Rediscovering the Obvious

…stumbling in the footsteps of greatness

Archive for January, 2011

Bring your ‘A’ game

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My passion is to engage. I am at my best both personally and professionally when I’m able to confront a situation and engage the people around me. I can then understand the goals they’re trying to achieve, explore the impediments they feel they’re facing, and collaboratively find solutions. Usually, these are not only acceptable to everybody, but exceed the hopes of the individuals. I’ve not only found a solution, I’ve shown people an example that more is possible, and that they shouldn’t have to settle.

That’s my ‘A’ game, and I’m not talking about a grade. I’m talking about the affective learning domain, and how it’s equally important as the cognitive domain [1]. When people talk about being passionate about what they do, they’re talking about having achieved engagement at an emotional level. This engagement is what drives my effectiveness. When I’m engaged, I’m much more capable of understanding the way others are feeling, and I’m able to intuitively match the situation and their concerns against the many mental models I’ve collected over the years. Even better, the people I’m engaged with are more likely to be engaged because they can feed off my engagement. These are the experiences when the most fascinating things happen, the biggest audacious goals are defined, and the world gets changed (at least in small ways).

There’s one big problem, though: It’s fragile. It’s extremely easy to knock a group out of this type of zone. All it takes is one person whining about expenses, or the waitress bringing the wrong beer, or a manager walking into the room with an “We’ve got a problem” look on her face. Please, please, don’t be that guy [2]. Team-level flow is slightly more resilient than individual flow, but it’s less able to ignore the context. As a manager, this is one of your jobs. As a team member, it’s your job too. Ditto ScrumMaster, product owner, and everybody else. Protect your environment, take care of the emotional state of your colleagues, and otherwise design the proper environment for the team to engage without distraction.

[1] Referencing Bloom’s learning domains. There’s also a psychomotor domain that deals with imprinting physical and repetitive behaviors, this is something I should write about after my next code retreat.

[2] Although, there’s not much you can do about last call, really. Learn to stack.

[edit] Forcing a feed update… playing with the blog ;)

Written by erwilleke

January 30th, 2011 at 9:20 pm

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Just one thing…

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Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of commitment.

I spent the day shadowing Alan Atlas as he helped a room full of managers understand their role in a brave new agile world. At the end of the day I was invited to facilitate the retrospective of the day’s course and attempt to bubble up some of the individual learning to benefit the group. Last night, at the airport, I realized I’ve never written specifically about a powerful technique I’ve added to the end of every retrospective I’ve run over the last year with great effect.

When I’m helping teams reflect, I tend to use a four-stage starfish to structure the thinking process. Yesterday, I tried an ORID model [3] due to there being many individuals rather than a focused team. In the past, I’ve used the six thinking hats to guide the reflective paths, done standard plus/delta, and several other models. [1] Regardless of the retrospective format used, however, there is one thing I always do to close out the exercise: I ask for a commitment.

This is probably the least “nice coach” activity I do as an agile guide. I force members of the group to make commitments. No Weasel Words, no dodges, no non-commitive commitments. I insist on real commitments. “I will set up a meeting next week with Bob, Julie, and Josh to discuss my role as an agile manager.” I don’t accept “I’ll each out to the other managers about this.” I require “I will hang up visible burndowns for each of my three teams” instead of “I’ll start increasing the amount of visual management”. I’m not a nice person. I insist on real, committed language, and I insist it’s something they’re willing to have held accountable by the entire group.


Because it helps. I first observed this while coaching with Simon Bennett in the UK during early summer 2009, and this is where I first heard the term “Weasel Words.” I am amazed at how deeply it struck me about my own behavior, and how much it started focusing my interactions as a coach and team lead. I started doing action plans [2] with individuals and teams. It is one of the things I most appreciate here at Rally: Following through with commitments is part of the company’s core values. Too often, it’s not. Time after time I see teams and individuals make a fuzzy statement of intent and never ever follow through, because the commitment doesn’t _mean_ anything. It doesn’t connect with affective learning, only cognitive learning, and therefore doesn’t stick very well.

As a coach, I force people to connect with what they’re saying. I don’t put individuals on the spot, I put entire groups on the spot. “Stand up, tell your peers what you will _do_, and make that commitment to the group.” Starting yesterday, I even invited (didn’t insist) people to sign the written record of their commitment (i.e. the sticky on the board). It helps create focus when multiple people make very similar commitments.

Just one thing, one pebble, one little piece of progress can start a landslide. It’s even more powerful when you get ten or twenty little pieces of progress. People throughout an organization see many people suddenly DO something and take notice. They instinctively recognize that something important is happening and they watch, and maybe even engage.

[1] I’m more than happy to write about any of these… leave a comment or tweet at me if you’re interested.

[2] Do you want another post on Action Plans?

[3] Scroll down to “The ORID Model” and pay attention to the Kolb Learning Cycle too

Written by erwilleke

January 28th, 2011 at 5:21 pm

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Welcome to my new home!

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As many of you know from Twitter and other events, I’ve recently joined Rally as an agile coach, allowing me to engage with a much broader range of teams and contexts as I help guide people towards more effective and satisfying ways of providing meaning and value to their organizations. In the early years of my career, I was lucky in that I was exposed to a great many contexts that often were wildly different from engagement to engagement. As I progressed in my understanding, I began to recognize the value of the perspectives I gained from exploring these different environments. This knowledge allowed me to change my approach to my career, letting me seek out roles and situations that would accelerate this exposure, leading to my explorations of the product development environment as an employee of CSI and later Inkubook. Recognition that Indianapolis was not able to provide the wide exposure I desired led me to take on my role at EMC Consulting, allowing me visibility into many very large organizations over the last eighteen months.

Rally is the next natural step on my path. Coaching with Rally will offer me the continued opportunity to engage with larger companies at the right level to see entire systems and how they work. I’m excited, and I look forward to the stories I will be able to tell, and the ones I won’t…

To those who read this, thank you for your support and guidance over the last 167 posts! This is the new home for Rediscovering the Obvious, and it’s probably very obvious that it’s very much a work in progress. First step is a reasonable theme, then the various plugins and useful things for both myself and visitors. Only then will I start taking the time to try and clean up the older posts, with the expectation that the code blocks will take the most time; I’m hoping styles will take care of the rest of the mess in a reasonable way. Comments are lost, as are my previous view counts (a handful of posts are pushing 1800 views with most posts getting around 500). Thus ends the tale of my conversion from Community Server to WordPress.

Finally, I’d like to offer a very special appreciation to two people.

Michael Ruminer, owner and host of, I appreciate you for making blogging very easy over the last few years.

Bernardo Heynemann, friend and fellow architect over the years, I appreciate you for getting me off my lazy ass 167 posts ago and getting me to put my thoughts on the web. I have gained far more than I ever would have expected, and I owe you.

Written by erwilleke

January 26th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

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