May 23, 2011

Awesome Coach of the Week: Liz Keogh

We honour Liz Keogh as Awesome Coach of the Week 21, 2011!

Liz Keogh is a passionate lean and agile coach and trainer and one of the most prominent UK members of the agile and lean community. She's become famous for her work on BDD, which in my opinion is driven by her amazing language skills: Liz is a wordsmith in the true sense of the word...


We first met Liz at the 2009 ScrumGathering in Munich. She was teaching a group of geeks how to write Haiku. We had not done this before and it was great fun; as well as a good way to think about how we use words.
In parallel, in the big room there was a discussion about the future of the Scrum Alliance. One of us wrote (in German):

Die Anderen
machen Politik
wir dichten

which roughly translates to (loosing some of the rhythm):

The others
do politics
we write poetry.

That session has led me to write a few haikus about agile in the meantime, like this one:

Mud slides, water falls
blossoms dried by certification
Agile PM

Thanks, Liz, for an inspiring way to express my thoughts! 

Liz Keogh

Last week, at the XP2011 in Madrid, she gave a tutorial on BDD, which she opened with a simple game:

  • Liz divided the room into three groups. We were all to imagine the same setting:
  • You're sitting in front of a computer screen showing a square. You have a requirement stating:
  • (Group 1) It should be circular.
  • (Group 2) It will be circular.
  • (Group 3) It is circular.
  • Which question pops into your head?

For groups 2 and 3, it was quite hard to find out which question Liz wanted to hear, while for group 1, it was obvious:
“Should it?”

And that's why BDD favours the word should—it allows to question the requirement as well as the software.

Unknown Unknowns and Real Options

To not make this post to long, I just mention these two areas of work Liz's been working on in recent time. She integrated them into her teaching, with astonishing results.
First is the “Unknown Unknowns”, a concept I first read about in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan. The bottom line is, that most problems we encounter in software projects have their cause in things we didn't know we didn't know—as these are the things we could not plan for.

Second is “Real Options”, a concept introduced to the software development world by Chris Matts and Olav Maassen. It's about defining the Last Responsible Moment and getting transparency into your decisions. If you haven't heard about these concepts, go ahead and read, and discuss, it might change your mind!


Liz Story Telling I can't write about Liz without writing about BDD. Two years ago, she published the amazing article “Pulling Power: A New Software Lifespan” on InfoQ, which has greatly influenced my thinking about software processes. This article reports this nice conversation with Chris Matts, the creator of BDD:

Chris Matts has a theory. “You know what people want?”
“What?” I ask.
“What they ask for. And you know what they don't want?”
“What you want them to have. You know what else?"
“Once they get what they ask for, they want something else.”

BDD was conceived to mitigate this problem. When I told a colleague that I'd done the BDD tutorial with Liz, he asked me, “So, did you ask for the difference between BDD and ATDD?”, which I had not. Only later I realised why it didn't even occur to me to ask (though I had been asking myself this question before). The answer is in the name: BDD is not about testing. It's about building what the client needs, not what she asked for.
Liz told us: “When you present your solution to the users, don't ask, is this what you wanted, but ask, what is still missing from what you need?” This way, the original requirement (which didn't account for the things the client did not yet know he did not know) is questioned as well as the (partial) solution. And a true dialogue can begin. BDD is about how to use words to get into better dialogue.

Awesome Coach of the Week

This is why we think Liz Keogh is an Awesome Coach. If you can add an awesome experience with Liz, please do so in the comments. We honour one Coach a week. Suggestions welcome!

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