Agile Conversations

… once they got done counting their money, marketing the spinoffs, soaking up the adulation of others in the hacker community, they all came to the realization that what made this place a success was not the collision-avoidance algorithms or the bouncer daemons or any of that other stuff. It was Juanita’s faces.

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1994)

Snow Crash is possibly my favourite Sci-Fi book ever. A team working on virtual reality are focussed on the physics of the virtual space. Juanita’s insight that faces and their expressions matter is what makes their VR venture a success. There are many (amazing) technical feats performed by the engineers, but the killer app is accurate faces.

I can’t help of think about that innovation when I read Agile Conversations, by Douglas Squirrel and Jeffrey Fredrick. They argue that simply getting better at implementing features using techniques transforms your project into a feature factory. The technical and process improvement that we’re drawn to isn’t going to help unless you’ve had the right conversations.

But what are the right conversations to have? Anyone familiar with the Five Dysfunctions of a Team will find these soothingly familiar: trust, fear, why, commitment, and accountability. The great innovation of the book is not the insights into team dynamics, it’s the insight that we’re bad at talking about them.

They go on to give you some tools for having those conversations, with examples of how these conversations might (or might not) work. They’re all simple techniques that you can do on paper, and not Jira.

The book feels very sincere. I’ve spent a lot of time at work and conferences and pubs with both authors in the 16 years that I’ve known them, and their voices come through loud and clear. 2020’s book of the year for me.