Open Friday – Lernende Organisation mit Open Spaces

[English summary: I've translated my experience reports about regular, company-wide Open Spaces into German.]

Bei sipgate haben wir supergute Erfahrungen mit regelmäßigen (alle 2 Wochen) Open Spaces gemacht. Auf Englisch habe ich dazu schon mehrfach gesprochen und geschrieben. Inzwischen gibt es den kompletten Erfahrungsbericht auch auf Deutsch, bei der Informaktik Akuell. Wenn Dich nur das Ergebnis und weniger der Weg dahin interessiert, findest Du im sipgate-Blog eine kürzere Variante.




You can learn to present! – Public Speaking #3

Somebody has recently asked my husband (a great speaker!) for tips on how to learn public speaking. The asker was, among other things, concerned about his voice being too monotonous. My husband recommended an acting class and I agree. I’m confident that the basis of my being comfortable with public speaking was an acting class I took when I was 18ish. The acting teacher was also a voice trainer and helped us with body tension, (stage) presence and speaking from your body (not your throat).

No matter what part of presenting you are concerned about, you can work on it! Learning to work with your body and voice is one thing. Doing a presentation training is another. A good one will record you and you’ll get to watch yourself present. Really enlightening! You’ll also learn how to structure a talk. If you’ve got stage fright, rehearse a lot. Practice will give you confidence. If you’re afraid of audience questions, ask your friends to simulate a (hostile) audience. Again, practice will give you confidence. After you’ve actually gone out and given a talk you’ll learn it’s not so bad :)

Presenting is a learnable skill! I’ve given talks 1-2 talks per year for 15+ years. I was doing okay, but I wasn’t a great speaker. Last year, for the first time in my life, public speaking became part of my job. I created 3 different talks and presented 6 times and it has made a huge difference: I gave the Open Friday talk 4 times and the last time was the best talk I’ve ever given. It’s not only becoming more familar with the material, but also getting much better at delivering. I learned which the (unexpectedly) funny parts are and acted them out. My attitude changed from a teacher-mindset to a performer-mindset. And it made my talks better as in more entertaining, while still delivering the same material. I’m glad I got the chance to witness this change. The acting class really paid off, I guess.

Hopefully your training – whichever one you need – will too!

1-Pagers: Minimum Viable Product, Planning Origami, Product Owner Role, Powerful Questions, Ways to Vote, Brainstorming, ngrep

There are 7 new 1-pagers over at that you might have missed:



These are all part of my new book “Skills for Successful Product Owners”. Well, except for “ngrep;)

Solve people problems with data

[This post has been a draft since 2013. Not sure why, it was 95% finished...]

At OOP one presenter asked the audience and thus me: “How did you successfully resolve the biggest challenge in your professional life?”

My answer: “Talking”. Every one else’s? “Conversation”, “Communication”, “Face-to-face-meeting”.

In many ways I’m paid for having conversations: As Jerry Weinberg said, every problem is a people problem – I try to solve these people problems by having conversations or making other people have conversations with each other.

But sometimes that’s not enough. It hit me, that my more successful interactions in crucial situations have not just been about exchanging perspectives. I’ve had data with me. Consequences of behavior expressed as numbers and charts, or even as a price.

When you’re leaning towards the “touchy-feely” end of things, it’s easy to forget how data can make the case for you.

For instance, if a Product Owner receives too many feature requests to implement all of them and is not empowered to reject them, the requests will pile up. If that pile is hidden in a ticket tracker, the problem is invisible. The requesters will just wonder and / or bitch why the developers don’t fulfill their requests, whereas the developers will groan under an impossible workload.

If the PO tracks the requests on a board the problem will at least be visible, when the board overflows. The PO can point to it and make their case. Will this change anyone’s behavior?

Sample Graph: Request VolumeWhat if the PO tracks the incoming vs. the finished tickets to demonstrate how much demand and capacity are out of sync: The yellow line represents the accumulating unsatisfied requests. This is a chart to base a discussion on. Much better than “it’s just too many”. The PO and the stakeholders now see that there’s about 3 too many requests per week and that there’s no way for the developers to ever catch up with the pile. Time to take some decisions.

Data is powerful! Especially if the information not hidden in a sea of numbers. If you want to convince people take the time to coax out the information. Make a fancy chart! You know you want to ;)

Sometimes it’s enough to bring a few numbers to put things into perspective: That you’re not complaining unreasonably. It can help counter the opinions (read “not backed by data”) of people higher up in the food chain.

Whenever I encounter a significant problem I think about how to make it accessible, visible or even palpable* for others who I want to help me solve it.

* There once was a team that inflated a balloon for every ticket they got. Within a week they were up to their knees in balloons, communicating to every one that they got way too many requests. Can’t find the original source :(

The Coach’s Casebook – Book Tip

Cover of The Coach's Casebook
If you’re even remotely interested in Coaching, I highly recommend “The Coach’s Casebook” by Geoff Watts and Kim Morgan. I’ve just finished it and it absolutely lived up to the raving reviews I read on Twitter! For the record, I’m a coaching newbie. I’d figure that newbies and intermediates will gain the most.

The book looks at 12 specific human traits ranging from Perfectionism to Fierce Independence to Procrastination. For each trait they look at a fictious yet very concrete case that’s based on reality. It’s a first person narration from the perspective of the coach and very relatable. The coach’s supervision with their own coach is part of this and really underlines the importance of supervision. Then come 3 methods that one could use to support someone with the respective challenge. At the end of each chapter is an interview with a successful person that overcame the trait.

Of all of these, I could have done without the interviews. They didn’t always seem relevant to me. I love the case studies and the methods. You get to see a wide range of approaches and the inner workings of the coach on top. I’ve learned tons and highly recommend it!

118 activities in Retromat

Loads of great new activities in Retromat! Check them out:

Goodbye 2015, hello 2016!

A new year! I love the clean slate! A good opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future.


Professionally speaking, last year might well have been my best year yet. Definitely in terms of exposure – not just for me but also for sipgate. I used to read about Spotify, Jimdo and other great places to work thinking “We do these things, too! We are just as great a place to work at! Why does nobody ever mention us?”

I mean, Olaf Lewitz said on Twitter that sipgate is

the most agile company I know

He knows us because we’ve had the privilege to work with him several times. I’d like for others to know, too. Consequently I’ve never spoken at that many conferences before. With these and other efforts in 2015 we have started to slowly but surely put ourselves on the map. 2016 is gonna be even better because several of my colleagues are preparing talks about topics, such as how we implemented and work with our Pattern Library, how we migrated a core system in teeny-tiny steps, or how we reached continuous delivery. I can’t wait to see those!

Privately it’s been a mixed year. It’s my first whole year as a mom and time is even dearer than it was before. I once read that as a parent you can have exactly one hobby. It’s true for me and the hobby I picked were Retromat, Wall-Skills & this blog. Those of you who can count might spot a slight problem there, and yes, 3 is too much on top of a full-time job and family. I’ve had more sick days this year than all sick days prior to 2015 combined – with a wide margin! To illustrate: I did my first keynote. Should have been a stellar moment for me. And it was. But I’ve also rarely been more ill than at that point in time.

Apparently the first year of kindergarten is hell for parents. Your child is building up it’s immune system and is constantly sick. And you along with it. For us it culminated in all three of being more or less ill for all of December. Yay. Not.

For the record, I wouldn’t trade. The little one is amazing and I love her so very much! I’m just not used to being sick all the time.

Present & Future

That aside, my body tells me very clearly that I can’t keep up the pace I set in 2015. Especially, without doing any sports at all. That’s why I bought a bike and will cycle to work this year. Unfortunately my tram commute was my only quiet “me time” in which I wrote all blog posts and most of the Wall-Skills 1-pagers. Not sure how much I can get done in evenings. Posting 2 times a week is definitely out of scope. I’d consider 1 blog post per week a great success. And maybe 1 Wall-Skills 1-pager per month? Plus, the 2 books I’d like to create … Focus! I need more focus.

Or more time. I’d love to be able to take 1 week of unpaid leave several times a year so that I can burst-work on a project: Create 5 1-pagers. Write 50 pages. A new project that strikes my fancy. (I’m still toying with the idea of actually producing these.) Useful stuff like this :)

It would be much easier to do, if the time taken off paid for itself in some way. As much as I hate the word “monetization”, it would make things easier. The Wall-Skills collections are a step into that direction. The websites will always stay free!

At work I will have to face the fact that I am not a very good developer. At the end of the day I’m always more interested in the human side of tech and invest my time there. Time to find new role inside sipgate that’s a better fit. It’s gonna be fun figuring that out :)

Talking about failure – Long Way to Lean #1

When I give my talk “Thank God it’s Open Friday!” people always tell me how much they liked hearing about our failures on the way to a solution that works well for us.

It’s surprising to me, because our previous trials with a slack day are only loosely related to the very successful end result. It’s the part of the talk for which I always doubt whether it’s interesting to anyone. That part only exists, because I created the talk for Agile 2015 in the “Experience Report” track. If I had created a “normal” talk I would have only presented our shiny solution. Much like other people tend to present their shiny solution and rarely the way they took to get there.

That’s how we end up showing each other our pretty sides, once we have figured it all out and we hide the hard work and multiple failures it took to get there.

That can be quite intimidating for people who just start working in a better / different way. Like everyone else just flipped a switch and they are the only one’s struggling.

Well, you’re not. sipgate is a fantastic place to work. It has been for about 2 or 3 years. But we started down the agile road in 2010. Now 2016 is nearly upon us. That leaves 3 years that were less than stellar. Some times during these 3 years downright sucked. And I want to tell you of the suckage and the working solutions that we surfaced with. Heck, I might even tell you of the things we still haven’t figured out. It’s not like we don’t have problems anymore…

So, “Long Way to Lean” is gonna be a series here in the blog. It’s loosely based on my talk of the same name.

If you’re interested in specific aspects, let me know in the comments :)

Mass Interviews – Menlo #7

[This post is part of a series about Menlo Innovations, the company described in "Joy, Inc."]

Cover of Joy, Inc. Menlo does a lot of things different from other companies, Hiring for example. And I don’t mean “different” as in Google, i.e. you get grilled by a succession of 6 people or get interviewed by a good-sized portion of your future team as we do at sipgate. I mean different!

When they decide they need more people they invite 50 people to come interview. All at the same time, regardless of role. They divide the 50 people into pairs and tell them: “The goal for each of you is to make sure your partner gets a second interview.” All pairs get a small task and work on it jointly – only 1 pencil per pair – for 20 minutes. Each of the 25 pairs is observed by a Menlonian. They do 3 20-minute-rounds and rotate pairs and observers each time. After an hour, each candidate paired with 3 different candidates and observed by 3 different Menlonians. The candidates know what awaits them, BTW. They get information describing the hiring process beforehand.

Are you wondering how that works? How can they possibly figure out if someone is good at their job like this? They don’t. It’s not the goal in this first interview. The observers are looking for kindergarten skills: How do you communicate? Can you share? Can you build on someone else’s ideas?

Keep in mind, that at Menlo they pair rigorously. You really don’t wanna be stuck with an annoying pair partner.

Anyway, the candidates return home after the 3 rounds and the Menlonian observers gather. They go through the list of all 50 candidates and their respective 3 observers give a thumbs up or down. All thumbs up? The candidate gets a 2nd “interview”. All thumbs down? The candidate is out. Mixed vote? Discussions of why the vote was cast. At the end of the day, candidates have gotten their feedback.

The 2nd interview is actually a day, during which a candidate pairs with 2 different Menlonians on real work. The third and last round is a 3 week trial run, where they do normal work in the normal pairing rotation (new pair partner every week). Both, round 2 and 3 are paid.

Candidates who make it through all rounds are a really good fit and “bad” hires are very rare.

While the whole process is interesting, I especially love the first role-independent round: You won’t get tempted to bend a “No Jerks” rule for someone who’s technically brilliant. You don’t know whether anyone is brilliant. Jerks get sorted out before we get to role-specific skills.

Walkies – Menlo #6

[This post is part of a series about Menlo Innovations, the company described in "Joy, Inc."]

Cover of Joy, Inc. At one point during Menlo Innovations history, the employees decided they would like to stretch their legs and shake up routine by a short walk. Ever since, at 3 pm people gather for “walkies”. A 5-10 minute walk around the vicinity.

AFAIR the book makes no connection to the fact that Menlo resides in the windowless basement of a parking building. I.e. they have no natural light in the office, which makes walkies twice as desirable.

Although my desk happens to be in a spacious, nicely lit overground room that I love, the idea of a daily short walk is very appealing to me. Daylight, extra oxygen, “exercise”, … What’s not to like ;)