Solving Real Problems through Collaborative Innovation Games: An Interview with Michael Vizdos


Michael Vizdos: That speedboat one is one I use fairly often. Just recently last week I was at a clients and they used this. Instead of using a speedboat, we actually drew a sailboat, which still just looks like a crappy boat for me because I'm not really a good artist. By the end of that, they really were able to identify the top five things. They had probably hundreds, hundreds of little sticky notes on this thing. It lasted about four hours to do this. They had a top five and they were to prioritize one, two, three, four, five of things they were going to work on to help get the team better. Some of them were taking notes and some of them were engaging in better feedback. It comes back to lots of the collaboration and conflict resolution,.

Jonathan Vanian: How long are these games typically last?

Michael Vizdos: They can be pretty quick, they can be anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 or 4 hours.

Jonathan Vanian: Is that, I'm assuming, dependent on the size of people and all that?

Michael Vizdos: Really what it is you want to get out of the game. With any of the games I find that the debrief, or the retrospective after, is vital. If you just play a game and there's no purpose to it, people will get lost quickly.

Jonathan Vanian: What goes on during a debriefing session?

Michael Vizdos: It's almost like a mini retrospective. I use a lot of Esther Derby's format for that, her five steps.

Jonathan Vanian: It sounds like a really interesting session. Let's just talk about the things in agile. You've been at agile in this place for a long time. What trends are you seeing that we should be aware of?

Michael Vizdos: From a testing perspective, I'm seeing testing get a lot of love right now in the agile space.

Jonathan Vanian: That's good.

Michael Vizdos: Yeah, it's weird because it didn't for a long time. When you said test-driven development, they would say throw a bunch of testers in a room and that's test-driven development. Which we know is not true. It's coming around to where I see a lot of agile teams, the testers, and the developers, and architects, and designers, and DBA's are actually collaborating together. It's less of an us versus them mentality.

Jonathan Vanian: Do you think that's because of the more wide spread acceptance of agile? What counts for that?

Michael Vizdos: Part of it is that, part of it is just I think people are not accepting working in silos any more. When I first started doing this, there was a lot of contention between agile versus waterfall. Today it's a lot between agile versus total chaos. Some people don't even know what waterfall is any more, which is awesome to hear.

Jonathan Vanian: That's amazing, just a totally new generation, they have no idea.

Michael Vizdos: Yeah, I've got to a presentation and they're like, what is this waterfall you speak of Mike?

Jonathan Vanian: Do they know what configuration management is?

Michael Vizdos: Yeah, but they're not looking at it. They're looking at it from the modern tool set not whatever we used to use for OS2 development.

Jonathan Vanian: How about trends and tools? You're not fully into technical aspect but maybe is there something that you've been seeing?

Michael Vizdos: Here's my main tool. I'm not selling Post-It notes, I don't have stock in Post-it notes but that's still my main tool. Face-to-face collaboration.

Jonathan Vanian: Face-to-face, right? You're seeing more of that these years as compared to the past, I'm assuming?

Michael Vizdos: Yes, absolutely. People are making more of an investment because they know it does pay off.

Jonathan Vanian: How about management, how is management acting in today's age with agile? There's a lot of people that say they want to be agile, but then a lot of people say they don't get the support that they need from management.

Michael Vizdos: The job of management is to grow and empower, which is a yucky word, their people and help them become better. Not to be commanding control. That group of management is fading away more and more even in the large organizations. Where I see still a big breakdown is at the strategic level. Let's say that the senior vice presidents and above who are looking at long-term strategy versus the director level, where it's all tactical. What I'm finding is if you don't have that connection between strategic and tactical, this is not going to work. At the tactical level with directors, they get basically re-org'd every nine months and it's kill or be killed. That's how they move up. That's a hard thing that I'm seeing still in the industry today. I know Michael Spade and Lisa Atkins are doing a lot of work right now in that space, so if you ever get a chance to talk to them or take a look at what they're doing, good stuff.

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