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The Core Protocols, an experience report - Part 2

Yves Hanoulle,

Somewhere in a bar at a European Agile conference. The conversation of the previous day appeared in the Methods and Tools Summer 2010 issue [1].

After a delicious breakfast, Yves entered the hotel bar at 9:57. Allison was already there. Allison had a big smile on her face when she said: "I'm checking in, I'm glad we talked yesterday, I'm glad we continue to talk today, I'm mad, sad, glad I kept thinking about our conversation, I'm afraid I have not slept enough, I'm in"

Yves replied energetically: "Welcome. I'm checking in, I'm glad I slept well, I'm glad I talked to my kids this morning, I'm afraid I will miss good sessions this morning, I'm glad I know that the best time I have at conferences is in the hallways. I'm in."

Allison: "Welcome. Last night you used protocol check, the way I understood it was that this protocol is to tell someone he used the protocols in a wrong way, is that correct?"

Yves: "Exactly, it's a way to remind people about the protocol they are using. Typically you will say protocol check and then you will add what you think is wrong; Even if you are not sure about a protocol, you can still say: protocol check, aren't you supposed to say 'haidi' after someone checked in? And then someone else can say: no the correct word is 'Welcome'."

Allison: "I felt bad when I got protocol checked last night. As if I was misbehaving"

Yves: "I understand. In a way you were misbehaving, isn't it more that I caught you misbehaving?"

Allison: "Yes, like I was caught with my hands in the cookie jar."

Yves looked at her, paused for a second and then said:" I see, if you use this metaphor, I understand you feel bad. The intention of a protocol check is not to make you feel bad, not even to put myself above you. Both of which happen when parents reprimand their children. That is a mix up of authority and accountability. It's not because I keep you accountable that I have authority over you. Most people who feel bad about being kept accountable, have this because they have some kind of history with authority figures who misuse their authority to force people in keeping their commitments. Actually in a bootcamp everyone has the right and the duty to protocol check everyone else (In other words students also protocol check the trainers). For me it is a good way to make sure I understand the protocols. As I said yesterday, outside a bootcamp, people use the core a lot less strictly, that is why I will not use protocol check a lot in other situations. I do use the spirit of protocol check a lot on agile teams."

Allison looked surprised: "Really? Please tell me more."

Yves:" All people new to Scrum make mistakes when they try to implement it. They might talk too long during the standup or not answer the three questions etc. As an agile coach I want team members to feel that they can and should check each other when they are not keeping their commitments. Personally I don't mind if they use Scrum, XP, kanban or some kind of mix, I do care that they do what they say they will do. And in my experience, the only way to keep my commitments is to have people remind me what my/our commitments are."

Allison:" Isn't that putting the responsibility elsewhere?"

Yves: "Not really. For one, as part of the core commitments we say that we should keep our commitments and help others keep their commitments. When I did my first bootcamp, we had three people in our team who were not keeping their commitments. I was very annoyed about this and at a certain moment four of us asked for help to Vickie, to find out what we could do. She told us, that if we kept complaining among ourselves and not protocol checking these others, we were not keeping our commitments."

Allison sighed: "Wow that is harsh"

Yves: "Yes when she said that I felt like what the ..., and then I entered the team room, and these three people were actually doing what I hoped they would do."

Allison: "Looked like you were holding them back?"

Yves agreed "Yes, I think I was. Actually once people get used to this protocol, I see a lot of people protocol checking themselves. Instead of asking what the correct protocol is, they use what they think it is and then protocol check themselves and then ask for help. Which for me is a sign they are not afraid to make mistakes." Yves kept silent for a moment and then added: "Don't forget that the core, like Scrum, is a team pattern. Keeping the core commitments is also important for the whole team. Not only is it ok for people to check me. I expect them to do so. And the funny thing is, from the moment I know that people will keep me accountable for what I say I will do, I 'm more committed."

Allison questioned: "I know that there is some research [2] that says that people are less committed when they tell someone about their resolutions, seems like you want people to talk out loud."

Yves: "Yes I know about that research, in bootcamp we have a different experience. The difference is that we are talking about teams. When you say you commit to something, as a team we depend on that and we keep you accountable for that. (As I want to be held accountable for the things I commit to.) I think that is why we have a different result when students announce their goals."

Allison: "Will you say some more about these core commitments?"

Yves: "Yes, good idea. There are eleven commitments. The first commitment is to engage when present. This makes me think about 'open space technology' (OST) [3], with its law of two feet."

Allison: "What about the 'butterflies and bumble bees' [4] in OST, they don't engage in the discussions?"

Yves: "Good question, it is still in sync for me because butterflies and bees make their behavior clear in an OST. Maybe they are not part of any discussion, but they still engage very well into the event. In bootcamp that is the same. Let's continue with the next part of the first commitment: know and disclose what I want, what I think, and what I feel."

"Would I use check-in to disclose what I feel?" Allison wondered.

Yves:" Exactly, that would be a good idea."

Allison: "and the 'disclose what I want part' is the personal alignment?"

Yves: "That's right".

Allison kept thinking out loud: "You said 'know' What if I don't know what I want, think, or feel?"

Yves: "When you don't know what you want/think or feel, that would be the right time to ask for help. My first bootcamp I learned asking for help when I thought I did not need help." Now Allison was confused: "Asking for help when you don't need help?"

Yves: "No, asking for help when I think I don't need help, or when I don't know on what I need help on. These conversations gave me some of the most interesting coach conversations I ever had. They helped me find what I wanted or felt. And that is exactly what the next part of this commitment is: always seek effective help."

Allison: "This first commitment seems like a complex commitment"

Yves:" I agree, this commitment has multiple parts that are grouped together. The commitment continues with to decline to offer and refuse to accept incoherent emotional transmissions. This is really a hard one. It basically says: behave as an adult, it is ok to have emotions, try to be aware of them and not say one thing and show something else. In bootcamp we don't accept passive aggressive behaviour. Although in theory I think everyone would agree with this, in reality it is very hard. And yes life is so much better when people are able to do this. A lot of this goes back to what Virginia Satir wrote in Peoplemaking [5], when she talks about nurturing families."

Allison: "If I remember well she says that only 4 out of 100 families are nurturing families."

Yves:" Yes I think that is what she wrote. In Bootcamp these teams seems to support each other like this. Part of this, is because the black hat's (instructors playing management) in Bootcamp are acting as perfect bosses [6]. While they ask for commitments and they ask for delivering upon those commitments, these bosses are showing coherent emotional behavior."

Allison: "Are you done with the first commitment?"

Yves: "No, being present is also about communicating your ideas. The commitment goes on: When I have or hear a better idea than the currently prevailing idea, I will immediately either 1) propose it for decisive acceptance or rejection, and/or 2) explicitly seek its improvement."

Allison: "If I'm getting that right, it means that I should not keep my ideas for myself, but immediately submit them to the team."

Yves: "Yes. The point is that an idea can't stay in someone's head: it should be immediately exposed, improved, accepted or rejected."

Allison: "We humans have a tendency to deal with our ideas in a different way than with other's."

Yves: "Yes. We tend to think our ideas are the best, or on the contrary, we tend to keep them for ourselves by fear of rejection. The point of the commitment here is that it's not important to know whose idea it is. Ideas should be exposed, improved, aggregated as fast as possible."

Allison: "That's not an easy commitment, I assume that Perfection game and decider are the protocols to use?"

Yves: "Yes, and now for the last part of the first commitment: I will personally support the best idea, regardless of its source."

Allison: "That sounds logical, although I can imagine it is hard to see a boss and a colleagues idea at the same level."

Yves: "That is a big reason why this commitment exists. I know of a bootcamp where a 9 year old girl came up with better ideas than her 50 year old colleague. If a group gets it, you get really great outcomes."

Allison almost whispered when she said: "What if I don't like the idea?"

Yves: "Aha, that depends: if you have a better idea you propose it, if you don't, you support the currently best idea."

Allison a little firmer: "what if I don't have a better idea and I hope I will have one later?"

Yves: "You support the current best idea!"

Allison: "And when later I have a better idea I should, immediately expose it for improvement and/or validation"

Yves "Exactly so. You have paid close attention to what I [1] said yesterday about decider."

Allison: "I loved what Mary Poppendieck added about the least responsible moment."

Yves: "The second commitment is I will seek to perceive more than I seek to be perceived."

Allison: "The two ears and only one mouth rule."

Yves: "Yes two ears and two eyes, again an easy one to understand and yet very hard to do."

Allison: "How do you do this as a coach?"

Yves: "I use a lot a technique I learned years ago as a trainer, asking questions."

Allison: "Isn't that manipulation?"

Yves: "It is if you only want to hear the answer you want to. When I start asking questions, I have no idea where we will end up."

Allison: "How do you know what is the right question to ask?"

Yves: "I don't."

Allison: "You don't?"

Yves: "No: I don't think the right question exist."

Allison: "So any question will do?"

Yves: "Aha, not that either. By listening to the people, really listening what they say, and observing to see when their body language is not in sync with what they say."

Allison: "At Agile 2010, Esther Derby [7] distributed "Right Questions" to change organisations. What do you think about that?"

Yves: "Actually Esther's cards say: "Are you asking the right questions?" She never actually says that her questions are the right one ;-) I would call it hard questions, questions that a lot of people try to avoid. At a deeper level, the cards also send the message that asking questions is better then telling people what to do."

Allison: "What's next?"

Yves: "The third commitment is: use teams."

Allison: "Isn't everybody doing this?"

Yves: "I guess everybody says this because it is the right thing to do. The core especially says this for hard parts, I add also for boring things. As with boring things we make a lot of mistakes."

The CEO in Allison worries about the financial aspect when she asks: "Is that really the most efficient way?"

Yves: "The most efficient way probably not, the most effective way, yes. As a coach, I pair up with other people. When I do this with internal people, I also make myself much quicker no longer necessary. Now I'm more effective and I leave earlier. "

Allison: "That is in the long run more interesting for my company. I agree the ROI will be better for that way of working."

Yves: "A text I wrote earlier for Methods & Tools, was written with fourteen different people. Although not an easy task, the result was a lot better then if I would have written it alone."

Yves: "The next commitment is: I will speak always and only when I believe it will improve the general results/effort ratio. I personally find this a very hard one."

Allison: "What part do you find hard, the always or the only part?"

Yves: "Aha, good catch; actually both. Once I am on a flow about a topic I care about, it is hard to stop talking. Although as a trainer I work most by asking questions, when I am not in a training, it's easy to fall in to the trap of talking too much. In other cases, I listen and wait too long before giving my idea. I do this as I trust a team they will figure it out themselves, it is also holding them back from a great idea. It's a fine line to walk on."

Yves: "The fifth commitment is I will offer and accept only rational, results-oriented behavior and communication."

Allison looked confused: "Please say more."

Yves: "The idea behind this commitment is that we want don't accept irrational behavior, not from ourselves and not from other people." "And does that work?" Allison asks genuinely interested.

Yves: "The funny thing is that it's much easier for me with booted people than with non-booted people. It's not so much they expect it, more that they behave more result-oriented. I have a harder time to stay rational when people behave dogma wise: 'it was always like that ...'"

Allison: "Will you give an example of that?"

Yves: "Yes, I will. Recently in France we wanted to buy lots of stuff in a large grocery store. As the store was out of shopping carts, we used a few plastic baskets to gather our food. When we came at the cashier, she treated us as criminals because we wanted to use them to move our food to the car. I can understand that this is normally not done. She could not understand that this was an exception and that considering we had a lot of stuff to buy and three tired kids we wanted to speed up the process."

Allison: "What happened?"

Yves: "I was ready to walk away. (Which would have been irrational because we would have lost a lot of time.) Luckily my wife stayed rational so we ended up our shopping. (And never went to that same store again ;-) )"

Quickly Allison replied: "Is that part rational?"

Yves: "Good question, I think it is, if people treat me bad, I stop interacting with them. And that brings us to the next commitment: I will disengage from less productive situations: when I cannot keep these commitments or when it is more important that I engage elsewhere."

Allison: "As in checkout?"

Yves: "Exactly."

Allison: "Will you give an example from more important to engage elsewhere?"

Yves: "A few years ago, I was doing a tryout of a game together with my father. Fifteen minutes before we started, I received a phone call from my wife Els. She was at home, she called me to tell me we lost our baby. I stayed where I was and tried to help out with the game. I can't remember anything from that evening. The participants did not notice anything as my father saved the day. I should have check out and went home. Yes Els had support from family, but that was not the right support, I had to be there. It's the biggest mistake I made in my life, and it learned me very well that staying in a place where I can not be productive is not helpful."

Allison: "I'm sorry to hear that."

Yves: Thank you. We are OK with loosing the baby, it's the not checking out that bothers me. The seventh commitment is: I will do now what must be done eventually and can effectively be done now."

Allison: "A kind of like the now habit? [8]"

Yves: "I have not read that book. Maybe one of the students that came up with this idea had read the book, I don't know. Although great ideas keep popping up, I don't think there is anything special about this one, we all know that if we can do something now, we should do it. The next commitment is actually the one that helps me with that: I will seek to move forward toward a particular goal, by biasing my behavior toward action."

Allison: "What does it mean?"

Yves: "Basically it says, prefer action over discussions. In the corporate world, we seem to prefer efficiency to effectiveness. Doing the things right instead of doing the right things. By doing so, we loose too much time into planning. I prefer to start doing stuff, by the time others have finished planning, I have already done half of the work. Using our velocity [9] in Scrum we can predict much better when we will be done after three iterations, then these people that are trying to created the perfect planning (and need the time of six iterations for it). I'm not sure which of the two I learned first, it does not really matter, for me they support each other."

Before Allison could say anything, Yves continued: "The ninth commitment is I will use the core protocols or better when applicable."

Allison: "Or better?"

Yves: "Yes, I really like that part. The creators realize that every idea has an end-of-life. By taking this commitment you don't limit yourself. You can switch to better ideas, which is of course reality. If this would not be in there, I would drop my commitment immediately when I find a better way. By adding this, you can combine the core with better ideas. The ninth commitment also has a sub commitment: I will offer and accept timely and proper use of the Protocol Check protocol without prejudice."

Allison: "Aha the famous protocol check."

Yves: "The tenth commitment is: I will neither harm - nor tolerate the harming of - anyone for his or her fidelity to these commitments. For me this is a reminder that yes I am committed to these protocols, and also others. We have the tendency to think that we are doing our best and others are not. Even if actually everybody think this, this commitment reminds me that people will do good and I should not harm them when they do use these commitment even if I don't agree with their idea's. And the very best commitment we hold for last: I will never do anything dumb on purpose."

Allison: "That sound silly, of course you will not."

Yves: "It's actually a lot harder as it seems. It's in sync with behave rational, and unfortunately in the corporate world not everybody behaves rational. Remember the movie War games. [10] In the end the computer stops the nuclear war game because he realizes that nobody can ever win this game. Knowing when to stop is part of don't do anything dumb on purpose."

Allison: "Wow this a quite a collection."

Yves: "Yes, before we continue with the last protocols I want to talk about a few idea's that Jim has launched, if that is ok with you."

Allison: "I'm all ears."

Yves: "The first one is don't flip the bozo bit [11]"

Allison: "What is bozo?"

Yves: "Bozo is a clown, although he is well known in the US, not so much outside. The idea of don't flip the bozo bit is that we should take everybody serious. It's not because somebody does something we find strange that we should consider him a clown. It reminds me of the Retrospective prime directive [12]. Whatever we do, we should always remember that people did the best they could with the info they had at the time."

Allison: "Taking everyone serious is hard."

Yves: "The next idea might help you realize why it is needed: Team == product."

Allison: "Team == product??"

Yves: "Are you familiar with Conway's law [13]?

Allison: "Yes, it mean that the systems that are designed look like the organisations that design them."

Yves: "Exactly. Jim McCarthy took that to a whole new level, he says that the problems you see in a product, you will also find in the team that created the product. And you can see this at multiple levels. As the product of a management team, is the development team. As a coach I use this like this: when I see a problem with a team or a product, I look if I see a similar problem at my level. If there is distrust in a team, I wonder why do I not trust this team? Although I can not change other people, I can change myself. By trying to look at myself, I also remove the blame part from conversations and thus avoid the bozo bit."

Yves: "A less known protocol (only used during Bootcamp) is the click protocol."

Allison: "Click?"

Yves: "Yes click. It allows you to pause a situation and to discuss with your colleagues what would be the best options. The way this works: you say click and the bosses/clients freeze for one minute. During that minute you have time to discuss with your colleagues what you want to do. After one minute the people unfreeze (or you can unfreeze yourself by saying unclick) Although invented for bootcamp to offer you a safe place to experiment with different answer to your bosses. I know some people have used it at work and at home. And if you already said something stupid, you can use click-rewind, which offers you the possibility to take back some of the things you said and to repeat things in a different way."

Allison: "I'm not sure that when someone says something bad to me if he click-rewinds what he said I would feel better."

Yves: "I had used it in bootcamps on me both as students and trainer and there it works. I have to admit I haven't used it yet at home."

Yves: "Let's move to more well known one, Intention Check, In the corporate world and in my personal world, I encounter situations where people get angry at other people, because they presume the other person wants to hurt them. In my work as an agile coach, I do root cause analyses of problems between people and teams. Some of these high tensions could be prevented if people would ask for the intention of the other side. Intention check is used for this."

Allison: "I'm not sure I understand, will you give me an example?"

Yves: "Great idea. Let's say a team is running an iteration retrospective, talking about the difficulties of the project and what can be improved."

Jane, who is the Product Owner of the team says: "We are at iteration #3 and yet we only have four stories done, which is half what we were planning. OK. I guess it's a diesel."

Everyone reacts to this last sentence. Then Chris asks her: "Jane, what is your intention by saying 'I guess it's a diesel' ?"

Jane pauses for a second, then says: "I want to alarm you guys about the fact that I was expecting the team to work faster after the first iteration, but it ain't so, and it looks like there's nothing to be done about it. I guess I convey it the wrong way, but I'm pretty worried right now."

Allison: "Should I see this as a special kind of protocol check?"

Yves:" Interesting question: if you see it as a kind of commitment check, then you would blame the other person. For me Intention check is really more an open question, to understand what the person really wants to say. Let me give you another example:

During a stand-up a developer says proud that he finished the superdupee gizmo admin website.

A tester responds that he already found a bug in the module.

The developer feels internally angry about the remark of the tester. He feels that the testers wants to make fun of him by telling it during the stand-up and not before. The developer asks the tester: what is your intention about waiting to tell me about the bug till the stand-up?

Before the tester can answer the question, the developer realizes that the question itself was asked with an intention. So he withdraws his question and says he intention checks his own question; His intention was to show that the tester wanted to ridicule him.

Allison: "He could have say click! Rewind!"

Yves: "Exactly! This last example shows you that you can (and should even) intention check yourself. That is not easy."

Allison: "I can see that."

Yves: "Another important protocol is the investigate protocol."

Allison: "Sound like CSI."

Yves: "No-no, not that kind of investigation. Act as if you were a fascinated inquirer, asking questions until your curiosity is satisfied. With CSI, the investigators have an agenda when asking questions, the idea is to not have an agenda here. To ask open questions. Questions like: What about X makes you Y Z? Would you explain a specific example? How does X go when it happens? What is the one thing you want most from solving X? What is the most important thing you could do right now to help you with X? The idea is to ask questions that will increase you or your partners understanding."

Allison: "Your partner?"

Yves: "Yes, because in the end you are helping him by doing an investigation. I'm no expert in Appreciative inquiry [14], students tell me investigate is very much in sync with this."

Allison: "Nice this means there are actually a lot of books available that can help with this."

Yves: "Yes, like I told you, the core protocols use idea's coming from everywhere."

Allison: "I start to understand this."

Yves: "If you do, then it's time to talk about the personal alignment"

Allison started smiling.

Yves: "Personal alignment is one of the core things in a bootcamp. We ask people to focus on what they really want."

Allison: "What they want in life or in work?"

Yves: "Both, although I am not talking about physical wants."

Allison raised her left eyebrow a little: "Will you give me an example of such a want?"

Yves: "I will in a moment, just bear with me for now. Imagine you want something and then ask yourself what is blocking me from having this."

Allison: "With blocking me, you mean internally?"

Yves: "That is right. A personal block is something you find within yourself. It does not refer to circumstances or other people. Now try to look for a virtue, that if you had that virtue, the lock would not blocking you."

Allison: "Would that not make the virtue my real want?"

Yves smiled: "You got it. You can do this exercise a few times, until you don't find anything that blocks you from having what you want. That is your (current) personal alignment. The most chosen alignments are: Integrity, Courage, Passion, Peace, Self-Awareness, Self-Care or Fun."

Allison: "You said this was both for work and personal, please say more."

Yves: "The idea is that what you need most, is needed at both places. You can't want integrity at work and fun at home."

Allison: "I agree that would sound strange. Why do we need personal alignment?"

Yves: "The idea is that if team members investigate each other on their personal alignment, they come into the shared vision state I talked about yesterday. Daniel Pink [15] talks about the fact that people are motivated by personal goals, I would add that teams goals motivate teams, and these team goals are derived from vision. Actually key elements to get into that share vision state, is check-in (to disclose what you feel.), decider (to make sure the team advances) and alignment."

Allison: "And that alignment is done by investigation of the current personal alignments?"

Yves: "You got it completely."

Allison: "Let's drink to that."

They finished their coffees and went to the conference hall and enjoyed the rest of the conference.






[5] 0285648721









[14] B001T0I4QW


Allison is a fictional person. This conversation is based on talks that Yves had at agile conferences over the last five years.

Yves asks one agile coaching question every day on . Questions are created by John McFayden, Dusan Kocurek, Martin Heider, John Gram, Deborah Preuss, Christopher Thibaut, George Dinwiddie, Diana Larsen, Ine De handschutter, Bob Marshall, Yves Hanoulle, you ?

This article was written with the help from Jim & Michele McCarthy, Paul Reeves, Christopher Thibaut, Adam Feuer, Esther Derby, Lillian Nijboer, Michael Sahota, A big kudo's to Emmanuel Gaillot who initiated the conversational style.

Yves gives free life time support on this article: send your questions to If you want more people to respond, you can connect to the CoreProtocols user group:

Related Methods & Tools articles

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The Core Protocols, an Experience Report - Part 1

Click here to view the complete list of Methods & Tools articles

This article was originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of Methods & Tools

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