Agile 2008 – Thursday

Putting the team’s heart in the game

Jim McCarthy gives an overview of the commitments and protocols of “The Core“. The Core provides us with tools to enhance team communication and alignment. When we want to achieve collective greatness we need to aggregate the strengths of the team members. If we want to achieve mediocrity, we can just let each person’s weaknesses nullify another’s strengths. The same message is also at the core of the “Mirror Mirror” session Portia and I organized.

I’d give this presentation a 6/10

What I liked was:

  • The personal anecdotes Jim told
  • The relaxed presentation style
  • Jokes

To make it perfect I would:

  • Use less of a preaching tone, but talk about the simple, practical tools and their results in terms that engineers and managers understand
  • Take the audience through the tools and gradually build up towards the synergistic effects of the tools
  • Adopt a consistent stance and style during the presentation
  • Always talk clearly, directly to the audience and avoid asides
  • Show more, tell less

I’ve been to Bootcamp and have used The Core tools for years. They work.

I’m afraid that the material (the book, the bootcamp manual, this talk) does not do the tools justice.

I’m In.

Business Value Game

We organized a tryout of the new Business Value Game, the first public outing of the latest game Vera and I designed. A group of us grabbed two tables in the Open Space room and played the game with two teams. The game went quite smoothly and the participants gave me a lot of good feedback to improve and extend the game.

Vera and I will publish the game soon, after the next tryout. As usual, the game will have a Creative Commons license, so that you can remix and reuse the game. If you want a pre-release copy of the game, contact me.

Gino showed us some more of Toronto and offered us an impromptu but excellent lunch. We really wanted to go to the “Seeking to Perceive more than to be Perceive” by Emmanuel Gaillot and Bernard Notarianni, but we had to prepare for our session in the next slot.

Les Neuf Cases / The Nine Boxes

Les Neuf Cases pour mieux comprendre son Client” presents the “9 boxes” interview technique from Solution Selling in the French language track. Because some English speaking participants expressed interest in the session, we decided to make this a bilingual session, “V.O. en français sous-titré en anglais”.

The session worked really well. The participants were really engrossed in interviewing each other and learned a useful technique. The discussion at the end was even more interesting, as we looked at the bigger picture:

  • We have a systemic problem with sales compensation, if the bonus is only tied to selling the project and not to delivering the project. Selling fairytales is easy. Implementing them is hard. I’d rather see bonuses tied to succesful delivery. This gives us two bonus features: salespeople have an incentive to sell short projects that deliver quickly and company cash flow improves as the bonus is paid upon payment by the customer.
  • The consulting model of Solution Selling is really useful in lots of situations. The 9 boxes are a technique to perceive more.
  • A customer who knows what they want is extremely dangerous. If we don’t explore the problem, we will likely end up building a solution that does not solve a problem. Where’s the value in that? Solution Selling gives us the “Re-engineering the Vision” tool to bring our interviewee back from box 9 (“I know the solution”) to box 1 (“If that’s the solution, what is the problem?”).
  • The Nine Boxes can be used by everyone who wants to know what we need to make, from the salesperson to the developer. The salesperson is our first analyst. The Nine Boxes provide most of the information you need to write epics and stories. Dave Nicolette explains how to write User Stories with the Nine Boxes.

We got a lot of good feedback from the participants. Doing a bilingual session was really fun.

I wonder about the “Chansons Françaises” stage for French-language sessions. Some of the sessions on this stage only had a low number of participants. This track seems a bit ‘ghetto’, apart from the rest of the conference. Bilingual sessions help to cross the language barrier. You do need bilingual session presenters, though. Portia and I are available 🙂


There’s a bit of buzz about techniques like Kanban, Real Options, Lean and Theory of Constraints. People will exclaim things like “Oh, I see! That’s creating an option!” or talk about bottlenecks and flow. Chris Matts keeps popping up everywhere like a one-man marketing machine spreading the word. Portia and I have met many people who’ve heard about these concepts and want to know more. Watch out for more news about our “Real Options Space Game” to experience Real Options while playing an SF board game.

Reception and dinner

The evening ends with the traditional dinner, speeches and awards. One of the highlights was the “XP song” by the Japanese participants. After dinner, we have several more chats over drinks. I’m really happy that many people came up to us to talk about the XP game and the other games Vera, Portia and I designed.

I’m glad I’m at Agile 2008.

I’m sad it’s almost over

I’m In.


Agile 2008 – Wednesday afternoon pt. 2

How to overcome Pertinent Conflicts

Christian and Christoph presented the Conflict Resolution Diagram (or “Evaporating Cloud”), a technique to (dis)solve conflicts. I’ve been using this technique for a while, but I still learned something new: stating the underlying assumptions in an extreme way is fun and very effective. These statements ask to be challenged.

More about the Thinking Tools in Bill Dettmer’s “The Logical Thinking Processes“. The book is quite expensive, but the tools are very clearly explained. To make it perfect, I would add more “stories”, show how the tools are used on cases, step by step.


Agile 2008 – Wednesday afternoon pt. 1

Prioritizing your Product Backlog

Mike Cohn presents several techniques for prioritizing our backlog:

  • Kano analysis: divide themes into Exciter (“Wow! Ididn’t know you could do that!”) , Linear (“The more, the better”) and Mandatory (“Must have”) features. Implement the mandatory themes; add as many Linear themes as possible; add some Exciters to keep the customers delighted.
  • Theme screening: looks at how well the themes score on several chosen selection criteria, relative to one base theme. Work on the high scoring themes.
  • Theme scoring: choose selection criteria and assign weights. Choose a baseline for each criterion and score each theme. Give each theme a score for each of the criteria, compared to the baseline. Work on the high scoring themes.
  • Relative weighting: score each theme on how much value it adds if present and how much value it would remove if not present. Calculate the relative contribution in value for each theme. Calculate the relative contribution in cost for each time. Score by relative value/relative cost. Work on the high scoring themes.

Essentially, the process works on the theme level. Applying it to stories is too much work and is often meaningless to business users. When we work on a theme, we have to split them in stories and redo the exercise because not all stories in a high-scoring them have a lot of business value or are necessary to realize the theme’s business value. Overall an excellent presentation with good visuals, some exercises and practical advice. Slides available on Mike’s site.

The Relative Weighting technique is used in the Business Value Game, which we will tryout tomorrow morning.


Agile 2008 – Wednesday morning

Jeu de direction

After a refreshing run on the harbourfront, the conference kicks off with the French version of the Leadership Game, “Le Jeu de Direction“. I’ve played this game before with a large group. This time we can explore the leadership issues with a small group. In the game we have to build LEGO buildings in three rounds. In each round we experience a different leadership style: directive, absent and coaching.

The group quickly self-organized, divided tasks and easily picked up tasks that needed to be done. Working without a leader or a coaching leader was not very different. In larger teams, the coach would be more needed, to help the team by keeping an eye on progress, communication and the big picture. It seems that the men and women on the team played with LEGO differently.

Real Options

In the break between sessions, we have an open space chat about Real options after Chris Matts’ and Olav Maassen’s session on Real Options. Portia and I have developed a “Space Game” to experience the Real Options techniques. Some people are interested to play this game. We didn’t bring the game with us, but we’ll see if we can cobble up the game materials with some paper, bits of string and some chewing gum so that we can have a game in the Open Space room.

10 ways to screw up with Scrum and XP

Henrik Kniberg, author of “Scrum and XP from the Trenches“, presents 10 ways to screw up agile projects and agile introduction. The presentation is humorous and Henrik is an engaging speaker. It’s fun and most of the mistakes are very basic. And yet… these are the issues that I’m confronted with daily.

In coaching and consulting work I sometimes worry that we’re telling our customers obvious, basic things. Isn’t all of this Agile, Lean, Real Options and other stuff just common sense? Yes, common sense but uncommon practice. We have to get these basics right with our customers, build a solid Agile base. Then they can take it further on their own and we can move on to help another customer get the basics right.

I’ve given this book to the teams I currently coach. Most of the answers to their questions are in there.

Scrum and XP are simple.

Scrum and XP are hard.

If you want to know more, have a look at Henrik’s blog and download the slides, they are mostly self-explanatory. Or even better, go listen to Henrik at an event near you.


Agile 2008 – Tuesday sessions

Toyota Production System with Mindmapping

Kenji Hiranabe gave an introduction to mindmapping. When we were all comfortable with the tool, Kenji showed us a video of the introduction of process changes at SANYO. During the video we had to take notes using the mindmap. Our 5 root topics were: waste, process, confusion, YATAI and KAIZEN. Yatai is the practice of having multi-skilled workers complete a whole job, instead of specialized workers working at a conveyor belt. Kaizen is continuous improvement.

The process improvement approach shown was quite brutal. After visually showing how much waste was in the system, the conveyor belt was ripped out, to be replaced by Yatai workcells. The production manager was not amused: he had just been humiliated. Moreover, the new system was slower. Things get worse before they get better. The factory would not make their arranged deliveries and risked losing the trust of the customers. So, the old system was reinstated. As a concession, an experiment with one worker was allowed. An experienced worker was chosen to perform the experiment. At first, she was slower than the old system. Over the course of five days she and the engineers implemented improvements and the time to do the work came down to the level of the old system.

The advantage of the Yatai system is that multi-skilled workers see more results of their work and are less likely to become disinterested. As they are in charge of a large section of production, they can implement improvements that are less likely to be local optimizations. The Yatai system is lighter weight and more flexible than a conveyor belt-based system.

I’ve learned a new word and technique: Yatai. The (many) parallels with agile process improvement are left as an exercise for the reader.

Dwarves at work

In the afternoon Portia and I ran the “Mirror Mirror” session. There were 12 participants, which left more time for discussion and questions. We hope the participants got some value out of this session, that they got some ideas for actions to improve their personal and team effectiveness. We’ll know more once we get the retrospective and perfection game results.

Business Value: Soup to Nuts

Andy Pols and Chris Matts talked about Business Value. Many of it was familiar, but I got some new ideas for the Business Value Game and more ideas for awkward questions to ask before and during projects.

Business Value is a continuous process based on a model of value to be delivered by the project. It is a collaborative process, so start asking those difficult questions NOW.