Tag Archives: collaboration

A Simple Collaboration Exercise to Show Why Written Requirements Don’t Work

A couple of weeks I was playing the XP Game with a client and one of the stories in the game is to blow up a bunch of balloons to a certain size and tie a knot in it.  A funny thing happened.  One of the more dominant personalities playing the game interpreted ‘knot’ literally and ‘added a feature’ to the balloon by taking the string provided in the game materials and tying a knot around the opening of the balloon.

They finished the story and showed it to the product owner and he couldn’t figure out why there were a bunch of strings dangling from all the balloons.  A team member showed him the card that clearly said “tie a knot…”   Every other time I’ve played this game people simply tie up the open end of the balloon. Continue reading

Using an Open Space to Teach and Get Results

The organization I’m currently working with is suffering from ‘we have no time’ disorder.  Demand is exceeding capability which is leaving little time for ‘non-contextual’ learning for the lack of a better phrase.

While one team has been making some great strides with root cause analysis, they have been struggling to turn those learnings into actions simply due to the volume of work that needs to get done.  In addition to ‘we have no time‘ disorder, they have also been diagnosed with ‘we have to‘ syndrome.  A dangerous combination of diseases indeed.

Enter Open Space.

Now that this particular team has gathered a bunch of data that narrows the focus of what parts of the application are causing the most problems, (amongst other organizational causes that are out of scope here), I’m planning on conducting an Open Space to gather the more subjective data as well.

So why an Open Space as opposed to a typical brainstorm session?

I see this as an opportunity to teach within context which will help the team with:

- self-organization skills (facilitation, time-boxes, collaboration)
- spreading domain and application knowledge amongst the team
- gaining perspective from multiple disciplines (QA/DEV/Business)
- giving everyone on the team the opportunity to speak up (team has some dominant personality issues)
- developing a framework for problem solving and brainstorming so they can be as effective as possible with future meetings
- having fun! get folks together and excited about their work!

These are the mechanics I’m planning on using, as I think some tweaking is necessary to get this to work in context:

  1. Setup the open space concept: give team members a few days to digest how an open space works and why we are trying this approach.  This will be wrapped in the business goal for this session (gain consensus on the part of the application that will become the focus for this quarterly initiative.)
  2. Open Space Intro: 10 minutes – re-state how an Open Space works and state the business goal of the session.
  3. Lightning Talks: 30 minutes – each team member will be allocated 2 minutes to present what they want to talk about.  Ideally we will post this in the wiki ahead of time and I suspect folks will pair up.
  4. The Twist!: 1 – 2 hours – Here’s where it gets risky.  Now it’s ideal for all team members to be part of each talk since there will be actual work derived from the output of this session.  Depending on the number of ‘sessions’ that are created, as a team, we may agree to do “X” number of sessions and everyone will participate or we will vote on what 2 sessions to do.  I suspect based on the hard data gathered there will only be 2 – 3 major functional parts of the application chosen by the team.  The backup plan is to use the hard data in conjunction with voting, fist of five or other consensus techniques to decide what topic(s) to drill down on.  The sessions themselves will functional much like a typical brainstorming session.
  5. Retrospective: 15 minutes.  For me to see how effective this was as a coach and for the team to see if there are techniques they can use going forward to have more effective meetings.

I’ll follow-up this post after the session has been held, but would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

Learn the Secrets of Collaboration…From Your Kids

One of the simulations I like to facilitate during training sessions is a simple penny flipping exercise learned from Mishkin Berteig to show how the team approach can lead to substantial improvement and productivity gains.

The idea is simple, have the attendees work in a serial process where they have to pass the penny from person to person.  The goal is to get the pennies facing heads up in ‘the product environment’ (which is a piece of paper) at the end of the chain.  The second part has the same goal, but the teams can accomplish it however they want. I usually repeat the second part a couple of times to prove the meaning behind the exercise.  I’ll add a post with the mechanics on this game later.

Anyway, last night my 2 kids and I were playing dominos which always results in a living room disaster since we have a few hundred of the them.  20 minutes for me to set them up, 10 seconds for them to knock them down.   When it was time to clean up I simply stated the goal.  ”Ok guys, time to put all the dominos away in the clear bin“.  Just like a high-performing Scrum team, we started singing the Wonder Pets Teamwork song (what’s gunna work?  TEAMWORK!) and each “team member” started cleaning up.

My 4 year old son started picking up the dominos nearest to him, same for me and my 3 year old daughter.  The bucket was pretty much centralized between the 3 of us.  After we had cleaned up the dominos closet to us, my son immediately took the bin, moved it to the next ‘batch of mess’ and we proceeded to start with whatever dominos were nearest to us.  My daughter had walked towards the pile my son started with so she quickly self-adjusted and started on another pile.

I was stunned.  The collaboration was completely instinctive and there was very little, if any, discussion.  We all knew what the goal was and we all chipped in.  Once there were only a handful of dominos left, all 3 of us focused on that so no one was idle until there were less than 3 dominos left.

Sounds silly, I know, but the Agile principles were were much apparent to me during this clean-up session:

  • all team members understood the goal
  • team members self-organized
  • team members adjusted based on work remaining
  • team members started with highest priority items (as in, we all started with the pile in front of us)
  • we had fun while working! (For those who don’t have kids, trying to convince a 3 and 4 year old to clean-up is not really that easy most of the time!)

I often get complaints in training sessions about the simplicity of the exercise and that moving pennies is different than real-world work.  I agree, it is but applying the one-team, shared goal value is more important.  Once folks buy into the team system, the rest of the work falls into line much easier.