Archive for the ‘Conference’ category

Agile Assessments as a Burdensome Weight or a Guiding Enabler

January 28, 2017

A few years back when I was a coach in an enterprise wide agile adoption program, I had my first head-on collision with a mandated agile assessment program.  At that time, I decided to get all my thoughts into a drawing which I’ll show you here, unaltered from that time.   You can see my view that assessments can be seen as either a burden imposed from above or as a supportive tool for the evolution of the team’s capability. You don’t have to read the text of the drawing, as I’ll cover each item below.

assessments-in-agileLet’s parse the Burden Side. This is where the two folks holding up the assessment say: ‘Feel awful we’re not good enough, and we’re not sure how to get there’

Hard to support in its entirety – a huge questionnaire may point out so many gaps in maturity and it leaves a team with the sense of overwhelm. We know that change does not happen all at once. It can’t.  If unpaired with dialogue and a strategy for improvement, the assessment is of no use.

Not outcome oriented – an assessment is devaluing  the business value/metric of what was delivered  by examining predominantly the process/methodology by which that increment is delivered. That seems backwards.  The delivery should be in support of the business outcomes – which is what should be measured.

Not Context Sensitive – one size evaluation fits all. Usually these types of assessments are not combined with narratives or qualitative interviews, and so we are assuming that we could be comparing like things via this numeric approach.  We know large organizations host systems that are so wildly different from one another that forcing a like evaluation should never produce a side-by-side comparison. Yet, these assessments are used for just that, in many cases.

Misses mindset –  the human element of change – the mindset shift that is so critical in causing an organization to change its way of working – is not elevated.  Assessments will always miss mindset – there’s no way to codify that other than through storytelling, the vibe, the cooler talk, the openness and engagement that manifests in a healthy organization

Cognitive Overload – an assessment with a huge number of prompts will be immediately forgotten by those to whom it is administered.

Misunderstood as a Rating – even if the issuer of the assessment believes in their own positive intent, the teams having to take the assessment see it as a measurement.  Measurements provoke a ranking system which is almost always seen as judgmental, evaluative, and unrelated to the needs that those in the improvement program have to actually improve

Appears as a Mandate – well no need to explain this one. It wouldn’t be a burden if the team had self-selected to take its own assessment, by choice!

Without Conversation, May Cause Misunderstanding – my head was in the sand when I wrote this- in fact I should have written ‘May’ as ‘Will’.  There is nothing easy about working in an agile manner at first without support, leadership, love, hope, and belief in the people doing the work.  Leaders and executives mandating assessments without having conversations and opening up channels of communication with those they are assessing are burying themselves in the myth of big data.

Let’s parse the Guiding Enabler Side – this is the side where the two folks standing on the strength of the assessment are saying ‘Now we know where we are heading’.

Supportive – we see the breadth and depth of what’s possible in an agile project and can use the ideas to self reflect on what improvement to make next.

Foundational – we can use the assessment framework to fully vest in the whole enchilada over time such that we don’t forget areas of improvement we might not initially consider.  Without a foundation, each person may have their own pet improvement projects, but we need to vet all options and agree on the way forward together

Provides Focus Points – we don’t have to do everything at once. We pick a few related items to work on before we move to the next.  

Used As a Launch Pad for Conversations – this means that we can take one assessment prompt and talk about what it will be like when we have that, what it will take to get us there, why kind of support we can ask for from each other and from management. We never shelve an assessment, we have conversations using it.

Agnostic As to How Assessed, by whom, when, with whom, for whom – it isn’t mandated. The team uses it voluntarily whenever they decide to use it.  With great coaching and willing learners, and opt-in view, this can’t go wrong or be gamed

Understood as an Improvement Baseline – this means that we can track our progress over time if we choose to continue to look at the assessment as a means of self-reflection

Views Follow-up Support For Learning as Critical – everyone acknowledges that assessments are not the point, the learning that happens in-between is.  Therefore, the surrounding organization should be happy to provide whatever is needed to help the team reach the next level

Can be Tailored-Narrowed to Context – we can choose to not focus on or even to not fill parts of the survey depending on where we want to focus energy.   We want to eliminate waste, and that includes eliminating survey elements which don’t apply at a given time.  They are there, but we don’t use them, for now.

Launches New Practices – for learners who love to create great products that meet client needs, the assessment is a way of reminding the team that we can do more, that we have a never ending supply of ideas, practices and experiments to address in our agile journey. The assessment can help launch those.  That could be an exciting prospect.

What would you add to either side of this analysis?


I am VERY LUCKY to be an Agendashift partner, with an amazing Slack community where the challenges of coaching well are discussed very openly with a lot of mutual support.

Mike Burrows has developed the most wonderful Agendashift assessment tool that is used in exactly the way I describe above – it is supportive of generative discussions on how best to create a change strategy that is context sensitive.  [If you are interested, let me know and I can help you get this launched in your organization]

In the Agendashift community of coaches, we teach coaches how to use Clean Language questions to explore the assessment prompts and what people would most like to work on next.  It is a generative approach that builds on the energy already latent in the organization.

These assessments are not used to compare teams, or to provide executives a hands-off data driven view of their agile adoption progress.

This is an amazing community trying to shift the way agile transformations are initiated so that they may be truly transformative.  It takes courage to stand up for what you believe when you are in an organization that wants to go in the other direction.

Thank you Mike, Suzanne, Jussi, Olivier, and Thorbjørn for your support last week!   I am glad I remembered my old drawing!

Remotely Audacious At Agile Atlanta Conference

July 27, 2016


You can see the Kubi on the table…

This week I participated remotely in the Audacious Salon at the Agile2016 Conference in Atlanta. My friend, and fellow coach, Mark Kilby was leading a session for attendees to to brainstorm solutions to the many challenges teams face when some of the team members  are not all in the same place (i.e. working at a different office, from home, in a different country, etc.)



At the audacious Salon, I connected via a tool called Sococo – which has virtual rooms, in which you can connect by chat and video conference with  co-workers, spontaneously.  I was one of about 7 to join, including two from London.  

2016-07-25 10.58.28

The view for me of the other remote participants and the slide deck used at that moment. 

We could hear each other as well as the conversation at the table, and we were included during the introductions, but it became apparent how easy it is for the in situ people to forget about those who are joining remotely.  It takes some practice and discipline to overcome this hurdle. When one person is remote, act as if everyone in the room is remote.  What I love about Sococo though is the ability to spontaneously connect with co-workers and know where they are. Easier than email, cell phone, text, and much more effective for making connections, and getting information quickly. It is no silver bullet for all the issues on remote teams, but an interesting newish way of connecting remotely.

Me_Kubi_teleporting to the Netherlands

Teleporting to the Netherlands to see Lisette’s office space on a Kubi

I was also able to join at the ‘table’ in Atlanta, by ‘tele-porting’ into the Revolve Robotics Kubi device, which I could control remotely to check out who was at the table.  I could swivel it up and down and left and right. This enabled me to see all the people at the table without bothering them. Scroll left and right to swivel. Up to see the ceiling, down to the floor. For a fantastic example of how distance learning can be enhanced using the Kubi, watch the first few minutes of the video entitled Zoom On Kubi webinar at the Revolve Robotics website.

In a conference interview with Josh Fruit, of Solutions IQ, Mark Kilby shares that success with remote teams is not really about tools, but rather, the degree of connection between people.  He asks: 

          How do you make sure you have connection on your team?

This is not just an issue with remote teams, but one that exists on many teams. My company,  Connections At Work, has the explicit goal of improving connection no matter where the teams are located.  A few of the goals your leadership or your teams would be striving for if you asked me for help can be gleaned from this collaborative teaming article in the Harvard Business Review.  It is all about team emotional IQ.

There are a growing number of people who are collecting the body of knowledge about teams that work remotely.   One is my friend Lisette Sutherland who works in the Netherlands. You can visit her Collaboration Superpowers website and her podcast for a wealth of information. Her co-conspirator on many projects is Pilar Orti, working from London. You can see her activities, podcast, and blog posts at Virtual Not Distant.  Judy Rees is also highly qualified to help teams get the connections going remotely and has a wonderful blog post on this topic here.  Thanks to Mark Kilby and Jesse Fewell for continuing to explore, experiment with, and promote a distributed way of working in the agile community. 

As I’ve just completed the Collaborations Superpowers course, I’ll be able to start giving the same training to others who need it.  So if YOUR team needs help with the challenges of partially remote teams or connections on any team, do be in touch – contact information is also on my Connections At Work website.

Collective Intelligence with Mob Programming

May 8, 2016


2016-04-30 16.19.08

I returned on May 2nd from the first ever Mob Programming conference in Cambridge, MA.

Many people from around the world (US, England, Finland, Denmark, France, Africa, China, India) gathered to learn from Woody Zuill, Llewellyn Falco and others about a relatively new phenomenon in the IT world – that of groups interacting in the same (head) space to maximize the (coding) results while using the collective intelligence of those present.

The premise of  mob programming or ‘mobbing’ as it is sometimes called, is that people will learn together how to ’turn up the good’ in the team and in each other to the benefit their customers. The result is less time spent churning, estimating, waiting for answers, deciphering someone else’s code, fixing bugs. The greatest possible intelligence is collected into the code in a focussed and collaborative manner with the whole team (analysts, testers, programmers, and other specialists, as needed). When paired with solid tests, written first, this technique is a great way to produce high quality software that is more easily maintained. It operates more like a great team of scullers on the Charles River than a traditional IT shop.Harvard Crew

What happens in the majority of organizations that produce software is that most code writing is done by individuals using different styles at different times, at different desks, without much consultation – yet with the hope that the disparate parts will be able to be integrated.  In the status quo organization, there is not much attention paid to the ecosystem that the code ‘lives in’. Sometimes people are moved from team to team like chess pieces for short term gains.  Teams are treated as temporary constructs. The resulting software may appear cracked in places, and mis-understood, poorly formed in stressful situations.

If one developer wrote it and no one else understands it, the future ability to modify such code will be diminished. Therefore, the best way to have great code now and in the future is to put many minds at the same task, at the same time, in the same room (virtually or physically). The likelihood is higher that the best ideas from people will emerge and be used when people collaborate this way. 

2016-05-01 11.31.39I got to experience this first hand myself. I took part in a small group of coders who had to code the solution to a small problem together. Only one person ’the driver’  is allowed at the keyboard at a time and this person is not allowed to type anything other than what others in the room agree to have them type.  The screen is projected so that everyone can see.  All ideas and code must be verbally expressed and transmitted to the person in the ‘driver’s’ seat. The first time we did this, we had one designated navigator – who could direct the driver. The driver stays in the driver seat for a very short time – perhaps 5 to 15 minutes, after which the person who was driving can become a navigator and contribute again to the ideation about what to work on next, taking input from the others.  I very  much enjoyed learning and participating in this, and certainly felt there was no hesitation in people sharing their ignorance or their knowledge. Everyone learned.  In the conference setting, there were numerous opportunities to do this at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. The beginners used simple coding katas, and even some ‘koan’ lessons for learning to code in a new language.  Everyone had fun.

We also used simulations using other tools to teach about mobbing. One group, that I participated in briefly, produced an article for InfoQ as a mob, writing together in a very short time.  Another group used the card game ‘Set’ (which was invented by Llewelyn’s mother) to simulate a mob session for solving the puzzle.  Done in several rounds, once with a single navigator, then later with no single navigator (giving directions), it clearly shows how messy it can get -when first starting out – to have a group of people giving directions all at once.  But I observed that the time constraints work well in combination with a self-organizing team. The team learns best with trial and error how to moderate itself and inquire of each other before directing the ‘driver’ to take action.  In fact, after each change in the driver, we held a mini retrospective: each person contributed their ‘aha’, or passed.  Mobbing groups are encouraged to experiment.  Some teams are even working this way when not co-located, using video and screen sharing software.  As others have pointed out, great teams develop implicit and/or explicit protocols – you can read more about such teams here.

Whether with coding, or with non-coding simulations, the best individual performance on a challenge is almost never as good as the performance of a team of possibly less ‘able’ individuals. I took this lesson away at a wonderful simulation activity at Amplify Your Effectiveness conference in 2010. We compared the performance of individuals at estimating ten ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ to the performance of teams that worked on the same challenge together.  We observed that it is never the team with the best individual scorer that wins the team competition, even with the same 10 records repeated. 

I am quite sure that I experience both peaks and troughs in my productivity throughout the day.  I would be thrilled to be able to lean on other teammates and vice versa to ideate and produce the best possible products and deliverables.  If only managers could give up a fixation on ‘time spent’ on code, in favor of frequent delivery of valuable code for the business, I bet they would experiment with Mob Programming and find it very beneficial. And ‘valuable means too that it will be more easily maintained in the future – it won’t only be the tech lead who makes decisions and knows the history of the code’s back-alleys.  It will be collectively understood.

Finally, as you will read from Woody’s writings, and from his talks on mob programming, this technique should never be something anyone can or should mandate.  Teams should be left to choose their best way of working and be encouraged to experiment with their collective intelligence.  

I really appreciated the people who travelled from afar to talk about and practice the principles of mob programming and I would definitely attend this conference a second time.

If you need a facilitator to help you get started, please reach out to me. If you wish to read more about Mob Programming, you can read Woody’s book and Llewellyn’s books here and here and watch the time lapse of a day in the life of a team that mob programs.  On May 18th, I’ll be giving a workshop on The Core Protocols (another great team productivity enhancer) with an open discussion about mob programming at the end. These two ways of working and interacting are quite awesome for the audacious and courageous self-organizing teams.    If you are in DC, you can RSVP here. You do not have to be a woman to attend.

A last note: at the end of the conference, I offered up the idea of creating a community book about teams that are coding using the Mob Programming principles. It would involve interview questions and answers about the teams’ experiences, perhaps modeled along the lines of the Who Is Using Clean Language, Anyway? book. (That book is itself modeled after Who is Agile? book that I helped edit years ago). I would need a co-author and a couple of teams to volunteer for interviews to get started. It would evolve as a Leanpub book until we had a great cross section of teams from around the world representing different domains and challenges, perhaps 20 or 25 teams.  If you are interested, please leave me a note below or contact me via Twitter at @andreachiou

My ‘Intentional’ Mindful Leadership Retreat

March 26, 2016

cherriesI am planning a retreat with Selena Delesie, called the Mindful Leadership Retreat at the April 22-24th, 2016. You can read about it here, and register here.

I want to share why I am running this retreat, why at my home, and why now in my life? I want to disclose my intent!

My Intent in running the retreat is to:

1.) Share.  What holding this retreat does for me that it holds space for others to learn and share. The magic that can happen over a three day period with a small group of people is incomparably rich as compared to short  workshops. It is the ambience and generative experience I wish to replicate  – especially for those who have NOT had this opportunity before.  

2.) Invite people into my space.  Where one does one’s important life-advancing work is as important as discussing what the work is.  The learning environment you will come to has both beauty and serenity.   If you want to make a meaningful connection with someone at work, it is best not to do so with a desk between you.  Take a walk, go to a space where there is openness. That will have a beneficial effect on your communication. Learn why by experiencing it here.

3.) Spread the wealth of mindfulness and of my past influencers.  I want the effect to be far-reaching. I want to know that you’ve gotten what you needed by coming to this retreat and that I can support you even after it is over. I have my own influencers to thank. And want you to carry the torch forward.

4.) Collaborate with an amazing woman in doing something new.  Learning to go with the energy of the present moment is a gift – being able to let go of past stories, and create meaning and value in one’s life. If Selena and I can model a fresh new collaboration like ours for you, I’ll feel great – and you’ll see the reward in our faces for having tried something new and a bit scary.

5.) Create close connections between people.  Quite simply put, that’s where the magic happens and where the problems are solved. I want others to see how they can foster that happening as well.

What are some concrete Mindful Leadership exercises that you can expect from us?

Checking in: We will use checking in to launch each day in the morning and afternoon.

Temenos:  Influence Mapping / Vision Mapping – exercise in self-reflection, mapping one’s influences  and envisioning the future. Each person will be narrating their influence and vision maps during the retreat. This is story telling, a leader’s gift.

Jim and Michelle McCarthy: Personal Alignment exercise – identifying what you want, and what is blocking you from getting there. Identifying your core resources for overcoming these blocks.

Virginia Satir:

  • Five Freedoms – creating safety to speak (both at the retreat and at work)
  • Interaction Model – what happens when we are talking and responding in pairs, in slow motion
  • Congruence Model – (self, other, context) practice session with simulation of the five stances

Grove: Clean Language Questions – will be taught to help participants train their attention on others – and to remain judgement  free – a good practice for information gathering prior to reacting – for any leader.

Caitlin Walker: Systemic Modeling exercises, building up the power of the group to notice (each other) and take advantage of the diversity of experience in the room.

These tools are simple and therefore very powerful. We want you to take back some things that you can use right away!

Call to Action

Discovering, sharing and implementing your own intentions  is what Selena and I will help you do at the retreat.  The downsides of remaining with the status quo, not fulfilling yourself at work, of faltering with interpersonal or business relationship issues, and of observing disengaged workers are too many for us not to be doing this work together with you.   We do hope that if this appeals to you, you will sign up now, or join us on the upcoming webinar Q&A sessions. Details to be posted soon.

More on Intent Based Leadership

Intent based leadership is described in Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders – one of the very best leadership stories I’ve read.

Northern Taste of Clean – Sept 2015, West Kirby, England

September 23, 2015

2015-09-18 09.07.04

I took another leap (flight) into the realm of Clean Language last week – in West Kirby, England – which is an area just West of Liverpool – at a very atypical conference/gathering called ‘The Northern Taste of Clean’. This event is now in its 4th year, and is hosted by Caitlin Walker and Shaun Hotchkiss in their home.

It was part social gathering, part conference, focussed on building shared knowledge, community, and finding new opportunities and connections in the Clean Language Community. The forty participants ranged from the well-known (the hosts Caitlin and Shaun, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Wendy Sullivan, and Marian Way to name a few)  to  established practitioners in the field making a living using Clean,  to those who are more recent and passionate enthusiasts, wanting to do much more with Clean Language than they currently do. I count myself in the latter group.  

2015-09-20I came away inspired by and learning from everyone I talked to.  Shaun and the many volunteer helpers provided tea and food throughout the day – all vegetarian fare – tasty and homemade by Shaun and others.  Body and mind thrived and even the weather cooperated much of the time – so we could enjoy the sun and beautiful garden, as well as Caitlin and Shaun’s lovely labradoodle Stella.  It was a fantastic event and very much worth the transatlantic flight.

I can’t possibly jot down all the  learnings and rich conversations I had, but I will share a brief listing of the sessions I attended – as much for my own recollection later as for your curiosity, if you wish to read on.

Clean Learning Thresholds, facilitated by Marian Way – a look at modeling the session participants to see when they ‘grasped’  specific subtleties of Clean Language, what happened ‘just before’? What ‘aha’s’ in learning could they recall and what were the conditions that lead to it.  The aim was to identify thresholds and to understand how people cross them. I’ve started documenting my own (from the past 4 years) as a result of this session.

Clean Selling – Simon Coles – a group discussion about the position of Clean Language in the model of ‘Crossing the Chasm’ (link: and why Clean Language is still in the Early Adopters stage.  How can the community support each other in promoting Clean Language in the best way possible such that it might cross to Early Majority stage?

Self-Organizing Systems – James Lawley – a session to learn from participants what principles from Clean or elsewhere might support self organizing groups of people (such as for organizing a conference, for example).  James and Penny plan to host a self-organizing conference in 2016. We broke into groups and reported out on 4 main themes at the end.

Modelling Session Demo – Caitlin Walker, facilitated a participant on her research/writing desired outcome. Caitlin included the observers in the analysis of the facilitated session as it was going on (when put in pause mode). This I had seen in some of Caitlin’s training CDs, but had not ever experienced it in person.   It was powerful and the subject also was able to resolve the issue.

Working with Disaffected Youth – Stuart Clark and James Jeffers – shared fascinating outcomes of their ongoing work in Caitlin’s company – with the unemployed youth of the area right nearby Liverpool.  The techniques come from Systemic Modelling which you can read about in ‘From Contempt to Curiosity’.  James Jeffers had been a participant in the program and is now apprenticing with Caitlin and being paid as a facilitator in the program. It was fantastic having him there as living proof of the transformational nature of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  This program has seen roughly 250 of 300+ participants graduate from NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) to EET (now either Employed, in Education, or in Training) with no recidivism.  Many of these youth are from multi-generational unemployed families.  So inspiring.

Clean Interviewing – James Lawley and Caitlin Walker – session to learn how to discern the difference between leading questions and clean-ish questions when trying to collect real data for qualitative interviews. After James and Caitlin shared a brief history of and introduction to  this topic, we were handed a sample questionnaire for study and then broke into small groups to assess the questions in it (categories were strongly leading, mildly leading, or contextually appropriate). After debriefing that, we were guided to practice spontaneous clean interviewing in triads.

Modelling Gender – with yours truly and Caitlin Walker.  This was my proposed session – run in parallel with the pre-set conference sessions – and many wanted to come to it.  In the end we had eight people discussing what their experience of gender is like followed by ‘who is different?’ and other clean questions and discussion. A friend of Caitlin’s who was not part of the conference was invited in  to participate in this session as she has a transgender child (but no support group in the area of West Kirby). Everyone found something new to think about on a topic most never discuss.

For the last session on Day 2, I floated back and forth between two spaces/sessions. The first was titled: Whirly-gig, Clean Space and Emergent Knowledge. It took place outside with one participant at a time on the ‘Whirly-gig’ a contraption that is used to suspend people in space.
WhirlyGig2Each participant can explore perceptions spatially in a unique way while being clean questioned  about a desired outcome and rotated to new positions as requested. If you’ve never heard of Clean Space, you might have to read The Power of Six, by Phillip Harland. Clean Space was a late emerging gift from David Grove prior to his passing.  The Whirly-gig is not required to experience Clean Space, and only one of those exists in the world, as far as I know.

The second session titled Systemic Modeling in the Real World  was given by Jacqueline Surin from Malaysia in which she was interviewed by James Jeffers and participants on how she got to where she is.  I was very inspired by her story. I had not yet met anyone who had put her first career aside to devote herself to Systemic Modeling based on reading Caitlin’s book, from Contempt to Curiosity. Jacqueline had been a well-known journalist in Malaysia!  She inspires me!

A few of the other sessions I had very much wanted to attend were:

Looking for Literacy – A Modeling Approach to Learning to Read – Cricket Kemp – on her proven techniques to help kids learn how to read and spell.

Clean Voice – Sophie Kirkham – a method for retracting your vocal chords

The Advantages and Disadvantages to having an outcome – Shaun Hotchkiss and James Jeffers 

The weekend event was preceded by a two day workshop given by the partner and ex-wife of the late David Grove, Cei (pronounced Kai) Davies on using Clean Language to resolve traumatic experiences. I attended this event purely because of who she is, but also because the topic is extremely fascinating. I also learned about many of the theoretical underpinnings and historical influences on Clean Language from the fields of psychology, philosophy, and anthropology.  Cei has extensive experience working with Trauma victims around the world and gave two very powerful demonstrations of facilitation to two volunteer participants. Each of those lasted about an hour or so, followed by some debriefing and questions. Most of the two days was a lecture/discussion format and was very informative indeed. I got a certificate again for CECs (continuing education credits) – but I have no idea which program would take these! I am neither a certified coach (yet) nor a therapist!

Lastly, flying to England gave me the added opportunity to meet some second cousins I had never met, one family from West Kirby, one from Liverpool, and one from Manchester.   Now that was extremely special for me and for them.  And who knew I have a second cousin twice removed  – a young 12 year old – who performs regularly in London musicals – look him up on Youtube, his name is Ilan Galkoff….

It was an amazing week on many fronts and as always I am so grateful that I have such great opportunities to learn and grow.


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

November 13, 2014
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

The Gift of Time, the Relative Rule, and Clean

August 1, 2014

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.