You may have noticed my blogs have become few and far between these days. This is because I have been putting my energy into writing longer articles, with the plan that next year I will start work on writing a book. My latest article is now out in the Fall issue of Methods and Tools magazine. I appreciated some advice from Jerry Weinberg that helped me improve the flow - I find writing in a consistent tense and perspective pretty tough.
Nestling inside the article is a rant on the problems with developing software from requirements documents. To summarize - documents are "selective and unidirectional; they may also be ambiguous, vague and conceal gaps". You have completely missed the point of agile development if you think a story card is a mini-requirements spec. It drives me nuts that so many tool vendors think teams need software tools to manage story cards! The reason we use index cards in XP is to support face-to-face conversations, electronic tools intefere with this. Stories are explored through Conversation to define examples that Confirm them which are captured as tests - as Ron Jeffries explained so well in his 3 C's article.
Here's a story to share that may be useful if you ever need to improvise creating a space for a timeline. On Friday, I facilitated a one-day retrospective at a workplace where the company had just moved into new fancy new premises with a new conference centre. I was informed that there was a complete ban on sticking anything on the wall and not using the new conference centre for our meeting was out of the question. This created a problem, where to build our time-line? We decided put two tables in a line and cover them with brown paper with a semi-circle of chairs around. This worked fine for building the time-line. However, when we came to mining the timeline, this was not a great setup, the team could not see the time-line properly. Then I had a brainwave. We gently tipped the tables on their sides so that the table tops were now at 90 degrees to the floor, creating a temporary wall. Now at last everyone had a good view of the time-line!
A few weeks before this I was invited to facilitate an off-site retrospective in a country hotel. The room was heavily decorated with pictures of rural scenes (screwed onto the wall), there was no flat wall-space for our timeline. We decided to use a wooden paneled door with the two month time-line running upwards from bottom to top - this worked fine but only because this was a short time period we looking back over.
I posted the above on the Retrospectives yahoo list and asked if anyone else had solutions for making best use of a constrained space.
Sieglinde Hinger said "I used clothesline tautend between some hooks in the wall and fixed the paper with clothespins on it."
Jutta Eckstein suggests "using electro statically preloaded flipcharts (e.g. Leitz is selling them)."
This is not just a problem in Retrospectives. It can also be one of the challenges a team faces when creating a planning board or information radiator as part of an Informative Workspace. This was an issue when I worked at an investment bank earlier this year. One team got around this by creating a wall with a row of flip-chart stands. Another team used the front of large metal cupboards next to our workspace. We even had one of the trader's come and ask us if he could place an ad on our bulletin board!
You can also use cork boards propped against rather than fixed to the wall (these can be carried to meeting rooms when required and displayed in your workspace). A really lo-tech solution is use the side of a large cardboard box (very light and easy to pin cards to).
It's a pity that so many of us work in buildings where it is more important to facilities management that the space looks clean and uncluttered than using the space to support our team communication.
Thanks to Romilly Cocking, I just read "Six Action Shoes" by Edward De Bono. The book describes six different action modes that we can use (or combine) using the analogy of different types of shoes - that we chose to step out in. The shoes are: Navy Formal Shoes (routine procedural), Brown Brogues (pragmatic reactive), Pink Slippers (attention to human feelings), Orange Gumboots (handling emergencies), Purple Riding boots (use of authority), Grey Sneakers (information gathering). The book is charming and a quick read so I recommend it.
It struck me that these shoes might be used in the action planning part of a retrospective. Often we will select an action wearing one pair of action shoes without considering whether other types of action are also implied.
For example, I may come up with emergency action (orange gumboots) or pragmatic action (brown brogues) to resolve a current problem but I may also need to take steps to prevent the problem recurring - a review of routine protocols might be implied (navy formal shoes), we might need to do some research to understand causal factors (grey sneakers), set up new roles/responsibilities (purple boots), take care of people affected (pink slippers), etc.
There may be a relationship with Cynefin too. Different action shoes might be used when encountering different Cynefin domains (Ordered, Complicated, Complex, Chaos, Disorder). Blue and Purple appropriate for Ordered domains. Brown and Orange for Unordered domains. Sensing and analysis corresponds to Grey Sneakers, etc.
I just learned a new way to read books, described by Tony Buzan in his book "Use Your Head".
I have always approached reading non-fiction books in the same way as I read fiction; start at the front and work thru to the back - maybe skipping a chapter if it gets too dull. Now I find that I could use a similar approach to the way I would work on a jigsaw puzzle! Examine the pieces, sort the into similar piles, find the corners, build the edges and start filling in easy bits first and difficult bits last with careful reference to big picture on the box.
Prepare by creating a mindmap of what you already know about the subject. Get clear about your goals and questions to be answered by reading the book. Now follow these reading steps: Overview, Preview, Inview, Review.
Overview is browsing the book, getting an idea of structure (all material not in main body of print, figures, glossary, etc).
Preview is reading the introductions and summaries for each chapter to build an understanding of the book's main points.
Inview is reading the content to infill your understanding (skipping difficult sections).
Review is the process of checking through the remainder.
As you follow this process you build a mind map of the topic covered, which you use to consolidate information. Using this technique you makes notes as you go and hold fewer concepts in memory at any time.