J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

September, 2007

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Use the Six Thinking Hats

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    How do you get past deadlocks in a meeting?  You can apply the Six Thinking Hats.  I've blogged about the Six Thinking Hats before, but to summarize, it's a way to get everybody thinking about the problem in a collaborative way. 

    The Keys to The Six Thinking Hats
    The real key here is that rather than circular or deadlock debates, you focus the group on a particular viewpoint at a time.  This is a similar to writing, then editing vs. editing while your write, or brainstorming, then critiquing vs. critiquing while you brainstorm.  The big difference is that rather than just brainstorming and critiquing, you're looking at the issue from multiple, specific angles.  On the people side of this technique, you're letting people wear a different "hat", in a safe, constructive way.

    Applying the Six Thinking Hats 
    The approach below is lightweight and low-overhead, but gets you 80% there without requiring everybody to know the details of the Six Thinking Hats.

    Summary of Steps

    • Step 1.  List the questions that represent the hats
    • Step 2.  Walkthrough each question as a team
    • Step 3.  Modify the approach

    Step 1.  List the questions that represent the hats
    List a set of questions on the whiteboard to represent the hats.  You can do this either at the start of the meeting or when you hit a sticking spot.
    Here's the Six Thinking Hats:

    • White Hat - the facts and figures
    • Red Hat - the emotional view
    • Black Hat - the "devil's advocate"
    • Yellow Hat - the positive side
    • Green Hat - the creative side
    • Blue Hat - the organizing view

    Here's an example set of questions you can use to represent the hats:

    • What are the facts and figures?
    • What's your gut reaction?  How do you feel about this?
    • Why can't we do this?  What prevents us?  What's the downside?
    • How can we do this?
    • What are additional opportunities?
    • How should we think about this? (what are the metaphors or mental models)

    The sequence of the questions can matter.  For example, it wouldn't make sense to start thinking up solutions before you've focused on the problem.

    Step 2.  Walkthrough each question as a team
    Walkthrough each question as a team.  This is the key.  Rather than debating each other, you're now collaborating.  You'll be surprised when suddenly your team's "Devil's Advocate" is now showing off their ability to dream up wild solutions that just might work!

    Step 3.  Modify the approach.
    If it's not working, change the approach.  For example, you might find that you started with the wrong "hat" or question.  See if switching to another question or hat makes a difference.  The key is to keep this lightweight but effective.

    This isn't a heavy handed approach.  Instead, it's a subtle shift in stratey from free-for all debate to focusing and coordinating your team's thinking power in a deliberate way.  This lets everybody get heard as well as really bang on a problem from multiple angles in a teamwork soft of way.

    More Information

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Be a Leader in Your Field

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    How to be a leader in your field?  Dragos shared a link to How to Be a Leader, which I found interesting.  In the article,  Philip E. Agre presents a six step recipe for becoming a leader in your field:

    1. Pick an issue.
    2. Having chosen your issue, start a project to study it.
    3. Find relevant people and talk to them.
    4. Pull together what you've heard.
    5. Circulate the result.
    6. Build on your work.

    I think the takeaway was that to be a leader in the field, you help move the ball forward.  In step 1, Philip gives an A-Z list of how to pick which ball to move forward. 

    Another part of the article caught my attention.  Philip writes:

    "To succeed in your career, you need more than the skills that you got in school -- you need to be the world expert in something. Knowledge is global, it's growing exponentially, and nobody can pack all of the necessary knowledge into their head. So everyone's going to specialize."

    I think there's a lot to be said for focus and specialization.  The trick is picking what to specialize in.  Personally, I like to specialize in skills that compound over time versus flavor of the day.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How Might That Be True?

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    It's obvious in retrospect, but I found a distinction between low-friction communication and high-friction communication.  By low-friction, I mean *person A* doesn't have to work that hard for *person B* to get a point.

    I find low friction scenarios are often cases where *person B* starts with the mind-set "how might that be true" and they help *person A* tease out, or make their point.  The starting point is collaboration -- two people working to understand the message.  I find high-friction scenarios are often cases where *person B* starts with the mind-set "let me tell you how you're wrong." 

    It's really easy among a bunch of engineers to rip ideas apart.  The trick I found is to first ask, "how might that be true?"  This gets over the potential hump that maybe while the delivery was off, there was merit in the message (or a concept needs help to be teased out) and it certainly builds more rapport than starting off as a devil's advocate.

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    Scenario Frames for Team Foundation Server

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    Our Scenario Frames for Team Foundation Server are available on CodePlex.  We have Scenario Frames for the following:

    We use scenario frames for several things:

    1. Mapping out the problem space
    2. Performing scenario evaluations to evaluate platform, tools, and guidance
    3. Designing products
    4. Scoping work

    The real power of a scenario frame is that's it's a shared frame of reference.  Personally, because I've seen so much benefit from scenario frames time and again, I couldn't imagine doing guidance or building a product without using scenario frames.

    My Related Posts

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Mark Curphey Joins Microsoft

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    Well, it's official ... Software security is in for a ride! -- Mark Curphey joins Microsoft.   Mark already brings a ton to the table in terms of ideas, network, and results.  At Micrsoft, he'll crank it up.  Congrats Mark and I look forward to our future adventures!

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