Saturday, August 3, 2013

Back from Kaizen Camp

Some of you are wondering what Kaizen Camp is. It's not a yoga retreat or a new Ben and Jerry's flavor. It's a place where a bunch of people that manage other people go to discuss latest management techniques that involve Agile, Scrum, XP, and other options that are typically not the straight up RUP or Waterfall methodology.

If you click the link to Kaizen Camp, have mercy - those folks are all about the people, then the process, and the technological subtleties of their web pages reflect this philosophy. They managed 175 of us pretty well, from getting us to put together our own program to assigning us areas named after Muppets, to getting us fed and watered in an orderly manner. this was my first year at Camp.

Overall, it was fun. It was definitely an activity for the self driving individual. I have always been the kind to make my own fun. There is a time and a place for those of us who do that, and Kaizen Camp is one of those places. For those folks dragged in by our office who typically like to be led to a place and then told to do whatever there, it was a bit harder. Principles we work with at camp - and which I work with daily - are around self-organization and trying to help empower people to make their own decisions. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him sign up for Kaizen Camp sessions, however, if they are one of those people who do not make their own fun or take charge of it, expecting things to be clearly laid out for them. Life is messy. Kaizen Camp is nothing like real life, except that it is also messy.

I spent time at camp trying to explain to the awesome person who got me to spend my own cold hard cash to go why the folks we brought - who are sharp and funny and bright and amazing in their own rights - were not getting out of it what we were: they needed a framework for understanding, a framework for being comfortable. They needed to understand how this place fit into the context of what they found meaningful. They needed a push.

Pushing is not self organizing. Culture shock ensued.

I did a session to learn something - how to manage a legacy code base and legacy developers who have ancient attitudes and how to bring them into this century. I did a session to show what I know - soft skills and how they solve hard problems in Agile. I went to several sessions (I think I actually only skipped one session total the entire time I was there, and by god I self organized myself into sitting down, getting re hydrated, and dealing with fires at work via email).

This was simply not possible for some of the folks who came to camp. They did not know what was expected of them, so in some cases they froze. There weren't technical sessions to talk about pairing or mob programming or hands on workshops (some people learn better when they're doing than by talking) and they just didn't grasp that they could put a session up and simply ask other people to come and show them. My good friend eventually introduced a session of this type which was relatively productive for them. Several folks that went were still baffled about what they got out of it.

And that ties nicely into my session on soft skills and agile; I've talked about the items I went over with the folks at Kaizen Camp in this blog before - heck, my headings came from the first year of blog entries. The gist is: a team is a group of individuals. They may work well as a team, which is awesome, but when the team isn't working well, and you've tried all the "team" stuff, its time to look at the individuals. For example, shy individuals who don't feel comfortable talking in sessions, or setting up sessions to get questions answered. Individuals who feel pressured by team norms to not speak up about times when they're less than comfortable with a direction they are going. Individuals who walk into work one day and throw a wrench into the works, pissing everybody off and generally making an ass out of themselves (and potentially other people reacting to them).

That is the time to put aside team thoughts and start poking at people thoughts. You always want to be observational, but not of just the team as a team. Individuals have their tells, and you can see, day to day, how they change. I'm no saying surveil them and make them scared of you, but knowing a good mood from a bad mood by body language alone is a good skill (and one I may discuss diagnosing more in depth in later posts). Then you can see if someone is having trouble speaking up, and help them by offering to speak up for them. Or, in the case of my friend, set up a session for them so they can get the benefits with some structure and support behind them, rather than let them continue to fear they're out on a limb by themselves so they don't try anything at all. Or, when that team mate comes in acting like a jack ass, you can protect him or her from themselves (and the rest of the team) and start the conversation with "You don't seem like yourself, is there anything I can do to help you? What's going on?" rather than let that person continue to disrupt the team and/or change opinions of that individual immediately; everybody has a bad day. This could be that person's...but you'll never know unless you ask.

Anyway, that was my immediate wisdom for Kaizen Camp. There's more percolating. The biggest piece I walked away with was that my insights and thoughts are valuable, too. Not just the people who know things or write books or have a zillion direct reports. I know I feel that way a bit - I do have a blog and all! - but its nice to have it reinforced by people I can see who are smart and dynamic and amazing. It reminds me that I have some dynamic and some amazing in here, too, somewhere, and I ought to get it out and dust it off. I am guessing, and this is sheer egomania because you're reading my blog, that you too, gentle reader, have some awesome and some dynamic in there, too. I challenge you to dust it off, buy it a drink, and take it out on the town this week.