Category Archives: Teaching

An Agile Reading List

These agile books and websites cover the process and the reasoning behind the process of agile software development. They are based on books and sites that I regularly use and mention in class. If a favourite of your’s isn’t here, it just means that I’ve probably not read it yet. The books can be divided into practices and them move into more specialised topics, which move further from the software management side and towards the organisational side of the challenge.

The basics are these

We don’t know as much about this thing we’re building as we think we might so we need to validate assumptions.

Build short incremental slices so that you can start using it sooner rather than later.

Treat people as you’d like to be treated.

This makes it sound simple, but it’s actually hard to do all of these.

We’ll start with the basic agile concepts and practices used in the software development process.

The basic practices and concepts

Go read the agile manifesto and its twelve principles

Go download the Scrum Guide and read it yourself

Use Jame Shore’s The Art of Agile Development for exploring how to apply these concepts with agile related approaches. The full text is available online, or you can buy the book (very cheap second hand editions available) if you prefer. It covers everything that you need to know to get started and mixes theory with practical examples too.

Read any of the books by Tom Gilb. You’ll find them listed at

Mike Cohn stuff and the edited series from Addison-Wesley Professional

The original XP series of books on Extreme Programming

Agile concepts

Henrik Kniberg on different ways of building software

Peter Hundermark – Do better scrum – infoq

Esther Derby and Diane Larsen –

Gil Broza – The Agile Mind-Set –

Tobias Meyer essays: The People’s Scrum: Agile Ideas for Revolutionary Transformation

Clarke Ching has a number of books explaining agile and Theory of Constraints concepts as they apply to software development. Go read them all.

Coaches help teams become better at what they do

Rachel Davies plus Liz Sedley and their Agile Coaching book

Agile coach toolkit

Portia Tung and dream team nightmare

Deciding what to do next and discovering the context

impact mapping builds on work of Gilb and requirements by specification from Gojko Adzic

Go read about ‘real options’ as well from Chriss Matts to understand why you want to delay decisions.

Liz Keogh – Behaviour Driven Development – – more than just a way to test – how to capture ideas from business people and understand the context you find yourself in – intro to real options and Cynefin too

Greg Brougham – Cynefin mini-book

Vasco Duerte  #noestimates  book

Juergen Appelo – good at bringing together ideas from across areas and applying them to software development

Kanban, flow and managing the work of organisations

Donald Reinertsen – managing the design factory and product development flow

David J Anderson Kanban book

John Seddon’s work on benefit of systems thinking and flow

Bjarte Bogsnes and Beyond Budgeting ideas

W. Edwards Deming Out of the Crisis and others who explores systems

Other things

Richard Sheridan – joy inc and Menlo innovation with pairing every role and rotating weekly, as well as bringing pets and babies to work too. This is where the human side of agile practices comes into play. Watch the video, read the book.

Running the Silence Experiment using Lego

Taking part in the Silence Experiment at Agile 2017 made me more determined than before that running this type of session with students would be a good idea. Being offered the chance to start teaching our Human Computer Interaction course at the University of Aberdeen created an opportunity for me to ‘run the experiment’ and see what happens.

Thanks to all of you who’ve taken part in my running of this experiment.

Setting up the session took a bit of thought. While I couldn’t use same prothetic hand kits used by Sal Freudenberg in her versions of the experiment, which I covered previously, I could use the Lego Serious Play starter kits that I already have as an LSP facilitator. This meant the work would not be as meaningful, but given the audience, would probably work just as well. I used LSP Starter Kits and assumed teams of three or four students per team. I also wanted to have a slide deck to guide participants, along with a workbook that offered many of the same instructions so that they could work at their team pace too. Lastly, signs where prepared for the doors so that people would know what to expect as they entered the room.

The basic setup and assumptions

This was for the first practical session of the class and ran in the first week and set the tone for what follows in the classroom. Given this was a new practical session I had to run each of the three sessions on offer as I thought it would be too much to be dropped in someone’s lap if they’d not experienced this before, let alone facilitated many workshops.


My goal was to put all participants on equal footing and experience something different. They should all experience ‘a level playing field’ and feel their ideas are being considered too.

To that end I had them build two different models. The first is a straight forward one with eight steps, which they could follow. The second and subsequent model had general instructions, which they could interpret variously according to their design preferences. More about this later. I wanted them to empathise with others for that hour of silence.

What happened in the sessions

Given this was done during a regular teaching term. I had to clear students out of the room each session, and then set it all up with the help of my demonstrator. This took us about fifteen minutes to do as we set out Lego kits plus instruction booklets that I’d printed from the slide deck, along with a pack of sticky notes and pens at each table. We also had to move tables around so that students could sit around a table instead of in a row as these were computing labs. This was not ideal, but worked well enough for our purposes.

Before they entered the room I would tell them that silence reigned once they entered the room and that they should enter and put their coats and bags down and find a space at a table. They should also form teams of three where possible and await further instructions in silence.
After all was settled and we’d rearranged students into trios instead of pairs, I gave a brief intro to the session, and then we started the building. During this time my demonstrator and I would wander and remind them to write down their thoughts as they worked through the experiment, show them the colour version of instructions in the Lego kit, and keep them on the right page for the more challenging instructions.

I noticed that some students ‘cheated’ with notes written to team members as ‘instructions’ and ‘questions’. (In the photo above, the stack on the left contains instructions, while the one on the right contains reflective comments.) While we tried to stop this and suggested at the start that they will get more out of the experiment if they didn’t do this, it happened nonetheless. I also noticed a lot of ‘oops, sorry’ and shrugging of shoulders during the sessions as students delved deeper into the experience. Some students also quickly colour coded and sorted the pieces to make finding pieces easier, while in one session all teams bare one, kept the Lego bricks in the bags and only took out the pieces they needed. That was a very quiet session.

At the end of about 45 minutes they were done with their final thoughts, and we moved onto the discussion as a group.

The discussion

I worked through a number of the same questions that the Inclusive Collaboration crew also used with their sessions, and then added a few of my own:

  • What did they feel they needed to say, but in the end didn’t need to?
  • What surprised them?
  • What did they wish they could’ve still said?
  • How was this different?
  • What should they remember to use when applying this to the rest of the term?
  • Why did I have you do this exercise?

The first ones ended up being similar to what experienced in Agile 2018, and read about in various blog posts, after a bit of teasing out of the concepts and ideas with them. They thanked their team mates for a good time, and apologised for their mistakes. They also realised that much of what we say is ‘filler’ and the need disappears after a bit of time. The surprises for them were the speed with which they worked and collaborated in silence.


There was also a discussion each session about whether they would’ve worked faster if they were able to talk. We always concluded that they probably wouldn’t because they would ‘talk, talk’, and not ‘act act’ and thus take longer. They realised that by acting and building something to show their team members to let them see what they were thinking avoided many misunderstandings, which would normally arise during talking.

A key part of the way I run this is to let participants ‘follow instructions’ in the first part, and then make them collaborate on design in silence in the longer second part. The second part is when the team need to decide how to collaborate to design items, and where the ‘act act’ seems to win as first one person tries out something and others join in to design the item, and to then experiment with the design. This was emergent design at its best.

Running this as Play4Agile 2018

I also ran this session at #p4a18 where we had only one team of three plus two who came and then left again. This was an unconference with many other sessions on the go, and on the first day. It was useful.

This session added a new twist: how do you bring a new person into a silent group? How does that person indicate their intention to help, or guide the team? Both ‘newcomers’ did this differently, and in the debrief we discussed how this was perceived by the ‘fixed’ team. Beyond that similar discussions also arose. One of the participants had also been at the Agile2018 session mentioned above, and was able to offer insights into the comparison of these two. For that person the ‘meaningful work’ of building the hand was paramount and added gravitas to the work. Using Lego Serious Play kits will never come to that level. However, it does offer more experimentation with the design issues participants face, while also making the session more easy for others to follow too.

Follow up

The materials to run this session yourself can be pulled down from these links:

The silence_experiment_room_signs signs also help guide expectations.

Slides to show on screens during the session and to guide discussion. Silence_Experiment slides Handouts for table groups (slides 4-9) You may want to print the ones with Lego pieces in colour for piece identification if you don’t have the Starter Kit instruction booklets.

If you do use run this yourself, then please let me know how it goes. It’d be interesting to compare notes.

Everyone Can Learn to be More Creative

We are all creative, but our culture seems to drum creativity out of us during school. The ‘arty’ ones go one way, the ‘science’ ones another, and the remainder end up distributed across all the subjects. This is brought up again, and again in articles. A key proponent of the notion that ‘school removes our creativity’ is Sir Ken Robinson, who discussed the topic in his TED Talk in 2006. Bookmark it now and watch it later to be inspired.

We can change our ‘creativity level’ through practice. Our brains are always ready to learn new things as long as we offer them the time and opportunity. We need to broaden our knowledge, change our behaviour, and change our lifestyle to be our most creative according to WikiHow, and FastCo. To this I would add that we mainly need to do the following:

First, adjust our mindset. Tell ourselves that “we need more practice being creative” instead of saying that “we’re not creative.” Tell children this too, by the way. This will help us with the next step.

Second, create opportunities to practice being creative. This can range from doodling more often, to joining a reading group, cooking more, or taking painting classes. You choose, and be flexible by trying a variety of options such as those suggested by Michael Michalko, or HuffPost.

Third, walk more, and exercise more. Both of these offer space to think, and to pull us out of our regular thought patterns, which creates a space when innovation can happen.

These changes will affect you quietly, but you should notice with time that you pick different types of solutions than you would’ve in the past. You might also find that you’re more innovative in general too.

The last step in all of this is to always be looking for more options when exploring challenges and identifying solutions, as I’ve explained previously.

While all of this sounds like something we each do individually, you can also bring people along with you too, by taking part in games such as the cards from the Try or Die game shown above, which Janny and I ran for the Aberdeen Science Centre last June.

Diverging and Converging Through the Creative Process with #Ideas2Action

We all make decisions at basic and more advanced levels every day. At the basic level it will be about where to eat when meeting friends, while at the more advanced might be about where to go on holiday. On beyond that it could be about which career path to take, or whether that business idea is worth pursuing, and if so, then how to do that.

At the basic level we probably work through our steps subconsciously without much thought. As we move up the levels of complexity we will start to pause and consider what we’re doing at each step.

The Creative Process uses Diverging and Converging

The creative process includes four stages of discovery, design, develop and deliver. In discovery we explore what is the issue to be resolved. Design sets the parameters of the solution. We prototype a solution in develop, which we then use in the deliver stage. During each of these stages we should be looking for diverse options (diverging) before we apply a set of criteria to select an appropriate solution (converging) to apply.

If we walk through the simple process of deciding where to go for dinner with friends you can see how this works, and why we often go through steps unconsciously. We’ll also contrast this with a startup scenario to see how as the stakes go up the conscious steps come into view.

Discovery is about context

We start with the idea that it would be good to meet for dinner. We check with friends to see if they agree, or if lunch would be better depending upon the occasion, and if anything specific is to be talked about. Here we’re framing the challenge to come.

In the business scenario the discovery phase is about determining who your customers might be, and how much demand there is for the service you envisage. You would also consider any competitors, and where you would position yourself in the market. This is setting the background and context of the service you want to offer.

Design clarifies the boundaries of your options

For our meal with friends we need to now agree upon date and time, as well as who should be included in the outing. We can diverge on the options of when as well as who should come, and then select the final options based upon who can make it for the meal on which date.

The business will need to explore what might be possible with the business given what it knows about its potential market and customers. Here it can be wild in its options, and then select the one that is the most promising, exciting, or novel.

Develop is where we create the prototype solution

Now we get to the part where we decide to go for the meal. We have many options in principle, but in reality are constrained by budget, availability of seating, or reservations, as well as likes/dislikes of food by our friends, and the time available for the meal according to the type of place we choose for the meal. We can float these options to our friends until we find one that everyone agrees on for the meal. We probably rule out, based on past experience, a number of these questions as we already know the answer.

In the business we’re selecting and arranging the components of the service in different configurations to find the one that meets customer expectations best. Our constraints might be tied to a range of options such as ‘which one is most adaptable in the long term’, or ‘which one offers the most return soonest’, or ‘which one offers a long, steady increase in development because it also opens the doors for more options in the future.

Deliver is for confirming our assumptions

This is when we meet our friends and have that meal. We talk, eat, drink and find out that ‘yes, we did pick the right place’, or ‘bother, the service here is horrible. We should’ve gone to the other place’. Now we know for next time. Because, there is always ‘a next time’.

For the business, this is where the item is produced, packaged and sold. Or, the service is deployed and we’re working with our customers. Now we discover that everything is as expected, or is better/worse, than we planned. We also now find new issues, challenges and possibly opportunities, which we hadn’t thought about. This is all information, which we can use and develop for our next round of changes to our business.

We can now start the process over too. For this is never a linear process, but more like a wheel that goes round and round with multiple iterations. We learn more each time around for a specific project, but also learn more about the process too and how to better develop options for diverging to gain more options, as well as how to choose how we should converge on few, and then on one option to move forward.

Diverging and Converging with the Business Model Canvas

You might be thinking, I don’t need this, I have the Business Model Canvas to guide me. Yes, it will help you determine a good mix of components for your business model. But… it doesn’t help you work out a good way to diverge and generate more options. Nor does it help you determine the type of converging that you need at each stage.

In addition, the business model canvas doesn’t help you validate the assumptions behind your ideas. This process could be used to help you prioritise the components of your business model. Which ones should be focused on first to confirm that your business model is worthy of your time and energy. This process will help you validate your ideas with prototypes so that you ‘know’ you’re going in the right direction with your idea.

Attend an Ideas2Action workshop to apply this process to your challenges

Janny and I can teach you how to use this process in our workshop. You come with a challenge and we help you work through it during the session. We provide you with space, time and support to diverge on options, select the right criteria for converging on the one to carry forward. You leave with your action plan and know what to do next to make your dream happen.

You can use this process to determine where to go for dinner, or you could also use it to help you

  • explore career/retirement options
  • choose which of those business startup ideas you should pursue
  • decide upon your special holiday destination/activity
  • choose which option you should develop next at work

Whatever you do at whichever stage of life you’re at, we can help you uncover more options than you think you have, so that you pick the one that will leave you more satisfied than you thought you would be.

Go sign up for our #ideas2action workshop on 2 December 2017 on Eventbrite. Attend before the holidays so that you can plan your new ideas further for the new year.

Using Deliberate Practice in the Classroom

If learning something to professional level takes 10,000 hours, then it’s probably important to make time to practice the skills needed for that profession. It’s up to us as educators to facilitate practice experiences, which help our students do this. To that end, I’ve decided to do one less lecture each week for my course on Ruby on Rails so that there is one lecture a week, and the second ‘lecture’ is a ‘deliberate practice’ session that builds on what was covered in the lecture. This is following Kathy Sierra’s dictum that ‘less is more’. Less lecture means more time to embed what was covered with other activities.

I’m trying to build on the learning experience of a code retreat, which we’ve organised in the past, as well as what comes out of coding katas too, and the discussions I’ve had with developers over the years about how they work and learn. Thanks to all of you.

I’ll not go as far as some to explain how deliberate practice should be a process, or that it leads to enlightened software craftspeople, but rather that it’s part of how you challenge yourself to try different approaches as a way to learn by doing.

Each of these ‘deliberate practice’ sessions follows the same format. Students should work with a partner or two so that no one is working on their own. I set out the topic and point to the github repository that we’ll be using. Then follows three rounds of twelve minutes. At the end of each round we pause, compare notes as to what they did, what posed a challenge, and what they’re going to do next. To wind up the session we go over any take aways. I think, however, that I need to change this to a more reflective approach so that the students think more about what they did, and how they might approach challenges differently in the future.

Each of these sessions is somethign simple and basic. The purpose is to offer lots of practice in the basics of Rails development. Create a new app, write some code for a controller and its views. Create a different app, focus on different types of views. Pull down a repo, then run the migrations, now change the models, controllers and views to make it all work better.

The students seem to like this so far, and I’ll keep working on new scenarios this term, and then revise them for improved outcomes next term. The joy of having a course run each term is this faster feedback cycle. Feel free to get in touch if you have comments, or suggestions about this approach.



The Silence Experiment at #Agile2017

While at #Agile2017 in Orlanda I was able to participate in ‘The Silent Experiment’ being run by Sal Freudenberg, Katherine Kirk , and Chris Corriere, as part of the Audacious Salon. I’d missed this in Edinburgh during it’s unveiling at Lean Agile Scotland, and had read about it in Sal’s ‘Inclusive Collaboration Experiments‘ book, where it’s described as a way to let people better understand the diversity of their colleagues as part of their neurodiversity work. The experiment ran as follows: enter the room and sit quietly at a table so that you form a team of three. Sal set the context for the session and told us when we could open the package and instruction booklet to begin. We had 40 minutes to complete the assembly of the prosthetic hand, decorate the container and take a photo to include in the parcel for the person, who’s to receive the hand. I formed a team with Pia and Lisa Crispin. I found the session exciting and intriguing because we were doing meaningful work. This is something Sal mentioned, that was an integral factor in her early versions of the workshop, whih used Lego. Participants found it less engaging when the work was ‘build a model’, and that the session went better when she switched to hands. I also found it frustrating when I wanted to share ideas, but couldn’t because of the silence. Katherine, happily, kept walking around with a post it that said something like “write down your thoughts and feelings as they occur” so that we didn’t forget them for the debrief later. The frustration was as much about good thoughts as much as about ‘oops, I think I did it wrong’ ones and wasn’t sure how to explain my concern. We did get there in the end, and Lisa kept us going well by pointing out that all pins should be not flush, but recessed into the hand. I found the silence revealing for a number of reasons. First, there wasn’t pressure to keep talking, and we could focus more clearly on the work without the noise from other tables to distract us. Second, we could consider our repsonses to issues as they arose more carefully, and respond differently than we might have otherwise done if we’d all been talking through the building of the hand. Third, while it was hard to share confusion about something, or to ask if others are also confused, it was comforting to trust your partners too as we all eventually worked our way through the produres. When someone had problems, then we’d offer via gestures, another team member a chance to try the step.

The experiment revealed too, that doing meaningful work is an important part of this experiment. For me and others, knowing that the hand we were assembling would change someone’s life meant a lot to what we were doing. That offered a huge amount of empathy and love for the activity. Building a model with Lego just isn’t the same. However, I’ll probably try it this next term using some of the Lego Serious Play sets as my own experiment. This ‘meaningfulness’ then becomes a debrief point.

All of this is by way of showing how we need to have more diversity in our workplaces, and be inclusive so that end the usual monoculture. Come join the crowd at and do what you can to help spread the word.

As Katherine’s poster noted: “insight does not arrive from objects – it comes from ‘insight containers’ called HUMANS” Humans are imperfect, and no one human can know everything, so  we need collaboration in order to gain effective insight. And the best collaboration is that which fosters inclusive diversity.   Save Save Save

Games 4 Learning


I delivered a workshop on ‘Games 4 Learning‘ at the UK Horizons STEM conference in June 2017. This went well, and much talking and actions ensued from the participants about how they might use games in their teaching. At the end a question of resources came up, and I realised that I didn’t have a list of them on a slide. This short post replaces the ‘missing slide’.

The games mentioned in the session were:

Lego Serious Play (See other blog posts on this)
Happy Salmon
Kanban Pizza Game
Various Lego Scrum Simulation games
Scrum Card Game
Penny Game (dice variation)
Lean Workflow Design Game
Marshmallow Challenge
Ball Point Game
Ninja Bear Granny (rock paper scissors) with team/group variations
Investigative Rehearsal (role play), and Theatre of Oppressed/Forum Theatre

TastyCupCakes is a wonderful site to find games for a variety of purposes, although many are aimed at software development.

The Encyclopaedia of Improv Games offers a useful list of games used in improv training. These can be simple and easy to use and adapt to your needs.

The Thing Group offer many types of games for training. I know some people use these, but I haven’t had an opportunity to explore them more fully. I put it here as an option.

For each of these look at what might work, and think of how you might introduce them in your sessions. If in doubt, talk about it with a colleague, or try it and explain that it’s ‘an experiment’ and you’d like some feedback.

Do feel free to get in touch and let me know how you get on with these.

Academic and tech conference issues

I regularly attend a number of tech conferences each year and a smaller number of academic ones. This works well for me as I am always seeking better ways to educate my students about professional practices.

Last week I was guiding visitors around the campus as part of a site visit for an academic conference, which we’d like to host at the University of Aberdeen. Most of this went well and we identified all of the rooms that we could use for talks and breakout sessions as well as locations for the conference dinner and coffee breaks. We also had good conversations during the day in between walks around the campus to see different locations, as well as over dinner across a range of issues.

During these talks I became more aware of differences in academic and tech conferences. Some of the ideas from tech conferences can be easily brought into play for academic ones.This is important because conferences should be a time for the spreading of good ideas from one place to another.

Dinner with a stranger

For the conference evenings without ‘the dinner’ we can use the ‘Dinner with a stranger‘ model that I’ve now experienced a number of times including the one written about by Corinna. This lets people pick where to go and gives them the option of bringing a friend for company, as well as an opportunity to mingle with others. It helps keep people at the bigger event connected during the smaller events. As suggested via Twitter, this could also be called ‘dinner with a new friend’.


We all need to speak in public as academics. It goes with the territory.  What we don’t always provide are pathways for ‘new’ speakers to get more comfortable with public speaking by being able to ‘experience the stage’ without being the centre of attention. Lauren Currie started #upfront as a way to make that step easier for those who want to enter public speaking. I organised the Northern Lights Conference to use this approach in 2016, and it meant that a number of people were able to experience the stage without having to talk. Next year, hopefully, when they are speakers, they’ll already know what to expect.

#upfront at Nothern Lights

We should use this type of approach, as shown above with two siting on the stage next to the speaker, at academic conferences too so that academics gain expeience before they speak. They can be that bit closer to the talking and we gain more diversity in speakers too. This would be a simple exercise to try.

Coffee breaks

You’d think that we’d all agree on something as simple as coffee breaks. However, you’d be wrong. At academic conferences the goal is to have people in the talks. This isn’t supported by those who skip talks to have another coffee and catch up with a friend to discuss a new collaboration. That conversation should happen at lunch, or at night over dinner or in the bar it seems. At academic conferences the breaks need to be fixed and shorter rather than longer so as to maximise the sessions.

At tech conferences, which I go to there are always beverages available during the day for people to grab as needed to fuel a conversation. One year there were fixed coffee times, but that changed and it also didn’t stop people skipping sessions to talk about ideas and collaborations. That’s why we’re at these coferences after all. By the way, these are regular conferences and not open space or unconference events. At those, I’d expect there to be food and drink all day to help keep conversations going.

I like the ‘come and drink and eat when you’re ready’ approach of tech conferences. I like knowing that I can grab the slide deck, if I miss a session, because my priority right now is to speak to person x, who is only here for a few days. I think there should be space for both attendng sessions and for also enabling the freedom of ‘coffee’s here, keep talking’.

And, when I think about it. At the regular events i attend, then i a crowd of 80 there are maybe 7-8 people not in one session or another, while an event with 250-300 sees maybe 10-12 in the coffee lounge during sessions. These are not large numbers. These are where people deepen friendships and work gets done.

Codes of Conduct

We added a code of conduct for the Northern Lights Conference last year. Friends told me that this was needed now, and that some people wouldn’t attend if we didn’t have one. After a bit of searching around and finding that all of the conferences that I go to had them, apart from an open space one, which deals with this in a different manner, then I decided we too should have one. We based ours on the one used by ScotlandJS. I also had a long talk with the organiser about how they curate the talks and engage people to put themselves forward as speakers, as this is often part of the issue too. People had to agree to the code when they purchased tickets, or agreed to be sponsors. If you need a brief guide on the bad things that happen at conferences then this timeline shows you what’s been reported on in the past.

I looked around to see if any academic tech conferences have codes of conduct. I didn’t find any. I did find documents like the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.  This is mostly about the software being developed, and actions of an individual in other scenarios might be interpretted as applying to conferences too, but that is also possible too generous an interpretation. The IEEE Code of Conduct comes closer to what’s needed and does talk about the issues in a more general manner which does cover conferences too.

I found one call for an academic conference code of conduct. This, as you can see, raises all of the issues that we see in the Times Higher Education, and in other places too. It also carries on in the comments of the post. I also found that the IASSIST conference has a code of conduct, which will cover the issues too.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: do we need a code of conduct? Shouldn’t participants be expected to be good to one another? Maybe they will, but some of them won’t be. Listen carefully to conversations around you and you’ll find that things do happen, which shouldn’t at conferences. Ask the organisers too if you’re in doubt. The Code of Conduct 101 covers most of the reasons, why you want one, and answers you’re ‘yes, but…’ items too.

A conference should be a joyous occasion where people meet for the first time, or the upteenth time to hang out and discuss life, work, and what comes next. We should also know that if something untoward does happen, that it will be dealt with appropriately and that participants know who to speak to if they need to report something. We should set an example.

While computing in academia and the tech industry might be considered similar, there are still differences and some of the trends we see in industry should move into academia. We are here to help mould the ones who work in industry, so we should teach them well and provide good examples.




Humble Enquiry Workshop at Lean Agile Scotland

Ellen Grove Twitter LinkedIn and I ran a 90 minute workshop based on the work of Edgar Schein and his book Humble Enquiry at the Lean Agile Scotland conference in October 2016.  The goal was to highlight that people should (need to) take the time to build relationships between each other in order to have teams and groups of people work better when difficult occassions arise.

Humble Enquiry starts from the position that it’s better to ask questions, than to tell people what to do. Similarly, it is about being vulnerable to asking questions and being curious in order to know how you might help each other. We focused on four stages:

  • why use Humble enquiry?
  • what is humility?
  • asking good questions
  • why humble enquiry is hard

by the end people should be able to practice humble enquiry on their own because we told them about it and offered chances for them to ask appropriate questions in a humble manner.

It was well received according to the feedback cards of participants.

Play4Agile 2016 – one big family

All in the family

Play4Agile (p4a) 2016 is over for another year. As always it’s part reunion with dear friends, and part excitement at meeting new people at this ‘unconference’, where you learn to expect to be surprised by what you find happening. I mentioned this as part of my brief lightning talk on the Thursday evening. This is one big safe space, where you can explore ideas in sessions knowing that you will get support from those around you. It is so safe that, as mentioned on twitter, a transgender person came out to everyone there. That was a nice moment.

The ‘family’ aspect was reinforced in two ways this year. First, we had the village that is the p4a community looking after Myrta, who was a regular attendee to many sessions as both of her parents are also part of the community. It wasn’t unusual to see Myrta playing with and being looked after by others with her parents in different sessions. This is now the third year where this ‘community childcare’ is happening at p4a and it seems to work perfectly well. At some point I’m sure that we’ll possibly have bigger kids in attendance too. It possibly hasn’t happened as we are limited by space at the event so we can only have around 80 attendees, so they might need to sleep on the floor or in a camp bed.

The other ‘family’ aspect which I realised later was the wonderful way that sessions turned into ‘family’ portraits thanks to the lovely graphical recording work done by Kata and Marti from Remarker, who work the paper together like pair programmers with Kata doing the illustrations and Marti doing the words. One will start something and the other will follow on as needed to fill the large sheet so that anyone coming along later will know the title of the session and see the key takeaways. Having this pair at p4a meant we had a wall of history growing before our eyes. This was a great addition to the event this year and I look forward to seeing them at events in the future. Kata and Marti were told to feel free to choose the sessions they record, and to join any session they wanted to attend too. This is why you’d see them everywhere during the weekend. They are also now ‘family’ as we’ve asked, and they agreed to come join us again next year. As Kata told me, this was the best conference she’d ever been to as they were told to look after themselves and maintain a sustainable pace over their time with us. As a result she was able to take advantage of the location’s facilities and unwind after a long day recording our activities.graphic recording of lightning talks

The ‘family’ aspect was also shown in the relationship between the hotel staff and the p4a participants. We were told that staff avoid going on holiday over our weekend. The staff want to work our weekend. We talk to staff, and they learn our names extremely fast. They even know to pre-order some soft drinks for our members as part of the event. It’s also not unusual now to see staff and guests hugging each other good bye. It’s an amazing event.

The ‘family’ aspect of the event with people feeling safe encourages the learning that we each do there as we’re relaxed and feel that we can move from our comfort zone to our ‘adventure zone’ and learn new skills while also sharing ideas for discussion. I should also point out that the sharing ideas goes on all day and night. Friday and Saturday might go from an 07:00 walk or jog with someone in the woods through to 08:00 for breakfast followed by the open space starting at 09:00 and sessions running until 13:00 for lunch and afternoon sessions then running from 14:30 to 17:30 with an ‘evening news’ at 18:00 followed by dinner and then evening events of games, power point karaoke and talking with friends from 20:00 until 03:30-04:30. You could in other words find yourself with little sleep.

Games for learning

I find p4a so useful as it inspires me with games to use in the classroom and stories to use when talking to students. This year there were several highlights playing games in the bar in the evening. For example, we were talking about ‘real options’ and Olaf mentioned that he uses the game of Fluxx to show the difference between ‘options and commitments’. The rules constantly change so you can’t plan, and have to keep your options open until you find a successful way to commit to something in the game. Adding this game to the classroom will be a good way to bring home the issue of ‘options’ and systems.

Similarly, during a Werewolf session we learned that decisions happen much faster when opinions are reduced in ‘no talking’ rounds. This ‘silent’game round went much faster, than in the rounds where the villagers can talk and argue their opinions.

While playing Escape in the evening we also found a lot about communication being shared (or not) by players, and about the emotional state of players too, as shown in the graphic recoding of the session by Kata and Marti. Thanks to them we realised things, which our observers of the game had said. This was a very nice extra to find them working into the evening sessions and not stopping after dinner.Adventure Zone

Learning with StrategicPlay

The best sessions for me this year were the ones run by Katrin. This started with the pre-conference Agile Game Slam where everyone worked through a number of known games for different scenarios, and then created ideas for other games in the same scenarios, some of which ended up being worked on over the weekend too. This was a good example of Katrin using her CoCreACT process, and as always it’s good to see someone, who loves what she does, facilitate events as she offers so much during the process.

I was also able to see her and Jens guiding the Flowa team through this later too in a slightly different application of the CoCreACT process. Flowa were wanting help to determine where they should go, and Katrin, Jens and I helped them with this. This was a good extra to show how you can always be surprised by the unexpected at p4a. We followed this up with another session using Lego Serious Play process to develop models in relation to various challenge statements about the firm’s vision and ideal customers, which was good to see.

Lastly, I helped Jan run a short ‘taster’ session on Lego Serious Play under Katrin’s guidance, which was fun. Jan, found it a bit more nervous doing this under Katrin’s kind gaze, and people repeatedly told Jan that they liked the session, which was good for her confidence. All of us, who trained with StrategicPlay in being Lego Serious Play facilitators under Katrin have gone through this, so now Jan too has taken this rite of passage.

Rory’s sessions

Although Rory wasn’t here, he was here in spirit with his Story Cubes and in the Extroidinaire design studio, which were both here this weekend. We all received a ‘mixin’ pack of three Story Cube dice as part of the p4a gamafication kit this year, which was a great surprise. Jordann and Alex also ran a useful session on how you can use Story Cubes with agile teams that produced a good number of ideas that I can use, and Katrin and Jens introduced us all to the Extroidinaires as a design thinking approach, which anyone can follow to learn the approach. This will be useful for classes in the future.

The other sessions

I also went to Bettina’s NVC game session, which was the ongoing story of a game she started working on last year at p4a15. I wanted to see if I could glean any ideas for my own conversation based game. Whereas she starts from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication approach, I start from Crucial Conversations, so while there is some overlap, and her approach is more heavy-weight than what I intend, it did offer me a few ideas for perhaps using ‘scenario’ or ‘concept’ cards so that players get more of the background. However, this might slow the game down and not be so useful for beginners, which is my intended audience.

Tim offered his Scrum Card Game twice it was so popular, and I made it to the second session. I’m always looking for new ways to introduce the ‘feeling’ of a scrum sprint to students and I hoped this might be ‘the one’ to use as it would take away the ‘oh Lego’ feel, which happens when building objects with Lego. I wasn’t disappointed, and hope to see this up on TastyCupCakes soon.

Juhu and I joined together for a session to discuss how to deal with conflict. He had specific issues to cover, and I wanted some feedback on my card game. This worked well for him and folks concluded that you need to develop a sense for issues both at a personal level so that you are aware of your own feelings when things aren’t going right and that you might be building up to explode at someone, while also developing a wider sense of how the team is doing in the sense of ‘danger spots’ in a minefield. Although my idea didn’t get much discussion, that was ok as people wanted to discuss the larger issue of conflict and I found some useful ideas there, which I can carry forward for the next iteration of my game idea.

The last session I went to was Ari-Pekka’s ‘Culture Coding’ session, which I’ve already written about.

I liked co-facilitating the ‘retro-festival’ with Jordan. We tried a new ‘speed’ retrospective with six stalls for people to work their way through in five minute sessions at each stall. As this was with five teams we were able to give ‘stall holders’ a short break as people moved around the stalls. There were stalls for ‘Story Cube stories of feedback’, ‘A sailboat of driving forces and hinderances’, ‘a wishing box of dreams for p4a’, and a ‘back to the future of what was great about p4a17’, along with a ‘weather chart’ of the overall process that goes into a gathering: registration, pre-event info, the marketplace, open space and other things. The format was fun and seemed to work well with some fun comments back from people about our different format.

Wrapping Up

p4a is still the best conference that I attend. I ALWAYS find useful ideas that work their way into my teaching and facilitation practice. It provides good space to try ideas and receive useful feedback from other practitioners, who face these problems and issues on a more regular basis than I do in my classroom. This is the place where I can validate my book learning through conversations and facilitation practice so that it becomes valid praxis for me to use everyday. This is me doing my professional development. This is what I do for ‘work’, although admittedly at p4a it doesn’t feel like work. Not even with when you’ve only had three or four hours of sleep.