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This week’s Software Process and Measurement Cast features three columns.  The first is our essay on learning styles.  Learning styles are useful to consider when you are trying to change the world or just and an organization.  While opposites might attract in poetry and sitcoms, however rarely do opposite learning styles work together well in teams without empathy and a dash of coaching. Therefore, the coach and teams need to have an inventory of learning styles on the team. Models and active evaluation against a model are tools to generate knowledge about teams so they can tune how they work to maximize effectiveness.

Our second column features Gene Hughson bringing the ideas from his wonderful Form Follows Function Blog.  Gene talks about the topic of microservices. Gene challenges the idea that microservices are a silver bullet.

We anchor this week’s SPaMCAST with Steve Tendon’s column discussing the TameFlow methodology and his great new book, Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance.   One of the topics Steve tackles this week is the idea of knowledge workers and why a knowledge worker is different.  The differences Steve describes are key to developing a hyper-productive environment.

Call to Action!

I have a challenge for the Software Process and Measurement Cast listeners for the next few weeks. I would like you to find one person that you think would like the podcast and introduce them to the cast. This might mean sending them the URL or teaching them how to download podcasts. If you like the podcast and think it is valuable they will be thankful to you for introducing them to the Software Process and Measurement Cast. Thank you in advance!

Re-Read Saturday News

Remember that the Re-Read Saturday of The Mythical Man-Month is in full swing.  This week we tackle the essay titled “The Second-System Effect”!  Check out the new installment at Software Process and Measurement Blog.

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September 13 – 18, 2015

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I will be speaking on the impact of cognitive biases on teams!  Let me know if you are attending! If you are still deciding on attending let me know because I have a discount code!


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The next Software Process and Measurement Cast features our interview with Allan Kelly.  We talked #NoProjects and having a focus of delivering a consistent flow of value.

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Every team member has a different learning style that has to be synced.

Every team member has a different learning style that has to be synced.

Another learning style model is built on four dimensions of learning styles. The dimensions of the Index of Learning Styles developed by Dr Richard Felder and Barbara Soloman are each described as a continuum.  Each continuum is bounded by opposite attributes of a learning style. An individual could map him or herself on each of the continuum to generate rich understand of their learning style. They are summarized below:


Mature teams generally are comprised of mix of learning styles. A mixture of styles can be complementary. For example, many IT groups I have worked with have at least one big picture person and several more linear learners.  What I generally do not see are individuals that sit at the extremes of any of the dichotomies. Individuals that sit at an extreme tend to be more difficult to draw into the group which impacts the ability to communicate and the ability of team members to trust each other.

One use of this type of model is to map teams.  For example, if we use the example used in Learning Styles and Communication Problems in a mapping exercise, I would judge the three personalities Lawyer (L), Talker (T) and Diagrammer (D) to fall as below:


The mapping exercise can be used to flag extremes that might cause trouble for the team. As noted in the example, the overall team was having issues staying focused when the Lawyer was presenting due to the sequential style being used. Using a mapping approach early in formation of the team can provide the coach with the impetuous for training exercises to sensitize the team to the disparate learning styles.

I suggest doing this exercise as a team when generating the team charter. The process I follow is:

  1. Place each of the descriptors on separate sticky notes and then place them on the wall so that all four continuums are visible.
  2. Review and discuss the meaning of each attribute.
  3. Have each team member mark where they believe they fall on each of the attribute continuums
  4. Discuss how the team can use the information to more effectively communicate.

Opposites might attract in poetry and sitcoms, however rarely do opposite learning styles work together well in teams without empathy and a dash of coaching. Therefore coach and teams need to have an inventory of learning styles on the team. Models and active evaluation against a model are tools to generate knowledge about teams so they can tune how they work to maximize effectiveness.

Include differences (learning styles, that is)

Include differences (learning styles, that is)

The team that completes a project will be different from the one that began the project. Each person on the team will have a range of individual experiences, and presumably, they will learn from these experiences. A mismatch of learning styles can result in communication problems. Communication problems act as a filter for what each individual learns by blocking or altering what the learner perceives.

Learning styles reflect an individual’s preference for how they learn. In many cases individuals mirror their own learning style when they share with others. Most, if not all, teams I have been associated with over my career have been comprised of individuals with different learning styles. This means that to effectively communicate and transmit knowledge, each team member must understand the learning styles of their team members (this is another reason why stable teams generally have higher levels of performance).

An example of the impact when team members do not understand each other’s learning style can be seen in a team I recently observed.  The team is a relatively new team and is distributed, with most interactions occurring via teleconference. Most team members have not had time to adjust to each other’s learning style; therefore members use their own learning patterns as a default when interacting. For example, one team member follows the logical/Lawyer learning style. When presenting information they build a case – fact by fact – in great detail. No one else on the team leverages this as their primary learning style. The great level of detail and the slow (but relentless) build to the conclusion leads to frustration and disengagement. On the same team, another member is verbal learner/Talker.  This person needs learns by hearing, and in many cases, by vocalizing each point.  This person presents information in the same manner as they learn, talking it through (with lots of Keynote slides … with no pictures). In both cases because the members are not aware of the learning styles of other team members communication is inefficient (and my observation is that it can be ineffective).

Teams that are centrally located generally recognize learning style mismatches based on visual and empathetic feedback and can self-correct (assuming that team members actually pay attention when they get together). Distributed teams generally need to take a more active approach to learning each other’s preferences. I recommend the following approach which can be used as a team-building exercise or as a retrospective exercise:

  1. Before the exercise, create a couple of canned scenarios.  For example:
    1. Scenario One:  Pass status information about a trouble task, including a plea for help.
    2. Scenario Two:  Build consensus for a design decision.
  2. Have each team member identify their primary and secondary learning style.
  3. Share these styles with the team.
  4. Once all team members have shared their style, have each team member select a method that is not their primary or secondary style and have them convey the information needed in complete each scenario. (Allow 5 minutes for preparation).

The goal of exposing the team to other types of learning styles is to push each person outside their comfort zone.  This serves multiple purposes. First, the process helps to build empathy. The process also reinforces the awareness that, on a diverse team, all messages need to be shared in a variety of ways so that multiple learning styles can easily absorb the information.  Finally, by learning and becoming sensitive to other learning styles, individual team members will expand their ability to recognize nuances in communications that lay outside their normal learning style. This will ultimately increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the team.

Proceed with caution!

Proceed with caution!

A team is a collection of individuals. This fact is important to remember because how each individual consumes and synthesizes information is as varied as the number of team members. However there is a finite set of learning styles to take into account. Learning styles not only impact how individuals absorb and remember information, but how they share information with others. While there are several models of learning styles, I have found the seven learning styles to be useful with multicultural IT teams.  Here is my interpretation of the seven learning styles:

Visual – The Diagramer absorbs information from pictures.  This is the person that builds diagrams or draws pictures to understand a concept. Adherents of mind maps tend to fall into this category. Walk around your department and look at how the whiteboards are being used. In a meeting the person that jumps up and starts drawing when they begin to explain a concept is generally a visual learner.

Aural – The Musician needs to hear the information they are processing. Pitch, pace and rhythm tend to important components in how this type of learner processes information. When the aural learner talks about concepts, they often combine sound references into the descriptions. For example, when attorney Johnny Cochran famously intoned “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit” he was evoking aural techniques that helped make the point sticky.

Verbal – The Talker needs to talk though the content they are trying to absorb. In many cases the dialog can occur internally. For example, I tend to game plan certain meeting scenarios beforehand by running sample conversations through my mind so I can anticipate how they will sound.

Physical – The Builder builds models as a means of understanding of a concept. Experimentation is a form of physical learning you often find in an IT department. Physical learners build something that is tangible so they can develop knowledge.  If the learners we were discussing were rocket scientists they might build model rockets rather than drawing pictures of rockets.  If we talking about programmers we would expect them to create executable code rather than models or diagrams. True prototypes (throwaway proof of concepts) are means of hands-on learning. Physical learners in non-physical situations will use tactile words to describe concepts. I recently talked to a database modeler that described the model symmetry of the model he was working on.

Logical – The lawyer builds knowledge by assembling facts and assertions into logical arguments that can be evaluated. The process that the Lawyer follows tends to build very solid bases of knowledge that are hard to challenge and disrupt.  Logical learners, because they tend to move from point to point, find it more difficult to make large jumps that do not follow from point to point. To paraphrase Socrates: All programmers are human, Joe is a programmer, therefore Joe is human.

Social – The Grouper prefers learning in group settings. The critical component for the social learner is other people.  The interaction with others is an important part of processing. Interaction in groups includes verbal and non-verbal communication and emotional support. Do you remember the person when you were at University that always organized the group study sessions? They probably fell into this category.

Solitary – The Introvert learns best by themselves.  This is the type of person that takes the book home over the weekend and just figures it out.

Learning styles are not mutually exclusive.  Each person usually has a predominate style and one or more secondary styles. I tend to the visual, but often augment pictures with physical experiments (whether writing code or brewing beer). The individuals that make up a team will have a mixture of learning styles. Each person’s learning style influences not only how they acquire knowledge, but also how they store and retrieve knowledge.  For example, music or sounds are a tool for aural learners to gather information and then retrieve it.  Many of us have used mnemonics to memorize facts. When I was young I learned to play the piano.  When I was learning to read music, my teacher taught me the mnemonic “every good boy does fine.” These are the notes on the treble cleft.  Teams need to work together to accommodate and validate different learning styles. When team members are not aware of how others on the team learn they can often talk past one anther, which could reduce knowledge-transfer effectiveness.