lead. Seth invited us to begin by leading ourselves. And to encourage others to do the same.

My Takeaway in Market Speak

Practice the gift of giving. Be generous to be better.

Plain as the Nose on Your Face

What do you smell?
Two snowmen are standing in a field.
One says to the other, ‘Can you smell carrots?’

Out in the Field

Imagine. You wake up. It’s Friday. It’s almost the weekend. The first thing you see is a blanket of bright white snow. With a deep breath, you take in the tranquil setting. You feel quietly envigorated. A thought light as a snowflake forms in the snowdome of your mind. Yes. Today’s the day. Today marks a fresh start. A new beginning.

And the thought? It is this: ‘I can be better than I was yesterday.’ This thought always takes me back to the Agile Values. Seven simple words. Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage, Respect, Trust and Transparency. How many of us know these words by heart? Words that trip off the tongue so smoothly when times are good? Those same seven words that become a thorn in our side when we come under pressure, leaving us deflated?

Thinking, Being and Doing

In Agile, Retrospectives are a good way to take time out and reflect. To have a good root around our minds to make sense of what we have done, what has come to pass and what we intend to do going forward. It’s a chance for others to show you what you cannot see for yourself. It’s an opportunity for putting those seven values into practice.

And what about the actions we can take to improve? We don’t have to wait for snow. We don’t even have to wait for a new day or  a new year. The moment is Now.

A Life Less Ordinary

A Secret Message Behind Closed Loo Doors

I feel under the weather. May be it’s just a passing chill I’ve caught. Truth be told, I’ve not been feeling my usual cheery self of late. I just don’t feel right.

But that’s enough about me. How have you been? How are you feeling? May be you’re a bit fed up with it all. Are there times when you wish you had more money? Or may be you dream of being revered by the masses? Perhaps you wish you could hide the signs of ageing? If your answer is ‘Yes’ to at least one of these 3 questions, then I have some bad news. You may have contracted Affluenza, the nastiest of viruses to be sweeping the English-speaking world. Don’t worry though. We have plenty for company.

A Society Under the Weather?

According to Oliver James, author of Affluenza, the Affluenza virus is defined by a pre-occupation with money. The Affluenza virus values consist of Money, Possession, Physical and Social Appearances and Fame. The virus is the product ‘Selfish Capitalism’ and leads to emotional distress such as anxiety and depression. This emotional distress, in true consumerism ‘Compete-by-Eating-Your-Own-Convenience’ style, further feeds your hunger for Selfish Capitalism. Selfish Capitalism, in turn, magnifies your preoccupation with the virus values. And hey presto! That’s how this vicious cycle keeps going and growing.

But wait! Before you despair because you’ve been lying awake at night wondering why you’ve been feeling so glum about life as you know it, there’s Hope.

Be Brave, Be Bold

Hope comes in the form of returning to the basics. It’s about addressing everyman’s fundamental needs to lead a fulfilling life.

  • Feel secure. About who you are and what you have.
  • Be authentic. Be yourself and be true to yourself.
  • Be autonomous. Do what you love. And do more of it – even if it means you go solo.
  • Feel competent. Have confidence in your own abilities. Get in the practice to help that confidence grow.
  • Be part of a community. Participate and contribute. Have fun in great company.


Oliver James recommends the following:

  1. Have positive volition (not ‘Think Positive’)
  2. Replace Virus Motives (with intrinsic ones)
  3. Be Beautiful (not attractive)
  4. Consume what you need (not what the advertisers tell you)
  5. Meet your children’s needs (not those of little adults)
  6. Educate your children (don’t brainwash them)
  7. Enjoy motherhood (not desperate housewifery/husbandry)
  8. But authentic (not sincere), vivacious (not hyperactive) and playful (not game-playing)


If, like me, you’re one of the infected, you need to act fast. Get lots of fresh air. Do more physical exercise. Burn off as many calories as you consume. Do at least one thing you love every day. And, as a friend just reminded me, take stock of all that you have and be thankful for such riches.

How will you transform this winter’s discontent? What will you do to make yours a life less ordinary? Make 2010 a Happy New Year!

Agile 2009: Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns

Facilitation is a key skill in personal and team effectiveness. A facilitator by definition is someone who makes it easier for others to communicate while maintaining a neutral stance themselves. According to Steve “Doc” List, each of us can choose to adopt the role of facilitator whenever we take part in a discussion, be it at work or at home. Doc demonstrates the complexity of good facilitation in his session Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns at Agile 2009.

Attributes of a Good Facilitator

A good facilitator:

  • Creates an open environment so others can make decisions during the discussions.
  • Recognises disruptive behaviour within a group and does something about it (using The Facilitation Four-Step – see below for more details).
  • Has no authority.

Good facilitation, according to Doc, means ‘dealing with attitudes and behaviours that lead to more effective meetings so that meetings become more productive and even enjoyable’. It’s not the facilitator’s responsibility to work on motivating others. Instead, a good facilitator recognises negative behaviour and deals with it in a respect way to all those involved.

The Role-Playing Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns Game

The theory on good facilitation was brought to life by Doc’s meeting game attended by stereotypical meeting-goers.

The game is made up of 13 types of personas (also known as Patterns and Antipatterns depending on your role as meeting facilitator or participant). Each persona has distinct motivations:

  • The Benevolent Dictator: ‘I know what’s best for all of you.’
  • The Guide: ‘I’m here to hold the lamp and show the way.’
  • The Gladiator: ‘It’s all about the combat!’
  • Curious George: ‘I’m here to ask not tell.’
  • Professor Moriarty: ‘The end, if it’s what I want, justifies the means.’
  • The Conclusion Jumper: ‘I don’t need to hear everything you have to say – I’ve got it!’
  • The Orator: ‘I’m worth listening to.’
  • The Superhero: ‘I’m here to rescue you.’
  • Sherlock Holmes: ‘With enough information, we can reach a conclusion.’
  • The Repetitor: ‘It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating.’
  • Switzerland: ‘It’s not up to me.’
  • Be Yourself: [Insert your own motto here]
  • The Facilitator: Persona who facilitates a practice meeting.

The first round of the game involved each player randomly drawing a card and playing out their persona during a meeting on a given topic (eg ‘We should use Scrum instead of XP’). The player who draws the Facilitator card plays the role of meeting facilitator. The aim of the game is for the group to guess who was playing which persona. Then we played a second round, with each player drawing two cards (instead of only one) and playing both their personas during the meeting. This duality gave each player an additional dimension which made divining the characters based on their behaviours much more difficult.

The Facilitation Four-Step

The Four-Step is useful for faciltators when dealing with negative behaviour during a meeting. Doc recommends taking the following actions when the meeting becomes blocked:

  1. Interrupt – Stop the speaker in mid-flow in as polite and as respectful a way as possible.
  2. Ask – Ask the speaker to sum up or clarify their point.
  3. Redirect – Ask others to share their points-of-view.
  4. Commit – Return to the original speaker and double-check with them that they are happy to move in the direction of the rest of the group.

What I Liked About the Session

  • The game successfully highlights the importance of what Doc refers to as ‘Collaborative Conversations’, conversations that have 2-way flow, involving talking and listening.
  • The game is an excellent example of how experiential learning enables us to gain a deeper understanding of how and why certain skills and techniques work in the real world.
  • The session reminds us of the importance of self-awareness, empathy and moderation if we are to play the role of facilitator effectively.

What Would Make the Session Perfect

  • I would have liked to play more rounds to improve my facilitation skills.
  • I would have liked to learn more about the manifestations of combined personas embodied by an individual and how to deal with the behaviour they exhibit.
  • I would have liked to learn more about the personas in terms of Patterns and Antipatterns depending on your role as meeting facilitator or participant.

Agile 2009: Day 3 Planning for the Afternoon

Afternoon Timeslot 1:

Afternoon Timeslot 2:

Agile 2009: Day 2 Planning

No need to look so glum! There are even more Real Options on Day 2 of the conference than Day 1! Marvellous.

On Monday, I wrote: I have yet to make my first choices for the timeslots, I’m keeping my options open for now!

On Tuesday, I’m writing: It’s 6 am Tuesday morning and I’ve refined my shortlist for Day 2 (see emboldened session titles) to at least two options per timeslot based on what I learned on Day 1 and what I need to learn from the remainder of the conference. Of course I don’t have to decide which session until the last responsible moment… just before the session begins or just before the session ends. It’s important to note, however, that the value of each session (Real Option) diminishes depending on when I join the session.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009



Agile 2009: Day 1 – Planning

The conference looks set to get off to a great start with plenty of Real Options on Day 1! Here’s a shortlist of the sessions I’m most curious about. Emboldened session titles indicate my current first choice per timeslot. Putting The Law of Two Feet into practice is always a Real Option, too!

Monday – 24 August 2009