Archives for the Month of November, 2008

The Beauty of Work

My friend Thoughtful Jim is the silent type. Whenever I pose a philosophical question (such as ‘Can we be paid well for doing what we love?’), instead of accusing me of overthinking, TJ usually replies, ‘I can’t answer an important question just like that. Let me think about it.’ TJ’s a deep thinker. And when he has something to say, I always sit up and listen.

One day, I notice TJ looking a bit glum. Instinctively, I tell him about the importance of doing what makes his heart sing. For once, he’s ready with a retort, ‘What does it mean “make your heart sing”? I’m not like you – I’ve never experienced anything that makes my heart sing.’ For the longest moment I’m lost for words.

Without music, life would be a singular mistake

What makes my heart sing is striving to do my best, gaining a better understanding of the world and myself and, most important of all, doing W-O-R-K T-H-A-T M-A-T-T-E-R-S. (Thanks to Tom Peters for the reminder!) That’s just my definition, of course. Yours is likely to be something entirely different.

I feel I owe TJ a better answer than this, so I begin to carry the question around in my head.

The Story of Success

Then I came across the answer this Tuesday when I went to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak at the London Business Forum.

Malcolm says that for an individual to be successful, they must do ‘Meaningful Work’. He defines Meaningful Work as:

  1. Autonomous – You determine what you do
  2. Complex – It’s hard enough to exercise your mind
  3. Effort and reward – The more work you put in, the greater the reward you reap.

Malcolm’s definition is like a chance meeting with an old friend because it’s what I used to do at school. And it’s by identifying those three attributes that Malcolm crystalises what I’ve always known, but never quite dared to acknowledge as a working adult because it sounds impossible to achieve.

The Riddle of Work

The currency of work is changing. Can we be paid well for doing what we love? Yes! How do I know? Because I do more of what I love every day and am rewarded both financially and experiencially.

How many people do you know have:

  • 1 x suitcase stuffed with 225 balloons
  • 10 x Agile game kits (The XP Game and The Business Value Game)
  • 4 kilograms of chocolates
  • And plays games to help adults learn in beautiful cities such as Helsinki?

Work can be fun. Sometimes it even becomes a party.

SimBlogging: XP Days Benelux 2008 Retrospective

SimBlogging‘ offers a his-and-hers viewpoint as Pascal and Portia timebox-blog simultaneously

‘Fun, Learning, Sharing, Smiles and Laughter’

These five words best describe my first and last impressions of XP Days Benelux 2008.

The conference opened with a warm welcome from the organisers Pascal Van Cauwenberghe, Vera Peeters, Nicole Belilos and me. Next up were Day 1 presenters who promoted their sessions as OOMPs reduced to 30 seconds (pronounced ‘oomps’ aka Official One Minute Presentations).

The conference hall shuddered with laughter as the mini-marketing exercise transformed previously mild and quiet presenters into creative and boisterous marketeers. A few members of the audience even shrieked with delight at the mention of fairytales and the search for happy endings.

Close of Play

Another unique feature was 30 second OOMPs from participants as part of the closing on each day.

Participants stood up to share their thoughts and lessons learnt as Pascal called out the title of each session of the day.

Behind the logistical scenes were the ever resourceful Rob Westgeest (another of the great conference organisers) and Olivier Costa, flanked by a rotating set of volunteers ready to help whenever help was needed. Now that’s what I call a self-organising team.

Fun and Games

One example of F-U-N in action was the Persona Game where each conference participant identified themselves with a particular conference participant stereotype. To win a prize, each participant had to form a team of different persona types to deliver a team OOMP.

Another example was the Games Night where more than 30 grownups played board and card games until the wee hours of the next morning (2:30 am to be precise).

Session Favourites

Critical Chain by Christophe Thibaut and Olivier Pizzato – Mecanno experience is hard to come by, but we can deliver value if we share our knowledge, expertise and tasks

Seeking to Perceive More Than to be Perceived by Emanuel Gaillot and Bernard Notarianni – Where we learnt about three more tools to add to our Better Communication Toolkit: “Investigate Protocol” (from Jim and Michele McCarthy), “Soft Focus” (by theatre director Tadashi Suzuki) and “Emic Interviewing” (from American anthropologist Marvin Harris)

The Business Value Game by Pascal, Vera and me – Learning how the game can be scaled up to 6 teams of 6 participants with 3 facilitators while preserving the quality of learning and gaming experience

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Why Me? – Amusing 33 grownups with the retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Tarantino style

Working with Resistance by Olivier Costa and his Sensei – Where we learnt about the importance of exercising the body with the mind by doing some basic Aikido exercises. Many participants left beaming and reinvigorated by the experience before heading to the bar

Cultural Remarks

  • A Dutch road slows down traffic with a “verkeerseiland” or “slowing down / traffic island” instead of a speed hump (aka “sleeping policeman“)
  • Dutch quiches are served in blocks and cut up into cubes of cheesy goodness instead of being round tarts or tartlets (as served in the UK and in France)

Final Thoughts

What immediately struck me about XP Days Benelux was the spirit of inclusion, instead of exclusivity as seen at so many of the other conferences I’ve been to in the past. XP Days Benelux is a unique gathering because it’s based on what you want to know instead of who you know.

One Nice-to-Have echoed by several people would be more sessions for more seasoned Agile practitioners. I would like to see how this would be implemented next year.

I regret missing the Werewolf Game this year so I’ll be sure to participate in next year’s Games Night!

Many thanks to the wonderful photos by Xavier Quesada. Cheers Xavier!

Our Mutual Friend

Still Life

P.: Richard’s a nice guy.
Zach: He’s changed a lot since meeting a lady friend recently.
P.: (Pauses) Has he changed for the better?
Zach: Definitely. Richard’s got potential.
P.: (Smiles)
Zach: I like to think of him as a work-in-progress.

Life as Art

I’d never heard of someone being described as a ‘work-in-progress’ before. My friend Zach. is an artistic, cultured kind of guy, so when he described Richard as a work-in-progress, he had meant it to be a compliment of sorts. The idea that Richard had the potential to be an artist’s masterpiece. Being a work-in-progress is part of that journey.

Zach’s use of the term ‘work-in-progress’ also reminded me of Lean. In Lean, you strive to first deliver value. You achieve this by minimising work-in-progress. That’s because too much work-in-progress blocks flow, delays value from being realised. Worst of all, it hides waste.

In Richard’s case, he’s the single piece of work-in-progress on his Assembly Line of Life. That fits nicely with Lean where you want to be working on one thing at a time.

From Journeyman to Master

But something’s still missing from the equation. Does being part of the status quo help us become a masterpiece? Does reliving the same year twenty times give us twenty years of experience? Sounds more like a death march to me.

Then it dawns upon me, the most magical ingredient of all.

Kaizen’s for life, not just on birthdays

In life, we are the artist as well as our own potential masterpiece. We become a work-in-progress from the day we’re born and remain one until we die. The Goal is to turn our life into our own masterpiece. To achieve that goal we need to continuously improve. Continuous Improvement forces us to learn. And to change. By changing for the better, we move closer towards our Goal. And so the virtuous circle takes shape to become the wheel that rolls us forward.

Make yours a masterpiece. Love something, change something, make something better.

Real Options: Next Stop XPDay London 2008

Conversation overheard in a galactic corridor

(At an Agile conference in a galaxy near you)

A: I am Agamemnon the Agile.
P: That’s nice for you.
A: I am Leader of the Alliance.
P: There are many alliances.
A: Join us.
P: Thanks, but I prefer to keep my options open.

What are Real Options?

Real Options is a decision-making process for managing uncertainty and risk. It’s a simple and powerful approach that helps us make better informed decisions, as individuals and in groups, by understanding and responding to the psychological effects uncertainty has on our behaviour.

Real Options means:

  1. You don’t have to decide now (aka ‘Decide at the last responsible moment’)
  2. But you know when to decide
  3. Keep as many options open for as long as possible
  4. Actively gather information until you have to make the decision
  5. Only commit when you must or when you have a good reason to.

A Real Option:

  • Has a value
  • Has an expiry date or condition
  • Costs: cost of buying the option + cost of exercising the option.

The idea of applying Real Options in Agile comes from Chris Matts. You can read more about the original concept here.

The Real Options Space Game: The New Frontier

Pascal and I began working on the idea of a Real Options game after co-presenting a Real Options session at SPA 2008 with Chris back in March this year. Within a month, Pascal and I had a first version of the Real Options Space Game ready for trial in London. Since then, we’ve played it at Agile North and XPDay France.

The Real Options Space Game *New* Version 2.0

During our travels far and near, we’ve encountered many different species of Agilistas and made many friends. We’ve learnt to think more deeply about options and opportunities, for ourselves and in relation to others. Most important of all, we’ve stumbled across the secret to preserving galactic peace.

Meanwhile, Pascal and I’ve been tweaking and polishing the game thanks to the feedback from all the players. We’re pleased to announce that version 2.0 of the Real Options Space Game is now ready for play.

Go, go game play!

Come join us at XPDay London (11 – 12 December) if 1) you think you can take on the ultimate challenge in common sense; 2) you want to know the secret to preserving galactic peace (it’s this kind of general knowledge that gets Agilistas out of tricky spots of bother).

SimBlogging: AYE 2008 Retrospective

SimBlogging‘ offers a his and hers viewpoint as Pascal and Portia timebox-blog simultaneously

What Went Well

Journey to Arizona: My AYE adventure started at Terminal 5 where I met up with Pascal to fly to Phoenix, Arizona. Thanks to Julie, a Senior Customer Service Agent from British Airways, we both got upgraded to World Traveller Plus. I’ve gained considerable insight into the airline industry having worked in the industry for the past 6 months. Working with people with a passion for airplanes and travel has allowed me to experience air passenger travel with new eyes since.

Beautiful Arizona: The November weather in Arizona is glorious. The skies are a bright, clear blue and the sun simply glows. I found myself sitting outdoors in shortsleeves, basking in the shade to avoid being burnt to a crisp. Now that’s something that’s never happened to me before. Another striking thing about Arizona is the strips of carefully tended green grass. Back in London, it rains a lot by comparison and so the grass is mostly green. Here in Arizona, I find myself scanning the landscape for grass and appreciating each strip because I know someone decided to plant it there and have continued to look after it since.

The Folks at AYE: My biggest takeway from AYE is the high concentration of open and friendly participants. The number of participants was capped to 75 which gave us a chance to really mingle with the 5 organiser-trainers, Don Gray, Steve Smith, Esther Derby, Johanna Rothman and, of course, Jerry Weinberg. Most important of all, the smaller-than-average conference gathering gave the participants a chance to get to know one another better.

Agile Fairytales at AYE: Following on from Don’s friendly suggestion that we run the Snow White and Seven Dwarves Game as a Birds-of-a-Feather session at the conference, over 23 people attended the session. Pascal and I continued to play the game with other participants over the course of the conference after lunch and during dessert. It goes to show that playing at the dinner table is no bad thing!

People, People, People: For me, going to a conference is all about meeting people. My write-home-on-a-postcard characters have to be: Evan the Standup Comedian (who played a key role as the protagonist in the chaotic, yet triumphant Satir Change Model exercise), Jeremy the Magician (with his scented marker and chameleon playing cards), Chris the Aspiring Dog Whisperer (with understands dogs AND people) and Cheryl, Rob and Mark from Team Blackberry (who get to develop funky tools to help us better manage our time and ourselves).

Session Highlights:

Cultural Day Out: Of course, no conference adventure is complete without a visit to the environs. On our last day in Phoenix, Pascal and I visited the Heard Museum where we learned about the different Indian tribes in the Arizona region. We had first come across this aspect of the sad and turbulent history of America on our visit to Toronto at Agile 2008. It reminded me of the importance of learning from history because it’s only by learning from our mistakes that we stand a chance of breaking the cycle of misunderstandings and atrocities. Esther demonstrates how retrospectives are a great way of transforming our experiences into lessons learnt.

Complaints With Recommendations

  • The AYE sessions I attended encouraged audience participation, but the session takeaways remained vague. It would be great to make explicit the learnings and actions from the discussions, as a group, to reinforce the lessons learnt so they can be applied more easily.
  • Day 1 saw the introduction of the Myers-Briggs Indicator Type (MBTI) with everyone identifying their type. Unfortunately, some people wrote their type on their name badge and started saying things like, ‘I’m an introvert, that’s why I’m not very good at networking’. It would be more useful to emphasise a preference is just that rather than who you are. That’s because we can all learn the less preferred behaviour to become more congruent.
  • The only session to hold a retrospective was the Agile Fairytale Mirror, Mirror BoF. It would be great to apply the Agile practice for all sessions as a way to get feedback from participants to help improve them.
  • I wish I’d spent more time chatting and sharing with other participants outside of the sessions. I could start or continue a conversation by email of course!
  • I wish I’d seen more of Arizona and its exotic fauna – nothing beats a bit of funky cacti against blue sky. I suggest hiring a car and doing a bit of a road trip next time!

Agile Fairytales at AYE

Last night saw the largest gathering ever to attend Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Why Me?, an Agile Fairytale session on improving personal effectiveness, created by adults for everyone. More than 20 people converged to learn how to create their own happy endings on Day 2 of the AYE Conference in sunny Phoenix, Arizona.

Rediscovering the lessons we learnt as children but have since forgotten

We began the session with a speed retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – a story of murder, intrigue, passion, poisoned apples and, of course, an Evil Queen. It was great to see sceptic-looking faces brighten with smiles as the story unfolded. The room soon filled with laughter at the thought of Sneezy being a friendly kind of dwarf who’s creatively efficient because he’s allergic to work.

You can read more about the Snow White and Seven Dwarves Game here. The game and all related materials are freely available under the Creative Commons license. You can also download the game and play it for free* with your team, family and friends.

If you’re an avid Agile Fairytale game player, you can read about the experience of your British Agile Fairytale counterparts and see how they fared.

Making Money with Agile Fairytale Projects

The highlight of the evening had to be the project pitches as each of the three teams presented their project proposition, outlining their project’s goal, its deadline and a team staffed with Agile Fairytale characters.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Who’s the fairest of them all?

Many thanks to everyone who attended! The overwhelming enthusiasm of the participants was a sure sign that Pascal and I were among folks who take responsibility for ourselves by continuously seeking to improve.

Heartfelt Lessons Learnt by the Group

  • The only person we can change is ourselves.
  • Everyone has value.
  • Stop being a misanthrope: we should appreciate people more.
  • By looking at what we think of others, we can learn about ourselves.
  • It’s up to us as individuals to take responsibility in a relationship.

One participant declared, ‘I can see how the game can be a catalyst for team building. I’m going to play it with my team the moment I get home!’

Agile Fairytales coming to a place near you

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Why Me? will be showing next at XP Days Benelux later on this month. The Agile Benelux contingent are world-renowned for their sense of fun, so I’m looking forward to what promises to be a most excellent European mini-adventure of self-discovery.

*The Snow White and Seven Dwarves Game is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK license.