Archive for March, 2006

These are just some of my favourite tools

Monday, March 27th, 2006

I’m still at SPA. Marc Evers and I co-facilitated the ‘these are just some of my favourite tools workshop yesterday. We go to SPA to meet our peers, and each year we take something with us we hadn’t seen before. With a group of ten people we spent a quiet afternoon sharing the tools that help us kick ass.

tools for people

Interesting tools that were new for me:

Soft Systems Methodology, Most Generous Interpretation (if someone says something during a meeting that makes you angry, find the most generous interpretation and use that to create a response) and Moo Cow (a cow toy, that makes a moo noise when you twist it, can be used to stop discussions when they go nowhere, or when someone feels uncomfortable. It can also be used as an ‘integration token’ in a software development team)
Most puzzling for people that were only looking at the session output: Moo Cow and Mandala.

these are just some of my favourite tools output

We had a variety of high-tech, low-tech and ‘people and process’ tools, some high-tech (digital cameras and scanners) supporting low-tech (index cards, mindmaps and mandalas).


Marc Evers demonstrating Watir

As often we didn’t follow the process we had set out to use. We let the workshop self-organize around a form of discussion that gave us most energy. We went round the table with introductions, each stating what brought us to SPA (since this was the first session) and our favourite tool. Then we did another round, which took most of the afternoon, where everyone talked about their favourite tools in-depth, the others asking questions (‘how does that work, why is it valuable, oh, that reminds me of this … I’m using). As we went round, more and more tools made their way onto indexcards. We ended by speeding up the rounds (three minutes per tool) and then an affinity grouping, yielding a sort of thematic (mind)map of the tools we discussed.

and then it was time for beer (as it is now). Marc Evers and Rachel Davies having a beer (the night before, but who cares)

Got to France

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

So I got to xp day france, on thursday and friday.
Cedric Girard presenting
it’s cool to see people get together, share experiences, try out new ways of presenting and simply connecting.

All of the sessions were in French. It was cool to see an american (Charlie Poole) and a canadian (J.B. Rainsberger) do presentations in French :

charlie poole presenting in french

The thursday night dinner / boat trip was also very nice.

dinner on the seine

dinner on the seine 2

To introduce the sessions, all presenters did one minute presentations, which worked very well to warm up the audience.

one minute presentation

I co-facilitated a run of Simple tools for communication (‘des outils simple pour le communication’) with Marc Evers again (also known as Balancing Act), this time supported by Laurent Bossavit and Emmanuel Gaillot, who helped us out with translating to French, doing roleplays and facilitation.


We scaled this workshop in several dimensions. Doing it in French was more difficult than doing it in English or German, turnout was the largest we had so far for this workshop (between 25 and 30 people). As it requires quite a bit of facilitation and safety, we are very careful not to scale it too quickly.

people standing in a circle

We did exercises and demonstrations about coping stances, self other and context, the satir change model, and as a roundup we did a temperature reading. Near the end, the audience was pretty much exhausted. Judging from the reactions, the laughs, and the stories participants roleplayed, the workshop was a success.
pass the ball

I haven’t much to say about it right now, still recovering from excellent dinners, wine, conversation and enjoyable sessions. And I’m preparing for the next workshop, this afternoon I’m co-hosting the ‘these are just some of my favorite tools’ workshop at SPA with Marc Evers and Emmanuel Gaillot. I hope the pictures speak for themselves.

Welcome to Johannes Link

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Johannes Link announced his new weblog My Not So Private Tech Life today.

Johannes has already written a book (on unit testing, in German), now he starts publishing in smaller increments :-) . Looks like the blog will be a mixture of working in pragmatic ways and up-and-downsides of actually making stuff , starting with a thread on Ajax programming. (to Dutch people, Ajax remains a soccer team nevertheless).

Systemsthinking steps

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

To work more effectively with a client, I collected the steps I use to make a diagram of effects:

  1. Tell a short story to give an overview of the situation.
  2. Select the most interesting story (In a multi story workshop)
  3. Ask (the storyteller) detailed questions on the selected story
  4. Collect variables (observables or measurables) variables and other elements based on the current situation. Interventions come later.
  5. Draw arrows between variables. does a variable have a positive or negative impact on an other? Start with the most interesting variables.
  6. Simplify. strive for 7 ± 2 variables. Remove all variables that aren’t related to others. Keep only the most interesting variables. If there are still too many, split up the diagram. Try step 10 if there are still too much.
  7. Look for loops in the relations. are the loops reinforcing or balancing/stabilizing?
  8. Add intervention points
  9. Draw a ‘new system’ diagram (in case intervention points are not sufficient)
  10. Present the diagram to a group
  11. Adjust the diagram based on the feedback (use any of the previous steps as you see fit)
  12. Store the diagram so you can easily retrieve it later (digital photos of flipovers, or use a diagramming software).

I did write every day (virtually) since march 8, only not much in public. I made a couple of fieldstones, and I’m busy writing a report for said client – this time using a lot of systems thinking.

A diagram of effects makes it easier to get the writing juices flowing, as well as connecting the dots in clients’ stories and (help them) find holes in my understanding.

Write every day

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

Practice writing. Write every day. If you are a top-notch computer scientist, you probably read technical papers nearly every day. You are a writer too, so practice.

From RPG’s writing Broadside, also featured in Patterns of Software – tales from the software community by Richard Gabriel. This book gave me energy, back in the 1990s. Richards’ tale about founding a company helped me stay out of the dot-com craze.

I looked it up, because I remembered he writes a poem every day. Only practice makes perfect. In this book it shows.

Patterns of Software is also available as a free PDF, so why hesitate reading it?


Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

I’m preparing to assist Marc Evers tonight at the Thinking for a Change workshop (description for use at the SPA conference, later this month). Marc and Pascal already made a presentation. That contains this gem by Richard Bach:

“If you really want to remove a cloud from your life, you do not make a big production out of it, you just relax and remove it from your thinking. That’s all there is to it.”

Hmmm. Simply. Easier said than done. Nevertheless, the only way to end drama, is to end drama. So I agree.

Pardon my French!

Monday, March 6th, 2006

I have started preparing for XP Day France. Pascal van Cauwenberghe suggested we may need to speak French there… Right. Almost forgot about that. Minor detail.
How to practice?

I watched a bit of French television, that doesn’t help so far.

We continued our chat in French. That worked. A chat window gives me time to think and I can save difficult phrases.

It was fun, and I could keep it up longer than I expected. Until I tried to explain a problem I’m solving for a run of the Thinking for a Change workshop (possibly tomorrow at XP-NL). After some help from Pascal it ended up as:

“Comment peut-on amener les participants d’un workshop à discuter d’un problème réel et actuel qui peut être resolue avec les outils proposés lors du workshop?”

Pardon my French! In English:

“How can one get the participants of a workshop to discuss a real and actual problem that can be resolved with the tools introduced in the workshop?”

Funny. Looking back at it, the question is now phrased much more clearly than when I started (in Dutch). Rewriting in another language goes into the bag of tricks, so I can juggle my mind when rewriting, and practice languages at the same time :-) .

Some not so light weekend reading

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

I’ve wanted to post this link since I found it. I postponed it for a weekend. If you are on a deadline or something, don’t follow it. I was touched and moved by it, and I read it from beginning to end, and then couldn’t stop following it. I suggest you try the same.

Still here?

Kathy Sierra’s blog introduced Daniel Steinberg to me, who was supposed to visit Kathy (Love and Courage) , but his six year old daughter Elena died. Daniel wrote the first post Loss of continuity in his weblog (Extreme Teaching) about a book he had just started to write . He then set up a separate one, Dear Elena which starts with the second post, Unfinished Business. Follow the calendar to read from start to now, and don’t forget to trawl through the many comments – there’s excellent writing in there as well. What a way to celebrate a life gone by. Wow.
One of the many things that resonated with me:

Please don’t leave things unsaid that you need to say and consider not saying those things that don’t need saying.

Small steps for blog and site refactoring

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

If you’ve ended up here through a link from Rants and Ruminatons – I’m moving over my weblog.  Shorter domain name, and richer navigation should make it easier to find your way around. Comments lower the bar for well, comments. Rublog was nice to get started, as blogging seems to be here to stay for me, I’ve moved over to more serious software.

WordPress kicks ass around here now. Hope you’ll join me and update your links.

I’ve placed redirects for the most important pages and the feed, will add some more. I’ve also planted over a lot of the old posts, so you can browse and search the archive again. And, finally, a tag cloud, so my writings, musings and rants can meander around without me being stuck to a fixed set of categories. I hope you enjoy it.

Reading energy

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

A new old friend of mine said “I’ve always enjoyed reading, but never enjoyed writing” I’m puzzling on that one, as she does seem to enjoy writing in chat windows. Let me write about reading that gave me energy: (more…)