Llevellyn Falco: How to Grow Crushingly Effective Remote Teams
Richard Kasperowski interviews Llewellyn Falco. Llewellyn is a technical coach specialized in rapid mob programming and in building remote teams. Llewellyn and I chat about the ways of growing, rather than engineering, successful teams. Llewellyn shares with us his insights about the importance of team chemistry, the ever-evolving team dynamics, and the paramount value of happiness at work. Connect with Llewellyn on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LlewellynFalco and check out his blog at http://llewellynfalco.blogspot.com/
Richard: 00:11 Hi, friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high-performance teams. I’m Richard Kasperowski. In this episode, I chat with Llewellyn Falco, an agile technical coach specializing in legacy code and test-driven development. Llewellyn is the creator of the open source testing tool ApprovalTests. He’s also the co-founder of Teaching Kids Programming, and he’s an author at Pluralsight. Llewellyn and I got together at the Agile 2019 conference in Washington DC. We talked about mob programming, how to build a successful remote team, and how to grow rather than engineer crushingly effective teams. I hope you enjoy it.
Richard: 00:53 To support this podcast, visit my website Kasperowski.com. Thanks for listening.
Richard: 01:00 So, we’re here at Agile 2019, the big Agile conference. I’m sitting-
Llewellyn: 01:05 Out in Washington DC.
Richard: 01:06 Washington DC. We’re sitting in the amazing, plush hospitality suite, and I’m here with Llewellyn Falco. Hi, Llewellyn.
Llewellyn: 01:13 Hello, everyone.
Richard: 01:14 Awesome having you here. Thanks for stopping by. Llewellyn, will you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Llewellyn: 01:19 So, I am a technical coach, and that means that I go to companies and I sit with their teams and I program with them and help them to program better, and that usually looks like I sit with three teams a day for about two hours with each team and we program in what’s called mod programming, where it’s the entire team at one computer rotating about every two minutes. And, that’s what I do.
Richard: 01:42 Two minutes? That’s really fast.
Llewellyn: 01:44 Two minutes. Yeah, it’s really fast. It means that you need to be in communication with the rest of your team because you don’t have enough time to complete a thought.
Richard: 01:49 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 01:50 And so, if you haven’t communicated that, when the rotation occurs it will not continue.
Richard: 01:54 All right, all right, all right. So, the team has to have a complete thought together? That’s good.
Llewellyn: 02:00 There are so many team building exercises, but it turns out a really good team building exercise is work as a team.
Richard: 02:06 Yeah, do the work together.
Llewellyn: 02:07 Yeah.
Richard: 02:08 And learn how to do it together. This is part of what I love about you and why I wanted to have you on the podcast, you’re both an incredible technical coach and you really get the people into teaming stuff.
Llewellyn: 02:21 So, I have to say, I have been really blessed in life to have so many people to model. Getting people is not something that comes naturally to me, and most of this is me faking modeling just excellent people. I mean, [inaudible 00:02:37] is a good one. Diana Larson is an amazing … Very often I have just been blessed to be like, “Oh, this is what it looks like to interact really well with people.” And then, I can try doing the same thing they do.
Richard: 02:49 The same with me, I’ve learned a ton from the same people, and from you.
Llewellyn: 02:52 Oh, thank you.
Richard: 02:54 Thank you for everything I’ve learned from you.
Richard: 02:56 So, this is the podcast about great teams. We usually ask people about the best team of their entire life. You’ve been to, I think, one of my classes, maybe one of my talks-
Llewellyn: 03:06 Yeah, absolutely.
Richard: 03:06 So, you’ve done this mental activity, maybe, where I ask people to think about the best team of their entire life, it could be a work team, it could be a not work team, sometimes people do it as this guided meditation thing, and they really take themselves back to that team. For you, what’s that best team?
Llewellyn: 03:22 So, this is always a tricky question because I feel like … Like, it’s like on security questions where, like, “Who’s your favorite band?” I feel like every time I see that I’m like, “Where was I when they asked that question?”
Richard: 03:34 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 03:34 It’s more like “favorite at the moment”. And, my favorite at the moment is a recent team, and I’m not sure why this is my favorite, but I think the reason is because … It’s not so much that they were, like, the most productive team that we were ever on or the most … Like, they were very productive, and they were very group-orientated, like, they were an emotionally intelligent team, but also in the context that they were working they felt so … Like, the context was so hard. So many of the other teams that were struggling so hard, and this team was just soaring ahead, and it just felt special because they were able to do this thing. So, we mob and this team mobbed.
Richard: 04:20 Yeah, and this is a team that you’re part of, right?
Llewellyn: 04:21 This is a team that, so, I am temporarily a part of.
Richard: 04:24 Okay.
Llewellyn: 04:24 So, they are working five to six hours a day in a mob, and then I am part of the team for two hours each day.
Richard: 04:31 All right, so, this is interesting, this is a little different from most people’s take on the question, and I love this. Because the membership of the team is a little bit dynamic. You’re with them for part of the day, but not the whole day-
Llewellyn: 04:43 But not the whole day because I’m coaching other teams as well.
Richard: 04:46 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 04:46 They formed while I was there, which I guess also gives me, personally feel more ownership of.
Richard: 04:52 Right.
Llewellyn: 04:53 And formed, you know, sort of with my coaching. So, like, I was part of the formation of the team, and then we continued together for about a year, year and a half.
Richard: 05:04 Okay. And, you’re with them pretty regularly for that?
Llewellyn: 05:06 With them fairly regularly over that time.
Richard: 05:09 Okay.
Llewellyn: 05:10 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 05:10 And so, like, I want to distill this into a single word, but they were doing test-driven development on ETL transformations in sequel. So, there was testing and development in sequel. Yeah, I wish you could see … This is a podcast, so you don’t get to see Richard’s face right now, but-
Richard: 05:25 My eyebrow’s going up and down and my eye is [inaudible 00:05:27].
Llewellyn: 05:27 But, TDD is hard enough to get a team to, and TDD in sequel is usually considered just not a thing. Like, you know, plausibility, right? And that’s, like, just so powerful and so … Whatever came up, they were able to just go through it, and it was that just … Unstoppable was almost the word I would use.
Richard: 05:47 Uh-huh. Unstoppable?
Llewellyn: 05:48 Yeah.
Richard: 05:48 That’s good.
Llewellyn: 05:49 It felt great, and everyone was proud. I’ll mention one of the team members there was also extremely emotionally intelligent, to the point that very often I’d be like, “Oh, crap, it’s my job to do that.” Like, he was just really stepping up. They did retros every day, they made working agreements, they refined working agreements as it came. There was a time … So, one of the odd things about teams that I don’t think is talked about that much, is a very natural reaction by a lot of managers, is that when you have a great team the first thing you should do is split it up.
Richard: 06:30 Oh, my god, yeah, right?
Llewellyn: 06:30 Like, “Who, let me spread this around.” Splitting up a team and spreading it around is as logical as splitting up you and being like, “Well, let’s put your arm on this team and … ”
Richard: 06:39 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 06:39 “Wait a second, why isn’t Richard working the same way he used to work?”
Richard: 06:42 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 06:43 Like, any changes in the team, they’re gonna change the team. And, a great team, as far as I can tell, is effectively magic. I kind of feel like it’s like love, it’s really easy to identify, like, it’s clear as day that you’re in it, but to reproduce it is almost impossible. Like, so, my general rule is when you are with a great team you just do whatever you can to keep that team going for as long as it can.
Richard: 07:10 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Llewellyn: 07:10 Even with our best intentions, great teams will, the dynamic will change and that greatness, it seems to be temporary. Maybe you can get one year out of it, maybe you can get five years out of it, maybe you can get 10 years out of it, but it is a temporary thing, and so ride that for as long as you can.
Richard: 07:26 Yeah. I think of publicly known teams, I’m thinking, like, music groups, like bands, right?
Llewellyn: 07:31 Well, The Beatles being a great example, right?
Richard: 07:32 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 07:33 I love The Beatles, super productive, 10 years.
Richard: 07:36 Yeah. I mean, and I’ve never been on a team for 10 years, that’s a long time.
Llewellyn: 07:39 For me that’s an eternity, yeah. But, I mean, get as much as you can because it’s … I mean, okay, so, I was a huge fan of the TV show Arrested Development the original three years, and I lived actually in Orange County, which there’s a lot of jokes in there that hit very hard. If you’ve been part of that experience you’re like, “Oh, dang, I might know that person.” And, they stopped it and then they did it again on Netflix and it just, it sucks. That’s all there is to it. But, the first three seasons are amazing, but it’s the same people, like, you’re like, “What’s is, why can’t you … ”
Richard: 08:15 Interesting.
Llewellyn: 08:15 You can’t … You think you could just reassemble the team and everything is easy, but no, people change and things have changed and situations have changed. And, when you have that magic you just appreciate it, please appreciate it, and try to hold it as long as I … And, another thing is, sometimes people will be like … Have you seen South Park?
Richard: 08:36 Yeah, of course.
Llewellyn: 08:37 Have you seen the documentary, like, Six Days to Air?
Richard: 08:39 Oh, I don’t think so.
Llewellyn: 08:40 So, South Park is a very different cartoon than other cartoons. And, most cartoons take, like, three to four months to produce an episode. South Park takes six days. Like, when they air on Wednesday they start … And, if you look at it from an Agile perspective, it is right there on … It’s, like, continuous delivery, using their-
Richard: 09:00 They’re taking one day off, maybe, and six days to production.
Llewellyn: 09:03 Yeah, and starting writing the script the next day, and then production-
Richard: 09:08 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 09:09 And scenes like censorship, which is very, very hard, they have models where they have, like, they have different communications with their censor and they’re giving their censor pieces as they go, like … Can we swear on your podcast?
Richard: 09:22 Let’s give it a try.
Llewellyn: 09:24 Can I say ass? We’re gonna say ass 35 times, is that okay? What about 36?
Llewellyn: 09:28 So, the censor is giving them really tight feedback, which is why South Park is very often really pushing the limits of what is allowed, right? And, they’re usually very relevant. Well, one of the things about it is, there’s two people that sort of are the head out South Park, Trey and Matt, and I’m gonna mess up who the person is, but one of them does a lot and one of them does almost nothing. And, there was one by the guy who does a lot, and he was like, “Okay, yeah, so, I do most of the writing, and I do a lot of the voices.” And, he’s like … And, you can be tempted, but it’s like band, and it’s like Van Halen and, like, “Okay, Van Halen was the lead singer and he does the writing.” But, you know, Sammy Hagar leaves that band and no one wants to listen to that band.
Richard: 10:13 Right.
Llewellyn: 10:14 Right? Like, it doesn’t matter if you … Like, the team value is completely different than the individual, and you have this idea that you can separate the individuals and somehow amplify the team, and … I mean, music being, again, a great example. Like, you know, Queen being a … Queen is freaking awesome, but when he went out on his own it totally sucked.
Richard: 10:32 Or Queen with a different singer.
Llewellyn: 10:34 It just doesn’t work.
Richard: 10:35 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 10:36 Like, I wish it did.
Richard: 10:37 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 10:38 If you see a magical team, respect that and go with it. And, you might say, “Well, this person is holding the team back.” They most likely are not. If your team is functioning well-
Richard: 10:49 Then it’s all of the people.
Llewellyn: 10:50 You might not see how those connections work-
Richard: 10:52 Yup.
Llewellyn: 10:53 But they are there. And there are times where they wanted to break the team apart, and the team was able to have conversations like, “If they get rid of this person are you willing to say, like, we are also leaving?”
Richard: 11:04 Yeah, right?
Llewellyn: 11:05 And, like, even having that conversation, like, “Are you willing to put your livelihood up with mine?”
Richard: 11:12 Interesting.
Llewellyn: 11:13 Is a very hard conversation to have. And, they had that kind of connection and trust.
Richard: 11:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Llewellyn: 11:22 And, the interesting thing about this team, half of them were remote.
Richard: 11:23 You’re kidding.
Llewellyn: 11:23 Yeah, which is a very surprising thing.
Richard: 11:25 All right, I wanna know more about this. So, talk about some subjective sensations, any other subjective sensations when you’re with this team? When you were with this team, what was it like? Or, objective things that an outsider could observe or measure? Like, so that we know, like, something within you that you noticed, something from the outside that you could notice, how do we know that this is the best team? What else?
Llewellyn: 11:47 So, they did things that didn’t seem possible. So, one thing is, they needed a room.
Richard: 11:57 Yup.
Llewellyn: 11:57 And, getting conference rooms are, it’s very tricky.
Richard: 12:02 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 12:02 Corporations, they really like meetings. I don’t understand that, I personally am not a fan of meetings, but corporations seem to love them, and so scheduling a meeting room is hard, much less a consistent meeting room, much less a consistent meeting all there. They found a little room in the back that nobody really knew about, it was sort of like you had to go out one door and out this other room and the door, and then into the back of that, and they were like, “Nobody’s using this.” And, it was a large office that was sort of just not being used, and they just sort of moved into it. And, they stayed there for, like, eight months. And, they had this ability to just go around the barriers, right?
Richard: 12:43 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Llewellyn: 12:43 They got their BAs to sit in, and very often the BAs would just sit, they wouldn’t join the mob, they never took the keyboard, but they would just work on their laptops and then from time to time we’d just ask, like, “A fiscal year has more than 365 days? What’s up with that?” And they’d be like, “Oh, yeah, here’s how fiscal years work.” Right? Like, and so, it was really just-in-time insights that prevented us from doing the wrong thing. And, the BAs liked it for two reasons. One, every time we asked them a question it was, like, two or three meetings that we prevented for that, right?
Richard: 13:18 Right. As much as they love meetings.
Llewellyn: 13:20 Yeah. They were like, “Yup. Oh, yup. Thanks for [inaudible 00:13:22].” And then, the other thing is, the excuse of being able to sit by us gave them the space where they could actually get some work done as well, right? Like, so, we sort of provided this excuse of, “Let me give you some quiet and shielding so you can actually get some of the things done instead of having people bombard you all day.”
Richard: 13:43 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 13:43 I love that feeling of growth that was in the team. So, we did not start out doing TDD in sequel.
Richard: 13:52 Really?
Llewellyn: 13:52 No. Oh, no, no. Well, we were doing sequel and we started exploring tests, the tests started to get better and easier, and we had our tester, one of the people on the team was a tester, and so he brought testing mindset to us a lot. And, he would very often ask, “Well, what about this?” And, after we had the tests, his “what about this” started becoming a test before we had code.
Richard: 14:14 Ah, nice.
Llewellyn: 14:15 And, so, it was that movement … And then, of course, we did the retros at the end of the day. They actually did them in Mind Map form and then saved them, so we actually had a history, 218 Mind Maps-
Richard: 14:27 And they’re electronic Mind Maps? Because some of the people are remote?
Llewellyn: 14:29 Yeah, so, we used something called MindMup, which is Mind Map with a U instead of an A, dot com, and it’s just a really nice online Mind Map of Gojko actually, the guy who wrote the specification by example book.
Richard: 14:41 Right.
Llewellyn: 14:41 And, it was super nice, it was a very elegant tool, free, all kinds of goodness, and it was very easy to put on the screen and share because again we have two people remote.
Richard: 14:49 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 14:51 We haven’t really talked about that, we should talk about that.
Richard: 14:52 Yeah, I want to hear about that.
Llewellyn: 14:53 So, this was a team of four, and there was a couple of things that actually made it-
Richard: 14:57 Plus you?
Llewellyn: 14:57 Plus me, yeah. Five when I’m there and four when I’m not. And, two of them were about an hour away, right? Which is drivable but annoying.
Richard: 15:08 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 15:09 And they were contractors too. And so, that actually made things easier in the beginning, because we were sort of like, “Well, we’re gonna work in this way.” And they were like, “Okay, well, you’re the boss.” You know, like, it was just sort of easier to be willing to try some things out.
Richard: 15:23 Yup.
Llewellyn: 15:24 They drove down for two days, so-
Richard: 15:26 Two days a week?
Llewellyn: 15:27 No, two days period. They drove down on a Monday, and they drove down on a Tuesday, and then from that day on they remoted in the whole time.
Richard: 15:38 All right.
Llewellyn: 15:39 So, it was really good having them there for the two days.
Richard: 15:41 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 15:41 It allowed us to sync up and get everything in line, and then we also upheld the rule that … So, in mobbing you very often have a designated navigator and a designated driver, and we made the rule that those always went across the wire.
Richard: 15:57 Oh.
Llewellyn: 15:57 So, it was never the two people or three people in the same room talking to each other, it was always we were talking to somebody across.
Richard: 16:08 Interesting.
Llewellyn: 16:09 Yeah.
Richard: 16:09 That is really insightful, unusual, important, yeah.
Llewellyn: 16:15 Well, because, the thing is, it’s hard to do it, and so if you don’t do it usually a lot gets lost.
Richard: 16:23 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 16:24 All right, so, we’re basically saying lowest common denominator or greatest constraint, like, we’re not gonna ignore it, we are gonna cater to it.
Richard: 16:32 Oftentimes you get two people sitting together and they’re ignoring the remote people, and the two remote people talking and they’re ignoring the people in the room.
Llewellyn: 16:39 Yeah, exactly.
Richard: 16:41 So, that’s brilliant.
Llewellyn: 16:42 This worked out really well to keep that all in.
Richard: 16:44 Who thought … Was that from a retrospective? How did that happen?
Llewellyn: 16:47 That was from me. I learned that the way I learned most of my things, which is I messed it up many, many other times until I finally realized that, “Oh, no, this doesn’t work at all.” I had an easy mess up on that, because I had a team that was, like, four people here and four people in India, and so we did four entire things here and then four entirely in India. And, when we got to India they were like, “What the hell’s going on?” And, by the time it got back to us we were like, “Oh, crap. We zoned out.”
Richard: 17:15 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 17:15 And so, a lot of the reason I do things well is because I’ve done them wrong a lot beforehand, and I’m a slow learner but I get there eventually. So, we had that going in, yeah.
Richard: 17:26 All right, cool, cool. Any other objective stuff that an outsider would’ve noticed or that somebody could measure?
Llewellyn: 17:33 Objectively … Well, so, two things objectively. They were more productive and lower bugs than any of the other teams on there.
Richard: 17:43 Oh, all right. So, you had a way to measure their productivity?
Llewellyn: 17:46 We did, but also it wasn’t even close.
Richard: 17:49 Really?
Llewellyn: 17:50 And, it wasn’t like, “One is 50 and we’re 52.” Right? It was like, “Every other team is late and we finished early.” And, “Every other team is having bug problems and we are not.”
Richard: 18:02 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 18:02 And, so, I mean, it was just, it was much different. We also had things like … I would call them innovation.
Richard: 18:10 Uh-huh.
Llewellyn: 18:11 This is not the same team, but a different team-
Richard: 18:13 Okay.
Llewellyn: 18:13 That was also modeling down in Florida. They innovated so quickly that what I really wanted to do is … I never did this because … But, this team in particular … Some, you know, teams have different cultures. And, the thing I wanted to do was kind of kindergarten-y and this culture would not appreciate it, right? But, what I wanted to do was make a tree on their wall and then every time they added a new technology put it on the tree, and every time they discarded one have that leaf fall to the ground.
Richard: 18:43 That’s cute.
Llewellyn: 18:44 Yeah. But, also, the ground would just be covered because-
Richard: 18:47 Right.
Llewellyn: 18:48 I mean, they would be like, “Well, we brought in [inaudible 00:18:51] but then we found out it has these problems, so now we switched to Cassandra, but then we found out we had that, and now we’re just doing Fire Hose on Amazon and that seems to be working for us. But then, we realized that Struts is … ” And, they would burn through technology so quickly, and not in a haphazard way. In a “bring stuff in very easily, come against some of its limitations, and then realize there was a better way to do it”. And, it was just impressive to see how quickly they would move.
Richard: 19:22 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 19:23 This team did not, the one I’m talking about here, didn’t move that quickly, but compared to everyone else, again, we were just, it moved much quicker. Our [inaudible 00:19:31] was, you know, when other places were not paying attention to their [inaudible 00:19:34] at all, we were one of the first teams to move into Get, we did the testing, we did the sequel testing, we adopted new ETL technology, like, it just felt like the innovation is on fire.
Richard: 19:48 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 19:49 And objectively, it was better. Objectively, we were more innovative than the other teams.
Richard: 19:55 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 19:56 So, the statement I’m about to say, as a logical human being is hurting my brain, but objectively they were happier.
Richard: 20:04 Objectively? They were …
Llewellyn: 20:06 Subjectively happier.
Richard: 20:08 Okay.
Llewellyn: 20:09 But, I mean, like …
Richard: 20:10 So, how do you observe “happier”?
Llewellyn: 20:13 Again, like, you just, being in the room you would be smiling too. Like, they were happier.
Richard: 20:19 Yeah, yeah, like, you could hold an audiometer in the room and, like, objectively measure the loudness. It’s almost like, I mean, we have all these senses in our bodies, our body is a gauge that we can use to sense what’s going on, so you could sense more happiness.
Llewellyn: 20:34 And, one of the interesting things, we don’t normally talk about the team falling apart, but do you mind if we go there?
Richard: 20:39 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 20:40 All right. So, this team fell apart. It fell apart in a very predictable, in fact I would say predictable enough that I outright told the people that this is how it’s gonna fall apart and it happened anyways. So, they wanted to cut costs, and so they decided they would get rid of the two consultants.
Richard: 20:58 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Llewellyn: 20:58 And I said, “That is a great way of cutting costs because you will lose the entire team.” And, effectively that is what happened. So, they cut the two consultants, the happiness dropped, it was less than two weeks before they lost the other two people, at which point they said, “Oh, crap. What are we gonna do?” So, they went back to the consultants, one of them had already had a job, and they got the one, and of the three people, I think the one they were most willing to get rid of is now the only one they have.
Richard: 21:29 Oh, my god.
Llewellyn: 21:31 And, this is so predictable, but I think it’s so easy for corporations to think that a job is such a gift that they can do whatever they want and you’ll do whatever you need to keep your job.
Richard: 21:45 Yeah. That might have been true 50 years ago, 100 years ago-
Llewellyn: 21:49 That might’ve been true back then, it’s definitely not true in technology nowadays, and it’s definitely not true of people who feel empowered, regardless of where they are.
Richard: 21:59 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 21:59 And so, it was just very unfortunate. But, again, this idea of “just try to hold on to the magical team as long as possible” seems to be very controversial for reasons I don’t understand.
Richard: 22:11 So, this brings us back … You actually started with advice.
Llewellyn: 22:12 Yeah.
Richard: 22:12 This was the advice. Hold onto that team for as long as possible.
Llewellyn: 22:15 Long as you can.
Richard: 22:16 So, that itself is great advice.
Llewellyn: 22:19 Yeah.
Richard: 22:20 Do you have any other advice about how to reproduce some of the goodness that this team had? How could other people get that?
Llewellyn: 22:26 Yes, but I would like to say that this is much more gardening than engineering.
Richard: 22:32 Uh-huh.
Llewellyn: 22:33 Right? Like, you can set up conditions and hopefully things will grow, and there are things you can do to encourage growth, but you can’t make the tomato grow, it has to do it on its own.
Richard: 22:43 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 22:44 And, if there is a way to make a team just do it forcefully, I don’t know it. But, there are some things that are very helpful. Number one, just from a pure mechanical thing, mobbing is an amazing way to amplify a team.
Richard: 23:00 All right, I’m gonna pause. Not all the listeners know what mobbing means.
Llewellyn: 23:03 Oh, that’s an excellent point.
Richard: 23:04 Decompress mobbing to the longer name?
Llewellyn: 23:07 So, I’m gonna give it a short version, and then we’ll pull it up.
Richard: 23:09 All right.
Llewellyn: 23:10 Mob programming is very similar to something called pair programming. If you don’t know what that means, I’ll explain it in a second. So, pair programming, two people at one computer, mob programming, the entire team at one computer.
Richard: 23:20 All right.
Llewellyn: 23:21 And then, just to explain that more, the way that works is, we usually have a large TV or a projector, oftentimes two, not mirrored but double screens, and with the team sitting around. We have one keyboard, we have a person on that keyboard, they’re the driver, they are not thinking. The rule is no thinking at the keyboard. And then, the rest of the team is the navigator, and they are telling them what to do. In the beginning, it’s much more structured where you have a very dedicated navigator. In the remote teams we actually upheld that for significantly longer in two years where we don’t [inaudible 00:23:58]. Because, again, the communication model is so difficult.
Richard: 24:02 Right.
Llewellyn: 24:02 And then, the rest of the team members are both following along and contributing, adding, asking questions, and we’re rotating very, very frequently, as I mentioned before somewhere between two and five minutes. A six minute rotation is pretty long.
Richard: 24:15 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 24:15 And so, it is forcing the entire team to be part of it. And, it shares information and increases learning at a ridiculous-
Richard: 24:25 Right.
Llewellyn: 24:25 And, another thing that happens … So, in a mob you’re gonna get differences of opinions. One of the rules that we have for the mob is, if you have multiple ways of doing it, don’t talk about it, do both of them. If you have five ways, do all five, and then vote after having done it. Voting after the work is done versus before the work is done is a very different thing. I don’t know if you observed Brexit, but … It’s just very different in retrospect than what you perceive it to be.
Richard: 24:54 And, it’s actually faster than-
Llewellyn: 24:57 It’s significantly faster.
Richard: 24:58 All the debate that happens before even try one way.
Llewellyn: 24:59 Yes, yes. You can do 10 minutes of five different ways and throw away the other four, so you waste the 40 minutes, and if you wanted to save that 40 minutes you can do it with just two or three hours of discussion.
Richard: 25:10 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 25:10 Right? Like … Yeah. So, it’s much faster and it prevents a lot of viruses we have, such as, like, “Well, this person’s very charismatic.” Or, “This person is who we see as the leader or authoritative.” Or, “This person is paid the most.”
Richard: 25:26 Or they’re louder, or they can talk without inhaling and so they get a lot more words out than anybody else.
Llewellyn: 25:32 And, so, just removing all of that, you start to get more ideas. And, one of the interesting things is, some of the best ideas … I used to think the best ideas came from the people who were the best at making ideas, because they were the ones who made the best ideas. They make the best ideas, they must have the best ideas. Turns out, absolutely not. A, they don’t have the best ideas, and, B, they have a lot of really horrible ideas. There are a lot of people that have great ideas and just, they don’t know how to grow them at all. It’s like the seed dies on the ground. You think, “Oh, there’s no tomato there.” But, no, it’s just a dead seed. And so, when those ideas move to the group they blossom, where if the idea holder is the only one who can make the idea grow, the people who are not very good at growing ideas are, those ideas just die. They die on the vine.
Richard: 26:22 But there’s a bunch of other gardeners capable of cultivating whatever idea seeds get dropped.
Llewellyn: 26:26 Exactly, and then all of the sudden so much seeds are blooming and taken care of.
Richard: 26:29 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 26:29 And, again, the mobbing sort of makes it team ownership, which encourages team optimization.
Richard: 26:37 Uh-huh.
Llewellyn: 26:37 I mean, you should be optimizing for the team anyways, but individual things get in play a lot and the mobbing really helps that.
Richard: 26:43 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 26:43 And then, the other thing … Woody talks about these working agreements of kindness, consideration, and respect. And, I think those are essential, to the point that when I’ve had mobs, even high performing mobs that didn’t have that, you could just set a clock and, like, “Okay, this team is gonna self-destruct in, like, three, two, one, month, boom.” It’s just, I mean, I don’t think we value happiness nearly as much. In my personal life, sometimes I’m almost wary of happiness, like, “Oh, that’s a trap.” But, happiness at work is really valuable, and it should be happiness in the work.
Richard: 27:25 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 27:26 Like, it’s not like, “Oh, I go to work and then I’m happy when we go out on the company events.” Or, “I’m happy when I’m gone.” It should be, like, “Working with my team makes me happy.”
Richard: 27:37 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 27:38 And, that is a very valuable thing. And, if you don’t have kindness, consideration, and respect it is almost impossible to have happiness in that equation.
Richard: 27:47 Any other advice?
Llewellyn: 27:49 Mob together.
Richard: 27:50 Yup.
Llewellyn: 27:51 Retro frequently. We retro every day.
Richard: 27:55 Mm-hmm (affirmative). How long is that retro?
Llewellyn: 27:56 So, the very first one is usually about half an hour, but the other ones usually are between 10, 15 minutes on the long retro.
Richard: 28:03 Okay.
Llewellyn: 28:04 Not much has happened since the day before, so it’s not that much to go through.
Richard: 28:07 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 28:08 And, you know, sometimes we’ll do [inaudible 00:28:10] retros, a lot of times we do the Mind Map. With the Mind Map, we actually have now started with a template of … So, we’ll just put the day in the middle and then it’ll be like tooling, domain, group patterns, like working patterns, people patterns, random observations, and then emotions.
Richard: 28:27 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 28:27 So, the emotions is a tricky one. Because, most of the time we want to ignore the emotions, and if you just put the emotions up on there, I do not find those are usually helpful.
Richard: 28:36 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Llewellyn: 28:36 For two reasons. A, no one wants to put their negative ones. And, B, they’re just sort of, “Eh … ” Anyhow, if you put the emotion and the event that happened right before that triggered it, then we move from a, “Oh, well, this is a nice emotion.” To, “What is that emotion trying to tell us about the event?”
Richard: 28:55 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 28:56 Right? And so, “I’m bored.” That just feel really negative. But, “I’m bored when we spent that 40 minutes trying to mess with the deploy scripts so we could do it … ” Like, that’s a, “Oh, maybe that boredom is telling us that we need to fix that part of our process.”
Richard: 29:14 Ah.
Llewellyn: 29:14 Or, “I’m really angry that when we came in, all the code that we had nice was now messed up.”
Richard: 29:21 Right.
Llewellyn: 29:22 Right? Like, “Okay, well, that anger is telling you, like, something important to you is being threatened and, like, maybe you are taking … ” like, what is threatening the code quality? And, okay, yeah, maybe you could just yell at the programmers that are doing it, or maybe you could change the process so it can’t be as threatened. Right?
Richard: 29:38 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 29:39 And you could do that in multiple ways, right? Like, you don’t have to destroy the other programmers, like, you could lift them up so they’re not doing it, you could change the system so bad commits get more gated or checked, or you could … Like, there’s lots of different ways to use that energy that anger gives you.
Richard: 29:56 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 29:57 But, this thing of taking the emotion in the event, I’ve found that to be very productive because it’s actually a very rich part of your brain trying to communicate something to you, and if you don’t include the event and then move to the analytical part of the brain, you very often behave sort of like a three year old, which is why we usually try to not bring emotions to work.
Richard: 30:21 All right. So, we’ve got mobbing, we’ve got [inaudible 00:30:24] frequent retros, including emotion and the event that associates with that emotion.
Llewellyn: 30:30 Exactly.
Richard: 30:31 Anything else?
Llewellyn: 30:32 Happiness.
Richard: 30:33 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 30:34 So, I want to use the word friend with carefulness, right?
Richard: 30:37 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 30:37 Because it’s not necessarily like these people hung out together after work, but in terms of, like, work friends there were strong personal connections.
Richard: 30:47 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 30:48 And, by that I mean, people willing to say things like, “I disagree with this, but it’s obviously important to you and I will do it for you.” Right? Like, it’s that kind of, “I have a personal relationship and capital with you.”
Richard: 31:04 Yeah.
Llewellyn: 31:04 So, maybe we’re not going out afterwards and playing games and stuff, but we definitely have a strong respect and at the very least work friendship at play, and I think that’s part of happiness.
Richard: 31:17 I think so too, yeah. This is beautiful stuff, thank you.
Richard: 31:21 How can people contact you?
Llewellyn: 31:24 A couple of different ways. Easiest is Twitter. If you Google me, I have a very internet-unique name Llewellyn, it’s spelled with a lot of L’s as it is very Welsh, and with Falco it is internet-unique. There’s a publishing company called Llewellyn that has nothing to do with me. A great way to do it is just contact me on LinkedIn or contact me on Twitter, Llewellyn Falco, and if you are an individual developer I do a lot of remote pairing, so that is often a good way of contacting, let’s pair on something you’re interested in. I run a couple of open source projects, so if you are unhappy with any of them a pairing session is fantastic. And then, if you want me to come in and work with your teams, I work in two week blocks, but I travel all around the world.
Richard: 32:11 All right. Llewellyn Falco, thank you very much for joining us today. This was really, really fun. Thanks.
Llewellyn: 32:16 Thanks for having me.
Richard: 32:19 Hi, friends. Thanks again for listening. And, remember, to support this podcast visit my website Kasperowski.com.