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A New Agile Practice: Collaboration Contract (was Collaboration 8)

12.05.2012
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Back in April, I wrote about a practice we were experimenting with at LeanDog. I called it Collaboration 8. The intent is to figure out who are the right people to have involved in a discussion. Rather than the boss making the decision, Collaboration 8 provides a way for the team to self-select and get clarity around levels of engagement and responsibility in the decision making process. I've found coupling Collaboration 8 with Six Thinking Hats has been a tremendous boon to the self-organizing teams to whom I've introduced the concepts.

Evolution

As I've been practicing Collaboration 8, I've learned from real-world situations and the practice is beginning to evolve.

No joking

I do not share the concept of the joker with teams any more. The joker was intended to let somebody know they've violated an agreement. Starting the collaboration process with provisions for calling each other out changes the vibe. I don't care for the negative energy and I find it uncomfortable to create a column specifically for "when one of you fails to hold up to your end of the deal." Failure to hold your commitments is better handled in a fashion other than putting your name in a column on a spreadsheet or "playing a card". So I've dropped the notion entirely.

It doesn't count

At first, the numbers (1-8) appeared beneficial; we could make quick reference. "I'm a 4 on this topic", meant you wanted agreement. "I'm a 7", meant you were delegating the decision. But I quickly found the abstraction to be problematic. People began to see the numbers as a ranking and lost track of which number meant what. People would say 3, 4, or 5 all with the intent of agree, depending on their general recollection of the scale. One of our team members regularly said, "I'm an 8." What he meant was that he was delegating the decision, but what he was saying was, "I intend to violate my agreement." Actually, come to think of it....

The numbers implied a significant ordinality and a minor cardinality, whereas the opposite was really true. As with the letters of the alphabet, the sequence is relevant but the distinction of one from the other is far more important.

All of this is to say, I've stopped using numbers to refer to the stages and conversations have become much more clear.

Words matter

When we first created the system, we borrowed a great deal from Delegation Poker. Delegation Poker, of course, is based on the Seven Levels of Authority which are all steeped in the notion of a leader imparting power unto others. Collaboration is about self organizing teams making the decisions for themselves. We borrowed all of the words from Delegation Poker, but then gave them new definitions to help explain what we meant by them. This created dissonance that never set well with me. So I've updated the labels to verbs that coincide better with their individual intent.

Tell became Inform; "I will Inform you of my decision."
Sell became Explain; "I will Explain my reasoning for this decision."
Consult remained; "I will Consult with others before making this decision."
Agree became Collaborate; "I will Collaborate with others on this decision."
Advise remained; "I will Advise the decision maker."
Inquire remained; "I will Inquire about the decision."
Delegate became Abstain; "I will Abstain from this decision."

You gotta keep it coordinated

Establishing working agreements is a good start, but we also need to know that the initiative is going to be carried forward. We found that when there was a clear decision maker, that individual typically pushed the initiative forward. But when we had people that wanted to Collaborate and some that wanted to Advise, we found no clear coordinator. So we introduced an official coordinator role. The team simply agrees who is going to coordinate meetings and help push the initiative forward. The coordinator role has no more or less authority in the decision. This is simply someone who agrees to help ensure the discussions happen and the decision is made.


Today

The basic form is still the same, but the headings are more indicative of the team's agreements, I've dropped the idea of the joker, and I've added a coordinator. The core spirit of Collaboration 8 exists, but I now call it a "Collaboration Contract".
Published at DZone with permission of Michael Norton, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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