2012-10-29

Self-management and self-organization: Agile games with motion

Vision, collaboration, surprise, and joy:
a self-organized human sculpture
Self-management and self-organization, or command-and-control: it's a deliberate choice for you and your team, not a default that you blindly accept. But what if your team has never experienced self-management and self-organization? Here are five Agile games with body movement that let people experience it first-hand.

Line up
This is a game with a manager and a bunch of workers. Ask for a volunteer to play manager. The manager's job is to solve a simple problem without assistance from the workers: sort them into a line by some criterion.

Iteration 1: The manager is superskilled, practically omniscient; he can solve any problem himself and just command the workers to obey his wishes. The workers await commands and don't dare speak up, else the manager might lose face. The manager's assignment is to arrange the workers into a line based on some criterion that he doesn't have enough information about, like "alphabetically by middle name," without any input from the workers. Give the manager one minute. Start the timer, and let him go.

Iteration 2: Let the workers arrange themselves horizontally across the room from left to right by tenure at their job--how long have they worked for their company?

Iteration 3: Let the workers arrange themselves vertically across the room from front to back by how far the traveled to the event.

Iteration 4: Ask the workers to arrange themselves in two dimensions: first, horizontally from left to right, by expertise in Agile; then, staying in position from left to right, move vertically from front to back to show their experience with Agile games.

Debrief: What did it feel like as the manager in the first iteration? As the workers? In the later iterations, what did it feel like? How easy or hard was it to arrange yourselves?

Source: Line Up is documented in Moving Beyond Icebreakers and elsewhere. I first played it with Lysa Adkins at Scrum Gathering Orlando 2010. The idea of a manager commanding the workers in Iteration 1 is my own.

60 paces
The goal of the game is to walk around the room, taking as many steps as possible in two minutes.

Iteration 1: Form pairs. In each pair, one person volunteers to be the manager. The worker can only do what the manager says. The manager can only issue four commands: Go Straight, Stop, Turn Left, and Turn Right. Using a stopwatch, give the pairs two minutes to take as many steps as they can.

Iteration 2: No one is a manager; everyone is a self-managed worker. Self-managed workers, how many steps can you take in two minutes?

Debrief: How many steps did you take in Iteration 1? In Iteration 2? Were you more or less productive in Iteration 1? What was it like to be the manager? The worker? Was it fun?


Triangles
Iteration 1: Secretly pick two friends. Move around the room so that you and your two friends form the points of an equilateral triangle. Continue until everyone stops moving.

Iteration 2: You are a secret agent. Secretly pick a friend. Secretly pick your friend's enemy. Your job is protect your friend from his enemy. Shield your friend by standing directly between him and his enemy.  Continue until everyone stops moving.

Debrief: What did that feel like? What would that have been like if you could only move when and where your manager tells you to?


Human knot
Everyone stands near each other in the center of the room. Raise your right hand, reach across the group, and hold someone else's right hand. Raise your left hand, reach across the group, and hold a different person's left hand. Now everyone is connected in a knot. Unravel the knot into a circle of people.

Debrief: Was that easy or hard? Were there any spontaneous leaders guiding us to untangle? Was this fun? Did we violate any social taboos, was that OK? Does the number of people in the knot make a difference?


Human sculpture
The participants are the sculptors and the raw material of a human sculpture. Give them an inspiring theme, and ask them to form themselves into some object or scene.

Debrief: What did that feel like? What is your role in the human sculpture? Why did you choose that role? What was the level of teamwork to be able to produce the sculpture?

Source: Stan Edelson's Beginner's Acting Workshop at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, and Alan Cyment at Scrum Gathering Barcelona 2012.

Sources and inspiration
Thanks to everyone who inspired these games. Thanks especially to my friends at Nokia in Bangalore for inspiring this collection of games, my friends at Nokia in Burlington for playing with me, the Agile Games conference for introducing me to the power of games at work and for letting me share this collection with everyone, and the NEQC conference for letting me introduce these games to a group of great people.

2012-10-09

Radical Innovation: The Six Week Open Space Experiment

Thanks to everyone who attended my session, "Radical Innovation: The Six Week Open Space Experiment," at Scrum Gathering Barcelona 2012 this week.  My slides are here.

My hope: each of you will hold Open Space when you return home.  Will you email or tweet me your experience?

Radical Innovation: The Six Week Open Space Experiment

2012-05-29

The Official Agile Reading List

If you could only read one book on Agile, which would it be? What about two books? Three or more?

Here is the Official Agile Reading List, the full list of recommended reading to get you Agile:
Upcoming additions to the Official Agile Reading List include:
What would you add to the Official Agile Reading List?

2012-03-27

The best of the best: family-size team in a family-size space

I build great software with great people. We need a great space in which to do it.

For the last year, we’ve been experimenting with an open plan collaboration space. Instead of working as individuals in cubicles, we work together in a space with no walls between us. For the first six months, we loved it. Knowledge and learning were in the air, and they spread spontaneously amongst team members. Everyone knew what was going on without asking. Junior team members barely had to ask for help, and their skills increased dramatically. We coalesced as a very good team and wrote some very good software.

Then we enlarged the space and added more people. We started complaining that it was crowded. It looked messy and unattractive. Knowledge and learning were still in the air, but the space was noisy and distracting.

We learned that open plan collaboration space is great for team collaboration, as long as the team and the space are family size—no more than seven people, in a space that’s about as big as a family room in your house. Enlarge the team or the space beyond family size, and it feels crowded, messy, and chaotic.

I awoke a few days ago with the inspiration for better space. We played Perfection Game together, and we arrived at this:
I work in my living room.
I'm working on great things in a great place: my living room. I'm sitting in a comfy chair with my computer on my lap. There's a table in case I need to draw something by hand. I have bountiful espresso, fruit, and snacks nearby. 
It’s so much fun, so cozy and welcoming, that my friends want to be there every day with me. 
Sometimes I need quiet time, so we have nearby rooms where we sit alone once in a while.
Logistically, for a small tribe of about 20 people, we’ll need to split up into three family-size units, with one collaboration space each. Each collaboration space will be the size of a living room. All the spaces will be adjacent to each other, so we can still work together as a super-team. Each room might have a different theme: the living room, the art room, the game room, etc.

We’ll build out our new space this month, and continue our experiment for the best possible workspace.

2012-03-20

Perfection Ping Pong

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ping-Pong_2.jpg
Perfection Ping Pong is derived from the Perfection Game, one of the McCarthy Technologies Core Protocols, and inspired by TDD Ping Pong.  This game will support you in your desire to aggregate the best ideas with people who are available only via communication channels such as email and IM.

Player A and Player B are partners in this game.  Player A "serves" an idea for perfection to Player B.  Player B "returns the serve" by perfecting the idea.  Players "paddle" the idea back and forth until it is perfect.

Steps
  1. Player A writes the description of an act or an object. He sends it as email or IM to Player B.
  2. Player B composes a written response.  He rates the value of the performance or object on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how much value the Perfector believes he or she can add.
  3. Player B writes, “What I liked about the performance or object was X,” and proceeds to list the qualities of the object he thought were of high quality or should be amplified.
  4. Player B offers the improvements to the performance or object required for it to be rated a 10 by saying “To make it a ten, you would have to do X.”
  5. Player B sends his response to Player A.
  6. Player A responds similarly, beginning at step 2
  7. Players continue until the idea is perfect.
Commitments
  • Accept perfecting without argument.
  • Give only positive comments: what you like and what it would take to “give it a 10.”
  • Abstain from mentioning what you don’t like or being negative in other ways.
  • Withhold points only if you can think of improvements.
  • Use ratings that reflect a scale of improvement rather than a scale of how much you liked the object.
  • If you cannot say something you liked about the object or specifically say how to make the object better, you must give it a 10.
Notes
  • A rating of 10 means you are unable to add value, and a rating of 5 means you will specifically describe how to make the object at least twice as good.
  • The important information to transmit in the Perfection Game protocol improves the performance or object. For example, “The ideal sound of a finger snap for me is one that is crisp, has sufficient volume, and startles me somewhat. To get a 10, you would have to increase your crispness.”
  • As a perfectee, you may only ask questions to clarify or gather more information for improvement. If you disagree with the ideas given to you, simply don’t include them.

2012-03-13

Agile Games 2012: Open Space and Games with Motion

The Agile Games conference is great. I have the privilege of participating in this year’s conference as a facilitator. On Friday, April 20, I will lead a game session called “Self Management: 5 Games with Motion.” We’ll play kinesthetic games that explore command-and-control versus self management. These are some of the most outrageously fun games you’ll ever play—I dare you to bring them back to your office and play them at work with your team!

On Saturday, April 21, I will facilitate a full day of Open Space. I attended my first Open Space a few years ago, facilitated by Harrison Owen, the inventor of Open Space. Harrison’s amazing facilitation and the power of Open Space blew my mind; it marks a milestone in my life. I facilitated the world’s longest Open Space with my team last year, and I’ll use that experience lead a great Open Space at this year’s conference. I hope to inspire great conversations about Agile, Agile games, and building great software with great people.

Register for this year’s Agile Games conference. You’ll love it!

2012-01-31

Don’t suck at meetings

You opt in and show up at a meeting. You type an email to your boss. Or maybe you IM someone in another building. Sometimes you tweet something or send a text message.

Would you do that if you were having dinner with a close friend? Would you act like your friend isn’t worthy of your full attention, like your friend isn’t holding your interest so you need to do something else in his presence?

Why are you doing it to your coworkers at the meeting? Do you hate them, resent them, want them to fail?

Let’s assume this is a meeting that doesn’t suck, or at least doesn’t suck too much. You were invited, not commanded to attend. The desired outcome is clear, and it’s obvious that this meeting will help you meet the goal.

So don’t waste the meeting. Work together toward the goal, and get it done.

Start by deciding whether you will contribute to the outcome, learn from the conversation, or both. If so, opt in.

Next, respect your coworkers’ time. Be punctual—don’t waste their time by showing up late. Be prepared: do your homework before you get there so you can contribute.

Be present at the meeting. Don’t do anything that’s not related to the meeting and its goal. No email, web surfing, IM, texting, or anything else. Be completely present in the moment, or be completely absent and leave the room.

If at any time, you find that you aren’t learning or contributing, check out and leave the room. It’s OK. No one will hold it against you; better yet, they’ll respect your decision not to waste their time.

It’s all about being All In, or totally out. Hell Yeah, or not at all. Totally Present, or totally absent. Opt In completely, or opt out.

Meetings don’t have to suck. It’s your choice.

Related reading:

2012-01-03

Open Space Technology: Pushing the Limits

Source: http://www.deborahschultz.com/deblog/2006/07/the_law_of_two_.html
Six weeks of Open Space—it’s a new world record! I facilitated a six-week-long Open Space with my software development team. As far as we know, this is a unique experience: we are the only people in the world to have held an Open Space for such a long time. We pushed the limits of Open Space Technology, discovering for ourselves some of the things it is great at, as well as some of its limitations. Here are the highlights of what we learned.

A real problem
Our problem is the BigCo reorg. BigCo is shutting down an important BigProduct software dev team located in another country. Our team is less experienced and assists the other team. In two months, though, the other team won’t exist, and our team will be the BigProduct dev team. How do we become the BigProduct dev team, with full responsibility for the product’s success, in six weeks?

BigProduct has a large codebase. The software is much too complex for anyone to be able to design a curriculum and hold training courses in such a short amount of time. There is no way we could define the right set of generalized classes and specialist tracks, no way we could appoint the right people for the right speciailties, via central planning. Open Space Technology seemed like the best way to conduct our knowledge transfer and to become the BigProduct dev team. Our Open Space thrived for six weeks because we had a real, urgent problem to solve, and Open Space was the best way to address it.

Shared responsibility
The most important aspect of Open Space is shared responsibility. Everyone is equally responsible for the successful outcome. As a participant, there is no scapegoat to blame if you don’t achieve your Open Space goal. It’s not the curriculum designer’s fault if you didn’t learn the skills you need—you are the course designer. It’s not the visiting knowledge leaders’ fault if they didn’t teach the right skills the right way—you are responsible for creating the sessions and guiding the knowledge leaders. If you aren’t getting what you need from today’s sessions, it’s no one else’s fault. Use the Law of Two Feet, and make sure you are always contributing or always learning. If you’d be better off sitting by yourself studying code, do it!

Authority
The Law of Two Feet grants you formal authority to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. Everyone is explicitly authorized to make the Open Space successful. You set up the sessions you need, you make sure you get what you need from the sessions. If you don’t like it, you change it. You don’t have to ask. You don’t have to wait for permission. You are authorized.

Many short Open Spaces
We actually held a series of Open Spaces. We started with a one-day Open Space prelude, followed by six one-week long Open Spaces. The one-day prelude was a great warm-up, showing the team how Open Space works. The weekly Open Spaces were like weekly sprints, giving us regular opportunities to inspect and adapt every week. At the beginning of each week, we established the curriculum for the rest of the week, based on which knowledge leaders were visiting, which topics we had already covered, what we needed to review, and what we need to learn fresh. The closing ceremony at the end of each week was a great way to review our progress and prepare for the following week.

Send an invitation
Every Friday afternoon, we told each other that the next opening ceremony would be on Monday morning. Every Monday morning, most of us forgot. People were doing the right things, studying and learning; they honestly forgot the weekly rhythm and Monday morning schedule. I learned to send a formal invitation to the opening and closing ceremonies every time.

Repeat yourself
As the facilitator, I thought it would be insulting to repeat the opening message and instructions every time—we had already done it, everyone heard it already, why should I waste their time with it? But when I skipped the ceremony, it was chaos! We lost focus on the problem, forgot to announce our sessions, and didn’t know which sessions had been planned.

The lesson is to always start at the beginning. Use the opening ceremony to inspire the team and transform the mood from “we’re hanging out, shooting the breeze,” to “we are starting something important right now—let’s pay attention to each other and make it work.” Establish the space, set the mood, reinforce the goal, and establish formal authority and mutual responsibility, every time. Explain the marketplace rules so the session ideas flow and people know what sessions to expect for the rest of the week.

Self doubt about achieving our goal
Did we learn everything we needed? Did we all become experts? Does everyone have broad knowledge of the system? Did the right people become specialists in the right topics? Are we ready to be the BigProduct dev team? Maybe we should have conducted a single weeklong Open Space, with the goal, “Establish the training program for the next five weeks, organize the trainers, and assign the students to the right training tracks”, followed by five weeks of programmed training.

Change it up
Inspecting and adapting, we noticed that we were doing too much learning by lecture, and not enough learning by doing. We ended most weeks with the advice that we should hold sessions that are in the style of a code camp, but we started most weeks by setting up lecture sessions. During Week 5, we forced a week of code camps. Every session had to be a code camp, or you had to postpone your session until the next week. This worked, helping people practice their skills rather than listen to people talk about the skills.

Don’t do it alone
Conducting Open Space is too much work for the facilitator to do by himself. Get volunteers to help you set up the space, arrange the chairs, make the posters and tape them to the walls, order food, and do everything else you need help with. You not only spread the load, you share the responsibility. Every volunteer has a stake in the success of the Open Space, and they try harder to make it succeed.

Daily news, not daily stand-up
At the end of each day, everyone already knows what happened today: we organized and attended sessions. But what’s new? What changed since this morning? What is different about tomorrow’s schedule that we didn’t already know? Whose travel plans have changed? Where is the Fun Event session being held? Focus the new and important.

Easy to read session grid
We started with an informal sessions list, with one column on the wall for each day’s sessions. It wasn’t a true grid, with a row for each time slot. We skipped that detail, thinking it was unnecessary, but we were wrong. It wasn’t obvious which sessions were at what time during the day, and people got confused and frustrated. Gaffer’s tape to the rescue: we divided the columns into two rows, dividing the day into morning and afternoon sessions, and making it easier to show up at the right place at the right time.

Your experience?
What are your experiences with Open Space Technology? Have you conducted a short Open Space, a long one, or something in between? What did you learn about Open Space? What did you learn about your team and yourself?

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