Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why I don’t like Mondays

Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project LeadersJean Tabaka gave a talk at Agile 2007 entitled ‘Why I Don’t Like Mondays’. Most hate Mondays because of long meetings. The talk is mainly about managing and facilitating meetings. Jean starts by listing 10 common meeting dysfunctions:

1. Meetings are repetitive: They are all the same. If the same topic is being discussed over and over again, it means that decisions from last time are not being tracked.

2. The same people do all the talking: This leads to others thinking why am I here?

3. Subjects are beaten to death again again: Decisions need to be honored.

4. We come to decisions just to get the meeting over.

5. I don’t have time to code because I am in too many meeting: Notion is that if I am not coding I am not working. In Agile, part of your job is not to code.

6. We have too many people in our meeting: The meeting should include the necessary people needed to get to yes or make a commitment. Having too many people is a sign of distrust and a need for control. These people are standing in the way of commitments.

7. We have too few people in our meeting: Missing product owner, customer representative, tester are too busy. Database developers cannot attend meeting. If all these members are important to decision making they should be in the meeting.

8. With constant stream of meetings, we are treated like machinery not people.

9. Our demos and reviews never bring about anything new: These meetings are not for acceptance. Acceptance should have occurred before hand. The demo is to demonstrate progress. It’s an opportunity to act like a team. What are we doing and where are we heading?

10. All decisions were made outside of the meeting. We just had the meeting to be told what we are doing and what to agree to: This indicates that there is still a lot of control going on. Technical architect is deciding what plan should be and what estimates are. Moving from command and control to collaboration is required.

Jean mentions that teams are in dysfunction when meetings are hurting them. She then lists the 5 dysfunctions of a team based on the pyramid by Patrick Lencioni:

1. Absence of trust - invulnerability

2. Fear of conflict -artificial harmony

3. Loss of commitment –ambiguity

4. Avoidance of accountability - low standards

5. Inattention to results - status and ego

Jean then explains the Bruce Tuckmann model of forming, storming, norming, and performing. One of the 12 principles of the agile manifesto is to have a high trust and performance team, but to get there, we have to go through the other steps:

1. Forming - we are just getting to know one another and our roles,

2. Storming - what are we willing to fight for individually for a role,

3. Norming - we are getting a way to benefit from our work through trust,

4. Performing - we are in a high trust, high performance mode)

Agile leaders will take the dysfunctions that must occur in the team and facilitate the team through it to get to a high trust high performance mode. To do that they need to help people have effective interactions.

Before making decisions we need to address what are all the possible ways we can think of the problem domain? What are all the possible ways we can think of the solution domain? A decision process has to move from the business as usual zone, divergent zone, groan zone, convergent zone, and closure zone or Decision point.

As facilitators we need to make sure we pull out a lot of information and manage conflict when it occurs and then move into decision making. Our job as agile coaches or scrum masters is to guide teams through groans and dysfunction that must occur in the team and facilitate the team though it to get to a high trust high performance mode. To do that, the team needs to have effective interactions. We need to ask questions, gather information and recommendations, ask how to move forward. We should not make decisions for the team, but lead by serving and serve by leading. We should know how to separate subject matter expertise from meeting facilitation, and ardently believe in the Wisdom of the Team and the Art of the Possible.

The most challenging meetings are the planning meeting and demo meetings. Collaboration is a lot slower than command and control. It will take time but you have to slow down to speed up. Teams will get better and better at it and as a result faster.

Next Jean discusses some basic tools she uses for effective meetings:

1. Purpose is always available. This ensures there is little doubt of what the objective of the meeting is. Any person can call for a timeout when the meeting gets off track. The Agenda is posted and guides the team to its purpose. If the conversation is not on the Agenda then it should be dropped. Do not include timings on the agenda. Plan enough time for closing (retrospective). Meetings need to become shorter and more effective.

2. Personal Objectives. Need to have out in the open what someone has a concern about and want to bring into meeting. It goes into backlog of meeting.

3. Ground rules and agreement. Starting and ending on time. You dishonor everyone on the team when you don’t do that. No emails, no phones.

4. Parking Lot: Use to add interesting but not useful conversation. Say this conversation may be more interesting then it is useful. Lets add it to parking lot and return to it later. It may not be serving our agenda right now.

5. Action plan: used to build a bridge from the meeting room to the work place. What? Who? When?

6. Decision board: What decision did we make? Track all decisions.

7. Consensus check: Quick way to find out where there is disagreements. Use a fist of 5. 5: love it, 4: wish I thought of it, 3: wasn’t my idea, but I can support it, 2: I have reservations, 1 (always the index figure!): I am very opposed.

8. Communication plan, resources. Do we want to use a wiki? When will we update burn down charts? How will the executive sponsor know what is going on? What metrics to we want to hand on the wall

To facilitate divergence, collect a lot of information without judgment. Use brainstorming without commenting on stupid or great ideas. Simply list out all the things needed to move forward. Then to drive to convergence, group trends, prioritize and use these to drive the conversation.

To make sure everyone is heard and understood, use round robin technique and ask managers and strong voices to respond last. Also use anonymous feedback to get to hear from those who tend to compromise. Another technique is Multi-voting where out of 20 pieces, members pick to the 3 most important.

If team members disagree, slow down. Accumulate information with patience, allow for silence (30 seconds), and do not jump to decisions/solutions too soon. You have to slow down, but once you do it, you will speed up because you will not run into the same problem over and over again.

Jean then covers the ORID principle or the What? Gut, So What? NowWhat?

Objective: Give me the data. No emotion. Who what when where

Reflective: Giving all the what, how is your reaction?

Interpretive: What could be possible interpretations of how we might move forward

Deciding: Now that we have all this information what do we do?

Jean also suggest applying ORID even one on one: what did we get done today? What was challenging about that or easy about that? What could that mean about how we work together? What might we do differently the next time?

Next Jean covers the importance of closing meetings. She suggests reviewing the purpose and agenda, processing issues in the parking lot, and personal objectives, conducting action planning and communication planning, and evaluating the event through a retrospective

Jean mentions an interesting statistic about stand up meetings from Harvard business review: teams take 34% less time n a meeting to come to the same quality decision if they are standing instead of setting.

Next Jean refers to the book Creative Whack Pack for some ideas on making meeting more interesting and entertaining. She recommends changing your point of view or reversing point of views. What would I say as a tester vs. a developer? Think about what a 6 year old would say about your project? What would a court jest way about our project? Have others defend the opposite approach. What won’t work in your idea? What are you willing to let go of?

To make things fun, Jean recommends New rituals and ceremonies for punctuation. Examples are haikus, bells, frog zip, and zen stories. Or open a book, point to a word and see what it has to do with your project. Or bring guest speakers from outside not technical). Also, metaphors are stimulants. Use it to stimulate creativity.

Finally, after a quick review, Jean asks us to list the top 3 ideas we are willing to take back with us. Go for it!

This presentation is available on InfoQ at