The art of loving Mondays

También voy a postear en español

Sí, este va a ser un blog desordenadamente bilingüe. Como su autor.

Blogging, tweeting, conversing

I haven’t blogged in a while. I don’t tweet often. Yet I care for conversation. Why no writing then? Perfectionism. Senseless, fruitless perfectionism. Off I go then, time for some dashing off.

Birdie-Birdie: a product-building simulation

You and your team have just been hired by TopTop, the major toy manufacturer, in order to build the company’s next big hit, codenamed Birdie-Birdie. But beware: you have fierce competition. Other firms have been hired and only the one who delivers the greatest business value gets the check! Using only LEGO pieces, prepare to build, integrate and test, while you struggle to appease an increasingly demanding CEO.  Revel in self-organization, optimizing your process while building a complex product. A fast-paced product-building game that will take your Scrum skills to the limit!

I recently presented this session at the London Scrum Gathering 2011 and I thought it’d be a good idea to write a description of the game so that anyone can use it. I’ve used it in dozens of courses and I can say that satisfaction is guaranteed!

And now for the download: Birdie-Birdie.0.1.pdf

Utopia, unreachable, yet handy

Perfectionism: refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. The western way, the paralyzing path to nowhere. Perfect is the enemy of good gets in the way of getting things done. Yet, perfection, utopia, can become an inspiring guide. Kaizen, commonly known as continuous improvement, is the art of balancing idealism with pragmatism. Kaizen is the Oriental perspective of perfectionism: perfection exists, I know I will never get there and yet I will do whatever it takes to be better than yesterday.

Doing Scrum means acknowledging that equilibrium is precursor of death. Organizations, as well as individuals, instinctively, inertially, close their eyes and sing the song of we’re doing well enough, why change in a low voice. Willing to do Scrum? Get ready to sail the stormy seas that lie when stating in a loud voice that Scrum is the art of the possible and that a ScrumMaster who says something is impossible is not a good ScrumMaster.

Kaizen means the status quo has to be challenged. Every single day. Is the organization divided into functional silos (eg all testers in this office, all developers on the other one)? Ask why. Ask rhetorical questions: what are the risks that derive from having teams not focus on the client? What kind of communication problems do we usually have? Who is the current leader of a, say, developer: the project manager or the mega-senior über-architect dev lead? Silos have hurt for years now. It’s like that pain in the lower back you’ve been suffering for over a decade. Pills, inertia and resignation have been acting as anesthesia. The king is naked! Shout it aloud!

I, pragmatic

Nonsense. Childish. I keep falling into my own mental traps and putting the idealism cart in front of the reality horse. I did it again. Today, minutes ago.

I’ve recently began reading on zen and taoism. Beautiful. Perfectionism redefined: perfection exists, yet you will never get there. Nevertheless, take a step today towards it. How? Trying. Trying to do what? Seeking balance, acknowledging that equilibrium is ephemeral. Balance among what? Appealing concepts. Romantic images. Sensual notions, such as idealism and pragmatism.

Why can’t I make it? I dare say I lack the necessary patience. I cherish the destination, disregarding the beauty of the hike. The loftier the expectation, the gloomier the disenchantment. Pleasure seems to be all about marrying dreams with people, concepts with tangible things.

We knowledge workers are hired in order to build previously non-existant, malleable products. Malleable systems have a tendency to be complex, organic, life-like entities. Malleable systems require a malleable way of working. Work, teams, people developing malleable systems can only bloom when treated as such. And yet we keep lamenting for the lack of a collaborative spirit there is in the workplace. Trust, the irritable muse we all desire, will forever dance further away the windy path. Recognize it and enjoy the arduous trek of gaining and fostering reliance. Relish the bricolage and believe me, you will most probably become less agile than tomorrow.

Revel in humbleness

There’s my future, lying ahead as usual. Self-imposed expectations. Wishes, aspirations, ideas that immediately become obligations. Excellence, or rather sheer perfection are in the air. Rapid execution, instant results and compulsive voraciousness are the name of the game. My analytical potential is almighty. Nothing can step between me and my flawless plans.

I am taking a shower and my mind takes off. Or rather keeps flying insanely, soaring and plummeting between potential scenarios. Reality changes. People just don’t behave the way I expected. New information pours into my bewildered brain like a torrent of actuality. My elaborate and convoluted plan fails every single time I confront it with real life. It simply and horribly fails.

There goes the book whose introduction I was supposed to write yesterday. I feel guilty, disappointed with myself, drained of all energy by pointless recrimination. Intellectual omnipotence struck again. Life is just too complex to try and seize.

Illusion of control always blows like a traumatic bubble on our face when confronted with even the most delicate breeze. And yet we keep falling under its sensual spell. Trying is for the weak, we speculate. Trying implies things might eventually go wrong. Trying implies we can’t predict. And that plain truth stabs our rational view of the world. Of the wild, unbearably intricate world we happen to live in.

Apparently impenetrable ventures make us feel so impotent that we react by negating the facts we happen to have in front of our eyes; by considering them trivial enough to clutch, clench and steer. Until one day, that day, we realize just how ignorant we are about the intricacies of the project we are about to undertake. That is the moment, the exact moment, in which we embrace humble attempting.

Choosing to experiment implies we stand unassumingly in front of a complex problem. Imagine Copernicus devising a whole new way of seeing the universe by merely sitting inside a library for hours, days and decades, until one day he finally understands the whole system. The victory of logic, an intellectual epiphany. Everything is inside his head now, conclusions are obvious. All there is to do now is simply write on paper what his mind concluded after years of pure reasoning.

A laughable picture indeed. His life, his discoveries, his theories came about after years and years of combining observation with theorization and deduction. Think about it four times before attempting to write all those use cases and Gantt charts. Plan, do, check, act. You heard about it, now go do it. Empiricism. It’s not that hard.

Reading aloud Kat Koppett – Training to image #2

After having ran with Toby Mayer a most beautiful workshop called Improv skills for software developers, it’s time to pick up the book again. I love Augusto Boal’s work on power and oppression. And here comes the first quote of today’s reading aloud:

The privileged are often blind to their privileges

True for power, true for money.

If the status gap gets too big, people do not believe that leaders can empathize with them, so they do not feel safe.

Not much more to quote sadly. The set of games introduced in the book is too verbal for me. Besides, I’d learned them from somewhere else.

See you at my next book!

Reading aloud Kat Koppett – Training to image #1

I feel deep in my heart that drama skills are a perfect fit when trying to teach agile methods. I find it so obvious that I just can’t explain it. I just picked up Training to Imagine, by Kat Koppett from the pile of drama-related books at home and started reading. Let’s go aloud then!

[Agile?] people are starved for the kinds of interactions that improvisers take for granted. We get to express ourselves creatively, play together, have our ideas honored and our failures not only forgiven, but celebrated.

Wow, I like this. Improv not only brings about joy and creativity (which are always welcome), but also (and most important) collaboration, yes..andness and, someone praise Kat Koppett, celebration of failure! And this is just the introduction of the book. Mmmm, perhaps it ends up being like movie trailers: they show the best, you buy, and there’s few more chewy beef down the road. Let’s keep reading then. Ah, here’s a nice phrase:

The script is constantly being reinvented. The opportunities to plan deeply before acting are becoming fewer, shorter, and less reliable.

Interesting. Not that a regular play can be deeply planned either, but improv is, per se, more…err…improvised. Let’s go on.

In improv any idea is better than no idea

Ultimately saying “yes” is the foundation of all relationships

Say “yes, and…”: Accept offers and add to them

Spontaneity is a way of saying “yes” to yourself

We can come with all sorts of reasons to say “no”

Saying “no” (blocking) is a well-developed habit

Motivate through acceptance

And “offer” can be anything [..] Before an offer can be accepted, it must be recognized

80 percent of what wee experience as true, we make up

Our ability to receive complete and accurate information can be enhanced through practice

Increasing listening and awareness skills, is less about sensing more things, and more about sensing things more consciously [..] What the best improvisers are able to do is widen their circle of consciousness to include more information

There are three things that we can listen for when we listen: facts, feelings and intentions [..] facts are the simplest to perceive [..] unless the emotional content is addressed, all the data in the world will not result in clear commmunication [..] Understanding the point of a message qualifies as the most important aspect of listening

So far so good. Time to put the book down, digest ideas and cook dinner. I’ll keep reading later.

Reading aloud

Reading can both open and close your mind. In that respect, The Answer to How is Yes, promotes breadth over depth when building a personal library. What to do then? Pages and pages and tomes and tomes have been written about Computer Science and Scrum. That is to say on my degree and what my current occupation revolves around. Yet I believe (and so does Mr. Block) that reading even more on these two subjects will do nothing but narrow my view of the world. I am no expert in CMMI or the PMBOK. I’m no expert in scaling and distributing Scrum. And that’s OK with me. My belief is that I can become a worthier knowledge worker if I focus my reading somewhere else, relate this something else to Scrum et al, and eventually become a more unprejudiced me in the process.

I’ve read, loved and learned from gems such as Artful Making, Free Play, Slack, The Reengeneering Alternative, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Montessori – the Science behind the Genius, and Open Space Technology. Most of these recommendations were bestowed on me by my great friend and mentor Toby Mayer. I treasure each on of them in my mind and heart. And yet I feel, especially as I embark on new readings, that a piece of my spiritual puzzle is missing. Perhaps it is the fact that my brain, shame on me, is not almighty. I forget things. Not that many, but yet I do. But then there’s the more distressing sense of selfish intellectual seclusion, so common these days. I can read, and smile while I read. And I want to share those smiles with the world.

So now, whenever I read a paragraph or chapter or book that strikes me as relevant to the art of loving Mondays, I will simply speak out. No, I will not review books. Or maybe I will, but simple by narrating, relating, digressing and highlighting. Paragraphs, chapters and books will randomly be read aloud. I sincerely hope you enjoy the experience. I’m pretty sure I will.

Love thyself – you’re human

Error. I hate it. It is cruel because it proves I am not perfect. It is baffling because it makes it obvious that I am not unparalleled. Previous triumphs forge expectations. No one expects me to fail. Then I succeed again and the sword of Damocles sharpens. One more time.

Until one day I fail to fulfill soaring demands for perfection. Maybe I miscalculate the details of a plan. Perhaps I am asked a question for which I have no precise answer. Perchance I read disappointment on a colleague’s expression. Or I simply realize I have just arrived in Mumbai having left my credit card at home.

At that point the guillotine raises slowly. Retribution is around the corner. Cold fear runs over my spine. There is simply no place to hide from guilt. Repentance is useless. I am and will ever be asinine. Time for the usual scheme: I conceal the mistake, like I did when I was an infant. Pretend nothing has happened, as the stench of sin begins to surface.

And yet someone might find out about the error. Life goes on, but with increased angst. And thus a crippling vicious circle perpetuates. Terror of failure spirals, making it harder to act freely. Excellence and creativity plummet. Pleasure and verve die out. Degrees of freedom to act plunge. A gloomy and yet recurrent tale for many a knowledge worker.

You are a knowledge worker because your métier involves solving convoluted problems. This means your craft entails creativity, deduction and interpretation. Software applications, marketing plans and financial planning are immensely complex endeavours. Punishing imperfect incarnations of such tools is not just naive, but also cruelly hypocritical. Lacerate your soul for your lack of perfection and learn to survive in a world of penance.

Somehow there must be a way out of this tail biting. Stop. Breath. Think for a moment. Meditate on how others do their creative jobs. Ponder over the way in which a theatre play is created. Picture a Romeo and Juliet production. Rehearsals will begin in a week. Romeo has been brushing his teeth trying to portray Romeo. Juliet has taken showers the way Juliet would do it. And now it is time for the whole ensemble to get together and do the first improvisation. “Romeo meets Juliet at the bus stop.” The scene lasts for a couple of minutes. And just like all opening rehearsals for the past two and a half millennia this one goes wrong. Neither the play director nor the actors like the performance. Romeo was not romantic enough when talking to Juliet. Juliet’s movements around the stage were somehow graceless. There was no clear bond between the actors. And yet they celebrate failure. Because erring is the only way to reach a creative result, they have just taken the first step towards a marvelous play.

Error enables us to simplify a seemingly impenetrable challenge. The universe of potential solutions is axed when failure occurs. And something deeper occurs: a sliver of the final outcome is born. Maybe the way Romeo walked during the improvisation was captivating. Perhaps Juliet’s tone of voice was as sultry as expected from her. The resulting characters will have these traits. The staged play is now nearer. Out of failed interpretation comes not just learning, but also a piece of the resulting product. Celebrate error: it’s your only way out of sheer chaos.