concocting  extraordinary  teams

April 27, 2006

OpenSpace for Collaborative Conferences

For the life of me, I can't recall how I heard about OpenSpace... as far as I recall, my first OpenSpace was the one I sponsored in Toronto in 2004! OpenSpace is a way to facilitate an unconference, created twenty years ago by Owen Harrison, who now uses it for The Practice of Peace.

It's an amazing way to put people in motion fast... they arrive with nothing but their burning passion to discuss the theme topic... and within an hour they've created an agenda containing all the topics closest to their hearts and are already sitting down, talking to strangers with similar interests!

How does it work? Half of the OpenSpace facilitator's work happens before the event - crafting a provocative Theme and producing the Invitation. It's not as easy as one might think - OpenSpace works best when there are multiple points of view in the room, even outright conflict, which means the Theme must be neutral to draw people from all camps, otherwise it's just a mutual admiration society! The facilitator works with the Sponsor to make sure the venue is suitable, and that there will be nutritious snacks available to fuel the intense conversation that will fill the day.

Then, on the day of the event, the Facilitator comes in with some signage, and puts the chairs in a single big circle. The Sponsor invites participants to sit in this democratic arrangement and sets the theme. Then the Facilitator starts the process by inviting them to leave their preconceptions outside - asking them to adopt the 4 principles and 1 law of OpenSpace:
  • 1. Whoever comes is the right people!

  • 2. Whenever it starts is the right time.

  • 3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have! and

  • 4. When it's over, it's over

  • and The law of mobility: If you find yourself neither learning nor contributing, MOVE ON! which means that people are free to attend the sessions they signed up for, or not... sometimes the best session happens in the coffee area, which is intentionally set up to invite conversation!

The facilitator then helps the group collaboratively create an agenda - anyone can stand up and name the topic they want to discuss... and in about 30 minutes the group will organize the topics into a schedule on the wall and sign up for items they like. And now they are ready!

The rest of the day is run by the participants - they start their respective sessions and bring notes back to the faciitator, who photographs or collates them or helps them enter their notes in a wiki... so that participants can have a record of all sessions by the next day!

It's amazing the connections that get made - simply because people follow their passions. Likeminded people meet and spawn new ideas, plans, business relationships... it's wonderful to watch, and memorable every time.

At the closing circle, participants are invited to share their reflections - what will be different for them, going forward from this event? OpenSpace is simply a jumping-off point... it galvanizes groups to resolve long-standing issues or move into new avenues of action.

Note: No A-V equipment required! No banquet to plan! (food is kept buffet style in case sessions run over). No expensive keynote speaker! Computers optional, if you want a wiki.

We've heard Regis say: "ask the audience, it's never wrong!". OpenSpace harnesses the wisdom of crowds and simply gives permission to create and act back to the crowd. Hurray!
(one day, we will no longer need permission... oh, that's a "fourth" thing! :-)

Here's a terrific video of OpenSpace at recentchangescamp
And a report from OpenSpace at XPday Montreal 2006

Read more about OpenSpace, on Larry Peterson's site.
Resources for creating an OpenSpace Event: from Chris Corrigan, and Michael Herman.

Reflections on facilitating Open Space by Chris Corrigan: The Tao of Holding Space [pdf]

In my Lifetime

Leila pinged Mark, who pinged me...

In My Lifetime, three things I would like to see...

  • all individuals treated with equal respect, regardless of skin colour, beliefs, abilities, language, or wearing the right labels

  • housing made affordable for families at all income levels

  • workplaces filled with passion and laughter, as we encourage each other to discover and contribute our best abilities.

What do you say: Jen, Chris, Mike, and Tobias? Or anyone else?
Please tell us what you'd like to see, on your blog or in a comment here :-)

Groups Perform Better Than The Best Individuals...

A new study in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (published by the American Psychological Association) indicates that "Groups Perform Better Than The Best Individuals At Solving Complex Problems". No surprise to those of us teaching collaborative work practices!


Jen, who I wrote about in my last item, also drew to my attention BlogHer | Where the women bloggers are, asking: did I want to be involved in a Toronto BlogHer conference in 2006? You bet!

Ladies, you can list your blog on this site - there are already over 2000 of us! Yet another online community that may spawn great things!

April 26, 2006

It's a Small World

I call it "networking". Linda Rising calls it "Tell Everyone". In her Patterns for Building a Beautiful Company, Linda has a pattern called "It's a Small World":

You’re an entrepreneur who wants to create a Beautiful Company. You’re trying to practice Beautiful Leadership. What’s the best way to get what you need?

Organizations, like all human groups, operate through conversation. [Senge 99]
Tell everyone you meet about your current projects.

The people you meet everyday are the quickest way to get what you want. If you’re unemployed, they’ll help you find a job. Most jobs are found through friends or personal connections. If you’re looking for an employee, personal contacts will help you find the right person...

It sure works for me!

An acquaintance, Chris Nolan, pointed me toward TorCamp last November, where I met a whole new community of passionate geeks :-). Last night at Molly Bloom's pub, networking with the DemoCamp crowd, a familiar-looking woman sat down (who is she? why does she look so familiar? oh yeah! it's Jen, Chris's lovely wife!). Jen is an app architect with IBM, and she told me about her current passion, Web 2.0. I told her about my latest escapade, editing an online publication, and it turns out she can provide the article I'm looking for on how Web 2.0 intersects with enterprise application development - Cool! And, as it happens, Jen is looking for a place to publish... looks like we can help each other out!

Jen took off to find sustenance (or wings, whichever she could locate first) so I chatted with my good buddy Derek. We were trying to figure out how we'd met... we couldn't recall, but it was surely more of this sitting-around-over-food! (that's a different Rising pattern we use, "Do Food" ) I told Derek about my current passion for "emergent documentation" and my quest to integrate tech writers into my software teams' collaborative processes. Lo and behold, Derek is a single-sourcing geek! I've been looking for someone who knows both single-sourcing and Agile software development, particularly Agile testing tools like Fitnesse. Who'd have thought I'd find him in Molly's attic? I was thrilled! Stay tuned for the book!

Never understimate the power of "hanging out". I can testify: tell EVERYONE what you're up to, and make opportunities to do so. They will in turn tell you. And, before you know it, you'll be doing more of what you're passionate about!


DemoCamp and Community

The buzz is building... TorCamp's DemoCamp5 was held last night at U of T's Bahen Centre for Information Technology to a full house of 141 attendees, the largest DemoCamp yet.

DemoCamp is the place to demo *working* software - we've seen things alpha release state to yesterday's mature 6-year old HP authentication app. But the real star is the crowd, and the real venue was upstairs at Molly Bloom's pub - where we gatherered afterwards for wings and GREAT conversation - and where I made a couple of excellent connections. It's this informal networking that is yielding all kinds of new collaborations... suddenly Toronto is on the radar, because TorCamp is growing organically at a rapid rate, principally on the energy and effort of its participants. At David Crow's invitation, we started in November with 50 people and have met at least monthly since them, each event bigger than the next. Makes me wonder how many will join us at TorCamp2 in May? Two hundred? I can't wait.

Joey DeVilla took some photos, and writes more about DemoCamp, including the great news that we'll be meeting at MaRS from now on, a permanent home for DemoCamp that can handle our growing crowd! You can also read about DemoCamp in Profit Magazine.

I'm all about community - can't help myself! I have formed ScrumToronto with Mike Bowler, helped hatch the ScrumAlliance with Ken Schwaber, recently formed the Toronto Agile Coaches group, and will facilitate at TorCamp2 in May. These groups show that great, productive teams can form anywhere - not just at the office. I definitely consider myself a member of the great TorCamp team.

Don't wait for community to happen where you are... get out there and make it! It
s easier than ever - people who think like you are blogging and tagging, so you can find them easily enough. Who knows what you'll get into... all you need to start is to invite some like-minded strangers to meet you at your favourite cafe for supper... then watch to see where it goes! For heaven's sake, TorCampers are starting to get involved with government thinktanks on ">culture and technology! Create a community and watch it go!

April 16, 2006

What is a Coach worth?

Coach Kevin Rutherford and I have been musing on this subject: what meaningful measures can we propose to clients to evaluate the results of our work?

Kevin's made a start in thinking about this...
silk and spinach: process improvement metrics - some questions
Hopefully we can discuss this with other coaches at Agile2006 in OpenSpace.

Coaches: by what measures do you evaluate your work? It's tough, isn't it? What are your frustrations?

Further reading:
Value-Based Fees : How to Charge—and Get—What You're Worth
by Alan Weiss (on Amazon)
(caveat: I've not read this yet, but it's well reviewed)

April 13, 2006

Wanted: Cat Herder

One of the methodologies in which I am trained, and which I teach to others is Scrum Project Management. The team lead in this approach is called the "ScrumMaster" (tongue firmly in cheek) or sometimes referred to as "the sheepdog" because he or she must care for the team, keeping out intruders and distractions. At the beginning, some folks have a hard time wrapping their mind around this role, because it feels to them like the old Project Manager role, but with strange twists. Here is an excerpt from an email conversation with an apprentice, in which we discuss how the ScrumMaster can be accountable without having authority. It starts with something written by the co-creator of Scrum, Ken Schwaber:

> Subject: Day in the life of a Scrum Master, according to Ken
> 1. Ensure everyone is doing what they have agreed to do;
> 2. Determine where this iteration is compared to where it could be
> and update your work-remaining tracker ( & task board, if used);
> 3. Work the product backlog (list of work for next iterations);
> 4. A dead Sheepdog is a useless Sheepdog; and,
> 5. Use all of your senses, including common sense, and remember
> that you have no authority.
> (from the CSM methodology v5, with Scrum-specific terms translated for clarity :-)

after which the apprentice asked:

> No authority sounds rather scary! what context?:)

My reply:

The Team is FULLY responsible for the outcome of the work, the product, what is demonstrated to the Customer at the end of the iteration. It is in this context that the ScrumMaster is not a performer, and has no authority (i.e. to say 'we should do this' or 'here's how to approach it' or 'you missed that'.) The ScrumMaster must keep the team aware of this fact, so they have motivation to solve problems themselves in a 'whole team' manner, and not a CYA manner.

How to deal with this? Try 'I've noticed...', 'have you missed that?', 'I have an idea - what do you think?' 'It's up to you', or asking an OPEN question: 'I've noticed we have Requirements in 5 places. Do we need all of these?' At first people find this threatening, assuming I am passive aggressively saying we DON'T need these. No, it really is an open question, and you can assert that all you want, but the best way is to show it - ask them and REALLY let them tell you - no answer is wrong. For example: During the Requirements discussion, I saw BL tense up when another team member asked "do we really need to write JUnit tests?" So I asked "BL, what do we lose if we get rid of them?" and from his answer, the questioner quickly realized that quality and thrashing is at stake, and the issue died right there. Now that they have discussed it THEMSELVES they will hopefully continue to manage that issue themselves. If not, another question may be in order.

The ScrumMaster is the remover of obstacles (looking ahead, taking them out of the way, but not too far ahead in case of YAGNI: you ain't gonna need it). This includes getting things ready for the team, in time: room, needed materials and tools (computer, markers, paper, whiteboards, chocolate, DBA, lunch, meeting rooms, onboarding etc.) This is why the ScrumMaster should start work before the team, so they can hit the ground running.

The ScrumMaster is responsible for facilitation (getting people to play nicely together - oh my gosh, is this a challenge some days!! :-) But it is also rewarding, when you look and everyone is quietly collaborating and putting their best skills into the work.

The ScrumMaster is responsible for having the big picture (not of the work itself - the team is responsible for that) but the big picture of the Working of the team - the process. This includes stakeholder relations: getting things off on the right foot and letting the team handle it from there.

The ScrumMaster IS responsible for herding the cats in the right general direction (have you seen that wonderful EDS video ad about cat herders? It's hilarious!

Thanks for the good question. Hope this is helpful, or raises more good questions.


April 08, 2006

Catching the right stuff

"I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me."

E. B. White

One of the things a coach does is "sit outside" the team, keeping watch. Why? Because culture change is hard, and sometimes it's impossible to see what's really happening from inside the team, because there are no reference points. The coach offers a point of reference outside the team, and can beneficially "catch" things happening and point them out, to enhance learning.

What kind of things do I catch? Well, obviously I'm watching for behaviours or language from the old paradigm that creep into the new patterns we are trying to adopt, diluting the experience. But you know, one of the most enjoyable things I do as a coach is to catch people doing the right thing. When people are caught up in the moment, when they've "got it" and are finally doing naturally what we've been teaching... when they do the right thing for the first or second time - take a moment to notice it.

I'll wait for a break in a discussion and say: "Did you notice what Jane (a designer) did? She's pretty sure she knows the answer, but she made a point to ask the Product Owner to confirm her thoughts, because the Product Owner is responsible for the direction of this product. That's great! That's just what we want to be doing!"

There will be lots of time to discuss what we wish we'd done better - over lunch, or at the retrospective. But we'll forget the things we did right, because they just came naturally at the time. I mean, who remembers what Fido looked like at 4 months of age? He grew a little each day, and suddenly he's not a puppy any more!

So, do it when you notice it happening. It's like taking a snapshot - freezing the moment for a second, to enjoy it. Your teams are doing things right all the time - and working hard to make it happen. Give them the reward of heartfelt praise and encouragement in real time - they deserve it!

April 02, 2006


I think I first heard of intentional concurrent blogging on Hal Macomber's excellent blog. Obviously it stuck in my mind... it's resurfacing now, more than two years later.

It's called gridblogging: "a group of bloggers tackling a specific topic on a specific day" and what attracts me about it is the concurrency aspect: everyone is writing fresh, so the perspectives are very personal, not derived from each other's entries as with the blog-and-comment pattern. Have a look at one such entry by fellow Agile practitioner Laurent Bossavit.

"Grid blogging aims to investigate the potentials of a distributed media production model spread across blogosphere nodes. It seeks to ignite attention on specific topics at set times through variegated voices. A kind of decentralised flash mobbing for the mind, if you like.

Decentralisation is key here. Unlike single collaborative blogging structures that unite discussions under the same URL, Grid blogging is about synchronized guerrilla publishing attacks carried out across a series of online locations. It respects and heightens the individual voice within a media-wise choir. It allows for idea-jamming and mosaics of diverse perspectives to emerge unfettered".

from *the initial invitation to Grid Blog project by Ashley Benigno. november 7, 2003

Bloggers use a common prefix on blog titles to allow them all to be found with one search. I've added Technorati search to my Firefox search bar, so all I need to do is type "[grid::fatherhood]" to find the other blogs in this ring (don't forget the quotes).

Sounds like tagging, actually... perhaps it would be better simply to create a tag and use technorati or GridBlogging predates tagging as it is used today... but I wonder if is there still some benefit to using the prefix instead / as well? Are there gridblog aggregators?

This post seems interesting, using blogs to actually get work done - a BlogPosium!

Article: Whither GridBlogging?


Ok, you'll probably need to follow the links to keep up here :-)

TorCamp is Toronto's own Barcamp. TorCamp 1.0 took place last November in the offices of Teehan+Lax, and was a blast.

I've been a member and leader in the Toronto Agile community for a few years now, and it was really nice to meet smart, passionate people from outside our own community. The more, the merrier, I say!

On the heels of TorCamp came the first DemoCamp, a different kind of event spawned by a discussion at TorCamp. So, got working software, that you'd like to share with other geeks? This is the place - you have 15 minutes, GO! There's been one a month since then, see the TorCamp page for links to DemoCamp event pages. Its future is uncertain, in that it's growing exponentially, which is at odds with its grassroots feel. Last time there were about 150 in attendance!

An unfinished conversation at TorCamp spawned the CostVsValue supper discussion, where a dozen of us discussed pricing our services.

And the desire to once again do something more interactive probably triggered TorCampSlamCamp, an interesting Saturday afternoon where about 30 strangers worked in teams on a non-computer problem, just for the fun of it!

And now we're planning TorCamp 2.0! As with other BarCamps, it will be organized along OpenSpace lines. Feel free to sign up and join us! But remember: NO SPECTATORS! Come prepared to contribute!