#spa2010 reflections 1: Maurice Mitchell on complexity, fit, the human dimension

Ever since hearing about the architecture of rapid change and scarce resources I’ve wanted to talk to Maurice Mitchell, one of its leading advocates. I was delighted when he agreed to give an invited talk at SPA2010.
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Games and Simulations

I spent a fair amount of time last year participating in, and running, games of one sort or another. It’s always interesting introducing games into a team or organisation: you run the risk of appearing “out to lunch”, and you can’t, in the end, force a group to have fun and learn at the same time. You need to be sensitive as to what will work with a particular team, and maybe more to the point find a context to introduce a game or simulation where it makes sense as part of a team’s practices. Retrospectives are clearly a good place to start, as are any more-or-less formal workshops or training sessions you’re running.
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Agile in Europe (#scanagile #scrumgathering)

Some reflections on two recent agile conferences I attended (and ran sessions at). Both very stimulating, with a great deal of learning going on. Both raising questions for me in several directions.
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Constructive Conversations About Development Process

What sort of conversations can you have with your organisation about software development practice and process? By which I mean not only – what do you talk about – but just as importantly, what do you bring to the conversation that affects how you frame the discussion, and how do you improve its chances of creating lasting change?
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Lessons from Improv

So, on the way down from the high of the weekend’s (theatre) improvisation workshop at the Spontaneity Shop. Tom Salinsky is a great teacher - experienced, thoughtful, direct, entertaining. It’s a great experience, too, to participate in a group that’s being led so well, and I learned a lot just by watching and listening.

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Tech detox

So when it all gets too much … what do you do?

After finally solving the problem with SEF links in my Joomla/Mojoblog site yesterday morning, I’d had enough - of PHP, CMS systems, plug-ins, Chunks, Snippets, Rails, the whole lot. So a day and a half off-line has cleared my head.

Staying with Joseph last weekend rekindled my passion for food, so I’ve been cooking (a hat-tip to Joseph for an amazing asparagus and salsiccio pasta recipe). Reading - finished Geoff Dyer’s wonderfully evocative But Beautiful, and almost (so nearly) finished the amazing 2666 by Robert Bolaño - at the point where I really don’t want it to end, I’m so into it. Playing, of course: there’ll be a (rare) musical blog shortly on Sor’s Op.6 studies, and the art of balancing the apparently simple with the intriguingly complex, and achieving perfection in the seemingly ordinary.

A visit to the RA’s impressive exhibition of prints by Kuniyoshi, with my daughter Evelyn and her partner. (Amazing colours, and in the earlier warrior prints in particular an overwhelming sense of movement. These were the original mass-media images, it was interesting to try to rewind my head to the days before screens, TV, video, films, where the only images were static ones).

Having been digging for a while, I found and downloaded a great performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, by the group Concerto Italiano. Immediate and vivid, and (unlike many performances) using small choral forces.

Helped of course by the gorgeous weather and a good bottle of wine! Head back in the game tomorrow, but it’s been a good weekend.

Complex? Adaptive!

It seems to me that some of the thinking in complexity science is starting to have more effect on the way we think about software. The very first Scrum book, for example, has a section giving a complexity science view of how Scrum works, so this thinking is by no means new.

I’m finding that many people involved in agile projects are increasingly happy to think about the structural implications of complexity (those, that is, who can get beyond the “we’re at the edge of chaos - how cool is that” reaction). However, when considering software development as a complex adaptive systems, they lose the view of what it means to be adaptive. Stating the obvious here, but to adapt (1) means adapting to something, so you’d better get good at making sense of that something, and (2) means changing - explicitly and consciously doing something different.

I think there are a lot of people claiming to work in an agile way (and there are certainly many who aren’t) who are scared of changing, resist change, or simply don’t know how to change themselves, their teams or their organisations. The system of software is not just the end product that a team delivers - it’s the team, its tools, its memory (as recorded in change logs, wikis, IRC and mail trails) and more: this is the system that embodies complexity, and the system that must (but so rarely does) display adaptation.

Fighting the Boss - How and When

Vasco Duarte posted this entertaining story about a conflict between an experienced consultant and his new manager over dress code on-site. I commented there, but wanted to explore the story further.
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Twitter musings

So, trying out twitterfeed, and thinking it appropriate to muse on my first few days of Twitter joy.
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Food and community - a little social experiment

Not that it was planned as one, but during SPA2009 I came into possession (how is not important…) of a big tub of sweets. These were just ordinary goodies, not fancy Belgian chocolates, the sort of thing you can buy at any newsagent here. I’ve a sweet tooth, but not that sweet, so I opened the tub and put it on a table in the common area at the conference.

An hour later I strolled by, and noticed that the tub was half empty. Another hour, and the tub was still half-empty, but only because someone else had bought some different sweets, and added them to the tub. And an hour after that, a box of cookies had joined the tub of sweets.

I find this interesting, and a great indicator of the sort of community the conference engenders. The sweets acted as an attractor, and (though I didn’t see it) I can imagine people passing the bowl, looking, commenting to someone else standing around, taking a candy or two, and feeling quietly better about the day. Not that they needed lifting, but my spirits were definitely higher when I saw the way others had added to the stock.

Particularly if it’s not a habit with you or your team, try bringing in a couple of bars of chocolate or a tub of cookies. Don’t make a big deal of it, just put them down somewhere people can see them and take one. Then see what happens.