Sunday, January 18, 2009

energized work session

While I feel like I know clearly what isn't agile, the title of this blog represents the transition I'm trying to force upon myself. Even though it sounds like I'm saying "don't say it's agile" instead it's time that I learn to say what is agile... and these words are the evidence that I can be the change I wish to see in the world. That being said, I found it an enormous challenge when my company asked me to prepare a 3-hour session on energized work... something that I recognize when I see it, but I couldn't imagine how to explain sufficiently with words. In New York I tried for months to get the team to understand the idea of energized work, and that was in my native tongue! Now I'm being asked to focus on it for 3 hours and I just thought that words wouldn't do it. So I decided to find some games to get the idea across.
Well, I looked and looked, read online about all the agile games I could find, and nothing really seemed to fit the topic. So I made up some games, briefly described below. I got really good feedback from the group, saying they enjoyed the meeting format, the rhythm, and the energy. Good, mission accomplished. Now if I can only get them to do that during the work week. Here's an outline of agenda items and take-home lessons:
  • 2pm, break into two groups. One group gets tiny paintbrushes, the other gets huge paintbrushes. The tiny-brush group is told to put their toes against the wall, and never move back. Then, I ask the groups to paint a 5-pointed star, 1-meter long on each side. Oh, and it all has to be done in less than 5 minutes. Go!
  • 2:10pm, remarks: The point here was to show that it makes a difference, working at different levels of abstractions. With a large brush and the perspective of stepping back, the star turns out a bit more even, and its essence is captured faster. I hope that it's clear that when we're doing story cards, we need to work at a fine level of detail for only short bursts, then jump back out to higher-level abstractions to make sure we're on the right track
  • 2:15pm, form pairs, sitting face-to-face. One side of each pair is given paper and pencil; the other is supposed to observe the drawing in progress. Behind the navigators, so they can't see what I'm doing, I hold up a photo of a local monument (it's pretty intricate and hard to reproduce with only a few pencil strokes). I ask the drawers to copy this picture with the objective of making it as accurate as possible for the observers, and that they're done as soon as the observers recognize what the picture is.
  • 2:20, remarks: this one didn't work quite as I planned. I figured it would be lower energy but everyone was so excited to be playing games that it was still fast and fun. Still, I described the idea of self-similarity and how I was going to repeat the following pattern throughout today's workshop: high-energy work followed by low-energy work, and that overall we'd see the pattern repeat on a larger scale as well... that we'd start out with lots of games and end with lots of talking.
  • 2:30, mind map of energized work: a lot of people hadn't yet seen mind maps, so it took longer than I expected to explain this--but I started with the explanation that I don't really know how to solve our problems with energized work--and so I asked for their help. I suggested the place to start from was a map that shows the things that give them energy and the things that use it up in the workplace; we ended up with a nice mind map on the dry erase board with a few things I didn't know. We then talked about what each of these items meant and/or why they gave/burnt energy.
  • 2:45 pictionary
  • 2:55 remarks, contrasting these drawings with those of earlier in the day... here we were expressing our ideas much more quickly than when the task was to copy a complicated picture. Hmmm, is it always necessary to make a story chock-full of features? Or can we reduce the scope and do just the bare minimum to get feedback?
  • 3:00 Estimation / Promises / Budget workshop: (in light of the mindmap I felt it wasn't as important as the next workshop, so we canceled this and moved on).
  • 3:00 Scope and Slices workshop: we were to brainstorm to make a flip chart to remind us what to do when a story card is in danger of not being done on time. My notes indicate outside in / inside out / vertical / quick win & cleanup & feedback.
  • 3:15 Yet brainstorming is of limited value... I think it's the real story cards that can be hard to slice. So I handed out cards from previous iterations... big cards... and we broke down into little groups to practice ways of slicing these stories. Each group got 15 minutes to slice a story, then they passed it to the next group. After two rounds of this, we then had a review of the whole session... i.e., our group sliced this card into these N stories... how did your group slice it? By comparing different results we found new tools for our story slicing toolbox.
  • 4:00 break
  • 4:15 parking lot (general discussion)
  • 4:30 whisper down the lane (point being, if you send one-three words at a time, it's practically a lossless signal, so obviously slicing stories is a good way to go)
  • 4:45 feedback

just got a book review published

A couple of years ago I was selected by Sticky Minds, the online companion to Better Software Magazine, to be one of their book reviewers... so every once in a while I write one and (eventually) get published. My reviews thus far are: