Archive for March, 2011

One part of the agile mindset is the famous "yes we can" spirit. When I started my consultancy in 1998 my tagline was: We are only limited by the limits of your imagination. The “yes we can” spirit is what I ment with my tagline. It’s a spirit that is important to me in agile.
A lot of people say "there is no I in team", Christopher Avery turned this idea upside down with his book “Teamwork is an individual skill”. Yes agile is about being in a team, a team where all (each?) team members take responsibility to “Get Things done
Let me tell you a story about a time I wanted to go to Bordeaux. I know it is a long story, stay with me, as I think it shows what “yes we can” really means. At the end of the story, I add the “moral” of the story.
To go from my home to Bordeaux, I have to catch a train in Lille (France). This particular day I was on a train to Kortrijk, to get another train  to Lille. My train was slow and at one station a class of I guess 25 kids children got up. And a few stations later they go of. And now my train was having 10 minutes of extra delay.. Just as me on the train, you can see this coming: I lost my connection. The next train from Kortrijk to Lille was going to be to late to grab my connection in Lille (Especially as in Lille I had to switch train stations.)
I decided to grab a cab in Kortrijk. (From Drongen to Lille by car it’s one hour.)So from Kortrijk till Lille in 50 minutes that should be possible.
The cab, bad luck this one does not accept VISA, and I did not have money on me.
So we had to stop at an ATM machine along the way. We stopped at an ATM machine, with two people in line.
The first person took his time, I started to get nervous, I did not want to loose my train. The second person looked like a student. I offered my last 5 euro’s to the “student” if I could pas before her. She was very reluctant but accepted my money. When the cab drove up the highway, I knew I was in trouble, because of fog and a big traffic jam.
I started calling my partner to see if she could check if my train had any delay.
When we stopped at a traffic light close to the station, I paid the driver the requested 80 euro’s (slick)
(And I forgot to ask for a receipt)
We arrived 1 minute before the train was scheduled to lean. He was no longer listed on the board.
I knew he was still there, yet I was too late to know where…
To the information desk, 1 person before me. By the time it was my time, already 2 minutes had passed.
Ok how do I change my ticket? And what are my options to other trains to Bordeaux?
Your best option is the next train that leaves in 20 minutes. It leaves at the other station in Lille. I rushed the 6 minute walk with all my luggage.
Of to the a desk in the other station to change my ticket. There are machines that do that but I knew from experience, they did not accept my Belgium VISA card.
A long line of 10 people for 2, 3 desks with only 10 minutes left.
I ask a policemen about my options, no other options.
5 minutes later, I can switch my ticket, pay another 10 euro’s. ( it was a more expensive train.)
I rush of to the train. (Luckily the policemen had told me where it was.) I get on the train, a few seconds later, the doors close behind me.
Pfew, a few hours of at ease. Only a few, as I have to do a similar rush in Paris to switch stations. (My original train was a direct one)
Last time I did this switch I was about 20 years younger and I missed my connection.
The other station is a few miles away, my options are a cab or the metro. I use the latter. I loose some time finding the metro, buying the ticket and then finding the right platform. Again I get on the train and the doors close. This time I still have to travel half the train to get to my seat.
It’s past midnight when I arrive at my car in Bordeaux. It’s freezing cold. My car was already 4 days in the parking lot. It refused to start. Battery dead.
Luckily I had starting cables in my car.
I asked a for help to a French person that came to get his car.  5 minutes later, my car is running again.
35 minutes later I am in my apartment hotel.
Which I called during my train ride to ask for my room number and asked to leave my key in my room. As I new that the reception would not open by the time I would be there. 20 minutes later, I moved my suitcases to my room and go to bed.
All that so I could give an agile training to my client in Bordeaux.
If I would not have made it to Bordeaux, I would have had lots of excuses, why I did not made it.
For me, not getting there was not an option. I promised to be there, so I needed to be there.
“Yes we can” means for me: taken on challenges and then make them happen. Writing software is not easy. No-one ever said it was (at least no-one I know that had experience writing software.)
The yes we can attitude, for me is about doing
Taking responsibility to do whatever is needed to get the software out of the door.

Do you remember the first time you drove a car?
I still remember my first time.
I was very intensely holding the steering wheel. I was only looking through the front windshield.
I was sure I did not move the steering wheel and yet the car moved from left to right.
When I made a correction move, I overshot and moved to the other side.
Last year I drove from Belgium to Bordeaux. I think that at some places I drove 100 kilometers without making correcting moves. At least that is what it felt like. In reality I think I made an incredible amount of micro changes. What has happened in the 20 years between my first ride and my ride to Bordeaux is that I enhanced my system of receiving  feedback and responding to it. Yes, baby steps again.
And every time I ride an unknown car, I have to adapt my system, actually sometimes when my car comes back from a service, it behaves different. Not much, but I feel it has changed and I adjust my driving style.

Now imagine that your front windshield is closed. And the only feedback to drive is your rearview mirror.
That means that the only thing you can see is behind you. Did I hit something along the way?
That is like only doing retrospectives (lessons-learned) as a post-mortem. The patient has died. They do a it to find who did it and to prevent future dead’s. I don’t like that kind of feedback. CSI might look nice on television, in real live I prefer check-ups to keep the patient alive.
Please take a pencil, a baseball bat or anything with that shape. In a moment I want you to:

  • put this post aside
  • put the pencil with its smallest part on the index finger of your main hand.
  • try to keep the pencil (or whatever object you have chosen) in balance.
  • while you do this, you keep track of the time.
  • come back to this post 🙂
  • write your time in the comments and continue reading.

Ok, now it’s time to do it.
How did this go? Was it easy?
Now I want you to do the same with your eyes closed.
How did this go? Did you achieve the same time?
I don’t think so. (if you do please tell me in the comments)

Feedback makes a difference even for such a small task.
Now what if someone else would be your eyes? By now you might be tired of these exercises, if you aren’t, please try the following;
you close your eyes and while someone else gives you feedback, you do the balancing act.

Does it work better? If it doesn’t, maybe change PM euh feedback person.
Does this new person allow you to be back at your original level?

If you are like most people, you aren’t. Looks like your feedback is better than the delayed feedback from other people.
What if you are allowed to open your eyes for one second every 10 seconds?
What if you would do it every 5 seconds?
I don’t think you need to try this, to know that the shorter the feedback cycle, the better the result.
The agile mindset is about shortening the feedback cycle.

If you need another story, check out Lisa Crispin’s nice posts  about how shorter feedback helped her with donkey driving.

Some time ago, at a yearly screening, doctors found a very small cancer spot in the breast of a relative. Talking with her has encouraged me to write down my metaphor of a coach as a team doctor.

  1. She still feels healthy. She can not even feel the lump. The medical science has improved so much that they visualize issues before they actually become problems. For me that is similar to the visual management I use as a coach.
    Because they found the cancer at a very early stage, the doctors have a lot of hope of removing it before it becomes lethal. That is how information radiators encourages teams to solve problems proactively. (the difference is they surgically will remove the cancer, while a team has to take care of the problems themselves)
  2. You don’t need a doctor to live healthy. Even when you live healthy sometimes you get ill. (Like getting breast cancer.) Yes good teams also get in trouble.
  3. The way people use a coach and doctors is similar. Different people use doctors in different ways.
    1. Some people never go to a doctor even when they are very sick. When they are ill, they might check the internet what is wrong, take some pills and stay in bed. This is why self-help books sell so good. And yes my blog gets lots of google juice…
    2. Others go to a doctor from the moment they have a little fever.  I offer free life time support to my clients. Some of them call me for advice on very small things. I’m happy to help them as I can keep track of their progress. I see the bigger picture and once in a while we discover a larger problem very early.
    3. Most people go only to a doctor when they are sick. These are the clients that call me and urgently want a workshop to fix things. Recovering from a flu is easy, it only takes a while. Recovering from cancer is a lot harder and asks for advise from multiple experts. (I bring in other coaches for things outside of my expertise or to have second opinion) I keep slack in my agenda to help these clients.
  4. It takes a while before people accept they have cancer. And yet the doctors have good tools to prove they have it. As a coach I feel like a doctor in the middle ages. I know when I see a sick team. I don’t have the tools to prove it. (although I’m sure google is working on some)
  5. Luckily a team knows what kind of symptoms it has, similar to asking a patient where it hurts.
    (Which is more then a pediatrician (child doctor) has.)
    If I listen carefully the team will even propose a possible solution. In most cases my work is encourage the people to listen to themselves and give them the courage (and or permission) to try.
  6. Most doctors will advice you to do a yearly checkup. Doing such a check up does not help you when you live unhealthy. Actually people living healthy will do more checkups. (check with Hans)As a coach I’m saying the same.
    Saying you don’t need a coach checkup because you do retrospectives, is like saying you don’t need to see a doctor because you weight yourself every month and your BMI is fine. A doctor has better tools and will ask you the right questions.
    Powerful questions is my preferred tool in my toolbox.
  7. The older I get, the more I care about checkups. In Belgium we are advised to do more and more checkups the older we get. I would say the same thing about teams. When a team grows it becomes more mature (like humans). That mature team is also surrounded by more challenges. I encourage teams to have a yearly checkup with an expert outsider. (If I’m still coaching that team that should not be me)
  8. A coach can ask you the right questions to heal yourself. A coach can show you a mirror about the real state of your team health. That is similar to the kind of questions your doctor will ask you about your life style. The doctor will not solve your problem,as a coach I make sure I don’t become responsible for a teams problems. (If I would do that, I would be using the metaphor of a mother instead of a doctor.)
  9. In my work as a coach I help teams to become healthier, one step at the time.
    Doctors will also focus on the most urgent problems. And yes they will make some things worse (people becoming bold from x-raying) to save someones life.
  10. As a patient I like the service my dentist is offering: they call me once a year to make an appointment for a checkup. Its a service I think my clients will also appreciate.

Now you have to excuse me, I want to book a checkup with my doctor.


Today I was reminded about an old video made by a few Belgium agilists…

It was part of a workshop (training form the back of the room style) where we discussed about possible problems. Peter and Patrick introduced the cases by lovely video’s.

One way to gain trust in people, is to gradually give them more responsibility. By splitting work up in very small steps, that is possible. There are actually lots of reasons to work in babysets.

My friend Pascal says, if its hard to do, do more of it.
My partner says to our kids: chew smaller pieces (of meat).

In babysteps multiple dynamics come together:

  1. When the work is smaller, the problems are smaller.  Joshua Kierevsky launched the limited red society in 2010. He wants people to do TTD and refactoring in smaller steps. The idea behind it is to keep the time of a none working project as small as possible.  As part of his e-learning course, they offer a tool that graphically shows when people are in the red.
  2. One interesting observation they saw was that people that are less in the red, usually end up with nicer designs.
  3. People that achieve a series of small steps, gain more confidence than people that do everything in one step. When I try to achieve one big goal I encounter a lot of problems, I only have a feeling of achievement at the end. (While trying I actually am frustrated most of the time)
    When I do something with small steps, I achieve one goal after another. Like with tdd where I implement one test after another.
  4. At the end of the day I actually feel I have done something (implemented x tests).==>  I gain confidence.
  5. Its easier for other people to see what I am doing.
  6. With babystep not only is what I am doing visible. It also shows my real progress.
  7. Because all the sub-steps are visible, they can congratulate me on specific actions. When they are specific in their congratulations, I tend to believe them more thus trust them more.
  8. When the direction I am going is wrong, people have the option to give me feedback (not possible if they only see work when my work is done after a few days)
  9. Depending how the work is splitted, other people might have the options to help me. When I do everything in one large chunk that is never possible. This way people see me less as the hero, but the work gets done.
  10. Not only can they help me, it is also possible for people to take over when my priorities change. (Both  personal or company driven priorities)

Update: Or like Peter Sims from TC says Don’t bet big.

I have been using the perfection game since 2003/2004. I find it one of the best ways to give feedback to people. (It’s also one of the most popular searched item on my blog.)

The biggest feedback I got, is that he perfection game makes people think of perfectionism. Which is not the intention. I know that perfectionism blocks people. I don’t want this link block people from trying this feedback technique.

So I ‘m starting an experiment.

For the next months, I will talk about:the improvement game.

this is the syntax:

I want play an improvement game on what you did.

What I like:

– I liked x
– I liked y
– I find z amazing

To make it even better/ What would improve it:

– I would like to see W
– I think removing A would be a good addition

These changes are worth 3out of 10 for me.

The improvement game is based on the perfection game. Part of the Core Protocols.

Update: I stopped using the scoring, I noticed that it keeps confusing people. Will experiment with ways how people can talk about the value the improvements give them. For now, I don’t worry to much, the most important part is telling people idea’s on how to improve. What they are wurth to me, is not really that important.

This year I am focusing on my work life balance. At one moment I was talking to a customer about project portfolio. While I was explaining why they needed it, I realized that I needed that also for my own life.

My creative mind invents new projects to start every free second. For a lot of these, I have find collaborators that help me to do the project. Last year my colleague Deborah told me that she toughed it was a bad idea to start yet another project. I was not ready for that message.

This year some of my the teams I’m working with, have a hard time stopping projects. Then it struck me. Start stopping projects is exactly what I should do.

There are multiple ways to stop a project.

* Finish it, in a way it goes into production, is the best way.

* Not starting (Saying no to) new projects is another way to keep my life into balance.

* On top of that, a project that is not working and dragging my time should be stopped.

A coaching talk with Johanna (from project portfolio fame) made me realize that it is hard for me to stop a project I believe in. Reflecting on the talk, I though of how Jerry Weinberg writes about writers block. If he is blocked on a book, he starts writing on what he has energy for. It felt totally logic for me when I read it. Until I have to tell people I failed at a certain project.

I know failing fast is good. Failing at a first iteration is good for the project. That does not mean it feels good.

My positive brain rephrases the experience as ‘It’s good as a coach to fail from time to time’ and my heart says damn you positive, it hurts and I need time to digest that pain.

I’m mad, sad, afraid that I failed at the first attempt to create an agile games book. Trying to release a version for agile games 2011 was a good learning experience. I learned an awful lot about myself. Learned about book writing, learned about distributed collaborative working and sustainable pace. The agile practice that is hardest for me.

So what is the future of the Agile Games books?

I will let the DropBox folder live. When I have energy I will add stuff to it. I hope other people will do the same. From time to time I will compile what I have in a PDF.



Ps Michael, Deborah I know you warned me for this. I am glad that I did not listen to you as I learned a lot. 😉


Update: I forgot to thank Jurgen De Smet for the perfect picture match