Clayton and Derek discuss feedback loops.
Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Clayton Lengel-Zigich discuss:
- the state of Agile today.
Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Roy van de Water discuss:
- Our ideal team.
Jade Meskill: Hello, welcome to the “Agile Weekly Podcast,” I’m Jade Meskill.
Roy van de Water: I’m Roy van de Water.
Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.
Jade: We were talking about some of the common problems that we’ve run into on different teams. I was wondering, what is the ideal team, that you would want to work with?
Roy: I think for me, the ideal team that I would want to work with, is a bunch of people that I trust implicitly. They should be people I trust with my life, let alone a software project. I think that’d be huge.
Derek: If there’s all sorts of traits, I definitely think I want to be with people that can be vulnerable with me, and that I can be vulnerable with them on a deeper level than just the work. I want to work with people that are highly passionate about the work they’re doing. I want to work with people that are interested in learning new things.
I want to work with people that want to have fun. I want to work with people who want to get results, and they’re able to balance all of those things.
They’re able to balance, there’s a time to learn, there’s a time to have fun. Ultimately, that has to be balanced with what that deliverable is, whatever that is, and is willing to have conflict to balance those things.
I look at it as if you look at Aristotle or Socrates, or any of them, and you need to talk about virtue. There’s, you go too far to the right, it’s bad. If you go too far to the left, it’s bad.
There’s this constant tension of trying to keep that needle or keep the guitar in tune, so to speak, as we have a guitar on the table here. I want to be on a team that understands those types of things and is having the conversation about, “How do we keep in tune?”
Opposed to being stupid and focused on one thing and not understanding the ramifications of other things. I guess depth, a team that has philosophical depth about the work that they’re doing.
Jade: Those are really awesome things. How do you get to a team that functions like that? You can’t just assemble it out of box and magically you’ve got that. [laughs]
Roy: You hire a project manager, and he says that everybody is required to be all of those things that Derek just listed and that they all have to trust each other.
Jade: Post them up on the wall.
Roy: A good way to make people trust each other is trust falls in all courses, all that stuff.
Derek: I don’t know. I [inaudible 02:47] . I don’t know if I’ve seen it. I think that that’s hard because part of the only way to get some of the trust…Some other way to get that depth is to have that vulnerability.
That path to getting that vulnerability requires exploring all of the edges and doing all of the things which a lot of times ends up in no results or results without any meaning or without a whole lot of fun.
You know, “Hey, great. We got all the results we wanted, but nobody wants to do the work anymore. Because we had to slave and drive, and it was miserable to get there, but we had some success.”
Or, “Hey we had a total blast, but it sucked because it couldn’t last because we didn’t get there.”
I think it’s hard to get that flavor and that character with the same group of people. You almost have to have some runway.
It’s not like, “Hey, boom, this is going to happen.” “Do these 10 steps and by Monday…” You’re going to be a team that is rocking and rolling.
Roy: Let’s say I have a team of a certain number of individuals and they either know each other or don’t, or whatever. They’re not this team yet.
I have the time to give them runway to form. How do I get them to actually become that ideal team and not become a collection of individuals that are only caring what their self‑interests are?
How do I make sure that the team is progressing towards that ideal vision you described?
Jade: You can’t make them do anything. You can only…
Jade: You can only act the way that you would want them to act. It seems silly and basic, but that’s really all that you have control over. If you exhibit integrity…
Roy: That means you have to be a member of the team in order to model that behavior, right?
Jade: I think so. I don’t know how you can…I think you can lead by example, but it’s difficult if you’re removed from the team itself. You can do it if you have some interaction with them, but you can’t do it from afar.
Derek: I don’t think you can do it from a total afar. I don’t know if you can do it if you are on the team per say. Maybe.
Roy: From what I heard Jade say, he was saying in order to get the best results, you should be…It’s easiest if you’re on the team and I think I’m hearing you say it’s easy if you’re not on the team?
Derek: I think some of it might depend on how you define “on the team” for me. The way that I look at that, the more I…I like metaphors. I think they’re a good way to explore ideas.
If I look at successful teams, whether it be sports or successful results, the two things that come to mind immediately for me recently are…If you look it like Chris Powell’s “Extreme weight loss” which you guys may or may not be familiar with. This guy who takes people that are 300 pounds and get some to 150 pounds in 365 days. It’s like hardcore stuff.
He can’t lose the weight for them, but what he can do is he can say, “Are you committed to losing weight? If you’re committed to losing weight, I can help teach you ways to lose that weight to get healthy and I can help hold you accountable for it.”
I think that’s part of it. If you have that mix of people, do all of those people agree on those things? Do they all agree that what’s a good team looks like? If they do, are they willing to let somebody, including each other, lift them up to that accountability and coach them towards the practices that will get them there?
Roy: In that metaphor, I’m just picturing it in my head and it seems to me, if this Chris weight loss guy was also large and said like, “Hey, we’re going to do this together and we’re both going to lose 200 pounds”, I feel like his job would be easier. He’d have more credibility.
Derek: Yes and no. The downside, he would have the…
Jade: You’re going to get more empathy.
Derek: He would have the empathy side, but part of what he would lose is the, “Who are you to tell me that running 10 miles a day helps me lose weight when your fat ass still weights 300 pounds?” You lose some of the credibility there. I think also you potentially lose some of the accountability. Because it’s like, “If I see you eat a candy bar, then maybe it’s OK for me to eat a candy bar, because I’m a fat, can I do want to eat the…”
It becomes easier, and I see that is probably the one of biggest things I see on teams, is, let’s say two people, “I totally want a pair program, I’m totally committed to it,” and the other person, “Yeah‑yeah.” It’s like the first time the other person is like, “I’m going over here and work on this real quick for a second, and then the person is like, “OK.” Then pretty soon it’s like, “You guys haven’t paired in a month.” It’s like, “Oh yeah, but we still really want to.”
They were both complicit in it because it was easy to do, where if you had somebody who said, “Hey, you guys said you were pairing today and I haven’t seen you pair all day. What’s going on?” They don’t have to be on the team or be one of the people that is pairing in order to hold that accountability there.
Jade: I think in that case like in your example, that person is part of their team. Even if he’s in a coaching role, he’s still part of…They’ve decided to come together to achieve some outcome. They might not be doing the same work or doing whatever. I’m saying, “I’m willing to accept your influence on me.”
Derek: That’s why I said it depends on what you consider on the team. If we’re going after a shared result together and we’ve both got vested interest in that result, I would say we’re on the same team. Our roles on that team might be different.
Maybe the role of Chris Powell is to be that coach and that mentor and that accountability person and that ability to motivate, and do those things, and get to the bottom whatever facilitate doing that. I think they’re still part of that weight loss team together.
I would say that when the people got to the end of it, they didn’t go, “I did this all on my own.” I assume my other analogy would be Phil Jackson. Somebody who’s repeatedly won at the highest level with multiple teams, multiple different players.
This is somebody that was able to get a collective group of people to believe…
Roy: What sport are we talking about?
Derek: It’s basketball.
Derek: …In a style or a system or something around that and then hold them accountable to executing against that.
Again, I would say, “Hey, he got a championship ring right along with the teams that won championships form. Was he part of the team? Yeah, but he wasn’t a guy on the court necessarily putting the ball in the net.
Roy: The definition of an ideal team change over time, like I heard you describe, and I have in my own picture and I’m trying to fill in my opinion of what an ideal team looks like has change over time, is that telling me that’s always emotion and therefore unattainable?
Jade: I think it’s a reflection of your own maturity, what you think the ideal team is.
Derek: I think if you’re in search of excellence and search of constantly improving, yes. There is no destination called perfect team. There is a journey to perfect team.
Jade: I’ve seen glimpses of some of these things that we’ve talked about, all throughout my career in different groups and different teams that I’ve worked with, but never the whole picture. Because my expectations are constantly rising.
My expectations for myself and the people that I chose to work with, they’re always getting higher and higher and harder to reach, but I think that’s what makes it the ideal.
Roy: How does a team on the road to perfection deal with poisonous elements on that team?
Jade: You got to turn them or get rid of them.
Derek: Yeah, I think if…
Jade: There’s no easy answer to that.
Derek: I think if you’re really talking of accountability from that stand point. A, are they on the bus? Do they agree with the things that they have been agreed upon? If the answer is no, that’s probably a pretty good sign that either you’re on the wrong team, or they’re on the wrong team.
If the majority of the team is saying, “Hey, we’re going in this direction.” and you’ve got somebody that says, “I refuse to go that direction. I want to go to this direction.” From a philosophy or accord of value, vision, mission kind of thing, somebody has to either re‑calibrate and put the line in his mind, like “We’re headed to New to Mexico. If you’re headed to California, get off and get on the California bus.”
Those become pretty cut and dry. I think it’s kind of dry for everybody.
If you’re the person that wants to go to California, you’ve realized the bus is going in that direction, it’s pretty easy to get off the bus because you know. I think there are the ones where it’s, “Hey I’m not necessarily disagreeing with where we are going there,” but maybe there’s personality involved, maybe that implementation. “I think we should be going on a plane, not on a bus.”
I think those, you’ve got to deal with through the kind of accountability, the conflict all of the steps it takes to really form within a team and deal with those issues. It’s just like you go get married right away. You might, “Hey, we both have the same dream of where we want to be when we grow old, have kids and everything else,” but in there we realize, “You like to put the toilet paper rolled down, I like to put it roll up, and, we need a box that out and figure out how we’re going to [inaudible 12:22]
Roy: It’s roll up by the way.
Derek: Put the roll up in the thing. It doesn’t mean we should go get divorced because we just [inaudible 12:29] We got to figure it out. I think that exist in teams too.
Roy: It seems to me though that those start becoming some really dangerous questions to ask as you may find that you’re on the wrong bus, so to speak.
Derek: Yeah. I’d like to say that, earlier you can have conflict, and the better you get in dealing with that or getting results from it, the better you’re going to get to a better team. Because either you’re going…
Roy: I don’t want to be half way to California before I find out I’m headed to New York. I’d rather find out while I’m still Texas so I can…
Derek: Yes. A, it’s much less painful for everybody from a stand point of, “I’m not now stranded somewhere halfway in between,” but it also makes the ride so much more enjoyable. If I can get the distractors off the bus 10 miles in, now I’ve got a thousand miles of much more fun travel.
Jade: It’s easier to say it, but to actually do it. There’s a whole human element that gets involved that makes it very difficult.
Derek: If you’re not doing this right now, you are a bad human being.
Jade: [laughs] What’s the first step that somebody should take? If they say that, “I know that I want to reach whatever my perceived ideal is.”
Roy: I think that is the first step…
Derek: First step of self awareness.
Roy: I don’t think many people know where they actually want to go.
Derek: I’ll say that’s the biggest problem with teams I’ve encountered lately. Is team members who don’t really know what they want. Or they say, “I want X,” but in reality none of their actions match X. You’re sitting there…
Roy: They probably really believe they want X too.
Derek: I think they haven’t really thought about it. It’s the classic case of, “The world has told me I should be an accountant. Secretly I want to be the lead guitarist for whatever, but I just know that’s not possible.”
“When people asked me every year for the last five years what do I want to be, I’d say I want to be an accountant. Then I say ‘OK, I want to be an accountant.’ I spend all of my time playing guitar in the garage and I never pick up a financial journal, never go talk to any other accountants.” It’s like, “I’m not believing you want to be the best accountant in the world. I think your interest lies elsewhere.”
Jade: That is very hard to be honest with yourself. I think that goes all the way full circle to the only person that you can change is yourself. If you want to influence people, you need to start acting in the way that you want the rest of your team to behave. That’s going to be hard when you’re not in sync, not the band, but yeah. [laughs]
Roy: Nsync, it was easy for them.
Derek: Backstreet Boys was way better.
Jade: On that note, I think that’s all the time we have. Thanks for listening. We’ll catch you next time.
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Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, Clayton Lengel-Zigich, and Roy van de Water discuss:
- How to deal with a rapidly expanding team.
Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I am Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.
Jade Meskill: I’m Jade Meskill.
Roy van de Water: I’m Roy van de Water.
Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.
Clayton: Today, we’re going to talk about what are some impacts and how do you handle or how do you deal with taking the team and growing it, doubling in size, or onboarding a bunch of new people.
Jade: All at once?
Clayton: Yeah, exactly. Not over time, but like, “Hey, there might be some people joining the team soon” and then, “Hey, these are the people that are joining the team now,” that kind of thing.
We probably talked in the past about what happens to teams when members change. Is anything exaggerated or are there worse problems when you have higher numbers?
Roy: Every time, we’re doubling the size of the team overnight?
Clayton: Yeah, basically.
Roy: Because I feel like that’s where the biggest problems comes. When you have one team that’s about the same size of the first team, now they’re one team. Because now you have two worrying cultures or as if like let’s say the four of us are a team and the fifth person comes in. The four of us can dominate the other person’s culture just through sheer force of numbers. That’s going to make it a lot harder because now all of a sudden there’s a clear majority.
Jade: But even changing one member of the team, you start over as a team like you’ve got to figure things out. Things are different.
Roy: Absolutely, but it might not take us long. It might go a lot faster.
Clayton: What if we got put in a team?
Jade: [laughs] Please, I feel bad for those people.
Clayton: And from people we can talk to about then.
Jade: I think some of the risks are like we’re saying you have two very different cultures colliding and you’ve got to sort through all that. You’re definitely starting over and both teams are starting over from a culture perspective.
Roy: The danger to have is the assumption that one of the teams is getting bigger. When in reality, two teams are stopping to be teams and a new team that is completely its own unique thing is now starting.
Derek: A lot of it too is, I mean if we look at…Trust is a big part of things being successful. That is a huge part of it. If we say that the only way to have trust is to be vulnerable and we know that when you’re with strangers, it’s hard to be vulnerable. Some of that stuff just takes time. It’s like you have to kind of posture up, sniff each other out like two dogs at the dog park. You got to do little butt sniffing. You got to check it out…
Jade: Maybe 14 dogs at the dog park.
Derek: …go around and there’s a fair amount of crazy sauce that happens before you can even settle in to then, “OK, I’m going to let the guard down slowly.” It only takes one offense to then well back up and put those hands back in front of your face, and say, “Oop.”
Jade: And for everybody.
Derek: And it’s for everybody. There’s a song and dance that takes a while to get that trust mojo going. I’d say my only recommendation is whatever you can do to get that trust mojo happening as soon as possible and as quick as possible and reinforce it as much as possible, the better your results are going to be. But that’s hard to do, man.
Jade: What are some tricks to start that off well?
Derek: Valium, I don’t know.
Roy: The opposite of valium is don’t shy away from conflicts. Meet that shit head on. Don’t try to put off discussions for…don’t try to put it off forever.
Clayton: The first thing that comes to mind for me is eating together, sharing a meal. That’s a pretty good one. Getting to know people beyond their work role, their persona. When you’re in the bureaucracy, you want to talk about, “Oh, where’d you come from? Who’d you used to work for? Who do you report to”? All that kind of stuff.
But when you’re eating dinner and someone mentions something about having kids, “Oh, you have kids? Oh, you’re married? How long have you been married? Who all here is married”?
Roy: That’s when people become human beings.
Clayton: Right, it’s like now I’m talking to you as a person, rather than someone in the [inaudible 04:15] .
Jade: That’s a very important point, Roy, is becoming human beings as fast as possible.
Derek: I’d say human beings like things that are similar to them, so that’s a big part of the “Do you have kids”? Going beyond the weather questions, getting to know somebody ‑‑ the quicker that you can crack that shell and find out what your commonalities are, the easier it is to become vulnerable.
Whatever that is. Maybe it’s you ride motorcycles. Maybe it’s that you own a bulldog. Maybe it’s that you like music. Maybe it’s that you are the same denomination of religion. Whatever that common ground is, the faster that you can discover that with everybody on the team, the easier anchor point you have to say, “That person is like me. Therefore they’re human like me. Therefore I can connect with them.” If you can get to that quick, that helps.
Jade: Imagine that you’ve broken through that part of it. We’ve become humans to each other. What’s next?
Clayton: I think some of that goes back to what Roy mentioned of the warring cultures. Everyone’s got their own maybe practices or things that they’re used to or cultural norms, really. Some of those things are pretty easy to merge. They’re not too different.
Some of them, it feels like you have to make…feels like people get really…Machiavellian’ words like, “I am going to make a peace offering and let you keep this thing that I think is trivial because, I am expecting you are going to cave on these other things and give them up.”
Roy: Social manipulation?
Clayton: Yeah. I don’t think it’s intentional that way but it seems like it shakes out that way, from a cultural perspective.
Roy: It’s like new team information should not be a contract negotiation.
Derek: It’s interesting, I think of it as similar to a marriage.
Roy: Which is a contract negotiation.
Derek: Can be, especially in our present age. You have two people come together but in reality, you tend to have two extended families come together. With that, you have the culture of those families, you have the…not necessarily the practices, but some of the values, some of the traditions, maybe tradition is a better word than practices.
I see a ton of people getting married, one of the biggest fights are, “Oh crap! Now we have to figure out Christmas and Thanksgiving.” It’s really easy if my family celebrates on Christmas Eve and yours is on Christmas Day. [hoots] We dodged that bullet, no big deal. We are all happy. But what happens when the tradition for both of us is Christmas Day?
One of the things I see in families that do things well, is they figure out how to preserve the traditions that are the most important where people can do the best, to preserve what they need to out of that.
The other thing is they create new traditions together, that are separate from either one of their extended families’ traditions. Teams have to do the same thing where they are going to be certain practices and certain things that are just too emotional to let go of, and finding, how do I give you enough of your practices, so you don’t feel like you are losing everything.
I have enough of my practices so I don’t feel like I am losing everything, and how do we create some new practices together? Where we can own those together and we are setting those new practices as a team we collectively built. It wasn’t through negotiation, it was truly, how do we make a new practice better than neither one of us has ever seen?
Clayton: What if one of the practices or traditions is completely egregious to the other team?
Roy: File for divorce.
Clayton: My wife’s family, they get together every Easter and sacrifice a goat in a pentagon. Or code example, the other team wants you to quit.
Clayton: How do you reconcile those things?
Jade: You sacrifice those people.
Clayton: You have to fight about that, right?
Derek: Well, some of those are ones where you might have to do the new tradition. I want Dart, you want Godel, whatever the case would be.
Jade: Good God! We’ll have Christma‑Kwanzaa.
Derek: You want .NET, I want COBOL, so, we are going to have to learn Ruby together because that’s the only…
Roy: If I can’t get my way, then you can’t get your way, then dammit, neither one of us going to get our way. We are going to discover a new way to get…
Derek: There are things where you don’t want to compromise just for the sake of compromise or everybody walks away pissed off. If I just compromised and say, “Fine, we’ll use .NET.” I am just going to always be bitter and angry, and pissed off that we did that…
Roy: Yeah. You used .NET.
Clayton: Well, the option was COBOL.
Derek: The point being is, sometimes you are going to have to let go, if nothing else to say like, “I am vulnerable to have to do something totally new and you are vulnerable to have to do something totally new, and we are going o have to discover that together, and go through all of that pain together. And as a part of that, we are going to come out way more unified about that thing than trying to coerce you to do the thing that I wanted to do.”
Jade: I think there’s an important step that needs to happen before that, that will make that journey a lot easier is understanding what everybody’s hopes and desires are, for being together. We are creating this new family, what do we want out of this? It eases the burden of negotiating some of those practices.
Clayton: In the team example, take you are in a corporation and you get reorged, now you have this team of 5 people, and now it’s 10 people because this is a reorg. Those people probably don’t have any hopes and dreams being on that team, other than, “I am glad I didn’t get fired.” How do you solve that problem? Or how would you have that conversation when it may be not voluntary.
Roy: Even when the team formation is not voluntary, it doesn’t take away from the fact that every single human being has hopes and dreams about their life in general. And those are the ones that are valuable because those are the basis for which every single decision they make comes into play.
And it becomes a lot of easier to understand why, even if I don’t agree with it Derek might want to use .NET if I understand what he hoping to obtain from that.
Derek: I want to use Cobol.
Roy: I’m sorry, but you understand what I am saying. But if I know the why he’s making that decision it makes it a lot easier to understand and it helps make it a lot easier to find a solution that might would work for the both of us.
Clayton: So, there is some empathy aspect to it?
Jade: We’ve become human. We understand our hopes and dreams. We’ve figured out the non‑negotiables. We’ve created new traditions, et cetera, et cetera.
Roy: It’s time to start getting to work.
Jade: Now you’ve got to get something done. So now what?
Roy: Start working. Just do it. Jump right in.
Jade: What does that look like?
Clayton: Does it ever look a certain way? I mean isn’t that…
Jade: There is a huge temptation to put that off as long as possible.
Roy: Or to go back to your old teams and work in two siloed groups.
Derek: There is something to be said just for having to deal with that stuff and then to reflect on it. Those are the two important things. You just have to step forward. Going back to marriage example I am so nervous about going to your family’s house on New Year’s Eve and whatever that tradition is.
But the longer that I put it off and the more I mop about it and the more I freak out about it. That doesn’t help me. Just going and then recapping. And then either going, “That really wasn’t that bad. I really ended up and your brother was really cool and we hung out and like that was really cool and I can’t wait to go back next year.”
Or maybe, “Oh my God, that was so miserable. Your sister hates my guts. Let’s figure out how do we deal with this going forward.” But like the only way you are going to know that is to do it and I think that the other thing just do the things you need to do together as a team so that you can figure them out and make them better for the next time.
Jade: So making it real as soon as possible…
Derek: Make it real as soon as possible
Jade: …and fully engaging.
Derek: Yep. Rip the Band‑Aid off. [laughs]
Clayton: I guess at that point are you in the storming, forming, norming. You going to be in that pattern?
Roy: Yeah, you are going to be in storming.
Jade: You’re still really in forming. Right?
Roy: That’s true, but I mean…
Jade: There’s still a lot of politeness at this point.
Roy: When you start working together is when the storming is going to start happening because that’s when like first you were negotiated but now that shit becomes real.
Jade: Does it happen right away?
Roy: Probably not. I don’t think that all of those decisions are going to surface and it’s probably going to have to. All the little things are going to have to build up to a point where it exceeds a threshold and then all of a sudden somebody is going to explode.
Clayton: Or say there is some contentious issue. We were able to get by pretending like everything was fine but now there is this actual fork in the road that we have to deal with.
Roy: Like a single big issue that all of a sudden becomes the thing?
Clayton: Right. That’s maybe were people would want to go back to bad behaviors or go back to their “old team,” whatever that kind of thing.
Jade: You’re not going to see those kind of things right away. Everyone is on their best behavior usually at this point
Roy: I don’t even know what the time line for that is going to be.
Jade: It’s like you said there is going to be a bunch of little things that build up until somebody losses it.
Clayton: And it depends on how much of the actual real work you are doing. The more real work you can actually do the probably faster it would happen.
Roy: That makes sense.
Clayton: But the more time you spend kind of dancing around that or taking it easy.
Derek: I also think sometimes you just have to wait for the right event to happen going back to the marriage example. Thanksgiving was great. Both of our traditions didn’t conflict and Christmas was great they didn’t conflict and then we get to Easter and there is a massive conflict on this. Fireworks are going to happen because…
Roy: It almost makes it worse because you were so complacent the last two holidays, why can’t you just give in on this one.
Derek: You fall into the illusion of the last holidays all worked fine what’s wrong with us now that all of a sudden we have this problem. And so teams can fall into that same thing where they feel like they’ve maybe are more into the norming stage just because they feel like they haven’t encountered…
Jade: Because they are actually in the forming.
Derek: …they haven’t encountered real conflict together. Like, “Hey, we all got together and we agreed all on the same language,” and “Hey, we got together and we agreed on 95 percent of the practice,” and it’s not like until that first thing there is a violent disagreement on until that it’s like whoa shit we haven’t learned how to deal with conflict together. And now we’re going to have to do that.
Roy: …and we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.
Jade: What about the expectations? Especially, external expectations of this team. Like if you are managing this team or are responsible for their output in some way do you say like, “It’s going to be rough for them for a while so maybe we shouldn’t expect too much”?
Roy: No, I think you should expect more because that is what makes it happen quicker. Like get that shit over with.
Derek: I think that if you are true to yourself you should not expect nearly as much from them. The problem is, in reality, most people completely minimize the amount of pain that is introduced by doing that.
I am not saying don’t expect anything from them. And I am not saying that lower your expectations to them. But you have to be real to yourself that even if you tell them that hey I am still expecting a lot out of you to help motivate them to move through that conflict.
Roy: That’s the big difference. Don’t tell them that you’ve lowered your expectations but realistically lower your expectations.
Jade: Don’t abuse them when they don’t hit your expectations.
Roy: What we’re saying is lie to the team about your expectations.
Derek: I don’t think it’s lying. You could say, “I know this is really hard stuff, but I am not going to just give you a free pass for this,” and then if they sit there and do nothing and don’t actually try to form and they don’t try to do that you should beat them with a stick and say, “This is crap. You’re not even trying,” but if they are trying really hard and are dealing with conflict. There is all sort of problems you shouldn’t beat them because they’re trying to do the right thing.
You should do it accordingly. You shouldn’t beat anyone anyways. Your accountability should match the results they’re attempting to get.
Clayton: All right. That is all the time we have so thanks for listening.
Announcer: Is there is something you would like to hear in a future episode? Head over to intergrumtech.com/podcast where you can suggest a topic or a guest.
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Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, Clayton Lengel-Zigich, and Roy van de Water discuss:
- What is more important, principles or practices?
Jade Meskill: Hello welcome to another episode of Agile weekly podcast. I am Jade Meskill.
Roy van de Water: I am Roy van de Water.
Derek Neighbors: I am Derek Neighbors.
Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: I am Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.
Jade: Guys, I wanted to talk today on what is more important, principles or practices?
Derek: Or use it in a sentence.
Jade: What is more important, principles or practices? Dealing with a lot of teams, I’ve seen Agile presented in many different ways.
Sometimes it is very process focused and practice focused, sometimes it’s about the principles without a lot of either prescriptive ideas of how process or practices would work like how do you get the best results from a team? What’s more important focusing on the principles or focusing on the practices?
Derek: This is a faith versus works question ‑‑ and loaded.
Jade: It sure is.
Clayton: I view myself as a principles kind of guy. In this context, the practices are something that you could do probably quick, but for them to have long‑lasting impact or to make more sense so people understand why they might be doing these practices, you do need the principles.
To answer your question, you need both of them.
Jade: It depends. Is that right? [laughs]
Roy: Yes. It depends on the level of team you’re applying them to. It is extremely important to have principles from the very beginning. If you rely only on principles, it’s very difficult for novices to be able to do much with raw principles.
If I say, “Lying is bad. Don’t lie.” But you have no experience with what lying even is. Is a white lie OK? ‑‑ all of these nuanced things. You might be able to say, ”I know lying’s bad, but I got put in this situation. I don’t know what to do with it.”
I do the wrong thing even though I have the principle, because I don’t understand how the principle works. I tend to find that principles are very short, concrete things that have a lot of nuance.
The only way to develop the skill of what is in that nuance is to have a whole lot of practice. With novices, it’s very important to put the guide rails on. To say like do this thing, almost cargo cult it to a certain degree like do this thing, but reinforce the principle behind why you’re doing that thing.
Once you understand the classic Miyagi’s son like wax the car, wax on, wax off. I don’t know why I’m waxing on. I don’t know why I wax off. I don’t know why I’m painting the fence. It seems kind of frustrating.
You tell me that I’m going to be this really great karate fighter someday but I don’t get it because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Then at that one moment that you know that I have enough practice under my boat, you can show me how it relates to the principle in a meaningful way and it kind of clicks.
From that point forward, I can let the practice be more dynamic to the situation. I think a lot of it depends of what level you’re at. It’s very difficult to teach principles without introducing some form of practice. It’s very dangerous to only focus on practice and not have people understand the principles behind the practices.
Jade: It sounds to me like you’re describing a balance or attention between those two. How do you know when is the right…what’s the right balance for the right team? How do you gauge that?
Derek: Let me give you the answer that will work for everybody. I don’t have it.
Derek: That’s going to be something that is worn out of experience, but that’s the troubles. You don’t have the experience to make that call yet.
Jade: If you’re a coach or you’re a score master, you’re performing some role with that team and expected to guide them in some way. How do you figure out where to push and where to pull?
Derek: One of the metrics that we’ve used is kind of what we have mentioned in the past. We’ve always said like a team should always insist on pairing on production code. We’d be prescriptive to say that all code is paired.
As soon as you stop getting pushed back from the team when they are insisting that all coach to be prepared and they want to do it that way. It’s like when they’re ready to start breaking the rules.
It’s when they don’t want to break the rules anymore is an indicator that they may be mature enough to start thinking about the rules.
Clayton: In that example…I had this exact scenario where there was some problem with the team where some people maybe new something about the system or someone broke something about the system and never understood. The principle there might be collective code ownership. You can’t just say that and say “OK, you now collectively own the code.”
Jade: We all own the code, what are you talking about?
Clayton: Yes, exactly. It’s just that doesn’t make sense. I think pretty easy go to like a great way to get that, to apply that principle is pair‑programming.
That’s a practice. The way that I’ve seen pairing and to be introduced without the principles behind it, if the people in the team aren’t very open to try new things or maybe change in the way they work or not used to that sort of thing then they want to throw it away.
I feel once they throw their practices away even if you come back with the principle and say, “No, you don’t understand. See this is why we’re doing this.” It’s kind of like, “Yeah I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Roy: Right. That worked for Danielson in the movies but that doesn’t work so well in real life.
Derek: Like a good example, I saw even though this is weak in some interactions, pairing is good in all but we don’t feel a need to pair on the easy stuff.
It’s like that’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s not that hard so why are you pairing? We were pairing because when we’re doing hard stuff we want more than one person because two minds are better than one.
I don’t anywhere see kind of the two minds are better than one. Maybe in doing things in teams but sort of that I am not seeing the technical practice as of two people is better as one is like an over‑arching principle per say.
I think doing working teams is kind of is. Maybe there’s a false in that a bit but my question would be is it about everybody owning the code.
In which case shouldn’t everybody own the simple code too? If we start to look at what does automation look like?
If it’s so simple that anybody can do it could you automate it? I think it starts when you have a little bit more depth into the principle of like why do we pair? We pair because we want to work in teams and we pair because we want collective code ownership, we pair because and you list off five or six principals.
Then when somebody says, “Hey I don’t want to pair on the hard stuff.” It’s like, “OK.” Well maybe that solves the “We do difficult work in small teams.” Maybe that applies but then how do we still have collective code ownership if we’re doing that.
I think its understanding that there is depth to principles. It’s not one practice aligned to a single principle more often than not it’s a practice might aligned to three or four different principles. When people try to tweak them, it’s like, “Well I’m tweaking at this because I don’t really…”
Tweaking it this way doesn’t invalidate that principle but it might invalidate some other principle. I think that’s why it’s important to know those.
I think that when people know them that’s why they don’t want to throw their practices away because they know they are getting more than just the surface bang for the buck.
Jade: How do you get teams to understand that?
We’ve seen a lot. We’ve seen a lot of people reject a lot of practices that we know are good for them but they don’t understand it yet.
Derek: I think sometimes you have to…I don’t want to say enforce them to do the practice, but I think you have to strongly encourage them to do the practice for some length of time so that they can start to see the benefits and start to see the depth of it.
When they throw them away they come back to them because they realize what their losing. If I’m pairing all the time and I get all the benefits of pairing all the time. I decide to lax out and not pair on the hard stuff or not pair. I start to get bit by bit those other things and somebody from an outside view point can say, “Man it doesn’t look like this is working out so well for you.”
Then somebody’s like, “Oh well, that’s because so and so did that in the corner and blah blab and I didn’t like the way they implement it.”
It’s like, “How come you didn’t know the way they implemented it?” “We don’t pair on the hard stuff.” “Oh.” “In the easy stuff.” “Oh.” Tell me more about that right?
It gets to be able to re‑frame that but if you say, “I don’t like paring so I’m not going to pair.” You never are going to understand the values of the principles for that practice.
Clayton: There’s a lot to be said for having the ability and I think a lot of it comes from experience to be able to identify some particular patters or problems that the team might be having and say, “OK, well he’s pairing again.”
If the team were doing more pairing this would be less of a problem or it would help them come to a better solution on their own.
Having that experience to be able to suggest those things and having a time boxed length of time that people could try new things. I think that goes a long way. I don’t know how that works with principles though.
Roy: You can’t time box principles forever?
Clayton: Well I think they are so abstract, they are too high level.
Roy: We were going to have collective code ownership for the next two weeks and then maybe we won’t collectively own the program anymore.
Clayton: Yeah, but that feels wired right?
Jade: What happens if you only see the practices and you don’t understand the philosophy that is driving those things?
Clayton: At a certain point you probably start cargo‑culting and if you don’t understand the philosophy.
I don’t know any off the top of my head, but there are times where there practices that frequently work towards a particular philosophy or principle will work against it when applied incorrectly. We see that all the time when you throw out the baby with the bath water.
Derek: I don’t know if I fully agree with that. More often than not even when people do a fair amount of cargo culting their still way better off than they were doing nothing or doing what they were before.
What you tend to see is you either see a plateau. If I cargo‑cult something like a stand‑up or something, it’s still way better that I spend 10 minutes talking with the team rather than never ever talking to the team.
I’m going to hit a plateau that only takes me…I only get so much benefit for that and then it flattens off. It feels like I might be doing more damage even though in reality it’s still better than it was, or what you’ll see is you’ll see practices get abandoned fairly quick because they don’t understand the benefit or the reasons for it.
Jade: We’ve dealt with some teams recently that have adopted many of the surface‑level “Agile practices” but are lacking in the philosophy of that. Agile has become their weapon to use against other people who want things from them.
Derek: I think that’s a good example of when you don’t understand the principles you can’t introspect. You can’t have self‑awareness about how effectively you are using them. You can’t improve those things. That’s a big thing.
If it’s only a practice that you know or you only know the practice, then it’s only going to take you so far. You can’t ever look and say, “The principle of why I’m doing this is to achieve some end goal or end state or whatever other philosophy.” How could I change my practice or improve my practice or alter it somehow and have a different…? You don’t have that.
Roy: I think the big thing in the practice is that each of these practices when applied, especially initially, cause some amount of pain.
If you don’t understand the philosophy of what you are trying to accomplish with the practice, you start altering the practice and minimize the pain. You bastardize the practice to a form where it no longer delivers the value that was originally intended.
Derek: I would say in the example you’re giving that the people having to work with that team or that organization that is adopting those practices are in as much pain as they were before that team adopted those practices. While people could make fun of the practices right now, the reality is people were not happy with the way it worked before those practices came in.
If you went to those teams, they’ve seen some benefit internally to themselves. They’ve seen a lot of detriment to themselves as well, but Roy you’re absolutely right. What happens is they adopt the practices at a base level, a cargo‑culting level. They get a minor bump in a lot of things that they didn’t have before, but it’s really painful.
Then they start to bastardize the practices in ways that violate the principles to reduce the pain. That’s the danger of not having the principles at all. When it gets painful, if you can look back to the principle and say, “Oh, I want to turn the dial back the other direction or change gears in a way that violates the principle,” the principle will tell you, “Don’t do that.”
If you don’t understand the principles at all, you end up with these crazy things. It started off with a stand‑up that looked great, and it turned into this crazy six‑hour meeting three days a week because, whatever was painful.
Clayton: It reminds a lot. I remember taking calculus and, Roy will probably correct me, but we were doing something with differentials or integrals or something where the example…
Roy: Because I’m a math whiz?
Clayton: I don’t know. You know the factorials.
Clayton: The examples that we did in homework and in the class, we did literally hundreds of these examples. There was always a boat living in a dock. You have to figure out where the path of the boat will be, and then we take the test.
The two things on the test, one was a finance question like price forecasting, and the other one was a physics question. I think everyone was like, “What the fuck?”
Roy: Where’s the boat?
Clayton: There’s no boat.
Roy: I can only do calculus for boats.
Clayton: Exactly, right?
Clayton: We did all this stuff where we are practicing this thing. Even the variables turned into features of the boat. Then when it got to, “Wow. You can really apply this to anything,” it’s like, “Well, it doesn’t fit the boat requirement.” I feel like that happens a lot. We didn’t understand the principle of what we were actually trying to do. All we understood was the practice of the boat.
Peer programming, I think a lot of people that do the practice view it as like two coders writing code together side by side with a keyboard or two keyboards.
I think if you understand the principles of maybe why you’re doing that, you can expand that into other things, or maybe there’s not two coders, or maybe there’s people that aren’t doing any code whatsoever but they can still pair on something.
Jade: Real quick, looking back on your Agile journey, what do you think was most important to you? The principles or the practices?
Clayton: Like I said at the beginning, I am a principles person by nature, so I would say the principles.
Roy: I think the principles are what attracted me to it but I think the practices are what kept me going long enough to stick with it.
Derek: I think it was the opposite for me where I didn’t know about any of the principles before I started the practices. I was very interested, especially with some of the XP practices, where I only knew them by name and a basic idea of how it was supposed to work.
I was very much focused on the how and got very into that. It took me a lot of time before I started caring about the why. I would say the principles over time have become way more important.
Jade: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for listening.
Announcer 1: Is there something you’d like to hear in a future episode? Head over to integrumtech.com/podcast where you can suggest a topic or a guest.
Announcer 2: Looking for an easy way to stay up‑to‑date with the latest news, techniques, and events in the Agile community? Sign up today at agileweekly.com. It’s the best Agile content delivered weekly for free.
Announcer 1: The Agile Weekly Podcast is brought to you by Integrum Technologies and recorded at Gangplank Studios in Chandler, Arizona. For old episodes, check out integrumtech.com or subscribe on iTunes.
Roy: Need help with your Agile transition? Have a question and need to phone a friend? Try calling the Agile Hotline. It’s free. Call 866‑244‑8656…