Self-Retrospection (or my own Clean Feedback) on the 3 Techniques workshop at AgileDC 2014

Posted November 13, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Conference, Listening

2014-10-21 16.10.11

Participants at work!

On October 21, 2014, I held a workshop at Agile DC conference titled ‘3 Techniques to Raise the Communication Bar on your Agile Team’. I had an hour to convey the three techniques that I had proposed in the workshop summary to a room of close to 50 people.  I introduced the audience briefly to Clean Language and we practiced listening skills using the basic questions.  Then we learned two techniques from the Systemic Modeling work of Caitlin Walker.  Clean Setup and Clean Feedback.

I’ve compiled all the Clean Feedback forms from the participants and posted them here.  I’ve also compiled and posted on my blog a full list of followup books and other internet content that will help participants if you wish to continue your journey learning Clean Language.  [As a side note, in the intervening month, my conference interview on Clean Language with Todd Charron at Agile 2014 conference was released and that can be found here at InfoQ website.]

Here are my key takeaways from presenting at AgileDC.  Each bullet has my observation, the meaning, and the impact – which is the general format for giving Clean Feedback.

1.)  I had a strict 1 hour limit.  I must be crazy to even attempt my ambitions in such a short time, and the impact is that I probably will not do an hour long intro again in the same way. I would probably pare down the number of exercises and keep it really simple, as suggested by George Dinwiddie in a post-conference twitter conversation. Even though I had a lot of great feedback, the pace was too fast.

2.) The room was full and the feedback reflected that participants were grateful to have interactive exercises as a format at the end of the day.  Exercises are very effective and energizing and really help to engage the ‘what’ of the session better than slides.  I will continue to hone the exercise rhythm for future workshops so there is enough time to debrief each time as well as to do short live-demos in front of the larger group.  I may also try to do workshops with fewer people where there is more opportunity to interact with everyone during the exercises.

3.) A number of people expressed that they enjoyed the workshop – in person – afterwards. Even my boss came and asked for a session for the other coaches back at headquarters.  I wanted nothing more than for folks to have a great memory and enough exposure to know that Clean Language techniques exist and that team communication can be enhanced by questions, curiosity, intentionality, and feedback.  The impact for me – knowing that some got what I intended – means that I will continue to find ways to teach and share these techniques and to practice them in smaller groups. I currently have a three hour workshop planned with the Mid-Atlantic Facilitator’s group on January 30th, in Washington DC. You can register here if you are local to DC.

4.)  Longer term follow up with participants is rare, though I have no doubt that some were stirred by just this brief exposure. I may add a field on the feedback form in the future to optionally collect emails from participants that want to receive more information.

Lastly, a few people were interested not just in the how – which they got from practicing, but the wider context of why. I’ve included some of the key points taken from Caitlin Walker’s book, From Contempt to Curiosity, in this poster, which I had hanging in the workshop space. I don’t think many had a chance to really look at the posters I prepared.  The points on this particular one are a great way to close this post – giving you more food for thought (and me too).2014-10-23 07.17.46

Metaphors at work, an interview

Posted October 1, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Organizational Change, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

I recently interviewed another IT coach about metaphors because I wanted a better way of speaking about the relationship between business and IT.

I am looking to kill the notion and reality of ‘silos’ in the organizations I work in. I believe that a change in the language we use and specifically, the metaphors we use, can change the mood of a conversation to that end.  There are some really useful thoughts in here about the role of conversation and dialogue, practicing when it is easy, etc.  Have a read and let me know what you think.
Here is the interview: Read the rest of this post »

The Gift of Time, the Relative Rule, and Clean

Posted August 1, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Conference

I bought The Gift of Time at Agile 2014 conference. It is a nifty tribute to Gerald Weinberg written by many of his admirers (Fiona Charles, James Bach, Michael Bolton, Esther Derby, Bob Glass, Naomi Karten, Tim Lister, Johanna Rothman, and Dani Weinberg) for his 75th birthday a few years back.

I read Michael Bolton’s chapter, called ‘It’s all Relative’ on the flight home and was amused to find here several references to Jerry famously using the reply ‘Compared to what?’ to search for more information from his interlocutors (to their great surprise).

Michael Bolton who at first was really surprised by this question, then came to realize its incredible usefulness, and created the aptly named Relative Rule:

A description of something intangible, as ‘X’, really means ‘X to some person at some time’.

In software, that rule can be applied to so many concepts; quality, purpose, done, tested, etc.

Having just presented on Clean Language at the Agile2014 conference, I mused that Jerry’s ‘compared to what?’ was a relatively ‘clean’ question – one extremely useful to software development field that can be used along with the standard clean questions from David Grove that I taught in my workshop.  In clean questions, we have the core questions  ‘(and) that’s X… like what?’  to get more information about a word. We also have ‘(and) what kind of… X is that X?’  Additionally, we have, ‘(and) is there anything else about X?’  There are other questions about size, location, resource, time, significance.  [X is a word or phrase, taken verbatim]

The notion in Clean Language is that you cannot assume to know the meaning someone else prescribes to a word, phrase or fact. Only the person who uses the word has the context/meaning of their word precisely.

The underpinning of the clean language mindset is that we don’t interpret words using the ‘generally accepted’ definitions of words in daily use, but rather inquire further using clean questions as to the nature of the meaning for the person using the word.  Of course in a software development setting, we couldn’t do this all the time nor to every word we encounter, but we can strategically apply it when there is ambiguity. (In the case of clean language therapy, the whole session would consist in fact of clean questions)

Next time I present this topic to a software development group, I will add Jerry’s question to the arsenal as a special clean question of Jerry’s.  And I’ll spend a bit more time talking about Jerry’s life work – summarized so nicely in ‘The Gift of Time’.

I did ask my audience at Agile2014 how many of the 60 attendees were /NOT/ familiar with Jerry Weinberg. I was stunned and really sad to see about 3/4 of the audience raise their hands.

Hopefully I gave my audience not only the gift of clean questions and listening, but an avenue to more exploration via my very brief mention of Jerry’s influence on me.  I certainly think sharing more about Jerry’s life and work could benefit the software development community greatly.  And I will certainly attempt next time – incorporating some clean questioning exercises for scenarios one might encounter at work.

P.S. And it isn’t altogether surprising, btw, that both Jerry Weinberg and David Grove (discoverer of Clean Questions) studied with Virginia Satir…. that line of influence still intrigues me.

Do you have 18 second team members on your software development project?

Posted July 24, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language

I am presenting a workshop on Clean Language questions and listening at the Agile2014 conference coming up next week.  Why might you want to come? Well, because an 18 second team member might not be the best team member.

Management guru Tom Peters says, if you are 18 second manager, you’ll need to focus on strategic listening so your business doesn’t fail.  The 18 seconds refers to a study done of doctors who are there to diagnose your ailments – and that is the average amount of time doctors let the patient explain what’s going on, before they give a diagnosis.  We all know how many software projects fail for hidden assumptions, and imperfect interpretations. One could say: if you are an 18 second team member, you’ll need to focus on ‘clean listening’ so your software release doesn’t fail.  So let’s get better at that on our agile teams. Read the rest of this post »

Anticipating a new experience – my reflections

Posted July 15, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Conference

… and when I was 12, arriving in Burundi for the first time, as we were driven from the airport, the embassy staff accompanying us offered this to me: ‘It’s dark now, you can’t really see what’s around you. How about you go write down what you think it’ll be like tonight. Then tomorrow as the day unfolds, you’ll be able to compare notes’.   This is what I am thinking of now as I prepare for my first big agile conference in Orlando, both as attendee and speaker.

My session – Clean Language Questions for the Aspiring Agile Learner: Advanced Listening Skills – is in the first slot on the first full day of the conference.  I don’t know how that came to be, but I definitely think it is fortuitous. Doing it when my energy is high, right at the start is perfect.
I’m glad to share a topic that was first introduced to me by an agilist from Korea, June Kim. I’m glad Agile Alliance is willing to take on topics that are not ‘purely’ agile, but may lead to great agility!

Through clean language coaching, I’ve been able to reclaim myself from a time when I was more exuberant and open, learning and thriving on the environment and possibilities around me.  When arriving in Africa at the age of 12, I was very excited. I had images in my mind, and yet wasn’t sure what to expect.  I felt bubbly in my tummy – warm, and simmering anticipation. Just as I knew the few following years in Burundi were to be full of adventure and new connections, I also know now that my foray into Clean Language will be all about learning and it will last for years and be equally adventurous.

As a few folks have noted yesterday in a twitter conversation, there is a debate about whether professionals in IT who don’t take ownership of their own learning are just part of a system and can’t reach beyond its hold, or whether they are practicing ‘learned helplessness’ and could choose to do something different.  I do know that once you have found something you like, you will pull your head out of the sand and go for it. There is no uncertainty here.

Aside from my own conviction that clean offers everyone something to take away, I’m also buoyed by the fact that there are proven uses of Clean Language already in businesses, in IT, and in other domains where people need to collaborate at work.  I want to use clean language and systemic modeling in the coaching and facilitation work I do – more frequently and more deliberately than I do now. And I want to share it.

When I am not doing agile coaching at Santeon and preparing for my talks, I am also working on a book with Sharon Small who is the first certified clean language facilitator in the US. The book is modeled after the ‘Who is agile? book’ (which by the way, is free today) that I helped Yves Hanoulle produce in 2012.  This new book will be called ‘Who is using Clean Language, anyway?’  It will be a similar community book – of interest to those who want to explore clean language and its related methodologies.  You’ll be able to find out how clean language is changing lives of people around the world. I hope to have first draft out by Agile 2014, with about 10 folks in it. It is so exciting to follow one’s passion.

For those coming to my session in two weeks, I look forward to sharing and am glad you are coming! Yay!  And now, before I forget, I suppose I’ll have to start writing down what I expect the conference will be like now, so I can compare notes after…applying my learnings from a distant past…. and well….a very ‘agile’ thing to do.

Book Review – From Contempt To Curiosity

Posted April 6, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Book Review, Clean Language, Dialogue, Effective Meetings, Listening, Organizational Change

Caitlin Walker has written a brilliant book recounting her own 15 year journey with Clean Language as applied to groups – a compilation of stories illustrating the models that she developed along the way which she now groups together and calls Systemic Modelling. This work builds on the work of others as well – the originator of Clean Language, David Grove, and his original modellers, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, with whom Caitlin trained and learned. She acknowledges these and many others who assisted her in her consulting practice, Training Attention, along the way. There is a nifty appendix of the major influencing works at the back. Read the rest of this post »

Prevention *and* Build Quality In – how can we help stem teen suicide?

Posted March 6, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

Last night, over 1000 people gathered in the auditorium of our local high school to learn what it is the school and school system and their partners will be doing to respond to the rash of suicides that has plagued our school as well as surrounding schools in recent years. At our school, we have had three in each of the past two years – two just last week.
This picture shows everyone introducing themselves.

2014-03-05 19.23.08

I was skeptical that this event would meet my needs. The invitation email made it seem like the evening would be a ‘one-way street’ of information to the parents and audience members. Aside from the introductions shown in the picture and some interaction in the cafeteria at the end, that is the way the evening largely played out.

Who came? The media, the Superintendent of Schools, School Board Members, many community mental health service organizations, representatives of several foundations concerned with suicide, and student representatives from a group called Active Minds. The evening started with formal introductions, statements of intent to engage the community, recognitions of the school leadership, staff, and teachers.  This felt like armor.  I was hearing too much left brain analysis/problem solving and needing more that leaders show vulnerability and emotion. I wanted connection from the heart.  I felt alone in this sea of people – surely similar to the way a quiet teen might feel navigating the halls of a 2000 person high school.

To help allay fears of parents, Dr. Panarelli, Director of the Office of Intervention and Prevention, described how the crisis counselors are actively engaging with the students, seeking out and making themselves available all around the school. She asked us to not talk about each incident as being part of a pattern or naming the school as somehow different, as this would make the kids feel bad. [Note to self: this is hard to do]  She asked us: do your kids have 3 adults other than parents that they feel they can talk to if they or others around them are experiencing emotional difficulties? None of this made me feel reassured. I tried to empathize with these presenters. After 6 suicides in two years and many more within the county as a whole, they are visibly taking on a big communication and mobilization effort. The goal is so much bigger than any one person or organization. Kudos to everyone trying.

Jesse Ellis, the County’s ‘Prevention Manager’ (as if this could be managed), said he will leave no gap unfilled. He will be ‘sure’ we will be successful. He will coordinate activities, invite parents to participate.  To me this is exactly the wrong message. We don’t need a false sense of we’re in control now. We need to model that we may not prevent the next one, but it won’t happen without us putting forth our best effort. We need to show our own vulnerability and not be shamed when we fail. Then he cautioned us that while he doesn’t want to use stats, he did want to share that we are on a good track compared to the rest of the state. This statement made my heart sink. It also seemed incongruent and impersonal. I don’t think he meant it that way. He is coping with the aftermath, trying to make sense. This is my most liberal interpretation.

The students from the Active Minds Club spoke next. They have had mental health awareness training. They provide yoga classes to reduce stress after school. They listen non-judgmentally and provide emotional support.

After the representatives spoke, we filled out survey cards with our suggestions, inviting us to share our contact information and ideas. I wrote down that I would help facilitate an open space event to allow more interaction, connection, dialogue and community involvement. We were then invited to visit the cafeteria where we could take fliers and information with us. It was too crowded, but there was a lot of energy. I made sure to visit the Active Minds booth. I was very impressed by the listening skills of the 4 student reps as I stayed to chat with them for a few minutes. I will encourage my son to check out this organization especially as it is largely thus far a college campus organization. I signed up to help them and to attend their meetings in the coming months.

If I could pick an analogy for this whole school effort, it seemed to me like a lot of Quality Control at the back-end of a development process. ‘We know there are depressed kids, let’s make sure we catch them before they commit suicide’. I wanted it this: ‘We imagine the source of suicides is that kids are many times unable to express and share their feelings, their fears and their vulnerabilities. They do not have role models for this. To succeed in raising mentally healthy adults, we need to start in the elementary schools, modeling and teaching empathy, emotional intelligence and resiliency’. I wanted to hear things like: We’ll be introducing Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violdent Communication in elementary school.’  This would be akin to ‘building quality in’, in software terms, not inspecting for failure at the end.

Yet still, I praise everyone who showed up last night. Bless you all.

There is a lot of work ahead. I just pray one or many of us will be there in support, at just the right time, for the next kid who needs it.


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