Fabulous Finding Marbles Newsletter

2015 is upon us, so I’ve decided to use this cutting edge new technology called “email” to spread a so-called “newsletter” to everyone who wants to stay in the loop about my projects. Some of them (Retr-O-Mat, Wall-Skills, Mail-Skills, …) are pretty useful, if I do say so myself. ;)

You’ll get at least 1 mail per month and at most 1 per week containing:

Convinced? Subscribe to the fabulous Finding Marbles newsletter now! :)

How metrics shape cityscapes

If you ever come to Aix la chapelle (Aachen) and walk through the charming old town centre you’ll see very slim houses. When you enter them you’ll find that they are deep, tube-like.

For a long time I thought that that’s just how they build in medieval times and maybe that’s a factor, but a metric was important as well: Turns out that taxes were paid based on how wide the front of your house is. This metric drove people to build slim houses to minimize costs.

Once I was in an older building in Spain. Curiously the floor labeled “1″ was already the 3rd floor. Strange, huh? Not if you know that houses used to be taxed by number of levels. That’s why people invented names like “entrepiso” for the 1st floor and sometimes even 2nd floor and henceforth did not count them as levels. Now you’ve got 8 level buildings, posing as 6 level ones.

Photo by Marina Micheli

Photo by Marina Micheli

In Sweden many people have a summer house on one of the islands. These summer houses may not exceed a certain size. This is verified via helicopters checking roof sizes. But they don’t check the number of houses. In effect, where in other countries you’d build an additional room, swedes build a new tiny summer house, dedicated to a single purpose. Just like a room ;) Continue reading

The Sketchnote Handbook

Taking notes during presentations helps me stay focused and to remember the content. Visual notetaking aka sketchnoting is more fun and the result is more interesting to others.

If you’ve never tried sketchnoting, check out “the sketchnote handbook” for a head start.

The book practises what it preaches and is very visually engaging. I especially enjoyed the guest sketchnotes at the end of each chapter. They introduce you to a range of styles and elements. Very interesting!

What does it take to succeed with agile?

sipgate, my employer, has come a long way since introducing Scrum in 2010. Overall I’d consider our journey a successful transformation. Today, we can ship much faster with better code quality and information is readily available to every employee – to name a few advantages.

Of course there are many factors that contribute to a successful agile transformation (yep, you got me, the title is clickbait), but if I had to pick one single most important factor and draw a diagram to represent it, it would be this:


What do you think this might depict? Take a few seconds to come up with a guess, before you scroll down.

Continue reading

Questioning the status quo without stepping on toes

Remember my “Resistance Against Change as a Way to Save Face” post? James described an interesting situation in the comments:

Here’s the thing. Im my organisation call centre workers are managed based on adherence to roster. The roster is a plan, based on a forecast of customer demand, telling staff when to be available to take calls, and organising when they can spend there time on other activities. Managers believe that this is a customer focused approach. They seek to maximise adherence to roster, and they reward staff for doing so. However it takes no account of real demand – just forecast demand. I would argue that when the forecast is wrong it is right to move away from the plan to help the actual customers, but this systems prioritises the hypothetical customers in the forecast above the real customers on the phone (or any other change in circumstances not accounted for in the plan.)

It’s idiotic. Any suggestions about how to address this folly without making those who implement it feel foolish.

James asks about a process, not someone’s individual ways, which is similar but not the same. For this scenario I do have ideas:

Be curious

Why is the current process the way it is? Become a researcher and find out. This works best if you are new to the company or the department.

Caution, for this to work you have to be genuinely curious and prepared to change your mind. People can smell a hidden agenda. And who knows, maybe the current process makes perfect sense if seen as part of a bigger picture.

Do you know who came up with the current process? If they’ve left, this will make your life easier. If not, talk to that person first. Alone, so there’s less reason for them to be defensive. Be careful how you phrase your question and offer your observations. Words like “folly” and “idiotic” would rub everyone the wrong way. [I don't really thing you'd put it like this with them ;) ]

I’d try it like this: “Do you have a minute for me? I’ve noticed something surprising in the way we handle things and would like to understand why we do it like this.”

Best case scenario: There was a reason to do it the current way which doesn’t apply anymore. This becomes apparent to others while you research the history of the process and you change how agents are rewarded, because the current way causes pain.

Very important aspect that, the pain.

Who feels pain?

If no one in the company feels the pain, there is no reason for them to change*. Continue reading

Yammering helps (to get rid of emails)

Is your inbox overflowing? Mostly with company internal mail? Yet, you and your colleagues still miss vital information? E.g. a year too late you find out that colleagues in France did the exact same work your team did?

That does seem to be a common complaint. Not where I’m working, though. I get maybe 2-7 emails a day. At most half of these require an answer or action on my part. It used to be many more, about 25-40, which is still little by many people’s standard. So how did the whole company – not just me – reduce their mails and everyone is still vastly better informed?


Don’t know what “Yammer” is? Think “Twitter” but just with people from your company and you join / follow groups instead of individuals. (You can follow individuals but that has never made sense to me. Unless of course I want to stalk someone and want to read their every thought even those in group “Dung worms of South East Asia”.) Continue reading


I’m not the most regular blog poster at the best of times. Now I’ve got an additional – absolutely adorable – distraction: Meet Brienne, 1 month old. So, if it’s a bit quiet around here, you know why :)

Resistance Against Change as a Way to Save Face

Every once in a while I have an epiphany/experience of the “Oh. So THAT’s what it feels like…” variety, such as the one about giving unsolicited advice. This January I had the (mis)fortune to have another empathy epiphany handed to me on a silver plate:

It was a Wednesday evening and my company was having its monthly Knit Night. A Knit Night consists of lots of yarn and people knitting or crocheting. And beer. Banisters might end with a knitted cozy as a result.

I had just (re)joined the company and it was my first Knit Night. In the middle of it, one colleague glanced over at me and was like: “You’ve got a weird way of knitting. What ARE you doing?”

“Um, stockinette stitch (German: ‘glatt rechts’)? Knit one row, purl one row, knit one row, …?”
As my colleagues were quick to point out, it wasn’t “normal” knitting, but twisted [sic!] knitting (German: ‘rechts verschränkt’).

Colleague 1: “Who taught you knitting?”
Colleague 2: “No one, apparently.”

Ouch! That hurt. A lot. Which is surprising given that knitting does NOT define me in any important  way:

  • I have not invested years of my life into practicing it
  • I’ve never earned money with it
  • I’ve never considered myself an expert
  • If someone asked me to describe myself, I wouldn’t even consider “knitting”. It’s just something I’ve “always” been able to do. Or not ;)
  • I’ve only knitted minor stuff like scarves and such. My biggest knitting accomplishment is this Scotty hat for my husband:

So, if finding out that I’ve done something wrong my whole life that is not important to me or my self-image drags me down for 4 days, what must it be like for professionals when a consultant or coach swoops in? Continue reading

Clean Questions and the Power of Metaphors

A year ago I blogged about Non-Violent Communication as a means to avoid judgement and find needs. Now I think I found something even more radical (once again via Andrea Chiou): Clean Questions / Clean Language.

With Clean Language, not only do you forego judgement, you don’t even offer interpretations. It’s a bit like the game “Taboo”: You can only use words that the other person has used first. (As Clean Language was developed by therapist David Grove, the “other person” is usually a client.)

Examples of Clean Questions – X is a something said by your client:

  • And that X is like what?
  • Where is that X?
  • And is there anything else about X?
  • And what needs to happen for X?

Here’s a list of all common Clean Questions. (For my fellow German natives: Clean Questions auf deutsch)

While asking these simple, repetitive questions, you look out for metaphors used by the other person and take them literally. Metaphors make it possible to access, talk and possibly resolve very deep, semi-conscious things that would be hard or impossible to address directly:
If a client feels they don’t make progress at work, then “It’s like smashing myself head-first into a brick wall” vs. “It feels like running on a treadmill, going nowhere” describe very different experiences.

Here’s an excellent TEDx Talk on how Caitlin Walker used Clean Questions to help under-privileged teenagers to deal with anger:

I’m still on the lookout for an opportunity to try this out. If you’d like to try, here’s a great article on how to apply Clean Questions in a business context.

What do you think about the concept of Clean Language? Have you already used Clean Questions? How did it go?

The Power of Habit – Book Tip


When the insanely insightful Amy Hoy is smitten with a book, I read it. And “The Power of Habit” did not disappoint!

It’s an entertaining journey through cases that helped scientists uncover how habits (and willpower) work and how you can change them. Understanding why and how our automatic actions play out is highly important, given that they govern about 40% of all our daily actions – A staggeringly high amount.

I highly recommend reading the book! As an appetizer, here’s an excerpt on how to change a habit by changing the routine within the Cue-Routine-Reward loop.

Let’s close with some quotes I highlighted during reading: Continue reading