Dietary Manipulation (Part 3) – Coffee

Reading time ~ 2 minutes

This line of articles just doesn’t seem to want to die!

Okay, so….

Today is day 3 of the filter coffee machine near where my team sits being broken despite repeated repair attempts.

There’s one on the floor below but that means carrying full cups of hot coffee all over the building – it seems most of us have been drinking alternatives most of the time for a few days.

We weren’t really aware of the effect this was having on us until we spotted it yesterday!

Sat in a team meeting. A usually energised team were so lethargic we actually called the session short, had lunch and took a walk to the pub to wake ourselves up!

If that’s the impact going cold-turkey on filter coffee had on a 30 minute team meeting, I’m dreading seeing what it did to team productivity this week.


Anyone that’s given up smoking will know that by day 3, the worst seems to be over, as nicotine levels in the body drop further and withdrawal dies down.

Today had been my most productive day all week.

  • It might be that I’ve finally capitulated to instant caffeinated coffee rather than very good – but not very caffeinated – tea.
  • It might be that the half-life of coffee in my system has dropped below withdrawal symptom level.
  • It might just be that I’ve gotten over a momentum hurdle on some of my work.

Chatting to another of the team, their sentiment is the same so I don’t think it’s just me. Now we’ve recognised the risk, we’re making the effort to reach the other machine.

Regardless – it’s a little disturbing (but in hindsight quite obvious) how much the continuous supply of good filter coffee impacts the energy levels of a development team!

Advice to managers – good coffee is a necessity, not a perk.

Dietary Manipulation (Part 2) – Carbo-Caution

Reading time ~ 2 minutes

My first article on dietary manipulation was intended to be the last. However as I learn, so I must adjust…

Some time ago I had the pleasure of guiding a team through a backlog prioritization session – taking items from a large unsized, unordered backlog down to a subset that we believed could be achieved in a short window of time (either in the next 6 weeks or to the end of the summer).

I had the benefit of free lunch in the staff canteen. At the time I wasn’t sure if the food selection was normal for the site or if it was just an end of the month special – either way, the food was very good. Although there were salads and yogurt, it was frighteningly easy to load up on a mountain of well-prepared comfort munchies.

The session I was running was scheduled for about 2-3PM.

Can you see this coming?…

Remember how I previously loaded a team up on carbs so my audience would hit their low-ebb during a difficult patch?

When I’m leading a workshop with an unfamiliar group I’m not very good with pauses & quiet periods so I tend to fill in the gaps (I already know it’s a weakness for coaching). Despite the mix of comfy armchairs and the post-lunch downturn, the team did a great job. They were very tolerant of my ad-libbing and ran the exercise in really good faith but even so it was really hard work for me.

The good news is we achieved our goal in just under an hour. A small, actionable, prioritized set of “must do” items for the team to dedicate some time to clearing before the end of the summer.

Next time, I’ll try loading up with fresh coffee and see what we can get done in 30 minutes and before everyone needs a bathroom break 🙂

Epilogue: – I’ve just started working with this team full-time. The food is that good and the team are that accommodating all the time.

Must try to remember… No mid-afternoon team workshops. Oh and …must… …stick… …to….  salad & smoothies.

Well – sometimes.

Dietary Manipulation (Part 1) – Pizza

Reading time ~ 2 minutes

**Note, I’m not responsible for any health issues related to over-eating, poor diet, allergies, existing or hidden conditions or the quality of the pizzas ordered in. Eating pizza during training is a personal choice.

Covering story sizing in ~30 minutes needs creative ways to get through people’s mental road-blocks.

On a pure estimation course attendees are prepared to expand their estimation skills with no “selling” needed however if it’s a small component of a multi-day “agile” course people find it hard to fit in their heads. They need to mentally accept the basic concepts and then learn by doing.

I’ve developed a novel (and not very healthy) technique for getting through the “I can’t fit it in my head” barrier.

At the start of a course; during discussions on logistics, lunch, dietary needs etc. I say to the group:

“OK, this afternoon we’ll be covering story point estimation. This can get a bit contentious for those of you that are mathematically minded…”

“…For lunch today, if you are willing, I suggest you have a large helping of pizza. Once you’re fully loaded with carbs, we’ll start the afternoon session. The estimation stuff is about an hour in – where you’ll be close to your carb peak and won’t feel like fighting any more :)”

Then I make sure there’s just over half a large pizza per person available for lunch.

This sounds bad, but it’s not mandatory and I’ve been completely honest with attendees – I’ve not yet had anyone not comfortable to eat pizza.  **(see opening disclaimer)

I’ve also quietly planted the seed that although it’s tricky and abstract, I don’t want any trouble during that part of the session.

What we’ve done is collaboratively neutralize the barriers that prevent the theory going in so that the teaching is more like osmosis. Once the basics are gently brought in with some slides, chat and rather lethargic Q&A , the teams put the theory immediately into practice on their workshop exercises.

Now they get it – but without the mental trauma!

After another day’s immersion with the points they defined during the workshop exercises marked in the corner of each of their story cards, the seeds have taken hold sufficiently for teams to accept what they’re doing and use again outside the classroom.

Never underestimate the power of food & drink when teaching and/or learning.