patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

Category: ThoughtWorks (page 1 of 2)

The Gift of Feedback (in a Booklet)

Receiving timely relevant feedback is an important element of how people grow. Sports coaches do not wait until the new year starts to start giving feedback to sportspeople, so why should people working in organisations wait until their annual review to receive feedback? Leaders are responsible for creating the right atmosphere for feedback, and to ensure that individuals receive useful feedback that helps them amplify their effectiveness.

I have given many talks on the topic and written a number of articles on this topic to help you.

However today, I want to share some brilliant work from some colleagues of mine, Karen Willis and Sara Michelazzo (@saramichelazzo) who have put together a printable guide to help people collect feedback and to help structure witting effective feedback for others.

Feedback Booklet

The booklet is intended to be printed in an A4 format, and I personally love the hand-drawn style. You can download the current version of the booklet here. Use this booklet to collect effective feedback more often, and share this booklet to help others benefit too.

We can do better

I’m proud that many people are actively addresing diversity issues. Research shows that diversity leads to better problem solving and often, more creative solutions. Unfortunately the results of history lead us to where we are today, but we can always do better. I’m proud to be part of ThoughtWorks, where we are also trying to do our part to address diversity issues, and our work was recently recognised as a great company for Women in Tech. And yes, I do realise that diversity goes beyond just gender diversity.

As a fairly regular conference speaker this year, I have been disappointed by some of the actions of both conference organisers and speakers that have been, in my opinion, rather unhelpful.

At a conference speaker’s dinner earlier in the year, the topic of diversity came up where someone calculated that only 4 out of almost 60 speakers were women. I was truly disappointed when one of the conference organisers responded with, “That’s just the industry ratio isn’t it? It’s just too hard to find women speakers.” Of course not all conference organisers have this attitude, such as The Lead Dev conference which ended up with 50% women:men speaker ratio or like Flowcon which achieved a >40% ratio women:men as well. Jez Humble writes about his experiences achieving this goal (recommended reading for conference organisers).

At another conference, I saw a slide tweeted from a talk that looked like this below (Note: I’ve found the original and applied my own label to the slide)

Bad slide of stereotypes

My first thoughts went something like: “Why do all the developers look like men and why do all the testers look like women?” I was glad to see some other tweets mention this, which I’m hoping that the speaker saw.

We all have responsibilities when we speak

I believe that if you hold talks at a conference, you have a responsibility to stop reinforcing stereotypes, and start doing something, even if it’s a little thing like removing gendered stereotypes. Be aware of the imagery that you use, and avoid words that might reinforce minority groups feeling even more like a minority in tech. If you don’t know where to start, think about taking some training about what the key issues are.

What you can do if you’re a speaker

As a speaker you can:

  • Review your slides for stereotypes and see if you can use alternative imagery to get your message across.
  • Find someone who can give you feedback on words you say (I am still trying to train myself out of using the “guys” word when I mean people and everyone).
  • Give your time (mentoring, advice and encouragement) to people who stand out as different so they can act like role models in the future.
  • Give feedback to conferences and other speakers when you see something that’s inappropriate. More likely than not, people are more unaware of what other message people might see/hear, and a good presenter will care about getting their real message across more effectively.

What to do if you’re a conference organiser

I’ve seen many great practices that conferences use to support diversity. These include:

One thing that I have yet to experience, but would like as a speaker is a review service where I could send some version of slides/notes (there is always tweaking) and get some feedback about whether the imagery/words or message I intend to use might make the minorities feel even more like a minority.

Panel for Tech Leads: “Navigating Difficult Situations”

I recently moderated a panel in our London ThoughtWorks office aimed at developers leading technnical teams as a follow up from the Lead Developer conference.

Leading development teams can be a challenging prospect. Balancing the needs of the business with those of your team requires a number of different skills and these situations are often very difficult to prepare for.

This panel session will provide a platform for a group of tech leads to come together and share their experiences, insights and advice around the topic of managing conflict and overcoming difficult moments within your teams.

Our panelists are all at various stages of their own leadership journeys and will be offering a range of perspectives and viewpoints to help you on your way.

Tech Lead Panellists

The panelists shared their experiences around situations like:

  • Having a tough conversation with a team member or customer;
  • Sharing how they have dealt with overtime (weekends, later work);
  • How they resolved a technical disagreement within a team; and
  • Handling a particularly aggressive person, or being aggressively threatened;

The audience also threw in a few questions like:

  • Dealing with office politics;
  • Finding access to key influencers/stakeholders;
  • Where you draw the line with a person on a team; and
  • Dealing with a technical stakeholder who is too involved, because they seem to have too much time;

We also had some great sound bites in relation to the topics being discussed.

To deal with angry people:

Be the adult – Laura Paterson

or just:

Let them vent – Jon Barber

Managing stakeholders is hard, and you sometimes need to take a stance:

It’s easy to say no – Priya Samuel

People in teams need feedback to both strengthen confidence and improve effectiveness. However:

Frank feedback is really hard. Give the person a chance. – Mike Gardiner

Lastly when thinking about people and teams:

Have empathy. Pairing is scary & exhausting – Kornelis (Korny) Sietsma

I’d like to thank Amy Lynch for organising the panel, Laura Jenkins and Adriana Katrandzhieva for helping with the logistics, all the panelists who contributed their experiences and shared their stories (Priya Samuel, Kornelis (Korny) Sietsma, Mike Gardiner, Laura Paterson and Jon Barber) and all the people who turned up for the evening.

12 years, 12 lessons working at ThoughtWorks

I’ve been at ThoughtWorks for 12 years. Who would have imagined? Instead of writing about my reflections on the past year, I thought I would do something different and post twelve key learnings and observations looking back over my career. I have chosen twelve, not because there are only twelve, but because it fits well with the theme of twelve years.

1. Tools don’t replace thinking

In my years of consulting and working with many organisations and managers I have seen a common approach to fixing problems, where a manager believes a tool will “solve” the given problem. This can be successful where a problem area is very well understood, unlikely to have many exceptions and everyone acts in the same manner. Unfortunately this doesn’t reflect many real-world problems.

Too many times I have witnessed managers implement an organisational-wide tool that is locked down to a specific way of working. The tool fails to solve the problem, and actually blocks real work from getting done. Tools should be there to aid, to help prevent known errors and to help us remember repeated tasks, not to replace thinking.

2. Agile “transformations” rarely work unless the management group understand its values

Many managers make the mistake that only the people close to the work need to “adopt agile” when other parts of the organisation need to change at the same time. Co-ordinating this in enterprises takes a lot of time and skill with a focus on synchronising change at different levels of the organisation.

Organisations who adopt agile in only one part of their organisation face a real threat. As the old saying goes, “Change your organisation, or change your organisation.”

3. Safety is required for learning

Learning necessitates the making of mistakes. In the Dreyfus model, this means that particularly people in an Advanced Beginner stage, need to make mistakes in order to learn. People won’t risk making mistakes if they feel they will do a bad job, lose respect from their colleagues or potentially hurt other people in that process.

As a person passionate about teaching and learning, I find ways to create a safe space for people to fail, and in doing so, make the essential mistakes they need to properly learn.

4. Everyone can be a leader

I have written about this topic before, but it is such an important observation. I see a common mental model trap where people feel the need to be given the role of a leader, in order to act like a leader. People can demonstrate acts of leadership regardless of their title and can do so in many different ways, simply by taking action on something without the explicit expectation or request for it.

5. Architects make the best decisions when they code

In the Tech Lead courses I run, I advocate for Tech Leads to spend at least 30% of their time coding. Spending time with the code helps build trust, respect and a current understanding of the system. Making architectural decisions without regard for the constraints of the current system are often bad decisions.

6. Courage is required for change

I miss people talking about the XP values, one of which includes Courage. Courage is required for acts of leadership, taking on the risk to fail and the risk/reward of attempting something new. Where there is no risk, there is often little reward.

7. Congruence is essential for building trust

Beware of the old age maxim, “Do as I say, not as a I do.” In reality, regardless of what you say, people will remember how you act, first and foremost. Acting congruently is making sure that your actions follow your words. Acting incongruently destroys trust. Saying “no” or “not now” is better than promising to do something by a certain time, only to not deliver it.

8. Successful pair programming correlates with good collaboration

Although not all pair programming environments are healthy, I do believe that when it works well, teams tend to have better collaborative cultures. Many developers prefer the anti-pattern of (long lived) branch-based development because it defers feedback and sources of potential conflict.

I consider (navigable) conflict a healthy sign of collaborative teams. Deferring feedback, such as is the case with code reviews on long-lived branches tends to lead to more resentment because it is delivered so late.

9. Multi model thinking leads to more powerful outcomes

One of my favourite subjects at University, was Introduction to Philosophy where we spent each week in the semester studying a different philosopher. Over the course of my career, I have come to appreciate the value of diversity, and to see a problem through multiple lenses. Systems thinking also recognises that facts can be interpreted in different ways, leading to newer ideas or solutions which may be combined for greater effect.

10. Appreciate that everyone has different strengths

Everyone is unique, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Although we tend to seek like-minded people, teams are better off with a broader set of strengths. A strength in one area may be a weakness in a certain context, and teams are stronger when they have a broader set of strengths. Differences in strengths can lead to conflict but healthy teams appreciate the differences that people bring, rather than resent people for them.

11. Learning is a lifelong skill

The world constantly changes around us and there are always opportunities to learn some new skill, technique or tool. We can even learn to get better at learning and there are many books like Apprenticeship Patterns and The First 20 Hours which can give you techniques to get better at this.

12. Happiness occurs through positive impact

The well known book, Drive, talks about how people develop happiness through working towards a certain purpose. In my experience, this is often about helping people find ways to have a positive impact on others, which is why our Pillar 2 (Champion software excellence and revolutionize the IT industry) and Pillar 3 (Advocate passionately for social and economic justice) values are really important for us.

Conclusion

The twelve points above are not the only lessons I have learned in my time at ThoughtWorks but they are some of the more key learnings that help me help our clients.

Holding a Tech Lead course in Sydney

With a one-time only opportunity this year, I am running a course for Architects and Tech Leads on 22-23 October at the ThoughtWorks Sydney offices. After interviewing over 35 Tech Leads for the Talking with Tech Leads book, I recognised there is a gap about teaching developers the special leadership skills a successful Architect and Tech Lead demands. The class size is really limited, so reserve yourself a place while you can.

Tech Lead

In this very hands-on and discussion-based course, participants will cover a wide breadth of topics including understanding what a Tech Lead is responsible for, the technical aspects a developers rarely experiences and is not accountable for, and the difficult people-oriented side to the role including influencing, relationship building and tools for better understanding your team.

This is a two-day course that will quickly pay back dividends in accelerating you on your path or further developing your Tech Lead skills as developers. Register here on eventbrite for the course 22-23 October.

Championing P3 on a panel at DevTalks Bucharest

On Thursday I was presenting at DevTalks Bucharest, a 550+ developer conference with four different stages. I shared the panel with a Sabin Popa (Cloud Strategy Leader at IBM) and there was supposed to be another panelist but they had withdrawn. The topic of the panel was, “Innovation and data privacy – Keeping innovation alive in Cloud!” We first presented a bit about ourselves and our companies, where I was talking about our three pillars: Sustainable Business (P1), Software Excellence (P2), and Social Justice (P3).

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of Phillipp Krenn (@xeraa)

I talked a lot about observations we see around the world with our clients – these stories really resonated with people, particularly because:

  • It is based in reality (and not just sales demonstrations or fancy presentations)
  • People are genuinely interested in what other people are doing around the world.

During the panel, I talked about the responsibilities that we have as developers for privacy, and the responsibilities that we have as educated citizens to get this on the agenda of our parliaments. I touched upon the idea of Datensparsamkeit and that we can use our knowledge to start raising awareness among our friends and families.

Although not meaning to, I found that I probably spent a lot of time talking on the panel – but mostly because both the moderator and the other panelist wanted to keep asking questions of me. I had suggested that Sabin also give his own thoughts about what they could be done about data privacy.

When we touched the topic of innovation in the cloud, the topic of certification came up – something that didn’t really surprise me. One statement was that all platforms would be certified in the future (for security) and that would be considered one form of innovation. Although useful, I challenged the position, talking about how certification gives false confidence – particularly in services and products where people are involved. I think certification is definitely useful for testing mechanical parts, for testing platforms and products that never change – but software is soft. It constantly involves and once a platform is certified, doesn’t mean it will continue to pass the same tests. I see a lot of companies sell certification as an easy answer and I believe it gives companies a false sense of confidence.

An interesting question posed to the panel is what would we do if we are asked by our company to do something that is borderline unethical but not doing the task puts our job at risk and the mention that there are many more people to do our role. This, for me, was an easy answer. I talked about our responsibility of being digitally-educated and responsible citizens of the world and talked about the bravery and confidence of people like Snowden. I challenged everyone we should think through the consequences of mindlessly doing tasks that we don’t believe in and not think about just the consequences of the job right now, but question the consequences for our family, friends and the world we are creating for future generations.

11 years at ThoughtWorks

I had planned to write a 10 years at ThoughtWorks post but was busy on a sabbatical learning a real language (German!) This year, I decided to get around to writing an anniversary post. One of the current impressive employee benefits for long-time employees is a 12-week paid break (it’s mandatory law in Australia but not true around the world).

When I think about my time here at ThoughtWorks, I can’t believe that I have been here so long. I still remember, after graduating from University, thinking how unlikely I would stay with a company for more than two years because I wanted to learn, change and grow. I thought that would be difficult in a permanent position in any other company. I wanted to stay in the zone but also find an opportunity to do interesting work. Consulting proved to be a good middle ground for what I was looking for.

What a ride it has been. Oh, and it’s still going, too 🙂

Facts

Like most companies, ThoughtWorks has changed and evolved over time.

  • When I started, we had (I’m guessing) about 10 offices in four countries. As of this post, we have 30 offices in 12 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ecuador, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States) in some places I would never have guessed we would have had offices.
  • When I started, we had maybe 500 employees worldwide. We now have around between 2500-3000 people.
  • When I started, we were pretty much a consulting firm doing software development projects. Since then we now have a product division, a highly integrated UX capability, and are influencing companies at the CxO level which means a different type of consulting (whilst still keeping to our core offering of delivering effective software solutions).

We don’t always get things right, but I do see ThoughtWorks takes risks. In doing so, that means trying things and being prepared to fail or succeed. Although we have grown, I have found it interesting to see how our culture remains, in some ways very consistent, but adapts to the local market cultures and constraints of where we are operating. When I have visited our Brazilian offices, I felt like it was TW but with a Brazilian flavour, likewise when I visit our German offices.

Observations

I find it constantly interesting talking to alumni or people who have never worked for ThoughtWorks to see what their perceptions are. With some alumni, they have a very fixed perception of what the company is like (based on their time with the company) and it’s interesting to contrast that view with my own, given that the company constantly changes.

We are still (at least here in the UK) mostly a consulting firm, and so some of the normal challenges with running a consulting business still apply, both from an operational perspective, and being a consultant out on the field. Working on client site often means travel, and still affected by the ebbs and flows of customer demand around client budgeting cycles.

Based on my own personal observations (YMMV) we, as a company, have got a lot better about leadership development and support (although there is always opportunity to improve). I also find that we tend, on average, to get more aligned clients and have opportunities to have a greater impact. We have become better at expressing our values (The Three Pillars) and finding clients where we can help them and they are ready for that help.

It is always hard to see colleagues move on as it means building new relationships but that is always a reality in all firms, and occurs often even more so in consulting firms. After coming back from sabbatical I had to deal with quite a bit of change. Our office had moved, a significant part of our management team had changed, and of course there were lots of new colleagues who I hadn’t met. At the same time, I was surprised to see how many long-time employees (and not just operational people) were still around and it was very comforting to reconnect with them and renew those relationships.

Highlights

I’ve been particularly proud of some of the impact and some of the opportunities I have had. Some of my personal highlights include:

  • Being the keynote speaker for the 2000-attendee Agile Brazil conference.
  • Publishing my first book, The Retrospective Handbook, a book that makes the agile retrospective practice even more effective.
  • Publishing my second book, Talking with Tech Leads, a book that collects the experiences of Tech Leads around the world aimed at helping new or existing Tech Leads improve their skills.
  • Developing a skills training course for Tech Leads that we run internally. It’s a unique experiential course aimed at raising awareness of and developing the skills developers need when they play the Architect or Tech Lead roles. I may even have an opportunity of running it externally this year.
  • Being considered a role model for how ThoughtWorks employees can have impact on both clients, the industry and within our own company.

ThoughtWorks London Opening Party

Last night ThoughtWorks had a welcoming party to celebrate the opening of our new London office, located in the heart of Soho.

I didn’t take as many photos I would have liked, but it was a fun event with a couple of musicians: Emily Lee, Scott McMahon and an amazing set of food prepared by Ed Baines (chef of Randall and Aubin).

Thoughts on OOP2015

I spent the first half of last week in Munich, where I was speaking at OOP Conference 2015. I missed last year when Martin Fowler was a keynote but had presented both in 2013 and 2012.

The conference still seems to attract more seasoned people like architects and decision makers and I am still constantly surprised at the number of suits I see for a technical conference – I do not know if that is more of a German culture difference as well. I felt like there were significantly more German-speaking sessions than English ones, and I sat in a number of them when I expanded my vocabulary.

I was only there for three of the five days of the conference, and was lucky enough to be invited and attend a special dinner on Monday evening where Dr Reinhold Ewald (a former German astronaut) gave a presentation about what it was like being an astronaut, what they do in space and some of the interesting challenges.

I saw a number of the keynotes and talks which I’ll briefly summarise here:

  • Challenges and Opportunities for the Internet of Things (IoT) by Dr Annabel Nickels – A relatively introductory session on what the Internet of Things actually means. The talk explained the IoT well, why it’s not possible and what people are experimenting with. It was clear that security and privacy aspects had not advanced and that there was still a lot of work to go, as there were lots of questions from the audience, but no clear answers in this space – more “it’s something we’re looking into”-sort of answers
  • Coding Culture by Sven Peters – Sven is an entertaining, engaging and obviously well-practiced presenter who knows how to engage with the audience with pictures and stories. His talk focused on coding culture – but more particularly the coding culture of Atlassian, the company Sven works for. An entertaining talk about how they work inside the company, but was not particularly surprising for me since I know already a lot about that company.
  • Aktives Warten für Architekten by Stefan Toth (Actively Waiting for Architecture) – A nice introduction to the Last Responsible Moment or what is more popular in the Agile community these days, Real Options.
  • Ökonomie und Architektur als effektives Duo by Gernot Starke, Michael Mahlberg (Economics and Architecture as an effective pair) – From my understanding, the talk focused on bringing the idea of calculating ROI on an architectural front. The pair spent a lot of ideas introducing financial terms and then a number of spreadsheets with a lot of numbers. Although well-intentioned, I wasn’t sure about the “calculations” they made since a lot of it was based on estimates of “man-days” needed and “man-days” spent/saved – it all looks very good when calculated out, but they didn’t really spent much time eliciting how they get estimates. They spent a lot of time introducing Aim42 which I wasn’t familiar but will now look into.

I ran two talks that had both good attendance and great feedback (like the one below):

OOP2015 - Best Talk

The fist was “The Geek’s Guide to Leading Teams” where I focused on exploring the responsibilities and remits of what a Tech Lead does and how it’s quite different from being a developer.

The second was “Architecting for Continuous Delivery” which focused on the principles and considerations for when people build systems with Continuous Delivery in mind.

I had a great time visiting the conference and had an interesting time expanding my German vocabulary as I tried to explain what I and what my company do in German – something I didn’t really do a lot of when I was living in Berlin.

Looking back at 2013

Although we have a bit of time left in 2013, my work for the year is almost done. Next year brings a completely different adventure. First though, are some reflections for this year.

A bit of a blur

My year was punctuated with many short engagements and events. I definitely did not have a regular schedule, but I did have a good amount of restorative time. My consulting engagements came dotted through speaking engagements, the latter which I had tried to reduce to a good level compared to 2012. The short consulting engagements often involved navigating a new organisation, collecting enough information to provide advice most suitable for their context.

I appreciated these engagements as it often meant working with really experienced people I don’t normally get to work with during other engagements, and I really enjoyed the debates about what might be the “next steps” that organisation could take to address their problem effectively. At the same time, I less enjoyed building relationships with a lot of new people for such short periods because I found it really drains me (and my memory for names seems to get worse and worse). It makes it worthwhile though, if I know that their environment could improve for the better.

Lots of travel

Naturally with so many different shifts both for clients and for conferences, I found myself travelling a lot this year. One week I remember being in London, Manchester, Hamburg and Rome before returning to London. With another client, it was three cities across three weeks back to back. I found myself returning to Dublin for a client, only to be impressed by how much more “continental” the city felt but you are still guaranteed an Irish pub around the corner.

I also found myself in Brazil for the first time (twice!), a beautiful country but one where the lack of public infrastructure is staggering. Fortunately the reliance on taxis for transportation was definitely made up by the friendliness of the Brazilian people.

The Retrospective Handbook in Print

I have been very happy with the reception to the book, “The Retrospective Handbook”, I published last year. People told me how it’s really helped and improved their retrospectives. Totally worth the time.

I spend time making the electronic copies available as print, and I can now physically give away copies (or you can buy them here on amazon!) There’s still time to gift it to someone before the new year 😉

Keynote for Agile Brazil

I also felt very humbled to give the opening keynote to Agile Brazil, a 1000+ person conference this year held in the country’s capital city Brasilia. It warms my heart to see the ideas prospering around the world. I wrote a new talk, “Agile: Unlocking our human potential” with the goal of inspiring people to engage for the rest of the conference.

The video was recently published online too:

Unlocking the human potential – Patrick Kua from Agile Brazil on Vimeo.

Plans for next year: Berlin in 2014

As I hinted previously, 2014 will be completely different from previous years. I intend on taking a break from work, partly because of a (generous) 12 week sabbatical period ThoughtWorks offers employees after a long tenure. My plans are to move to Berlin for year, with my only goal being to speak/write German fluently. I depart British shores early next year where I will start with an intensive language course involving at least 30 hours a week of study.

For people who I know in Berlin (Hallo!) but I hope to avoid speaking too much English for the first part of the year.

Dafür wir können uns treffen wenn wir nur auf Deutsch sprachen.

I intend to write less on this blog, and to spend more time (deliberate practice!) on a German one I have set up here.

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