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The Odd Couple

Remember the play, movie and/or TV show The Odd Couple? The main characters were Felix and Oscar, two recently-divorced men who were sharing an apartment. Their marital status was just about the only thing they had in common. Felix was a neat-freak – everything in its proper place, neat and tidy. Oscar was a slob – a mess and cigar smoke followed him everywhere. But they made their differences work, and those differences showed the audience their friendship and, at the core, their similarities.

Why the reminder about this show? I recently helped facilitate a requirements session in which I was one half of an odd couple. I was Felix – I wanted to know everything about the project before I walked in the door. I wanted to know exactly what the project stakeholders’ expectations were. I worried that the session could be a huge mess if we didn’t have more details up-front.

My facilitation partner was Oscar (sans cigar smoke). He was full of energy about the project, especially because we didn’t have all the answers. To Oscar, we had an opportunity to try new things, to introduce new tools and methods, and to generally have fun with the group. Oscar planned the session, communicated with the stakeholders in advance, and prepared our materials.

On the morning of the session, I was still nervous, and Oscar was still excited. We started the day, and the new methods and tools were working well. The team was coming together, and I was happy to see that my initial worries weren’t going to be issues for the work.

We did run into a few bumps during the session, though. Once or twice, the session got a bit too unstructured, and Oscar worried that he’d lost control of the day’s activities. He and I discussed the situation during a break, and we decided that I should facilitate for a while. Given our differences, the changes in pace and style were significant. The group reacted differently (more Felix-y, if you will) to my more staid approach to facilitation, and we quickly moved back to a good balance of control and flexibility. At a natural transition point, Oscar picked up the reigns once again, and we kept making progress with the team.

I learned a lot from this experience. First, I saw how a good RE can “go with the flow” in a way that’s productive, fun, and allows the group to take the discussion in natural directions. I also saw how a simple change in style can un-stick a group. Whether the transition is from flexible to controlled, or vice versa, the group’s reaction was quick and distinct. And I saw the importance of differing styles of requirements practices in action. Either Oscar or I could have held a very useful session with the group on our own. Working together, though, we made the session more productive and more fun for everyone involved.

I’d suggest thinking about this sort of balance any time you lead a requirements session, whether on your own or with a peer. In either case, including some Yin with the Yang, some oil with the water, and some Oscar with the Felix will be a benefit!

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