Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Collaboration Explained, by Jean Tabaka

Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders, by Jean Tabaka

Collaboration Explained is a great book that works on two levels: both a treatise on a topic and an ongoing reference after the initial study. While there is a lot of good information about popular agile methodologies and fostering collaboration, where it really shines is on the topics of meeting facilitation. My favorite anecdote told of a company that had sign above each meeting room door: “If you have not received a purpose and agenda for this meeting, please turn around and return to your desk.” I sure wish I could work at a place like that!

At the heart of the book is the idea that collaboration is powerful. Tabaka mentions many familiar names that believe in this credo of “People over process” but somehow omits Michael Coté who named his blog with this phrase! She points out that with all the differences in the various popular agile techniques, collaboration is the “daily glue that agile teams apply in order to accomplish their joint undertakings.” As someone that follows general agile techniques but doesn’t subscribe to any particular methodology this rings especially true.

One of the collaborative tools that Tabaka discusses is the “fist of five.” This is a way of quickly gathering a feel for where the group stands on a particular issue with more granularity than a simple pass/fail vote. The idea is that you ask for a showing of the fist of five (I call this the “fiery fist of death” because I like to inject humor wherever I can—and I can never remember the “proper” name!) when you want to get a feeling for where the group stands on a particular decision/solution. Everyone then simultaneously holds up a hand extending fingers indicating their position:

  1. Five fingers: this is exactly what we should do and we are geniuses for thinking of it.
  2. Four fingers: a solid plan that I’m happy to implement.
  3. Three fingers: I can live with and support this decision.
  4. Two fingers: I have a problem with where we are and we need to keep discussing.
  5. One finger: use any finger you’d like to express your feelings. :)

Of course, Tabaka doesn’t express the fingers in quite this way but the end result is the same. This is a powerful technique that I’ve found quite useful, especially in groups that like to hear themselves talk. When I think that we are starting to cycle in our discussions calling for the fist goes a long way towards ending deliberation and moving the group forward.

As I said earlier, this is a great book not only for the discussions but as an ongoing resource. Section IV is particularly valuable, containing templates for many different types of meetings commonly encountered during agile development. Any team leader can learn a lot from reading this book, and individual contributors will benefit by getting a better insight into what makes a group truly collaborative.

First Sentence:
With the current interest in adaptive, more reliable software development practices, project teams and their managers are taking a renewed look at the many people aspects that either contribute to or detract from project success.

1 comment:

Rollingwood said...

I enjoyed this book to. Even if you think you know the subject, it's a great refresher and nicely organized.

It help explains the difference between traditional managed teams and truly collaborative teams - something that is important to understand if you are actually trying to build one.

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