Stretch Modules
Norm Kerth

(Sem 94 Assistant)

At each meeting we design and run a few “Verseworks” style simulations, called “stretch modules”. Unlike PSL, each of these simulations is designed with one person in mind — the “Star”. The Star is interviewed to understand what causes them the greatest stress at work. Then several very clever people create an experience that helps the star learn something about how they are with their stress and how they could be.

I have found it interesting to watch the growth of members of the group over these many months. The level of issues that we are dealing with continues to get deeper. For example, at this meeting, we dealt with the following issues:

Balance in one’s life. One stretch module involved how to deal with all the demands placed on a key technical leader — working with technical groups who don’t have a clear picture of what needs to be done, and at the same time trying to communicate with upper management, when they seem to have little interest in what is necessary to engineer a software system. Accomplishing all this involved sacrifice on the part of the Star — long hours, poor diet, no rest, no recreation, no exercise, etc.

The lesson that our Star discovered was: “In dealing with all this work craziness, I have lost sight of a most important issue — taking care of myself.” Our Star is now engaged in a three month homework plan to improve his diet and exercise routine.

Emotional impact from down-sizing. Another Star was stressed by the downsizing process in his company. While those who have been dismissed have issues to deal with, this stretch module focused on the impact on the manager who had to make the tough decisions in times of craziness. We explored the emotions involved with making the decision to let good people go, and then missing them.

Dealing with your firm’s potpourri. And yet another Star taught us about dealing with those people who hold high staff positions in a firm. In some cases, these folks inflict crazy and unproductive programs on a company-wide basis, and are not held accountable for their results.

We came to understand that these programs are developed in isolation without a deep appreciation of what it really takes to “get the job done,” nor with an appreciation of cultural differences in the geographically scattered parts of this international firm. We developed a number of ways to deal with these people and programs, including the “symbolic pie-in-the face” tactic.

Although the stretch modules are custom-designed for a single Star, every one of them carried lessons for every one of us.

The SEM Family
Phil Fuhrer

(SEM 94, SEM Assistant 96)

Dan Starr

(SEM 94, SEM Assistant 98)

We are glad to report that our family is growing. This time Beth introduced her new husband Jef, Kevin introduced his wife Marsha, Gus introduced the rest of his family, and we were able to speak to Kathy on the phone and be introduced to her almost-new twins. Allen Cox (our Innkeeper at the Nordic Inn) introduced his new wife Judy, and we all got introduced to the concept of telephones in the Nordic Inn.

The general theme of this session was contracts. We started with a video tape on dominant-aggressive behavior in dogs, observing how our canine friends are looking for a “contract” to define their place in the dog/human “pack.” We explored how contracts between individuals can help us to deal with vulnerability and define relationships.

We covered our normal complement of stretch modules, which sort of tied things together: Phil T. (the F) entered into a contract that will undoubtedly enable him to outlive most of us, and Eileen practiced aggressive behavior by slapping Swiss Cream pies into the faces of Mike and Phil T (with Honey Weinberg, the German Shepherd, assisting in the cleanup). In addition to this, we somehow found time to do six software engineering problems (not including the problem of scheduling six SE problems!) and planning for SEM 95 family activities.

After all this activity, many of us hung around part of Monday to relax and got to witness Norm’s successful access to Compuserve and the Imposters’ Forum, and Kevin (who is blind) and Dan demonstrating Distributed Motorcycle Riding (Kevin drove and Dan sat on the back yelling “Left! Right! Straight! Speed up! Slow down! Stop!!”). This wild ride through the Mountain Lair parking lot culminated in a high-speed motorcycle chase with the local constabulary (secretly arranged by the rest of the family). “Yes, sir?” “License and registration please.” “Now, which one of you…”

As the family approaches our last official meeting, coming up in November, we are all a little concerned about how we will remain together. We’re confident, though, that healthy families like ours always find ways.

Second Order Change
Brian Batke (SEM 94)

In November, the First Software Engineering Management Group held our final “official” quarterly meeting at las Casas de Suenos in Albuquerque, NM.

From the time we started arriving, it seemed that we all were more interested in being with each other than in doing any serious work. Maybe that’s how the serious work gets done. This was yet another indication to me how this group has grown into something much greater than a group of people who met for four weekends under the auspices of “Software Engineering Management”.

Our theme for the weekend was 2nd-Order Change. This, Jerry explained, is about changing the way you change. It’s about changing the underying process of how we operate, whether it’s as individuals, as families, or as organizations.

I hadn’t really connected with this in a personal way until afterwards, when I went back to our first meeting a year ago, and thought about all of our individual requirements that we captured on snow cards. For me, and I think at least a few others, one of my objectives was to more fully integrate learnings from PSL/Change-Shop into the way I operate. I wanted it to be “in my blood”. As the year progressed each one of us I believe has experienced this type of change.

On Sunday afternoon, we all took part in reflecting on our first year together, and marking our transition to the next phase. We shared words and pictures about how we came to the group, about our significant learnings, about warmth, friendship, breathing, community, and about the power of our hopes and wishes for the future.

Before leaving on Tuesday morning, I walked around the grounds of the Casas de Suenos and was flooded with images from the past year: the garden in winter, then in full bloom in May, now going dormant … the smell of cookies baking in the afternoon … wonderful coffee … counting roses … Aikido on the lawn … decks of cards … hiking … the “ectoplasmic presence” that the Casas’ staff promised would be promptly removed for the arriving non-SEM guests. There are many more — more than can possibly fit in this space.

We decided to look at this last meeting not as an end, but as a change. Our group will continue. In addition to the various personal visits we’ll make, we’ve already scheduled our next meeting: this August in Mt. Crested Butte. I’m already having trouble being patient. (And SEM 94 has continued to meet every year.)

Making Contact
Colleen Rinehart

(SEM 94, SEM Assistant 95)

The theme for our first meeting of the second Software Engineering Management group was “Making Contact”. Throughout the year we will tackle tough management issues, which will require us to examine our own patterns of incongruent behavior. Creating an environment in which people feel safe to get this kind of learning was of primary importance. “Making contact” was our first order of work.

We started by “making contact” with a lemon. Of course, the real purpose of this exercise wasn’t to make contact with citrus fruit so as to create an environment in which it was safe for a lemon to explore management issues! But, the lemon encounter did serve as a metaphor for our year’s work. In a very short amount of time we can accomplish something that might at first seem like a very difficult task.

Returning to our theme of “making contact” we then shared our homework, a biography of anything we wished the group to know about us. Through this process we discovered an environment in which it was safe to share fears, struggles, accomplishments, excitements and dreams. There was an implicit agreement that it was ok to share these things with the group. We were able to quickly transfer this implicit agreement into a set of explicit ground rules for how we work together.

By Saturday afternoon we were ready to tackle our first set of management issues. We selected four software engineering problems and two stressful situations. We then broke into two teams to design the stretch modules.

On Sunday we simulated the stressful situations and processed the significant learnings. We also practiced our consulting skills by helping each other with the software engineering management problems.

By Sunday evening we had accomplished a great deal. For me, this, the theme of “making contact” and the lemon exercise were great reminders of how to manage a project. By working first on the team and the process, we were able to do a lot of hard work in a short amount of time.

Checking In
Ken Cowles

(SEM 95, SEM Assistant 96)

The SEM 95 Group experienced a major transformation over the May weekend – it evolved from a unique (and interesting!) collection of individuals to a tightly-knit group of mutually caring people.

How does such magic transpire? Is it a matter of picking the “right people”? Providing the “right training”? Offering the “right incentives”? These are the questions every thoughtful manager would love to have answered. A closer look at SEM 95 and its process can help each of us understand why things fail, and why they succeed.

The people involved are people just like you, dear reader. The focus of their career training has shifted to self-learning and growth. Their only apparent common experience is attendance at PSL and Change Shop. However, there is a common motivation: to expand beyond their current limitations. This is the secret of their “incentives” – they come from within.

With the right leadership, arguably the most critical element of all, SEM provides an environment wherein safety is the key. Self-growth always requires an investment of personal resources, and that means there is risk and vulnerability. Without safety there is no opportunity to encourage and nurture this investment. In a safe environment, almost any activity can become a learning experience – a fact we all witnessed by merely attempting (and failing miserably!) to plan a group lunch.

Almost any ordinary circumstance can cause us to “go incongruent,” to experience stress, or to have our well-worn buttons pushed. These stressful situations (ordinary, personal, or work-related) often provide the content for our weekends. Problems are then discussed in small groups, or often as a whole group, and insight is shared and processed. In a SAFE environment, the equation looks something like this:

failure = learning = success

or more simply,

failure = success.

Each member of SEM 95 faces daily challenges in life, from job severance to family difficulties, including severe illnesses, communciation problems, discontent and feelings of unlove. ALL of these conditions are present in SEM2. It is not a place for perfect people; rather it is a place to share our vulnerability as humans, to support each other, and to move forward in life with greater compassion, freedom and happiness. It is a place to practice love.

The Joining
Ken Cowles

(SEM 95, SEM Assistant 96)

The mountain home of Dani and Jerry provided a backdrop of beauty for the joining of SEM 94 and SEM 95 members last August. The time together was pre-planned, but the events were not.

The two groups met together for one day and quickly became one cohesive unit. Any fears about “us and them” melted away instantly, as people from each group dropped personal barriers and connected as if they were old friends. One by one new faces were seen around the breakfast table and assimilated into the group like welcomed nourishment. By the time our mutual session began, there were no strangers.

The day’s work echoed the patterns of weather that danced before our view in the beautifully windowed meeting room. It began with clouds, bringing forth first rain and then hail, then breaking into sunlight late in the day.

A “Family Reconstruction” was the order of the day, and the process uncovered a wealth of feelings and information relevant to every person in that room. One of the most valuable lessons for SEM attendees may well be that every situation is a learning opportunity, every individual a treasure. We thank our brave explorer, who taught us so much about ourselves. We all left with softened hearts.

Closing Thoughts
Here are a few thoughts from members of SEM 96 after our last meeting of the year..

The Importance of Diversity
Andy Streich (SEM 96)

SEM 96 had it’s last meeting of the year in November and is planning its first meeting of 1997. SEM 94 and SEM 95 continue to meet. Enough said about the value of SEM.

I found this quote recently, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” At SEM I picked up some crucial skills to help myself and others make the suffering more optional that it first appears. These skills have to do listening, offering help, asking for help, eliciting information, letting go of preconceived solutions, etc. They make us better managers and better people.

I’ve also become intrigued with the process of SEM, with what happens when we get together and why it is an effective approach to learning. So I’ve been looking for other sources of that kind of experience as well as the level of expertise that Jerry brings to it.

The importance of diversity has been brought home to me in SEM, so I’m applying it to the SEM experience itself. Luckily I’ve found some things that work for me in the same way SEM does. That’s the true value of the experience for me.


Sue Petersen (SEM 96)

I’ve been trying to think of something to say. And I can’t think of anything. I don’t know how to sum up this past year, not using words. I’ve changed so much, in so many ways (some of which I’m not even aware of yet). I’ve gained so much, and made so many friends, and was able to contribute in so many unexpected ways…

I’m a different person than I was in February. And I never would have predicted that I’d grow this fast, in this direction.

I saw something on Compuserve a few weeks ago. Somebody was talking about a problem at the office, and said that he felt unable to change the situation, that in order to do so he’d ‘have to change his entire personality’. My first thought was ‘Yes, of course. It’s called growth.’

Now, of course, ‘growth’ doesn’t involve changing so much that you ‘lose yourself’. But I believe there is truth in my reaction. Life never gets easier as I grow, but the ‘hard’ problems are harder every year. I’ve handled the less difficult ones without really noticing them as problems at all! The funny things is, that’s not a learning from SEM. That one came from PSL, a lifetime of growing ago.

Ken Brann (SEM 96)

It’s not an easy task to sum up the year from a SEM perspective. Events run together in my mind and, although I did take notes, I don’t have a real clear picture. This doesn’t bother me in the least, however, because the overall feelings I have as I harken back are warmth, friendship, support, and a longing for more – more learning and growth through mutual sharing with truly wonderful people. It is this sharing, both in person and via email exchanges, that I’ve enjoyed the most.

The perspective these exchanges have provided me have been the key to this year’s contribution to incremental self-discovery and greater self-esteem.

Let’s keep doing it! I say that because as I learn more I also learn that the whole is much larger than I prevously suspected, which means that I’m not likely to reach “the end” any time soon. This is a good thing. It’s like reading a really good book without the anxiety that the last chapter is approaching.

We Are Not Victims,
“They” are Not Evil

Howard Campbell

(SEM 95, SEM Assistant 96)

As SEM 96 concluded its first year of existence, I was reminded of (and scared by) the importance of the work we do as managers. Many of us have been subjected to poor management over the last year. One insight we arrived at that sung to me is that we are also always participants in these exact same situations.

Remembering that we’re participants, not victims, is to not forget the self in the equation. Sometimes we seem to forget that the managers with whom we’re having troubles are also part of the context. Not necessarily evil, perhaps just not very good at their jobs, to paraphrase Satir.

On the same vein, I’m also reminded that as managers we have to remember those we’re managing. How often am I the bad manager in someone else’s eyes? Food for thought, that.

The Roadrunner Rule
Brian Lawrence (SEM 96)

“The roadrunner will pose for you only when there is no film in your camera.”

I’ve stopped taking notes. Actually, I stopped early in the previous meetingin Mt. Crested Butte, when we started practicing some Aikido.

I’ve decided to go for the “gestalt” experience. Taking notes, while improving how I remember things, has been detracting from my paying close attention to the dialog.

We are moving along, unremorsefully dissecting a deep personal conflict when someone gently, but suddenly said “Everyone turn slowly and look out the window. There’s a roadrunner walking along the outside wall. We immediately, to a person, quietly turn and look. The roadrunner is nonchalantly strutting along the wall, in plain view. I quickly search for and find my camera. The roadrunner is passing around the curve of the wall towards the north, into the range of the next window.

The group shifts for a better view out of the other window. I am trying to frame the roadrunner from behind everyone else. As it slips away, I take a shot. Sue exclaims “I want a copy!” I’m certain that the shot’s too far away, and the bird moved quickly, just as I clicked the button. While we’re regrouping, I step outside to see if I can catch the roadrunner at the far end of the wall. It’s nowhere in sight. I trudge back in, and re-join the group.

The break comes after the previous one, where Maggie graciously took our group photo while Jerry took charge of handling the quilt that represente the absent “Maureen.” I set out to get the film developed. I hurry down Angus Road, trying not to exceed 10 miles per hour. (It’s a kind of Zen experience). I turn over the film at the local shop, then head back.

As I approach the gate, there is the roadrunner. It’s sitting on one of the wooden poles lashed to the steel gate that makes the gate look so homey and inviting (a curious attribute for a gate).

As I pull up, opening my window to enter the secret code, it remains there, examining me. The gate begins to move, and the roadrunner hops a few feet to the matching fence poles on the left.

As I pass through the gate, window still open, the roadrunner just stays there. I stop part way through and stare. In my rush to get the film developed, I’d just grabbed the camera and gone. I unloaded the film in the shop; no new film.

I’m five feet from the bird, and it’s not movingI I look at it. It looks at me. Then, it turns and holds a profile for several seconds. Then it moves on. It was the perfect photo opportunity. Damn.

I park the car, and rush inside. The group has still not reconvened, so load up some film and pop back outside. The roadrunner has moved to a nearby tree. As I approach, a bird-of-prey flies by, and every creature scatters. Defeated, I head back in.

As we start again, we take the opportunity to entertain comments. I offer “The Roadrunner Rule” and relate my tale.

Later, Don leans over to me and whispers “It’s teasing you…” He glances over there and I look. There it is, doing a New York Stroll along the wall. I grab the camera, film fully loaded, and it hops off the wall and disappears.

In some ways, SEM 96 has obeyed “The Roadrunner Rule”. We’ve never all joined together for a portrait when the camera has been ready. Yet I feel like the image of the roadrunner on the fence, that this group’s portrait, each individual, and all together, is burned into my memory forever. And rejoice that I’ll have many more chances to take more pictures.

“Moral: Life is a Roadrunner. If you try to capture it, it slips away.”

Gems from SEM 96
Rick Brenner (SEM 96)

When I volunteered to write this article at the start of this second meeting of SEM 96, I really didn’t have any idea what I would write. But I knew I would want some sort of record of what was happening, so I began taking notes.

I found myself trying to capture the gems that people would say, not only in sessions but during lunch, riding in the car, and walking the roads around Jerry and Dani’s house in Mt. Crested Butte. On the second day, it occurred to me to ask the group directly, to offer the group the opportunity not only to create new gems but to select from what each of us had seen and heard and felt.

So on the last day of our meeting, we all took a few minutes to write just a few words to suggest what this meeting of SEM 96 meant to us personally. Signatures were optional. What we produced follows.

Some of this is very personal &endash; so personal that only SEM 96 may understand it in the way the authors meant it. But even at its most personal, there is often meaning and value accessible to most PSL, Change Shop, or SEM alums. I offer it in that spirit, with the hope that it can convey to you some of the breadth and depth and intensity of our experience this weekend &endash; which, for me, was the best yet.

The Gems

If I’m with another person I’m not alone.

Ask or you’ll never know what will happen.

Being is enough &endash; Joe

Balance on the cusp of flowing power and you will never be tossed asunder. Sue

I need to take care of myself First! Centered; Grounded; and Energized! Thanks to Roderick (our Aikido instructor)!

It’s very hard to influence someone when you’re not there.

Be aware of the sadness beneath your anger.

When eating a Gummi Bear, do you digest the wisdom?

A memorable weekend where my best friend (my wife) met my new friends (SEM 96) and participated in Aikido, and fun. Ken

This weekend is a renewal of the possibility of what a human organization can be. Because we are human, we had to take a few steps backwards before we could take a step forward &endash; as we are beaten by a world that does not strive to be human. We were and continue to be Samurai warriors &endash; keeping the goal while “trying” to be present of all around us. Maureen

A breath of fresh air. We set out on one journey but arrived at a better place.

More possibilities to be an interruption cowboy.

SEM is a complex system &endash; chaotic. Check-in is where it all happens &endash; except when it doesn’t. We learned more about centeredness through Aikido, self-disclosure and confrontation, and discussion of hard issues.

When safety is first all else follows. – Phil

Flowing with the energy instead of fighting (resisting) it.

On the second day, we came closer together. I felt us all opening up, especially after we struggled with the meaning of “safety.”

“There ain’t no speed bumps in Car Heaven.”

“We all used to run around with floppies.”

Coming to SEM is like coming in from the cold night air to a room full of your friends singing your favorite song.

SEM 97 Goals

SEM 97 had its first meeting in Albuquerque in February, and here are some of the goals they set for themselves for the year:

Gain the courage to do the things I know I need to do.

Twist my mind and learn more about how to help others succeed.

Work and life is a process…I need to refocus on what’s important.

Engage a community in looking at how we can transform ourselves and how we are being with each other.

Learn more about myself.

Learn about the distinction ‘being present,’ being the ‘seer,’ and being the ‘seen’.

Hear stories, tell stories. (We did a lot of this, for sure.)

Become a better person.

Change lives (me and others), change the world.

Ask for what I really want/need.

To notice and think about how we interact.

To continue to grow in my ability to enable the freeing of soul at work.

To share with and learn from a group of people like me, as I transition from one stage in my life to another.

To find a way to be appreciated. To learn to be valued.

I want to change where I work so that it becomes more of a place where I really want to work.

I’m in a situation with two people who are taking the ‘boss’ role. This is taking lots of energy. This is also culturally based. I’m looking for help in dealing with this.

Define a future for my company’s software development, me, all the other wonderful folks on the project.

To suck Jerry’s and others brains dry. (We have a group Vampire!) To change myself.

To learn to share, and to use this at home.

To put the fun back into engineering. (We could put the “gin” back, or we could put the “ring” back. Or take the “fun” out of dysfunctional.)

Understand issues in software engineering groups.

Learn how to be more effective at helping people find themselves and their personal power.

All these goals seemed reachable, and much progress was made on some of them already.