Post #Agile2011 Playlist

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An insight I picked up from Jeff Patton during his user story mapping workshop at Agile 2011.

  • Use music to help you facilitate your sessions

Jeff used “Kung-Fu Fighting” as backing/timing music for one of the group exercises.

When I got home I sat at my computer trawling my music collection for perfect facilitation tunes ranging from 3 to 10 minutes long.

I have loads that I’ll unleash on teams over the coming months :)

There’s an important trick to these though. They have to be the “right” tempo and style to match the activity and team – generally upbeat and well-known enough that team members can “feel” the end of the tune coming.

In the meantime, in a change from my normal programming I’ll switch to my other passion; music…

If like me it’s been a really intense week and you’re on a post conference come-down (see Doc List’s post on similar here), here’s my recommended selection of music (in this order) to recover to…

If there’s any of these you don’t own, buy them now or cue them up on your favourite online station! I’ve added links to the hardest-to-find tracks.

2011-08-14 All Agiled Out – on Spotify

* playlist heavily influenced by available music selection on the airplane journey home

Note – If you’re not feeling so cheerful, It’s important you don’t stop part-way through.

For anyone who’s a fan of “High Fidelity”, the art of the compilation tape is the journey you’re taken on.  This one will only leave you happy if you make it to the end!

Black Holes & Revelations

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Have you ever had to deal with a black hole on your team?

“As predicted by general relativity, the presence of a large mass deforms spacetime in such a way that the paths taken by particles bend towards the mass. At the event horizon of a black hole, this deformation becomes so strong that there are no paths that lead away from the black hole” – Wikipedia

I’m not a physicist so here’s a simplified view that I can fit in my smaller brain:

Black holes are like huge “gravity traps” sucking in all energy from the surrounding area. Energy and mass are drawn toward the event horizon, sucked in and lost forever. The more they take in, the larger or denser they get.

Here’s some cool stuff I learned from Karl Schoemer a few years ago.

A team undergoing change can be coarsely divided into 3 behaviors: Design, Default and Defiant/Detractor.

• The “Design” population are your role models; your supporters & change agents – but be aware, some may have short attention spans or become zealots. This is up to 20% of your population.
• Those following the “Default” behavior will sit on the fence; “What.. …ever”, “it doesn’t apply to me”, “I’ll carry on as I am thank you” are all common “default” responses. Typically this is 70% of your population!
• “Defiant/Detractor” behavior exhibits extreme symptoms including shouting, arguments, tantrums, sabotage, threatening to leave and pulling everyone else down with them. Less extreme responses include focusing on the minutiae, public cynicism and endless debate without action. In many cases, whilst this may seem prevalent, often this is actually as little as 10% of your population!

Now let’s return to the Black Hole. In space, black holes are invisible – only their effects can be seen. In change management, we simply fail to recognize and identify them.

Human black holes must be understood and handled with extreme caution.

For those inexperienced with black holes, your instinct will be to try and defuse them. You must spot when you are feeding a metaphorical black hole, rewarding negative behavior by pouring your finite energy and resources in. Feeding black holes provides them additional credibility in front of their peers – their gravity trap grows ever-larger.

Lean values time… Eliminate waste! – Where are you wasting your energy?
If you removed the energy feeding a black hole would it eventually burn out?
In human change, detractors usually either get with the program or leave.

If you’ve read some of my prior articles you’ll know that whilst I appreciate good people; if your behavior and attitude isn’t up to scratch, all the technical prowess in the world is unlikely to make me want you on my team.

Some black holes may be an almost permanent rift in space. Work to minimize their impact and sphere of influence rather than offering more fuel. Consider using them as your “professional cynic” – your sounding board for the detractor response – but be aware this is a lot like playing dodgeball with a burning coal. It’s usually safer to move them away from the powder magazine instead.

Where could your wasted energy be better spent?
Simple! Use it to shift the center of gravity on your team away from the black hole.
Partner with your “design” members as a team and swing your population of defaulters toward your chosen direction. Some may be pulled toward or into the black hole but work on the overall gravity shift to bring the team around.

If you don’t have sufficient design weight to adjust the center of gravity right now, go digging for more – one person at a time if needed. At some point you will be able to tip the balance.

(Oh – a nod to Muse for inspiring the title of this post)

Nobody Thanks the Drummer

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A couple of weeks ago I went out to see The Wonder Stuff and The Levellers at a gig in Cambridge.

Yes I do still dwell circa 1992 – You should see my car!

On the way out I recognised The Wonder Stuff’s new drummer – Fuzz Townshend (formerly of Pop Will Eat Itself). This guy has been a key contributor to some of my favourite music for over 20 years so I stepped up to congratulate him on a fantastic gig.

He seemed geninely shocked (and pleased) to be both recognized and thanked for his performance and took the time to discuss his thoughts on the likelihood of a PWEI reformation and on the whereabouts of their unreleased final album of material and was – like most mature rock stars – well worth taking the step to talk to.

It made me realize. Whilst most of the crowd had been stopping to have their photos taken with the guitarist, the recognition for the rhythm section that binds a band together is rarely the same.

On software development teams (and companies in general) this same pattern applies. How often have you seen someone tirelessly working behind the scenes, a complete hidden hero – perhaps only recognized by their own team – get passed by when the awards and recognition are handed out.

Take some time out this week to recognize your rhythm section.

Creative Freedom & Product Ownership

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After nearly 2 years of blogging internally for my employer and building up an internal online community readership of nearly a thousand subscribers, I’ve been looking forward to getting my voice to the outside world. I have a lot to say, opinions on most things in the software industry and enjoy sharing.

Having made the personal commitment and investment to do so, I find that 2 days later the words are all there but can’t find form. Where’s all the inspiration that caused me to do this gone?

I know my intended audience, I know the sort of things I usually write about are interesting, I have complete creative control and no real constraints on what I can and can’t say for the first time in years! What happened?

Complete creative control with no constraints?… Oh!…

Complete creative control makes life harder, not easier!

When you move to an environment where you are both delivery team and product owner, how do you go about putting some of the safety rails back up to get back on track and delivering successfully?

Whilst over in the US last week I saw a biography on “Pink” –  I’ve just learned a great lesson from her experiences.

Creative control for Pink’s first album was governed by her record company and whilst very successful, she sought a greater say in her future output.

For her second album, Pink contacted an artist she greatly admired and against the wishes of her record company, developed an album of new material on her own terms. In developing the album she had a clear goal and vision; pair up with a personal heroine, take control and prove she could deliver.  Pink broke the rules and had something to fight for.

On hearing the output, record bosses conceded she’s achieved something special and the album was a massive global success. Following its success her songwriting partner saw a huge surge in demand for her skills and Pink was given complete creative freedom and trust for her next album. – She’d massively over-achieved her goal.

Album#3 didn’t go so well. Her partner was no longer available, complete control was hers but there was no focus. Development was a strained, long process and whilst it did eventually ship, sales performance was generally poor.

Does this sound familiar?

Needless to say Pink’s output did recover.  Now I’ve found my voice I need to re-check both my original vision and my constraints.

After mentioning that I was about to write this post, a good friend and colleague sent me a link to this old business week article from the VP of Google’s search products. It frames the whole constraint thing better than I can – well worth a read.