Saturday, September 15, 2018

Attribution for Work Performed in a Mob

In 2017, I delivered a keynote at StarWest, talking about Making Teams Awesome. One of the main themes I talked about back then was a theme I had put a lot of effort into thinking: attribution. There's many things I have problems with around this:

  • Women's contributions get disproportionately dismissed - not just ideas, but also the work they do - and attributed in memories to other people. 
  • Group work is different from individual work, and my needs of attribution can get in the way. 
  • Ideas are not worth more than execution, especially in software development
  • Attribution should not be a blocker for communication of ideas, a new form of apology language required disproportionately from women. 

In June, I used a phrase "invitation to explore" in a conference talk as one of *my points*. In speaking, I mentioned a colleague I respect as someone who uses that phrase. Meanwhile, he took offense on me using those words without writing his name down. My conclusion: fuck the language police, I will never again even mention him with this phrase. The words are free and I live that idea on a daily basis.

Caring for Credit

We all care for credit, I would claim. All of us. And some of us, like myself, care deeply for the credit of others too. Yet, credit is a messy and complicated theme.

We all know the name Albert Einstein. The fellow who pretty much created the foundation for modern physics. The guy whose picture posted on a slide everyone recognizes, even though the pictures are from very early days of photography. The man has been dead for a while, and yet we know him. Probably for generations to come.

But we don't know who is Mileva Marić Einstein. We can deduce a lot from the last name, and recognize that there is a relationship there. She was a physicist who, due to her gender, had trouble getting the education in physics but went through it anyway, and contributed significantly to Albert Einstein's groundbreaking science. History forgot her, partially for the rules of society that required removing her name from scientific articles she worked on intended for publication.

Then again, we know Marie Curie. Another brilliant scientist of that time. Someone who had a partner who refused to let her credit stay out of the limelight. So credit is something to pay attention to. It defines history. It matters.

It matters to people so much that for a long time, we had to wonder why there are no baby dinosaurs? They were misidentified as other species for reasons of credit. 5/12 dinosaur species identified were not new discoveries, but juvenile versions of ones found earlier.

Credit in a mob

With personal history of protecting my credit heavily as a necessary self-preservation mechanism, this was a difficult one for me when I started working with mobs. I would see my contribution, and see it be forgotten in a retro less than an hour later! With the feeling of safety, I could bring out my own contributions in the retros, have them discussed and get back to recognized. I could write about them in my blog while everyone else dismissed them. But in many relevant ways, I had to learn that
The Best Ideas Win When You Care about the Work over the Credit. 
I needed to let go. But so did everyone else.

When a group of people works together, it becomes difficult to identify what was the contribution of each of the members. Like with baking a cake, you cannot identify if it is the flour, the sugar, the eggs or the vanilla sugar that makes the recipe just right and perfect. People inspire one another, build on one another and create together things they would not create alone.

Also, mobs had visitors. It was a living organism where people would come and go. It wasn't as simple as that. There would be credit for being there when it all started. There would be credit of visiting, short- or long-term. How do we credit things that are done collaboratively?

Visiting isn't infecting other people's contributions as "they are now all someone else's". We need to care and be fair.

The Mob Programming Guidebook

In 2016, I acquired a book name from LeanPub: Mob Programming Guidebook. I set up a GitHub project to write it. The first rough version of it was scheduled to be available for a conference session I was invited to do.

For all of this, I paired with Llewellyn Falco. We wrote in strong-style. We argued over words, and ideas. Our collaboration worked while it worked, and then the book was in hibernation for a while, because we couldn't work together. We couldn't work together to a point where it became evident we would never again work together.

With a book 30% written we needed to go our separate ways. In the split, both of us get to keep the results of the collaboration but neither of us can block the other from taking it forward. Claiming equal authorship for work we are not doing equally makes no sense. So I added 25 % more text to match my vision to a still unfinished book, initiated all the work I had been postponing on making it a full book it was intended to be and moved Llewellyn away from second author to a contributor to reflect his role to the book. The book is still not done. There's significant work ahead of me, including refactoring a lot of the paired text to vision I aspire for.

Books can have many authors even if one wrote most of the text. But that would mean that I would believe that the book wouldn't exist without their support and contributions, and looking into how I feel I honestly cannot say that. The book wouldn't exist without meeting Woody Zuill. The book wouldn't exist without me. But the book would exist without Llewellyn Falco, and does exist without him.

His role to the Mob Programming Guidebook is only a little more than his role to all Mob Programming books. Mob Programming grew out of his ideas around strong-style pairing. He has the choice of writing the full book that describes his ideas but I suspect he will not.

I want to acknowledge that for the 30% book, we inspired one another to create what is there. The foundation is co-created. But the book I work on forward, alone, is not the foundation. It is more. It's founded on all the experiences of leading and participating mob programming sessions, and my discussions with people who care for that activity just as much as I do.

The book is more than the text - because he has the text too should he choose to fork it as suggested. It's the site. It's the promotion.  And it is the text that is still to be written by its authors. The text that I am writing on top of the text I had been writing. I acknowledge the collaboration, but refuse to minimize my role to the past text, leaving a project I started in an unfinished state.

So when Llewellyn calls for help with a tweet
he is missing a big chunk of the picture. He is missing the fact that he is asking to be an equal author of a book that isn't yet written because he was once part of collaboration of writing some parts of early versions. He is asking his visit would infect the rest of the contributions. And that is not how attribution in a mob should work.

When someone sympathetic to Llewellyn then responds:
I disagree. I did not make this discussion more difficult. I made it clearer. Visitors don't get to claim rights to future work. Attribution of realistic contribution is necessary. Forking the text we wrote together is acceptable. Asking others in the mob to start over a fresh because you visited isn't fair.

My sense of justice says I do the right thing.

The book has 1008 readers, out of which 281 have paid for it and 1 has claimed their money back (book was not finished). We have received $1,240.24 in royalties. Since Aug 18th, I have received all royalties because that was when the book forked. The money does not come from writing the book but from promoting the book. From this "huge" financial gain, 80 % has gone to Llewellyn before to first pay back an investment we chose to make on printing early versions of the book.

I have explored my options. I chose not to remove him completely. I mention him, as it is fair. But he is not a second author of the book. I sympathize to his need to be, but he isn't.

Attribution for work performed in a mob is hard, because we want to be remembered and appreciated. I appreciate Llewellyn's contributions while sticking to the fact that my contributions are far greater and handing also my future contributions to him just because he wants to be an author is not a fair thing to ask.

Authorship is not born when you start a project. Ideas without implementation are not where attribution should be born. Authorship is born when you work on a project and finish it. If you want to say that you created X, be more than a visitor in that mob. Make space to stick around to completion. And even when you don't, they'll appreciate your visit. Because the end result is better through that visiting collaboration.

Looking forward to other visitors in finishing the book.