Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jerry Weinberg's The Secrets of Consulting

This book is a collection of stories and memorable rules... it is unlike anything I've read before, and is hard to absorb in one stretch--I'll probably have to go back to the "listing of laws, rules, and principles" to jar my memory every once in a while. Yet one of the beauties of Weinberg's storytelling ability is that the names quickly bring me back to the story, then back to the lesson.
So, this book says it's about consulting, but he has a very loose definition of the word--consulting is giving advice. The most important thing I got from Weinberg is to never, ever give unsolicited advice. Then, even when asked for advice, it's best not to respond directly, but rather help the person discover it him/herself.
I love his names, like Rudy's Rudebega Rule, the Law of Raspberry Jam, his insistence that as a consultant, he plays more of a role of being illogical, funny, unpredictable than anything else... He seems to have great facilitation skills, great timing "know when pays more than know how". There have been several things I do as a coach that are supported by his rules. I'll list my favorite rules below:
  • the First Law of Consulting--there always is a problem
  • the Second Law of Consulting--"no matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem"
  • the Third Law of Consulting--if you solve the problem too fast, it's going to be embarrassing
  • the Fourth Law of Consulting--"if they didn't hire you, don't fix their problem"
  • the Orange Juice test--"we can do it, and here is how much it will cost"
  • Brown's Brilliant Bequest--listen to the music and the words
  • the Buffalo Bridle--you can make 'em go anywhere, as long as they want to be there
  • the Credit Rule--don't worry about who gets the credit
  • the Duncan Hines Difference--it tastes better if you add your own egg
  • the First Law of Trust--"no one but you cares about the reason you let them down"
  • the Fourth Law of Trust--"the trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks"
  • the Five Minute Rule--"clients reveal the answer to their own problem in the first five minutes"
  • the Ten Percent Solution Law--"if you happen to achieve more than ten percent improvement, make sure it isn't noticed"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

corollary to the Law of Rasberry Jam

Weinberg's Law of Raspberry Jam states that the thinner you spread it, the thinner it gets... it's hard enough to change oneself, harder to influence a team, harder still to influence a class, and yet harder to influence readers of the book. I'd say that a corollary to this is that pop culture, which as whole doesn't respect the source of the ideas, is condemned to keep re-inventing the wheel. It's funny, because one would hope that a really good idea would spread like wildfire, but it can't--it spreads like raspberry jam instead. By the time the masses catch wind of it, it's been reduced to a jingle or technical buzz word.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

where the Agile Skills Project needs to go next

There's something new happing in the agile community, despite the fact that some celebrities in our field are waiting for innovation in a post-agilist era, or saying that there's nothing new at the conferences. The transformation is subtle, but very important. In short, it's the creation of local agile implementations that value people over process, community over employers, dedication to the craft and cooperative relationships.

A lot of practitioners are getting experienced enough that they can exploit self-organization to reach out to people in contexts different from their own. Mostly these practitioners are lower profile than the signers of the agile manifesto, but they're not typical early-late majority adopters either, because they're innovating in the wake of the first wave of agilists. They're running their own open-spaces, creating local user groups and conferences, networking internationally, and doing the best they can to learn from one another. Some might call this massive adoption 'crossing the chasm', but in fact they are creating their own flavors of agile at home, based on the learning that comes from participating in the agile community, from previous experience, from corporate and government requirements, and local cultural needs. The agile conferences have been key to building this community, but they're still spread out in time and space in ways that aren't sufficiently accessible for the masses of people that are trying to do agile these days. In addition, the face-to-face conferences have provided sufficient context for people to start working together remotely. The open source world has long leveraged collaborative work at a distance--the agile community, not so much.

So here's what I see...

There are currently over 700 subscribed to the Agile Developer Skills list, which in my mind is the core of the Agile Skills Project. To me it shows that practitioners are coming together in unprecedented numbers to talk about how we might better learn from each other, to define standards by which we will hold each other, and how we'll acknowledge each other's discoveries and hard work. This is low bandwidth collaborative work and can't compare to what we learn at conferences or with consultants, but there's something new afoot.
Next we need these people to take ownership of various places on the wiki, talking about quests, or certifications, or courses; building on the skills inventory, etc. We'll need people who want to build the web application that logs quests and qualifies certifications and course material our classes.
Mostly what we need is people who are willing to tell stories about their development practices, their conclusions on what works and what doesn't, and then peer-reviewed comments on these stories. I hope to see that soon!