Agile Fishbowl

Earlier in the week, I posted about an introduction to agile development that I gave at work. Afterwards, I talked to several of those that attended and figured out that I left a lot of things out of the presentation. This was partly due to some inadequate preparation on my part and a pretty narrow time constraint. As a result, I presented a lot of information without a sufficient amount of supporting information. I also failed to provide enough clarity as to how these new methods would integrate with our existing processes.

To address the issue, I scheduled a Fish Bowl to have an open discussion about agile development methods. We arranged the group into an outer perimeter and set up four chairs in the center of the room. I took a chair and two other volunteers joined me and I started the discussion. I opened with some general conversation about the items presented in Monday meeting. The participation from that point forward was wonderful — everyone took a seat in the fish bowl and shared their concerns, asked questions, and proposed solutions.

The end result was a greater understanding by the group of:

  • why we are looking at using agile methods in our organization
  • how these methods can address some of our problems
  • what we expect to achieve by adapting agile processes

Based on my original experience with the Fish Bowl at ALT.NET in Austin compounded by another great experience this week, I highly recommend the format for group discussions in any organization.

About Chris Patterson

Chris is a senior architect for RelayHealth, the connectivity business of the nation's leading healthcare services company. There he is responsible for the architecture and development of applications and services that accelerate care delivery by connecting patients, providers, pharmacies, and financial institutions. Previously, he led the development of a new content delivery platform for TV Guide, enabling the launch of a new entertainment network seen on thousands of cable television systems. In his spare time, Chris is an active open-source developer and a primary contributor to MassTransit, a distributed application framework for .NET. In 2009, he was awarded the Most Valuable Professional award by Microsoft for his technical community contributions.
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  • Did you start in the group and through adding people eventually join the audience? If so, how did the conversation persist? Did the group start clarifying amongst themselves without you driving?

    If you stayed up there the whole time, did the same result still occur?

    Great idea. May try at work to centralize some ideas amongst our development group.

  • I sat with another two at the start, but I returned to the audience several times. I would say I spent maybe 50% of the time in the bowl, but the conversation really took off without me in the bowl. I had sent out a few links of Extreme Programming related sites on Monday so they had a couple of days to look it over beforehand. I’m sure not everyone did, but the contributions were great.

    Questions like “How can we do “insert existing process” under the new format?” really pushed the conversation into the areas that really needed to be explored. And while we didn’t resolve all the mappings there in the meeting, we certainly identified areas that we’ll need to watch for as we evolve.

    I think it is an excellent way to facilitate a meeting that doesn’t have a set agenda where you want to avoid falling into presentation mode.

  • Excellent.