A Little Uncomfortable

I’ve known Mark Windholtz, currently of ObjectWind, for a number of years. In fact, while I led LÛCRUM‘s custom application group and was considering a different role within LÛCRUM, I contacted Mark to see if he would be interested in taking over in my place. I led a team of about 20 incredibly talented developers and architects. My leadership and management philosophy required my giving my full attention to my guys. They came first. I practiced servant leadership, I trusted fully in my team, and they gave me their full respect in return. Not that I’m anything special, but I didn’t want just anyone taking over this team. Now it’s not that Mark and I are best friends – our families don’t hang out together on weekends or anything like that – still, I considered a very short list of folks to take the reigns, and Mark was on that list. Although flattered, Mark declined the offer, and he and I are still friends.

“ Everything’s set in sand ”

A couple years ago Mark started the Cincinnati Agile Round Table (ART). Before then it may have been called the XP User Group, then something OO before that. In any case, Mark’s value to the community has been his ability to bring proponents of cutting-edge, productivity-boosting development philosophies, processes, and frameworks together to discuss and debate, and compare and contrast the characteristics of them all. That, alone, is a fantastic reason to participate in the ART. But do you know why I attend? Because the group makes me very uncomfortable. It challenges me. I walk into this forum and I know I am out of my league. This group is SMART. And Experienced. And I can only strengthen my game by participating. This isn’t your mother’s user group.

This week’s event had Mark and Ed Summerfield comparing and contrasting XP and Scrum. As usual, they both did a great job. Ed and Mark were both recently certified as ScrumMasters, which, despite the title, apparently only means they’ve been presented the Scrum material in a formal setting, paid a good amount of money to sit there, and then, I presume, get some certificate of completion. So the ScrumMaster is the beginning, and not the end. With some practice, they can become Certified Scrum Practitioners.

Ed described the phenomenon of emergent teams and decision making, which sparked a spirited debate. The idea, from my understanding of the discussion, is that, although facilitated to some small extent by the ScrumMaster, the ScrumMaster has no authority, and the team collectively chooses it’s own path. The team is therefore fully and entirely accountable for any success or failure. The team stands or falls together. All the aspects and practices of Scrum align with this philosophy, from sprint planning, to the daily stand-up meetings, to the sprint review where the team proves it completed the work committed to.

Some excellent resources about Scrum are:

Mark then took his turn at the reigns. Well, I can’t really say “reigns” because once the “presenter” begins the discussion, this group degenerates into what every user group dreams of – a hotly contested debate and respectful consideration of every aspect of the point at hand. And that’s what I LOVE about this group. Many of the other groups I attend begin with the presenter explaining that “this is a dialog, and if you have thoughts or questions, please just speak up.” Well, in this group they do! It’s understood. There is so much mutual respect in this room that the issues that make all of us more productive as software practitioners get their due consideration. I don’t doubt that folks leave this room with clear ideas of how they will change their personal if not organizational processes to become more productive. I’d even bet you’ve become a better developer because of their influence in the community, and you don’t even know it.

Okay, Mark started into the talk about XP, and, unfortunately, as I do every Tuesday evening, I had to leave at 8:30 to pick up my daughter from dance. About the only real point I took away with me is that XP is very granularly defined, and that is in contrast to the more coarsely grained Scrum processes.

Now don’t let my description of this group scare you. While everyone here is at the top of their game I am amazed at the humility with which they approach their discussion. Everyone gets their say, they understand “the system” and know how to work within its constraints, they don’t get too bent out of shape when “corporate” doesn’t get it, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Comments I heard this week:

  • about XP – “Everything’s set in sand”
  • “We’re agile, so we moved the deadline”

You’ll meet some great people, too. EdgeCase‘s Chief Scientist, Jim Weirich, regularly attends. I love his presentation style. When you have an opportunity, you owe it to yourself to listen to him speak.

There were also discussions based on experience on the use of Objective C for better performance from OS X and then a comparison of the learning curve to write high performing software in Windows in .NET. Yep. And this is because someone used it, not because someone read about it in a blog somewhere and brought empty, theoretical knowledge to the table. This is the group that you’ll hear some comment about Erlang, references to emacs, a stray sarcastic comment on vi, and meet developers that regularly work in Ruby on Rails or PHP. And somehow they ALL know the most low-level details about OS X. This group is different. That is why I come.



~ by Andy on February 7, 2008.

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