Dan Mezick has written an intriguing new book: The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager
The Culture Game is a book to give Agile Leaders a tool to help change the culture of their companies. It is intended to help organizations that aren’t ready to adopt something as radical as Scrum or that want help in speeding up the cultural change that Scrum requires.
Taking a leaf out of Dan’s book – the review will be written using the Perfection Game. The Perfection Game is one the Core Protocols that Dan mentions in Part 2 of the book. In the Perfection Game – you give a numeric rating and state what you like and what it would take to make it perfect.
I rate the book 8 out of 10.
What I like:
– Part 1 shows how all work is really a game and that taking our games seriously can help improve the quality of work for all involved. Dan also shows that Agile practices help to create a ‘Peter Senge style’ Learning Organization at the team level and that these teams are laboratories for the rest of the organization.
– Part 2 is organized as a series of sixteen Patterns that can be used independently of one another or they can reinforce each other.
- Core Protocols (mentioned in the ‘Structure Your Interactions’ chapter) – a set of protocols (from …) that help teams create safe rules for engagement in difficult circumstances. It’s been years since I first encountered these and I was delighted to be reminded of them. Formalizing their use is another tool to help create safe places for the teams we coach. They are especially powerful in the context of the Scrum Meetings where all too often we expect people to attend without having gained their explicit agreement.
- Run Frequent Experiments – run frequent small experiments and learn from them. Rather than one large experiment, which is what happens when we run a large waterfall project, Dan encourages us to run many small experiments and learn from their outcomes. Failed experiments are not waste. The only waste is when we don’t learn from the failure. This is one of my favourite suggestions to clients. Don’t over analyze, just run lots of small experiments with the goal of learning as quickly as possible.
- Manage Visually– post information on the walls. Find information that others will care about (i.e. project status, …) post it on the walls and update it on a regular basis. Most Scrum teams get as far as creating a task wall; few take it further. Borrow from the Kanban world, visualize your workflow, post your Working Agreements, etc.
- Game Your Meetings – Think of every meeting as a game – are the rules clear, did the team create them (this section reminded me to use Working Agreements more explicitly), is the goal clear? If we made participation voluntary and made them fun perhaps they would be energizing.
Other Patterns/Chapter Titles (not commenting on them here):
- Be Purposeful
- Facilitate Your Meetings – hint: ScrumMasters, this is part of your job.
- Examine Your Norms
- Be Punctual
- Announce Your Intent
- Inspect Frequently
- Get Coached
- Manage Your Boundaries
- Socialize Books
- Pay Explicit Attention
- Open The Space
- Be Playful
– You don’t have to be using Agile to start using these Patterns; nor do you have to be in IT.
– The patterns are independent; they can be used in order with any team. Start with a few and grow from there.
– The book is full of references to other sources, both books and free online reading.
– Dan explains that many good practices have an initial period where they don’t look like they’re delivering benefit, and may even cost in the short term. This is a great reminder for anyone adopting a new practice; before we get good at it, the practice will slow us down.
– Tribal Learning only works when all participation is voluntary
To make it perfect
– Rewrite Part 1 – the language didn’t seem to fit the topic; as a result I spent more time focused on the style than the content
– Better examples in the Subject/Verb/Object – present tense conversation section. Instead of the supplied examples, Dan could have shown a misunderstood communication, then rewritten in the SVO-p style. This would have helped the reader see the power of the style and how it reduces miscommunication. This refers to the Structure Your Interactions chapter.
– Provide more examples throughout. I would have been happier to trade less content for both more and deeper examples
These next two sections aren’t part of the official Perfection Game but I’ve added them, as they suit my needs.
What surprised me:
I had never thought of the Core Protocols as a way to increase engagement on a conference call or web meeting. I will need to give this a try.
Part 3 explains how to amplify the effectiveness of your efforts by creating Triads (literally groups of 3), using these Triads to help support your message and grow the use of the book’s other ideas. This is an interesting idea – I’ve never thought about working in groups that small and have reservations. I suppose as an informal alliance it might work well; I will need to see them in action before knowing how well these work.<
Dan couldn’t have known (since I didn’t tell him), but I think he’s missing a 17th pattern. Learning Time….. I will document this pattern in the near future.
Caveat Emptor – I received a free review copy of the book and have known Dan for a number of years.
 An Agile Leader is anyone who influences others to improve their organization
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