Tag Archives: Management

Introduction to the Group Grope

The military is a wonderful experience in life. Where else can you learn that a “Cluster Fuck” is a bunch of people busily working hard at nothing intelligible or productive? It’s a profane, yet colorful description of a business process many of us see every day. (Nice people use the phonetic terms. “Hey, look at that Charlie Foxtrot!”)

Yesterday when doing my startup standup startup blog entry, I used another one of those terms, not heard as much, the group grope.

Ever been to a group grope? If you’ve spent any time in the business community, I’m willing to bet you have.

A group grope is when people, who do not bear responsibility, assemble for purposes of solving a problem which none of them have the information or skills to solve.

So that last time your team got together to talk about source control, when none of you have the power to make a decision about what to do, or even have experience using various tools? You know, where you left feeling pretty good, but with the vague feeling that things were unresolved? That’s a group grope.

Group gropes are fun, yet subtly frustrating. You get to take time off from work, see your friends, talk about some issues of importance, get caught up. That’s all great. The next step, and the key indicator of a good group grope, is when each person asks the other what they know or can do about the problem without getting any positive result. “I don’t know how marketing feels about that, Bob, have you spoken to them?” “Those guys in marketing are doing a great job, and I’ve heard it could be a problem, Frank? Have you met with them lately?”

It’s like a Scooby Do episode where the mystery is never solved. It’s just a bunch of kids wandering around asking questions of each other.

It feels good, there’s a lot of fun people involved, you get to explore areas you normally don’t go into, but at the end of the day you’re left empty and unfulfilled. There’s no long-term benefit.

You can short-circuit a group grope, sometimes, by simply announcing you are in one. “Is there anybody here responsible for X? Also, guys, don’t we need some folks who know Y and guys from over in the Z department? Without them I can’t see us making much progress, can you?”

Be sure to separate a group grope from a brainstorming session. Brainstorming sessions are there to create potential ideas about a problem. The meeting ends, you have a list. You probably also have some assimilation and analysis to do to turn the list into action. Group gropes end with everybody knowing a little more about problem X, mostly trivial stuff, but nothing else of value can be gained from it.

Sometimes when you’re in a group grope you can stop it. Many times you cannot. Many times it’s just best to lie back and think of England. But if you’re the one responsible for setting a meeting up, and somebody calls “group grope” on you, it’s a good time to either kill the meeting and let folks return to work — or figure out what the hell you’re all supposed to be doing that’s going to be useful to the company. Don’t confuse social fun and a sense of learning with accomplishing something valuable.

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Agile for Familes

One of the cool things about Agile is how it is a blend of several different disciplines — sociology, applied psychology, sales, marketing, branding, team-building, structured analysis, and so on.

This is also the toughest thing about Agile: it’s not a solid set of principles. It’s best practices around iterative and incremental development. And “best practices” will change over time and in different circumstances. That means that we’re constantly trying out new ideas and seeing what works and in what kinds of situations.

In fact, that’s also the coolest part of Agile. Agile is a community of learning where we’re always trying new things in different situations and reporting on whether they work or not. One set of folks comes up with a big set of best practices, the community tries them out, people publish their lessons, then we all learn.

I thought about that today — the good and bad parts of Agile — as I read about Bruce Feiler’s “The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More

Bruce has gone into the Agile community and used some of our best practices to apply to family life. Things like a stand-up, or goal-setting. He’s also done a high-level review of a lot of self-help stuff from all kinds of disciplines.

There are folks who might call such books facile — simplistic, formulaic pablum for people wandering from one self-help book to another.

I think if you view these kinds of books as somehow holding the answers to life, the universe, and everything, you’re probably right. But that’s way too high of a standard.

Life’s a buffet, not a Happy Meal. You get to try new things and see what works for you. Looks like Bruce has done a lot of the legwork in putting various ideas together for you and your family — some from Agile, some from other places. Try some, see what works for you. Perhaps then you can write the version 2.0 of this book; ideas that work most of the time with most families. And that’d be a good thing for the rest of us.


ADD: For those of you who are interested in hearing more about the book, I came across Bruce’s book through this NPR story that a friend shared on G+.

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How Can I Help?

I’ve decided the most important conversational phrase in the English language is “How can I help?”

I don’t come to this decision lightly. There were several others that almost made it.

“I love you” was a top contender, but it says more about my own personal feelings than my relationship to the world.

“Let me help” also didn’t make it. It focuses more on my taking control of things.

“Try this” was big, but it was more of a plea for validation than anything else. I know more than you. Listen to me and you’ll do better. Nope, at times this might be true, but it’s backwards. My relationship to knowledge is nowhere near as important as my relationship to the person I’m talking to.

“We can do better” was also easily in the top ten. I think I’ll put that at #2. It reminds me that we are all in this together, and that there is always room for growth.

Nope. “How can I help” says it just the right way. If you will tell me how you think I can help, I’m willing to give it a shot. I subvert my own interests to yours. Tell me what you’d like. How can I help?

I do a lot of things — write, speak, train, consult, coach, manage, and so forth. I find most all of them are some version of “How can I help?” I also find that when I start drifting to any of the other phrases, such as “Let me help”, or “We can do better”, I always start drifting away from the true core of what I’m doing. I become a lesser person.

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Agile Edge Cases are Where you Really Learn

I was thinking last night that Agile Edge Cases — the situations where multiple principles collide and it’s difficult to choose one over the other — make the best learning experiences for people.

So I decided that they would make a good topic for this week’s Tiny Giant blog series on Agile principles. Once again this time, I came in at over 1500 words. I was shooting for half that. I think I either I desperately need an editor, or I just have a lot to say about Agile. Probably both!

Hope you like it.

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Roll Your Own Linkbait Tech Headline

I’ve noticed two things in the last month. First, there seems to be an overwhelming number of stories in the tech world about how Google search results all look the same. Second, and ironically, how these stories themselves look all the same.

In fact, just like the Google Search Results for answers to tech questions, or reasons why git, Apple, and Node.js are so totally awesome, or ways your relatives can die in far away places and leave you fortunes, tech article headlines are beginning to all look like the same stuff, just re-hashed in various ways in a desperate attempt to try to appear new.

Since everybody else is doing it, you can too! Here’s my handy-dandy “Roll Your Own Linkbait Tech Headline” generator, complete with embeddable code for your blog. Sure, you’ll have to write the rest of the article, but I can’t be expected to do everything now, can I?

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