Great Customer Service: Cambridge Newmarket Travelodge

Mike Sutton recently wrote a post launching ServiceChat, a new startup intending to disrupt the current state of customer service. Inspired by his request to talk more about great customer service, I thought I’d write about a recent experience I had.

A few weeks ago I visited some friends in Cambridge, and in typical style, I was booking the hotel the day before. Simon pointed me towards the Newmarket Road Travelodge as it is brand new, well located and quite cheap. In my haste to book the room I forgot to check the check-in date and made the booking for that night rather than the next.

Completely unaware of my mistake, I arrived at the hotel on the Friday night and they couldn’t find my booking. The friendly member of staff asked for my patience and went to do something in the back room. Whilst I was waiting, it dawned on me that I’d booked for the wrong night, I was fully expecting to have to pay for another night.

When the member of staff (I should have asked her name) returned from the back room, she informed me of my mistake and proceeded to book me a replacement for that evening, without any hassle. I was very pleasantly surprised, as it was my mistake, I didn’t expect them to do anything in order to resolve it, I was only hopeful that they had any room at all for that night.

I was made aware that this is not normal policy, so I was grateful for the calm way they managed the exception. I hope that instead of getting someone into trouble, that Travelodge can see the long term benefit this service has had on my relationship with the organisation, which is what customer service should do. This experience has contributed to my positive view of the Travelodge brand and made this particular Travelodge my first choice of hotel when staying in Cambridge.

StrengthsFinder 2.0

Recently I’ve been struggling to better describe what is important to me and how this impacts my work, improving my awareness of traits which I could learn to use as strengths could help me in this activity, so I turned to StrengthsFinder 2.0.

The StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment activity has recommended to me many times over the last three years. ThoughtWorks use it as part of ThoughtWorks University. In order to take the assessment you need a copy of the book (which is a minor gripe), which has a code redeemable for access to the site. The assessment itself takes between 30 and 40 minutes and is made up of a series of questions where you choose a preference between two statements within 20 seconds.

The report has your 5 strengths with detailed descriptions that are personal to the individual and an action plan for improving them.

My strengths we’re identified as:

* Individualisation
* Input
* Empathy
* Arranger
* Connectedness

Here is my report which contains brief descriptions of each strength and the personalised insights. I have not included the action plan part of the report.

Before I looked at my results, I had a look at the list of the 34 themes. The humanist in me particularly liked developer, harmony, includer, relator and restorative. The thinker in me liked communication, context, deliberative, intellection and learner.

Initially, I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t see any of these. However when I took some time to look into them, I found that the combination of empathy, arranger and individualisation fits my approach to people and teams pretty well and input, arranger and connectedness expresses my way of thinking quite well too. Whilst it may be a little confirmation bias, the traits revealed may present a better representation of me than the ones I initially gravitated to. As an example, a developer wants everyone to experience success, which I do, yet individualisation seeks to observe the uniqueness in each person and draw out their strengths, which is an even better description of my approach.

It is important to remember that these are only the top 5 strengths, we all have more traits, this exercise draws focus to some of them. I’m hopeful that I have some of the other traits I value as well, yet I can build on these specific ones highlighted to me.

This exercise has left me feeling more comfortable and aware of my traits, whilst I don’t feel constrained by them, the groups I defined above have given me a useful frame to express some of my ideas.

Part of me wanted to publish my assessment to see if sharing it revealed any additional insights, so please post any thoughts as comments. I also wanted to show that (hopefully) it can be a safe (and beneficial) choice to share these kinds of assessments with the world. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if they want to publish theirs? If you do, please link to it in a comment, as I’m fascinated by the potential combinations.

As a follow up experiment, I belief I might be particularly effected by mood when taking these types of tests, so I intend to take this assessment a couple more times in the future and compare the results, I’m hoping for some consistency, maybe with a few of my other preferred traits appearing.

Four Things to Teach our Children

Recently we’ve been wondering what traits contribute to people being good developers and team members. Early on in our conversations we realised that they aren’t really specific to developers, so we, rather cheekily, themed them “things to teach your children” as we believe they are general enough for them to be useful to any individual and worthwhile for society. In doing so, we dabbled with some ideas and found four statements to express our thoughts (all coincidentally beginning with D):

  • Discovery
  • Discipline
  • Decision Making
  • Decency

We believe these four concepts, whilst incomplete, are crucial and often neglected and so deserve our attention. The rest of this post attempts to describe what they mean to us and offer some related materials for each.


Ignorance is the constraint
– Dan North

For some reason schools and organisations still insist on learning being expressed primarily memorising facts and rules, we believe more attention needs to be focused on the skill of learning, rather than just what is being taught.

Today’s world is one in which we don’t and cannot know everything, there is simply too much and it changes too quickly. To thrive in this environment, our most important skills are the ability to effectively learn and to identify and evaluate opportunities to do so.

Related Material:


I’m not a great programmer, I’m a pretty good programmer with great habits.
– Kent Beck

We’re not referring to subjecting people to external discipline. Many of us don’t know how to effectively use our time, much of it is wasted by a lack of energy, will or focus. We believe the most important discipline comes from within. Great benefits come from understanding the benefits of self-discipline and forming good habits and rituals.

Related Material:

Decision Making

When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear, our brains are flawed instruments.
– Chip & Dan Heath

Increasingly, we find ourselves making many decisions every day, as we become more conscious of this we find it utterly bewildering that we don’t seem to have enough understanding of how to approach making these decisions. We seem compelled to make these decisions quickly at the point when we know the least and yet attempt to predict the future. We need to embrace the uncertain and complex nature of the world, in order to make better decisions, or to put it differently, to defer or to commit deliberately to a decision.

Related Material:


When we understand the needs that motivate our own and others behavior, we have no enemies.
– Marshall Rosenberg

By this we mean respecting each other, demonstrating empathy and understanding for the uniqueness of each and every one of us. To do this, we need to be able to effectively trust and communicate with each other, which is notoriously difficult. Ultimately this is the ability to love ourselves and each other, an ability we struggle with each and every day. What would it mean for this to be explicitly taught in our schools and organisations, rather than hidden behind rules, regulations and policies?

Related Material:


These are by no means intended to be complete, merely to inspire, as we believe these are often neglected and deserve to be higher on our agenda both as individuals and as a society. We love having these kind of philosophical debates and felt that this one had some legs beyond us, so we want to share them. We’d love to hear from you.

Marcin and Marc


Recently I got back from 4 intense days at LSSC 2012 in Boston, which I have to say is the best conference I’ve ever been to for learning opportunities. It was exceptionally well run, with activities planned beforehand (Lean Camp and Action Kitchen), the best keynotes I’ve been to, excellent sessions (significantly better than last year). My thanks go to David Anderson and the rest of the organisers and volunteers. The venue was great, with very friendly staff, good food, rock solid wifi and a good amount of space. The addition of lightning and ignite talks in that post-lunch lull worked really well, summarising months of thought into minutes. The only improvement opportunity I can see for next year is to extend the Brickell Key Award Dinner to allow for more dancing opportunities.

The conference raised a number of themes for me:

  • We should accept and embrace uncertainty in what we do
  • We should be validating our learning, by forming hypotheses, acting and evaluating the outcomes.
  • We should seek to understand other domains before we try to apply their processes to our own
  • We are learning how to learn and how to do software development, not just what we are developing
  • We are human, collaboration, reciprocation and motivation are intrinsic in most us, we should build systems accordingly

I’m going to follow a similar format for my post as Liz Keogh, who has already written up her thoughts on the conference, here.

Steven Spear talked about uncertainty, learning and the key to great organisations. By not having predictions, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to be surprised and to learn. He urged us to accept that we don’t know, yet be disciplined in making a prediction to allow us to correct the ignorance we bring to the situation. We miss many opportunities to learn by not admitting we don’t know and by band-aiding issues, this must start with the leadership of an organisation. The key to greatness is not in knowing the difference between the best and average organisations, but in how they transition over time. It is the pace of change and learning, in an ever increasingly complex world, which differentiates these organisations.

David Joyce asserted that we are still using the tools of over a century ago, which were built to solve different problems. The rate of change (and therefore of necessary learning) has increased significantly in that time, from every 3 years to every 3 months. His kanban board demonstrating how we should be validating learning was an excellent example of how much further we can take visualising the work and our value stream than the basic agile board.

Chris Shinkle put together a beautiful and touching session, in which I nearly cried, talking about his kids baseball team. Showing how important it is to put the emphasis on learning, to have fun and to change things when it’s not working.

Nigel Dalton showed us a glimpse of Lonely Planet, showing me for the first time how strikingly different visualisation of work can be outside of software development and gave me a few ideas of how to improve our boards.

Michael Kennedy talked about set based product development at Toyota and other organisations, emphasising the need to generate sufficient knowledge before designing. I didn’t manage to see the whole session, however I will most definitely be watching the video at least a couple of times. Whilst it’s still sinking in, I’m thinking about the implications of this talk on building capability, looking after and feeding forward knowledge and how this can relate to time boxed vs. flow based software development.

Gregory Howell continued the themes of uncertainty and us taking inspiration and ideas from domains we don’t understand. The assumption when we took ideas from construction, was that it was a complicated yet well understood domain with processes to match. Gregory explained that the processes were largely built around contract management and didn’t really work, 85% of construction managers overestimated the certainty in their projects (“they had the optimism gene turned fully on”). He described projects as a network of commitments and as a conversation of ends and means, both useful metaphors for how we work. In construction the key is knowing when people need to turn up and that the site is ready, therefore build buffers into the ongoing schedule and it is far more important to work on the interfaces between people rather than each job in order to go faster.

Bob Charette gave me a interesting perspective on risk, expanding upon going up the down escalator metaphor from Waltzing with Bears, the two key ideas being, “If there was no change, we wouldn’t need managers” and that profit is the result of exchanges of risk and opportunity.

Jeff Patton gave a genuinely hilarious session (following a similar toned one from Benjamin Mitchell based upon the laughs coming from the room) about the myths and misconceptions about Kanban, including part of an episode of South Park. Make sure you watch the video when it is released, it summarises much of what we need to improve our teams now. I learnt value is hypothetical, identify opportunities and then measure where is came from at the end and that Process != skill, we should not forget that no process will save an under-skilled team.

Mike Burrows talked about the effects on risk of using Kanban. Time makes a nonsense of prioritisation, we’ve all had critical bug sit around for years and variability means that sequencing is important, therefore we should make the variety explicit.

Yochai Benkler gave the densest keynote I’ve ever experienced, all whilst we were suffering hangovers from the Brickell Key Awards Dinner the night before. The twitter stream drastically slowed, showing how hard it was to summarise this deep a set of content. I’m finding it difficult to refine it here, watch the video, it will significantly effect your view on motivation and social systems. Recent research has shown that conscientiousness and collaboration are inherent in the population, we inherit it in our genes. Our traditional systems have been based upon the rational actor model which doesn’t deal well with uncertainty and imcomplete information and that people will do the least to get the most, which for most of the population is untrue. Therefore we need to move from systems based upon closed control to open intrinsic motivational systems. Different forms of reciprocity allow us to understand our behaviour in social situations, e.g. giving blood. And my favourite quote from the conference: “Roles allow us to have a different morality to usual”.

Don Reinertsen covered the idea of centralised vs. decentralised control, arguing it is always a combination, that the idea that a system has to be one or the other is the “tyranny of the exclusive or” and digital thinking. Uncertainty does not demand decentralisation, for example, chess. He used forest fire fighting and the military to demonstrate effective combinations of centralised and decentralised command, based upon the importance of doctrine which leads to mindful individuals and teams, who use principles and an understanding of intent, in combination with situational awareness to make good decisions. I will definitely be doing more research into this area, in order to improve my understanding of building a skilled capability in order to deliver when needed, a subject close to my heart.

Jim Benson explored the world of cognitive biases and the danger of us believing that we know reality. The Kanban board is merely physical manifestation of the gemba and a decaying desperate grasp upon reality, not reality itself. Our goal is to share our incorrect world view, in order to elucidate our assumptions. Significant to me, is the idea that cognitive dissonance causes suggestibility, which might explain why I am all to often too easily influenced. He also put to bed, in the best way I’ve seen, the myth that home/work balance is possible, they are “two system conjoined by us”, a simply beautiful expression of the futility of trying to separate them.

Following this conference, my head is brimming full of ideas, around validated learning, how we approach training/early learning for new teams, leadership and building capability, expect to see posts on these subjects soon.

It was a pleasure to see people I don’t see often enough, Simon & Saffron Bennett, Jabe Bloom, Eric Willeke, Liz Keogh, Derek Wade, Karl Scotland and David Joyce, in particular and to make many new friends, too many to mention here, including Jim Benson, Tonianne DeMaria Barry and Gerry Kirk on my last morning in Boston.

This is only a very brief summary of my learning from this conference, I haven’t even mentioned Lean Coffee or Lean Camp. From what I’ve heard, the sessions I didn’t attend were also very good, I’ll defintely be watching the videos. If I haven’t convinced you yet, make sure you watch the videos when they are released, otherwise I hope to see you in Chicago next year as I want the opportunities for learning that this conference gives to continue and for as many as possible to experience them. As usual, please feel free to comment, feedback is always welcome.

Today I turned 30: The journey so far …

Today I turned 30 (well ok, yesterday by the time I published this post), so I thought this would be a good opportunity to look back on the last 8 years of my professional development as a software developer. I should warn you now, this is a very long and completely self-indulgent post, so feel free to skip it. I’ve focussed on my first job and early career as I haven’t really blogged about this much before.

First Job

Back in 2004, I was a fresh faced Computer Science graduate looking to become a professional software developer. Thankfully during my degree I’d spent a year (not a year in industry as such, but thats a story for another day) with the Sheffield based Insurance organisation, Westfield Health. Whilst I knew the organisation and my old boss (who was a huge inspiration to me in my year out and the rest of my time at Westfield) was still there as the systems and database administrator, I had a new boss and I was pretty nervous. In I walked as a confident graduate, joining a small team of developers, analysts and support people, I thought I was quite good at this software development lark, how wrong could I be? As it turned out, I was very wrong, those first few months of my career were a big wake up call.

During my previous years experience I had mostly been working on bug fixes and new features for their internal systems, most of which were written in Visual Basic 6. Whilst this wasn’t easy and some of the code had a significant history which took some time to decipher, it was easy compared to my first project as a permanent employee, I was about to start my first major system, to process scanned claim forms, from scratch.

This was a daunting task, I desperately wanted to do a good job in designing the system, in order to make a good first impression for my new boss. I’d never built anything bigger than a small game at University and suddenly I was solely responsible for building a system which needed to integrate with the scanning process (built by an external company) and re-develop the existing claims processing and fulfilment. The first version was a pretty big mess, it was all over the place with no real sense of design, the good news was that it worked pretty well.

It was at this point the first two really significant things happened in my career. Firstly I met Jag Gill (who was to be the business analyst on the project), who would later become my mentor for this first part of my career, close friend and founder of GeekUp Sheffield (he now runs the GIST foundation), all of which would play a major part in my professional and personal development for years to come. Secondly, I realised I needed to do some serious work if I was to be any good at software development, so I hit the books, here is what I started with:

  • Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture – Martin Fowler (my first encounter with ThoughtWorks, who knew I would end up working for them, I certainly didn’t!)
  • Applying UML and Patterns: An Introduction to Object-Oriented Analysis and Design and Iterative Development – Craig Larman
  • Test Driven Development – Kent Beck

Armed with these books and lots of reading time, I set out trying to write my first decent size (pretty small by my current standards but big for a single newbie developer) object-oriented system. Can anyone guess what happened in the first few weeks after this?

My first steps in using TDD and the patterns in the above books was pretty haphazard, I found writing tests really hard when I didn’t really have a sense for coupling and cohesion, let alone good interface design. This led to brittle and limited numbers of tests, which along with an explosion of patterns led to a code base which whilst it had significantly improved, it was also very hard for anyone else except me to follow. This was when I came to the realisation that a system only I could maintain effectively was going to be a significant problem for me and that all the techniques and practices I wanted to learn were all interconnected and would take patient and repeated practice and evolution.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that whilst I found the development of this system really challenging, it was finished on time, deployed into production with only a few (more than I would tolerate today) bugs and was the bedrock of scanned and online claims processing for at least the next few 4-5 years (as far as I know it still is today).

Over the next 4 years, Jag and I successfully worked on a number of major projects together (inc. the online aspect I mentioned above). I learnt a lot about writing code, setting expectations, making work visible and release management, of course I didn’t know the name for all of these things back then. I become a regular attendee of GeekUp Sheffield (Facilitating at the first one back in May 2008 and presenting a few more times along the way) and the other regular events (still attend as many as I can, despite not being in Sheffield much).

Team Leading

In 2007, my boss was promoted to the head of IT, leaving the software development team without a team leader. For a few months the team just carried on as normal, working pretty well on the day to day, but it soon became clear that we needed someone to look after the set of projects and other work we were doing. This mostly involved going to meetings with the rest of the organisations’ team leaders and managers and keeping track of progress.

It was around this time that I started rock climbing (thanks to Jason) and had learnt my next major lesson in my career. At the time the most I knew about team leading was from the book, Behind Closed Doors. The organisation had also started a separate department of analysts (I had no idea what this meant at the time) and we were trying to come up with a general process for projects and software development in the organisation. As you can imagine, this caused some pretty heated debates and at one point led to me making the huge mistake of giving someone feedback on the way they were handling the situation, the feedback wasn’t the mistake, delivering it by e-mail and copying in her team was!

My next big challenges were hiring two new developers and running the annual reviews, neither of which I had ever done and were both extremely hard for me as I find conflict and saying ‘no’ pretty uncomfortable. Before this, giving feedback, pairing and informal teaching had all just been hidden and informal activities in my job, some of them came naturally (though I didn’t necessarily do them well at first), it was at this point I consciously decided these were aspects of my work I wanted to do more of.

One of the developers we hired, Matt White, had a big impact on me, he provided me with a lot of support whilst I was getting used to team leading and became a close friend. He gave me the encouragement to become braver and to start experimenting, we brought in new version control and started our first ‘agile’ project. I remember the initial workshop we ran clearly to this day, without realising it, we were chartering. We took what looked to be a huge long-term project and found some core goals and features they wanted and by the end of the day had sketched an initial domain model.

This led to one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to take, it took me months to realise I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to anymore, I wanted to see what working at a larger organisation was like, weeks to decide to leave and pretty much a whole day (a story in its own right) to hand in my resignation.

When I look back on my time at Westfield, I have a lot of happy memories, made lots of mistakes, learnt a lot from both these and the successes and made some friends that I still have today.

Going Bigger and my First Experience of Coaching

I had decided that I wanted to see what working at a larger company would be like and as luck would have it, I ended up seeing both a medium sized company (few thousand) and a large one (35 thousand) at the same time.

When I joined Edexcel (part of Pearson), I had no idea they were just starting an agile/lean transformation, my interest in agile had increased of the years and this turned into the ideal time for me to practice some of the things I’d read and chatted to people about.

During my two years, I got to use scrum (my first real experience of an agile project), travel to London, work on some big projects, learn about SOA, web services, BizTalk, legacy systems and spend many a meeting chatting about architecture.

All of that falls into the background of the really significant things which happened to me at Edexcel. Most importantly, I met three people who had and continue to have a big impact on my career (and long may that continue). Those people are Liz Keogh, Marcin Floryan and Paul Dolman-Darrall.

Paul showed me how a manager and leader could choose to behave, his drive and determination continues to inspire me and his depth of knowledge is astounding (which he impressively demonstrated in his Agile 2011 session).

Marcin and I have become close friends, he demonstrated a courage and bravery to act, that I haven’t seen in many people before or since and which I aspire to match. He showed me how to be a hands-on manager and yet let his team of analysts have autonomy and at the same time continue to be an excellent developer.

Ultimately, it was Liz who had the most influence on my time at Edexcel. I remember when we first met, I didn’t realise it at the time, but even her entrance taught me a lot about influence in an organisation. She opened my eyes to the possibility of me becoming a coach, taught me BDD and helped me gain enough self confidence and belief to start the next part of my journey.

I was lucky enough to also work with some excellent agile coaches (Anthony Marcano, Kevin Ryan and Cesar Idrovo) and to be taught by Kevlin Henney, all of which deserve more of a mention than I’m giving here, I could fill many times the length of this post with some of the stories.

There are so many stories from this formative time in my career, I can’t decide which ones to include, so instead I’m going to leave them for another post or two.

Compared to leaving my first company, leaving the second was much easier, fate had handed me the inspiration (the people around me) and the opportunity (a rather drunken conversation in the pub with Jim Webber) to take the next major step in my professional development.


I wrote up my initial thoughts on working for ThoughtWorks here, so I won’t repeat them here. It’s safe to say that, whilst no company is perfect, I’m learning lots, finding lots of challenges, stretching some of my skills, encountering different environments and most of all, made some good friends and had lots of fun with my fellow ThoughtWorkers.


2011 was an exceptional year for me, it was my first full year at ThoughtWorks, working on projects for three different clients, visiting Belgium and the US (twice) for conferences, co-organising XPDay, becoming a regular at XTC and making lots of friends along the way.

I’ve been lucky to work in some excellent ThoughtWorks teams, some of which have had a profound effect on my recent thinking, to name a few, they are: Sarah Taraporewalla; Tom Scott; Akash Bhalla; Dan Abel; J K Werner and Jim Barritt. Whilst I haven’t really worked directly with him, Chris Bird has been particularly supportive of me in my initial career at ThoughtWorks, he is always happy to listen to me go on about any inane subject.

XTC has become the bedrock of my professional development, I’ve met (and reconnected with) so many wonderful people, to name just a few is unfair but here goes (Chris Matts, Chris Bird, Ben Matthews, Julian Kelsey, Andy Parker, Bob Marshall, Simon Stewart, Jon Jagger, Andy Palmer), I’ve learnt something from everyone I’ve met there.

I was lucky enough to meet Tobias Mayer in the lobby of the LSSC hotel, the short yet insightful conversations were a pleasure. I hope to see my fellow ThoughtWorkers who I met there, Jason Yip and David Joyce again soon. I will never forget the english contingent dancing at the awards dinner.

Agile 2011 was a special conference for me, I got the opportunity to volunteer, which I enjoyed thoroughly and am blessed to be able to do it again. Once again I met so many wonderful people, in particular, two couples had a significant impact on the rest of my year (and life for that matter), Simon and Saffron Bennett and Simon Cromarty and Johanna Hunt.

Finally, XPDays Benelux gave me the opportunity to meet Olaf Lewitz, whose sheer enthusiasm, energy and camera skills leave me in awe most of the time and for inviting me to Agile Coaches Camp Norway which had a much bigger effect on me than I was expecting.

2012 and beyond …

2012 has already started strongly for me, the Agile Coaches Camp Norway at the beginning of January was awesome (blog post to follow about this, especially the coaching dojo) and I’m currently starting to rediscover my tech leading skills and practicing my chartering and facilitation skills as part of an inception for my current client.

I have plans to be at Agile 2012 (as a volunteer again) in August and ALE in Barcelona in September. If I can fit it into this year, hopefully I’ll be a trainer at ThoughtWorks University and I really should get around to submitting some sessions for conferences :)

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading, I hope you got something out of this especially long post and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

If your name hasn’t been mentioned here, please don’t be offended, I have been lucky enough to meet lots of wonderful people in my career so far, I have had so much fun and learnt so much, thank you to every single one of you!

Where does the knowledge belong?

I wrote a short article for the XPDay 2011 magazine, I thought I’d republish it here:

Software development teams usually have a number of different goals, some defined externally and some by the team itself. A key part of a team’s effectiveness is its ability to make decisions consistent with its goals. These decisions are often heavily context sensitive and need sufficient knowledge of the situation for them to be made well.

Ideally we want all of the team members to have the skills, experience and knowledge available for them to be empowered to make decisions about the work they are doing, as this allows the team to adapt and self organise. In reality, this is often not the case, knowledge seems to collect in pools around certain roles or people.

Developers often know the most about how the software work, QA’s about what the software does, BA’s why the software is being built. In particular it seems typical that the technical leader or project manager knows the most about the broader context of the project and the organisation due to the nature of the roles they play. This often means that for good decisions to be made we need involvement from the PM, tech lead, BA, QA and developers.

Spreading the knowledge in these roles further brings a number of advantages, the team is more resilient to people in other roles being unavailable and understanding the different roles can help the team adapt better to change.

We also need to be aware of the pitfalls. It is crucial that we tune the amount of information we share and we need to learn to better filter the information we receive. This would allow us to feel safer to broadcast more information we learn and rely on other team members to do the filtering, rather than holding onto it for fear of information overload.

Even considering these pitfalls, I believe most teams would benefit from more communication to help us better understand the context we are working in. By focussing on sharing more information, we can allow it to reach the parts of the team closest to where it is needed the most. Much of my thinking on this topic, has been influenced by Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in how teams work.

Gaming at Barcamp Sheffield 3

Barcamp Sheffield 3 organised by the GIST foundation was somewhat different to the other barcamps I’ve been to, as it went right back to basics, there were no sponsors, no free food, drinks or swag, leading to a very lightweight and open unconference.

As there was no food provided, it allowed people to do their own thing, to split into smaller groups or to go on mass to the local pub for Sunday lunch. Similarly on the Saturday night, where we had the interesting exercise in self organisation that is ordering for 14 people in a Chinese restaurant!

This openness was also reflected in the spaces and session structures, pretty much the only rules in play were:

* Rule of two feet
* Pimp your passion, not your product
* Only new stuff

Talking about rules brings me nicely to my main theme of the weekend, games! There were sessions around people’s favourite video games, debates about whether they are good for you and numerous sessions around using them for learning.

Liam (@losvaive) kicked of the game theme by telling us about his video gaming bucket list. A run through of some of his favourite games, with some fondly told stories about the special moments he has experienced with each of them.

The saturday closed with a impromptu extended session about whether games are good for us, hosted by Liam, Claire (@kitation) and Katie (@katie_fenn). The session ended up running over into the next, a testament to the breadth and depth of the subject and the strong opinions felt by those in the group. We discussed the individual, social and health implications of playing games, comparing them to books, films and sports amongst others.

Starting with the discussion of adult addiction to World of Warcraft (way more prevalent than I thought), we focused on whether we think differently about it when vulnerable people are involved, e.g. children, socially isolated people. If we drew any conclusions, it would be that games can have significant positive and negative effects and there use should be respected, particularly where children are involved.

This theme continued into the Sunday, focusing on the learning aspects of gaming in general, not just video games. The inspiration for this focus came from a session around video games as a learning tool (ran by Liam, Claire and Katie once again), which discussed specialised games designed for learning (largely not very successful) and the more accidental or emergent learning involved in many games, in which Portal received high praise.

Having spent much of the previous day talking about games, we felt it was about time we played some, Catacombs (ran by Hannah @yorkhannah) just for fun and Zombie Fluxx (ran by Jag @Jagusti) for learning about emergent behaviour and team dynamics, oh and maybe some fun too. If you haven’t played Fluxx, I thoroughly recommend it, it’s great fun, easy to play and works well as a learning tool. The way that rules and goals can change throughout the game, leads to some pretty exciting, tense and comedic moments.

The first game of Fluxx was intended to be an introduction, with some ongoing observations of how the game dynamic teaches emergent behaviour. It was fascinating to watch the way the style of the game changes based upon the rules in play and the objectives set and how easily they can all change many times during the course of the game. Many parallels were drawn to software development projects, which inspired us to play a second game with some additional elements, to see if we could teach team behaviour and some of the common roles on a software development project.

This was done by making it a cooperative rather than competitive game, where all players share the objective of allowing one of them to win. This sounds very simple, except we placed restrictions on players communicating too much about there hand and what they intended to do and gave different roles different distribution of types of card. This led to interesting dynamics between the different players, particularly when the player representing the sponsor or product owner changed the games goal.

I also attended a number of other interesting sessions, where I learnt how a technical author is often a developer wrangler; how a system administrator can go rogue; how we can discover stories and how often we overcomplicate software solutions.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Barcamp Sheffield 3, it was a great example of how just enough structure and some simple constraints can lead to lots of fun and learning.

To the Special People in my Life

This post is about a subject very close to my heart, and on this rare occasion it is not software development. This is an open letter of thanks to all of the special people in my life for their generosity, encouragement, feedback and support.

The source of inspiration for this post came from the three small, very personal and intimate weddings I’ve attended over the last year. Weddings are an especially emotional time for me, partly the occasion and partly the opportunity to consider the important things in my life, usually over a fine single malt whisky late in the evening.

At each one I felt blessed to have such good friends and to have been invited to something as important to them as their wedding. By no means are all of the special people in my life married, far from it in fact, it just so happens that the ones who are, tend to be married to equally special people (and so many of them seem to be getting married at the moment).

There have been a number of memorable events for me recently, all of which have been made that way because of the people who attended them. Of particular note are the ones whose circumstances take me by surprise, like the 30th birthday party of a close friend’s husband where I was one of the few of her friends to attend or the wedding I never thought I’d be invited to.

As most of my friends will know, I’m something of a social nomad, regularly moving between social groups. This makes it all the more surprising, that within each of these I’ve found a handful of people who have come to mean a great deal to me. That they graciously accept that I’m not always around, makes them all the more special. I can however offer them any and all support I can give, at the points in their lives when they need me, I endeavour to be close at hand at these times.

I want to thank each and every one of them for their patience, support, understanding and advice. I have made a fair few mistakes in my time, and whilst I never intend to, I have offended, upset, disappointed and let down each of them during our friendship. I’m lucky to have friends who can accept me for who I am and forgive, for I am still learning how to be the best person I can be.

I am especially grateful for the ones who’ve worked so hard at helping me understand my own value and to believe in my own self worth, something I have often found hard. Every single time, they rise to the challenge, pick me up and fill me with inspiration and confidence. Thank you, all, for your continued perseverance.

I’m sure I’ll be calling upon those same people (and others) to do the same again in the future. I hope each of them knows how special they are to me, if not, I will be doing my upmost to let them know the next time I see them.

This last year has led me to rediscover something I have always known, yet sometimes forget, which is that all I really want, is for those special people around me to be happy. It may seem obvious to many people, yet I feel the need to take this opportunity to say it. Everyone has special people in their lives, seek them out and enjoy spending time with them.

As always, I welcome any feedback.


I’ve known about ThoughtWorks for almost my entire career and three months ago, I finally got the chance to join them. I promised that I would blog about my initial impressions and here they are, although not quite so initial anymore.

The interview process had given me some insight into the culture and a glimpse of the people who I would be working with. I remember leaving the office that day buzzing yet exhausted, my first three months has left me with similar feelings.

The most striking thing about ThoughtWorks is the people, everyone without exception, has been friendly, intelligent and always willing to help. I’ve never worked in an organisation with such strong cultural variety. On my first day I met people from the UK, Australia, Brazil, US, India and Canada, amongst others, the blend of backgrounds and opinions is very appealing to me.

One of the aspects that attracted me to being a consultant was the variety of organisations, people and domains I’d hopefully get to work with, so far I have been involved in three different projects for two organisations in different industries and with different technologies, which has given me huge scope for learning and experimentation.

ThoughtWorks strives to have the minimum amount of management possible and to be as self-organising as possible, which presents many challenges for a rapidly growing business. This appeals to my interest in organisational structure and how this affects what work we do and how we do that work, I am looking forward to learning more about this aspect of the organisation. Something which is closely related to this and somewhat of a culture shock to me, is the onus and ownership for many aspects of my progress are mine. I have never had this amount of freedom before and as such, as much responsibility. Whilst this is taking me some time to get used to, I relish it, and every time I have sought out advice or assistance someone has always answered my call.

I am conscious of the burden travelling may put on my lifestyle and work life balance. So far, I’ve enjoyed most of the travelling which has come with my new role and only occasionally felt the desire to spend more time back at home. I’ve had great support with organising travel and accommodation, often at short notice, for which I am very grateful. The opportunities which have arisen from the travelling have far outweighed any drawbacks and although it is a challenge keeping the balance, I am confident in meeting this challenge and in doing so, both aspects of my life will benefit. I would like to find ways to use some of my new experiences to contribute more to the community in Sheffield.

All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first three months as a ThoughtWorker and am happy that joining was the right decision for me at this point in my career. Two people have been instrumental in me joining ThoughtWorks and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Liz Keogh and Jim Webber for their support and encouragement.

This is my first blog post in over a year, so I especially look forward to your comments and feedback on this post.

BashMash 1: The Archer Project

On Saturday morning 9 people converged on the epigenesys building, and after much caffeine, that same day a brand new website for the Archer Project was created.

This effort was the first, of hopefully a long line, of BashMash projects, an initiative launched by Jag Gill following Bar Camp Sheffield. Its intention to bring together a group of like minded volunteers for a single day, with the aim of helping a charity or third sector organisation achieve things normally unavailable to them with they help of social technology.

We started the day with a plan, some initial designs and lots of motivation; we ended it with a great website and a lot more knowledge about WordPress, widget development, php, Facebook and Twitter integration, a day well spent I believe.

The website was created using WordPress with a number of custom widgets designed and built on the day. The site acts as a focal point for the organisations charitable efforts, showing progress on fundraising, current activities and needs and how the current weather effects the homeless people in Sheffield. This information is also published via Twitter and Facebook. The site should be self sustaining with the charity driving their own content. All of the widgets will be made available as open source, I will update this post when this is done.

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, though I admit to feeling quite tired after 15 hours of developing software, it was great seeing the whole site come together at the end of the day, roll on the next one. It might even have inspired me to do some PHP before then, anyone who knows me knows this is quite a accomplishment!

I need to say a big thanks to Jag for starting the whole thing, Chris for finding the Archer Project, Tracy for putting up with a room full of developers and to Jon for tolerating my continuous barrage of silly questions about php, macs and passwords (and for calling him Chris for half the day).