“It’s not that when we see each other in person that you see a completely different person. You’re seeing the person which you’ve been interacting with already and who you’ve been working with and building a great product. Though I have to say, Luis was taller than I expected!”
In December 2013, Ben Linders and Luis Gonçalves, published a book together called Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives – A Toolbox of Retrospective exercises. They wrote the book together… remotely!
Ben Linders is a Lean/Agile Consultant based in Tilburg, Netherlands. Luis Gonçalves is an Agile coach, Portuguese, and currently living in Munich, Germany. Both are passionate about continuous organizational improvement, and adopting Agile and Lean to get more value out of it.
They discovered each other via their blogs BenLinders.com and lmsgoncalves.com. Luis was writing about exercises for Agile retrospectives, and Ben started commenting. Their mutual interest and extensive material sparked a conversation that resulted in the book. They collaborated with and were supported by InfoQ, who also published their book as a mini book.
Ben and Luis mainly used Leanpub to write their book, together with a little use of Google Docs. Leanpub uses Dropbox to store the manuscript, book preview, and publications.
Ben and Luis both work full-time, so it was difficult to synchronize schedules. One of the main benefits of this remote working situation was that each person could work independently and at their own pace and energy levels, using asynchronous communication (email and Trello) most of the time and then going to synchronous communication (Skype) as needed.
They would usually schedule the Skype call and make a list of issues in advance. Or, they would make a Google Doc prepared with issues needing to be resolved and then updated the Doc during the call.s.
This flexibility enabled them to write their book in under one year, something they can both be very proud of.
Ben and Luis didn’t just want to produce a book, they wanted to build a community of people who cared about the same issues they did. And of course, all of this community building is also done remotely.
When they first started, they weren’t sure how much of their ideas and text they should share with their audience. But as they went along, they learned that the more they shared, the more people got involved, and the more they learned.
They started by asking people in their networks to review the book and provide feedback. A lot of people shared their stories and experiences, often inspiring more content for the book.
As inspiring as a community can be, it’s important to acknowledge that sharing ideas can be a scary process, especially in the development phase. Ben and Luis had about 45 people reviewing early versions of the book and some of the feedback was very critical. But as vulnerable as it feels, their attitude was “If something is really wrong with an idea, they would like to know as early as possible”.
For the most part, communication between Ben and Luis was pretty smooth and easy. They attribute this smoothness to the fact that they are both aligned around the same values.
Because much of their communication was asynchronous, they made a rule for themselves that when there were too many outstanding topics going back and forth via email, or if something wasn’t working, they would schedule a Skype call and discuss things eface-to-eface.
One thing they learned was to trust and respect that the other person will do great things even if they are doing things differently than you would. Ben and Luis would first discuss who would do what work (one person would usually be more suited to something than the other), and over time, they figured out how to complement each other.
They first met in person a couple of months after the book was published. It didn’t change much between them. On the contrary. The in-person meeting was a reaffirmation that they indeed had a great connection, and they immediately started strategizing on what the next steps of the project would be.
Trust and discipline are key aspects with working remotely.
Building trust remotely is very difficult. It’s easier when people get to know each other in person first. But either way, that basic level of shared values and trust has to be there in order for remote working to work. Ben and Luis started by choosing to trust each other based on their mutual desire to publish a book about Agile retrospectives. They shared what they had, and something was unclear, the simply asked each other.
Discipline is also important because nobody is telling you what to do. You need to do the things that you’ve agreed upon and probably do some extra things that you haven’t agreed on. And sometimes, it takes discipline to say “No, I’m not going to do it.”
Another challenge of working remotely is that there’s so much that you can do. If you’re not careful, you can end up working all the time. Part of the discipline is recognizing the times when you need to stop, relax, and take time to do other things.
Ben and Luis have around 60 volunteers translating their book in 10 different languages. It provides a unique experience to work together on a distributed, self-organized agile team. One thing to note is that time zones are always an issue when you work with teams all over the world.
Surprises, tips and lessons learned
Start small and keep building on top of that. For Ben and Luis’s book, 90% of the content came from blog posts they had already written. They said that it was a powerful way to think about the content, find out what’s missing, and get feedback. The whole thing becomes one conversation that just keeps amplifying and iterating using different mediums and channels.
Watch the full interview
Lisette Sutherland: Welcome to this Hangout interview. My name is Lisette Sutherland and I’m co-hosting this interview today with Elinor Slomba.
Elinor Slomba: Hello! Glad to be here.
Lisette Sutherland: And we’re excited to be interviewing Ben Linders and Luis Goncalves, who last December wrote a book together called Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives – A Toolbox of Retrospective exercises but it’s not the actual book that we’re going to be talking about today. Of course that will come up but rather the interesting part is how they wrote the book together, which is they wrote it together remotely. So Ben and Luis, very excited to be talking with you today and why don’t we start by having you give a round of introduction. So Luis, how about we start with you and then we move to Ben.
Luis Goncalves: Okay, so first of all thanks for inviting us for this call. It’s really, really cool to be here. My name Luis Goncalves, I’m an Agile coach, Portuguese, currently living in Munich and I had the pleasure to meet Ben, literally a couple of years ago and that’s how we come about together but basically I’m an Agile coach and I’m trying to help teams to get better and organizations to get better.
Lisette Sutherland: And did you say where you were located? Are you based…
Luis Goncalves: I’m based in Munich. I’m Portuguese but based in Munich.
Lisette Sutherland: Okay, and Ben, how about you?
Ben Linders: Ben Linders, based in Tilburg in Netherlands, working as a consultant in the area of Agile, Lean, quality and process improvement, which is quite diverse but a lot of things are tied together if you look at scaling Agile in all organizations and it also becomes interesting to look at the total set of processes and look at the way that lean can connect your complete delivery cycles from the beginning to the end.
Lisette Sutherland: I’ll have questions about how you both got involved with Agile and Lean and this whole world but I want to first introduce your book project and I want to learn how did that start and how did you find each other?
Ben Linders: Well I think we basically discovered each other, I think it was at Luis’ blog who was writing some exercises about how to do Agile retrospectives in there and I was also writing various blogs, articles about retrospectives and reacting on Luis’ blog and that’s where he suggested he wanted to do more about this and I was thinking about writing something like a book on that. I think that’s all how it all started, Luis?
Luis Goncalves: Yeah, that’s correct. It was, if I’m not mistaken it was March, not last year, when basically Ben somehow found out my blog and then we started to interact with each other and then had a call with me and invited me for this project but yes it was because of my blog and because we were blogging about the same topics. We had the same interest and that’s how everything started.
Lisette Sutherland: And Ben, how did you find Luis’ blog?
Ben Linders: Well basically I’ve been looking around for a lot of information about Agile retrospectives. I see this is one of the main techniques in Agile and Lean software development, to continuously improve yourself and improve your way of working in there. I look for exercise, I look for people who are blogging on that and I found some of the blogs on Luis’ website and started reacting on that and that’s how we’ve gone to a discussion.
Lisette Sutherland: And you’re already going to write a book together, you’re already going to write a book? I mean that was an idea on your head already?
Ben Linders: Well actually it wasn’t really an idea that I had at that point in time. I was writing some blogs and getting reactions on that and wasn’t really thinking about putting it into a book and then Luis suggested on the blog “I want to do more with this. Just having the blog there is one thing but maybe there’s something that we can do for the people by turning it into a small book that people can use to, to do retrospectives and book on exercises” and then I started thinking “yeah that’s interesting because there are some good books on retrospectives and there are a couple of websites who have exercise on them but there’s no book yet, which is really focusing on retrospective exercises and looking at people who’ll be facilitating retrospectives to have some exercises to do them.
Lisette Sutherland: And Elinor, I know you had a question in mind.
Elinor Slomba: Well I was going to say it sounds familiar how they found each other online and explored similar ideas that grew into writing a book and I wondered as you bounced off of each other’s blogs with comments, was there a particular angle kernel of an idea that you thought particularly needed to be expanded?
Luis Goncalves: If I understood correctly, you are asking if basically we decided somehow in exploring more what we had on the blog or?
Elinor Slomba: Yeah, you said you had similar ideas and I’m wondering, was there a particular framework or angle that you were coming at on to the topic that lead you to connect.
Luis Goncalves: Actually no. It was a super relax way, so basically we really just focused on the topic about retrospectives so I was doing a lot of exercises, practical stuff, not much theory and the only thing that came out of this basically when Ben called me. It was more “let’s summarize it on a book. It’s a book more or less. Just focus on the practical part.” So maybe this is something that you are looking for with your question. Within the retrospective, we just focused on the exercises parts because there are a lot of good books, fantastic work explaining all the parts but we do not want to focus on that. We really wanted to create a toolbox that actually people could come and take.
Elinor Slomba: So the practice came first, not the theory.
Luis Goncalves: Yes, yes, yes. Actually we don’t have so much theory in the book, actually. It’s much, much more practical stuff.
Ben Linders: There are some great theoretical books already. You should look at the books from Esther Derby and Diana Larsen, also from Norm Kerth. There are great stuff in there on the theory behind retrospectives, what you can do in the organization to establish means to do them. We didn’t want to go into that. That’s some great stuff already. We wanted to go into the practical exercises that people could do in their organization.
Elinor Slomba: Great niche, thank you. Back to you Lisette.
Lisette Sutherland: Well my question is so now you’ve found each other, you’ve decided that you like the same topics and that you’re passionate about the same things, how did you start? What was the first real work session like?
Ben Linders: Thinking to go back to what the real work session was and probably one of the reason that I have a difficulty getting back is it didn’t really feel like work, so that might be a problem already. I think initially we started off saying that we have a lot of stuff already because we wrote a couple of blogs on different retrospective exercises so I think the first idea we had is we have that blog, let’s turn them into a book and start working on that and then build a framework around that and converting those blogs and making them into chapters for the book didn’t turn out to be that easy as we initially expected it to be. Writing a book is different than writing a blog. That’s something which we can’t clear quite quickly.
Lisette Sutherland: What did you use to consolidate your knowledge? Was it an article doc or a wiki? How did you do that?
Luis Goncalves: We used Lean Pub. It’s a really good way and really easy way to share stuff with each other and then we used a bit of Google Docs but not that much. We heavily use email to communicate with each other and we were aligning a lot through email and then we had more topics that we understood. In half an hour Skype call, we consult much more than 300 emails so let’s just book a Skype call and align ourselves but the book, it was not difficult to align because Ben had different blogs, I have different blogs so even if it was a super connected book, we can somehow could work quite separately on our own topics and then it was more a question of putting everything together and then reshape everything and that was really the difficult part but during the construction, I’d say we were a little bit independent and just Lean pub it would be enough because we could get the chances what the other was doing. We needed to know that something was happening.
Ben Linders: The surprising thing in there is also how the different things that we’re doing, we used it together. We both had exercises, which we brought into the book and there was an awful lot on there. Actually, they just made a more complete set of exercises, bringing them together. And looking at the surrounding chapters, I think, except for 1 or 2 chapters, if you wanted to have in the book, we already had some stuff on that but still we need to do a lot of rework to really get it into a good quality for the book. It was the matter of bringing the ideas together and saying “this is the framework and we can work from here.”
Lisette Sutherland: One question then about that. So then the benefits, it sounds like, was that you could work completely differently, independently, put information together whenever you each had time and then hook up when you needed to. Asynchronous communication most of the time and then going to synchronous communication as needed. What were some of the other benefits that you found that working remotely brought you, maybe some of the less obvious ones or maybe the obvious ones?
Ben Linders: I think you mentioned some of the main benefits already, that you could be working at your own time and your pace in there. Although we had a lot of occasions where we interacted quite greatly with each other and really exchanged some emails or work on some stuff together. We reacted on each other’s things within a couple of minutes. Sometimes either that or just one or two days and then we hook up again at work or stuff in there. I think it’s…main benefit for me was working at your own phase and working at things where you felt that you the energy and that you really wanted to work upon. It felt quite naturally to do the thing like that.
Luis Goncalves: Yeah I agree and because I don’t have my own company so I work for my employer. He get to use a lot of the time after work to do it or weekends or take some holidays or whatever. It was really important that we could work independently because my time schedule would work for me but not match Ben’s time schedule so we get to be working at different phase, that’s for sure.
Lisette Sutherland: About how long did it take to write the book from start to finish? How long was this process?
Luis Goncalves: I got the phone call in March, I guess, February, March, from Ben.
Ben Linders: I think it was February. I think we connected end of January.
Luis Goncalves: Okay, so February let’s say; February and then the book was published in December.
Lisette Sutherland: That’s fast.
Luis Goncalves: It was really fast. It was difficult like Ben said but I was so positively proud how fast it was because even if it’s not a big book, it’s still quite a lot of work and to be honest, between March and July, we did not work so much on it. It advanced quite a lot in summer, summer the book advanced really, really fast. Until summer, we were kind of “let it go, let it go” and then we just pick it up and be finishing it quite firstly, how funny, as I say.
Ben Linders: Yeah I think it’s something like that. What we did in autumn mostly also was having the book reviewed. One of the things that we want to do was not just producing the book. We also wanted to get a lot of people involved in there and start building a community around the book already. We started to involve people from my networks and the book, asking them as reviewer for the book and reflect on that. We got a lot of people who did that actually. On the one hand, that gave us a lot of work to really look at the comments that we got back from them but I think it significantly improved the quality of the book.
Luis Goncalves: I agree, quality went up quite a lot.
Lisette Sutherland: And also building that part of the marketing process. I know that at Happy Melly Express we advice all authors to start right away as soon as you really have the concept and the beginning of the book down, start building the community of people – the beta readers, the people that will help you champion the book.
Luis Goncalves: I’m doing already that for my second book and it really, really helps you because you write the first or the second chapter and you are already getting a lot of feedback. It really helps you, that’s true.
Elinor Slomba: In what format do you solicit feedback and communication in? How do you facilitate that community building remotely?
Luis Goncalves: That’s something that we must improve in the future because we typically use newsletters, more or less mailing list and sending out message to people that we actually did not really put them altogether, let’s say, so it was more like me and Ben talking with the community or with the people but they actually were not interacting so much together so it was like one single channel, let’s say.
Ben Linders: Yeah I think with the mailing list is true. We’ve been interacting also a lot on Twitter.
Luis Goncalves: Yeah that’s true.
Ben Linders: What I’ve actually have seen, there’s a lot of people who are just putting tweets out there with their experience with retrospective, how they’ve been doing it or what they’re getting out of it or the trouble they have doing retrospectives in their organization. Usually you react on that, you go into a conversation, then you can get a lot of it going already. We start about setting up some community but there are some great communities already around retrospectives like there’s a retrospective Yahoo group and there’s a LinkedIn group on retrospective already. We didn’t really want to build up another community unless we really saw that it would add something in there and I’m a bit reluctant of setting new community but rather be involved in existing communities which are there already, which are very good.
Elinor Slomba: Fair enough, great.
Lisette Sutherland: It sounds like there’s a lot of benefits for your particular situation. Luis, you have a full time job and so you need to focus on that during the day and being able to work whenever you want is very useful but what were some of the challenges that you face? Any communication trouble or things that came up with the remote working or was it just smooth sailing the whole way?
Luis Goncalves: To be honest with you, I was extremely surprised in the way that…sometimes, yes of course the communication by email was not flowing so well but then again that’s what I said, we just book a Skype call and we immediately, in half an hour chat we would solve all the things that were pending but I was extremely positive and surprised because I cannot really remember one single problem that we had. It was super, super smooth. I don’t know what happened. It’s cool because we understand each other quite okay so every time we have a problem, we explain our problems to the other and there’s a big understanding and when I don’t agree with something with Ben, I explain my point of view, he understands and then he takes my opinion then vice versa. I think it was extremely, extremely smooth how everything went. I cannot really tell you there’s some big problem that we had because I don’t recall.
Ben Linders: I think one of the reason for that is I think if we go a little bit lower, that the values that we see behind retrospective, with all the values we see about sharing knowledge, getting people involved in there, and respecting people’s knowledge, not only from that but also from other people who’ve been doing retrospective. If you’re on the same values, then the things within communication and collaboration will go much smoother and I think that’s been the situation. We didn’t know that when we started this. We just started working on this and starting exploring and writing together but I think along the way we found out that we share the same values in there and that’s what makes things go very smooth.
Lisette Sutherland: So a few words, to give some advice to others who wanted to work remotely, what would you tell them in terms of what it takes, what does it take to work remotely? I’m sure Ben, you’ve talked that there’s an element of trust that’s needed and there’s some discipline that’s needed. Maybe we can talk about what you think it takes for others because I think not everybody is suited for this kind of work.
Ben Linders: I think that’s true. What you mentioned, trust and discipline, are important aspects in there. It’s discipline to do the things because there’s nobody there telling you what to do or what not to do. I think you need to be disciplined to take up things in there and do the things that you’ve agreed upon and also take up things that you haven’t agreed upon. By the way, it also takes discipline sometimes to say “no, I’m not going to do it.” One of the risk I think of working remotely is that there’s so much that you can do and there’s times that you can do it but also sometimes you just need to stop and relax and don’t worry about it and take time to do other things because otherwise you’re working 24/7 and I think that’s not a good situation on there.
I think an important thing in there is also respect, which I believe it’s more towards respect that the other person is also doing great things in there and it might be different from the way that you’re doing it but just see how things go and instead of saying “okay, I want to do it that way to see how things work out” and most of the time it works out great. That’s my experience at least.
Lisette Sutherland: I’m smiling because Elinor and I also have this issue. We have very complimentary skills but we do things in very different ways. And so it’s been fascinating to start diving into our projects and be like “I would have never done it that way” and then I have this defensive response like “but we can’t do it that way” and then Elinor comes up with “well, but if you look at it from this perspective” and I’m thinking “oh yeah, okay, okay.” It takes some messaging back and forth, I think.
Elinor Slomba: The natural ways that we map things in our minds might be quite different but through the communication, whole different pathways unfold that are leading in the right directions.
Lisette Sutherland: Sounds like you guys had exactly that same experience.
Ben Linders: Yeah, I think that’s true. There’s different ways to doing things. Sometimes we recognize the situation and then we have a quick talk, then we say “maybe it’s best that I should deal with it or Luis should deal with it.” Given the situation and given how we would deal with such a situation, then one person might be more suited to do it than the other person in there but usually it works out fine and it’s nice to see different ways of becoming complimentary in that.
Lisette Sutherland: One thing that I’m learning and I don’t know if this is true, maybe it’s a male-female thing, I’m not sure, but one thing I’m learning is that when there’s frustration, I’m not going to write it in email or text message. In the future, any sort of frustration, I’m going to do it face to face, whether it’s video or not. I don’t know if that’s something that you’ve discovered too but it seems like any time there’s frustrations, better to talk it out and not email it out.
Luis Goncalves: Be sure not to do it when you’re frustrated, otherwise it might have that impact, in a way that if you’re really upset and if you do it, you should let it go for some time and then you act on it.
Ben Linders: I think the only thing you can do with email or with a text message at least, signal it that there’s an issue there but you should try to hang on that way.
Elinor Slomba: That’s what we found, is that sometimes you can just say “there’s an issue” and flag it and not necessarily have to sort it out. The flagging and the sorting are two different steps.
Ben Linders: Exactly.
Lisette Sutherland: You spoke about using Lean pub for some of the tools. Where there things that you tried using that didn’t work, tool-wise?
Luis Goncalves: One thing that we discussed already is we can actually, when I was in Amsterdam, was the fact that one huge limitation from Lean pub is you do not have great access to your readers because basically when they buy the book, you cannot get email from them. In the future, you cannot get access to those guys. Of course, you can always send an email because as an author you can send an email to all the people that bought the book but it’s completely different to send an email to a Lean pub then having those guys on your mailing list, on your personal mailing list, on your book mailing list so that you can pitch them really nicely with your mailing list for the month and so on and so on. This for me is one of the huge things that Lean pub does not help with. You can reach the people but you cannot get them back later on.
Ben Linders: You definitely really get interaction with them, yeah.
Elinor Slomba: As you go through the process of community building before, during and after the publishing of the book, that after piece is a little problematic with Lean pub, you’re saying.
Luis Goncalves: Yeah, I would say so.
Lisette Sutherland: Yeah I can imagine. These is your audience. These are people who are genuinely interested enough to give you money for this book. These are exactly the people you want to be contacting. That’s important. How did you deal with it or is it just one of those…
Luis Goncalves: Well we cannot do anything. It was the same with InfoQ. We did a book with InfoQ. Right now we should have around 5000 download from InfoQ and we cannot get one single email. We cannot do anything. We understood actually. Actually we did a bit. We understood after the first week, we immediately understood the huge problem that we have, so we actually added a chapter in the book with our mailing list or our newsletter or something where people actually could subscribe, so basically “did you really like this book? Subscribe here to keep yourself updated with the news”; something that was not on the first version of the book and with that we keep getting people, 3, 4, 5 people, whatever per day. The list is growing and growing but still 5000, 6000 people that download the book, out of that huge number we weren’t able to get a lot of them.
Ben Linders: I think it’s something that’s growing right now and mailing list is helping us in there. We recently started a Facebook page also around the book so that’s also a way to hook up with people and to connect with them and we’re looking for other ways to do it but what I explained earlier, there’s already a good Yahoo group on retrospectives where we’re both involved in there. There’s a LinkedIn group on retrospectives, there are a lot of topics shared in there. We’re a bit reluctant to start another community or start another forum with people and we’d rather use the forum which are there already to get into discussion with people. I think that would be more helpful than starting a new one in there.
Lisette Sutherland: Sounds like yeah, especially if there’s already a thriving community. You don’t want to water it down necessarily. You want to enhance what already exists.
Ben Linders: Exactly, and you don’t want to be competing with that because that’s not helping with this.
Lisette Sutherland: Right. So now Luis, I’m curious, you just mentioned you were in Amsterdam and I read, I think it was LinkedIn that you guys met in person for the first time this weekend.
Luis Goncalves: What took me to Amsterdam is for a long time I’m looking for some professional coaching-system coaching. I found a really good one in Amsterdam and of course I contact Ben since he’s in Netherland. I contact him to see if he would like to hook up Saturday evening. We connected and we met each other and we had a really nice chat and time to finally meet each other and time to plan a bit ahead what we want to do with the book and how we want to proceed, so a really, really nice time spent there.
Lisette Sutherland: Did it changed anything?
Luis Goncalves: It was more of reaffirmation I would say. I would say that was more like “yeah, it is the right person. It was cool. Let’s continue working and we can do really cool stuff together.” So it was really more like positive affirmation and we are connected and we are together. We were discussing again a lot of strategy and what we want to do. We are actually translating the book in several languages right now with completely volunteer works. We had 7, 8 languages on-going, everything with volunteer work and we were discussing strategies for it and it was really cool because you give a bit and you take a bit and he thinks about something, I think about something and then it’s a kind of negotiation to see “okay, I agree with your point. I do not agree.” Again, at the end, we were able in the easy way to agree in something, stick to it and start to build something on top of what we did agree.
Lisette Sutherland: And Ben for you?
Ben Linders: Yeah, well I think the amazing part indeed was that it didn’t really changed that much and which means also a confirmation that we build up a lot during the year we already working remotely with each other. It’s not that when we see each other in person that you see a completely different person. You’re seeing the person which you’ve been interacting with already and who you’ve been working with and building a great product. I think that it tells you how much you’ve learned from each other already during the year.
Lisette Sutherland: I think maybe when you meet in person for the first time, one of the only surprises is like “oh you’re a lot taller than I expected.
Ben Linders: Actually I have to say he was taller than I expected.
Elinor Slomba: Yeah, everyone’s the same height in a Hangout.
Ben Linders: He wasn’t that small.
Lisette Sutherland: So then, if you were to do it all again, what would you do differently or what would you do the same?
Luis Goncalves: That was something that I said. Again, we come back to the same topic. I would keep it more or less what we did the same way but I’m not so sure…let’s put it in another way. Like I said, I’m building the second book and what I’m not going to do is use Lean pub or any kind of tool that does not allow me to have control over my community, so that’s the biggest point. Working with Ben, I would do it again everything exactly like we did but I would make sure that we would have much more control over the information over the people that I engage in all our book because I’m super frustrated with the fact that we had so many downloads and we can access to so few people that actually like our book.
Ben Linders: Yeah, I think I would do it again. I would try to interact even more on the social media with readers and potential readers of the book. I think when you start with this, in the beginning you’re a bit scared on how much you should tell out there and how much you should reveal about the book and about what you’re doing in there and along the way you find out that the more you share stuff, the more you share your ideas in there, the more you’re getting contact with other people more. You can learn from that. I think I will be sharing even more now, being confident that that works out and we’re seeing the same situation right now with the translations. We started off with a team and initially we’re also a bit reluctant to say “okay” but now we’re translating in blue time share and the whole manuscript electronically with all the people in there but then we say “the only way to do a good job in there is to trust those people and be open in that and share it with them and share your ideas on that and share why you’re doing stuff in there” and once you see this working, you see the great product that’s coming out of that. I probably will be sharing even more and even earlier, just to get to see back in there, get interaction with people.
Lisette Sutherland: It’s interesting because we really are going from competitive, sort of keeping the knowledge to yourself work style to a much more involved people, build on the idea, bring people in, don’t keep to yourself model and I see it more and more and I like it.
Luis Goncalves: Yeah because I think that the business model trend is completely like…that’s what I was saying to Ben on the weekend, “this is a book. I do not literally expect to get any money out of it” so I was never afraid of giving all the information but the thing is you are the author so basically you build a community that people respect. You can then start building workshops, you can start building webcast and more people you reach during the time you are the author of the book, very strong your business will be. Simple as that. If you share it, I always have this idea – if you share you get noticed and if you don’t share, basically you do not get noticed. I read once a story of Marco Polo. He wasn’t the first guy finding the beautiful path. His uncle already found the path in Asia but the uncle never wrote anything and Marco Polo was the first one writing and sharing. That’s why he was the popular guy. I really like that story and as much as I can, I will share everything because it’s a matter of blogging, it’s a matter of book; the more you share, the more traffic you bring, the more you will get known and the more powerful you will get yourself and more respected of course.
Ben Linders: Yeah I think that’s true. I think the idea of sharing is not new. I’ve been talking with Tom Gilbert about this years ago where he was sharing a lot already and still sharing a lot of his ideas out there. In the beginning I was surprised you’re giving everything away but it became clear that by sharing his thoughts and sharing his ideas, he was helping people in there but still getting a lot of business out of them because they wanted to involve him when they were working on that and I’ve learned from people like Tom Gilbert on how to share stuff and how to get things going from that but the first time you start doing it yourself, it still feels a little bit scary but that goes away and you see things coming back and then you see this is the right way to do it.
Lisette Sutherland: I can imagine it’s a little bit vulnerable because you’re really putting yourself out there early too when your ideas are still on the development phase.
Ben Linders: Yeah I think that’s true but on the other hand if something is really wrong with that, when would you like to know? I would like to know as early as possible before having the book out there and getting zero readers whatsoever. I’ll probably get some early feedback telling people that this is the wrong idea in there. As I said, we have the book reviewed. I think there were about 45 people involved in reviewing that and we have some people in there who really gave us great feedback in there. Some of them were quite critical and that’s something that you have to deal with. On the other end, it helps you to improve the quality of the book but it also makes you think “is this really something that we want to put out there” and at the end we decided to do this and I think given that we’re over 5000 downloads already in the couple of months, I think this is quite successful. I’m happy that we pushed this thru and we did it.
Elinor Slomba: Yeah it seems like the vulnerability of early sharing gives people more options and certainly we haven’t heard people regretting that they took the risk to share.
Ben Linders: I can imagine that. I think that’s the same for us.
Elinor Slomba: I’m very curios on the topic on remote work, whether the practices of retrospectives translate to being done remotely. Can you talk about whether the aspect to promote retrospectives.
Luis Goncalves: You can do it. Yeah you can do it definitely. I do it. The book is not written in a way that you can apply it directly on the virtual way. To be honest with you, I slept a lot about the add-on on the book. I never thought we’d ban. I talk a lot. I thought a lot how to actually get those exercises that we explained on the book really applied to the retrospectives but actually now that I’m talking I remember, actually many of our exercises we have like one paragraph explaining actually how you could do it or try it on the remote way and actually we give tools for it. Sorry, I didn’t really remember that part but yes. Ben is already laughing.
Ben Linders: It’s in there. It’s in there.
Luis Goncalves: It’s not fully adapted for virtual retrospectives but we have a paragraph in almost all the exercises, explaining how you could actually try to do it on the virtual way.
Ben Linders: There are also a couple of them in there which you should definitely not do remote.
Luis Goncalves: yeah
Ben Linders: We should really need to do in one room.
Lisette Sutherland: Remote does not always apply to everything.
Ben Linders: Yeah exactly.
Lisette Sutherland: As enthusiastic as I am about it.
Elinor Slomba: What do you 2 make up the historical tensions in the Agile community with remote work and the need for face to face, to be high bandwidth and do you see that coming together more?
Luis Goncalves: Don’t take me wrong. I still believe that face to face communication is better. I still believe that the chemistry that you can get out of co-located team is something really, really awesome but on my current job I work with teams all over the world and we don’t have the luxury of having people co-located and I have people work in the same teams in different continents, which time zone is screwing up quite a lot of stuff and we were able to actually make it work. I definitely believe that we can make it work but my personal feeling is there is some chemistry that you always have when people are co-located.
Ben Linders: Yeah I think that that’s true. I think it also goes back again to the values with working together with people and the level of trust which is there and I think it varies from people to people. There are people who are very open to that and starts from a true stable and start working on that and then it becomes much easier to work with people remotely. You don’t know yet but you still give them some trust and they will give you some trust and you start building things and building up along the way. If you don’t have the trust level and you really want to see people and meet them before you can really build on that trust level, then it’s going to be very difficult to start remotely. I think that can vary from person to person and I think in a lot of situations, it helps people if they first get to know each other, start working but there are also a lot of situations where you can simply start doing things starting from person, starting from values and build something up. I think that’s what we have done without ever seeing each other, writing a book.
Lisette Sutherland: In a lot of the interviews that I’ve done, people have mentioned if there are communication problems to start with, then remote working will only amplify those communication problem to start with. That basic level of shared values and trust has to be there in order for remote working to work.
Ben Linders: I think that’s true, yeah.
Lisette Sutherland: I have one last question but before my ending question, is there anything else that you guys want to mention about the process, about the remote process that we haven’t covered? Anybody, Elinor, Ben, Luis, anybody; any last…
Luis Goncalves: One thing that we did not mention, it was not implicit and this is something that people get “wow! How did you actually do that?” Everything started with a blog. I’m not sure if it was really clear. It was a surprise for me because our book, maybe 90% of the book is written on top of our blogs so basically what I mean is sometimes people think it’s extremely difficult to write a book and yes it’s extremely difficult to write a book but a good technique that I found that’s extremely valuable is write a book but you write blogs already thinking about the book and then it’s a way actually to put a book together and doing all these process, we identify several chapters that needed to be written and what we did was actually creating blog post to write and to cover exactly the topics that were missing and then actually you can cue to think at the same time, basically you write a blog post and you can formulate your headers and at the same time you’re producing content of the book. It’s a really simple thing but really powerful. I’m exactly doing the same for my second book. It’s like almost halfway done and halfway just with blog post. It’s a really good technique that people that want to start to write books can apply.
Lisette Sutherland: It really reminds me as just simple Lean methodology in terms of get something, a small chunk out there, get it validated, get people talking about in and then continue as you go.
Ben Linders: Yeah, I think that’s indeed the way you can do it. You can write on blogs, you get some feedback on them, you see if things are interested or not. Actually many of my blogs started from discussions that I have with people, either in a meeting or on a LinkedIn forum and we got something going and said “I want to do more with this” and then turn them into a blog but [41:40], the blog was just a distraction. The question is somebody wondering about how to do it or was looking for experience in there, anything that also makes clear that there’s people interested in that and then you start writing a blog from that instead of saying “okay, I want to write about something.”
Luis Goncalves: And then what you should do, it’s what we did at some point and again I’m doing for my second, is finishing the blog with the form to subscribe your mailing list because basically you provide the blog post. If people are interested on the topic, they’ll immediately subscribe to your mailing list and it’s another potential customer that you will have. For each blog post, always finish the blog post with the form so that people can subscribe to your mailing list and is already a good way to start acquiring customers.
Elinor Slomba: So the whole thing is really one conversation that just keeps amplifying and iterating.
Luis Goncalves: Yeah, yeah.
Ben Linders: Yeah, using different medium, different channels. The book is one of them but I think the social media and the blogs and interactions you have over there with the people and if I look myself, also the conference and the meet-ups, where you go to and talk with people. That also falls into place.
Lisette Sutherland: I love the way you put that, Elinor, one big conversation that keeps amplifying itself. Brilliant, which it is. It’s an ongoing process. It’s a iterative process over time and I’m sure if you were to write the book next year, there would be things and topics that would change, maybe, do differently.
Luis Goncalves: But if you think about one thing, one big advice is the first thing you should do is really creating the mailing list. You don’t even need to have one single chapter. You just need to have an idea about what you want to write and you can validate if your target market wants to have it. And then wherever you go, like I may be in conference and I just put the book there and people just start downloading it. It doesn’t matter, you don’t have need to have a finalized product but you need to have a mailing list to start collecting as soon as possible.
Elinor Slomba: Luis, you’re speaking with people who are in a position to immediately implement this advice, so thank you.
Lisette Sutherland: Indeed. We need to be that, Elinor.
Elinor Slomba: Yeah, like by tomorrow.
Ben Linders: Okay.
Lisette Sutherland: We’ve been interviewing and interviewing and collecting stories and sharing ideas. The last question that I have is what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you or find more info and how do people buy this book?
Luis Goncalves: Ben, go head.
Ben Linders: We published the book on Lean pub and on InfoQ. InfoQ made it available as a mini-book, so that’s two sites where people can download it. I think the easiest way to go there will probably be either via Luis website or my website. Mine is www.benlinders.com and then you can find the information about the book on the homepage already and you can also find the information and download it, join the mailing list and find everything also going on with translations. Luis, your website.
Elinor Slomba: We’ll have you say the title again too please, of the book.
Luis Goncalves: The title is Getting Value Out of Agile Retrospectives and if you Google it, it’s the first 5 stuff, the results will hit on Ben’s blog or my blog or Lean pub or InfoQ. The first page is just the result for our books so it’s impossible to not find it. One thing that I would like to add before I give my contact, we are finalizing. We have already identified some mistakes based on feedback that we got. We are just finalizing and then people will have the opportunity to get it on Amazon as well. So it will be distributed in Amazon in the paper version so that one will not be for free because we need to pay the cost of the printing version but we are planning to have it before summer in Amazon. It should be early but summer, it’s a good time to target. The best way to contact me, you can contact me at Twitter. You have my Twitter name there. I’m quite active there or my website, www.lmsgoncalves.com, basically L-Luis, M-Miguel, S-Sosa Goncalves. You can almost see not that special character there but you can get all the information there and catch me anytime.
Lisette Sutherland: Great, and for anybody that is watching this interview in the future, I want to say that if you have questions for either Ben or Luis, you can also send them to Twitter via the hash tag #remoteinterview and we’ll make sure that Ben and Luis see those to answer them. Thank you to everybody who joined us today and thank you both for this great interview. I actually learned a few things. I really learned a few things that we’re going to do our retrospective afterwards.
Elinor Slomba: Yeah, good advice. Thank you.
Lisette Sutherland: Yeah, very good advice.
Luis Goncalves: Can you tell us at least one?
Lisette Sutherland: Of the things that I learned?
Luis Goncalves: Yeah, I’m curious.
Lisette Sutherland: One is getting the mailing list in place right away, which kind of seems simple.
Luis Goncalves: It takes only 5 minutes.
Lisette Sutherland: Right, simple things like this but also the way you work out the problems with each other, with the way of like flag it, flag it anyway you need to flag it and then have the conversation. That is inspiring.
Ben Linders: Yeah
Lisette Sutherland: Elinor, anything in particular that you want to highlight that you learned? Maybe it was all the same for you.
Elinor Slomba: Noticing that there are different qualities of relationships with different self-published vehicles and making sure that you can maintain autonomy and interface with your community through whichever publishing vehicle you choose. That’s key, extremely valuable. Thank you.
Luis Goncalves: Yeah and the mailing is just to finalize. The mailing list is something that Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or any other social media that does not give access because mailing list gives direct access to your fans, something that you cannot get in such a directly and productive way with other means.
Elinor Slomba: And that leading with trust and the desire to share and that openness, you can build relationship where when you do see each other face to face, it just validates and echoes what you’ve already established. That was beautiful that you shared that with us. Thank you.
Ben Linders: You’re welcome.
Lisette Sutherland: Great. And the very last thing is for people who want to hear more stories about remote working and people who do great things while working remotely, please visit us on collaborationsuperpowers.com. With that, I say thank you and I’m going to end the broadcast. Thanks everybody.
Luis Goncalves: Thank you, bye-bye.
Ben Linders: Thanks for having us.