Posts Tagged ‘consulting’

Creating Change

Friday, March 30th, 2007

on a recent e-mail thread, a friend asked for advice when introducing agile. here’s a cleaned up version of my response to him.

Solve THEIR problems, don’t push your own agenda

if you go to people and tell them agile is the key, they won’t listen to you. instead, go to people and listen to their problems. propose and implement solutions to their biggest and worst one or two. check back with them and make sure they are happy (or at least happier) rinse and repeat. if something in the “agile” toolset doesn’t scratch an itch they have, then you shouldn’t be using it. be flexible in everything except your values. be compromising. if they see you give in to what they suggest, they will be more willing to give in to what you suggest.

obviously a retrospective is a great vehicle for this. if you can get the team as a group to admit to problems that they NOT YOU are worried about, then the solutions you come to will also be owned by the team.

Start with individuals, not the “team”

as an outsider, which we are as consultants, it’s very, very hard to convert an entire team to our way of thinking. it’s hard to know what they all think, and the more you push, the more it becomes YOU vs THEM. not good. it’s much better if you can identify the change agents in the team, find the connectors, the mavens, and the salespeople (see The Tipping Point ) and talk to them. it’s much easier to convince one person, one on one that you have some good ideas, and that you might be able to solve some of their problems. do this first, and instead of 1 vs 10 it becomes 2 vs 9 or even 3 vs 7, MUCH better odds. if you can do this with the most influential people, then convincing the rest of the team almost takes care of itself.

this of course works the other way around, too. the most influential people on the team can easily turn the entire team against you, so you have to make sure that you are listening to them. addressing their problems and concerns, and making them feel heard. this is of course good advice for the whole team, but it’s so much easier when it’s one person at a time, you might as well start there.

Ask for help, and dish out the credit

it’s a funny thing, but when you ask someone for help, you usually get it. and believe me, if you’re trying to introduce agile, you’ll need all the help you can get. the easiest help to get is advice that is asked for one on one. ask your boss what the social makeup of the team is. ask those teammates for advice on what the team needs. ask someone to give a part of a presentation to management.

from their perspective, it’s a great thing to be asked for help. it means the person asking respects your opinion about something. it also means that they now owe you something and you’re less likely to hesitate if you need help from them. it means that you take ownership of the thing that you helped create.

if you can manage to make people look good in exchange for your efforts, not only will you spread out the work, but you’ll win yourself friends.

Read the Secrets of Consulting

‘Nuff said.

The Path to Unconscious Competence

Monday, June 5th, 2006

Last month I was talking to Pat Gremo, a fellow ThoughtWorker, about stages of learning. He learned this learning model from karate. Two weeks ago, I found myself repeating it to a room full of Swing Dance teachers who were extremely interested in it. I really enjoy pulling and applying this type of omnirelevant stuff from and to disciplines as ostensibly distinct and separate as martial arts, software development, or dance.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence

At this stage, the student does not know what they don’t know. They either have no interest in improving the skill, or they don’t even know there is room for improvement.

When I first played with a typewriter, I was blissfully unaware that I didn’t know how to type – I was a little kid. I think I eventually taught myself how to type with my index finger.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence

At this stage, the student understands where they are, they can see the difference between their level of competency and that of someone who has mastered the skill.

I soon became aware that my parents and teachers could type much faster than me. It was annoying, but I didn’t really know what I could do about it…they somehow used all of their fingers.

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence

At this stage, the student has learned the skill enough that they can do it while thinking about it. However, it often requires a great deal of concentration.

After a few weeks of playing with a typing program in the school computer literacy class, I could touch type. I could actually go pretty fast, especially compared to me before. However, in order to type anything, I had to have the complete thought, then hold each word in my mind as my fingers struggled for the keys. The process was very serial, and it led to errors, because I’d often lose my place in my thought while I was thinking about typing.

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence

At this stage, the student no longer has to think about the skill while performing it. It is at this stage when the skill becomes second nature and a reflex. This is very distinct from the previous stage, and at this stage you can add more things on top of what has been learned.

After many more weeks and eventually years of typing, I started getting to the stage where I didn’t have to think about typing at all. In fact I now don’t have to think about each character at. I just think each word, and sometimes I don’t even have to do that. I can be thinking of the next thing I’m going to write while making a correction on the previous line. The speed of my typing is obviously much faster than it used to be – and also the quality of what I type is better.

see also Four Stages of Competence
h2. Other Learning Models

There are many different learning models, it’s often helpful to cycle through several to find one that might be more applicable or helpful when you are either teaching or learning.

At the swing dance teaching workshop that I took last week, we talked a lot about identifying how your students learn. Are they visual, auditory, kinesthetic learners? Do they approach problems from a global or linear fashion? Can you teach something hitting all of these at the same time? Or can you customize your teaching style for your student?

Another of my favorites for a long time now is the one Alistair Cockburn talks about in Agile Software Development. He basically separates learning into 3 stages, following, detaching, and fluent – but that’s another blog post ;)

I live for this stuff. After all, I am primarily a teacher, whatever my business card says.

Good Interview Questions

Monday, September 6th, 2004

I’m going to start keeping track of my favorite interview questions here. I will of course NOT be posting the answers :)

Design Patterns

  • State, Strategy, Bridge, and Adapter are all similar patterns. How are they similar, and how are they different?

Open-Ended Questions

  • “What makes good, maintainable code?” I’m always surprised at how revealing the answers to this question are – John Perkins
  • “What questions should we be asking you?” “Has this been a good interview? How can we improve?”

Pictures From India

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004

Are you doing offshore or do you have a team that is spread across different locations?

Walking around the TW chicago office, I noticed a very cool trend. The teams that had offshore parts had pictures of their offshore teamates on the wall with names. It’s a small simple thing that I think would have made a difference on my last project, at least to me.

I’m a very visual person, and I relate a lot better to someone if I have a picture of them in my head.

So go…take pictures of people and stick them up on walls!

Concentrate On The Few

Wednesday, January 21st, 2004

I think I’m learning.

I was talking to a fellow ThoughtWorker about a TDD workshop I might be doing next week. We talked about the project, expectations (theirs and the client’s), the history of the project, etc.

What I did that I haven’t done before is I started asking about who the influencers on the team were. Taking my cue from the default.TheTippingPoint, who are the experts that everyone trusts (mavens)? Who are the people who sway people’s opinions (salesmen)? In a workshop (and ideally the day before) those are the people that I need to concentrate on, because they’ll make my job a lot easier or harder.

A situation where it’s 1 person addressing 12 is a lot harder than where it’s 3 people addressing 10. Spend a couple hours w/ people individually, and you have a good chance of changing the former situation to the latter – at the same time showing those individuals that you respect them and need their help. Pick the mavens and the salesmen to be those 2 people and you’re set.

If You Can’t Test It

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

“If you can’t test it… it’s not science, it’s philosophy, and that’s a real problem” – Joseph Lykken on String Theory

“Agile with no refactoring == waterfall with no design phase” – John Perkins, default.ThoughtWorks

Getting Out Of Your Teams Way

Thursday, July 24th, 2003

I just had the best experience.

A team without buy-in

I’m currently coaching a project along w/ fellow ThoughtWorker, Zak Tamsen.
It’s still pretty early, just a couple week long iterations into it. The
problem that we were having was lack of buy in from the team. It’s probably
our own fault for not setting stuff up at the start of the project, but it
felt very much like we were telling a team of 8 people what to do (write tests,
pair, do this, do that), and they were saying back, ‘No, we don’t wanna’.
The harder we tried to fix it, the more it felt like we were playing Mommy to
the team.

Then we left for a few days which included our IPM.

The tipping point

When we came back it was fixed. In our absence, the leaders of the team had stepped
up to lead the team. They had run the IPM, they had had meetings about how to
get the team on board, they had started taking what had been our responsibility
on themselves. Now instead of 2 outside !ThoughtWorkers trying to “convert” 8
people, we now have an increasingly cohesive team where 5 people have bought in
and assumed leadership roles.

Now we had talked to the leaders of the team to try to make this happen before,
but with us there, they had been perfectly comfortable to sit back and let us drive.
It was the act of us getting out of the way that made them step up. If
a system CAN heal itself, it’s important to let it heal itself – TheSecretsOfConsulting.

As a coach, I should be trying to teach my team how to
fish, not treating them to the fish that I can catch.