XP Day London 2006. Day one

Monday keynote

Unfortunately we arrived too late to attend the keynote. The train was delayed. The tube on the Northern line was full. The tube on the Central was halted because someone was ill. When we arrived in the Ironmonger’s Hall, the keynote was already in full swing and the hall was packed. Instead of Joshua Kerievsky’s keynote, some coffee to wake up and time to meet the “conference-acquaintances” and hear what they’ve been up to since we last met.

Cooking with conflict

I went to the “Turning up the heat without getting burnt” session by Joseph Pelrine and Ben Fuchs. I couldn’t attend this session at XP Days Benelux because my session was scheduled at the same time. In the first half of the session, Joseph and Ben talked about conflicts, explored our attitude towards conflict with a small excercise and offered us a cooking metaphor for team pressure. Too little heat and the team stagnates; too much heat and they burn. As a cook/coach/leader you need to keep the team at the right “cooking” temperature. Some conflict is good for you.

In the second half, I was asked to take part in a “Scrum from hell” game. In this excercise, a Scrum Master is faced at the daily standup with a team whose members may or may not have a secret goal (like talking as much as possible, helping the Scrum master, not doing anything and hiding this fact…).

I’ve played this game before. I was a bit nervous when Joseph asked me to participate. I thought this was because I had to act in front of an audience and not use my native language, so I overcame my hesitation. It was only after the session, after I had some time to think about it, that I understood why I was hesitant: the excercise throws the scrum master into an impossible situation. They have to suffer the diabolical antics of the hidden agenda players. And then the exercise is over. We don’t get any advice on how to handle such a situation. We are not shown any techniques we could use. We don’t re-run the simulation to see if the techniques work. In the end, what do we have? We’ve had a jolly good laugh at the expense of the sweating scrum master. And then we move on. It wasn’t clear to me how this excercise related to the rest of the session.

What would I have done as a scrum master in this situation? I would stop the standup. The only way to win this game is not to participate in it. I would repeat the rules of the standup and ask for a “check in” (one of the protocols of “Software for your Head“). I would check in first: “I’m willing to work with this team, following these rules. I’m mad. I’m in.”. Those who are willing to work in the team, follow the rules and be held accountable for the results, can check in too. Those who don’t, can leave now. That would create a conflict, but one which would clarify what everyone stood for. Hey, a conflict! Wasn’t this what this session was about?

Lessons learned:

  • Some conflict is good
  • Listen to my body. It’s a lot smarter and faster than my brain. It took my brain half a day to understand what my body had understood immediately after Joseph asked me to participate: I find the Scrum from Hell a useless and hurtful game.

Are we nearly there yet?

I had been asking myself the very same question as we traveled from Belgium to the Ironmongers Hall. Clearly, we had not planned our journey well enough to arrive in time. I went to the session because of the promise of interaction and discussion and because tracking is useless unless we can tell when something is done. Ivan Moore was a bit flustered because of the large turnout. Because of the large group, there wasn’t a lot of interactivity, but there were many questions and remarks. The session confirmed me in my preference to estimate using “story points”, not “ideal days” or real time.

The day ended with a goldfish bowl discussion on simplicity. As a severe treppenwitz sufferer, such a fast-moving discussion is not the ideal format for me 🙂

It was enjoyable to watch the dicussion go in several directions, but there wasn’t anything memorable that I remembered from the session. Maybe that has to do with the last activity of the evening: trying to make a dent in Google’s finances at their sponsored drink in a pub in “Little Britain”: free drink, food, t-shirts and gadgets. We had a long discussion with Joseph Pelrine and Ben Fuchs. Robert Chatley and Giovanni Asproni (XP Day organizers) looked more relaxed than this morning.

I didn’t stay too long. Next day was another full conference day and I had a session to present.