Archive for May, 2010

Do something about it, or…

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
May 23 2010

We all know unhappy people, whiners, the frustrated and disappointed and disenfranchised, those who are dissatisfied and feel that they are stuck.

For this post, I’ll refer to that persona as Vern (since it could be a male or female name).

Vern complains. In fact, Vern seems to be happiest when complaining, which is ironic.

Vern seems to be helpless in frustration, seeing the world as beyond his/her ability to affect and change. The bad things seem to have overwhelming power. The situation always seems to be beyond Vern’s control. And Vern can always find something to complain and be unhappy about.

For a while now, I’ve been saying to people…

Sadly, Vern is too ready to say “I can’t”.

I disagree. I can always do something about it. If I can’t change “it”, then I can change me. I can leave, for instance. Or I can learn to accept things as they are. These are frequently the ends of the spectrum, with various forms of changing me and it in the range in the middle.

However, if Very chooses not to take any of the many choices available, then my follow-up is…

I mean, if you choose not to do anything to change your situation, Vern, then do me the courtesy of not battering me with your frustration, whining, griping, or other expressions that make it clear that you believe that something or someone else is in charge of your life and circumstances.

Take charge of your life, willya Vern?

Check out the line of shirts and mugs with these images and variations.

Whole Agile

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
May 23 2010

It has become more and more apparent that there are at least two different views of “doing agile”:

  1. Following one specific school of thought/set of practices, such as Scrum or Kanban or XP
  2. Utilizing a mix of practices, principles, methodologies, and values to create the package that works best for the organization or team

I’ve run into a number of organizations that are following Scrum*. Prior to training, I hear things like:

Don’t talk to us about engineering practices.

Don’t talk about pairing.

Don’t talk about testing.

Independent of my role within ThoughtWorks, I don’t get this. When I factor in my experience at ThoughtWorks, and the experience of my colleagues, I’m left feeling stumped.

How can you talk about “Agile” without considering practices that are effective for developers or testers? How can you ignore the lessons from Lean? What does it mean to “do Agile”?

As of now, I’m referring to “Whole Agile”: the set of things that comprise practices and principles and methodologies that address all aspects of the development and delivery of products, from ideation to architecture to design to writing code and testing and delivery and…

I just don’t know how to talk about Agile without considering all the things that can work. The argument that “pairing is too expensive” doesn’t fly with me. The argument that “only developers need to do Agile” doesn’t fly with me.

Agile must be holistic to be truly effective.

Hence, “Whole Agile”.

* just as an example – I believe that there are many good practices and principles in Scrum

Compiling Tales of Open Space

Open Space | Posted by Doc
May 16 2010

Here’s an email I just sent to a few people…

I’ve decided to collect and compile stories about Open Space events.

What I’m looking for is experience:

  • skepticism
  • excitement
  • frustration
  • revelation
  • exhaustion
  • experience
  • community
  • learning
  • disappointment

Whatever people have experienced, I’d like to have it. My goal is to compile them and publish them.

I’m asking for a few things:

  • If you, personally, have a story you’re willing to share, please share it with me.
  • If you were an organizer of an event, or a participant at an event, please share this email with the list of participants.
  • Have people respond directly to me with the following information:
    • Name
    • Contact info (email, phone, mailing)
    • Employer/organization
    • Whether they are willing to have their name used, or would prefer that it be anonymized
    • Whether they are willing to have their employer/organization used, or not
    • What the event was, and when and where

I know this is a lot to ask. My goal is to contribute to or create a work that helps others understand the WHY of Open Space through the experiences of others.

I’m not asking anyone to write a dissertation. A paragraph or two will suffice. I may do some editing, in which case I will send the edited material back to the submitter for approval.

At some point, I’ll put these up on a blog or wiki, but initially I’m just going to collect them.

People can send their stories to doc at thoughtworks dot com

Video of a webinar I did – Group Wisdom, Group Genius, and Leading Agile Teams

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
May 06 2010

Group Wisdom, Group Genius, and Leading Agile Teams from Steven ‘Doc’ List on Vimeo.

Sigh: a tale of relationship

Coping and Communicating | Posted by Doc
May 05 2010

It had been a long day, and at around 4pm Michael found himself sitting in his favorite recliner, dozing off. You probably know the feeling – it’s just the right moment, regardless of what’s going on, and you slip off. At that moment, it doesn’t matter what’s on TV, how loud the TV is playing, who’s talking about what – you’re going to doze off regardless. And that’s where Michael was.

And just at that magical moment when Michael reached total peace and balance – just as the recliner was at the perfect angle and his mind was like a still pool – a small voice said “Daddy? Daddy? Will you take me to the store? You promised!”

Oh, my. There was nothing Michael wanted less at that moment than to sit up, get himself in gear, and get in the car to drive his daughter Megan to the store.

Of course he’d promised. But it wasn’t really that important, was it? It wasn’t something that couldn’t wait, was it? And if he just held on, he could regain that place of peace and balance. Just for a few more moments, maybe?

“Can we wait just 15 minutes, honey?”

“Well, umm, okay Daddy. Fifteen minutes. You promise?”

“You betcha, honey! Fifteen minutes.”

By the time that last word was out of his mouth, Michael was back in Nirvana. Ahhhhhhhhh.

In what seemed to Michael to have been just seconds, there was that voice again.

“Daddy? Daddy? It’s been fifteen minutes Daddy. Can we go now?”

Michael struggled. A promise is a promise, after all, and everything we do as parents teaches our children, right? But how often do we, as adults, find that wonderful moment?


Truthfully, Michael was feeling put upon. Of course Megan couldn’t get to the store by herself. But it just wasn’t that important and Michael really wanted to enjoy his stolen moment of peace and she could go any time – it’s not like it really had to be today and now!


Michael straightened his recliner and forced himself up. He went to the bathroom to rinse his face and pull himself together. Somehow he found a smile and a wink for Megan. Off they went to the store.

Of course, Megan being Megan, it didn’t quite turn out to be a direct trip to the first store.

“Daddy?” Megan asked.

“Yes, punkin?” Michael responded with some trepidation.

“You ‘member those school supplies I need? We haven’t gotten them yet. Since we’re already out, can we go by that store too and get my school supplies?”


“Sure, sweetheart. Might as well.”

Somehow, Michael had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be quick.

And then Michael figured that as long as they were out, he might as well stop by the book store and pick up that book he’d been wanting. But before they got there…


“Yes, sweetie?”

“I forgot that Mommy said that we should pick up her prescriptions at the pharmacy while we’re out. Can we please do that too?”


“Sure. I guess we might as well go there first, since the pharmacy closes in a few minutes.”

Of course, that meant going a couple of miles in the other direction. And since it was about 4:30pm, it meant going through rush hour traffic as well.


They made it to the pharmacy before closing time, but had to wait behind three people.


And then they made it to the stationery store, and realized that Michael had most of the supplies that Megan needed at home. If only they’d checked before they left.


And when they got to the store that was their original destination, they found that Megan hadn’t called and they didn’t have what she wanted.


Finally they made it to the book store. Megan got fidgety and squirmy while she waited for Michael and finally asked if she could get a book too.


When all was said and done, they’d been out for almost two hours, much of it spent driving, and driving through rush hour traffic no less! And for almost no result.


When they got home, Megan had a sheepish, slightly unhappy look on her face, and said “Thank you very much, Daddy.” And she gave him a big hug and a big kiss and ran off to play or watch TV or whatever it was she was off to do.

And Michael settled back into his recliner with a sigh.

There are moments when, if we’re lucky, we catch ourselves.

As Michael settled into his favorite chair, he heard himself sigh.

And he realized that Megan had heard every one of his sighs for the past two hours.

Michael realized what the look on Megan’s face and the hug and the kiss were all about. Michael had been blaming Megan for his “hardships” and his sighs were messages to her that he was frustrated and that it was hard work and that he’d rather be napping in his recliner.

That wasn’t the message that Michael wanted to give his daughter. His children were special and important. And there would always be times when they were dependent on him to go somewhere or do something, and those times might not be convenient for him.

Michael went upstairs to Megan’s room. She was working on her homework, having gathered up the school supplies she needed.

Michael sat down on the floor next to Megan, put his arm around her, and said “Thanks for the outing, sweetie! I know I was a little tired and cranky, and that’s not your fault. I had fun.” And he gave her a kiss and he gave her a hug.

And she gave him a smile that made him happy from his toes to his cowlick.

We’re all born selfish. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to be selfishly giving and rejoice in the happiness of others.

[Perhaps this is not just about parenthood, eh?]

Open Space facilitation

Facilitation, Open Space | Posted by Doc
May 05 2010

Dan Mezick, a colleague who had engaged me to facilitate an event (Agile Boston Open 2010), asked me about my behavior during the event. That is, he noted “As a practitioner, I noticed that during the event, you stayed in a neutral space and did not circulate when not doing facilitation tasks. I am eager to discuss this with you at some point.”

In fact, while I did circulate (he was very busy as the organizer and a participant), that circulation fit within my concept of my role. Here’s what I wrote to Dan:

Regarding my behavior at the event…

Harrison Owen talks about what I refer to as “invisible presence”. I remain very conscious that the event is not mine, nor about me. My value lies in holding space and holding time, as well as “igniting the spirit” (my term) and providing the opportunity for closure and continuation.

The opening: this is where I believe my responsibility is to ignite the spirit of the community, and to connect the individuals into something larger than themselves. While that responsibility includes guiding the process, my focus remains on helping the community that is present to form and grow.

The closing: “When it’s over, it’s over,” as Harrison Owen says. “And when it’s not over, it’s not over,” as Doc says. 😉 That is, the end of the event is an opportunity for people to share, and to absorb from other people’s sharing. The closing circle has a different flow of energy than that experienced at the opening, and it’s no less important. The chance to share one’s thoughts and feelings, and to feel a connection with others who share those thoughts and feelings, is extremely powerful. My responsibility is to guide them, encourage them, and to assure them that it’s all right to share and to feel.

In between: This is the interesting part. Harrison often says “find more ways to do less.” My focus during this time is on the process, and in allowing the participants to self-organize. It might be tempting to engage with the participants, to join sessions, or to otherwise be a part of the event. I believe that my role is not to do any of those, although on occasion I have participated in a session. Mostly, though, I take responsibility for making sure that things keep moving, that the participants have a sense of ownership, and for helping to keep things clean. That’s not to say that I’m disengaged. Rather, I have a vision, a sense, of what my role is and what my responsibilities are, and that’s where I try to stay. That’s why the place I choose to spend my time is generally out of the direct flow of traffic, but visible and accessible. It’s important to me that people know where to find me, are aware that I’m there and available, but do not feel that I’m trying to control things or in any way intrude on their event/experience.

…likes me

Coping and Communicating | Posted by Doc
May 01 2010

Michael woke up on Monday, and without rolling over to touch Joan or say good morning, he headed off to the bathroom. This had become his usual practice. If he thought about it at all, he just thought that it was easier – morning greetings had been turning into arguments lately, and it wasn’t the way he preferred to start his day.

As Michael thought back over the past few days and weeks and months and years, he realized that this situation had been developing slowly but steadily. It scared him to think that the tortoise of discontent and frustration was going to win this race.

Michael loved Joan. He had loved her almost from the first time they met, over twenty-five years before. Of course, they were babies then, and didn’t have babies of their own. And they had all the time in the world. And they both knew how things were supposed to work and that they were going to make them work that way.

Times had sure changed! Michael remembered a time when he and Joan would smile and kiss each other good night every night. They had made a pact, early on, to never go to sleep angry. In the morning, they’d start their day with a hug and… Well, that was then. These days, there seemed to be far too many nights that one or the other went to sleep upset, and far too many mornings begun with a grunted greeting. Michael felt close to despair on some days, longing for the relationship they had once had.

Joan lay in bed, listening to Michael moving around, getting ready for work. She could remember, as if it were yesterday, laying in bed and listening to Michael in the early days of their marriage. Then, she remembered, he would stroke her brow or her arm, give her a gentle kiss to say good morning, offer a warm smile, then reluctantly climb out of their bed to start his day. The sounds of him moving around, preparing were reassuring. They made her feel warm and loved. Now they just reminded her of how different things were.

She tried to figure it out – what had happened between them? She knew that Michael still loved her. Well, she was pretty sure that he did. She wasn’t sure that he liked her, and she wasn’t sure that he wanted to be with her. He said he did, of course. What else could he say?

It just seemed like he was always criticizing her and challenging her. He always wanted to do things his way, and seemed to have a knack for making her feel small, stupid, or useless. Why did he do that? Couldn’t he see how he was hurting her.

Joan lay there and struggled with her feelings. She so often felt like crying, at the start of her day. But that would just start a “discussion”, which would end up with her crying and Michael acting frustrated and disgusted. Better to just push it down and deal with it on her own. They didn’t really communicate well any more, anyway, so why bother?

Michael could feel Joan. He knew she was awake, and knew that she was avoiding talking to him. He didn’t know what was bothering her, and was frustrated that she wouldn’t talk to him and wouldn’t let him help. That’s what we do for each other, he thought, isn’t it? Help? But Joan seemed to have shut him out. He didn’t understand, and the whole thing was making him both scared and frustrated. And sometimes angry.

Michael tried not to let it turn into anger, but it just kept building up. He’d never yelled at Joan, nor hit her, nor abused her in any way. He just wanted to figure out what was going on. But nothing he tried worked.

Joan knew that Michael wanted “to help” – what he didn’t realize was that his “helping” was part of the problem. Why couldn’t he just understand that she needed his sympathy and empathy and support? Why did he always have to try to change things, to “fix” things? Joan didn’t need fixing, she just needed his support.

There was that time that she was so upset about the broken chair. For no reason, a chair that was only weeks old had just fallen apart. Joan was indignant! This was shoddy workmanship and she felt ripped off. She was determined to get the store and the manufacturer to set things right. But when she called, she got the run around. She was determined to get justice! When she told Michael about it, he just smiled one of his incredibly frustrating, condescending, “there, there, sweetheart” smiles and told her to call the credit card company and they’d refund the money.

He just didn’t understand! Sure, she wanted the money back, but more than that she wanted justice! This wasn’t right, and it wasn’t just about money. It was about her feeling violated and cheated and wanting that to be set right. She wanted an apology. Michael didn’t get it – he just wanted to “fix it” and make it go away. That made her so angry!

Michael knew he was missing something. He’d try to help when Joan was upset about something, and not only didn’t he seem to be able to help, he seemed to make things worse. Like the time that Joan was all upset about that broken chair. “Just call the credit card company,” he’d said. She looked at him like he was crazy and left the room. That one had taken days to calm down. He still didn’t understand it.

And there was the time that Joan was gone visiting her folks, and he cleaned and reorganized the kitchen cabinets. He was so proud of how logical and clever the arrangement was – pots near the stove, glasses near to hand, cooking utensils arranged near the stove and oven! He thought, all the time he was doing it, how excited and pleased Joan would be when she saw what he’d done.

Then she came home. He was excited, and showed her what he’d done, and explained how logical and efficient it all was. She just stood there with tears running down her cheeks. Why? What was wrong? Why hadn’t she loved it? Didn’t she know that he’d done it for her?

Joan had just about given up. Yes, she still loved Michael. And she thought he still loved her. But they just didn’t seem to be able to communicate. If she tried to tell him that she disagreed with him, he’d get all defensive and then turn it all back on her. And he was always criticizing and questioning and making her feel like she couldn’t do anything right.

Michael had just about given up. Yes, he still loved Joan. And he thought that she still loved him. But they just didn’t seem to be able to communicate. If he tried to tell her that he disagreed with her, she’d attack him, telling him that he wasn’t perfect and that she was doing her best and somehow she always ended up crying. And she was always making him feel like she didn’t need or want his help.

On this particular Monday, they had a date to visit Grannie. Grannie was not actually related to either of them. They’d both known her most of their adult lives, having met Grannie when they were first dating. She seemed ancient then, and that was twenty-five years ago! If they thought about it, they could remember her real name, but they’d been calling her “Grannie” for so long, well, that was who she was.

Both Michael and Joan were looking forward to seeing Grannie. As difficult as things were for them these days, they particularly enjoyed the time they spent with Grannie. She had such a lovely outlook on life – generally everything was simple and Grannie just listened and seemed to enjoy their company. She mostly didn’t put up with any “nonsense”, and had a habit of exposing the simple truths at the heart of things. Sometimes that could be hard for Michael and Joan, since Grannie didn’t allow them to hide things behind “polite lies” to protect their own feelings.

But on this night, both Michael and Joan were feeling both anticipation and fear. Each knew that Grannie would see through their public faces to what was in their hearts, and they were afraid of hearing her say it out loud. And yet, there was something in each of them that hoped…

Grannie is no fool. She’s lived a long life, surrounded herself with people she cares about, and paid attention to those people. As she gets older, her tolerance for “pussyfooting” and “shilly-shallying” goes down. So it’s no surprise to Joan or Michael when Grannie, early in their visit, asks “What’s wrong with you two?”

Naturally, they both leap to denial. Wouldn’t you? This is difficult stuff, and Joan and Michael haven’t been able to deal with it themselves. How can they talk about it with Grannie? But Grannie is not easily put off. With love and care, she draws them out.

You can imagine the discussion and the stories and how each describes the other’s behavior. Lots of sentences begin with…

“He/she makes me feel…”

Grannie lets it go on for a while and finally says “Hold on! Joan and Michael, you keep telling me that the other ‘makes you feel’ some way or other. Now I don’t doubt that Michael wants to ‘fix’ things, and Joan wants ‘support’ and that you two have come to be at odds somehow. That’s making me sad. I’ve known you two for a long time, and there’s no doubt in my mind that you truly love each other. So let me ask you a few questions, okay?”

Michael and Joan, as couples do, look at each other. Each gives a small, shy grin, and they both say “Sure, Grannie, go ahead.” And then they look at each other again and grin nervously. They know that Grannie won’t pull any punches, and are sort of nervous about what’s coming, but they also sort of hope that Grannie can cut through to the heart of the matter.

Grannie starts with a clean shot – “First of all, I don’t think that either of you ‘makes’ the other feel any way. I think each of you feels the way you feel because that’s the way you feel. Sure, the other person’s behavior is what triggers those feelings. But they don’t ‘make’ you feel, now do they?”

This is a tough one, and both Michael and Joan take a minute before answering. There’s a bit of flailing before they both accept that their feelings are their own, and not under someone else’s control.

“So then,” Grannie continues, “if your feelings are your own, and you are responsible for them, why are you finding yourself upset with and about the other so often?”

This isn’t getting any easier. Michael and Joan look at each other sideways. Grannie has, as always, started to cut through the distractions and into the heart. But both Michael and Joan have been struggling with this, and neither has an answer. And they each say so. Grannie watches them. Joan looks at Michael before answering, as though hoping for help. Michael looks at Joan before answering, as though looking for support. The bond that Grannie knew was always there is obviously still there.

“Joan, let me ask you a few questions directly, okay? Michael, you just listen for a minute.”



“Joan, do you love Michael?”


“And do you like Michael?”

A moment for thought, then “Yes, most of the time.”

“And, Joan, do you believe that Michael loves you?”

Without hesitation, Joan says “Yes, I do.” And smiles, almost wistfully.

“And, Joan, do you believe that Michael likes you?”

And now Joan stops, and thinks, and looks under her eyelashes at Michael, and thinks some more. And says “I’m not sure any more. I think so some of the time, but some of the time I think he just doesn’t like me.”

“But you believe that he loves you and you know that you love him?”


“Okay,” Grannie says, “Michael, now it’s your turn. Joan, you sit and listen.”

And Grannie proceeds to ask Michael the same questions. And much to Joan’s surprise, the answers are almost identical!

Since Joan and Michael are paying attention, they grin a bit and look at each other, maybe even a bit quizzically.

Grannie continues. “Now here’s my dilemma. You both tell me that you love the other. You also both tell me that you believe the other loves you. And you both tell me that you like the other most of the time, but that you aren’t sure that the other likes you. And there’s the dilemma.”

Grannie pauses, smiling beatifically at them, one eyebrow arched as she says “What I don’t understand is this: if you both feel and believe as you say you do, why doesn’t the belief that the other loves you deeply outweigh anything and everything else?”

Joan and Michael get a thoughtful look in their eyes. Joan looks at Michael and asks “You like me?” Michael, with a nervous grin says “Most of the time.” Joan smiles and says “Me, too!”

Michael and Joan are in love. Everyone that knows them has always known this. But their family and friends saw their difficulties. Being cautious of interfering in someone else’s relationship, and being careful of their own relationships with Michael and Joan, most of their family and friends had been treading carefully. And now?

Now everyone notices that Joan and Michael are acting like they’re in love, again. And when someone asks Joan what’s going on, Joan just says “He likes me!”

And when someone asks Michael what’s going on, he says “She likes me!”

And they smile at each other.

I wrote this around 2002 or 2003. I hadn’t read it for a long time, and just reread it today. I’m reminded that these lessons apply to far more than the marital relationship. It’s valuable to remember that our feelings are our own.

Identify, Isolate, and Remove

Facilitation | Posted by Doc
May 01 2010

This week is a two-event week for me. First was the Agile Boston Open 2010 in Waltham, Massachusetts. The second is Alt.Net Houston 2010 in Houston, Texas.

While in Boston, I got to spend a good chunk of time with Dan Mezick (InfoQ writer, founder of Agile Boston, founder of New Technology Solutions). Dan was the organizer and driving force behind Agile Boston Open 2010, which had about 250 participants. The event was a hybrid: programmed sessions in the morning, which included Ken Schwaber, Amr Elssamadisy, and Michael de la Maza; true Open Space in the afternoon, including an opening, agenda creation, and closing.

In the evening after the Open Space, Agile Boston held their regular monthly meeting, and I was privileged to follow Jean Tabaka on the program. Jean presented Twelve Agile Adoption Failure Modes. I presented Facilitation Patterns & Antipatterns. The synergy between our presentations, and between us, was exceptional. It was GREAT fun!

The following day, Dan and I did some walking and sightseeing in Waltham and Boston. During that time, we talked a lot about topics that interest both of us, much of it around group relations, group dynamics, facilitation, and working with Agile teams.

At one point, our conversation focused on how to deal with disruptive individuals in groups. My focus was on meetings and events, while Dan’s was on working teams, during this conversation. As we were discussing this, Dan casually said “Identify, isolate, and remove.” That really caught my attention, because it’s such a clear, simple formula.

The challenges with that formula are twofold, for me:

  1. It may apply to a working team. In fact, I’d say that there are circumstances where it clearly does. I feel that it does not apply to meetings and events. Isolating someone and removing someone from a meeting is countereffective, as it will engender the wrong feelings in the target, and negatively affect the group.
  2. It’s so simple that I fear it could become a mantra, and misapplied because it’s so easy to remember and apply.

I’m not disagreeing with Dan, or arguing that I don’t like the formula. I find it compelling, if only for its simplicity. I’m just being cautious that it doesn’t get misused in the wrong circumstances.

That said, I give Dan full credit for spontaneously articulating something that is so effective as a model.

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