Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Agile NYC Open 2012

On the way to Agile NYC Open 2012, even though I was prepared to be surprised (as per the ground rules of open space, pictured below), I was taken off guard by this surprise. Open Spaces are a meeting format that promote learning and engagement--using simple ground rules like "The law of two feet"--when you're not getting what you need from a particular topic, move on! Other rules help us stay present without judging: "Whatever happens is all that could have"; "Whoever comes is the right people"; "Whenever it starts is the right time" and "When it's over, it's over". Open Spaces can be used at conferences or in the office--they're dynamic and fast-paced, and at Monday's event, learning/decisions were captured during the day in a "news room" as well as reported on in a photocopied packet that attendees took home.
In the past when I've attended Open Space events, I've been a bumble bee. This means I sample one topic after another, moving like a bee buzzing from flower to flower, collecting nectar, and maybe even dusting other flowers with pollen. The surprise for me this time is I felt like being a butterfly. Butterflies don't really participate in the open spaces at all, instead they socialize at the periphery. One could argue the peripheral discussions became their own open spaces--it's just that the topic wandered and wasn't posted at the market place. Part of what makes Open Space so powerful is that there's an opportunity cost to participating in any given topic--at Agile NYC Open, there were always 5-7 topics running in parallel, as pictured below, with 1-hour session slots. This can be frustrating for attendees when there are several interesting topics--but it also means that participants tend to be only where they really want to be--and this fosters open communication, connection, and passionate discussion.
Topics at an Open Space conference can be convened by experts or novices alike. The magic is that the right people show up, and everyone learns. To propose a topic, the day begins with a quick introduction of proposed topics, posting of topic titles on the Market Place (a grid of time & location), then a round of sign-ups or dot-voting to show how many people are interested in the topic. Topics can also be proposed later in the day--it's just that these late topics aren't accompanied by a verbal introduction to the topic. Then at the appointed time, conveners show up at the Open Space they signed up for with a clipboard to record attendees' names and major insights of the discussion.
As I mentioned previously, I was a butterfly this time. I spent most of my time with fellow boot campers Frank Saucier, Dan Mezick, and Venessa Miemis. While there were plenty of topics we discussed, what I'm most excited about is a project we're working on for Agile NE Corridor... ultimately it's a way to find out who's willing to commit to producing great work, who's willing to commit to change in the workplace, and who will help us make work more fun and life-giving. We're working on ideas that anyone can implement now at work, and we'll have a strong bias toward action over theorizing and planning.  Stay tuned for more, or contact me to help out!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Social Media Strategy at Philly Net Tuesday

Philly Net Tuesday meets the first Tuesday of every month, convened by Seth Horwitz, to promote Using the Social Web for Social Change. For February, there was a special event--the Social Media Sampler--that I attended to learn about Seth's work. This format was really fun--similar to a BarCamp feel--holding 18 sessions in 3 rounds of about 20 minutes each. There were too many topics of interest to sample them all--here are my notes.

In Round 1, Gloria Bell discussed "Making Social Media Part of your Regular Workday". Social media is so overwhelming I wanted to know how others deal with it.  Gloria emphasizes that we need to strategize--decide who we're going to listen to, and who we want to reach. Consider your identity as a brand: be clear on who you want to reach and what you want to say to them. Engage your listeners by encouraging them to act or to respond in some way (ask questions, send links, etc.). Listen and engage with thought leaders and your competition. Search Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and use Google Alerts/Trackur/Sprout Social/Lithium/Radium 6.

In Round 2, Warren Allen shared his favorite "Desktop Tools to Manage the social web flood". He focused on hootsuite, and encourages us to set up various searches to be sure to catch other people's comments to us as well as to be able to trend the topics that are important to us. Each social media site reaches a different demographic--so you likely want to have a different message for each.

In Round 3, Rob Kall inspired us with "Web Media Strategies to Maximize Your Reach". Rob stresses that social media should direct readers to our primary content (a blog or web site), and recommends we make it easy for readers to share our information with links to tweet, digg, stumble, reddit, facebook, etc. Find out what the important hash tags are in your niche--and use them! Write about the people and organizations with high visibility.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

coffee break innovation

Having just finished Austin/Devin's Artful Making, I've been thinking a lot about freedom and creativity. In the past I've argued we need creative slack to make anything truly new--and this book backs that up. Beyond that, it shows how slack plus discipline is the perfect recipe for software development.

Software Development is Artful Making
The core metaphor in the book compares software development and the production of plays--and since the theater cited in the book is in the Philly region, I took advantage of going to see the People's Light & Theater Company first-hand for the opening night of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Before I comment on the play itself--I have to mention this theater company produces 7-9 plays per season--and that sheer volume of new projects is fascinating. I've known development teams that can easily make that many releases in a year--but normally that's for one product line. Is People's Light unique? Just out of curiosity, I also counted plays per season at other local theaters (Walnut St. Theater, 5 each on 3 stages; The Lantern Theater Co., 8; The Arden Theater Co., 7 each on 2 stages; The Philadelphia Theatre Company, 4; The Wilma Theater, 4), and see that this productivity is above par, though all these theaters are producing a lot more new products than a typical software team. Since the director and cast vary from production to production, maybe it's better to compare this high productivity to several different software development teams managed by the same business owner/director. Still, it's impressive that the same producer can support so many new products year after year. For some reason I imagined a lot of theater companies run like the Broadway venues, showing the same thing year in and year out--just like many large businesses run the same product lines for years. As Geoffrey Moore points out in Escape Velocity, product inertia poses problems as a product nears end-of-life, because business leaders are caught with the dilemma of diverting money from predictable revenue to new product development, but at the same time dwindling revenues make it clear that new products are needed. It is this new product development that requires creativity--and artful making. For these Philly-based theater companies, releasing 5 or more plays per season, they've also got more opportunities to succeed by running  more shows, just as the lean startup process teaches us to pivot early and often.

Great Innovation Requires Safety
Regarding Steinbeck's play--I had already heard about the culture at the People's Light, where actors and directors support experimentation, spontaneity, and the creative process in general--but I didn't realize how bold they would go. I was impressed that they included a dog on stage and used a mechanized, slanted set designed to evoke the rugged Western setting. I hadn't read the book since I was in high school so I had forgotten much of the plot--but was reeled in by the re-enactment of the actors. Every character in the play is seeking emotional intimacy, except for best friends George and Lennie, and it is so ironic that each of these people were looking for exactly what Jim & Michele McCarthy said during Boot Camp: we all seek love. The great thing about a loving team environment is it allows us to voice our scary ideas--and this is what's needed for disruptive innovation. It's clear that the ensemble had shared their scary ideas with each other to execute a flawless performance that was both emotionally and intellectually compelling.

Great Innovation Requires Structure

Compared with software development budgets, a play is run on a comparatively low budget, even though both have to create something that has never been done before, with people who are mostly motivated by the work itself. When software teams work in the same way, the constraints of budget and schedule do not have to limit creativity--in fact, under schedule pressure, we need to relax our ideas of system requirements and move to solving the customer's underlying goal. This gives us lots of room for creativity, learning, and energized/joyful work--assuming management doesn't kill the team spirit.

How does management support the team? Demand iteration--let the team know that the first version is not the final product, and that it will help us see where to go next--we expect we'll need improvement after each iteration. Collaboration goes for both colleagues and managers--software team members often have many skills the manager doesn't, and the manager has to be OK with letting go of control. Straight from the book:
  • "don't try to get it right the first time"
  • "make it good before the deadline"
  • each iteration is a chance to make something a bit better
  • artful making (as opposed to industrial making) makes sense only when we have a task that needs to be repeated, it requires innovation, and there's a low cost of iteration
Great Innovation Requires Freedom

The other day an acquaintance who also does work with one of my clients said that this company works people to death--and it didn't really hit me until I noticed what we have in the break room. Does this support personal safety? Why is there a defibrillator in the break room? We're supposed to work until we can't possibly work any more? Why are there no windows in this break room? Why is it so small? Clearly, this employer doesn't want us taking any breaks!
What I've seen in this environment is that people feel like they've got no freedom--they're forced to work in ways that are less than the best they know how, and their passion for the work suffers. Managers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the poor output, and are reacting by adding more rigidity. Though we do need discipline, Scrum teaches us that it must be enforced at the right time and place; Scrum rules keep "chickens" out of daily stand-up meetings and out of the implementation details of the project, as well as off the sprint backlog once the sprint has been determined. In order to really perform, teams need space to create. So forget about project control, let go of your expectations! Release! Reconceive! Promote security, embrace uncertainty, and insist on fiscal responsibility (timeboxes). Give the teams room to create, and get out of the way. Review stories as they finish, so there's room to improve before the end of the iteration--yet if something isn't right by the end, don't accept it. Most of all, insist on finishing something early. Failure to deliver is bad for everyone involved--customer and developer alike. Developers are motivated by progress! Clear feedback will allow the teams to focus on a great product.

Oh and consider how many of the great ideas, the scary ideas, first get voiced during coffee break! Give your teams more safety, structure, and freedom!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Healthy Motivation

Last week I went to the McCarthys' Core Protocols Boot Camp, described by fellow camper Vennessa Miemis in How do we Form Tribes of Greatness?   The experience is designed to teach us to work more effectively in teams. I have to admit that shedding some of my cultural baggage has required quite a few mental reboots--waking up every day with new insight. The question of the day: what is healthy motivation?

The Rescue Anti-Pattern
According to the Core Protocols Boot Camp Manual, a rescue is "when you jump in to help someone who has not asked for it...typically to prevent yourself from feeling discomfort." Coming to the rescue hurts people because they don't get to control when & how they get help, and they don't get to learn from their own mistakes. A rescue may also harm someone by distracting from the negative feelings/grieving that must be done before moving on. All this got me thinking about why we reach out to one another, and how to stay productive.

What is Healthy?
When something we do causes collateral damage, digs us deeper into debt, or is otherwise unsustainable, it is unhealthy. So healthy work must be balanced against long-term effects. As we learn from programming, sometimes what seems like healthy coding practice today still incurs technical debt. We learn from this debt and improve our coding practices. I figure the same must apply to team communication, where unstated resentment or hurt can accrue to the point of explosive drama. Next time you are hurt by someone's words, what would happen if you did an Intention Check to air all the assumptions behind the words? Keeping healthy communication is probably the most important thing we can do in our teamwork. According to Dave Logan in Tribal Leadership, simply changing  our language can move our collaboration to the next level.

Keeping Team Communication Clean
One of the boot camp rules is to keep our emotional communication in check with what we're saying verbally. So when strong feelings come up, we call it out by saying some combination of "I'm feeling MAD/SAD/GLAD/AFRAID". This may be followed by an explanation of why, if desired. Combined with the Perfection Game and the Investigate protocols, we have a complement of rules that keep all our interactions positive, supportive, and productive. There is no permission for judging--instead we help our colleagues get to an answer quicker by becoming collaborators or co-conspirators.

Intrinsic Motivation
Individuals and teams do better work when it is based on intrinsic motivation, and key hygiene factors in support of "autonomy, mastery, and purpose" can make or break a team. What I'm wondering now is whether there's another layer to this--if intrinsic motivation can be broken into healthy and unhealthy categories.  As described by Jim Collins in Good to Great, long-term motivation requires a noble cause. This is some statement about sustainability... I think it's a clue about how to make motivation healthy.

Healthy Motivation

So how do we keep our motivation healthy? Can we ask where the drive comes from? If we're in pain, and we move to reduce that pain, is it sustainable? Or if we're curious, is that sustainable?  Today I'm thinking that pain is fleeting, while curiosity (and love) are durable. Anything that keeps us in the mode of energized work, joy, play, exploration, transparency, and acceptance seems healthy to me. Do you agree?