XP Day Benelux, the last day

Summary: second part of my report about XP Day Benelux

November 17

Again, it’s difficult to choose among many concurrent sessions. I choose Joseph Pelrine’s and Ben Fuchs’ presentation “Turning up the heat (without getting burned.)” Joseph is a coach and Scrum master; Ben is a psychologist. The idea is an analogy about cooking; when the temperature is too high, food burns; a team might get in bitter fights. At the right temp, the food is cooking, and so is a team. The cooking temperature might be higher than comfortable, meaning that *some* amount of discomfort might be good for team performance. If the temp is too low, the team stagnates and stops improving. Most geeks like me are introverts who will usually avoid conflict; we like “peace.” Yet peace might simply mean that conflicts are tacitly ignored and left unsolved.

So, part of the job of a coach is keeping the temperature of a team in cooking range. There are techniques for defusing destructive conflicts; and there are techniques for productively “destabilizing” a team. It all seems very delicate stuff to me; in fact Joseph recommends to go about it in an agile way: try a small change and evaluate the results in a short iteration. All in all, an amazing presentation; I wish I could know more about this, but it seems a very deep subject, quite unlike anything I’ve been prepared to handle. The most important thing I think I got from this is more confidence in handling conflict in the workplace. Another important thing is “don’t play psychologist”; just like you wouldn’t want a psychologist to write your software.

In the afternoon, I attended Steve Freeman‘s and Mike Hill’s “Telling stories with Fit”. Nice introduction to the complexities of turning waterfall-ish specs into nice Fit tables. The audience was split in teams of five people. Each team was given a spec; ours was about computing fares for a rent-a-car service, and it had more than enough special cases and arbitrary complexities. We had to explain the spec by means of tables, written with a felt pen on a large sheet of paper. After 15 minutes, a presenter from each team had to take the sheet and take it to the next table, to see what the other team could get from it. Then the presenter had to turn their back on the table, and the team was asked to criticise brutally :-) while the presenter takes notes. Unfortunately I could not attend to the end of the presentation; but I think I learned quite a lot about Fit in a very short time.

We still had a little time before our taxi came, so we peeked a little in Pascal’s presentation about “Presentation Zen.” It’s all about effective presentation, and it seems like powerpoint bullets are heavily démodé. Pascal showed us videos from some impressive presenters, like Lawrence Lessig. I can see how powerpoint can get very tiresome. Yet some good presentations I attended in these two days used bullets. I guess that in the end, having content behind the slides is still a deciding factor :-)


One thing I liked was the heavy use of 1-minute presentations. In the morning, the presenters got to present their own stuff in a minute, to help you decide which presentation to follow. At the end of the day, there was a one-minute debriefing given by someone in the audience, about each presentation. Pascal’s blog contains much other interesting notes about the process of selecting and then refining the presentations.

I think it was very much a worthwile trip. I got a lot from it, both about content and about format. The organization was very professional in all respects. The atmosphere was nice, friendly and knowledgeable. Can’t wait for the next time!

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