I have just finished reading "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less " by Barry Schwartz subtitled How the Culture of Abundance robs us of Satisfaction.
There is a common assumption that offering more choices leads to greater levels of customer satisfaction. This book presents some fascinating studies that indicate the opposite. The author argues that the plethora of choices we face everyday may be contributing to increased incidence of clinical depression and offers some coping strategies to become a Satisficer making a good-enough choices rather than a Maximiser trying to make the very best choices.
The book offers some fascinating and counter-intuitive insights into how we make choices. One that amazed me was that how an experience ends affects our entire memory of it. When the duration of an unpleasant experience is extended with a decreased level of unpleasantness at the end it will be preferred over the same shorter unpleasant experience!
Choices take time; there is a trade-off to be made between the time spent evaluating alternatives and the benefit under consideration. Choices have an opportunity cost; thinking about all unchosen options after a decision has been made is likely to detract from our satisfaction with the selected option. Indeed, the greater the number of appealing choices we consider, the greater the opportunity for regret and self-blame. As the number of choices we face increases, becoming a severe drain on our time, this can engender feelings of helplessness against a growing tide, decreasing rather than adding to our autonomy.
One thing that incremental development can help to do is transform your customer into a Satisficer with greater sense of control. The customer retains the flexibilty to add or remove features throughout the project (any regrets are brief) rather than deliberate on deciding the perfect feature set from the start. The weekly cycle keeps the number of choices to be made low and the planning game sets a time box - no need to make a perfect decision if you can revisit it next week.
I have been working as an independent agile coach for a couple of years now. It's an odd role because once a team really starts cranking their new agile process my job is essentially done and it's time for me to make an exit. It's sad to say goodbye to a team that you enjoyed working with and I am starting to miss the experience of actually seeing a project through to delivery. I often offer my clients a free follow-up day to review their progress after a month or two. I find this makes goodbyes easier and helps satisfy my curiosity on how things evolved and what teachings stuck.
I think it's time to re-immerse myself in some coding and to see a project through to delivery again. I am fortunate to be joining Steve Freeman's team next week and looking forward to a real injection of test-first pair-programming with some excellent developers.
Of course, I am not knocking coaching on the head, I'll be back :-)
The collaborative nature of agile software development demands serious attention to group facilitation skills. Surprisingly, of all the agile methods, only DSDM really advocates the use of a trained facilitator. You may have experienced yourself how the frequent team meetings - stand-ups, planning games and heartbeat retrospectives - can drag on without proper attention to focussed participation. For the last few years, I have been on a quest to learn facilitation techniques that can help make such meetings more effective.
The first book I read on facilitation was "Project Retrospectives" by Norm Kerth who describes many techniques that can be adapted for an iterative development cycle. Another general facilitation skills book I found useful is "Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making" by Sam Kaner. It was great to meet Norm in Vienna last year at the Retrospective Facilitator's Gathering - a five day OpenSpace for practitioners with around 25 attendees. This was really the best conference I attended in 2004 and that's saying something as I did go to a lot of other conferences last year! This years gathering in Arizona was even better (with a growing UK contingent). Observing experienced facilitators in action is extremely educational. So much skill is required to ask incisive questions whilst scribing with attention to graphical impact - it's seriously challenging work.
Following up on a tip from Esther Derby, earlier this week I took a training course in Group Facilitation Methods run by ICA. ICA is the Institute for Cultural Affairs, a global network with the mission "to enable individuals, organisations and communities to bring about change in pursuit of a humane and sustainable future for use all." You can find more about what this means on their website.
The course demonstrated techniques from ICA's Technology of Participation followed by hands-on practical exercises and feedback. The course covered the Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop methods. The core of both these techniques is to slow our natural thinking process down - stepping deliberately through four phases - gathering objective data, reflecting on feelings and associations generated, sharing interpretations and inferences before resolving appropriate next step decisions. I heartily recommend this course to anyone in the UK interested in honing their facilitations skills. It was an intense two days; thought-provoking, hard work and fun!
I am at the Retrospective Facilitators Gathering in Phoenix with Professor Pam Rostal and she has received some worrying news that the Software Development Apprenticeship (SDA) program at New Mexico Highlands University may be cancelled.
I am writing this blog to express my personal support for the Software Development Apprenticeship (SDA) program at New Mexico Highlands University. The programís unique approach to remunerated experiential education prepares student apprentices for careers as agile developers who understand the value of people and craft in the development of humane software systems.
Pam tells me that seventeen students have been enrolled in the program since the beginning of this semester, and four more are expected to enroll for the eight-week session. Ten of these either have declared or will declare SDA as their major. Three graduate students are fulfilling requirements for their masterís degree through enrollment in the SDA program. These students depend on the program for both their liberal arts education and their livelihood. The emphasis on philosophy, metaphor and personal expressions of creativity enriches studentsí technical work and informs their understanding of the people they will serve. The salaries earned goes to six parents of young children and is the sole income of most of the other apprentices.
The program provides services to the Tapetes de Lana non-profit organization, the West Las Vegas School District, and the New Mexico Office of the State Engineerís Water Rights Management program. These clients are stakeholders by virtue of their faith in the studentsí developing skill as evidenced by their willingness to undertake contracts for software development and lab computer maintenance.
Sentiments about the value of the program are echoed throughout the agile software development community. Linda Rising, a noted author and keynote lecturer, was so moved by her visit to the program that she wrote an article about Highlands University and SDA, citing them as innovators in the war against poverty and ignorance (see http://www.ddci.com/news_current_issue.shtml#Solutions). Ron Jeffries, co-creator of the Extreme Programming (XP) software development methodology, will express his support by spending over a week teaching students the value of test-first development, collaborative customer interactions, and selecting the simplest appropriate solution to a problem. Ken Schwaber, co-inventor of the Scrum agile project management methodology, has discussed offering SDA services to his clients as a viable alternative.
Watch this space for more information on how to support this program and if you also blog then please help get the above message out to the wider agile community.