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Quick like a bunny, let me just sketch a great coaching tool I almost always use. I’ve applied it to teams from all over, and in every state of expertise and will. It’s called “lottery learning”.

The Process

Have a session, 90 minutes to two hours, with a room, a projector, and all those who directly change repository contents. Choose one of those people at random. Ask them to project whatever they’ve been working on. Discuss.

That’s it. Really.

What It Does

Basically, lottery learning works simultaneously on several wonderful levels.

Energy: this is one of the best ways there is to build excitement, energy, and what I call geek joy. It can readily bring teams full of embittered old hands back to the party as stars. Keep it fun!

Geek Skill: this is particularly awesome in that it works whether the presenter is a coach, a master or a noob. The most powerful motivator of all is the potential approval from your peers.

Informal Standard-Setting: This is the secret bomb for me. Without even knowing they’re doing it, the team works out a consensus about what is good code and what is poor, and the beauty of it is that it works whether they’re all awesome programmers or all random street-typists.

Coaching Site: Of course, the coach can use this time to great effect, in two different directions.  First, it provides a very accurate means of assessing the skills progress of both groups and individuals.  Second, it presents an absolutely perfect opportunity for teaching. Either way, its remarkably non-threatening to most folks. (But see pro-tip #2 below.)

Pro Tips

  1. It’s a good idea to restrict this meeting to only those who directly change repository contents.  That’s an awkward idea, but I want to include testers and technical leads, while still suggesting that pure managers are not really welcome.
  2. Don’t be afraid to cheat on the first three or four lotteries. Some folks, though fewer than might be expected, are very nervous about this process until they see how the informal geek leaders handle it.
  3. I’ve had the most success with up to three times a week, and keeping a same bat-time same bat-channel to the sessions.
  4. Food is good. When I do a lottery *lunch* and learn, I extend the session to two hours, see next tip.
  5. What can managers do? Their role is really to bless the proceedings. They can make the sessions special and help the right people attend. They can supply the food. I’ve had teams where the manager brought a case of beer in at 3 pm.


Try It, and Let Us Know How It Went

6 Responses to “Lottery Learning: A Dead Simple Coaching Tool”

  1. […] Lottery Learning: Dead Simple Coaching Tool | Situated Geekery (tags: hr leadership education) […]

  2. Joshua Lewis says:

    I have several members in my team who feel very threatened about any kind of review, and get very defensive when its suggested. For example, a while ago during a version control system usage discussion, I suggested that we might want to do ad-hoc peer reviews (for readability, not correctness) as a requirement for code promotions.

    This met with a lot of hostility, a lot of which was due to egos being crushed in the past (people being told they were wrong or stupid, or being criticised).

    How would you recommend I ‘reboot’ this conversation, towards the technique you’ve presented here? Offer myself or another enthusiastic member as a guineaa pig?

  3. I’m intrigued. I see a parallel to a practice in my shop. We have what is called the daily code review session. It is at the same time everyday and devs email to the group when they would like something reviewed with a small description of what their working on. No managers are there and from what I can tell the proceedings are open and interesting and, best of all, looked forward to by most of the devs! What I see in lottery learning is expansion to other skills. Intruiging, I’m going to float the idea this coming week with my team. Thanks!

  4. […] point I’ll let you discover @GeePawHill’s wonderful ideas for yourself by his blog here. Please let me know what you think about all these ideas!   If you enjoyed this […]

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