I started as the technical editor for AgileConnection back in July of 2011. I’ve had a wonderful six years and learned a ton along the way as I found new authors, reviewed submissions, and read articles to be published on the site, but now I’m leaving my post. Starting this month, there’s a new technical editor.
As I reflect on my time with AgileConnection, I’d like to share four major lessons I learned.
All Writing Is Story-Telling
I’ve had the opportunity to read hundreds of articles for this site. (Yes, some I read several times.) Every single time the writer told a story (or two or three), the article came alive. People read it and responded to it.
When people didn’t use stories in their articles, the article bogged down. I felt as if I had to slog to get through it. Those articles just didn’t have the same verve that the articles containing personal stories did.
When we tell stories in articles, we build empathy. We build empathy with the people who have the same problem or a solution to it. We might even build empathy with the people who make questionable decisions. Great stories show the context evenhandedly. That means we can see ourselves, even if we are the ones making questionable decisions.
Tell stories in your writing.
Everyone Is a Potential Writer
I’m a consultant, so I network all the time. I talk with people at conferences, at parties, and on airplanes. Sometimes, I met people who had stories to tell even though they never thought of themselves as writers.
While at the conference, at the party, or on the plane, this person would start to tell me about how their organization or team used agile and what happened.
Sometimes, they had a terrific experience. That was excellent.
More often, they stumbled. Part of their experience was great. The next part? Not just bad, but horrible.
Sometimes, they were able to rescue their situations. Sometimes they weren’t.
It didn’t matter. Each of these stories was compelling. When I asked if these people would write an article for the site, they first demurred. “No, not me!” they said.
I would sit forward and ask, “Why not you?”
More often, they said yes. They wrote their stories and we published them. Then, the best thing happened—they networked with other people and told them to write stories for AgileConnection. It was great.
Your network can do more than help you succeed with agile. It can provide multiple ways to grow professionally, including through writing.
Ask for Results
I worked with a wide variety of writers. Some of them were non-native English writers. Some of them weren’t so excited about writing but wanted to get their story out. Some of them wrote the way they thought they’d been taught: to make the words quite complicated.
I wanted all those people to be able to publish their work, so I did something very important: I asked people for the results I wanted.
If I wanted them to make the writing clearer, I asked for it. I might provide an example, but I asked.
If I wanted another story or a personal experience, I asked for it. Sometimes, I commented, “I bet there’s a story here!” Sure enough, people gave me their stories.
If I wanted people to check their grammar, spelling, or readability, I explained how to do so and then I asked them to do so. I gave some people specific requests, as in, “Please make your sentences smaller so you can bring the grade level down to grade eight,” or I said, “Passive voice confuses me. I provided several examples up there in your article. Please run the grammar-checker and find the other places and make the sentences active.”
They did. They added stories. They fixed their grammar and spelling. They made their articles clearer.
I asked for what I wanted, and I got it.
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Agile
Aside from learning about writing and writers, these years of technical editing taught me another big lesson: There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to agile.
Some people use iterations. Some people use flow. Some people use both. Some people swear by Scrum. Some people hate it.
I edited some stories of success and some stories of failure. The successful people looked at their context and experimented until they found what fit.
The unsuccessful people tried to adopt—maybe pigeonhole is a better word—a certain approach even though they didn’t have the right environment for that approach. The more people took an agile approach to their agile transformation, the more their overall business results improved.
The writers proved to me again and again that successful agile approaches are not about practices. Agile success is about the mindset, values, and creating business results.
Time for a Change
I have learned more about agile and writing than I thought I could have. I learned about people. I learned about change. Now, it’s time for a change for me.
Jeff Payne is taking over the role of technical editor. If you’re interested in writing for AgileConnection, he’ll be glad to work with you. I’ll also still be writing now and then, so you’ll be seeing my name around.
I hope you continue to enjoy the articles here and that you remain a loyal reader.
Good luck Jeff.
Johanna thank you and best of luck in the future. I'm sure we will still be seeing your name here and anywhere else Quality Management is discussed.
Jim, thanks so much! Yes, I am planning to write a series of articles about agile management. I need to do a little planning and then write-write-write!
Johanna, you will be a hard act to follow. I've never had an editor push me as hard as you did, or get me to create as good an article as you did. By telling how much better my article could be, you made me a better writer. Thank you! If Jeff does half as well he will be an excellent editor.
George, wow, thank you so much. Your article is terrific. I still refer people to it :-) Jeff will be great.
Johanna - I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to work with you as a contributor to AgileConnection and I'm glad that you asked for what you wanted. It made me a better writer. You taught me early on that all writing is story-telling. You helped me think more about the stories I felt needed to be told for this community and others. Thank you.
Jeff - I wish you the best of luck in the new role. Hope we have a chance to collaborate.
Mark, thank you so much. I have enjoyed your articles through the years and I expect to read much more from you!
I know you'll do amazing things, Johanna. I cannot wait to read about your changes and future adventures! Best of luck to the AgileConnection team!
Tricia, thank you! I have proposed articles to Jef, so I hope to still be "around" here, just not as technical editor.