Friday, 28 October 2011

Improv Comedy & Agile - Yes and...

Keeping Agile Simple isn't easy and language, what we say and how we use it, is a bit part of getting people to accept new ways of working.  This week I was presented with a 9Mb spreadsheet containing a glossary of "standard speak" that I'd need to become familiar with. It's one of the most difficult bits of joining a new group.  Understanding their project portfolio - easy, getting to know new people &  their aspirations - easy and getting agreement to a new approach to delivering projects - easy (ish).  Understanding what the hell RevPAR or RGI could stand for - impossible.  And apparently I'm not alone.  

TheOfficeLife.com  have a full "business speak" directory - you can find it by clicking here.  It's full of interesting words and I did learn that Agile is an Adhocracy [n.] "A minimally structured business where teams are formed as they are needed to address specific problems" and that Management Porn [n.] "a long slide presentation of useless facts and figures, created to distract managers and give them something to salivate over"

Now I realise that there are some places where specific jargon & abbreviations actually add value.  In an Accident & Emergency hospital where time is of the essence, being able to communicate rapidly & precisely is very important - but is that really important in day to day business discussions (unless of course your business is managing A&E)?

So back to my new company.  Apart from them being one of the most genuinely friendly group I've ever met - I've already learnt some good lessons from them. As part of our team building event in my induction week we attended a Improv Comedy Workshop at the Comedy Store, Leicester Square.  It was full of the usual "making a fool of yourself" activities but there was one thing that's really made me think.  To see what I mean try the following exercise.

Find a friend and sit opposite each other - it might be easier if you've had a beer or two.  One of you should start a random story (Hopefully one more fun than this one) such as "Billy was a bright project manager who loved Agile."  Your partner then carries on the story starting each sentence with the phrase "Yes and...". 

For example 

Partner - "Yes and although he found it difficult to accept he wanted to apply it in his projects but it didn't work on the marketing project"


You - "Yes and so he thought about how he could make it work and he realised he need to communicate more which made it more successful" 
Partner - "Yes and he started to use a lot of other techniques from Agile which made things a lot easier"
and so on...

Now try the same activity but now use the phrase "Yes but..."  It might sound something like this:


You - "Billy was a bright project manager who loved Agile."

Partner - "Yes but it didn't work on the marketing project"
You - "Yes but he thought about how he could make it work and he realised he need to communicate more"
Partner - "Yes but people didn't want to listen to him"
You - "Yes but he worked out why they were resisting Agile and helped them understand it"
Partner - "Yes but people wouldn't do what they said they would"
In the first example we've got a positive discussion on Billy & Agile in the second we have an argument.  Just by simply starting each sentence with "Yes and.." we maintain engagement, interest, motivation and get real value from the discussion.  In the latter we block and build up more and more resistance and conflict.

To see professionals look for "Improv Yes and" on YouTube.  For an example see this video here.

Essentially you're accepting an offer from your partner with "Yes and..." to build and extend the story positively.  "Yes but..." simply blocks the conversation making it difficult to continue and gain acceptance or maintain creativity.

So next time you're talking with you team try and think "Yes and..." before each sentence - you'll get them onside much faster and they will think more positively & creatively. Start with "Yes but..." and their motivation will soon die as quickly as a bad stand up comedian.  You don't actually have to say "Yes and..." in your meetings but you at least must think it before each conversation.

Thanks to Luke at the Comedy Store - Leicester Square for that life skill.  Really you should consider going and learning Improv - it was a great experience especially when you get to see real experts doing it later.

See you soon



Mike




1 comment:

  1. An agile process tends to focus on iterations, and client feedback, to allow for the inevitability of changing requirements whereas a waterfall process tries to define all requirements up front, and tends to be inflexible to changing requirements. You can learn more about agile and scrum by referring to some free resources (http://www.scrumstudy.com/free-resources.asp) provided by scrumstudy or by attending any agile scrum certification courses. I would personally suggest Agile Expert Certified course or a Scrum Master Certification to you.

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