Agile 2006: Crushing Fear under the Iron Heel of Action

Crushing Fear under the Iron Heel of Action
Ron Jeffries & Chet Hendrickson
Wednesday afternoon

“As far as we know, a workshop on fear has never been done by us before.”

Fear and what we can do about it. In most cases you can do something about it, if only run away.

Brainstorm some topics (mostly work-focused, e.g., we’re not looking for things like “tigers”) under which we sense fear / cause you to act in a way you would not normally have acted

  • Deadlines, because they’re too close and I won’t get done
  • Big requirements
  • Legacy code
  • Crappy code
  • Layoffs
  • Politics
  • Failure
  • Unsupportive customer / manager
  • Quality
  • Change
  • Writing code
  • Losing control
  • Too much responsibility
  • Abusive people
  • System crashes
  • Ambiguity or something like that
  • Unknown
  • Vague requirements
  • New technologies
  • Old technologies
  • Technology
  • Integration
  • Offshoring
  • Success
  • Security holes
  • Remote teams
  • Performance
  • Scalability
  • Usability
  • Sabotage
  • Pair Programming / working with other people
  • Communication
  • Inadequacy
  • Budget / cost overruns
  • Project cancellation
  • Rejection by peers

Rejection by peers / Pair programming / Inadequacy

  • New team
  • Senior people working with junior people
    • Fear of exposure: I get paid more, but I’m not as good as this junior guy
    • Fear of being obsolete
  • How am I really doing?
  • Unrealistic expectation of perfection

Group example:

  • “Dunce cap”
  • You’re stuck
  • Feel like you shouldn’t be stuck, because any fool in the room but you could do this
  • Don’t feel like standing up and saying “I need some help over here”

What you can do about it, part 1: Jedi mind tricks

  • Psyching yourself up
  • One fix: Remember a case where a teacher asked for help
  • Another (partial) fix: Make a rule that if someone asks for help, they must get it
  • Only way you learn is by screwing things up
  • Recognize that others stumble too. They might have the answer to yours, you might have the answer to theirs later.
  • Remember that you know something, just maybe not this.
  • Swap someone in from another pair, and if he doesn’t know, make *him* stand up and ask for help
  • When you’re stuck, you might as well be doing anything else
  • Write an article on your Web site and get people to tell you how to fix it
  • Get used to being an idiot
  • What’s the worst that could possibly happen? (Be careful if you have a really good imagination)
  • Open workspace
  • Jedi mind trick on ourselves: “This is not the problem you are worried about.”

What you can do about it, part 2: Action

  • Promiscuous Pairing and Beginner’s Mind
    • Relates to asking for help
    • Maybe could say whenever someone stands up and says “Tired”, you switch pairs
  • Ask one particular person instead of the whole room (private question)
  • Practice. Ask for help even when you don’t need it
  • Conversation. Talk about the system, even if you think you understand it. Someone may surprise you.
  • Kent Beck: Whenever a conversation goes on for more than ten minutes (or as soon after that as you notice you’re stuck), you must settle the issue by doing an experiment.
    • Two people involved go off and pair, and try both solutions.
    • Usually, whichever one you start on seems to be OK.
    • Often you’re going to the same place via a different route.
    • Or, often your concerns about the other guy’s solution turn out not to be a big deal.
  • Divide & conquer.
    • Maybe start by working on the part you do know…
    • maybe start by working on the part you don’t understand (the part you know you don’t know).
  • Wheels on chairs
  • Interrupt yourself / have someone else interrupt you
    • When a pair is silent, they’re probably stuck.
    • Go talk to them
    • Toss a Nerf ball at them (twisting the “throw a Nerf ball when someone is being too loud” rule)
    • Pull off a member of the stuck pair
  • Turn it into a competition to see who can ask the dumbest question of the day
    • “Hi, idiot here.”

There followed an exercise where we broke into groups. Each group picked one or more fears, and brainstormed what we could do about them.

What’s remarkable, as Ron said during his sum-up of the session (more eloquently than I’m doing here), is that we presumably all picked fears we were personally interested in, and in every group, in every case, we came up with things we could actually do about those fears.

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