February 26, 2013
Tonight, just a month after I got the news about Charlie Seashore passing away, I read that Edie Seashore had followed him. I did not know Edie or Charlie very well, but I did have the privilege of meeting them for a week in Cape Cod last summer where they taught the course “Strategies & Skills for Consulting, Coaching, Change”. The way they shared their experience and wisdom during that week made me feel like I had known them a lot longer though.
Edie and Charlie’s signature combination of wisdom with humor and a love for each other and what they taught made them seem inseparable. Both of them were strong individual personalities that made deep impressions on me but when they spoke in front of us it was clear that they weren’t only Edie and Charlie; they were Edie AND Charlie, a union so much more than its parts. As sad as I am to hear that Edie is no longer among us, it seems natural that the bond between them was this strong.
I am not a religious person, but I have no difficulty imagining Edie and Charlie still being together in a good place. I am so happy that I got the chance to learn from such wonderful persons. Thank you!
February 21, 2013
This morning it took me fifteen minutes to walk past my team and get to my desk…
But that was this morning, let’s back up one month. Middle of January my team had a team building activity. Now, I know that teams aren’t built during an activity but there were reasons behind us having this activity. Anyway, as a final exercise we all got to close our eyes, relax and try to visualize what it would be like if everything in the workplace was going as we wanted. We then got to draw our internal images and present them to each other.
My drawing had two parts to it. One part showing a kanban board where work was flowing smoothly, representing how we worked well together as a team. The second part pictured me high-fiving my co-workers on my way to my desk, representing us having a great time together.
What I saw before me was how it would take me fifteen minutes every morning to move from the entrance to my desk because I high-fived everyone along the way, stopping to ask how they were doing and generally enjoy being with awesome people.
Some background might be in place here. My desk is at the opposite end of the building from the entrance, which means that I have to walk by the entire team every morning as I walk to my place. The thing is, that I’m an MBTI introvert. I enjoy people and company like most other people but it’s exhausting for me. Having a good time with other people makes me physically and mentally tired. Because of this I’ve been taking a detour every morning in order to get to my desk without having to pass anyone I know, that way I could save my energy for “more important stuff”.
As I looked at my drawings I realized that the first part was what we’re struggling with together as a team, but that the only thing standing between me and my vision in the second drawing was myself.
The day after the exercise I stopped for a minute after entering our floor. I took three deep breaths and began the walk to my desk. Only a few team members were at their desks so I walked up to the one colleague who I knew would understand the idea. I raised my hand and immediately got a slap. It felt good and we discussed the exercise for a while. The day after I repeated the ceremony but stopped by two of my colleagues on my way to my desk.
Since then I’ve been adding people to my daily routine and this morning I walked around high-fiving everyone at their desks, stopping to chat for a while; both personal stuff as well as job-related. I timed the walk and it took me fifteen minutes to get to my desk.
What I’ve noticed is that most people’s faces light up as I walk by for the daily slap. The guy next to me was a bit upset though, he didn’t want to always be the last one to get a high five.
I believe in the idea that we are our feelings. If I act happy, then I will be happy and I will feel happy. If I start the day with a smile and a high five, I will get a better day. Fake it till you make it so to speak. The bonus is that people around have to start their mornings with a smile and a high five as well.
So as an introvert, does this procedure consume energy? You bet it does, I have to brace myself every morning before I walk into the room.
Is it worth it? You bet it is!
Disclaimer: Not everyone enjoys a high five in the morning, especially if they’re in the middle of something and that’s okay too.
February 15, 2013
Let’s pretend for just a second that we need estimates in order to perform our business. Some of you will say that we do and some will probably say that estimates are a big waste. But for the moment, let’s at least pretend that they have a place.
Usually we do estimation in order to provide some kind of predictability in our deliveries. It’s just that an estimate is not enough on its own. Knowing that something will take 6 man weeks to implement has no value unless we know that we have 6 man weeks at our disposal. We need to combine our estimate with some kind of capacity measure in order to get predictability. There’s a big difference if our team can give the task 6 man weeks worth of attention within the next two week iteration or if they’re overloaded with other work and need 4 calendar months to finish the requested 6 man weeks.
So we need an estimate AND a capacity in order for the estimate to have any value. The thing is that it’s not enough either. When we estimate, we also need to agree on what we’re estimating. We need to have the same view on the expected quality; both external and internal quality. Everyone involved needs to know how the solution is supposed to behave; if the customer expects a Lexus but a developer is about to build a go-cart, the estimate will have no value. Everyone involved needs to have the same view on the level of confidence for the internal quality; if the developer is ok with Windows 95 quality but the tester is expecting a pacemaker level of confidence, the estimate will have no value.
So now we need an estimate AND a capacity AND an understanding of quality in order for the estimate to have any value. The thing is that if we make an estimate and it’s wrong, the effects will fade over time (unless we’re dealing with systematic estimation errors). If a requirement was estimated to take 5 days but actually took 10 days (a 100% estimation error), the effect on a six-month project will be less than 4%. An error in capacity on the other hand will multiply if left to itself. If a team is working in two-week sprints and plans are made with a 10% error in capacity, this error will multiply for each sprint and for a six-month project, we’ll have to add another two sprints to the end in order to finish what we had initially planned. But even worse is the cost of poor quality. These costs tend to rise exponentially with time. The longer time a poor assumption or a bug goes unnoticed, the more code will get built on top of that error and either multiplying the instances of the actual error or at least building dependencies to the error.
Error in estimate – impact decreasing linearly with time
Error in capacity – impact increasing linearly with time
Error in quality – impact increasing exponentially with time
But where do people put their attention when plans fail? They usually address the estimate and way too often put blame on the teams for not doing good enough estimates. Apart from being unethical since estimates are nothing but guesses, it’s also a waste of time since any deviations from the plan are much more likely to come from errors in capacity measurements (or worse; capacity estimates) or a mismatch in the understanding of what quality (or functionality) was being estimated.
So if predictability is what you’re looking for, don’t invest much in your estimates, instead you should make sure that your capacity is known and that quality (internal as well as external) is well understood. And that’s why your estimates don’t really matter.
February 13, 2013
I was recently asked by a colleague to help with the format for a brainstorming exercise. The purpose of the exercise was to find new ways to reach an audience for the content our organization was developing. Both of us wanted to try something new and we really wanted the participants to start thinking outside of the so called box. What we came up with was a two part workshop that I’d like to share.
The first part was a traditional Post-it-exercise run for three different themes. First we asked the participants to list as many aspects as possible of the content we developed. They were asked to write it down on a certain color of Post-its using just one or two words. We then asked them to do the same thing on another color of Post-its but this time to list different cross sections of possible audiences; whom to reach out to. The target audiences could be sliced according to roles, geographical belonging, age or any other grouping. Finally the participants got to write down different channels for reaching out on a third color of Post-its. We got all kinds of fun suggestions; competitions, courses, lunch walks, blind dates, printed t-shirts etc.
For the second part we wanted to use an element of randomness to get the participants imagination going. Inspired by the game Clue; you know the detective game were you have a bunch of suspects, different murder weapons and a number possible crime sites. In the game, the players randomly combine a suspect with a murder weapon and a crime site by pulling one card from each pile. They then try to deduct which cards have been selected by questioning each other. Finally someone realizes that it was Coloner Mustard in the library with the candlestick.
In our workshop we now had three big piles of Post-its containing What, For Whom and Channels. We divided the participants into groups of two and asked them to randomly pick one note from each pile and try to concretize the mix of cards into an actual event. So if a group picked the cards Content A, redheads and blind dates; they then had to come up with an idea for how to sell Content A to redheaded people by arranging blind dates. The combinations that came up brought out a lot of laughter but it also generated tons of new ideas for how to market our stuff to different audiences. Surprisingly few combinations had to be completely discarded and people came up with really imaginative events from the random combinations they were dealt.
From this experience, I can really recommend trying an element of randomness when you need fresh ideas and have a problem that can be sliced in different dimensions like this.
January 23, 2013
I just learned tonight that Charlie Seashore passed away this Sunday. The news saddens me incredibly while I’m happy at the same time that I got the chance to meet Charlie and learn from him. For a week last summer, I attended the course “Strategies & Skills for Consulting, Coaching, Change” with Charlie and Edie. That week was one of the greatest learning experiences for me this far.
Charlie and Edie helped me look into myself as well as getting an outside perspective on how I and others interact. The insight and humor that Charlie brought to this week still astonishes me and I could only hope for having a fraction of his wisdom and mischievousness on my best day.
Several of the things I learned during my week in Cape Cod with the Seashores (and all the great sharing participants), are already a part of my work. Other parts are still being processed. One of the things that Charlie taught us about at the course was re-framing. To me, he seemed like a master of re-framing as he shared a number of his life experiences, but all of them in a positive light, and all of them as opportunities for learning. I’m fumbling right now as how to reframe today’s sad news and I would love to have had Charlie giving his view on this.
When I left Cape Cod and said good bye to Charlie and Edie after the course, I was wondering if I would ever get the opportunity to meet with them and to learn from them again. Now I know that I won’t get another chance to meet with Charlie. It saddens me incredibly while I’m happy at the same time that I got a chance to meet this great man and to learn from him.
My thoughts are with everyone close to Charlie, and especially with Edie. Thank you for sharing your time and wisdom with us. And Charlie, I don’t wanna grow up either.
October 8, 2012
Do you remember the Smurfs? Little blue creatures with white hats. Three apples high. Very strong characters. The fact is that their personalities are so distinct that each one is named after it’s strongest character trait. We’ve got Clumsy Smurf, Happy Smurf, Angry Smurf, Grumpy Smurf and countless others.
They like to sing as well. At least here in Sweden they used to sing a song about everyone of us having an inner smurf. They were wrong. We don’t have ONE inner smurf; all of them live within all of us. Inside our heads, the entire smurf village is represented. Inside your head is a board of directors consisting of Papa Smurf, Angry Smurf, Poet Smurf and all the other smurfs.
The problem is that we learn at an early age that all smurfs are not born equal. Sure, we cherish a couple of them; Pretty Smurf, Smart Smurf, Kind Smurf and a couple of others while we suppress most of them. We create rules along the road for which smurf to bring out at what occasion. One of the first things we learn as newborns is to bring out Scream Smurf when we want some attention. Then, while growing up, we create new rules that benefit us better in the new situations that we have to face. But somewhere along the way we stop evaluating our rules. The rules harden and become an integrated part of us and finally we sit there with a small number of smurfs that we only let out at very given occasions.
Clumsy Smurf, Greedy Smurf, Ugly Smurf and Crying Smurf are not let out into the open if we can stop them. Sometimes we can see them in other people, representing their bad sides and sometimes we can even hear them quietly inside our own heads but they make us feel ashamed and we shut them up as quickly as possible. We suppress Egotist Smurf until he’s no longer three apples high, but only a molding apple core sitting quietly in the corner.
When we restrain these alternative sides of ourselves, we also limit our emotional degrees of freedom. We’re stuck with only one possible emotion to bring out for each situation that we have to face. Remember that there are rules for how we should behave! The situations become governing for us and we feel cornered since we don’t have any freedom of choice on how to act. That’s also when we begin to blame our emotions on the world around us.
- Oh, you make me so mad when you talk like that!
- You make me sad when you act that way.
- You! You make me feel violated.
We can’t choose what will happen to us, but we can always choose how to handle the situations and the first step towards ownership of the situation is to take responsibility for our own feelings in it. The next time you feel anger building up inside you, try not to say that “You make me sad.“. Instead, try saying “I get sad when you talk like that.” or even better; “I’m making myself sad when you talk like that.“
The rules that we have created for ourselves have at some point been useful to us but when we stop re-evaluating them, we also stop choosing rules and instead let the rules choose for us.
But what should we be doing instead? Should we throw out our old rules on how to act?
No! Don’t throw them out but start challenging them again. Evaluate them continuously and see which rules are still beneficial to you. And use them as guidelines instead of rules. There is always a choice. I can choose to get sad, I can choose to feel violated but I can also choose to ignore. I don’t have to be a victim of the circumstances because I can choose which smurf to bring out, they all belong to me.
I would like to highlight three things that we can always do to improve our possibilities for making conscious choices. These are not advanced methods and they’re not even separated from each other, they overlap quite a lot. But they do allow us to become and act as thinking creatures, capable of complex responses that match the situations we are faced with.
The first thing that often stands in our way of making a conscious choice is that we don’t take the time to consider our options.
Your kids walk up to you five minutes before dinnertime asking for ice cream.
You shot the answer at them in a fraction of a second as if this was a duel of life and death between you and the kid. But we don’t owe it to anyone to answer that quickly. We’re allowed to ask for time to think.
Wait a minute while I think about it.
What would happen if I let the kid have an ice cream before dinner today?
Would he get cavities? – Probably not.
Would I always have to let him have an ice cream before dinner? -No.
Or could I let him have an ice cream just to make him happy today?
If I only take a couple of seconds to consider my options, I might realize that it could be okay for me to bring out Nice-Daddy-Smurf and let him have an ice cream today.
The second thing that has a tendency to get in the way between us and our possibilities to choose which Smurf to bring out is that we don’t listen to the person we’re interacting with. We think we recognize the situation the person is talking about quite fast and then we put it into our own context and spend the rest of the time trying to come up with a good reply for when it becomes our turn to speak. If instead, we could focus on the here and now and really listen to the person and validate that we’ve heard what she has to say, then we’d realize that the situation probably isn’t what we first thought. Once we see the complexity of the situation we are able to meet it with an equally complex response that works in the right direction, instead of just conveying our simple opinion on something we thought we had heard.
The third point I would like to suggest is to reframe the situations we face. If we can change our perspective, we will also be able find new ways to act and respond. Try to find new ways to describe what you experience and use positive or neutral terms to depict situations or actions. If your instinctive reaction to someone is that the person is irritable, see what happens to your feelings if you call the behaviour passionate instead. If someone seems fearful, try and see if your feelings change if you call him careful instead.
Assume the most generous interpretation of the world around you and you’ll definitely change your view on a lot of things. You will also learn to know a much larger portion of your inner smurf village.
This post is based on a lightning talk I recently gave (and messed up somewhat) and is heavily inspired and influenced by some awesome people that I’d like to recommend for further reading on the subject.
Beverly Patwell and Edie Seashore – Triple Impact Coaching
Barry Oshry – Seeing Systems: Unlocking the mysteries of organizational life
Virginia Satir – Your Many Faces
September 24, 2012
Today I needed to come up with a check-in for a workshop with people from different parts of the client organization. Most of the participants didn’t know each other beforehand but we were going to spend the afternoon together so some kind of introduction was necessary. A major goal of the workshop was to get people to share certain aspects of their work experiences, thus a trusting environment was an important factor. At the same time we had quite a tight schedule so I couldn’t take more than a couple of minutes for the check-in part.
- People did not know each other
- Short on time
- Get participants introduced to each other
- Get participants to talk in front of each other
- Get participants to gain some trust for each other
These preconditions and goals are common for a check-in but in most of my scenarios people either know each other better to begin with, or I have more time to spend on the check-in. What to do?
Now, I do have a relationship with Macallan and Ron Zacapa but it’s quite casual so I haven’t felt the need to attend an AA meeting yet. However, I started watching the movie You Kill Me the other day. In this film Ben Kingsley plays a recovering alcoholic so I got some insight into the format of these meetings without having to go there myself. I figured that opening up about something as personal as alcoholism in a room full of strangers requires a lot of trust and perhaps I could learn something from their format. So what would a corporate AA meeting/workshop look like?
Me: “Hi! My name is Morgan and I’ve been addicted to agile ways of working for ten years now.“
Everyone: “Hi Morgan!“
Me: “It all started when a friend gave me a white paper on XP and before I knew it I was using Scrum and TDD on a daily basis.“
What do we have here?
First; a presentation. I tell everyone my name and something about my qualification to be in this room. Now I’m not a complete stranger anymore.
Second; one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to remember people’s names is to repeat the name immediately after you’ve been introduced. So we also have increased everyone’s chance of remembering the names of the other participants by having them say “Hi Morgan!”.
Third; for me the feeling is that everyone welcomes me by saying “Hi Morgan!”. They have recognized me and my presence and they know my name.
Finally; I get to share something about where I come from so we can find some common ground during the day.
This AA-style presentation took about 30 seconds per person and was not more advanced than a simple round the table presentation where everyone states their name and their role but my experience was that the details made quite a lot of difference. The participants felt a little bit silly about the format so some chuckles eased the mood without taking away the fact that people felt recognized and welcome. Everyone shared something and everyone spoke in front of each other. I will definitely use this format again.