XP2005 gets closer

Dave Hoover and I are presenting a workshop at XP2005 next month. Today I received a timely reminder that the date isn't so far off, thanks to this email from the publisher of the conference proceedings: We are very pleased to be the first to congratulate you on the electronic publication of your article 'When Teamwork Isn't Working' published in 'Lecture Notes in Computer Science'.
I hope I'll be seeing you in Sheffield in three weeks' time!

Scrum Gathering, Boston

The Scrum gathering in Boston took place over 3 days: a more introductory one day public session followed by two days of discussion workshops for experienced Agile practioners. On the first day I was thrilled to be asked to join Jeff McKenna and Diana Larsen on a panel discussing change.
Change was a good discussion topic for the gathering because of the paradox that so many people in our industry face: we are software development practioners not change agents, yet to develop software better we desire to change the organisations we work in.
While I am no expert in Organisational Development I do know that all the effective teams I have been part of - mostly Agile teams - became what they were through a process of positive change. (And in some instances - I am proud to say - change that I directly facilitated.)
Can we achieve positive change, starting from where we are, no matter how "low" our position is in the organisation? Absolutely! All changes start with ourselves - Be the change you want to see as Gandhi said - and when "They" seem to be part of the problem then changing our own viewpoint is always the start of a solution. (We may not always be aware of the positive effects that our new viewpoint or behaviour has, and the changes we set in motion may take longer to ripple out than we have the patience to hang around for, but they will still be there and others will still see them...)
The workshop group that I was part of in the 2nd and 3rd days - with Bill Wake, Marilyn Lamoreux, Dan Rawsthorne, Kate van Buren and others - used Appreciative Inquiry interviews to explore aspects of the change and transformation that Agile teams go through. The coaching and leadership role provided by a good Scrum master during this change was of particular interest to me, and we came up with these words to describe it (my editing):
An effective Scrum master facilitates the transition from a group of individuals into a team. This transition starts with the Scrum master acting as a role model and offering inspiration, and is completed by the team members themselves with their reflection, open communication, and a desire to turn new-found awareness into action. Through this cycle of self-actualisation teams create a more effective future where they can enjoy their work, honour their successes without bemoaning their failures, and collaborate more productively.
While this may sound as though change requires the intervention of an outside person, I don't accept that this is the only interpretation. At the level I have most experience working at - with individuals in a single team - I see the changes required to introduce Agile software development mostly in terms of uncovering more of what is already there. Achieving lasting personal growth by fulfilling a potential that has been unseen but that is ready and waiting to be unleashed.
So if you can see that potential within your team then you can start growing it yourself, today.

Retrospective facilitators gathering 2005

I can still feel the energy and insights I gained at the retrospectives facilitators gathering, even though it happened back in February. The gathering was run at a retreat in the desert outside Phoenix, and the whole event was organised as an Open Space, creating so many stimulating and informative discussions that it was impossible to keep up with all of them. I learned a lot, some of it about: facilitation, thinking about puzzles, the Zeigarnik effect, dealing with curve balls, the power of story-telling, “moments of madness”, ORID techniques, “explorers, shoppers, vacationers, and prisoners”, the Art of Possibility and self-fulfilling prophecies, celebrating what's right with the world, and appreciative inquiry. Phew!
I was delighted to be able to attend the gathering and touched by the warmth and openness of all the wonderful people I met in Phoenix: people like Linda Rising and her husband who showed me such incredible hospitality, Boris Gloger whose wicked sense of humour is so endearing, Jean Tabaka who was such good company, Norm Kerth whose work created the retrospectives movement, Heather Nelson who asked the difficult questions that only a talented PhD student can, Pam Rostal whose inspiration has had such an effect on her students, III whose deep voice matches his deep insight, and many others. (Plus the wonderful people who were also there that I knew from other occasions, such as Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Rachel Davies, John Suzuki, Laurent Bossavit, Tim Mackinnon and Richard Watt...)
I have no doubt that retrospectives are an effective tool for increasing productivity and quality in software development teams. Better yet they can be a vehicle for introducing communication, interaction and humanity back into our workplaces... and that can't be bad.

A brief look backwards

So, what was I up to these last few months when I wasn't blogging regularly? Quite a few things really:

  • in January I took the certified Scrum master course with Ken Schwaber (organised by Conchango)
  • I attended the Retrospectives facilitators' gathering in Phoenix in February
  • in March I went skiing for the first time with my family
  • just a week or so ago I was a panellist at the Boston Scrum gathering
  • and mostly I have been coaching a couple of banking teams towards adopting Agile software development

Each of these came with its own rewards and challenges. I'll be posting briefly about all of them, starting here with the one that took the most effort: the coaching.
The coaching engagement was hard work for a variety of reasons. For example: there was a fragile legacy code base to deal with; the transition to an Agile way of working was imposed not chosen; several developers were unfamiliar with the chosen programming language; a succession of team leads had created a strong hero culture; the team were unfamiliar with negotiation and collaboration; managers were conditioned to blame avoidance; and customers were used to communication that was infrequent or even misleading.
I guess you could say that these teams were not the ideal candidates for an Agile transition, but you have to start where you are and with what you have. By the end of the engagement the teams had successfully adopted an iterative style of working, learned to write unit and acceptance tests (and appreciate having them!), and were conversing more constructively with their customers and users.
All of this made me feel that the hard work was worthwhile, though I wonder how durable the changes that I saw really are. Much of the time I felt that I was pushing against the culture of the organisation, and I suspect that over time those strong organisational and cultural forces will push the teams back to a place similar to where they started. But I hope not.

Where does the time go?

It's hard to believe that over two months have passed since I last posted here. I certainly haven't run out of things to write about, and while it's true that I have been busy, I haven't been that busy. Actually I was probably busier back when I was posting regularly. Somewhere along the line I let go of my rhythm.
Rhythm can play an important and often undervalued part in our lives. It sustains our ability to do more in less time and with less effort, and allows us to do what we do more efficiently. It's one of the reasons why teams working iteratively can work harder than teams that don't. (Incidentally, rhythm is not the same as routine though the two are obviously related: a sluggish but regular routine lacks rhythm, for example).
So, the lesson I take away from this is that when you find a good rhythm then it pays to maintain it. In my experience it takes longer to get back into the swing of things than it does to fall out of step.
Postscript: I think that Esther Derby has a good explanation for why I lost my rhythm. I certainly went through a "whining about my problems to other people" phase when I could have been more productively "writing down what I was seeing and interpreting it the next morning in the light of day"...