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The intersection of technology and leadership

Summary of XP2011

First full day of XP2011 was a pretty full schedule as I had to prepare for two lightning talks on different subjects. Fortunately both of the topics were very close to my heart, one about learning using the Dreyfus Model (slides) and the other about Systems Thinking (slides). The second day started off with a great breakfast selection at the conference hotel before kicking into the keynote by Esther Derby. Clearly jetlagged, Derby used a set of hand drawn slides to explain her topic, “No Silver Bullets”.

Her presentation style was very conversational and I can’t say that the crowd responded very well to this. Perhaps it was their jetlag as well, or the way the room had been set up. Nevertheless, through many of her stories, I still saw many heads nodding and a really great response on twitter to the things that she was saying.

I’ve followed Derby’s writing for years and could only wish more people would be exposed to them. As a result, I found many of the topics and opinions I found interesting reinforced, such as failing to address the management layer inevitably means agile adoption hits a hard ceiling. Or the oscillating behaviour that results when managers attempt to react to a system with long delays in its feedback cycle. I appreciated the very vivid term, “Bang! Bang!”-management style describing the style of managers who seem to have only two distinct and opposing reactions to a system, unable to moderate their use and wait for systems to find a new equilibrium. If you imagine these two opposing reactions the result of a huge iron lever being flipped, hopefully you can imagine where the noise comes from.

Derby covered lots of different areas, quoting a few people like Donella H Meadows, “The original purpose of hierarchies was to serve the sub systems, not the other way around.” And the work that George Lakoff does with word association with metaphors in our everyday use. Raising self awareness of your own in built biases and metaphors is another key thing she emphasised focusing on the judgements, habits, feelings, thoughts, mental models, beliefs, rules and values we tend to be intrinsically governed by. I particularly liked the phrase she uses to help people uncover their own and others’ mental models, “In what world would this make sense?”

She told one great story about the dangers of measurements as targets, using the example of the manager who decided to “Grade developer estimates”. This manager decided to give A’s to those who estimated on time, B’s to those who estimated over time, and C’s to those who estimated under time. Of course, you can imagine what magically happened as people’s grades mysteriously improved.

She also reminded me of the work of Ackoff, who I need to revisit, and the great work that he’s written about Systems Thinking. I have only been able to refer to the Fifth Discipline as a Systems Thinking book, but I really need to read his other ones to see if they would be of use, or are more accessible.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. A couple of highlights included seeing Marcus Ahnve take the work Luca Grulla and Brian Blignaut did with TDDing javascript to the next level and doing a demo of BDD.

David J. Anderson also reminded me of the importance to think in terms of the languages executives speak in order to better get our message across. He reminded me of all the great things that Ross Pettit has to say, although I think Anderson’s analysis on accounting for software development costs doesn’t seem to match with some of the data I’ve heard from Pettit.

There was so much more to the conference. Always the way great conversations emerged and the wonderful atmosphere of the hotel adding to the uniqueness to this event.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the summary! If you’re into systems thinking, you should definitely dive deeper into Ackoff. There’s a bunch of Ackoff talks on YouTube, if you haven’t seen them already. /Tobias

  2. Great stuff. I’ll have to find the time to watch them. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and a great tip!

  3. I’ve started reading a summary of Ackoff’s writings – http://www.amazon.com/Ackoffs-Best-Classic-Writings-Management/dp/0471316342/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305576426&sr=8-1 – it’s interesting stuff but pretty dry/tough to read at times!

    Nice write up, I need to do that as well!

  4. Thanks, Pat!
    Amazing to remember…
    good to have met you.
    take care
    -Olaf

  5. Hi Olaf! Was great to meet you too. I know it won’t be the last time!

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