The first session I went to this morning was on systems thinking / causal loop diagrams. They had us go through an exercise throwing balls around, talked about states of the system, and showed diagrams that explained the different states (why performance increased, then leveled off, then went down).
Pretty good; I’d seen the ideas before in Quality Software Management, but never put them to use. And I suppose that talk will increase the chance that I’ll give them a try. The problem is finding the right time – like other forms of root cause analysis (e.g. five whys), I’m afraid that I’ll be too clouded by my biases, so I’ll end up just uncovering what I already “knew” was the problem instead of really figuring out what’s going on. So I should give them a try in a situation where I’m genuinely confused, I suppose.
Then I went to the open space to talk about lessons from waterfall. Nobody came other than Arlo Belshee (the convener) and myself, but I enjoyed spending an hour chatting with him. He talked a little about what lessons he thought we could learn from waterfall (risk management, configuration management, one or two other things I’ve forgotten), I talked a little bit about pain points in my current project that could probably be mitigated by these techniques; a pleasant way to spend an hour.
I spent all afternoon in a tutorial on coaching; really good, and I really wish I’d attended such a training a year or two ago. Actually, to be honest, I wish I’d managed to pull in an external coach a year or two ago, because I neither had sufficient agile skills nor coaching skills to bring off a successful transition. Or, for that matter, skills in retrospectives, which is still an issue and which I’m hoping to remedy on Thursday; and I made several mistakes related to not having the courage of my convictions (most noticeably my not pairing enough, which I think had strong concrete negative effects on the team), which perhaps yesterday’s leadership talk will help with in the future. So there does seem to be a coherent theme to my choice of sessions to attend – it would be nice if it were fighting the next war instead of fighting the last war, but there are worse themes than the latter.
The core of the tutorial involved going through four role-playing coach/other sessions (where “other” was sometimes a (project) manager type and sometimes a developer). We did this in groups of four (two of whom were roleplaying and two of whom were observing at any given time), plus somebody with coaching experience. We went through each scenario once, then talked about it, then went through it again. Very helpful hands-on experience, and I learned a lot each time, whether role-playing either side or just watching. (I apologize to the coach roleplayer for my excessive recalcitrance when roleplaying a PM.)
One nice thing was the way it reinforced some of the stuff I’d gotten out of manager training at Sun: let the other people speak, empathize, don’t try to solve problems directly, don’t even approach the idea of solving problems until they’ve had time to vent first. The more they can recognize problems and suggest solutions, the better. I felt a lot more comfortable role playing this time than I did during manager training; I guess I should spend more time putting these techniques into use.
The guest coach at our table was James Shore, who was very pleasant to talk to, had many useful comments, and did a nice job modeling acting as a coach on a meta level. If people are looking for coaches to bring into their organization for training, I suspect he’d be a very good choice.
I also drew my first mind map today. The presenters from the first session I attended yesterday were trying to get the notion of mind maps to spread virally – handing us out stickers, and encouraging us to teach mind maps to other people, who would then get a sticker on their badge, plus some stickers to give to other people as they in turn spread the teaching. Which mostly annoyed me – I don’t particularly care if some people can successfully spread a concept virally throughout a conference – but I actually did want to learn how to do a mind map. (The fact that the presenters didn’t actually teach us how to draw mind maps was actually the one aspect of the viral spread that I did like.) James had a sticker, so I asked him to show me how to draw a mind map, and he got me to draw one; yay. I’m still not sure how widely useful I’ll find them, but I’ll give them a try a few more tries.
I believe there’s supposed to be a get-together tonight for people who participate in the various mailing lists; it will be nice to put faces to names.
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