Archives for the Month of August, 2009

Agile 2009: The Bottleneck Game – The Five Focusing Steps


To illustrate the The Five Focusing Steps from the Theory of Constraints, Pascal and I co-presented The Bottleneck Game at Agile 2009. We had a lot of fun as usual and, in return, we’ve received lots of useful feedback to improve the way we run the session going forward.

Find out more about The Five Focusing Steps here.

What I Liked About the Session

  • It was great to have the likes of Henrik Kniberg play the game and give us feedback.
  • It was useful to have the opportunity to run the session as two parallel simulations.
  • The two parallel simulations heightened the sense of urgency/stress (just like work!) because the two teams tried to compete with one another.

What Would Make the Session Perfect

  • Limit the number of consultant players per simulation so players can all focus more.
  • Use the microphones as presenters so that everyone can hear us!
  • Run the second half of the session so we can apply the Theory of Constraints to our workplace (although this would require an additional 90 minutes!) and come up with a process improvement plan.

Feedback from bloggers on the session

Agile 2009: The Responsibility Model Revisited

It was good to hear Christopher Avery re-cap on The Responsibility Model in his session How to Development Your Leadership Power Daily: An Agile Approach to Growth at Agile 2009.

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

Redefining Responsibility

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.

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.’

What I Liked About the Session

  • It was interesting to see the audience’s reaction to The Responsibility Model since the model was new to the majority of them. I remember feeling uplifted when I first came across it; the algorithm makes the notion of Responsibility explicit as a repeatable process.

What Would Make the Session Perfect

  • It would have been very useful to experience the model as an exercise to internalise it.
  • I would have liked to hear more about the latest research Christopher’s been doing related to the model.

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: How to Create Rapport with your Customer

The first Agile (XP) Value is Communication. Communication is probably one of the most talked about themes on Agile teams, yet it is probably one of the most difficult ones to realise. Jenni Dow and Ole Jepsen show us how in their session “Flirting” With Your Customers at Agile 2009.

Jenni and Ole liken developing rapport with a customer to two people flirting since successful relationships are based on Effective Communication through Mutual Understanding.

An 8 Step Guide to Flirting with Your Customer

1. Radar – Be switched on because every moment is a chance to connect with people.
You: I’m aware of my thoughts and how I’m feeling right now. I’m also aware of those around me.

2. Target – Identify who you need to connect with and why.
You: To deliver maximum value for my organisation, I need to gain support from senior management. Patrick’s a senior manager. I’ll go speak to him.

3. Move In – Show you’re interested in them by inquiring about their perspective on things.
You: Hi Patrick. Graham suggested I speak to you about how we currently deliver software. Do you have 5 minutes?

Customer: I’m on my way to another meeting.

You: How about I walk you there and we talk on the way?

Customer: OK!

You: What’s bothering you most about the software delivery process?

4. Back Off A Little – You’ve shown your interest in them, now give them a chance to reciprocate.
Customer: The way we do releases is a serious problem. They’re simply taking too long.

5. Open Up – Share more information.
Customer: Your concern mirrors my experience with the teams I’ve been coaching in your organisation. If we begin by applying some Agile practices to Release Management, we should be able to improve the process and reduce the overall time it takes per release.

6. Dance – Socialise!
Customer: Thanks for inviting me to this team lunch. It’s been great to hear firsthand from the team how they think Agile’s working out for us. What we really need is a repeatable process.

You: We’ll be learning more about process improvement based on the Theory of Constraints next Tuesday. We’ll be playing The Bottleneck Game, a production line simulation. You’re welcome to join us!

Customer: Mmm… I’m booked up already next Tuesday. Leave it with me and I’ll see what I can do.

7. Get Real – Work through a crisis together.
You: Patrick, I need your help.

Customer: What’s the problem?

You: The Release Management team thinks Agile is just a fad. They want to sit tight and wait for it to pass.

Customer: Thanks for letting me know. I’m seeing the Release Manager this afternoon. I’ll let him know that Agile is the way forward and we all have to do our bit to increase the value we deliver.

8. Enjoy – Enjoy the relationship and help it grow.
Just as 20% of the cost of a piece of software is incurred during development and the remaining 80% goes into maintenance, a similar distribution of effort applies to establishing and growing relationships. 

Tips to Effective Communication and Meaningful Relationships

When applying the 8 steps, it’s important to remember to:

  • Be open and receptive.
  • Ask questions.
  • Listen first.
  • Find common points of interest/concern.
  • Listen some more.
  • Sense-check by playing back what you’ve heard (eg ‘If I understand correctly, the time it takes to do releases is a key concern for the organisation’).
  • Apply the Agile Values (Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect). Always.

What I Liked About the Session

Jenni and Ole are a great example of pair-presenting. I thoroughly enjoyed their session for three main reasons:

  1. It takes courage to tackle a tricky topic, especially that of human social interaction.
  2. Jenni and Ole created an environment where everyone could safely experiment with the steps.
  3. The steps were delivered in a good-natured way so as to make us laugh and help us remember them!

What Would Make the Session Perfect

  • I would have liked to practice the 8 steps in triads (with two participants and one observer) in order to 1) gain a deeper understanding of the steps and 2) get feedback on my application of those steps.
  • I would have liked to learn more about ways to grow a relationship – Step 8 – since relationships that endure are the ones that require time and effort.

Agile 2009: Day 3 Planning for the Afternoon

Afternoon Timeslot 1:

Afternoon Timeslot 2:

Agile 2009: Let the Agile Games Begin!

Today marks yet another Agile First – It’s the first time Pascal and I are presenting two of our all time favourite Agile games in the United States on the same day:

  • 09:00 – 10: 30 (Grand Ballroom A) – We play The Bottleneck Game, a simulation of  a production line at The Hats and Boats Company where you’ll experience and apply the five focusing steps from the Theory of Constraints and learn about how it correlates with Agile, Lean and Real Options. Maximum 60 participants.
  • 16:00 – 17:30  (Plaza Ballroom B) – We go for gold with The Business Value Game, a jam-packed game where you come to grips with release planning and the role of the Agile customer by playing sales people competing for resources to deliver the highest possible business value for your organisation. Maximum 50 participants.

Bonus! Henrik Kniberg, author of Scrum and XP in the Trenches, has volunteered to help facilitate The Business Value Game (having played it for the first time with us at Agile 2008) so that we can scale it up to 50 participants like we did at XPDay France earlier this year!

We’ve played these games on numerous occasions with our clients and Agilists in Europe, so we ‘re intrigued by how the participants at Agile 2009 will fare compared with our European counterparts! Come to the sessions early to avoid disappointment as places are limited. We look forward to seeing you there!

Where can I find out more?

You can download the games (including full instructions!) from and play them for free with your colleagues and even family and friends. Warning: Having fun can be hardwork!

 All the games on are available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.

Agile 2009: Day 3 Planning for the Morning

Reviewing my plan for Day 2

As Tuesday’s conference day is fast approaching, I’ve reviewed my Real Options for the day.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to plan 1-day ahead which seems to give me a healthy balance of focus on the present day of the conference and enough information just-in-time for making well-informed choices at a sustainble pace. Sustainable pace is key at Agile 200X conferences because of the gargantuan amounts of information around!

Day 3 at Agile 2009

As usual, the sessions with emboldened titles are the ones I’ll be attending!

Morning Timeslot 1:

Morning Timeslot 2:

Agile 2009: Mapping the Agile Enablement Battlefield

‘Change happens. It cannot be controlled. It can only be influenced.’

One of the key criteria for successful Agile Adoption is to make it grow and endure throughout an organisation. To overcome this challenge, George Schlitz and Giora Morein show us how to navigate organisational relationships using an approach called Mapping the Agile Enablement Battlefield presented at Agile 2009.

Storytime: The Story of Jorj the CSM Pig

Once upon a time, there was a friendly and happy pig called Jorj. Jorj the CSM Pig was part of a great team of pigs. Together, they delivered a successful project.

Shortly afterwards, a curious thing happened. Jorj and his team were reduced to bacon.

The moral of the story, according to Giora and George, is that organisational change is difficult. In Jorj’s case, it was very difficult indeed. It’s perfectly possible to be successful at project delivery yet fail in the overall Change effort.

Put your Strategic Thinking Cap on

For Agile to endure in an organisation, it needs to be part of an organisational change programme.

Agile Adoption fails at an organisational level when we:

  • Focus on delivering while ignoring the importance of organisational change
  • View organisational change as a distraction
  • Insulate ourselves from change beyond the team
  • Too much practice – not enough principles being applied

According to Giora and George, the key to the kind of Agile that endures is:

  • Develop a strategy – Find out where and when to exert influence.
  • Understand that Change is War (in that it requires a strategic approach).

The Objective: Agile Team Leads (aka Scrum Masters) need to be Change Agents. As Change Agents, their objective is to identify how to invest some effort and resources on the Change effort.

The Approach: Using a ‘Mapping the Battlefield’ approach, team leads can visually represent a system of influencers by identifying influencer types, such as ‘Ally’, ‘Supporter’, ‘Neutral’, ‘Threat’ and ‘Enemy’.

There are 3 Influence Strengths:

  • Undetermined influence
  • Strong influence
  • Weak influence.

Identifying the System of Influencers

Day 1: Establish the Perimeter – Create an alternative view of the organisational diagram in terms of influencer types.

  • Identify known influencers surrounding the team – Start with the closest people to the team
  • Identfy positive and negative influencers – Assess based on direct interaction as well as hearsay
  • Update your map as new information arrives.

Day 2: Assess the direct influencers

  • Focus on direct influencers (those who interact directly with your team)
  • Add in more influencers as you identify them.

Day 3: Assess indirect influencers

  • Indirect influencers that influence your direct influencers
  • Influence your perimeter by influencing others
  • Start with second-degree supervisors.

Day 4: Continue information gathering and analysis

  • Rinse and repeat.

Putting the Action Plan into Action

The Response Strategy is to focus on the proximity and strength of the influencers.

Priority 1 – Enagage with the strongest direct threats.
Priority 2 – Enagage with the strongest indirect threats.
Priority 3 – Enagage with the weak direct threats.

My Takeaway

The ‘Mapping the Battlefield’ approach is about information gathering and analysis and strategic thinking. It can be used as an effective thinking tool so long as we live the Agile Values and behave responsibly. As always, the most useful thing to do is look within yourself and change for the better first because true leadership is by example.

Agile 2009: The Basics of Reliable Delivery

The key to reliable delivery, according to Mary Poppendieck, is understanding that Workflow is Orthogonal to Schedule. This is my experience report of the session at Agile 2009.

The Secret of Success: The Story of the Empire State Building Project

The goal of the Empire State Building project was to 1) create the tallest building in the world; 2) bring in revenue by opening the building to the public within a year.

The secret of the project team’s success was Focus on Flow, in this case, getting the right materials to the right people in the right place.

Key Sucess Factors

  1. Teamwork of owner, architect and builders working as one team – consulting and involving experts early.
  2. Hire deeply experienced builders (then delivering to a fixed price contract).
  3. Focus on the key constraint: material flow.
  4. Decoupling – creating ompletely independent schedules allowed swift response to impediments/surprises.
  5. Cash Flow Thinking: each day of delay cost $10,000 ($120,000 today), making speed well worth it.
  6. Design to meet constraints – the schedule was not derived from the building design, the building was designed based on constraints (such as building in the middle of New York, the laws of physics, zoning ordinances).

How to Achieve Reliable delivery

  1. Establish high level system goals. Create high level system design based on the goals. Understand what the the business really needs.
  2. Involve those who understand the details early in the design process. There is no substitute for experience.
  3. Apply teamwork based on respect and trust. Managing by solely by contract-based thinking increases costs 30% – 60%.
  4. Reduce complexity with wise decoupling  (eg reduce architectural and schedule dependencies; provide alternate options for ‘Critical Path’ items).
  5. Understand and manage the biggest constraint – know what that constraint is and how to deal with it.

Tips for Leveraging Workflow and Scheduling Together

  1. Level the workload because it provides greater control over the schedule and increases a schedule’s predictability.
  2. Create the schedule with people with knowledge and experience.
  3. Optimise throughput, not utilisation because lower utilisation delivers higher performance.
  4. Ensure slack is built in because it allows for team to respond to feedback and cope with normal variation.
  5. Limit work to capacity.
  6. Timebox don’t scopebox.

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