Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Mob Programming Conference 2018 - All About the People

These days I'm feeling energized. Energized from the manifold conversations with so many wonderful people I had in the last days. I came for the Mob Programming Conference and found a whole bunch of awesome people. We could strengthen old connections and form new ones. And we learned with each other as well as from each other all the way. Just like a conference should be! Many thanks to the wonderful organizers Woody ZuillNancy Van SchooenderwoertLlewellyn Falco and whoever I might miss for inviting me as "moberator". You, the volunteers, the other speakers and the people attending made the conference a full success.

Heading to Boston

A few days before the conference, I was already excited to go to Boston early to attend the third day of the Agile Games Conference which took place the days before. Well, seems I cheered too soon: my flight got canceled due to ongoing strikes. The lucky part was that I had planned to fly early. My booking got changed to the next day and I could still arrive in time for the Mob Programming Conference.
Nancy and Woody were so kind to pick me up from the arrival station and give me a lift to the hotel. As a few other speakers had arrived around the same time, we all headed out to a nearby restaurant together. I love these opportunities to get to know a few people in a small setting before the conference starts! Having some already familiar faces around makes me feel less insecure. This time, I had the pleasure to meet the following most awesome people: Jessica KerrLennart Fridén, and Amitai Schleier. Wonderful.

Conference Day 1

The day started with a short walk over to the venue where a nice breakfast waited. A great chance to have some first conversations. I love to meet people I only know from Twitter finally in real life! Makes such a difference.

Afterwards, the conference program started with Woody giving his opening keynote "Mob Programming and the Power of Flow". Finally I could experience Woody in action! Here are my biggest takeaways of this great keynote.
  • Woody always got the question: "How can we be productive with 5 people at 1 computer?"
    • Woody's first answer: "I don't know. Does that matter?"
    • His second answer: it's not about productivity, it's about effectiveness.
      • Efficiency = doing things right => busywork
      • Productivity = output/input => wrong things
      • Effectiveness = doing right things => right things
    • So the question should be rather: "How can we be effective if we separate the people who should be working together?"
  • Question Queue Time = The amount of time we must wait to get an answer to a question that is blocking us
  • Flow plus flow plus flow
    • We enable individual flow by giving each person the safety and space to think in their own way
    • We enable team flow by working well together
    • We enable lean flow by eliminating queues
After the keynote I joined Lennart's mob session "M.E.L.T. (Mob Exploration & Learning with TIS-100)". It was all about learning together, just like the session I was going to host in the afternoon. So I was really curious how he tackled the topic, and also eager to learn myself. To keep it short: it was a blast! Lennart was (and is) such a great observer, helping us to discover what we learned and what we could improve. Really well done. If you have the chance to attend one of his sessions, do it - it was full of learning and fun, highly recommended! The best thing was that the application he used is an actual game available on Steam. Having such a game really leveled the playing field as you most probably would not have any expert in the group. I already told Lennart I might steal this brilliant idea to introduce people to mob programming! After lunch I had the opportunity to host one of the lean coffee tables. We had a wonderful group, bringing up many topics and having great conversations. And then the time had come for the first of my two mob sessions to facilitate: "Learning to Learn in a Mob". It was a blast! Many thanks to all the wonderful participants making this learning experiment a full success! The first day ended with a reception at a nearby restaurant. And it ended as it started: having wonderful conversations with inspiring people!

Conference Day 2

Yet another great conference day was about to start! It was kicked off by Jessica Kerr with her keynote about "Shared Mental Models". She triggered lots of thoughts and in the end even provided a new title for us! Here are my key takeaways, but you should really watch the to be published recording to get the full message. (Edit: Or read her wonderful blog post about it!)
  • Great teams make great people; not the other way around!
  • We all learned a new word, "symmathesy", and it really fits to what we are doing when mob programming.
    • Sym = together, mathesi = learning; symmathesy = a learning system made from learning parts
    • Or, as Nora Bateson who coined the term writes: "Learning together in context, at all scales", "mutual learning in living systems".
    • Software is the most malleable material we ever had for engineering.
    • The code learns, too, because we change it. All code and things are also part of my team => sociotechnical symmathesy.
  • In order to change the system I have to have a model of it.
  • Downhill invention vs. uphill analysis:
    • Downhill invention: it's easier to do something from scratch.
    • Uphill analysis: it's not easy to analyse existing products or frameworks.
    • You don't know what someone else doesn't know.
    • If you invent something new you have the mental model, you are going downhill. The others trying to use it are going uphill and can't keep up. You can change it faster than they learn the model! Would that mean that you are a 10x developer? In that case only YOU look good.
  • The team-side of productivity is generativity = the difference between the team's outcomes with me vs. without me.
    • We should evaluate teammates by generativity.
    • Obliquity: to become great, put the team first.
    • It's easy to be super productive & negatively generative.
    • "I don't believe in 10x developers, but I do believe in 10x teams."
    • Great developers aren't born. They aren't trained. Great developers are symmathesized.
  • Software is not a craft, it's also not an art, it's the next thing after art.
    • Serious software development is the practice of symmathesy.
    • We can impact so many people, our software changes the world and moves it forward.
    • This makes Jessica a symmathecist, in the medium of software.
    • But it's not only her, it needs a team; everyone who moves an idea forward is part of the idea.
Mindblown. I even changed my Twitter bio after hearing that keynote!

Next up: Lisa Crispin teaching us "Visual Thinking Strategy for Skills that Help you Mob". Visual Thinking Strategy is "a research-based technique that improves creative thinking skills through a facilitated discussion of artworks." It "Helps us practice skills such as observing, brainstorming, reasoning with evidence, critical thinking, storytelling, empathy" and let's us "Back up observations with evidence, build comfort with ambiguity & the unfamiliar" (for more detail see Lisa's slides). Wonderful approach, and fun! I already plan to facilitate a session at my company.

After lunch we had an open space. I used this opportunity to join the Coding Dojo hosted by Woody to learn how he facilitates those sessions hands-on. Interesting experience! Last but not least, my second mob session was coming up: "Mobservations: The Power of Observation in a Mob". Fully focusing on observation skills! This one was more tricky to facilitate than my last session. My room had been changed to one that was not perfect for mobbing, and it was also big enough that I could not only work with the mob alone but also had an audience. A first timer! As if this wasn't enough, the organizers had been informed on short notice that we had to leave the building earlier that expected, so I also had less time for the session than expected and had to leave out a whole part. Considering the circumstances it went quite well, but I would have loved to know what would have happened given the same circumstances as my previous learning mob session.
Conference over? Yes, but not the socializing! Several people joined for a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant. And there's always this persistent core group going for a drink or two afterwards. I love it when people cannot yet let go of an awesome conference experience!

Finally: Sightseeing!

What's a better conclusion to a conference than going sightseeing together with the people? It was awesome to spend the weekend with several others who had planned some additional days in Boston just like me. Many thanks to Lisa, Barney, Marcus, Nancy, Woody, and Dawna for the awesome time together!

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