Agile Coach Tour thoughts

Some people, including Alexey Krivitsky and Declan Whelan, have been talking about an #agilecoachtour. When I heard of it, I thought of the Festival Express train trip, jam session, and concerts.

I’ve also long been thinking about a talk Alistair Cockburn gave a zillion years ago about how high-performance individuals are good at a large number of “micro-techniques”. It’s not [just] brainpower or hedgehog-style great ideas: it’s excess skill at a vast number of tricks of the trade. Someone (Jeffrey Fredrick?) was telling me it’s something like that for elite swimmers: you learn to do many things better than the competition, even though none of them is in itself more than a slight improvement.

I also have an increasing desire for speakers to speak about what newly excites them, rather than reiterate their safe, well-worn conclusions. Related to that: I’d like to see speakers more directly serve their audience. (For example, for my Ágiles 2009 keynote, I’m asking the audience to tell me—in advance—the questions and topics they’d like me to speak on.) But I don’t much care for straight question-and-answer sessions, since those don’t “build” to a conclusion and tend not to surface much novelty.

So here are some vague thoughts:

  • The structure of the trip would be long train rides, including overnight travel, that allow the riders to work/jam together. When the trip stops in a city, it’d be for a one-day conference.

  • People would work together actively to learn things they’d present at one of the stops. So, for example, I might present “Thoughts on Mocks collected by talking and working with Freeman, Feathers, etc.” And many of the thoughts would not be of the form “The difference between mocks and stubs is…” but things like “when using mocks to TDD a UI, have mock objects just accept setters and return values with getters, which makes for more concise tests.”1

  • I’ve favor one-on-one work over group discussions. Two people talking or working together are more likely to get down-and-dirty than a group. (That’s part of the appeal of a train—it favors micro-groups.) I can see a person pursuing a particular topic working in a series of “sequentially monogamous” relationships.

  • I can also imagine “customers”—non-coaches with problems—joining the trip for a day or so to serve as audience proxies to champion particular topics and shepherd creation of something useful. (This is maybe a little like my idea for an AR⊗TA conference.)

1 That’s not actually an idea I got from either of those people, so don’t blame them. It’s just that I’ve been noticing that this test:

     [sut disappear];

     [self assertTrue: [sut.pageView hidden]];

is clearer than a version that’s explicit about expectations:

   during: function() {
     [sut disappear];
   expect: function() {
     [sut.pageView shouldReceive: @selector(setHidden) with: YES];

And it’s not just the whacky syntax in the latter. It has more to do that a GUI framework (at least Cocoa and its Javascript version) tends to have GUI objects that rely heavily on setters and getters. Maybe you would follow tell-not-ask when designing your own framework, but the people who designed those didn’t. So deal.

I did talk with Steve Freeman about it last week, and at least he didn’t recoil in horror.

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