Lisa Crispin: Yesterday, you tweeted about a great learning session your team had. Please tell us about it. Is this something you do often? How do you “justify” the time for it?
Simon Baker: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about that tweet. It relates to something we learned while testing a business idea with users.
We put a lot of effort into trying to get better at what we do. Moreover, we try to improve at improving. This has highlighted the need to re-learn how we learn. In the past, we've fallen into the trap of “value fetishism,” where we’ve been so proficient at delivering value at speed that we’ve forgotten to take the time to step back, take a breath, and learn from what we were experiencing. We always did weekly retrospectives, but I think many actions taken in the name of continuous improvement just made us more efficient—we fine-tuned techniques. These days, we’re getting better at questioning our goals and asking ourselves why we are doing this. We learned that some techniques, like estimation, weren’t adding value. That was two years ago. We also learned that we are part of the problems we face. I guess we're a little older and wiser nowadays and seek a deeper understanding of what’s going on.
Part of that is a realization that people need time and space to work on themselves—to develop their abilities and instincts. We used to do pair programming all day, but now I actively encourage people to break away and take some time alone to experiment, practice, and learn. I also want them to take a day each week to work on whatever they want. This will present some operational challenges, but I feel it’s important they have space to pursue ideas.
Time for learning is paramount because, to produce something that’s actually useful, that delights users, and that makes their lives better, you need creativity, innovation, and appropriate use of technology. Creating software isn’t data entry. It’s a thinking discipline and a collaborative art, and I think the results Energized Work has delivered speak to the value of that perspective.