On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of presenting “An Introduction to Lean and Agile Work” to one of the IEEE Ottawa SIGs
As a prelude to the conversation, we played a simple variant of the penny game in order to spark some lively discussion and great questions to frame the rest of the evening. We then talked about Agile values and principles, and how those ideas are manifested in Agile and Lean practices. As the group was quite small, it was less of a formal presentation and more of a conversation with a few pictures to help clarify key ideas about Scrum and Kanban:
The conversation was lively and long (as an Agile coach, I tell myself that one day I’ll get the hang of this time-boxing thing!), and from the comments afterwards it was clear that the talk had sparked a lot of curiosity about how these ideas could be applied in practice. My favourite comment was “You know, we’re supposedly doing Agile at work, but we’re missing a couple of really basic elements. I get it now!”.
Here are the slides from the presentation:
Management 3.0 is a class for people interested in bettering the practice of management in their organizations. It’s based on Jurgen Appelo’s very popular book, which examines the kind of management thinking and doing needed to support complex and nonlinear work, such as — but certainly not limited to — Agile software development practices. Supporting the evolution of self-organizing high-performance teams calls for a different approach to managing people than that which is typically encouraged through organizational culture, training, and change management practices. The Management 3.0 book and course provide a new basis for thinking about the goals and principles of management as well as many concrete practices that can be used to begin managing in a new way, even if your organization is just starting on a transformation to a more agile way of working.
Francois Beauregard of Pyxis Technologies brought an interesting perspective to facilitating the course material based on his experience as an Integral Development coach. In the course of exploring the Spiral Dynamics model in the first few hours of the class, we talked a lot about the importance of compassion (a word that oddly doesn’t appear in the text of Management 3.0) when assuming the responsibility for stewardship of the living in an organization. We also explored the possibilities created by differentiating between responsive and reactive behaviours.
The first morning of the class was very talk-heavy, but this was balanced by the very hands-on nature of the remainder of the material, which considered each of the aspects of Martie, the six-eyed Management 3.0 model. Martie’s eyestalks each focus on one of the six views of management (Appelo specifically calls these views to reinforce the idea that these are different perspectives intertwined within a complex system rather than independent principles/concepts). We talked briefly about each view and then tried a exercise that can be used to explore how this viewpoint is instantiated in an organization. The exercises are designed to be playful and immediately useful for taking back to the office and instigating discussion: games like Delegation Poker and Meddlars provide quick ways to delve into messy issues of individual motivation or organizational transformation and to visualize complex situations so that considered action can be taken.
I particularly liked the Moving Motivators exercise, which allows people to reflect on what motivates them, and visualize how a decision or change might affect the aspects of your work that give you satisfaction. I can see this being a very useful tool in getting to know a new employee or in doing some pre-work to consider how an upcoming change may affect the morale of team members. It might also be useful as an individual exercise for examining your own motivators in the context of a work or personal situation – I may run this exercise with my teenage son to help him think through some decisions he needs to make.
All the materials from this class are easily accessible outside of the training. The content comes straight from the Management 3.0 book, and all of the exercises are downloadable from the Management 3.0 site, so there are ways to get at this goodness if you can’t get funding to attend the course. Having said that, like most good trainings I’ve attended, the greatest value is not in the material itself, but in the discussions and interactions that take place in the classroom, sharing insights and reservations about what is being presented with other interested people. The other thing to keep in mind is that while this is a management class, the content is important regardless of your role in the organization – management is by definition a 2-way relationship, and it’s important that people who work in a company understand what good management practice looks like and how their organization is designed to support (or block) it regardless of what their title might be.
I firmly believe that Sunday mornings are best observed with a pot of hot coffee and a book or two to enjoy. So at Play4Agile2013 in February, on Sunday morning I pitched a Swashbooking session as one of the early slots in that day’s Open Space (though in my sleep-deprived and slightly hung-over state, I’m sure I called it ‘Bookswashing’ – I always get this backwards!). I also talked about it recently during an Agile Ottawa session as a tool for hacking your thinking, as I believe it’s a great technique for crowd-sourcing booklearning regardless of the time of day.
Swashbooking is a timeboxed approach to quickly skimming books to look for anything important, which can be practiced alone or collaboratively as part of a group. I first learned of swashbooking from Deb Hartmann Preuss (a woman who continually gets me into all kinds of good trouble), though the idea originated with James Marcus Bach, whose work as a software tester and educator has inspired me in many ways. James’ excellent book Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar vividly describes his experiences with hacking his own education. He has shared a video on Competitive Swashbooking capturing an 8-hour marathon wherein he and his brother Jon swashbooked their way through a diverse collection of 100+ books in order to produce a short presentation about what they learned.
Group swashbooking as I’ve practiced it is very simple:
- collect a diverse selection of books, at least one per participant. For rapid skimming, paper books offer a distinct advantage over ebooks.
- each person in the group selects a book and reads it in whatever way they prefer for a short period of time (6-10 minute timeboxes work well). The reader may read a chapter, scan the table of contents or index, flip through and look at all the illustrations — whatever works for them in finding something important in the book at hand. Recording observations as you go will be helpful, so stickies or index cards and a pen will come in handy.
- at the end of the timebox, each reader passes the book along to the next person in the group, who then reads it in whatever manner appeals to them as outlined in step 2.
- Repeat step 3 until everyone has had a chance to examine each book
- Have a short, time-boxed group discussion to share observations and impressions of the books being considered.
For a group of 5 people, the timing might work like this for a 60 minute swashbooking session:
- 5 min intro
- 30 min reading – 5 * 6 min reading sessions
- 20 min discussion – 4 min to share impressions of each book
The outcome of a swashbooking session is that all participants get a good overview of what some of the important aspects of the book might be, and have likely learned enough to make a decision of whether it’s worth digging further into a particular book.
At p4a13, the result of the session was that we all decided we really wanted to read Turn the Ship Around cover-to-cover, and there’s a plan afoot to set up a virtual Agile book salon to discuss it in a couple of months. I’ve also done this with my business partners and at other events, and in every case the participants have found the experience fun and beneficial. I can also see using this very successfully in a problem-focused situation, particularly with a diverse selection of books (bring poetry! bring picture books!) in order to stimulate creative thinking about the problem space.
If you decide to try Swashbooking, please leave me a comment letting me know how it worked for you.
While no one who knows me well would be inclined to refer to me as a ‘lady’, last Saturday I spent a very interesting day getting acquainted with Ruby alongside 40 other women at a workshop offered by Ladies Learning Code. Ladies Learning Code is a young Canadian non-profit whose goal is to introduce women of all ages to the not-so-dark arts of programming in a friendly way. Local LLC chapters offer workshops in Halifax, Toronto, London, Vancouver and Ottawa, as well as a March Break camp for girls in Toronto. As a coding dilettante, I thought this would be a great opportunity to dust off my limited skills and get started on learning Ruby*.
Absolutely no programming knowledge is required to take part in a Ladies Learning Code workshop. Participants work in small groups with a mentor at each table as a team of presenters leads a series of exercises designed to get people writing simple programmes very quickly. I was seated with a university librarian, a government translator, and a woman who worked in communications for a local non-profit, none of whom had ever coded previously. But by the end of the day, through great instruction and friendly personalized help, we were all budding gurus.
The workshop included a good blend of activities: short lecture segments to introduce a new concept , coding and refactoring exercises, and puzzles which required us to figure out what the code would do. We started off slowly, with quick exercises resulting in 5 line programmes, and ended the day creating a simple blackjack game. As co-presenters, Lana Lodge and Edward Ocampo-Gooding did an excellent job of demystifying what we were getting into, and our mentor Gabriel was also very helpful in getting us past any problems that popped up. The last hour of the workshop was a bit overwhelming – there was a lot of information presented very quickly, and at my table no one felt up to the challenge of creating the game from scratch because our brains were full. So we used the template file thoughtfully provided in the course materials that sketched out the logic and provided the tricky bits we hadn’t learned in over the course of the day in order to have a game up and running in less than an hour.
The Ottawa event was held in the supercool Shopify lounge, a great space that they make available to a variety of local geek usergroups. Many of the volunteer mentors also were Shopify employees – it’s nice to see that kind of support for community events.
The next LLC Ottawa event (sometime in April?) will be an intro to app programming. If you are looking for an opportunity to dip your toe into the waters of coding, I would highly recommend checking it out. Join the LLC mailing list to get updates about the next happenings in Ottawa.
* I’m secretly hoping this workshop will provide the kickstart I need to get back to Brian Marick’s Everyday Scripting with Ruby, which has been collecting dust on my iPad for months now.
One of the most vivid sessions I took part in at the Play4Agile conference in Germany last month was a session on Games for Distributed Teams. Led by the amazing Silvana Wasitova, this discussion built on the preceding session about “Games in 5 Minutes” to explore how these activities can be used with distributed teams. I was hoping to get some new ideas for games to use with teams that are not colocated, since in my experience it’s rarer and rarer to find teams where everyone is located in the same city, let alone the same office. While we talked about and tried some games that could be played across a group of people connected only by a phone line*, for me the fascinating part was how this experience could also be used to demonstrate why there is really no good substitute for in-the-same-room face-time for teams that need to work together.
My discomfort started with the distributed seating arrangement in the room. Rather than arranging chairs in the usual informal circle, Silvana lined up participants along either side of the room with a row of tables in the middle. This immediately created an unsettling sense of disconnection with half of the group, though we were sitting only metres apart and could see each other clearly.
We then played a very simple name game, where each player says their name, followed by a word starting with the first letter of their name, and then the next player tags their name and word onto the name chain alternating from one side of the room to the other: “Ellen Eggplant, Sven Serendipity, Henna Hornet….”. This was easy enough when players were seated facing each other. But then we replayed the game with one row of players with their backs turned to the room, and a row of dividers down the middle to block the sightline from the other side.
The difference in the two experiences was astonishingly visceral. Firstly, the game suddenly became much harder, even though we had already had a practice round which helped with learning everyone’s names and the flow of the game. Without being able to see the other players, remembering the order of names and the second words was somehow much more difficult and the repetition of names proceeded much more slowly. The other thing that really hit home was how easy it was to disconnect from the activity once we weren’t actually looking at each other. I stood up with my iPad to take the picture of the room and because I’d already had my turn, once the picture was done it was too easy to tune out for a moment to check Twitter and email rather than attend to the game – even though we were all still in the same room, mid-session, engaging in a very brief activity. Embarrassing, but illuminating and all-too-familiar**. In the debrief afterwards, other people related experiencing a similar sense of disconnection once people in the game were no longer looking at each other throughout.
We then talked about some other ideas for games for non-colocated teams, such as the excellent on-line Innovation Games that I have used successfully for retrospectives and brainstorming when participants can’t all be in the same room. But despite all the great ideas, what I really learned from this session is how to create a simple exercise to really show team members (and their leaders) what the effects of sitting apart – even without leaving the same room – can be on intra-team communications.
*<rant> maybe it’s an Ottawa public-sector peculiarity, but many of the distributed teams I’ve worked with recently haven’t even had access to basic communication tools like corporate Instant Messaging or wikis, let alone high-quality video connectivity. If securing communications is an issue, perhaps IT departments should provide alternatives to using Twitter or Google Chat on personal devices for work communications?</rant>
**<rant>I spent a year working on a dispersed team for a huge multi-national project involving three different global companies where almost everyone worked from home, connecting principally by phone/email/IM. While I loved the experience for personal reasons (baths at lunchtime! jeans! flextime!), I think it was disastrous for the project in how much it slowed down getting things done. I spent almost all day on the phone dealing with things that would have taken a 10th of the time had we been colocated.</rant>
“The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.” – Dr. Stuart Brown, in a magnificent TED talk on the importance of play (posted here in case you haven’t already seen it):
I know that I overuse the word “magic” to describe what happens during LEGO Serious Play (LSP), but I can’t stop myself. When a group of people sit around a table, each outfitted with a little box of fairly unremarkable plastic bricks, and start building as a way of exploring a topic of common interest, what happens really is magic: the stories, the laughter, the incredible richness of thought and feeling that can be expressed through just a few minutes of assembling LEGO models and sharing a brief story is dazzling, every single time. Magical, really.
Except it’s not ‘magic’ – no illusions, no trickery, no magic wands. LEGO Serious Play is a deliberate application of basic learning theory and structured facilitation in order to foster creativity and engagement in a business setting. The methodology was initially developed in the mid-1990s by Johan Roos and Bart Victor, then professors at the prestigious IMD business college in Switzerland. They experimented with running strategic visioning exercises with leadership teams in a diverse range of enterprises (the LEGO company being one of them), and after initial successful experiments they approached LEGO for sponsorship for a commercial application of their practices. Thus began LEGO Serious Play, originally a proprietary methodology but now an open-source technology shared under a Creative Commons license.
On the surface, Strategic Play using the LEGO Serious Play approach seems ridiculously simple: a facilitator leads a group of people through a quick-paced series of building challenges in response to a few carefully-chosen questions focused on a topic of common interest, perhaps a team problem, or a recent project, or ideas for pursuing a new opportunity. Everyone builds for just a few minutes, then everyone tells a quick story about their model. Participants can ask clarifying questions only about each other’s models. Not exactly rocket science (although my favourite LSP case study is how NASA made use of LSP to bring a engineering safety team together in the wake of the Columbia disaster ).
LSP is, however, grounded strongly in learning theory and epistemology. It draws heavily on the learning theories of constructivism & constructionism, an understanding of play as an important adult behaviour for social bonding, creativity and storymaking, and three different kinds of imagination (descriptive, creative and challenging. There is an excellent paper on the The Science of LEGO Serious Play that describes how the LSP concept was developed based on these principles. Current research into play, such as Dr. Stuart Brown’s intriguing book Play, further supports the premises that creativity and exploration are critical for problem solving, and that play is a necessary adaptive behaviour for all humans to develop social relationships and find creative ways of adapting to complex and changing environments.
LSP works because it engages participants. Everyone builds, everyone talks – people are eager to make and share stories. It works because “thinking with your hands” inspires creativity, and encourages focusing on the most important thoughts and feelings on the topic at hand when building metaphorical representations of complex ideas. It works because the quick pace keeps the conversation moving and forthright – you don’t have time to “have a meeting with yourself” to over-rotate on how to shape and spin your story.
And, perhaps most importantly, LSP is fun! Building and story-telling is fun – there’s a lot of laughter, and I’ve seen some pretty silly things represented in LEGO in order to illustrate a point of view. Emotions can run strong: at a memorable team-building session for a corporate client, one group of participants were on the verge of tears while telling their stories, because they were sharing some important truths with each other. A participant at a conference workshop told me that “I can’t wait to go home and try this with my wife!” (ulp! I really need to put a ‘professional driver on a closed course – do not try this at home’ message in my presentation). Some people are initially put off by the playfulness of the activity – I’ve run several sessions where people have told me afterwards that initially they were skeptical of the whole idea, but after taking part in a modelling session, they get it.
Powerful, generative, creative and fun. Magic!
Despite the slushtacular weather yesterday evening, quite a number of people made it out to the workshop I gave at capCHI last night on User Requirements with LEGO. We had a great time doing an intro to LEGO Serious Play and modelling users for an Ottawa Snow Portal. I’m always amazed by how much work can be done in a short period time using this approach.
In 60 minutes, it’s hard to do more than present an overview of the LSP process if you’re going to have time to do any building (and building is way more fun). If you’re interested in learning more about the history and methodology of LEGO Serious Play, here are a few sources of information that you can start with:
seriousplay.com – the official site for LEGO Serious Play
The Strategic Playroom – a hangout for the global network of facilitators interested in using creative, playful approaches (incl. LSP) to improve organizational performance. The site is hosted by strategicplay.ca, where you can go for information about facilitator training
User Requirements with LEGO – the guide for applying the LSP approach to collaborative gathering of user requirements for online projects.
Agilitrix.ca – Michael Sahota, an Agile coaching colleague and fellow facilitator, has published some great videos and posts relating his adventures in using these techniques in Agile contexts.
I’ll post additional materials down the road. Some of last night’s participants asked some very thought-provoking questions about the approach and I have some research to do to find answers. Stay tuned!