Archives for the ‘Simplicity’ Category

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!

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.

The Team Manifesto – Part 2

Leverage the Wisdom of Your Team (Duration: 15 – 30 minutes)

Now we have our team values and the team’s definition of Quality, we’re ready to create our team manifesto out of two A0 posters. A team manifesto should be created by the team for the team.

  1. Ask the team to divide up into two groups, one to produce the Team Values poster and the other for the Quality definition poster.
  2. Give each group 10 minutes to produce their poster. Tip: Ensure the posters retain the order of the original lists of team values and Quality.
  3. Ask the team to post up their poster side by side in the teamspace. Tip: Find a place that is visible from everyone’s desk and, ideally, to passers-by. This serves as a reminder and declaration of the importance of the manifesto to the team.
  4. Invite everyone to affirm their commitment to the manifesto by signing below each of the posters. Tip: If certain members are reluctant to sign the posters, find out why. It may be that the team needs to revisit certain points on the posters until they come to a consensus. We suggest adjusting your facilitation style to increase the involvement of those people during the subsequent discussion.

Why the manifesto works

  • It harnesses the collective wisdom of the team. Collective wisdom is an increasingly well-recognised approach for helping disparate groups to find solutions, gain buy-in, resolve conflict and increase respect for one another through shared knowledge.
  • It’s self-enforcing. Refer back to manifesto the regularly. Since the team came up with it, individuals are more likely to behave responsibly and encourage others to do the same.

We strongly recommend asking everyone to affirm their commitment by signing the manifesto.

Sixty minutes later and we’ve created our very own team manifesto. Smiles everywhere.
The team stands back and gazes in silence at what we’ve achieved.

The Team Manifesto – Part 1

TO create a team that delivers value now and in the future
AS A group of individuals
WE NEED to create an agreed way of working.

Immediately after the Profile Card Exercise, we create the team’s manifesto.

The Definition of Team (Duration: 15 – 25 minutes)

We begin by asking the group: “What does ‘Team’ mean to you?” We use the Clustering Exercise to ensure we collect everybody’s ideas.

The Clustering Exercise

  1. Brainstorm ideas: Pose a question to the crowd. Ask everyone to write down their answers in silence, describing each idea or thought in no more than a few words on individual Post-its. Set aside 3- 5 minutes for this.
  2. Share ideas: Ask each member to go through their entire stack by reading out a Post-it then posting it up one at a time. Ensure everyone can see the information being posted up.
  3. Cluster ideas: Ask everyone to group the Post-its by theme. The clustering must be done in silence so that individuals cannot verbally influence one another’s way of grouping.
  4. Identify themes: Select a cluster then read out the individual Post-its one by one. Ask the group to give the cluster a theme. Write down the theme on a Post-it and place it at the centre of the cluster. Repeat this step with each process.
  5. Vote for themes: Count up the total number of themes then divide it by 3. The product is the number of votes given to each member. Ask each member to vote for their preferred themes. If someone feels particularly strongly for a theme, they can allocate all their votes to a single theme.
  6. Spot the top themes: Count up the total number of votes per theme. Note down the number of votes on the associated theme Post-it.
  7. Select the top themes: Write out the question you posed to the group as a heading on an A0 piece of paper. Identify and agree with the group up to top 5 themes to form the group’s collective answers to the question. Write down the themes as a numbered list below the question heading.

Once we’ve defined the team values, we take a break. After the break, we move on to the second exercise to build up our team manifesto.

The Definition of Quality (Duration: 15 – 20 minutes)

Quality is an integral part of everything we do. We’ll have many conversations with the team throughout the project about Quality, so it’s important to define upfront what Quality means to us.

Next, we ask the team “What does Quality means to you?” using the Clustering Exercise. Again, we begin by finding out what Quality means to each individual and then come to a common understanding of what it means to the team.

Why define Quality?

  • To come to a common understanding of Quality.
  • To find out how important Quality is for the team.
  • To tap into the team’s sense of professional pride.
  • It helps team members to stick up for what they believe in, because they’re supported by the team.
  • It’s self-enforcing. Since the team came up with it, individuals are more likely to behave responsibly and encourage others to do the same.

Why is the Clustering exercise useful?

  • It allows introvert thinkers to share their thoughts and ideas without being dominated or distracted by the extrovert thinkers in the group.
  • It shows the coach how individual members behave in a group.
  • It develops a sense of solidarity as a group works together to come up with a collective answer.

Now we have the information for creating two posters that make up the Team Manifesto. Here’s what we do next.

Are you ready for Ultimate Agile?

Congratulations! THE BIG DAY you’ve been training for for the past 364 days will soon by upon us. It’s time to cash in on the benefit of the thousands of Agility exercises you’ve been putting into practice at work. Let’s hope all the agile flexing of both brain and brawn pays off. 

Ho! Ho! Ho! Contenders ready?

If you think Christmas Day is a day off, you’re wrong. The 25th of December is the single day of the year when most of us will be trying our hardest to be true to who we are and what we believe in. If that’s not hard work, I don’t know what is. Welcome to Ultimate Agile (also known as Christmas Day with all the family). Are you ready for Ultimate Agile?

Why not have black swan instead of turkey this year?

The problem with Christmas with the family is this: If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always got. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future comes in the form of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, who offers us a chance to understand how we can change our fate.

‘History is opaque,’ writes Taleb, ‘You see what comes out, not the script that produces the events, the generator of history.’ Taleb identifies three ailments of the human mind whenever it comes in contact with history. He calls them the Triplet of Opacity.

The Triplet of Opacity

The Illusion of Understanding, where everyone thinks they know everything there is to know about everything when in fact they don’t

The Retrospective Distortion, how we use hindsight to explain strange and mysterious things to make-believe that we are in control

The Overvaluation of Factual Information and the Handicap of Authoritative and Learned People, how we listen to and believe in those who appear to be experts but fail to give practical answers that work beyond textbooks

Wise is she who knows she does not know

In my experience, destructive human behaviour arises out of what Taleb calls ‘agressive ignorance’, or a fear of looking stupid that is greater than the fear of being wrong. For example, being asked something to which you don’t know the right answer is the event. Agressive ignorance is the emotional response. The script invisible to the naked eye reads:

  1. I know deep down that if I’m wrong, I may have to change.
  2. Change requires effort which I’m not sure I can be bothered to invest.
  3. The effort might go wasted if I fail.
  4. If I fail to change, that makes me a failure.

So what’s the antidote?

Whenever I’m in a spot of bother, I remind myself of the Agile Values: Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect. When I feel comfortable living and breathing the first five in a given situation (Think: ‘Baby Steps’ or ‘Incremental development’), I throw in an extra two: Trust and Transparency.

For instance, before a discussion becomes a deafening shouting match, I ask myself: ‘How can I be a better communicator?’ to which my brain resourcefully volunteers a myriad of options such as ‘Listen more! Talk less. The two of you have reached an impasse, ask for help or clarification.’

The only thing most people seek at family gatherings is understanding. It’s the same at work. Why not treat your work self at home to a Christmas helping of black swan?

Merry Christmas one and all!

The Devil’s in the Detail

The first and most important thing I share with any team I work with are the Agile Values, also known the XP Values from Kent Beck and Cynthia Andres.

The Five Agile Values

1. Communication is a two way thing. It’s about talking and listening.

2. Simplicity is about simple solutions that do what’s required, no more, no less. Simplicity is synonymous with elegance.

3. Feedback has three axes: Giving feedback, receiving feedback and taking action as a result of the feedback.

4. Courage is about taking calculated risks. It’s about facing and voicing the brutal facts. It’s also about creating an environment where people can be courageous.

5. Respect is an appreciation that everyone can add value. It’s also about valuing diversity.

Agile Values++

During our peer coaching, Pascal and I identified two more vital values to add to the set:

6. Trust is about giving people a chance to do the right thing and to do things right.

7. Transparency means sharing information as much as possible to help create more Real Options for all parties involved.

What the Agile Values mean in practice

Newcomers to Agile often ask me: ‘How do you know if someone is really agile?‘ To which I reply, ‘They follow the Agile Values even at times of great stress.’ Those who compromise on the Values can never be truly agile, especially if they get stuck in Denial.

In my experience, Respect is the toughest and most important value because it forms the foundation for the rest. You have to respect others and yourself to really make the other values count.

The Telltale Heart

I regularly meet Agilistas who appear to respect others and themselves, yet they are incapable of accepting feedback and taking action. According to Marshall Goldsmith, the only correct response to any feedback is: ‘Thank You’. What do you say when someone gives you feedback?

Challenge Your Personal Agility

‘To some, responsibility is a burden. To others, responsibility is a reward. For many, responsibility means having someone to point to.’

- Christopher Avery

It was great to finally meet Christopher Avery at the Agile Business Conference this Wednesday. His presentation on the Responsibility Model, delivered in person, was every bit as insightful and entertaining as I hoped it would be.

‘Humans are born to learn’

According to Christopher, Responsibility has long been considered as a character trait. Or, depending on your view of the world, a character flaw.

Newsflash: Responsibility is neither a character trait nor flaw. Christopher describes Responsibility as the way you respond to a problem. Responsibility is completely subjective. It’s also a feeling. This is why Responsibility is so difficult to talk about.

For me, the most effective way of thinking about Responsibility is to compare it with Accountability. According to Christopher, delegating Accountability is the first tool of management. It’s a one-sided agreement-making process in which one individual beholdens another regardless of whether or not that individual accepts the responsibility that has been thrust upon them.

Responsibility, on the other hand, empowers an individual by giving each of us the choice to acknowledge then embrace the uncertainty surrounding our lives and to do something about it.

Redefining Responsibility

There are six progressive phases in the Responsibility Model:

  1. Denial - ‘Problem? What problem? There’s no problem.’
  2. Blame – ‘I don’t have a problem working with you. You seem to have a problem with me. That makes it your problem. ‘
  3. Justify – ‘I guess it’s possible that I’ve become insensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. I can’t help it though. After all, I’ve been doing this job for a long time. It’s who I am.’
  4. Shame – ‘What have I done? I’m going to look such an idiot in front of the people at work. How am I going to live it down? Why should they help me after the way I’ve behaved?’
  5. Obligation – ‘Tell me what you think I should do. I have no choice but to do it (even though I don’t want to). I’ll do whatever you say. It’s only a job after all (no one can expect to do a job they love).’
  6. Responsibility – ‘I can wait for them to change but that could take forever. No, it’s up to me. I want to fix the problem. So how am I going to be a better colleague? I know! I’ll listen more. And be more considerate towards others. It’s a start.’

Taboo Who?

Embrace responsibility. Instead of skirting around it, talk about it. Practice moving through the 6 phases of the Responsibility Model. Help each other spot when one of you become stuck in a particular phase. The key to continuous improvement are what Christopher has identified as the Keys of Responsibility.

The Keys of Responsibility

1. Intention – Commit to doing or stop doing something.
2. Awareness – Learn to recognise when you are in each of the 6 phases. Look out for how you feel in each of those phases. Use the feeling to help you recognise which phase you’re in and evaluate why you feel that way you so that you can move onto the next phase towards Responsibility.
3. Confront – Face the truth head on. It’s sounds simple, but it’s not easy. How honest are you with yourself?

Teams Lost and Found


One Agile coach says to another, ‘How do you find the strength to carry on?’

The other coach replies, ‘I believe in “happily ever after“‘.

Going Off the Rails

In my experience, the toughest period on any Agile Enablement gig is the first two iterations. Some have described it as a rollercoaster ride – the corkscrew-space-mountain type where you can’t see where you’re headed because everything’s pitch black, your stomach’s one big writhing ball of worms and you have begun to doubt you’ll survive.

It’s also the roughest of rides because just when you think you’re getting it, you discover there’s more to learn. And then some. It’s harder to go on precisely because you remember the difficult road upon which you’ve just travelled. And your gut tells you that it’s going to get harder before it gets easier.

The Road Less Travelled

Agile is about Continuous Improvement. If you’re truly dedicated to improving, you will demonstrate your commitment by learning new stuff and brushing up on the old stuff. Eventually, the old stuff gets displaced by a re-combination of the old and new and you come up with better ways of working.

‘H’ for Helping Yourself

People new to Agile almost always believe they’re already agile. This is rarely the case. The penny only drops when the first person in the group openly acknowledges that, ‘Hey, it’s not a process problem we face, it’s a matter of mental attitude’. The greatest impediment to Agile adoption is people. It’s you. And me.

‘H’ for Hope

If you’re genuinely agile, you don’t just give up. Why? Because you know there’s always hope. You know being agile demands continuous improvement, so as long as you’re changing yourself for the better, you’re one small step closer to a better and happier work life. You can help make change happen at your organisation. What’s the one small change you can make to yourself today to change things for the better?

Postcard from Galway

Why Exoftware?

So that on a beautiful summer’s day I find myself cycling along the low road on one of the Aran Islands to spend time with the most diverse, smart, nice and fun bunch of Agilistas I know.

Paris, je t’aime

Once upon a time

My manager said to me, ‘The team thinks you’re doing a good job.’ After a short pause he declared, ‘And I agree with them.’ Then a longer pause. I suspected I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure what for. He continued. ‘The thing is, I’m just not sure what it is you actually do.’

From Dawn to Dusk to Present Day

I’m reading a book described as an ‘intimate portrait’ of the current President of France called L’Aube, le Soir ou la Nuit (Dawn, Evening or the Night) by Yasmina Reza. I was surprised to learn that Sarkozy and I have something in common.

In a conversation with Yasmina about young people today, Sarkozy says, ‘Ce qui est un problème c’est quand ils deviennent indépendants et pas gentils, gentils c’est le plus important.’ (‘The problem with young people is that when they grow up they forget about kindness. Being kind is what matters most.’)

‘It’s nice to be nice’

That was the gist of the answer I gave my manager all those years ago when he quizzed me about why the team was convinced I was doing a good job. I remember glossing over how I did what I did because my manager graduated from the school of stick-and-carrot management (using the Command and Control Management method). He wouldn’t have understood about consideration for others. I knew this because he had previously expressed concerns about my apparently ‘weaker’ style of management.

Although I couldn’t openly admit to my manager that I worked on the principle of Putting People First back then, the team knew and that was plenty good enough for me.

Agile is all about values

Putting People First is also about Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect. Most people I talk to about becoming agile almost always identify respect as the key value from which the others spring.

What’s less well-known is that respect wasn’t in the first version of the published Agile Values. Some say that respect was omitted because it was a given. Surely people know the importance of being respectful towards one another? But even assuming they know about respect, can we trust that they will always behave in a respectful way? Do you? Towards everyone? After all, everyone is valuable.

In a conversation with Pascal about the values at the SPA conference last month, we both agreed that there is a sixth value: Trust. I’ve seen trust, when combined with respect, empowers teams to grow beyond all previous prejudices and perceived limitations. Trust from a manager or team lead is crucial. Trust among team members is equally vital.

What did you do this week to improve the way you work? How can you show you trust your team more?