Becoming Engaged

Thursday, I had a slow brain day. I don’t know what it was; I was tired or something. But I certainly wasn’t thinking at full capacity.

At some point in the afternoon, my pair and I opened a task, and began trying to work through what needed to be done. But, needing a bit more business input, my pair started asking a bunch of questions of our on-site customer. And me, because I was having a slow brain day, my mind kind of wandered off a bit and thought about the laundry and grocery shopping.

And then, my pair had to go to a meeting, and was away the next day. And at that point, it became clear to me that I hadn’t been completely following my pair’s conversation with our customer; I’d just been along for the ride.

I kinda mostly recovered from that on Friday, but I did feel like I lost some time asking the same questions of our customer. And I just despise duplication of effort.

And one of the things that I ponder again and again in my career is the notion of agency — the idea that I, as a human being, have the capacity to make choices that influence my experience of my workday. While it seems a bit strange to suggest that I chose to not be engaged during my pair’s question-and-answer session with our customer, I did allow it to happen, and I paid some price for it.

Yesterday, we tasked out a story. We spent a bit of time reading a fairly detailed story card, and even though I wasn’t having a slow brain day yesterday, I wasn’t able to make much sense of the information.

Part of that reflects my role on the project. Unlike most of my teammates, I have maybe four months of experience on this particular application which has four years of history by this point. It has a gajillion functions, and I wasn’t around when any of them were built. All of my teammates have much longer histories with the project, and they were able to hone in on some salient facts, and extract just the right answers.

But, for my part, I felt like I was at that moment when you’re making a jigsaw puzzle and all you have are a handful of blue sky pieces.

And, y’know, I don’t really think of myself as shrinking violet. But I was very aware, throughout most of that session yesterday, how many emotional barriers there were to saying, “now, hold on, I need a lot more context.”

First up, there were the whole fear of seeming slow. Other people could make sense of the story card, what’s wrong with me?

Next, there’s the factor of monopolizing the time; if there are five developers and we’re supposed to task the story in an hour, and I take 30 minutes to ask all of my questions, I’ve taken a disproportionate percentage of the time available.

And then I’m conscious of worrying that other people are just getting bored with taking the time. Although I didn’t see outward manifestations of it, my big fear was that taking time to get what I needed out of tasking was encouraging my teammates to tune out.

I’m not really building up toward any conclusion. I am, however, interested in examining the set of emotional pressures (some real, and some entirely in my head?) that encourage me to sit back quietly and just go with the flow. And to bring those pressures out in to the light so that they scurry away like cockroaches.

I do have one opinion, though, and that is that allowing myself to not be engaged is a great enemy of agile collaboration.

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