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Mini XP Days Benelux 2010: The Perfection Game

Dawson's Creek in Eindhoven?

What I liked about Mini XP Days Benelux

  • Pre-conference dinner on conference eve – this is a great way to get to know participants before the fun starts on the day of the conference!
  • Olivier’s Aikido morning meditation session. It’s unsettling how it’s so much harder to be still than it is to be engaged in constant activity.
  • Learnt at least two new recipes using white asparagus (a regional speciality).
  • The remarkable enthusiasm for the twists and turns in Agile Fairytales, an Agile retelling of stories you’ve grown up loving!
  • Nicole and Marc’s pair conference opening and closing – what a team! By keeping the ceremony short, sweet and simple, they made everyone smile and kept us all engaged.
  • Fresh local food and healthy, too!
  • Kappellerput is a breath-taking venue, with rooms titled ‘Challenge’, ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Reflection’ in a setting surrounded by a forest. It even has it’s own human bird house, this is a hard venue to beat! You really must come see for youself at XP Days Benelux on 25 – 26 November!
  • The fanatastic organisers for their sense of team, fun and always remembering to put the participants at the heart of everything we do.

What would make it perfect

  • A greater selection of hot meal options at lunch time.
  • I wish I had spent more time getting to know the first-timers at the conference.

Lessons (Re-)Learnt

  • Observers often come up with better questions than an interviewer because they suspend judgment long enough to listen and respond with another question to clarify or deepen their understanding of what’s being said by the interviewee.
  • To be a good coach, talk less, listen  more.
  • Great sessions, such as Pierluigi Pugliese’s session on ‘Solution Focused Agile Coaching‘, require practice, feedback and continuous refinement.
  • When you specify a maximum number of attendees for your session, stick to it to ensure you preserve the overall session experience for the attendees.
  • Presenting a session is one of the most effective ways to learn. It gives you a reason to research and get creative about a topic you feel passionate about and one that others are also interested in, too. It’s also the most direct way to get feedback on your presentation style and practice your public speaking skill. If you’re serious about learning, then do consider submitting to XP Days Benelux this year! Look out for the call for sessions here.

The secret is in the watching and learning

We hope to see you at XP Days Benelux, 25 – 26 November in Kappellerput in a sleepy town called Heeze (with a popular ice cream bar) in Eindhoven.

Thanks to Tjakko for the great close-up of the Observer role card from The Yellow Brick Road Game on Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching!

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.

2009: A Personal Retrospective

The Giving Tree

Highlights of 2009

It’s been a tremendous year! Here’s my whirlwind tour down Memory Lane 2009:

Friendly XPDays Switzerland organisers 

Followup on My Wishes from 2009

To DoSpeed networking with friends

  • ‘I wish to meet Seth Godin, Tom De Marco and Dale Chihuly. I also wish to meet Eli Goldratt again.’ I look forward to hearing Seth Godin speak live in April 2010!
  • ‘I wish to try out Agile Fairytales beyond the IT industry.’ I look forward to introducing the Agile Fairytales to people and places such as teachers and students in schools!

In Progress

  • ‘I wish to create a third Agile Fairytale.’ Two new Agile Fairytales are being developed as you read this: Pinocchio – On Becoming a Lean Leader (for SPA 2010) and The Emperor’s New Clothes – Meaningful Interactions in Stressful Situations (submitted to XP 2010).


  • Team at Play‘I wish to learn more in 2009 than I did 2008.’ I learnt that the best way to keep learning is with a little help from my friends! I also re-learnt that I need to be more patient and respectful to others and with myself.
  • ‘I wish to present the Snow White and Seven Dwarves Agile Fairytale in French in Paris.’ We ran the session partly al fresco at XPDay France on a fine Spring day in Paris!
  • ‘I wish to collaborate with Agilistas such as Pascal and Vera to create A-W-E-S-O-M-E Agile games that help us all become a bit more agile every day.’ Pascal was one of the many people who helped to make the new release of The Yellow Brick Road – Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching possible!


  • ‘I wish to learn more about Lean and use it more explicitly as part of my Agile Coach Toolkit.’ I’ll continue to consult and coach using Lean as the basis of enduring change. Presenting The Toyota Way with Pascal has helped us to explain how we apply Lean when we work with teams.
  • ‘I wish to create more Agile teams that endure long after the coach is gone.’ I’ve helped to coach a number of teams and seen them flourish and learnt a lot along the way.
  • ‘I wish to receive requests from you, the Reader, on questions you want answers to and the reasons why you need an answer. Think Selfish Programming: The Radio Request Blog.’ Thank You! for all your candid feedback on this blog. I look forward to more feedback in 2010!

Pairing rocks!

ScanAgile 2009: A Retrospective

Beautiful Bird House

It’s my second visit to Helsinki and it’s been quite an adventure! It’s been almost a year since my first visit.

What Went Well

  • The location: Getting the chance to see beautiful Helsinki in the fall
  • Over 280 participants attended – and it’s only the second time ScanAgile has been run!
  • The conference was well-organised, everything went really smoothly!
  • Learnt a bit about Beyond Budgeting from Bjarte Bogsnes in his experience report on implementing the techniques at Statoilhydro
  • Being challenged by questions that made me think hard about how I coach and why
  • Meeting Agilists from all over the world, including Brits who now live in Finland!
  • Getting a chance to sample Open Space sessions on Day 2 of the programme
  • The Toyota Way Management Principles session with Pascal: Illustrated how to implement a kanban system using baskets with the help of Snow White’s Seven Dwarves and the Evil Queen
  • Receiving feedback and recommended reading list from Tom Poppendieck (thanks Tom!) on our Toyota Way session
  • The Conflict Resolution Open Space session by Pascal where we learnt that we don’t have to compromise: it’s not either or. It’s  AND!
  • Post-conference get-together with the very warm and friendly folks from Reaktor (voted second in 2009 Best Workplaces in Europe competition)  at their very stylish office (with its very own onsite sauna!)

Day 2 Open Spaces Forum

What Went Wrong

  • Too many theoretical presentations
  • Too few sessions based on real-life experiences of using Agile
  • No list of attendees, where they work and the country of where they come from


  • How do you get the most out of Open Spaces?
  • What’s the best way to hear everyone speak and engage those interested at an Open Space?
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarves proved popular with the crowd: Would ScanAgile be interested in featuring an Agile Fairytale session next year?

Lessons (Re-)Learnt

  • I learn more from interactive sessions
  • I learn more when I disagree with the material being presented or the speaker because it forces me to question what I think and why I think it
  • We often ask questions not to find answers, but to merely seek for affirmation of our pre-prepared answers. By asking questions with a closed mind, we limit our capacity to learn compared with when we inquire with an open mind
  • ‘You don’t lose weight just by standing on the scales’ – thanks Bjarte Bogsnes for a great reminder!
  • Fixing budgets once a year is like having banks that only lend to customers once a year. That simply wouldn’t be acceptable nor practical
  • It’s customary in Finland to relax with your colleagues in saunas in just your birthday suit!
  • Design and creativity are a matter of national pride judging by the myriad of colourful shops of handmade goods and crafts!
  • Using Thinking Tools such as the Conflict Resolution Diagram allows us to have our cake and eat it! No more compromises through clear thinking. Hoorah!
  • Instead of eating your own dog food, drink your own champagne instead. Cheers to ScanAgile’s organisers and the humorous participants!

Conflict Resolution Exercise

Agile 2009: A Retrospective

Agile 2009 has been an educational and uplifting conference for me. See for yourself!

My Top Favourite Sessions

Here are my top five favourites out of the dozen sessions I attended:

1. Mapping the Agile Enablement Battlefield by George Schiltz and Giora Morein – A thought-provoking session on strategic thinking demonstrating The Mapping the Battlefield approach for identifying and dealing with influencers as part of Agile Enablement at an organizational level.

2. “Flirting” With Your Customers by Jenni Dow and Ole Jepsen – A fun, yet serious session introducing an 8-step model for creating rapport with your customer through effective communication.

3. Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns by Steve “Doc” List – An experiential session that reminds us of the importance of self-awareness, empathy and moderation if we are to play the role of facilitator effectively. (Session summary)

4. How to Develop Your Leadership Power Daily: An Agile Approach to Growth by Christopher Avery – An introduction to The Responsibility Model as a personal responsibility and way of improving individual effectiveness.

5. The Bottleneck Game by Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and me – a simulation of a production line at The Hats and Boats Company where we learned to apply the Five Focusing Steps from the Theory of Constraints.

Each of these sessions have three things in common: they are well-presented, thought-provoking and valuable for individual development and Agile team development.

The Perfection Game on Agile 2009

What I Liked About the Conference

  • Day 1: The Ice Breaker Evening Event – The activities at the event, such as Giant Chess and Jenga, multiple wii game stations and an open space area,  gave attendees a great reason to mingle and network.
  • The Can-Do attitude of the conference helpers and presenters was a good example of collaboration in action.
  • Day 4: Dinner Banquet – The quality of the dinner was superb for a meal served to a table of 8 let along for 1,400 diners.
  • Day 4 Keynote “The Dawning of the Age of Experience” by Jared M. Spool – An entertaining and educational talk on the importance and relevance of user-centred design in our lives.
  • Participants were exceptionally forthcoming with their session feedback which should help improve future runnings of the sessions.
  • Watching Ola Ellnestam and Gerard Meszaros in the finals at Programming with the Stars reminded me of what software craftsmanship looks like in action!
  • Discovering that The Business Value Game doesn’t make learning business value modelling sufficiently explicit.  
  • Getting better acquainted with old friends and making new friends.
  • The city of Chicago provided numerous opportunities for promenades to relax the mind and re-charge the body after a day crammed with learning.

What Would Make the Conference Perfect

  • Find a way for attendees to familiarise themselves with the programme quickly and easily (it took me at least an hour per day to decide on a session shortlist).
  • Find a way of reminding attendees which sessions they attended to fuel meaningful conversations during the breaks.
  • Create opportunities for the different types of attendees to cross-stage mingle instead of enforcing silos by primary interest.
  • Kick off the conference with a facilitated ice breaker exercise to encourage mingling from the start.
    Intersperse the conference with ice breaker exercises to encourage more mingling throughout the conference.
  • Introduce One-Minute-Presentations by session presenters at the start of every day (or every morning and every afternoon) so that attendees have more information on which to base their session choice.

What about Agile 2010?

As Agile Adoption becomes increasingly widespread, Agile 2010 will be instrumental in enabling face-to-face knowledge sharing around the world.  Agile 2009 proved to be such a hit that I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in Nashville, Tennessee, home of country music. I hope this means there’ll be lots and lots of dancing. Best get practicing!

Meanwhile, Thank You! and Goodbye for now.

Mini XP Day Benelux 2009: A Retrospective

This week begins with another Agile First: the first ever Mini XP Day Benelux conference. The one-day conference is a second chance to attend 9 of the session favourites from XP Days Benelux 2008 based on last year’s participant and conference organiser feedback.

What Went Well

  • 48 participants attended the first ever Mini XP Day Benelux conference!
  • As organisers, we improved our effectiveness by using kanban boards to organise ourselves prior to the conference and on the day
  • The cheery and funny Rob Westgeest and Marc Evers were entertaining as conference hosts
  • Elewijt, the conference venue, was spacious, airy and well-equipped
  • Working smoothly as a triad to co-present The Business Value to a home crowd with Vera and Pascal
  • Trialling a number of improvements on The Business Value Game based on player feedback from the many previous sessions we’ve run
  • ‘Working with Resistance’, with Olivier Costa and his sensei Frank Vanhoeck, a beginner’s Aikido session
  • Catching up with Beneluxian Agilistas such as Johan Peeters and Xavier Quesada
  • Meeting new Beneluxian Agilistas such as Jef Cumps and Kris Philippaerts
  • The thoughtful giveaways selected by Vera
  • Belgian food is D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!
  • Being present at an organisers’ dinner meeting and conference retrospective in person
  • Running 9k in hilly Tervuren forest without stopping once!

What Went Wrong

  • I didn’t meet as many participants as I would have liked – one day is so short!
  • Long queue for buffet lunch
  • Ran out of some buffet choices for last ones in


  • If you already work well as a team, why use Agile?
  • Who learns more: the one who talks more or the one who listens more?
  • Why weren’t topics posted for the Open Space track?

Lessons (Re-)Learnt

  • When I resist, flow instead
  • Exercise is equally important for the mind and the body
  • A good teacher accompanies their student to discover the answers together instead of just giving them their opinion
  • Talk less, listen more
  • Challenge everything, most of all, myself
  • 2009 is the year of cartoons in Belgium!
  • XP Days Benelux 2009 (to be held this November in Belgium) is going to be F-A-B if the past conferences are anything to go by. I hope to see you there!

A Note about Pigeon Fanciers

‘Duivenbond’ means ‘Pigeon Club’ in Dutch. Duiven Bond is a place where local pigeon fanciers gather to race their pigeons. Many Belgian towns have one of these. As far as I understand, pigeon racing is fraught with three major challenges:

  1. Race-pigeon-doping (because some folks bet vast sums of money on races)
  2. Anxiety among owners as they  crouch in the pigeon’s cage awaiting the return of their pigeon
  3. For the competing pigeon, the threat of being turned into pigeon pie if they lose the race.

What have you learned today?

Do You Believe in Manifestos?

Pride and Professionalism

P.: Have you read the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship?
TJ: Not another manifesto!
P.: Don’t you find it useful?
TJ: Manifestos might be useful to those who write it. If they need reminding of it, I guess they can carry it around in their pocket.
P.: I think it’s synonymous with ‘Professionalism’.

The Nature of Agile

The thing that resonated with me most when I first came across Agile was the four (and then five) XP Values from Kent Beck’s ‘Extreme Programming Explained’, first published in 2000. At the time, it seemed to make so much sense. And it still does. Common sense by definition endures.

For me, Agile represents a common sense approach for mitigating risks on projects against a backdrop of change and uncertainty by providing Real Options.

The Problem with the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto, like the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship, makes for a short and easy read. What’s more I agree with the points made in both manifestos. The problem with the manifestos isn’t therefore about the content, but rather in its transmission to those new to Agile or outside of the Agile Community.

Let’s take the Agile Manifesto as an example. I appreciate the spirit in which the manifesto was written, but I don’t use it when I coach. In my experience, citing the Agile Manifesto typically gives people more cause to resist or reject Agile because they view it as a series of words written by a small clique in a galaxy far, far away. Most people’s immediate reaction to having the pre-fabricated manifesto thrust before them is one of suspicion, skepticism and plain old incredulity. After all, how willing would you be to accept a series of pre-written points without question?

Time and time again, I’ve seen how quoting the Agile Manifesto slows down the introduction of Agile unnecessarily, resulting in the creation of waste: a waste of breath, energy and, most importantly, time.

Pragmatic Agile Coaching

1. Begin with the team’s values and then link them to the Agile (XP) Values.

  • Demonstrate the importance of teamwork by facilitating the creation of the team’s own Team Manifesto.
  • Use the Agile (XP) Values to start a conversation about the meaning and importance of teamwork.
  • Engage team members by asking them to define each of the values with their own words.
  • Make the values relevant to each and everyone through a Personal Agility Rating exercise.
  • Highlight that the Agile Values together define ‘Collaboration’ (typically one of the values identified by the team for the team during the Team Manifesto exercise).
  • Use the values to establish an agreed way of working.
  • Use the values to continue the conversation about Continuous Improvement during 1-2-1 Agile Coaching.
  • Lead by example by endeavouring to live and work by the Agile Values.

2. Introduce the Agile (XP) Practices.

  • Begin to introduce practices as soon as possible so that the team can experience the difference between the traditional and the Agile way of working.
  • Explain the practices in the context of a typical 2-week iteration.
  • Start off with Iteration 0 immediately, made up of training, coaching, trying out the practices plus any project setup activities in preparation for Iteration 1 when we will begin implementing stories. 

3. Allude to the Agile (XP) Principles only if it is valuable to learning.

  • Introduce the Agile (XP) Principles should the opportunity arise to supplement the team’s understanding of what being agile means. For instance, if someone asks why Retrospectives are useful, I might reply: ‘Retrospectives allow us to apply the Agile Principle of Reflection so that we can continuously improve.’
  • Never talk through the 14 principles in one go because mere discussion doesn’t enhance understanding.

How effective is your coaching?

Which Agile Coach?

P.: Nine out of ten Agile Coaches I meet are those who live by the mantra of Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do.
TJ.: Go on.
P.: Some people say that the statistic concerns them.
TJ.: Why? Did you name names?
P.: No.
TJ.: Perhaps their response is out of guilt?
P.: No. They think that it’s better not to hire an Agile Coach since the chances of finding a good one are so slim.
TJ.: That’s a concern I share.

Make it worth more than words

Agile is many things. In summary:

  • It’s a buzzword, a band wagon, a meal ticket.
  • It’s a group of practices that enables people to deliver higher business value through better quality deliverables.
  • It’s a fundamental mindset shift that effects everything you do based on values and principles.

The Lifecycle of a New Idea

The multitude of definitions is a sign of growth. It’s part of the evolutionary adoption of a new idea according to Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations theory, made better known by Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm model.

The challenge for those with a real desire to understand and experience the benefits the Agile way of working is:

  • See through the spin
  • Distinguish those who have neither the experience nor the understanding of Agile from those who genuinely apply Agile Values and Principles to the way they work.

This challenge reminds me of the journey of the programming language Java. Cast your mind back to the Dotcom era. Back then, Java was the latest shiny thing and I remember meeting self-proclaimed Java gurus who had only ever created web pages out of HTML and perhaps dabbled in Javascript at best. The buzz, the buskers and the learners are part of the entourage of the growth of a new idea.

How to Hire a Good Agile Coach

I apply the same principles of hiring a team member/employee to hiring an Agile Coach. Here are some of the things I like to find out about them:

  1. What they value and why.
  2. Their knowledge and thoughts on the Agile Values, Principles and Practices.
  3. Their knowledge and experience of the Agile Delivery lifecycle and the effects of possible variables (such as time, cost and scope) on the Agile way of working.
  4. Examples of where, when, how and why they’ve used Agile or a different approach.
  5. How they use Agile for personal development.
  6. Why they’re an Agile Coach.
  7. Evidence of their professional experience (including online presence, references, recommendations) to determine their credibility.
  8. Would I want to work with them, day in day out? If ‘Yes’, why? If ‘No’, why not? Then I reflect on my responses to find out what they tell me about me.

My Principles on Hiring

  • If in doubt, don’t hire.
  • If you’re undecided, find other ways of gathering more information. Introduce them to the team over lunch. Or invite them for a day’s worth of work experience.
  • Hire people who learn.
  • Hire people you can learn from.
  • Prefer team players over self-proclaimed leaders.
  • Always get a second opinion because we all see the world in different ways. I find it useful to pair when interviewing.
  • Make it a WIN-WIN opportunity for you, your company and the new hire.

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.