On "The Dream Team Nightmare", by Portia Tung

Posted on January 9, 2014

The first “agile” conference I attended was SPA 2008 which took place in a nice hotel in the english countryside. And one of the first session I attended at this conference was a session about Real options, initially planned to be run by Chris Matts but actually lead by Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and Portia Tung. I vividly recall that, although the session was far from being perfect, it was fun, intriguing and I learnt quite a few new things.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend several of Portia’s session, mainly at [XP Day Benelux[(http://xpday.be/) (which by the way is the best conference I ever attended), and they always have been great moments, perfectly balanced between learning and fun, and perfectly organized1.

The Dream Team Nightmare

The Dream Team Nightmare is Portia Tung’s new book published by Pragmatic Books, which offers you a journey beyond the basics of agile coaching practices, techniques and tools. You take the role of Jim Hopper, an experienced agile coach which has been appointed by Love Inc. to help one of the company’s development team, the Dream Team.

This team has been struggling with agile software development practice for couple of years and is facing severe issues: Development time increases, relations with business people are difficult and conflicting, quality is soaring… After initial enthusiasm for agile adoption, it seems to have been lagging behind other teams, to the point where they are considering abandoning agile altogether. You have been given a week to provide the management of the company an assessment of the situation and proposals to improve the team’s productivity and quality.

What I Loved

The first thing I loved with this book is its form. Being an adventure book means that you are somehow in control of the destiny of Jim, the main character: You have to make decisions at crucial points, which can have beneficial or detrimental effects on the outcome of the story. Each step of the story is written in a lively manner, with a special attention to the description of the characters and the dialogues.

Day by day, one follows the progress of the coach and its team, and how they apply a lot of varying coaching techniques and tools to interact with people and start solving their problems. Without the hassle of a text book, one is then introduced to things like setting a kanban board for a meeting or a team, various meeting facilitation techniques for meetings, perfection game and decider from Core protocols, story writing, measurements and feedback evaluations, system thinking with reality and future trees…

The book covers a lot of the classical dysfunctions one find in software development (and probably other engineering) teams: Lack of trust between team members, and across team boundaries, isolation of teams from other teams’ experiments and feedback, silos, business-technical divide, fear of change and failure, lack of feedback, point less measurements and estimating. I especially liked how kanban boards are used systematically to set goals and track progress, even for meetings; the emphasis on concrete and multidimensional measurements for progress; and the option thinking toolbox which is used extensively in the book to build a release plan that is both realistic, flexible and business-oriented.

It is not the same thing to read a formal description of a tool or technique, and to live it through the eyes of an involved person in a concrete situation. The Dream Team Nightmare succeeds in being both pedagogical and fun, which is a rare endeavour. And I already started using some of the techniques from the book in my daily work!


  1. The quality of Portia’s sessions props deserves a special mention!