Agile Lab - Training, Coaching and Consultancy Blog

Thursday, 10 December 2009 at

Managing Web Development Projects – the F word.

Today I was going to give you a totally rational argument about why you should do my course ″Building the Lean Web Development Team″ that's running on 20th January 2010. I've written that post, and that's here: Getting the Right Project Management method for Web Development. But then reading it back, and seeing all that talk about ″production of documentation″ and ″management principles″, I realised that I was committing a common failing – avoiding the F word – shhh - feelings!!!

One of the exercises that I do right at the beginning of my courses is to try to get a handle on the kinds of words/concepts/situations that make up a happy project and also the words/concepts/situations that make up a sad project. There are always some interesting points raised. But every time I do it, I can't help thinking that the real issue, what it feels like to be on a good project or a bad project is being hidden from view behind such weaselly business-speak words as ″poor communication″ and ″failure to reach goals″. And now I've caught myself doing the same and I want to put it right, right here, right now.

Bad Project Feelings

OK. Lets get the unpleasant stuff over with right at the beginning. Think back over your career. Can you remember a time, or if you're feeling brave, a few times, when dealing with a client made you feel bad? Just take a moment to remember how that felt. How did it feel physically? How did it make you feel at the end of the day? How did you feel talking to other clients? To your workmates? To your loved ones at home? Your fault, their fault, does it matter whose fault it was. The end result was that you felt bad and actually, as you're reading this now, I might be that that feeling of pain, injustice and impotent frustration is rising in you again. When we're doing this on a training course we give the person who embodies this ″sad project″ a name. So you might like to do that too. I don't know, maybe you could name it after a client or a company that made you feel that way.

Good Project Feelings

Enough of that. Lets move onto happier things. Can you remember a time when doing business with a client or working on a project actually made you feel good? When you really felt that you had the project under control, that you had all the skills that you needed to do a good job, make money and give the client want they wanted. I hope you don't have to go back too far. If you can't get all of that from just one experience, maybe you could collect the good bits from two or three separate ones. And just focus on the feeling. What did it feel like to be under control and getting it right? Did you find yourself smiling unexpectedly? Did you find yourself being more relaxed and joking with your workmates? Were you more confident when you were dealing with other clients. What did it feel like getting home after a long and successful day? What did it feel like getting up in the morning? And just like we did for the sad project. I wonder if you can give that collection of feelings that you get when you're on a happy project a name: the name of a customer that you really liked to work with, the name of a boss that you had a great time working for.

And now you've got both names I wonder if you notice the difference when you say the ″sad project″ name and feel all those feeling and then say the ″happy project″ name and feel all those feelings. Did you notice any difference between the two? Only you can know if you feel that difference. But if you can, that's why you should do this course.



For further information, contact mark.stringer@gmail.com (07736 807 604)

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Thursday, 12 March 2009 at

New Course - Difficult Conversations Made Easy

Talking Technical: Dealing with Difficult Conversations in Software and Web Development

Everyone in every walk of life has had experience of conversations that don't go the way they would like, or result in more anger, upset and frustration than they do in progress. These kinds of conversations seem particularly common when people talk about software or web development, especially when technical people and business people try to talk together about software of the web.

Research into the field of negotiation and difficult conversation by groups such as the Harvard Negotiation Project has revealed that difficult conversations can all be seen to be following the same fundamental pattern. Once the structure of difficult conversations is understood, it is much easier to learn strategies for approaching them that can massively improve the effectiveness and success of communication. At the same time, the chance of upset, anger and other negative and time-wasting responses are reduced.

Identity: It's always about you. Issues surrounding our identity are very often the drivers behind the most emotional difficult conversations. By understanding what identity issues are commonly behind difficult conversations,

What happened: What happened? Whose fault is it? What should happen next? This conversation is very often the aspect of a difficult conversation which is most obvious. We investigate the ways in which the ″What happened″ conversation can conceal the real causes of a difficult conversation and investigate the use of the ″And stance″ - a method for understanding the contribution that all parties have made to a problem without the need to apportion blame.

Feelings: Though many people think that there should be no place for feelings in the workplace. The uncomfortable truth is that ″If you don't have your feelings, they'll have you.″ Many, many difficult conversations which claim to be disputes over ″What Happened?″ and involve blame, finger pointing and accusations of bad intentions are in fact conversations about feelings. Unless these feelings are addressed, the problem can't be solved.

This one-day course covers the basic structure of difficult conversations and then covers a general approach to dealing with difficult conversations that can be applied in a wide variety of different situations. Throughout the day, participants are asked to take part in a series of exercises taken from real-life experience of the tutor of over fifteen years of software development. These exercises give participants the opportunity to develop skills in dealing with difficult conversations in a safe, supportive environment away from the workplace.

Mark Stringer is a trainer, coach and consultant. He has worked as a software developer and project manager for IBM and Xerox and for a series of small internet startups. He has also worked as a researcher and tutor at Cambridge and Sussex Universities.


For further information, contact Mark@agilelab.co.uk (07736 807 604)

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Wednesday, 31 December 2008 at

Because I can't afford sky writing...

...I'm just going to set this in big bold text.

Almost every difficult conversation will involve strong feelings. It is always possible to define a problem without reference to feelings. But that's not true problem-solving. If feelings are the real issue, feelings should be addressed.

This is from a book I'm reading: "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most"


For further information, contact Mark@agilelab.co.uk (07736 807 604) or Matt@agilelab.co.uk (07713 634 830)

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