I’ve posted a copy of my Agile 2006 tutorial slides and notes for Skills for the Agile Designer on my website’s resources page. The tutorial was organized into skills for seeing problems, seeing and shaping solutions, and working in collaboration. In addition to introducing problem framing as a technique for identifying what questions to ask of your customer, I presented several ways for seeing and shaping your design. The last part of the tutorial covered some “soft” skills: how to recognize false arguments, handle design criticism, and how adjust to different design rhythms. So, if you want to know a bit more about red herrings, proof by ignorance, false dichotomies, shifting the goals posts, democratic fallacies, or the companion in guilt move, check out my tutorial notes.
A designer, especially one in an agile team, has to be a good communicator. Part of being a good communicator means knowing how to tell a sound from an unsound argument, and then knowing techniques for countering certain arguments. By the way, argumentation isn’t the same as shouting or having a fight. When I’m talking about argumentation, I’m talking about having a discussion on some topic. I must caution you that while recognizing faulty reasoning in illogical arguments can be useful, it isn’t always easy to counteract.
For example, changing what is being argued for in mid-debate or “shifting the goalposts” is a common argument move to avoid criticism. As soon as an arguer sees a position becoming untenable, he or she shifts the point of discussion to a related, but more easily defended one (think how a stereotypical politician never directly answers the question you ask but answers tangentially…and you understand what it means to blatantly shift the goalposts). Most co-workers aren’t so blatant. But having reasoned discussions with someone who habitually shifts goalposts may not be easy. The best you can do is politely but insistently point out their shift, once you spot it, then try to steer the conversation back to the original topic.
Knowing the names of common argument moves comes in handy. Personally, it has helped me slightly detach during the heat of a discussion (in order to think just a bit before reacting). This has been a good thing. Instead of diving into debate or getting sidetracked or frustrated by faulty reasoning I can spot it for what it is and then try to reel in the conversation if possible.
During the tutorial I presented an example of a companion in guilt move, how a teenager might point out to a parent their inconsistency in how they apply the rules: “If Joe gets to do such and such, then why can’t I?” At this point, an attendee raised his hand and said, “How did you know that my name is Joe?” That brought down the house. After the tutorial I had a long conversation with Joe who thanked me for my presentation and said that dealing people effectively on an agile team was the hard stuff. New technology and tools are easily learned, but being aware (and knowing how to effectively work with your mates in spite of their biases and or backgrounds) requires daily diligence. Thanks, Joe. I enjoyed our conversation.