Last month, while learning more about the Domain-Driven Design (DDD) community, I saw a post for the [Virtual open Space] Systems Thinking and Skillful Interaction event. I am familiar with Open Spaces, as I participated in events that had them back in 2008 and 2009 - including outdoors! So I was eager to hear the conversations going on in the DDD community, and if I felt safe enough, I knew I could break past my introverted shell and chime in.
What are Open Spaces?
Open Spaces is a community conversations experience. We get together in a group to talk about how the Open Spaces sessions run. A facilitator breaks down the rules and guides through the introductory steps. There are cards for you to write your name and topic you want a conversation about. Once you fill out a card, you add it to the talk queue. Then, the facilitator calls on each person in the talk queue to have them introduce their topic and place it on a schedule. During the event, conversations happen in their scheduled locations and timeslots. At the end, there may be a closing circle where you have a retrospective of the event and the conversations held throughout the Open Spaces event.
The people who are meant to be there will be there. The conversations that happen there are what are meant to happen. If you are in a session where you are neither learning nor contributing, you can use the Law of
Two Feet Mobility/Somewhere Else and go where you can get the best experience for yourself. That means you might leave a conversation to participate or learn from another conversation in another room or possibly even in the hallways.
Jessica Kerr’s Keynote - Working Skillfully in Complexity
While I was going into a community that I hadn’t been in before, it was good to see Jessica Kerr there. Jessica talks about things such as symmathesy, observability, systems thinking, and domain-driven design.
… abstraction is not the point. Generality is not the point. Understanding is the point, understanding the system we are working in and on. - Jessica Kerr
Jessica made her notes for the keynote available on her blog.
What I appreciated the most from her keynote is that it wasn’t solely technical. It was great to hear the technical part of OpenTelemetry and observability. It was even better to hear that to see inside a system, we have to talk with people. We have to listen and watch. This got me to think about some of the clients we work with and how observability could help us to better understand platforms and have better conversations with people.
VirtualDDD 2023 Q3 Conversations
There were many proposed topics, so it was difficult to choose which ones to attend. However, as mentioned above, the right people and the right conversations will follow. So I trusted my intuition on this one.
Systems Thinking 101
The first session I caught was on the topic Systems Thinking 101. There were many newcomers to Systems Thinking, some of us who have been Systems Thinking without the formal vocabulary, and some who have that formal vocabulary. It was great learning about Systems Thinking from Diana Montalion and Krisztina Hirth.
Events are the tip of the iceberg. They happen, and we react to them. Patterns/Trends are the first level of the iceberg below the waterline. We try to anticipate them based on the events. Underlying Structures make up the second level of the iceberg below the waterline. This is where we try to understand what influences the patterns and relationships. The lowest layer of the iceberg, deep in the ocean, is made up of Mental Models. This is where we identify assumptions, beliefs, and values about the system and consider ways of transforming the system.
Finding Our Communities
As a newcomer to this community, I proposed a conversation around finding our communities. It started out as finding out who’s out there - with groups such as Virtual DDD, DDD Europe, DDD Australia, DDD United States, DDD North America, and events such as Explore DDD, Software Crafters Unconference Online, CoMo Camp, and SoCraTes. It eventually evolved into what makes a great community, what do we want from our communities, and how do we make a safe, inclusive community.
Share Your Systems Pain
Diana proposed the “Share Your (systems) Pain” topic that met in The Bar. It was great to hear others’ pains in the Systems Thinking realm. Pains ranged from burnout to mentalities of different sized companies to trying to change mental modes. Some feel the pain as the only Systems Thinker or architect on their project. The difference between Systems Thinking and engineering can be a pain point. There’s the fear of being alone, being unicorns. Sometimes, the pain comes from the disruption we bring in challenging the normal thinking. I hope we all realize in the end that we aren’t alone.
For me, my pain lies in the lack of representation - I’m not the classic ivory tower architect. I’m not an “old grey beard”. First off - I can’t even grow a beard! Besides that, I carry authority when I need to, but I don’t wield it like an ivory tower architect. I don’t stay in my tower and make decisions. I prefer a collaborative environment, having those conversations with the people involved, making informed decisions. I could tell from others’ reactions that I’m not alone in these pains.
Doing Systems Thinking without Talking About Systems Thinking
This was the last conversation I caught at this event. When I saw the title, I knew I had to be there. I’m in the group of Systems Thinkers who do without having the right vocabulary. I also know that pain of talking about a concept and doing it without mentioning its name. We had to go through that in the Agile days, when companies assumed that all Agile practices were religious and had to be carried out with specificity without wiggle room.
Some of the practices we brought up were Domain Storytelling and drawing rich pictures to help improve conversations on the projects. Having strong facilitation skills can help in bringing Systems Thinking practices into the work environment, as many exercises require facilitation. Someone mentioned bringing in incident management as an opportunity to think of the systems as a whole. We talked about how we have to be fluent enough in tools before we can encourage others to use them. Sometimes, we have to use things like empathy and social collateral for gaining buy-in into adding practices into our environments. The other key point I caught was to look outside of tech - look at the humanities. Look at industries besides tech. When it all boils down, you need to consider the human experience, not just the technical experience, of these systems.
This event was my first Virtual DDD event, and I look forward to upcoming events. It was great to meet the community, share our experiences and knowledge, and learn from each other. This is how our industries grow and thrive - one conversation at a time.