Archives for category: The Agile Story

Pretend for a moment that work is a creative playground, and we are all on it.

Which of these eight different “Play Personalities” would describe you, your colleagues, managers, clients?

The Joker

Revels in practical jokes, pranks and stunts. Always pulling people’s leg. Hardly ever serious, and/or hard to tell sometimes. Sense of social acceptance dependent upon making others laugh.


The Kinesthete

Someone who needs to move. A high degree of athleticism is built into his/her routine. Enjoys physical antics and displays of derring do.


The Explorer

Always poking around for the next cool thing in the universe. Never bored because there’s so much to do and see. Catch phrase is “I wonder…”


The Competitor

Wants to master any game. A natural maestro, attracted to virtuosity in others. Enjoys going over the rules to improve play, i.e. to WIN.


The Director

Plans and executes scenes and events. Born organizers of other people. Often a charismatic instigator of fun, he/she can hold the dynamic epicenter of a social space.


The Collector

Thirsts for the best and most interesting. Likes arranging and systemizing. Often travels far and wide to satisfy his/her impulses.


The Artist

Finds joy in creating something new. The quintessential “maker.” Sensitive to color, shape and texture. Likes getting things to look and feel just right.


The Storyteller

Always imagining new scenes. Enjoys perfecting his/her reality through playful augmentation. Invites others into situations and events to watch them unfold.

Granted, most of us are a mix of several of these, a Play Personality Parfait, if you will. The dominant stripes are basic archetypes to tap into for greater self-awareness. Learning them can also help identify the most effective ways to interact with others. I am experimenting with the concept of Play Personalities to understand high-level motivations for pulling out people’s greatness.


Inspired by PLAY: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown, MD with Christopher Vaughn, (c) 2009

Worldwide, organizational culture is on the move.


New orders are emerging that are better suited to our complex era than those that came to the forefront during the Industrial Revolution.  There is so much on this topic to observe and examine, I have invited colleagues to participate in a trans-Agile metaspace to explore these shifting paradigms.

  • March 22 we will discuss cell-like work structures, including this awesome material from the Betacodex Network:
  • May 10 the focus will be on sociocracy as a workable and equitable governance structure in practice at Green Haven and Agile Boston.

The group is based out of The Grove in downtown New Haven,  a thriving cowork space and one of four designated Innovation Hubs active in the State of Connecticut (  Inspired by the Stoos Network (, our first meeting was held on World Stoos Day, Jan 25, 2012.  It may evolve into a Stoos Satellite or remain a platform that is broader than one particular movement or model.  I am curious to experience how the principle of self-organization animates and propels our discussions.

Meanwhile, here’s to the beauty of spontaneous order!




I am pleased to announce the selection of an awesome application for funding by the Connecticut chapter of the Awesome Foundation!

This spring local artists and cultural organizers will lead citizens of West Haven in an attempt to break a world record for the largest street drawing.  Our implementation team is now forming, and a schedule of public meetings will be announced soon.

At the first meeting we will review the Scrum Guide.  We will seek feedback on using the Scrum framework to establish a flow for the project.  If there are no better ideas, and folks are game, why then we’ll probably just try it.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.  May we all find our hearts in our work in 2013.


“A guy asked me once on a consulting job what I knew about software development.  I told him, I don’t know anything about software development.  But I do know how you should do it.”  Meet Lee Devin, author of Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work.  This first book, co-authored with Robert D. Austin of Harvard Business School, is regarded as something of a classic in entrepreneurial circles, bringing concepts from theater – “ensemble,” “improvisation,” and “rehearsal” – into the parlance of software developers.

Lately, Lee Devin’s name comes up every time someone in the know learns of my interest in strengthening natural alliances between the arts and start-up worlds.  We met at Agile Games 2012 – a conference dedicated to bringing the spirit of play into the workplace to boost productivity – and had a chance recently to speak about his new book, The Soul of Design, published by Stanford University Press.   Here are some sample pages:;item=Excerpt_from_Part_One_pages;page=1

SLOMBA: The Soul of Design does not simply present ideas for consideration, it presents a whole vocabulary.

DEVIN: Plot…coherence…resonance…these are things that make a work of art or a product special or not special.  The individual elements are hard to define, but we recognize and understand their sum total when it all works. “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” In this book we’re looking at that “what I like.”

SLOMBA:  I’m going to quote from the introduction. “A maker plots a structure to achieve coherence.  Coherence presupposes a set of interactions that generate resonance.  We call the results non-ordinary.”


SLOMBA: What are some relevant changes you’ve seen in the software business since Artful Making was published in 2003?

DEVIN: Certainly in the last few years a change has taken place in the perception of what constitutes a cockamamie idea.  There is a new openness.  Responses to Agile and more personal and aesthetic modes of thinking about work have a much more positive entry into the conversation than they used to.  Back when I started it was pretty hard to get the ideas on the table.  I don’t mean to suggest the giant corporation is feverishly making room for this stuff or anything like that, but it does feel like the basic argument – that creative work must be approached in an artful way, a way that factors in human desires and tendencies and allows for an emergent outcome, not a strictly industrial way, a way that decides on an outcome first – has been made and accepted.  The difficulties lie in the way people are implementing the new, more collaborative approaches, more in the realms of logistics and space, not people’s attitudes.

SLOMBA:  How does your idea of “specialness” differ from the notion of industrial quality, plain and simple?

DEVIN:  Homo Aestheticus – I got the idea about that from Ellen Dissanayake, an Ethnologist.  One of major jumps we human beings made in evolutionary development was to decorate, to stripe some white clay down our noses, or to put a bison up on the cave wall: to make special.  To become individual. This impulse is very powerful.  I’m interested in the fact that it points to other skills and tendencies among the people who do it.  When a group of humans are aesthetically aware, continually looking to improve their surroundings, it signifies a deeper thing.  Homo Aestheticus, because s/he has become an individual, is a much more adaptable creature.

SLOMBA: Do you think choosing a special object can be a creative act?

DEVIN: Absolutely.  As an arts market gets established, the citizenry gets divided between makers and partakers.  And yet, as Susanne Langer points out, the act of personal response to an art work is just as creative.  You notice an object that speaks to you and you have an instant of recognition.  This instant doesn’t have a duration; it’s an event.  The “Oh, wow.”  You’ve made a huge choice in that response and the question then is not whether to follow up on that choice, but how.  We look at things, and the process becomes one that Aristotle calls puzzling out the form.   This kind of appreciation directly relates to making.  The aesthetic experience of appreciating an art form differs only in degree from the pleasure of making an art form.  Mind you, the degree is huge.

SLOMBA: Can you talk about originality?

DEVIN:  If a thing is completely new, it almost always appears formless.  We can’t perceive anything we don’t have a category for.  We need some similar experience for comparison, or we just don’t get it.  Take a Frenchman to a baseball game, and he’ll just wonder.  Like Americans at cricket.  People ask the wrong questions, because they don’t know the right ones.  They become baffled.

My generation lived through Samuel Beckett.  Waiting for Godot is what goes on while you’re waiting for the unspecified, emergent outcome.  People said at first, “This isn’t a play.  This doesn’t have any shape or form.  It’s just gaga.”  As long as people put their attention on who or what is Godot that remained the case, because the answer to that question has no relevance.  What’s going on on stage is this: people wait.  It’s a bleak life, they don’t know what’s going on; they have no short-term memory, much like your humble correspondent.  But when actors got up on stage to work the thing out, to puzzle out the form, they immediately got what Beckett wrote.  It was pretty hard not to get.

On the flip side, no artist wants to do something that somebody else already did.  We want to do something that we do now.  Every set of circumstances is unique in time.  The solution is unique, but there has to be a familiar context for it.

SLOMBA:  In your consulting work you’ve been getting Agile teams to be more creative and artistic; how about an arts group going Agile?

DEVIN: The artists to whom I’ve shown the Agile Manifesto simply look at me and say, “Duh.” “But that’s just common sense.” The principles of coherence and relevance absolutely apply to any object, process or idea.  Coherent things, coherent processes and ensembles are going to be more attractive and better at fulfilling their functions, regardless of sector.  Aesthetic regard, concern for coherence, is the ultimate in total quality control.

SLOMBA: What do you see down the line?

DEVIN: People are starting to realize you don’t get anywhere if you just pick bad items off the line and scold the guy who made them. Read Deming. Go further upstream and find the conditions that led to the errors in the first place.   One of the first things dramaturgs look for when we read scripts is the set of given circumstances.  Hamlet, in the throne room, in the second scene of Shakespeare’s play, is deeply pissed off, totally bummed.  If you’re an actor or trying to help an actor, you ask: what does Hamlet want?  What’s he trying to get? What’s he trying to get away from?  Why did he come into this room? And so on and on.

Dramaturgy is a wonderful way to unpack complicated objects and processes.  Your boss suddenly loses it…you want to look at that dramaturgically and ask: what are the things that this is the response to?  Not causes, given circumstances.

Any process that has room in it for asking these kinds of questions is going to be helpful these days, because things are very complicated.  Scrum has room.  The tricky thing is that a lot of people don’t know how to ask relevant questions, how to frame what they need to know, what they’re looking for.

The Soul of Design suggests starting your inquiry with the final cause, the purpose for which the thing is made.  For any art object, or any non-ordinary product, the purpose of the thing is to be perfect of its kind.  Out in the world, the secondary purpose is to please people who are going to pay you for it.  First purpose is prime.


Lee Devin’s books can be purchased on Amazon in print form or for Kindle.  Here are the links – ENJOY!

In his book On Dialogue, physicist and theorist David Bohm famously describes thought as not an individual act but a collective stream of meaning that is shared within a culture.  He suggests we strive for “proprioception” in our thought processes, which he defines as the perception of self-aware movement.

Proprioception is the kind of sixth sense that enables a bike rider, for example, to perform the required  slew of nano-corrections that support the body’s forward motion.   Bohm proposes a corresponding set of mental processes that enable avoidance of dead-end patterns (chief among them, aggression and suppression), improving the flow of meaning and the success of a culture.

What might this have to do with the Scrum framework for project management?  One striking thing at the recent Scrum Gathering in Barcelona (see was an emphasis on the role of Product Owner in many of the sessions.   Getting that particular role “right” comes across as a critical lever for many Agile companies.

For those who aren’t familiar, a Product Owner is someone who works closely with a development team representing the needs and interests of the customer.  The Product Owner is chiefly responsible for articulating the project’s goals and acceptance criteria,  providing feedback and approving finished work at the end of each sprint.

According to the internal logic of Scrum, then, a Product Owner is engaged in a Bohm-like dialogue  with the team.  The degree of consciousness and subtlety of this dialogue can enable a kind of group proprioception, improving the quality of the team’s creative output.

With the right feedback, corrections can be achieved throughout the development process, making a product more powerful in its construction of a coherent set of meanings.  Because these meanings have been agreed-upon by the makers and those for whom a thing is being made, their realization in form is a kind of cultural success, a “win” for the culture.

This was evidently the case for Ericsson, a world leader in providing technology and services to telecommunications companies, as described by Peter Madden in his session Significance of Feedback Loops on the Journey to Agile, part of the “Engineering Wars” program track at Barcelona.  It wasn’t until they had made the Product Owner role full-time that his teams had enough customer feedback to be particularly effective in transitioning away from a waterfall approach.   For Madden, the urgent need to do so is primarily about velocity.

Because it can achieve creative proprioception by virtue of structured feedback loops, Scrum is capable of bringing thought into form – and into the marketplace – faster than traditional methods of project management.  These days, throwing work “over the wall” from one team to the next, as proscribed by the waterfall style, just can’t carry a dialogue forward fast enough.

Change equals loss for many people.  Accordingly, a period of adjustment is required and can be aided with communicative leadership.  This was one of the messages delivered in “Not Your Mother’s Agile Transformation,” a Wednesday morning session at the recent Scrum Gathering co-presented by Katrina Bales & Keely Killpack.   It is no longer reasonable to expect change simply “because I said so.”

At the individual level, how about hearing this from your boss:  “What do you need to feel safe?”

At the group level, how about being asked to rate each individual aspect of an Agile transformation at work as if it were a feature of a new product?   E.g., collaborative work spaces: love it this way? hate it this way? expect it this way? feel neutral/indifferent?  Customer involvement at all stages of the development process: love it this way? hate it this way? Et cetera.

That is the crux of what this pair has devised – a means for measuring a groups’s feelings about systemic organizational change coupled with methods for addressing individuals who may have an especially hard time adjusting.  In an interactive exercise, we tested the idea that segmentation into subgroups of business and technical personnel can yield further insight into unlocking the requests hidden inside change-resistance.

These requests may be as simple as “Let me get used to one new thing at a time!” or “Give me some control!”  Sometimes the requests may be a bit more complex, as in “Help me find an alternate role in the company.”   This, too, can be interpreted and managed.

The important thing is knowing that the human brain responds to change emotionally first, logically second.  For the pattern-seeking amygdala, something new is generally perceived as “wrong,” i.e., an error.

Participants in well-functioning, creative workplaces must come to terms with paradoxes.   Learning often requires unlearning.   And when it comes to adjusting to the changes this calls for, hard conversations make things easier.

Katrina’s email is  Keely’s is .  Contact them to be kept informed about iterations of their work-in-progress.

A new approach to leadership that includes stewardship of the living rather than management of the machine?  If the idea interests you, please familiarize yourself with the Stoos Communique, prepared by Agilists and creative thinkers who gathered in Switzerland in January to determine common ground in launching a true revolution to make work more human.

After all, what’s more punk rock?  To stand outside of a building and hold up a sign that says “occupy,” or to actually physically occupy a spot within an existing set of social relations in the workplace and transform these relations by bringing your very best self to the occasion and demanding nothing less from others?

I, for one, believe in a better way…

The DIY ethic that has fueled underground scenes since the 1980s is alive and palpable in artist-run spaces across the country.  Despite much handwringing at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado – – many creative people do still believe it is important to bring people together face-to-face in a physical space to experience art and find ways to make it happen.  Whether evolving incrementally or borne from a conceptual vision, these spaces are an important part of the ecosystem on which innovation depends.  Here are two I visited on my recent Agileseed Tour.  (Please see previous post titled Agileseeding! for more background on this.)

Agileseed Tour Destination: Omaha, NE

Omaha is an unexpectedly quirky city, where the editor of a local weekly put in a mayoral bid as a kind of performance art.  On the main drag of Dodge Street, a handful of painters and scupltors including Dave Jenowe (pictured below with his work) share studio space in a split-level storefront.  After critiquing each other long enough, they decided to invite the public in for periodic Saturday night openings.   Says Jenowe, “It was a simple thing, originally.  It started with just three of us.  We made work, and it needed to be seen.”

Social media brought people in the door, and the venue, called Studio…Gallery, has since built a solid reputation among an alternative downtown crowd.  Step by succinct step, it has added a jazz music series and comedy nights.  The space itself has evolved to accommodate growing programs, now sporting a tiny stage downstairs with superior acoustics.  Meanwhile, a core group of colleagues continue to pursue independent artistic investigations in a shared workspace.

Jenowe continues, “We are always tweaking, but we continue to have a good time.  It’s great to see new people discover the space and be surprised by the quality and diversity, to have it surpass their expectations for what they might find here.  Jamming with musicians from New York and mixing with local artists, it just makes you feel glad and inspired to keep going, to keep making new work.”

Agileseed Tour Destination: Twin Cities, MN

The Bindery Projects, named after its location above a longrunning book bindery in St. Paul, is the brainchild of Caroline Kent and Nate Young (pictured below).  Their mission is “…to show dope work and validate practice through dialiectic democratic social disourse.”  The pair has a curatorial calendar booked through spring of 2013.

When I visited in early August, Nate and Caroline were prepping to hang 47 drawings by Nyeema Morgan, whom Young met at the Skowhegan Center in Maine.  The Dubious Sum of Vaguely Discernable Parts, closing Sept. 2, 2012, uses textual variations on cake recipe instructions along with abstract photographs of individual baking ingredients to explore the search for a perfect system.

Says Young, “We might not have a ton of people coming through, the space isn’t that big.  But the ones who do are key people, influencers.  They’re paying attention.”  In fact this is true, as I heard about The Bindery Projects long before arriving in the Twin Cities area, from the Director of ArtSpace in New Haven, CT –

Art galleries conduct their business in an inherently networked and iterative manner, releasing work to the public in regularly scheduled increments.  Exhibitions take place over and over in the same space, and as they do, a body of knowledge develops around how to succeed and improve.   Artists intuitively seek to assemble the most viable chunks of work for release, even at small scale or in-progress stages, because it makes good sense.  What they may not know is that, in Scrum circles, this is known as the vertical slice.

Running a gallery on a DIY basis should be recognized as one of the most authentically agile ways of working.  People and interactions are reliably more important than tools and processes.  Those who run such spaces deserve credit and support as incubators for creativity and innovation, nimbly adaptive yet true to what they represent.

The Agile teams forming in today’s workplaces are essentially trying to function like artists.  Those leading the charge towards Agile business transformation should seek out these creative and highly productive scene-makers, talk to them regularly, and make it a point to visit the exhibitions and other programs that artists have developed and released in their communities.

At the height of its fame in Detroit, Motown was an agile co-work environment.  This made the company’s culture conducive to high-productivity and greatness beyond individual talent.

PROXIMITY: Berry Gordy purchased nine houses on the same downtown block to ensure collaborators could be physically close.

SPRINTS: While records were being made, artists had 24/7 access to the studio.   No sleeping on a good idea – artists were encouraged to get in there and work in out no matter what time of day.  This led to a high-energy intensity that comes across in the finished product.

CUSTOMER FEEDBACK: Kids from the neighborhood were regularly invited in for beta testing of new tunes, and to play around with rhythm and help compose  by doing what they loved.  This was part of the local culture of Detroit: if they weren’t in school or dating, kids were usually making music together.  Motown tapped into this natural, ongoing dialogue as a force guiding its development.

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT:  Talent came in raw and got developed.  Healthy competition ensued as styles were refined and acts tightened.  Artists were constantly checking out each other’s work and using these observations to strive to best themselves.

COLLABORATION:  After recording the first mix of  a new song, all the artists would come in and have a listen.  The QA criterion was this – “if you were down to your last dollar, woud you want to spend it on a sandwich or this record?”  If long pauses were evident as people thought this through, then it was worth spending some time on it remixing.  If people were considering which type of bread they would order while the music was still playing, a tune was scrapped.  After much time working together, these opinions were mostly unanimous.

SAFETY:  A bad decision, a bad day or a bad record would not break the label’s trust in an artist.  The label nurtured talent over time and was relationship-focused.

RETROSPECTIVES: Time was regularly  set aside to discuss what worked and what didn’t work about a given project.  Opinions were invited from across the board.

LEADERSHIP: At the end of the day, Berry Gordy was accountable to his team and for his team of artists and managers.  The family-style structure of the organization meant that high levels of personal commitment were at stake.

In today’s co-work spaces – cities like New Haven (The Grove), Toronto (The Centre for Social Innovation) and Minneapolis (Coco) – welcome start-ups, creatives and nonprofits to co-exist and learn from one another.  Agilists can be encouraged by the example of Motown and its innovations in co-branding of place, company and industry that still make Detroit worth visiting.

On the Agileseed Tour, I appreciated Motown’s legacy of creative placemaking tied to aggressively focused development of collective talent.  MANY THANKS to the Motown Historical Museum for its rich interpretation, and to Paul Eley who encouraged me to stop in and consider these connections.

2012 is the 30th Anniversary of a true artist-centered community.  It is also, not coincidentally, the 25th year of tenure for Laura Faure, the guiding force that has made Lewiston, Maine a center of creative gravity in the contemporary dance world internationally.  It was meaningful and logical that Bates was the first stop on the Agileseed Tour, as it was from Laura that I first witnessed the curatorial power that comes from trusting self-organization and allowing the inner structure of a collaboration to emerge and reveal itself rather than be imposed.  We worked together for five years finding resources to realize Festival artists’ next best ideas, working at high velocity in the climate of extreme uncertainty and entrepreneurial fierceness that is nonprofit arts fundraising.

The evening’s performance was the award-winning Kate Weare and Company, featuring Kate’s breakout work Drop Down which received an Audience Choice selection when it premiered at The Joyce Theater in New York in 2006.  The company’s newest work in-progress, Dark Lark, will premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  BDF is one of the co-commissioners.

Dining at the college cafeteria beforehand I ran into Boston-based dance critic Debra Cash, who delivers contextual insight to the works performed on stage in the form of Inside Dance Talks.  Another part of her professional life is dedicated to helping companies prepare for and navigate culture change.  We discussed the upcoming Agile Culture conference.

Meanwhile, my oldest son was rhapsodizing about the Festival as a field of earliest memories from when he was toddler-in-tow.  There were a host of children in-residence with their parents this summer, a good sign that the dance world is finding its way toward healthy work-life balance.

Aimee Petrin, a longtime colleague and Director of Portland Arts, presented Laura with a lovely and well-deserved tribute before curtain.  And Laura pointed out the remarkable press the Festival has gotten this summer – including this coverage on Maine Public Television:

Musings in progress…more to follow…

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