Awesome Coach of the Week: Chris Matts

Chris Matts is one of the most inventive, creative and illustrative guys I have the pleasure to know. We collaborated on a few half-fun, half-serious projects, only one of which made it to being published—LeanProcrastionation. Chris and Olav Maassen contributed important ideas regarding the identification of the Last Responsible Moment, which lead to a game being created that’s going to be played at the Agile2011 in Salt Lake City tomorrow… Unfortunately, without me.


I only once met Chris in person so far, on my first night in Trondheim where we attended the XP2010 conference. We had much fun (as you can see in the picture) and I’ve learned a lot about and from his work since then…
Your next chance to meet Chris might be the ALE2011 unconference in Berlin (Sept 7-9), where he’ll give a talk about Feature Injection! Register here, there are still free places. Back to Chris’ work:

Real Options

I’m surprised how many people I meet who have not heard of this concept, as “Real Options is the underlying principle of agile.” (quoted from the linked article by Chris and Olav)
One of the principles of the Lean Software approach is “deferring decisions to the last responsible moment”. Why? Because we want to spend our time building the right system, and we only find out what the right system is while we build it. As long as we learn, we have options, and we need to make those options explicit so that we can evaluate when to decide. The model itself is surprisingly simple, yet very powerful:

  1. Options have value.
  2. Options expire.
  3. Never commit early unless you know why.

To explain all of this is beyond the scope of this post, but Chris and Olav have published a wealth of useful information about this on their blog. I suggest to start reading here. Or, if you prefer it in comic format, enjoy Chris’ drawing skills here.

Feature Injection

With Feature Injection, Chris gave us an analysis process based on Real Options and a learning cycle. It explains why Examples are of such great importance in BDD. The whole story is, again, presented in the form of a comic, which makes it fun to read! He starts with

  1. Information Arrival, as available information is key to assess your options. The important difference to classical analytical processes is that with Feature Injection information is pulled rather than pushed, leading to a continuous information flow.
  2. As we pull value from a system, we inject features. We recognise that the value of any IT system lies in its outputs.
  3. Identify the minimum set of features to deliver that value, by asking what is needed in the system to produce the expected output.
  4. We try to repeatedly break the Model in the last instalment, thereby completing it. Chris shows how to establish an Experiential Learning Cycle: Example-Reflect-Test-Model-… which leads to the creation of a distributed cognition system. Amazing.
  5. In the Afterlude, Chris connects back to Real Options. He explains the important difference between things we know we don’t know (we know the questions, but don’t have the answers yet), and things we don’t know we don’t know (unknown unknowns, aka Black Swans, the things we do not even have the questions for). By leading us to asking the right question, Feature Injection helps us to create boundaries around the unknown. This boundary we can manage, thereby reducing risk.

A Networking Talent

I’ll just quote Liz Keogh here, who told us at the ALE vision session in Madrid:
“First Chris Matts started to go to conferences. Later, he sent his friends to conferences, so that they could share their learnings with him. In the meantime, these friends send their friends to conferences, too, so that…
He uses the same approach for books. When he saw he couldn’t read all the books he wanted to himself, he started to let his peers read and share…” (quoted from my memory)
I guess you get the point. Liz created a StrategicPlay model to illustrate her story:

Liz Keogh's Model of Chris' Networking Strategy

Love that approach. Real Options applied!

Awesome Coach of the Week

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