Dude’s Law, Gordon Pask and The Shoveler

David Hussman Coaching, DevJam News, Dude Publications, News

In 2010, I was awarded The Gordon Pask Award. When asked why, the committee told me it was “so that I continued doing the work I was doing”, or pragmatically coaching and teaching agility. Joe Rainsberger was kind enough to call me “a builder of community builders” and Jeff Patton told me that I “play the ball where it lies”  (instead of telling people they do not know how to play the game).

Gordon Pask Meets The Shoveler

After receiving the award, I was inspired to blog for the first time, but I never got to it because I was too busy being what I call The Agile Shoveler. If you have not seen Mystery Men , you don’t know The Shoveler. The Shoveler is a super hero who wields a shovel instead of having a power like x-ray vision. The Shoveler describes his power to his wife in the following way: “God’s given me a gift. I shovel well, and I shovel very well”

Just as the shoveler feels he must shovel, I am drawn to coaching. I am not sure I do it well, but the Pask committee, filled with other coaches and long time agilists, thought so. The joy of coaching is why I have not met my blogging goal. I am simply too busy shoveling to blog. I enjoy teaching practices, instilling values, and fielding questions about use and mis use of agile methods. I avoid telling people what to do without understanding what they are attempting to accomplish. I always place how after why (and where) so my coaching is contextual and outcome driven.

Edward Deming once said something like “no manager should comment on how to solve a problem without first seeing it”. Shoveling (from the trenches) continually teaches me how to better coach and provides me the challenges that help me seek real agility instead of text book driven preaching, a sad form of “prescriptive coaching” which seems to be growing.

When people ask me, “how do you learn to coach”, it seems like many are seeking the book which contains the answers. My answer, which frustrates some and pleases others, is “you learn to coach in context; you learn by doing”. Many first time coaches become over focused on tools and practices. Being skilled at various agile practices is essential if you are to teach or coach the practices. But practice often needs to change, to fit into a culture or context. Outcome based coaching means stepping back from the how (the mechanics) and examining the why (the intended outcome).

Dude’s Law

Enter Dude’s Law: V = W / H,  where V is value, W is why (intent) and H is how (mechanics).

As a starter for Dude’s Law, I modified Ohms Law ( I = V / R ) an old and trusted guide of mine; a tool I used to completely rewire my current home. In Ohm’s Law, I is current (flow) , V is voltage (pull) and R is resistance (blockage). If (R)esistance increases and (V)oltage (pull) is constant, current (flow) is reduced. Or, if V remains constant, and R is reduced, flow increases.

Dude’s Law works in a similar way., if (H)ow increase and (W)hy is constant, then (V)alue is reduced. Or, in a similar way to Ohm’s Law, If your W is constant (you know what you expect) and you reduce H (less process) then the V increases. As you drive the mechanics (H)ow towards zero, which you could call leaning out your processes, (V)alue increases even if Why is constant)

Dude’s Law In Action

To see Dude’s Law in action, imagine helping a new coach who is struggling while teaching and coaching user stories, story writing and more importantly story telling (Story Telling is a first class practice in IXP).

User Stories as easy to write if you simply fill words into a sentence format (As a _______ I need to ________ so that ). This is one method (how) to write stories. Sometimes it works, but often times it produces a wall filled with the same sentence written over and over and begging to be refactored. Over the last few years, I see more people who are reading sentences to each other instead of sharing stories, and most time the ceremony is high and the value is low.

Ask yourself why are you using user stories? There are many answers, one of which is that they help make the user and the user’s experience more real for the delivery team. Yes, they are also testable and valuable and others words from cute acronyms, but for me, the value is greatest when the focus is one story telling over story writing, this is one reason I cut over to story mapping several years ago. More information on story mapping will be available in the book I am completing for the Pragmatic Bookshelf, due out some time later this year – for now check out Jeff Patton’s excellent blog.

I also describe this as user experience over user stories, and I find that focusing on why helps me say more with less because once I can tell the story, writing it down is quite simple. Working with new coaches who examine why they want someone to practice a practice, deeper thinking starts and it is often possible to find more value by either using less process (How) or a modification of the process which is contextually meaningful (also How).

Knowing “How” Still Matters

If you are thinking I am suggesting that Dude’s Law ignores the how, think again.  I used to teach guitar lessons, so I know that few people can simply pick up a guitar and start playing. Most people need to practice and every teacher who cares blends the joy of playing with the mechanics that are essential to playing, so the student can later focus on feeling the music.

All great players have logged their 10,000 hours and more, even Mozart. Remember that Dude’s father was one of the greatest music teachers in Europe and Mozart started practicing and playing young and logged his 10,000 hours early in his life.

As the good players learn how to play their instrument they start moving toward why or what (e.g. which songs mean the most or which venues are most satisfying). Certain performances matter over others. Many times it is the venue and the audience that make the difference. Think about it: after Jimmy Page’s 1000 performance of Stairway to Heaven the mechanics are trivial. It is the gig that provides the value.

Just like the great player, aspiring coaches need to hone concrete skills around the agile practices. 10,000 hours is a tall order, but I certainly know coaches who teach better because they have piles of hours of coding behind them They not only logged the hours but they learned along the way.

I know far fewer coaches with 10,000 hours of teaching experiences. Those few I know happen to be great coaches. Ping me if you want their names, but know that they are harder to reach than the host of people hanging their coaching shingle, some of which are simply capitalize charlatans.

If you are hiring as coach, ask then how long the coach have been at it and then ask them how they learned from their mistakes, and make sure to ask for examples. You might be able to use Dude’s Law to smoke out the coaches who over focus on mechanics instead of intent.

Be Nice, I’m New

Not being a blogger, or much of a blog reader, I hope I have not violated any blogging conventions. In truth, I would probably not have blogged ever if a handful of people over the last few months had not hammered on me to blog. One person even told me he was mad that I did not have a blog. Maybe this post will change his mind.