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This last weekend I attended the Save Your Language conference in Vancouver BC. Hosted by Dustin Rivers, it featured the Where Are Your Keys? (WAYK) language fluency techniques taught by Evan Gardner and Willem Larsen.

WAYK is difficult to explain, but easy to learn.  Evan and Willem are focused on saving endangered languages and to do that, they have ruthlessly honed a language learning game that strives to get people as fluent as possible as quickly as possible.  Because when a language only exists in a few people all over the age of 60, you have, as Evan puts it, a ticking time-bomb.

I now work at a macro level at my company as a software architect and my job involves a lot of facilitation.  Facilitation of information sharing.  I need developers to understand our customers, product managers to understand technology, and developers to have a shared mental model of our architecture that spans multiple products.  And like most software companies, we have time-based commitments and market opportunities.  Specifically in development, our access to key customers or domain experts is often limited (yes, ideally we “sit with the customer”, but that isn’t always the case and often who we sit with is really a customer proxy and “real” customer interaction may be less frequent).

You likely see where I am going with this.  Software development is all about making decisions.  Fluency in a domain enables us to make better decisions.

How specifically does WAYK address increasing fluency?  Through a number of “techniques”.  Techniques in WAYK correspond to Practices (though they often embody Values and Principals as well).

For example, technique “obviously” was identified when they realized that information that could be construed in multiple ways is not as readily absorbed as information that is clear, concise and without ambiguity (it’s “obvious”). Technique “limit” recognizes that little, small chunks that move gradually beyond what people already know work better than information overload (like having small user stories).

We can see in these two (fundamental) techniques the principal that confused people don’t learn (or create good software) as rapidly as those who are exposed to obvious, accessible information.  And a word like “Simplicity” (among others) from XP’s value list fits in quite nicely here.

Over the coming weeks and months, I plan on exploring adapting WAYK to improve the rate of fluency.  I don’t do much day-to-day development anymore, but I did for over a decade, so some of my thoughts in that area may be more theoretically.  In my group facilitations, I’ll strive for more practical experimentation.

Marty Nelson

The Agile Architect

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