Let’s make MVP mean Most Valuable Product with your virtual team! 

Mary Brodie

Arts Interstices is very happy to welcome Mary Brodie, Agile UX Expert, as guest blogger in follow up to Self-Inventory for Distributed Teams. In this post she has tackles the first principle of the Agile Manifesto and what it means for virtual teams. Elinor Slomba and Mary Brodie share their perspectives on supporting great Agile cultures across distance in Sococo’s webinar series, based on our distributed culture self-inventory.

Agile Manifesto Principle 1:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

The first principle of the Agile manifesto seems pretty straightforward, except for the part about valuable software, especially with a virtual team. It’s difficult enough to define what’s valuable to a customer when the team is in the same location – how do you do that when there is a team across the country or around the world?

The word “value” and its cousin “worth” are probably some of the most subjective words in the English language. And their formal definitions don’t help clarify their meaning:

Valuethe regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.

Worth: the value equivalent to that of someone or something under consideration; the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated.

Given how they both define themselves using the other word, understanding them is difficult. Additionally, value and worth are typically associated with costs and money, which is one possible measurement of them, but it’s becoming clear we need additional considerations to understand what’s valuable to a customer.

Especially when we have open source and free software options available.

Defining value and worth is an industry-wide problem – there aren’t many best practices for determining what’s is valuable. Even a Harvard Business Review article highlights how value and worth are no longer related to only money, but like the industry, it doesn’t really outline how customers determine what’s valuable.

However, that HBR definition does point out that customers will find a way to meet their needs by purchasing your product offering, your competitor’s offering, or by making it themselves. The latter two are part of what creates reference value, or the closest perceived substitute. And cost isn’t necessarily a factor when value is defined by need and use, especially with open source software options.

And in the days of open source, there is often a reference value of zero, which has significantly disrupted pricing dynamics.  The take away here is that you must get inside your customer’s head and understand what they see as the reference value.

–Phil Montgomery, How does a Customer Determine Product Value

So how do you get into your customer’s head?

This brings us back to the traditional questions we ask when first creating a product, whether we are in a virtual team or on-site together:

  • Who are we building this for?
  • What problems are we solving?
  • How are we making the users’ lives more convenient?
  • When’s the best time to deliver this? Deliver faster and you are first to market, which could offer customers a different perception of the direction where your product is going; deliver better and you may dominate because you exceeded expectations.
  • Do customers have confidence that the team can deliver? And trust that what they will deliver will be what they want?
  • Does the team understand the value to the customer?

Here are 7 ways to answer these questions and keep your virtual team engaged to make valuable software:

  1. Some might call this the “traditional” approach. Product owners will create a presentation deck that clearly outlines the value proposition of the product, the iteration, and the features. They will also outline who the target customers are, include personas, their goals, and bring the team into the vision, asking for their perspectives and ensure that the team understands the revenue goals and price/costs.

Most times, this will be presented to the team at once so everyone understands what they are working towards.

But that’s an ideal case and not true for all teams.

  1. Have the team describe the product’s value without using the words “value or worth.”

In this game, encourage the team to talk about what value the product gives customers and what it’s worth to them – without using those words. Let them brainstorm to more fully understand what they are building and why it matters. Some innovative perspectives may come from the discussion – as well as new features to add.

  1. Hold the team accountable to metrics they have defined to ensure that the team is creating valuable software.

How does the team know that they are meeting the mark? Metrics that are too granular may not show incremental results or the results of a single feature on its own (with no context), but not getting specific enough may illustrate general trends that doesn’t point to any specific result whatsoever. You need to find balance and determine what will indicate a customer’s behavioral shift occurred.

Look for metrics that are broad enough to show improvement, and narrow enough to show improvement due to a particular feature or function being added.

And this is necessary for a virtual team – there needs to be unbiased consensus that they are working towards the right goals. This will help them make independent, yet united, decisions each day, knowing they are working towards the same goal and the same measurement of it.

I was working on team with 5 developers, all working from home at different times of day. We all had our priorities and stories and understood the goal of the sprint, or so we thought. One of the team finished early and thought he would be helping by picking up new stories. However, it was work that the client didn’t need for that sprint – he would have been better off helping the other team members than starting new work. Luckily, he didn’t get a bunch done before the team noticed what he was doing (thank you version control!) and we met to refocus priorities. Talk about a near miss for getting derailed!

  1. Build consensus that the team is working to provide the customer the right value

The team needs to feel as if they are part of the business, and the best way to do that is to be sure that they understand their contributions to the customers. If the team has a sense of accomplishment and sees progress, they will be more engaged and invested than a team that is just doing a job to meet corporate goals.

Prioritization meetings will help facilitate discussions about product goals, what’s in the iteration, the target audience, and what they want to do. Be sure your entire virtual team is involved, contributing to the conversation and providing their perspective – don’t let anyone hide behind the veil of a conference call.

Once the team understands the customer’s perspective and the need for urgency to deliver, they will collaborate to deliver results.

  1. Use visuals for reference

We can discuss goals and personas all day, but until someone writes it down and we all agree on what we see, everyone will have a different image of the goals in their head. This is key to virtual teams. It’s like Plato’s ideal dog or ideal tree. When we think about a dog, we all think about a different type of dog – a Great Dane, a Pekinese, etc. It may be generally a dog, but it’s not the same dog.

And this can make a difference when creating software. If the team has slightly divergent views on what’s being built, or only see part of the story, you won’t successfully build a product. There will be no consensus, no unifying driver for the team to achieve a goal.

  1. If you can’t have focus groups, get to know customers in other virtual ways

Everyone on the team should spend some time getting to know the customers – either by witnessing virtual or recorded usability testing sessions, reading product reviews, or listening to customer service calls. Some of these customer feedback methods could be used metrics (higher ratings, fewer phone calls). This will give everyone on the team insight into the value the software gives the customer – or the value the customer wants to get from it.

And you don’t need to be in person with a customer to do this – you can do this on your own away from the team. But be sure to share what you learned with the team so everyone is aligned and they can work together to make valuable product.

  1. Build trust. If your team doesn’t trust each other – how will customers trust that they will build the right software?

Trust builds confidence, and without confidence to get the work done and deliver on-time, how will your team tackle the most challenging problems to achieve your goals? Let’s add to the challenge a multi-located team. They need to be able to trust each other, know that each team member has the other person’s back. And if the team doesn’t trust each other, how will other people trust the team?   

One of the best ways to build trust is built into Agile approaches – retrospectives (for virtual teams, try Retrium to help you out). Although they can be sometimes perceived as unnecessary, I love retrospectives because they make sure everyone is getting it all out there for discussion. If there was some weirdness in the previous iteration, the team works through it.  Sometimes we take open and honest communication for granted (I know I do often), but we shouldn’t. It’s key to building trust and a solid relationship with your teammates.

Beyond the retrospectives, try team building exercises and games to help your virtual team build rapport. Alternatively, work with the team to develop a virtual communication style and make sure that there are tools available to support that. Some teams work better with video, some voice only, some need chat, some require written documents. Slack works well for some groups; others need Skype or other tools. But the approach is unique to your team.

How we define value as a concept is a moving target; but which features and functions a software provides is valuable to a customer, isn’t one. Further, we need to build tightly bonded teams that are focused on creating valuable software for customers – especially when virtual. Being virtual encourages us to be more specific in our communication with each other, relying on visuals and setting target metrics to keep our focus on the final goals. Without those elements in place, achieving the first principle of the Agile Manifesto is almost impossible to do.

Last year Arts Interstices introduced a program called Open Your Curatorial Eye to train people from various professional backgrounds to curate art exhibitions.  Now we celebrate the opening reception for Amie Ziner, first to complete the training. Her show, People in Nature, features work from three continents by six artists for eight weeks at The Grove.

Amie's Flier

Says Amie, “The theme describes what each of these artists has achieved; an intimate relationship with the places they work and live. They pay homage to their country’s landscapes, plants and animals, and to the human spirit, both as made evident, and implied. Traditional media and digital media were brought together to create this show. There are acrylic and gouache paintings, digital prints of handmade 3D objects (made from recycled materials) and paintings, digitally created coloring books, and sumi ink paintings on handmade paper. This reality is what our world, the world seen through artist’s eyes, is all about now. It is a delight to me to share this diverse and beautiful art.”

The reception takes place Sept 11, 2015, 4-7pm at 760 Chapel Street in New Haven, CT.  The event is free and open to the public. An elevator is available. Parking in the State Street Public Lot can be validated at 50%. Refreshments will be served.

An international circle of participating artists makes sense for the theme. They include:

Linda Cato: As an artist, educator, and artivist, Linda believes in the power of creativity to ignite change on the personal, community, and global levels. She is passionate about using the visual arts as a tool for changemaking, shining the light of art in places that need it the most. Linda has facilitated numerous public art events in Tucson as well as on the national level, working with youth and adults to explore and solve community issues through creativity and empathy.

Linda has developed visual arts programs at several Tucson schools, and worked directly with community organizations to offer arts programming to diverse communities. Currently, Linda is the Assistant Director and Artist-in-Residence at Changemaker High School, Arizona’s first high school to be accepted into the Ashoka Network of changemaker schools. Her curriculum at CMHS is designed to lead students to research and address social issues through art. As a changemaker artist herself, Linda has developed a “green” studio practice, working solely with non-toxic and sustainably sourced materials to create innovative works that explore the human relationship with the natural world.

David Sandum: Born and raised in Sweden, David Sandum moved with his wife to the United States in the early 1990s. They settled in Salt Lake City and David attended the University of Utah, graduating in 1999 with a BA in speech communication.

Soon after, he returned to Scandinavia with his young family and ultimately secured a position in IT sales. The demands of his new job, on the heels of many years of stress, took a toll on his health, and he fell into a severe depression. It was during this difficult time that he began to draw and paint, inspired by Edvard Munch’s philosophy that we should all write or paint our life story.

In 2002, David had his first exhibit in his new hometown of Moss, Norway. Over the years since, he has pursued a career in art, participating in many group exhibits and annual solo gallery shows. He was also awarded several public art commissions in Hvaler, Norway, and Skagen, Denmark. In 2007 David completed a series of Auschwitz-Birkenau paintings in honor of his grandmother, who was a survivor. One of the pieces was acquired by the Mizel Museum in Denver, Colorado.

More recently, David has embarked on several study trips to New York City, Prague, and Amsterdam. In October 2014, he was accepted to work at the prestigious printmaking studio Estudi de Gravat Ignasi Aguirre Ruiz in Barcelona under master printer Ignacio, who has worked with a number of renowned artists, including Dali, Tapies, and Miro. For his etchings, David primarily uses aquatint, drypoint, or carborundum.  Just published: “I’ll Run Until the Sun Goes Down”, a memoir about Depression, and saving his life through Art”.

Florence M’Bilampassi Virginie Loukoula “Ma Flo” was born in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in 1972. In middle school, she enjoyed embroidery, and then adapted her embroidery impulses to paintings. She is completely self taught. She has participated in many local exhibitions, meetings, workshops and demonstrations. Very eclectic, she expresses herself in diverse media, such as: painting, wood sculpture, antique replicas, sand paintings, raffia, wool weaving, mosquito netting, using natural pigments. She designs logos, and makes sculptures out of recycled materials such as milk and sardine tins and bottle caps from beer and soft drinks. Florence is extremely dynamic, motivated and a motivator, who is keen to transmit her knowledge without charge. She is the current president of the Women Painters and Artists Club (CFAPS), a renowned association which aims to guide young single mothers, both Bantu and indigenous, to develop their spirit of creativity in art and handicrafts. Florence is showing a stunning painting here.

M’Bilampassi Tonda Judith Armel: Judith was born in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, on August 9, 1974. After high school in Congo, she became a businesswoman. Five years later, she became a painter, influenced by her sister Florence M’Bilampassi. She is an active member of the Women Artists and Painters Club (CFAPS). She makes sculptures from recycled materials and other media. Her first exhibit was at the French Cultural Center in July 2009, followed by a show at the Brazzaville Town Hall in October 2010. She also exhibited at the first forum on violence against women at the Parliament building in September 2012, and at the Ouibeko Association Forum at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October 2012. In October 2012, she displayed her work at the French cooperation, and in again at Congo’s French Institute (formerly the French Cultural Center) in February 2015 as part of a group exhibit themed “Women’s Look.” These days she paints landscapes and open air markets.

Harry Stooshinoff is both a painter and teacher who holds a B Ed, BFA and an MFA. He has been producing artwork almost on a daily basis for over 35 years. A few decades ago he started making small pictures so that he could start and finish the piece in one sitting. The work is small because an intimate scale encourages maximum intuition, freedom, and experimentation.  He lives in the rolling countryside of the Oak Ridges Moraine, an ancient landform located just north of Lake Ontario, and is inspired by what he sees every day. “I roam this unique place in all seasons, and document my impressions. At first view, rural environments may seem natural, but they have been continually altered and reshaped by man. The landscape will be very different tomorrow; it seems negligent not to record how it looked and felt today. It’s a big NOISY world, so I make small, quiet paintings.”

Amie Ziner uses both digital and analog media during drawing sessions, switching back and forth, often for the same pose. “I’ve been making fine art, commissions, and commercial illustration for more than 40 years, and there is so much more to learn. I’m pleased to share my work, and what technical knowledge I have with students, other artists, and aficionados of the visual arts.”

The exhibition may be viewed through Nov. 6th during regular business hours, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. View Amie Ziner‘s website, email her at amie@amieziner.com and follow her on Twitter @aziner.

The Grove in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, invited Arts Interstices to begin a program of bringing art into its coworking space in 2013. To date, a total of nine exhibitions have fueled workplace inspiration and helped to visualize changing organizational paradigms. Here is a recap!

Navigate Complexity explored the theme of the 2013 Drucker Forum through the work of 17 artists.  Recently it was referenced in a business article authored by a European entrepreneur.

Portraits & Pop Art presented paintings by Raheem Nelson, Kwadwo Adae and Gordon Skinner

Dream Scenes presented drawings and paintings of urban youth from the Future Project & next generation Grovers, with works by special guest artist-instructors Katro Storm & Krikko Obbot

Building Hope Through History was guest curated by Mark Landow of the New Haven Adult Education’s High School Credit Program, whom we were introduced to through independent curator Debbie Hesse. The show featured three-dimensional models of actual local buildings based on original research by students ages 18-25.


re:Generate – Art Based on Code was co-curated with Brian Monahan.  It was an assemblage of generative software projects and their artifacts by Alexander Gross, Brian Monahan, Dan Gries, Danielle Kefford, Robert McDougal, Dan Bernier, Giulia Gouge, Michael Romano and Milton Laufer.  A special event featured generative music performed remotely by the UK band Meta-eX.


I am Mosaic: Connecticut’s Many Faces of MS was guest curated by the artist Mike Marques.

Uptake was a study of flowers by Mick Brown in hyper-realistic detail with saturated color palettes.  He has since produced a calendar with these images.


Citywide Open Studios: Transported included Amie Ziner’s drawings and a special event with Amie Ziner & Raheem Nelson. Live iPad demos were projected at street level and broadcast on television.

Wonder, co-curated with Christina Kane, featured Irene Leibler’s art of the image.


The Grove’s curatorial program has garnered attention from artists and technologists as well as global companies.  Sococo has invited Elinor Slomba to serve on its Virtual Life Panel to represent arts and culture.

Have an idea for an art exhibition? Learn how to apply for a guest curator spot at The Grove.  Sign up for Open Your Curatorial Eye, a three-session program that can be scheduled at your convenience.

We are also experimenting with crowdfunding to support Community Curation.  Our first campaign just launched, and we invite your participation.

I had the privilege of speaking about the 12 Principles underlying the Agile Manifesto at Centare’s Agile and Lean Management conference in Chicago.  The specific topic I was invited to speak on was Distributed Culture.  Here are my slides.

In looking through the lens of cultural anthropology at how to support distributed teams working in an agile manner, my talk started with the concept of discourse, or culture that is observable through language.  I asked the audience to consider whether applied discourse analysis might be a useful way to reveal the implicit or unspoken rules governing how members of an Agile team interact.

Keynote Craig Larman had reviewed with us his fourth “law of organizational behavior:” Culture Follows Structure. If this is indeed the case, and Larman points to evidence gathered by another thought leader to suggest that it does, then choices made about how to support the structure of distributed Agile teams represent a unique opportunity.

Might it not be possible, in fact, to work backward, selecting structures which prioritize individuals and their interactions over tools and processes?  Can distributed configurations be set up primarily to address a team’s social needs in line with Agile cultural values?

First things first: where do we look to find these cultural values articulated?  We look to discourse, where we find abundant examples of actual spoken and written references to the Agile Manifesto by members of the Agile community.  For example, Big Apple Scrum Day 2015 culminated with a session that reinforced culture over tools when it comes to distributed teams.

We know from the discourses embedded in Scrum ceremonies that the practice of revisiting a set pattern of questions at regular intervals invites continuous improvement.  The following questions comprise an inventory any distributed team or team member can use.  As a whole, it is intended as a reminder to take a step back from tooling and inspect/adapt the communications structures we have selected to support Agile cultures.

#1 On Delivering Value

How are our trust levels with clients?  Within the team?  How does it feel when we deliver early and what’s holding us back from doing that more often? How do we let team members know that we care about improving communications with them?

#2 On Welcoming Changing Requirements

How do we presently track and manage our Product Backlog?  How well do we preserve the context around decision-making so we can reference it later?  How well do we work from the road and in transit?

#3 On Delivering Frequently  

How do we share our calendars? How do we manage Time Zones?  How do we discuss the time needed to complete tasks?  What is our expectation around real-time versus asynchronous communications, and have they been communicated and agreed-upon?  Do we co-design meetings to be productive use of people’s time?

#4 On Cross-Functional Teams:

Are we consistently using a shared drive for access to information?  Do we have groundrules for “pinging?” How do we account for the water cooler effect, i.e., what kinds of serendipitous encounters can people have within the network? How do we build unity and demonstrate that different functional roles are part of the same tribe? Why broadcast availability to connect as a cross-functional team (both formally and informally)?

#5 On Providing a Motivating Environment:

How do people  flag their interest in working on certain projects? How do we do we sense people’s emotions & gather their opinions? How do we share knowledge & insight?

#6 On Face-to-Face Communication

How do we see each other’s faces online?  How do we make the experience as context-rich and information-rich as possible?

#7 On Working Product

How do we build things together?  How well is this working?

#8 On Sustainability

What is the app that signals to others that we are “at work?”  What are the protocols for checking in & out?  How do we avoid burnout?

#9 On Good Craftsmanship

How do we recognize and track progress in skillbuilding?  How do we disseminate good examples of craftsmanship?

#10 On Simplicity

Are there things we must do over and over again that could be automated? What apps are out there that can help simplify reporting requirements (i.e. bug reports, status reports)?

#11 On Self-Organization

What choices do people have about how to collaborate?  How are meetings facilitated? How are shared working agreements arrived-at and stored (with version control)? Are there protocols about language and handling conflict?

#12 On Retrospectives

Have we trained or demoed with any of the numerous groups/communities/companies out there making this easier? How do we know we are headed in the right direction?  How are we integrating play, artfulness and humor into our team interactions?

Have you found solutions that work particularly well in a distributed context for expressing any of these principles?

After nearly two years talking with people who have specialized knowledge about distributed cultures and team mechanics, next I will go principle by principle and delve into some things others have found helpful. You can also answer these questions and see other’s responses in a Google Form – coming soon.

Please note that all solutions to be shared are provisional and not meant to be prescriptive.  As a whole, I hope they provide a touchstone and much-needed dose of encouragement that distributed networks are capable of expressing and reinforcing Agile principles throughout various communication channels.

Several site-specific artworks now form the core of a body of work that belongs to the Grove, in New Haven, Connecticut. They all highlight the unique features of the building which houses the first coworking community in a state that is now home to many spaces where people from startup/tech, nonprofit and creative worlds meet and collaborate.


Mark Williams

paint, paper, foamcore, wood and light fixture

Mark's wall piece

The site-specific installation above is something of a secret; it lives inside the wall between the kitchen and men’s bathroom. The imagery in the scene depicted is inspired by Luray Caverns in Virginia, where the artist traveled to do site research following a successful kickstarter campaign.  Originally part of a group show in Fall 2013 called “Navigate Complexity,” it was purchased for the Grove from the artist.

Climbing Ivy

Giada Crispiels

paper and wire

climbing Ivy

The piece above is a prototype for customizable eco-friendly decor for the home or office.  The ivy is made from upcycled newspapers and magazines. It is a metaphor for how creativity survives and grows organically in the “in-between spaces” of urban environments. Part of a larger body of work called “Urban Shadows of Nature,” the work is on long-term loan by the artist.

Pixellated Portrait

Dan Gries, Danielle Kefford, Dan Bernier

colored foam


Marilyn Monroe’s iconic image has been reconstructed with slices of pool toy noodles! This piece was conceived for the show “re:Generate – Art Based on Code” after artists did a walk-through of the space and saw the grid-like cage structure housing what is commonly known to be the state’s oldest working elevator.  A visual riddle more easily resolved by digital camera than the human eye, the work is likely to be dismantled at some point in 2015.  After that it will go into storage and be available for future re-installation and/or loans to other sites.


As the facility expands so do the ideas amongst its collaborators!  I am inspired, honored and humbled to curate art for my coworkers as a part of The Grove’s programming fabric, and to help grow our circle of guest curators to include many new voices and perspectives.

Entrepreneurs who create lifestyle brands and concept stores often dream of opening their own storefronts and perhaps scaling from there. Because it offers less risk and up-front expense compared to a permanent commercial space, the “popup” has become an increasingly popular way for such entrepreneurs to test out their business models in an actual marketplace, connecting with customers on a temporary basis.

Evan Nork

Evan Nork

How is a popup designed?

1. It has a Timebox.

First, it is temporary.  This feature makes the popup more like an art exhibit or an urban festival than a traditional retail store. This structures the workflow and creates a pull for visitors who are curious, adventurous and like to be in-the-know.

2. It inspires an Inner Circle of Storytellers.

It is fun to fall in love with a work-in-progress, help it grow and see the results – more fun than being a regular customer! Because of the compressed timeframe, ambassadors and enthusiasts who can get word out quickly via “word of mouse” achieve special status. Their stories serve as fuel to sustain and grow an online community in-between popups.

4. It is, in itself, an Iteration.

How many long-term entrepreneurs wish they could start over and create their businesses from scratch, improving the underlying design and organization?  Through popups, progressive artfulness becomes evident as each iteration improves overall fit-for-context.

3. It is tiny and well-crafted.

Popups manifest a specific creative intent – they cannot do and be everything. What’s not appropriate or practical for one popup opportunity may well be for another.  Those “extra” ideas and the suggestions of well-meaning advisers go on the backlog, where they won’t get lost and can easily be revisited.


5. It is a simple means for Validation.

Startups often use landing pages and Google ad words to validate their assumptions about customer behavior before investing in buildouts.  Popups transfer the same kinds of practices onto the street level.  A tiny window display, for example, can direct people to an online destination.  A nook just big enough for an ATM transaction can be transformed into an intimate shop, where retailers can converse with shoppers one-on-one about preferences and predilections.

6. Retrospecting comes with the territory.

With just a short amount of time to make an impact, entrepreneurs are typically motivated to make the most of it.  They reflect on the artifacts produced from each popup, seek feedback and come to the next opportunity ready to improve in many ways.

7. Everything you know is subject to revision. 

This mindset makes entrepreneurs fiercely adaptable. Need to reroute a floorplan, shift around inventory or change hours of operation?  Someone who has orchestrated their share of popups takes a lightweight approach to such things, even after acquiring their own long-term space.  They know that, after all, all businesses are really popups, in a way.

8. What’s Most Important?

People, people and people!  People like to tell stories.  They like to belong. The space where a retail business takes place is only important to the extent that it enables these functions.

Here are some of the popup people I’ve been involved with this past year:





Art & Design 

And here’s the latest, that got me thinking about these things today. Special thanks to my client, Project Storefronts, a program of the City of New Haven, Connecticut.

Experts say there are a few things we can all do to preserve and even develop brain agility throughout adulthood and into our later years. One key is to incorporate divergent as well as convergent thinking – both the linear and the creative thought processes – into our days.

How do we do this?  As it turns out, the medium of sculpture offers a unique set of benefits.


According to neuroscientist and Tedx speaker Eric Kandel, “The tactile system is one set of neural pathways in the brain. The visual system in another.  When the two converge, the combined effect can be very powerful.” He goes on to describe how engaging with sculpture brings together memory, intellect and sensory impressions.

Because it is a “both-handed” endeavor, sculpture – more than other art forms such as drawing or painting – engages both sides of the brain.  This integration promotes overall cognitive function by mitigating the process of lateralization, or use of specific areas of the brain for different functions, which tends to progress with age.

Dr. Ivan Tirado, an artist who earned his doctorate in instructional design, appreciates sculpture’s connection to a pre-verbal state of human development. “Blending cognitive psychology with art has always been interesting to me. Sculpting, for example, connects us with the first loving touches we received as babies.”

He also points out that making art helps the brain access the state of relaxation so necessary to effective decision-making. “Research shows that tapping into creative flow offers the same neurological benefits as meditation or massage.”

Says one of his students, “When you’re up on your feet, moving around, encouraged to look at things in a new way, it broadens your perspective. It’s not just about art. It teaches you how to pay attention.”

Two years ago Tirado began holding Sculpture Parties to promote social and cognitive wellbeing through the creative process, particularly to encourage acceptance of our imperfections as we grow older by studying the human form.  “We’re all a book, writing it as we go.  We have to fall in love with all of the changes as they happen.”

As he wrote in his dissertation, art provides experiences that “improve self-efficacy, which is the perception of skills to achieve a goal, by bridging new concepts to known concepts and experiences, focusing on short-term goals, guidance, feedback, and motivation. Commitment to short-term goals leads to accomplishment, which improves self-efficacy, creating a cycle of transformation.”  These brief, linear sequences embedded into cyclical feedback loops achieve the combination of divergent and convergent thinking recommended for keeping an individual’s neural connections rapid, plastic and strong.


Tirado’s artwork is published in the books International Contemporary Masters VI (World Wide Art Books, 2012) and Important World Artists (WWAB, 2013). His research is published in the International Journal of Strategic Information Technology and Applications.

LEARN MORE and – if you’re in the New Haven area register for one of his Sculpture Parties!

Art professors and curators have honed a facilitation skill most IT folks need to practice: critiquing works-in-progress.  Too often individuals’ communication styles can block or limit a clear pathway from feedback to improvement.

speed networking

Meet-the-curator event at Artspace in New Haven Oct 2012

In the art world, there are many structured formats for conducting a critique.  The one I tend to reach for as a model for software teams is a kind of Perfection Game compatible with principles of Non Violent Communication.

The process consists of group members performing four observable actions in sequence.   Prompts for each action take the form of questions. In steps 1 & 3, the responses are open-ended.  In steps 2 & 4 the responses are binary.  This pattern of alternating open-ended and binary questions sets up the framework for a productive critique.

1. Describe – In its current state, what do you notice first about this work?  What are its salient features?


2. Analyze – Do the relationships among the various parts create an overall sense of harmony or distress?  Does every element really need to be there?


3. Interpret – What do the form and functionality here imply about the intent?  What might bring this work closer to fulfillment?

4. Judge – (go ahead, it’s safe at this point!) Is the work gelling or not (yet) in its current state?  Is the “Why?” of this thing obvious?

 Bonus game-within-a-game: The group can create a mnemonic device for remembering the sequence of actions according to the first letter of each word.  For example, DAIJ can stand for “Dem Apples Is Juicy” or “Do All Introverts Joke.”

Art students who practice giving and receiving feedback embody the knowledge that creativity relies on structured group communications.  Peers in such forums have a responsibility to help each other clarify and measure intent.  Full realization of anything complex is an iterative process, generally requiring more than one round of group critique.

MANY THANKS to predecessor Lee Devin, co-author of Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work and The Soul of Design.  And to the team at Independent Software who practiced the artful critique in their demos.

Want to know more about models from the arts that apply to business? Schedule a Creative Companies consultation with Elinor Slomba.  Email artsinterstices at gmail dot com.

Artful Agilists is a group multimedia exhibition intended to demonstrate one of the intrinsic rewards for working in an Agile way: bringing more of ourselves to work.  The success of this demonstration rests on the vulnerability of respected Agile practitioners sharing who they are as creative art makers and practitioners. It is scheduled for Saturday, February 21, 2015 in the Agile Leader Hall, a virtual space in Sococo .

Fractal Cylinder, Artist Dan Gries (middle)

Fractal Cylinder, Artist Dan Gries (middle)

The venue is the online home of Bill Krebs’ Distributed Agile Study Group.  Offering workshops to help Agilists gain fluency in virtual worlds, this is a global community of practice for what Fast Company columnist Scott Anthony calls “associational thinking.” Associational thinking is defined as the ability to make surprising connections. Members are co-present in the Agile Mindset across distance, methodologies and domains.

Here is the rationale behind the exhibition:

During the Industrial Revolution, people in the workplace distinctly separated what we think of now as “art” from “technology.” Though engineers held the well-oiled machine in high esteem, it was in a realm far from the bright ornaments with which the Victorians populated other spaces. Thus efficiency was divorced from beauty. Engineering was divorced from craftsmanship.

We suffer when we reinforce this false split while trying to accomplish knowledge work. The boundaries hurt because they no longer apply.

As Agilists, we want to hone our aesthetic senses and re-integrate art and technology. This is one path to healing the wounds of an inhuman workplace. We seek to apply artfulness to our roles as makers and users of technology. We also respect and promote art’s function as an embodiment of culture.

Artist Robert McDougal, Yale

Artist Robert McDougal, Yale

This is an online gallery where you can interact with the viewers in real time. If you’d like to participate, here’s how:

MANY THANKS to Lyssa AdkinsDoc List and Paul Sutton for their early commitment to participate,

to the members of New Haven Artful Agilists for their continuing on-the-ground inspiration,

and to Esther Derby for providing valuable insight and moral support.

Intrigued but not yet ready to contribute? LEARN MORE about the platform of Sococo and check out Elinor’s mentor Lee Devin, co-Author of Artful Making and The Soul of Design.

An interview with Jesse Fewell, author of “Can You Hear Me Now?: Working with Remote Virtual and Distributed Teams”




ES: I found reference to your book at the end of Mark Kilby’s wikinotes from Agile Alliance 2014.  He led a session called “Remotely Agile?”  I’m really honored you have time to speak about this. What is the main pain point common to all teams working remotely across the agile space?


JF: Preparation.  When you assume you’re set up and can just “hop on the call,” it becomes painfully obvious when you’re not.  We’ve all been there and not followed our own advice. It happens.


ES: That’s for sure…my computer overheated once and I had to use frozen pizza as an emergency cooling pad!


JF: Hah!  And then of course preparation means much more than gear, although the gear is important.  It’s also more than simply setting an agenda and booking a meeting in Outlook.  Preparation means asking ahead of time: what information needs to flow out of this meeting?  What are the pieces to be unlocked by the exchange?  How are we going to create a collaborative environment?


ES: It can be difficult to get anyone to focus on these questions in advance.  How do you do it?


JF: I find it helps to have a framework.


There’s Innovation Games  “Ideas into Action” model that invites us to choose a format based on the conversation we’re going to have.  There might be a portion of time set aside for ideation where we use sticky notes.  Then we do some shaping of the material, this might be in a shared GoogleDoc which we type  in and look at together.  Then there might be some prioritization which could involve an online poll.  You can actually map a conversation through these different platforms.


Innovation Games has taken the effort to productize some useful things for online work, including the Budget Game. The idea here is how do you decide in a consensus in a collaborative environment?  Everyone has monopoly money to spend, and they form alliances.


And check this out if you haven’t already: “We’ve Got to START Meeting Like This” by Dana Wright.

She says whenever there’s an event or a meeting, or say for instance an Agile ceremony, you follow this model:

  • Beforehand, anticipate.
  • During, use engagement techniques.
  • Afterward, think about how to extend the dynamics, momentum, the energy.


ES: That makes a lot of sense.  How can we equalize the dynamics on teams that have some members co-located and some remote?


JF: I like to have everyone dial in.  Whether you’re thirty feet apart or thousands of miles, it’s a great equalizer so everyone can virtually collaborate.


When Verizon Wireless wanted to bring different silos together into the product requirements phase setup, not everyone could fly in but they still wanted to be involved.   We achieved a collaborative dynamic with these people through a simulcast – virtual teams were established with a facilitator in the main room.  They broke out then had a debrief at the end with representatives from each virtual team.  It worked!


ES: Is there a set of meta-skills needed to arrive at protocols for how teams will operate virtually?


JF: Interesting question, facilitation is one.  When you’re face to face, the speaker owns the room. The audience gives the facilitator a huge amount of authority to set up the collaborative energy.  If he or she says, “Stand up and talk to the person next to you,” we do it.


In a virtual environment it’s much harder to rely on one single person to facilitate.  Everyone’s distractions are a lot closer at hand, and so everyone has to bring a commitment that “we’re going to make this work.”  Remote facilitation is about connecting people to their sense of purpose and reminding them why it matters.


The book Remote by 37 signals talks about this. Working remote is how they recruit the best talent, so getting it right is a badge of honor and a source of pride. You have to reseed that original emotional investment.


ES: Okay, facilitation.  Any other meta-skills?


JF: Because the peripheral senses are missing in an online environment, we can’t read each other as well.  So introspection becomes important.  We rely on everyone to be a little bit more self aware than usual.  Checking in needs to happen more frequently, not just at the beginning of  a meeting.


I’m actually going to be speaking more about this at my keynote at the PMI conference in St. Louis in October.  There is definitely a personal skillnet that is needed for individuals to help bridge the distance on teams.


ES: Well, thank you.  Let’s speak again after you give that talk and before I go off and tell stories about remote teamwork at Agile Tour London!


There will be a follow up conversation in October 2014.



Jesse’s book is mentioned on this wiki from Agile Alliance 2014 http://www.agileorlando.com/wiki/doku.php?id=distributedrestrospectives


Jesse Fewell spoke with Big Visible about Learning and Engagement at Agile Alliance 2014



You can download a free e-copy of Jesse’s book at his website here: http://jessefewell.com/


For more Stories of Remote Collaboration, see my article on InfoQ: http://www.infoq.com/articles/stories-collaboration-remote-teams


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