No More “Gifts & Greats”

May 21, 2009

presentEsther Derby has a wonderful post about the “Praise Sandwich” that critiques the compliment-defect-compliment model of feedback. That reminded me of another feedback technique: “Gifts and Greats”. They’ve been very popular in the Agile community for a while (I can’t recall where they came from). Just to be perfectly clear: I hate them. The technique is really quite simple:

  1. Start with the gift: some feedback that highlights a weakness or area for improvement. Preferably something painful that only one “who really cares” would share.
  2. Attempt to soften the blow with some sort of observation of a strength of yours.

It’s sort of a one-two punch. Usually I’m left reeling from the first punch and never even hear the compliment that follows. For a while I thought I just didn’t handle feedback well. That may be true, but I’m coming to realize that not only does this “Gifts and Greats” technique not work for me – it probably doesn’t work well for some other people too. In fact, in my opinion it is downright counter productive for some of us.

I want to own up to the fact that this technique doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it works well for others – otherwise I imagine it wouldn’t be so popular. My own consideration of this sort of feedback suggests that the feedback mechanism needs to be tailored to the audience. As much as I dislike the sandwich approach, there may be appropriate times to use it (I’m having trouble coming up with a good example though). The same may apply to “Gifts and Greats”. Perhaps in the right context they work well. What ever the context, use them with care.

For now, no gifts for me please.

Appreciative Impediments?

May 11, 2009


So I just finished reading the “Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry” and I have to say that I’m still trying to figure it all out. One thing that the book makes clear is that focusing on problems can be a very negative pursuit. This resonated for me because some of the feedback I had received regarding my “Impediment Hunting” presentation had been along the lines of, “This is kind of negative material.”
Now honestly, that feedback had caught me by surprise. I didn’t really see looking for impediments as something that was really positive or negative. Obviously some people do though. And after reading about Appreciative Inquiry, I started to think about the negative character of impediments more and more. Now I’m not sure that finding impediments has to be a purely negative pursuit – but it raised an intriguing idea – What if instead of asking the traditional three questions in scrum:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • Any Impediments blocking my progress?

instead we could turn the three questions on their head this way:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • What one thing helped accelerate my progress yesterday?

It’s a fun idea. I’m going to have to give it a try. It would be fun to collect a list of all of my “accelerators” rather than all of my blocking issues. That’s a list I would want to share with others!

I’ll be speaking at Agile Roots 2009!

May 5, 2009


I’ll be giving a tutorial, “Impediment Hunting” at Agile Roots 2009! This is a fantastic tutorial and I’m really excited to have been selected as a presenter for this conference. They have done a great job lining up some terrific speakers for this conference – hey, they got me, right? But in all seriousness, I’m really looking forward to seeing this group of speakers in action.