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Late acknowledgement of a late acknowledgement

In last Steve Denning’s article on Forbes titled “Can The 21st Century Corporation Operate Without Agile?” we read:

The new industrial revolution may be enabled by technology, but it is not being driven by it.

[…]

Trying to exploit digital technology or the Internet with the management practices of hierarchical bureaucracy that is pervasive in big corporations today is like driving a horse and buggy on the freeway. To get beyond this horse-and-buggy management, and into something more relevant, managers need Agile.

[…]

These are however the results of Agile management, not the drivers of the new industrial revolution.

[…]

The new mindset begins with a focus on continuous innovation and the future. It believes in banking, not necessarily banks. It believes in accommodation, not necessarily hotels. It believes in transport, not necessarily cars. It believes in health, not necessarily hospitals. It believes in education, not necessarily schools.

[…]

What is lacking is a recognition that the Agile way of running an organization constitutes, not just a random potpourri of management practices being driven by technology. It’s a coherent self-reinforcing system of leadership and management thinking that is driving the technology for the benefit of the customer.

It has been already years since the world of mainstream management realized agile is not just a tree-hugging bandwagon – assuming we don’t really need to hug more trees to solve a bunch of real problems – and this blogpost doesn’t have the aim to show you anything unexpected. But still I have been beating the agile track since 2004 and it is so rewarding to see Forbes acknowledge the value of a path that, well… was mine too.

Ad maiora.

LEGO Serious Play facilitation training: mission accomplished.

On May 8 I joined Juego Serio, Sparkling Strategies and Cocoon Projects in Barcelona to attend a LEGO Serious Play (LSP) Facilitation training. I had been waiting that moment a lot.

I met the method in 2013 when I had the chance to help my friend Stelio facilitating some LSP- based workshops designed by him. With those few kickstarting experiences the power of LSP had just shown a part of its potential, but definitely enough for making me eager to know more about it. I had been facilitating meetings and workshops for 10 years at the time and this looked like the most powerful facilitation method ever met.

Release early, release often. #wip #wiplimit #sagradafamilia #barcelona #españa #trip

A photo posted by Jacopo Romei (@jacoporomei) on

A versatile technique

LSP is a great envisioning method and I loved the way the facilitation training was held: we mainly ran LSP sessions with Lucio Margulis, one of the few LSP facilitation trainers in the world. He gave us a strong theorical background while using LEGO Serious Play to outline all the main LSP facilitation concerns and showing us both usual facilitation patterns and his own skill in action. He proved to be able to ask very powerful questions. It was amazing to stare in silence at how deep the analysis of an apparently easy subject could become. I saw people talking of their aspirations, their assumptions about the context we were working in, their tentative solutions and I even saw people break out in tears.

Squeezing value out of people

The best feature of LEGO Serious Play by the way is not just using LEGO on job – which is actually the very reason why most of the people are curious about it at first. The best of LSP is gracefully forcing each person attending a meeting to formulate, express and share her thoughts on the meeting’s subject. All of her thoughts about the subject. Even the least fair, the most uncomfortable ones.

Have you ever been in a meeting? Sure.
Have you ever seen a meeting in which 2 people out of ten talk all the time? Sure.
Have you ever seen a meeting in which, while 2 people don’t stop talking, other 4 just nod (?) and 4 chat on their smartphones? Sure.
LSP puts an end to this.

What does that mean for an enterprise? For a team? For a non-profit org? For a board?

Mainly two things:

  1. Serendipity is a powerful mode which to let happen things by. Exploring the deep thoughts about a strategical issue in each single head is going to surprise you. Moreover, those surprises will be very focused on the whole team goal.
  2. Making everyone’s ideas about a topic is an investment in clarity. No one will be honestly in condition to say ‘I didn’t understand we were about to do this’ or ‘I did not agree. This was your decision, not mine’. No one anymore. The range of alibis in use in a team using LEGO Serious Play is mercilessly destined to narrow down to zero.

I am already using LSP in my workshops and coaching sessions. I just started to walk along my path to LSP mastery. Will I meet you along the road?

I grandi consulenti secondo @meedabyte: squali, morti e sciacalli. #epicwin #LSP #barcelona #españa @LSPMed

A photo posted by Jacopo Romei (@jacoporomei) on

The whole IT thing is about talking to humans

It was only yesterday that I incurred into this old tweet by Kent Beck:

This message resonates with many reflections I have been through lately.

Tree huggers

First, this made me think of all the comments hard core programmers do about the people trying to fix dysfunctional teams, or better: trying to fix dysfunctional IT teams. “What is this? Psychotherapy? We just need more unit tests!” is just an example of the comments I read and heard about people trying to address the problems of a failing team.

Unfortunately, if we agree on solving problems with the right tools, people problems can’t be solved with solutions meant to fix programming problems. That’s easy like that.

Sure, adopted solutions must be evaluated too and it may happen that some get a bit over the line. Sure, we don’t need – and can’t afford – 10 years of psychoanalysis to deliver our next project. Sure, many are trying to oversell the tools they just know about to fix a broad range of problems which may just be too broad.

But please do remember: people problems are to be addressed with people solutions, be it a user requirement, a collaboration issue or a learning resistance.

Programming languages are for human beings

This is a topic which once in a while brings the teams I am working with to an a-ha moment: programming languages were not invented to talk effectively to machines. Programming languages are meant to bring people on the same page in the cheapest way when facing a programming problem.

Amazingly enough the tweet by Beck is a perfect brief reminder for all of us. Programming:

  1. Starts with understanding a set of requirements (people’s needs)
  2. Making them clear to a bunch of developers (people needs!)
  3. Turning them into working software crafted by a group of professionals (OMG people again!)
  4. Validating the deliverable with all the stakeholders (I. Can’t. Believe. It. This is people again.)
  5. Finally satisfying the needs we were starting from, by making our tool clear and easy to use to users (peo… ouch!).

Programming languages are a tool to help with step 3. Sometimes with steps 2 and 4 too.

If programming languages were optimized on the machine side of the human-machine relationship we would all be writing assembly code today, OK?

Linguistic skills are the key skill for a team worker

The third thought triggered by Beck’s tweet is about linguistic skills in developers and, more in general to all team workers.

If we understand that innovation bottleneck is learning, then we must agree that talking and communicating the slightest nuance of meaning is a key factor when learning together with a group of co-workers.

If we agree that a team is built around a goal – and maintained around a vision, then we must agree that fostering cohesion with the right conversations is a key skill for all the people belonging to the team.

Thus, if we want our conversations to be effective, we must recruit people with good linguistic skills. If we want our conversations to even be efficient, we must recruit people with great linguistic skills.

I have no doubt on this: when hiring a new coder I am willing to trade some of their hard skill for a very good linguistic skill. You think what you talk, you talk what you think.

I am back from XP2015

It has been an intense May and among the several nice things happened to me I had the chance to attend XP2015, in Helsinki, to talk about LiquidO, the open governance model shaped within Cocoon Projects.

The XP conference series is among the top conferences worldwide about agile methods and lean thinking. What do I bring back home from this event? Mainly two impressions.

Split community

The first one is about the paths agile methods have followed along the years. I wrote “paths”, plural, because I see more than one.

On one hand I see people involved in a grassroots movement made of user groups, code katas and code retreats but also made of non-coding communities of practice: agile coach camps, agile UX events, lean management gatherings and so on.

On the other hand I see an academic world trying to formalise the whole agile body of knowledge, still looking for the ultimate metric, for the one-size-fits-all step-by-step handbook or for the finally business-agnostic way to analyse the dynamics of a team leading you to a guaranteed success.

While talking with an academic who had just presented his paper about refactoring automated analysis tools, he asked me: “what do you mean with ‘code kata’?”. I don’t have an exact idea of what it is right or wrong, but the impression here is that we have a split community: those who are learning to surf by surfing and those who are trying to learn surfing by describing the whole physic model of a wave with a surfer on top.

How many papers about surfing can you write before becoming able to surf?

Sorry. Agile processes are not formal. But do read Kent’s book, mines, and Jim Shore’s.

— Ron Jeffries, June 2010 [1]

One community

The second and best impression I bring home with me is the one about the community I am in. Actually, the community I am the centre of.

This is not to say I am any important, indeed this is to say I love my network of contacts, made of people who listen from and explain to me. Year by year this network grows stronger and larger – which are not the same attribute – generating opportunities and providing crucial validity checks.

It was amazing to meet good old friends, to meet new ones and consider the chance for new collaborations across geographical and cultural borders. From India to USA, from Finland to Italy, we are all trying to uncover better ways to deliver value with one final aim: happiness.

For taking part of this endeavour I feel grateful to each one of you. Thanks!

[1] Source, my first comment [ITA] and a comment about my comment.

What mom and dad never told you about your job as a developer

If you are a developer and you were born in the 80’s or in the 90’s, it is very unlikely that your mum and dad pushed for you to start coding. If you are even older it is close to impossible then.

Parents from the 20th century were – and are – usually more concerned about jobs that have been around since the dawn of modern era: lawyers, doctors, architects and all those like these. That also reflects on kids dreams: “I will be an astronaut!” you’ve always heard. You never heard a kid stating with steady shining eyes “I am going to be a programmer!”. So far.

To tell the truth, odds are that you had to fight quite hard to convince the whole family that what you were doing everyday once back from school was not wasting time on videogames, but exploring some very interesting new problem, building your mind up around a brand new kind of job that eventually became yours: developing software.

You started developing software because you liked it and you wanted to.

How does it feel now? Does it still feel amusing? Are you still feeling the urge to solve that very next problem? Are you still willing to improve the way you code? When was the last time you learned a new technique?

At least, the bare minimum: do you still like to code?

Ask yourself this question and be sincere for your health’s sake. If your answer is “no”, think about the reasons that brought you here. No one was pushing on you when you started coding, no one asked you to become a professional programmer, you liked it when you started.

What happened in between?

Interview about Cocoon Projects’ open governance model

About one year ago I took part of a Stoos Sparks program hosted by Sander Huijsen and Dawna Jones. We talked half an hour about Cocoon Projects and its open governance model which a few months later we distilled out into LiquidO, made available for everyone with a Creative Commons license.

After one year though the video still irradiates the good vibe it meant for us at that time. Enjoy!

What about a Makers Group in Milan?

Experimenting is all in all just this: you have an idea and you validate it by asking the Universe a proper question.

Today I had this idea: the Arduino User Group Roma has been a great success. Something similar could be possible in Milan too.

I want to validate this idea and start asking people: do you like the idea of a Makers Group based in Milan?

The outcome of the experiment is unknown, the value of the response high!
Please, spread this form if you are as curious as me about how it will end!

500 euro every 10 minutes

Suppose I give you 10 euros every 10 minutes under just one condition: the money you haven’t spent within that time frame will be mine again. You can buy anything, you are free to drink, eat, drive, read, watch, listen, wear, shoot, see, meet, learn, waste, build, travel and do whatever you want with those 10 euros. But if you only spend 5, I’ll take 5 back. If you only spend 7, I’ll take 3 back. You will have no chance to save that money for future use.

Let’s make it more violent.

Suppose I give you 100 euros each 10 minutes. No, even better: 500 euros. Yes, five hundred euros to you every 10 minutes for you to spend freely, no constraint, except one: I’ll take away the money you don’t spend.

What would you do?

Would you start to spend as much as you can? Would you manage expenses in order to only buy what you need? Would you focus the money that will come? Would you make your life a slave to this inexhaustible resource or would you let it go? On the other hand, would you mind to burn this money? Would such a waste disturb you? Would you feel bad? Would you mind at all?

Whatever your answer, you are in this situation every day, every hour, every moment of your life.

Time is your main resource, it is given to you for free, it is given to you anyway. No matter how you will spend it, it will go. Every hour you can only choose how to spend it, not whether to spend it or not. You are going to spend it anyway.

Every 10 minutes you will have spent 10 minutes of your life, that’s it.

Would you start to use as much time as you can? Would you manage your calendar in order to only live experiences you need? Would you focus on time flowing? Would you let your life be a slave to time or would you let it go? On the other hand, would you mind to burn your time? Would such a waste disturb you? Would you feel bad? Good? Would you mind at all?

Early bird catches the worm.

as much as

All the time you enjoyed wasting, was not wasted at all. — John Lennon

I left eBay. What’s next?

So, this is the situation: I left eBay Annunci (aka Kijiji) to join Neomobile to help the company stay agile & lean.

But this is just the surface, merely the part that will be visible on my LinkedIn profile. There’s lots more.

In 2012 I joined eBay Inc. to work as agile coach with the italian Kijiji development team. If you know italian or you can rely on a good translator, here is the post I used at that time to explain the reasons behind my choice. To sum up, at that time I set up a few learning goals which then I pursued and mostly reached. Introducing automated tests in a strategical legacy codebase, installing a proper continuous integration environment and ending up writing the first BDD tests with Behat wouldn’t have been anything new if I hadn’t had to cope with the amount of constraints that come along with a business big like that.

Coping with external pressure, while reducing internal pressure, has been my reward during my time in eBay. Reduced deployment cycle times, higher deployment reliability, better stand up meetings and a compact team of people playing BZFlag together every day, this were satisfactions I’ve got. Only the very big pressure applied on me by new opportunities made me leave that job. My experience in eBay make me recommend it to anyone willing to work in a very pleasant environment.

In spite of this, I increasingly felt the need to give space to a new Jacopo, which Cocoon Projects helped me discover throughout 2013.

Cocoon Projects is a company supporting value-driven innovation and its model of governance has deeply and very quickly influenced my way of conceiving groups of people and how they should act as a team towards a common goal. Since I started to collaborate with Cocoon Projects I have grown eager of helping orgs improving their governance to match the increasingly unstable nature of human global society and markets. But, as I said, I was working in a perfect environment: why should I leave eBay? Just for the sake of heeding the call?

In the last few years I have been studying and working with the black swan concept. As I kept talking with people about the vision induced by Taleb’s theory about economy and even storytelling, as an individual I realized I needed (and we all always need) some way to expose myself to positive black swans. All in all I just needed some way to create the safety net that lets any experiment free to fail. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, isn’t it? But how to unlock my freedom to experiment without killing myself?

It was the stubbornness of Francesco together with the opportunities generated by Cocoon Projects and ideato that created the conditions for the switch, for that click moment.

Neomobile carved out an offer that was impossible for me to refuse: starting on Jan 7 2014 I will be working with them 4 days out of 5, in their Milan-based office. Best news is that it’s not just a part-time agreement: it will be possible for me to aggregate those days off to get some valuable time every month.

This is perfect, it will allow me to get the best of two worlds:

  1. I will join a very skilled team featuring 3 or 4 of the best developers I know (maybe you met Giorgio Sironi on Dzone) working on some of the same premises that made me join eBay and some new ones as well: a stable team, a solid product to develop, a mature agile process and the chance to stay close to product ownership.
  2. I will be free to experiment, fail, succeed and improve the traction on radical management. Writing a new book, keeping this blog alive, attending conferences, coaching orgs about new governance models and fostering innovation for real will never be in the panic zone. It won’t be fly or die, it won’t be all in. My plan is to happily keep myself in my discomfort zone where I can maximize learning.

Is it going to be like that? Will this be the right way to optimize my potential, not (just) my progress? Who knows! This is the first experiment: wish me well, I’ll let you know!

2014: A Self Odyssey

So here we are, all back on track to live this new year plenty of things to do and chances to get. I wish during 2014 you can get a giant step ahead towards your own sustainable happiness.

I decided to kick off this new blog in January to set myself up for a deep and sound self development journey. In the meantime I thought it might be nice to tell you what happens, gather useful feedback from readers and share any lesson should come out of my experience.

I’ll be posting about my jobs, my side projects, experiments, small victories and useful defeats. I’ll be focusing on stories that show how to make things happen.

Tomorrow I’ll post something about my experience in eBay and the reasons why I quit, 2 days ago.

Happy new year everyone by now. It will be great!

Happy new year!

Positive attitude for free here. 🙂
Shot by Francesco Mosca.