On Managing Work – Not People

Most leaders I work with have a common frustration they express to me: an inability to achieve significant gains in how quick and predictable they are in delivering work to their customers.

In my work as a consultant, coach, and trainer, there is one strategy that I help them discover that results in dramatic change to their thinking and how they view work and workers within their organization. So what is the strategy?

Flow Efficiency

Work items (ie: user stories, features, epics), or whatever artifacts represent customer recognizable value within your context, can spend their lifespan alternating between two states: active and waiting. Work is active when we are currently engaged in adding value to a work item – it has our attention and we are actively working on it. Work is in a waiting state when it has been started, but is then interrupted (for a variety of reasons) to address something else. The active time in relation to the total lifetime of a work item is a construct known as Flow Efficiency. An understanding of this relation can have serious implications on how you view your work and the decisions you make.

It’s expressed as a percentage using the following formula: (Active Time / Total Time) * 100

Here is an example. A user story has taken 26 hours to complete (from start to finish). Out of that 26 hours, only 2 hours where actually spent working on the item and 24 hours of the total was in a wait state. That is a flow efficiency of 7.7%.

( 2 / 26 ) * 100 = 7.7

You may be surprised – as are many of my clients and students – to discover that in knowledge work (ie: Software Development) a typical flow efficiency is measured at 4-8%! In fact, 40%+ would be VERY good.

Think about that!

This means that work items spend their existence primarily in a waiting state. Even though we have started to work on something, 92-96% of the time we are not adding value to the work item! There are numerous reasons as to why work items are placed in a waiting state: task-switching, queues, blockers, internal/external dependencies, etc… (Remember: If you are working on more than one item, every time you put aside one item to work on another, that item effectively goes into a wait state.)

So what are the implications of a low flow efficiency system and how might it change how we work and the decisions we make?

Implication #1: How busy people are is largely irrelevant.

20th century management techniques have engrained in us an obsession with the high-utilization of people. Everyone must be busy working on as many work items as they can.

This stems from a desire within us to measure what we can see, and unless we are in a manufacturing environment, what we can see are usually people! In knowledge work we can’t see the work going on – it is for the most part invisible. It happens inside people’s heads. Yet managers consume themselves with ensuring that people are busy in the hopes that this will churn out more work in less time. And even if it doesn’t, at least they can claim they were getting the most out of their people!

In a low flow efficiency environment high-utilization of people is not the path to greater speed and predictability. The fact of the matter is that if work spends the majority of it’s time in a waiting state, then it really does not matter how busy people are – to the contrary. More work for individuals in a low efficiency environment only contributes to a degrading flow efficiency – particularly because of task-switching.

Customers are not paying for key strokes. They don’t care how busy your workers are. They care about speedy delivery, reliability, and quality. Idle work, not idle people should be the centre of your attention. Your customer’s needs will be more positively impacted by focusing on the flow of work (and removing delay within that flow), not the utilization of people.

Implication #2: The performance of people is largely irrelevant.

In an effort to increase the speed and amount of work that teams deliver, the response from most managers is to hire more people and/or make people work faster and harder. The majority of my coaching engagements usually begin with a manager meeting with me and pleading for help to “please go make my teams faster”! Thus begins the process of me helping them understand that if they are in a low flow efficiency environment (they usually are) focusing on improving the performance of individuals (or hiring more of them) is not really going to have much of an impact in addressing their pain points. Why?

Imagine this frustrated manager has an environment where flow efficiency is 6%. So 94% of the time work is in a wait state, and only 6% of the time is value actually being added to work. If we choose to focus on optimizing the performance of the 6% of active work, any improvements are going to be very marginal on the overall increase in delivery time of work over its entire lifespan – we are only addressing 6% of the total!

Let’s suppose that out of that 6%, that 2% of that time is development work. Even if you make your development team 10 times faster, or double the size of your development team, you are going to have very little impact on the whole.

The opportunities for improvement that are really going to shift the needle in delivery times and predictability are in tackling the 94% of delay that exists in the flow of work. In such an environment we need to help managers move away from managing and measuring people, and instead managing and measuring the flow of work.

Implication #3: Your estimates are doomed.

Most organizations are horrible at estimating. There are numerous reasons for this, but a key contributor to why our estimates are so unreliable is that when we estimate we are producing “effort” estimates. We are estimating the amount of effort we think it will take to complete a work item, and when we do this we are estimating the 4-8% of active value-adding-work-time we anticipate to incur. But we are NOT estimating the amount of wait time that our work item is going to spend in its lifespan. That’s 92-96% of the lifespan of a work item that we are not taking into consideration. No wonder we are so far off in our estimates. We can try and game the system by adding buffers to our estimates, but alas this tactic is often futile and detrimental to developing predictability.

Implication #4: Focusing on team performance is not the path to business agility.

It has been my experience, that in most organizations of more than 50 people, the notion of self-organizing cross-functional teams is a fantasy. Time and time again, when I look at how work flows through an organization, it rarely exists within the boundary of one team and independent of any other teams. What I more commonly witness are cross-functional silo’d teams that have dependencies between each other.

Even more detrimental to the delivery times and predictability of our work is the delay that exists between teams. If work is flowing through more than one team (it usually is) and that work is not arriving to the right-team-at-the-right-time then delay is going to be introduced – and with delay we have negative impact to our flow efficiency.

It won’t matter how optimized individual teams are if the flow of work amongst them is not managed to create smooth flow. Business agility is not achieved by how many high-performing teams you have, but rather, how well you manage the interactions amongst teams.

“The performance of a system is not the sum of its parts. It’s the PRODUCT of its INTERACTIONS.” – Dr. Russell Ackoff.

Let’s Do Something About It

Now that we are aware of some of the implications of a low flow efficiency, what practical and actionable guidance should we consider in order to improve our service delivery and deliver value to our customers when they need it? How can we do this in a way that favours managing and measuring work OVER managing and measuring people?

Visualize work: Knowledge work and professional services are domains in which the work we do is largely invisible. We need to find a way to make this work visible so that we have something tactile that we can have conversations about. We need to see how-our-work-works!

Limit the amount of work in progress: If we are to catalyze improvements in how we work and develop a sustainable pace, we need to start limiting the amount of work we commit to at once. Predictability in our delivery is not possible unless we limit the amount of work in progress.

Manage the Flow of Work: As we have discussed in this article, we need to focus our efforts on identifying those things that hinder the flow of work. We need to shift our attention from the utilization of people towards the management of work and how it flows.

Make Policies Explicit: Whenever we discover flow impediments we should strive to resolve them. Part of the resolution should include updating the policies of how work flows through our system and making them visible. Evolving our policies and making them explicit is a cornerstone to continuous improvement.

Implement Feedback Loops: Business agility and continuous improvement are rooted in a desire to quickly learn and respond to feedback. We need to establish mechanisms where we can collect and evaluate feedback so that we can maintain or correct our course. These mechanisms should foster an ability to gather meaningful feedback that we can act on.

Collaborate and Experiment: An agreement to pursue evolutionary improvement by encouraging acts of leadership and collaboration at all levels of an organization are necessary if we aspire to a culture where change can flourish through experimentation founded on the scientific method. Our approach needs to move towards a non-deterministic probabilistic way of thinking, and away from a speculative and wishful mindset.

Helping organizations develop an understanding of the implications of poor flow efficiency and then using these practices to help overcome that challenge is a strategy that has proven very effective for myself and my clients. My premium management training classes provide in-depth practical guidance on how to apply these techniques.

Conclusion

I’m not suggesting that an obsession with accurately tracking flow efficiency will be time well spent, in-fact, even if you wanted to, it can be quite difficult to do without electronic tools. However, even an approximate understanding of your flow efficiency, or being on the lookout for interruptions of flow (blocked items, items aging in queues, dependencies, etc..), and focusing on developing smooth-fast-flow, can have tremendous benefits to your ambition of delivering more quickly and more reliably to your customers.

Focus on eliminating wait times of your work items! Strive for flow that is smooth and fast! Spend more time managing and measuring work, less on managing and measuring people.

If you are interested in learning more about each of these practices and how to apply them in your place of work, consider signing up for one of my premium management training workshops. I offer three LeanKanban University accredited management classes:

Team Kanban Practitioner

Kanban System Design

Kanban Management Professional

Follow me on Twitter @jamesdsteele


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The Secret to Finding a Job as a New Scrum Master

It appears to me there are more jobs available for Scrum Masters than ever before!  Why is it so hard for some people to find employment with Agile teams?

The problem is entirely predictable.  And for those eager to work in Scrum teams, the answer is also predictable.  I’ll explain.

Having taught Scrum to more than 2000 people, I have ongoing dialogue with many former students who are struggling to find opportunities to serve Agile teams and gain experience as a Scrum Master.  I have struggled to understand this dilemma because my experience was very different – I learned of Scrum in 2007 and simply asked my workmates:

“Would you like to try Scrum…I could be our Scrum Master?”

Unanimous reply: “Yes!”

That is not the common experience.  Many organizations are willing to send their staff to Scrum training for the sake of ‘Professional Development’ but only some of those organizations intend to develop Agile teams.  That pattern has created the current condition in which many recently-trained Scrum Masters are eager to apply their new knowledge but do not have organizational support to do so.

I opened my inbox today to a question from a former student of my Scrum class.  Let’s call her Jane:

“Hi David, I wanted to get your advice on a dilemma I have. I’m back on the job market and several companies are looking for Scrum Masters which is great to see.  I was in your CSM course last year and would love to work with a Scrum team…but I didn’t have the opportunity with my former employer.  How can I gain experience if all the available jobs require 2+ years experience?  What advice do you have for me?”

Jane is not alone.  The job market (today at LinkedIn) offers 591 positions in Canada for keyword ‘Scrum Master’ – and all that I’ve scanned require 1 or more years’ experience in the role.

In contrast to the dilemma described above, I have a totally different problem: I am contacted a few times per month by recruiters and hiring managers who ask me if I’m looking for a new contract.

Where’s the welcome mat for newcomers?  Do jobs exist for enthusiasts with no prior experience?

I believe so.

The dynamics we’re observing in the job market for Scrum Masters are well described by Everett Rogers in his paper called “Diffusion of Innovations” (1995).  You may recognize his theory by the following bell curve:

Scrum Innovation has Achieved Early Majority Adoption

I assert that Scrum has achieved “Early Majority” market penetration. And you might be asking what evidence I have to support that claim – of course, other than the fact that opportunity knocks frequently at my door but never at Jane’s.  I’ll describe the patterns I’ve observed in the market.

The authors of Scrum (Ken & Jeff, and others) were the Innovators.  When I first took on the role of Scrum Master (2007), knowledge of Scrum was limited to a few enthusiasts and early adopters.  Worldwide, a few thousand had learned of Scrum; in Canada, perhaps a hundred or so.  None of my friends or workmates had prior knowledge of Scrum; there were no job advertisements for Scrum Masters; there were no public training classes; many of the well-known books on the subject had not yet been written; and there was exactly one Certified Scrum Trainer in Canada: my colleague, Mishkin Berteig.

By 2012, awareness of Scrum was spreading.  It was a buzzword among start-ups and software development firms and a few brave souls were socializing the practice in large enterprises.  Despite the increasing awareness, the number of people who had served as Scrum Master in a proper Scrum team was, I’d estimate, less than 100 in Canada.  Yet, anyone with “Scrum” on their resume was considered rare and hiring managers among the early minority adopters were eager to snap them up.  A swell of “Agile Coach” contractors was starting to emerge and anyone willing to hang that shingle was considered an expert.  I’d argue their enthusiasm often out-weighed expertise but it was a new frontier after all and sheer enthusiasm counted for a lot.

By 2014, I noticed 2 patterns emerge.  First, young tech companies in Canada (the ‘early early adopters’) were no longer hiring Scrum Masters.  They considered Scrum expertise (or willingness) an obvious requirement of all new hires – like table-stakes.  Second, large enterprises were starting to post job advertisements for Scrum Masters.  These two patterns infer that the ‘late early adopters’ were onboard.

By 2016, evidence of ‘early majority’ adoption was mounting.  I received frequent requests to speak at hospitals, marketing agencies, industry events, ‘Leadership’ seminars.  Our federal Government departments started recruiting, not only Scrum Masters, but Product Owners too.  Small armies of young MBA grads were being sent by their big consulting firms to my Scrum classes to “get certified”.

So, in 2018… Jane is certainly asking “what does it mean for me?”  Well, it means there’s more opportunity than ever before.  That is certainly true and awareness and demand for Scrum continues to grow.  It also means I see a vast landscape of opportunities, but Jane sees closed doors – unfortunately for her.

There’s good news in this story for Jane… I promise!

Let’s think about the mindset common among the ‘early majority’ adopters. They are risk-averse, but not so much that they ignore market opportunities.  They live by a simple rule: “the 2nd mouse gets the cheese.”  They watch the early adopters carefully hoping to spot advantageous patterns.  (Scrum is one of those.)  And when they see a trend, they don’t pounce on it immediately – remember, they’re pragmatic.  They will want to hire Scrum Masters, but they’ll be careful about it: perhaps they’ll hire contractors rather than commit to full-time/permanent roles; perhaps they’ll require 5+ years’ experience hoping to acquire one of the early adopters who helped prove the efficacy of the new method; perhaps they’ll train internally hoping to gradually adjust and minimize disruption.  They’ll be reluctant to “take a chance” on a new hire without proven experience.

Those pragmatic habits of the early majority adopters make it difficult for them to hire Jane.

5 to 10 years from now, Jane’s job search may get a lot easier. Why?  Let’s think about the mindset common among the ‘late majority’ adopters.  They are risk-averse – to the point they ignore new trends and look instead for so-called “best practices”.  These organizations are doubling-down on Waterfall right now and sending their staff to PMP exam-prep courses.  They still think Scrum is a buzzword.  But they’ve taken note when Brian Porter, the CEO of Scotiabank said publicly, “we’re in the technology business. Our product happens to be banking.”  They’ve felt some shock when Alex Benay, CIO of Government of Canada talks about agile procurement and relentless incrementalism.  They will start hiring Scrum Masters when they’re shown evidence that Scrum is teachable, repeatable, reliable, and so-called “normal”.  They will believe (and trust deeply) that the community has developed well-established and standard methods which can be taught and learned systematically.  They’ll find the senior practitioners too expensive; and they’ll look to less experienced practitioners, like Jane, as a bargain.  They’ll be less concerned about in-the-trenches experience and more interested in industry norms.

Those risk-averse habits of ‘late majority’ adopters will make it easy for Jane to find employment – unfortunately though, the salary range is likely to be average at best.

(Let’s not discuss the Laggards today – they’re just funny.  They’re the reason your office still has a fax machine and your car still has a cigarette lighter.)

Jane!  I promised good news. Here it is…

Even at this stage of ‘early majority’ adoption, you’ll find some people who are on the edge of innovation.  Look for those enthusiasts and visionaries!  You’ll not find them easily in the big employers (banks, telecoms, etc.)  You’ll find such people in start-ups, small tech firms, product companies.  Those organizations are not looking for the stodgy corporate mindset – they’re eager to find other enthusiasts and they’re willing to take a chance.  They’re more interested to forge new paths than to follow others – so they’re excited by Jane’s willingness to forge her own new path and they’ll want to help her!

So, what if Jane herself is not ready for that level of risk?  Well, on one hand I feel every Scrum Master must develop high risk-tolerance.  But I understand not everyone starts there. Jane might seek the sense of job security and stability common in large enterprises.  In that condition, my advice to Jane would be: consider taking a job as not a Scrum Master but as a team member.  If you’re a Project Manager or Developer, or Business Analyst in the past, hunt for those opportunities then look for ways to transition into a new role.  That is, after all, the type of pragmatism the enterprises (early majority) appreciate.

Happy job hunting!

***
Thanks to Massimo for the conversation we had on the train yesterday.

Thanks to Brian.

Thanks for Valerie who reviewed and helped improve the article.


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Towards a Culture of Leadership: 10 Things Real Leaders Do (and So Can You)

This article is adapted from a session proposal to Toronto Agile Conference 2018.

Leadership occurs as conscious choice carried out as actions.

Everyone has the ability to carry out acts leadership. Therefore, everyone is a potential leader.

For leadership to be appropriate and effective, acts of leadership need to be tuned to the receptivity of those whose behaviour the aspiring leader seeks to influence. Tuning leadership requires the ability to perceive and discern meaningful signals from people and, more importantly, the system and environment in which they work.

As leaders, the choices we make and the actions we carry out are organic with our environment. That is, leaders are influenced by their environments (often in ways that are not easily perceived), and on the other hand influence their environments in ways that can have a powerful impact on business performance, organizational structures and the well-being of people. Leaders who are conscious of this bidirectional dynamic can greatly improve their ability to sense and respond to the needs of their customers, their organizations and the people with whom they interact in their work. The following list is one way of describing the set of capabilities that such leaders can develop over time.

  1. Create Identity: Real leaders understand that identity rules. They work with the reality that “Who?” comes first (“Who are we?”), then “Why?” (“Why do we do what we do?”).
  2. Focus on Customers: Real leaders help everyone in their organization focus on understanding and fulfilling the needs of customers. This is, ultimately, how “Why?” is answered.
  3. Cultivate a Service Orientation: Real leaders design and evolve transparent systems for serving the needs of customers. A leader’s effectiveness in this dimension can be gauged both by the degree of customer satisfaction with deliverables and to the extent which those working in the system are able to self-organize around the work.
  4. Limit Work-In-Progress: Real leaders know the limits of the capacity of systems and never allow them to become overburdened. They understand that overburdened systems also mean overburdened people and dissatisfied customers.
  5. Manage Flow: Real leaders leverage transparency and sustainability to manage the flow of customer-recognizable value through the stages of knowledge discovery of their services. The services facilitated by such leaders is populated with work items whose value is easily recognizable by its customers and the delivery capability of the service is timely and predictable (trustworthy).
  6. Let People Self-Organize: As per #3 above, when people doing the work of providing value to customers can be observed as self-organizing, this is a strong indication that there is a real leader doing actions 1-5 (above).
  7. Measure the Fitness of Services (Never People): Real leaders never measure the performance of people, whether individuals, teams or any other organization structure. Rather, real leaders, practicing actions 1-6 (above) understand that the only true metrics are those that provide signals about customers’ purposes and the fitness of services for such purposes. Performance evaluation of people is a management disease that real leaders avoid like the plague.
  8. Foster a Culture of Learning: Once a real leader has established all of the above, people involved in the work no longer need be concerned with “safe boundaries”. They understand the nature of the enterprise and the risks it takes in order to pursue certain rewards. With this understanding and the transparency and clear limits of the system in which they work, they are able to take initiative, run experiments and carry out their own acts of leadership for the benefit of customers, the organization and the people working in it. Fear of failure finds no place in environments cultivated by real leaders. Rather, systematic cycles of learning take shape in which all can participate and contribute. Feedback loop cadences enable organic organizational structures to evolve naturally towards continuous improvement of fitness for purpose.
  9. Encourage Others to Act as Leaders: Perhaps the highest degree of leadership is when other people working with the “real leader” begin to emerge as real leaders themselves. At this level, it can be said that the culture of learning has naturally evolved into a culture of leadership.
  10. Stay Humble: Real leaders never think that they have it all figured out or that they have reached some higher state of consciousness that somehow makes them superior to others in any way. They are open and receptive to the contributions of others and always seek ways to improve themselves. Such humility also protects them from the inevitable manipulations of charlatans who will, form time to time, present them with mechanical formulas, magic potions, palm readings and crystal ball predictions. Real leaders keep both feet on the ground and are not susceptible to the stroking of their egos.

If you live in Toronto, and you would like to join a group of people who are thinking together about these ideas, please feel welcome to join the KanbanTO Meetup.

Register here for a LeanKanban University accredited leadership class with Travis.


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Agile Blog: Scrum vs Open Agile vs Kanban (Visual Summary)

Welcome Agilist…whist we focus on ‘Being’ Agile, ‘Doing’ Agile goes hand in hand towards achieving a common goal…here is a quick visual comparative summary of 3 closely related but unique systems (Scrum, OpenAgile and Kanban) to get started…

  1. Origin
  2. Domain Application
  3. Time Availability for Change
  4. Roles
  5. Workflow
  6. Frequency

Ref:

https://www.scrum.org

http://www.openagile.com/

https://leankanban.com/

 


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Scrum, Kanban, OpenAgile: Same Goals, Different Approaches

The inspiration of this opinion piece comes from a professional student who just finished reading “The Scrum Guide” by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, “Essential Kanban Condensed” by David J Anderson and Andy Carmichael, and “The OpenAgile Primer” by Mishkin Berteig and The Berteig Consulting Team. These thoughts come from a humble place and is very open to feedback, differing opinions, or just comments in general. If I’m out to lunch, let me know!

On the surface of what seemingly looked like 3 very similar practices–after careful deliberation–turned out to be 3 unique approaches to creating high performance teams that deliver quality services. The objective of my article is to share some of the key differences that I uncovered after reading about each practice.

 

Differences in Structure:

All 3 agile practices rely on iterative development and continuous feedback to optimize the delivery of products and services. However, the difference I see is in the structure of each. Scrum is a defined framework with a set prescription to maximize the output of software delivery and product building. Whereas, Kanban is a flexible method that uses evolutionary change and self-organization as a way to continuously build out value and services, without overburdening the team. OpenAgile uses self-organizing behaviour that allows team members to commit to tasks based on capacity while prioritizing tasks with the highest value drivers.

 

Differences in Reflection periods:

All 3 agile practices stress the importance of reflecting and receiving feedback, however, each one implements this important event at different times. One of Scrum’s most vital ceremonies is the “Retrospective”. This time of reflection takes place at the end of every sprint—giving team members the time to reflect on ‘what went right’, ‘what went wrong’, and ‘areas for improvement’. OpenAgile encourages reflection within the ‘Engagement Meeting’ which kicks off every cycle—allowing team members to start off with improvement ideas at the forefront of every new cycle. Kanban on the other hand, incorporates seven specific opportunities for feedback loops (i.e. cadences) which are strategically placed so that feedback is continuous and supports the goal of evolutionary change.

 

Differences in Defining a “Team”:

All 3 writings described the importance and closeness of the “team” that is building these high-value services/products yet, the makeup of these teams differed quite largely between the 3 agile practices. Starting with Scrum—this practice has the defined role of ‘Scrum Master’ and ‘Product Owner’ but a cross-functional group of people who makeup the ‘development team’. The ‘Scum Master’ and ‘Product Owner’ are very intentional roles—serving strict and important functions for the ‘development team’ and their success. This differs from a ‘team’ within the Kanban practice which is just a group of people with no real designated roles. The team as a whole, works collaboratively and self-organizes on their own. Similarly, OpenAgile does not concern itself with defined roles and is also made up of a self-organizing team (or individual). However, OpenAgile does speak on the importance of team members stepping up to serve their teams in necessary capacities in which they name as the process facilitator and growth facilitator.


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Agility: Knowledge Generation and Beauty

Compromised Agility

The authors of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development expound a set of values and principles that define “Agile Software Development”. These values and principles, written in 2001, became the focal point of a revolution in how software developers work.

In the last several years, that revolution has spread beyond software development to encompass other aspects of technology, and beyond technology into operations, management, engineering, business development, sales, marketing and even outside of for-profit organizations into education, health, government, community and charitable organizations. Originally written in the context of software, we can easily generalize the values and principles to other types of work. For example, the Manifesto refers to valuing “working software over comprehensive documentation.” We can easily generalize this to a more abstract statement that we value “results over bureaucracy.” The other values and principles can be similarly abstracted.

As the revolution has spread, unfortunately, the values and principles have also become compromised or selectively applied. Perhaps most obvious is how Agile Lifecycle Management tools such as Jira have often been substituted in place of the first value of the Manifesto: “we have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools” [emphasis added]. The irony of this substitution seems to be lost on those selling and buying these tools. Many other compromises or selective applications are common, and they are usually unique to each organization’s circumstances.

This evolution of the application of the Manifesto’s values and principles can be understood negatively or positively. I’m an optimist; yet we need to look at the negative, critical side before we can see the positive.

Cargo Cult Agility / No True Agilist

There are two common ways to understand the failure of organizations to do “true Agile”. Both are negative in the sense that they are criticisms without a reasonable solution to help an organization out of the situation into a better situation. As a consultant seeing many organizations, as a trainer hearing about many organizations, and as an active member of the global community of Agilists, I hear these criticisms quite regularly.

The first approach to understanding this partial agility is by comparison to the cargo cult mentality:

A cargo cult is a millenarian movement first described in Melanesia which encompasses a range of practices and occurs in the wake of contact with more technologically advanced societies. The name derives from the belief which began among Melanesians in the late 19th and early 20th century that various ritualistic acts such as the building of an airplane runway will result in the appearance of material wealth, particularly highly desirable Western goods (i.e., “cargo”), via Western airplanes.

In this approach to understanding an organization’s failure to embrace true Agile, the critic asserts that the leaders and employees of the organization do not really understand true Agile and are only practicing the obvious ritualistic aspects such as daily stand-ups (from Scrum), note cards on a wall (from Kanban), or user stories (from Extreme Programming). This criticism has some merit: many people are told to “do Agile” without proper training and coaching to understand the theory or the contextual applicability of various practices. The critic continues to compare this approach to Agile as a belief in magic: that the benefits of Agile can be gained through an application of the rituals without an understanding of, and more importantly adoption of the values and principles.

The “cargo cult” criticism does not offer a solution. When asked, the critics themselves will say, effectively, “well, you just need to really understand it!” This criticism also suffers from the inherent notion of the superior position of the critic: “I understand it… you don’t.” Not particularly helpful, especially for the staff in an organization who depend on executives and other leaders to support true Agile. And, not particularly helpful for the executives who often do not have the skill to support such a deep change.

The second common approach to understanding the failure of organizations to achieve real agility is the “No True Scotsman” comparison. This is a bit more challenging to describe because it is actually a criticism of other critics. Wikipedia describes No True Scotsman this way:

No true Scotsman or appeal to purity is an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample. Rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule (“no true Scotsman would do such a thing”; i.e., those who perform that action are not part of our group and thus criticism of that action is not criticism of the group).

The starting point of this criticism is actually the reciprocal of the cargo cult criticism: the critic conflates true agility with the compromise happening at an organization and then accuses agility of being a failure. This criticism is often brought up in the following style of discussion:

Person A: Agile sucks because Big Corp is trying Scrum but it is really just an excuse for executives to micro-manage every little bit of work.

Person B: But Scrum and Agile are against micro-management! Big Corp isn’t really doing true Agile.[NOTE: this is the cargo cult criticism in brief.]

Person A: That’s just an excuse. You’re using the no true Scotsman argument and it’s a logical fallacy. Agile is what people are actually doing, therefore Agile sucks.

Person B: !

Interestingly, this argument style is often used between competing brands of agility. Leaders of both the Scrum and Kanban approaches to agility are well known for this approach to argument, particularly about each other’s chosen approach: “method X doesn’t work, as clearly seen by all the organizations doing X badly, therefore you should try my method Y which does work.” Again, this is ironic given the first value of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development “…over processes….”

Like the cargo cult criticism, the no true Agilist criticism does not offer a solution, other than reverting to a non-Agile approach to work (or more rarely, another approach that suffers the same imperfect implementation in organizations). And, like the cargo cult criticism, there is some truth in the no true Agilist view: legitimately, many organizations are doing a very very poor job of applying the values and principles (and associated practices). The conclusion that Agile sucks and therefore we shouldn’t even be trying is forgivable. However, the people online proclaiming this problem tend to be loud in their conclusion: let’s go back to our halcyon bygone days where the wind was fresh, the sun was bright, and we were all bucolically happy with our defined roles, our rigid processes, and our tools we could blame for every failure of our efforts (ironic hyperbole intended).

Both criticisms, reciprocal as they are, leave a gap. They don’t offer a full explanation of what is happening, nor do they offer a positive path to improvement. For that, we need to change our perspective just a bit.

Knowledge Generation and the Benefit of Time

I have been working with Agile methods for over 20 years. As a programmer and then enterprise architect, I adopted agile methods relatively early – even before the term “Agile” was applied to software development and these methods were referred to as “lightweight” methods. I mention this not to tout my expertise or even my experience, but rather my perspective. I’ve “been around” enough to know with a fair degree of certainty the following important points:

  1. There is no large organization that has successfully “transformed” from a non-Agile state to an enterprise-wide Agile state. By “large”, I mean at least 5000 total employees.  By “transformed” I mean that it grew up using traditional techniques and has fully switched over to Agile management techniques throughout the total employee population. And by “successfully” I mean that it has sustained the use of Agile management techniques at the organizational level through at least one boom/bust economic cycle, and one change of C-Level leadership. (If you are reading this, and you know of such an organization, I would be excited to hear about it!)
  2. Large organizations that have high levels of agility typically started as small organizations with high levels of agility. Google, Amazon and Facebook come to mind. Their level of agility includes a high level of technical agility in addition to their management agility. I’m not sure, but I suspect that these two types of agility go hand-in-hand; certainly the Manifesto for Agile Software Development suggests they do go together.
  3. The only proof of transformation is in the sustainability of that transformation through existential crisis.
  4. Partial or compromised agility is the only kind of agility that is, so far, successfully sustained in a few rare cases of large organizations. Capital One is an example of this. They have been trying to adopt Agile methods and approaches since 2001. They have tried many techniques, and had many ups and downs in their journey. In 2017 at the Lean Kanban North America conference, two senior Agile coaches from Capital One asserted that they still have a long way to go for full enterprise agility – after working at it for 17 years already.

How does this compare to other management philosophies? The history of the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing, at least 50 years in the making so far, has shown us that revolutionary changes in the way work is done, can take many decades to become normalized. In the 1980’s and 90’s many organizations adopted “lean” as a management fad.  We saw a swift rise and then fall in the popularity of lean. But the core principles and ideas of lean survived, and have continued to spread throughout many industries. Now, many organizations are “culturally” lean: they won’t revert to other methods of working even in crisis situations… and many others are not yet there.

With a timeline of 50+ years, perhaps we can consider our efforts to transform organizations to a greater level of agility in a more positive light.  Human society at large is learning about agility though many many experiments run in thousands of organizations. Sometimes these experiments are motivated by wise and considered thought, but often, they are motivated by the faddish popularity of Agile methods such as Scrum, SAFe, and Kanban. Regardless of the motivation, the compromises organizations are making as they attempt greater levels of agility are part of a larger process encompassing all of human society in which knowledge generation is the primary outcome.

There is still one more problem to address: that individuals and organizations continue to try to improve agility even when they have experienced it done badly or seen it fail to take hold. One of my favourite authors and a prominent figure in the Agile community is Ron Jeffries. In the last couple of years, he has started to call out “Dark Scrum” as a blight in organizations that is causing suffering. I believe there is also “dark kanban”, “dark SAFe”, “dark extreme programming”, etc. These dark implementations of the various paths to agility, aren’t actually paths to agility for the people, teams and organizations implementing them. So again, why do people keep coming back to these methods?

Motivation to Try Again and Beauty

Let’s return to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and here quote the four values. If you have read them before, even many times, I encourage you to read them again, slowly, and savour them:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

I would like to assert that anyone who has read these values, and further, read the principles behind the manifesto has been attracted to the inherent beauty of these ideas. This beauty is the source of the motivation to try again. This beauty is the source of the influence of the manifesto. This beauty is the reason why so many want to “own” it through the creation of their own brands, methods, schemes, and promotions. And, this beauty, while it is constantly struggling against corrupting influences, is powerful enough to inspire people to come back to it even when they have seen the dark side of agility.

Real agility is a culture founded on the beauty that inspires these principles. It’s not any particular method, it’s not a formula, it’s not merely a set of laudable or effective practices. Rather, this beauty is inspired by the Spirit of the Age in which we live. As individuals, teams and organizations, we will rarely live up to that beauty, rather we will experience it in moments, greater or lesser, strung together by our efforts to increase humanity’s collective knowledge. And as that knowledge grows, our patience for the partial, incomplete agility of many organizations will also grow for it is the source of our new-found knowledge.


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Selling Organizational Transformation – Part II

In Part I, I highlighted the basic importance of proper preparation in anticipation of an impromptu CxO meeting. The aim, of course, is to move up the organizational structure to the decision-makers who are most likely to require a greater portfolio of my services. My background is rooted in helping organizations achieve business agility so that they can better provide services that their customers desire.

If we pick up from the end of Part I, let’s assume I’ve piqued Sarah’s interest. There is a very strong possibility now that CEO Sarah will have an unscheduled, casual ‘elevator’ discussion with Christine about her efforts and perhaps even the work she’s contracting me for.

VP’s, like other Executives, hate surprises. Not knowing their relationship, there is a high probability that things will go south at this point, largely because I’ve potentially introduced risk to Christine and her career. The probability that something is going slightly ‘wrong’ in her portfolio is likely high. And she’s now on the CEO’s radar.

Next steps are obvious – it is imperative for me to speak with Christine, preferably face-to-face. Positioning the conversation is key now. In my experience, this is a “build trust” or “destroy trust” conversation. Prior to that face-to-face, I need to prioritize my talking points, which should be as follows:

  • Confirm the positive impact my team is having with respect to the organizational goals “to drive effectiveness and efficiencies”. Collect the “Yes”.
  • Determine the relationship, if any, she has with her CEO and determine the hierarchy between her and the CEO and, if possible, determine the alignment of their efforts to the CEO’s mandate (there is always a ‘black sheep’ in that mix and it could be Christine’s SVP, or even Christine herself, for instance)
  • Reduce the perceived risk by specifically reiterating the connection between my efforts, Christine’s efforts, and the corporate strategy. Collect the “Yes”.
  • Then, and only then, discuss the brief, impromptu elevator discussion I had with her CEO – and this takes tact and professionalism, and must be delivered with maturity.

My approach and the questions I’d propose, likely would take the following direction:

  • “Christine, what’s your overall ‘take’ on my teams efforts to….? [reiterate the mandate]”.
  • “Does your SVP share those thoughts, and is your leadership in the corporate strategy recognized?”
  • “And are your successes recognized outside of this channel?” [collect the “Yes”]
  • “Christine, you understand the corporate structure here, is there any risk that this project can be derailed, and is it important enough to thrive? Because, I am speaking in hypotheticals right now, but it has to look good for you, correct?” [collect the “Yes”]
  • [This is the tricky part] “Christine, you know part of my role is to champion you, your team and your efforts [insert mandate]. I wanted to meet today because I had the unplanned opportunity to speak briefly with Sarah about this particular project and she was quite keen about the positive work you are doing here. And specifically how it is in-step with the corporate mandate and her strategy. She was fully supportive of such efforts and I wanted to put this on your radar, should the conversation come back to you [pause].
  • “The other part of my job, of course, is to look for additional ways that we can help this organization. If I can help you, help your SVP and help Sarah in this process, then I’d like the opportunity to take a greater role and do so [stop].

I’m not going to walk away with a multi-million dollar contract today, but hopefully I achieved my objectives: clear the potential minefield of risk with Christine, deepen our relationship, gain further understanding of the organizational structure, continue to build trust, show that I am indeed talking with her peers and that I have the best intentions in doing so with her in mind, and I asked for further business.

In sales, we are always looking for that “inside champion” to help our deal move forward. In addition to this, I believe that in building better business relationships, the road goes both ways. I try to equally be that champion for my client. Because it serves so many purposes to do so, and it is the right thing to do as it aligns to the deeper principles I believe in, which are:

To create unity in diversity, and to help people orient their work lives towards service. To engage with people, and customer-focused organizations that seek to continually learn and grow. To work in the spirit of truthfulness, teamwork, and transparency, as this is the foundation of improvement.


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An Analogy Between a Consultant/Coach and Paratrooper. Information and Adaptability is Key!

“Paratroopers are used for tactical advantage as they can be inserted onto the battlefield from … any location[. This] allows paratroopers to evade emplaced fortifications that exist to prevent an attack from a specific direction”

Excerpted from Wikipedia

I believe there are certain analogies between being a Paratrooper and being an Agile Coach or Consultant, including having strategic objectives, a purpose of infiltration, a sense of opposition, and a goal or cause that you believe in. However, I am not asserting that, a) implementing Agility at an organization is a declaration of war, b) Agility is a tactical warfare technique, or, c) being an Agile Coach or Consultant is synonymous to or nearly as dangerous a job as a Paratrooper.

Having said that, depending on the environment an Agile Coach or Consultant may sometimes feel like they are actually entering a corporate or political war zone. They are often viewed as outsiders posing a clear threat. They are often in the minority. They are often dropped in to unfamiliar territory. They often have incomplete or incorrect information. They are often surrounded by opposing forces. They are often made a target, either passively or aggressively. They often start with plans, but what makes them successful is their ability to adapt their plans and react to situations. In other words…be agile!

Like a Paratrooper, a Coach or Consultant is often “parachuted” or “inserted” in to an organization or foreign group with a specific mission. It is often to provide a “tactical advantage” and doing so helps a Coach or Consultant “evade emplaced fortifications [well established norms or strong opposition] that exist”, so they can get the job done from the inside and with less opposition.

A Paratrooper should always enter the field with a good understanding of the landscape, environment and situation. Similarly, a Coach or Consultant should also become familiar with the working environment and culture they are about to interface with. Without critical information both would risk the success of their mission and perhaps more. For a Paratrooper a lack of information could be life threatening, but fortunately the threat is not usually life threatening for organizational change agents.  It just might be professionally damaging to their career as well as others and their business.

 

Perform Reconnaissance

To that effect, I believe if you are a Coach or Consultant then you should still perform advance research for your intended mission in order for you to be successful, provide value and create an opportunity for learning and improvement. This means you will need to have conversations with both the leadership of their target (organization) and also with the people doing the work. Here’s why.

Leadership (usually the “paying customer” is management in the organization) should have specific and measurable outcomes they want achieved, and it is critically important for you to identify what those are up front and how they are expected to address their business problems. Meanwhile, the employees (usually the workers or teams) are often directly associated with and intimately familiar with the true needs and system issues, so you must also become familiar with their understanding for perspective. Unfortunately, the first battle is often that workers and their leadership do not align on their expectations and outcomes, and without their alignment you have little hope of true customer satisfaction and helping them collectively solve their real business problems.

As such, to manage expectations and increase chances for success it is critically important for a Consultant or Coach to investigate and identify both the needs of the leadership AND the needs of the employees, and then work to align them before any substantial work takes place. The best approach is to have face-to-face conversations with all the leadership and employees but that can take considerable time in a larger organization. So how do you get a realistic pulse of the company without talking to absolutely everyone?

 

Assess the Team

If the team(s) are using Scrum as a framework then one option is to use a Scrum team assessment tool like Scrum Insight. This tool provides objective coaching advice tailored specifically to a Scrum team as it is designed to detect how aligned the team is to Scrum practices and methods. The free version of this tool provides access to the basic report which contains the team’s overall scores, a “quick win” recommendation that identifies and provides suggestions that can be made to provide the biggest improvement on the team, and a list of support resources. The paid service provides everything in the basic report as well as a detailed Scrum Score Card, a Team Environment Score Card, a relative industry ranking, other education and support resources available for consideration, and it is usually followed up with a personal call to provide you with detailed explanation on the results.

Here is a sample Team Environment Score Card from Scrum Insight. Detailed descriptions for each bar/category are provided in the report:

SI Team Environment Score Card
Scrum Insight – Team Environment Score Card

 

Here is a sample Quick Win Report from Scrum Insight A more detailed description is provided in the report, and it is tailored to the team’s specific challenges and opportunities.

Scrum Insight - Quick Win
Scrum Insight – Quick Win

 

If you would like more information, you can also view a full sample report from Scrum Insight.

 

Assess the Organization

Another option is to conduct a REALagility assessment – either for a team, a group or an entire organization. The assessment is a 10 minute online survey conducted by every individual, and it is designed to uncover the misalignments between what leaders think and what employees think in an organization. The resulting report reveals the soul of the current culture, and it is grounded in real, actionable data to improve on the problem areas unique to the organization. As a Consultant or Coach these insights can be invaluable in helping you prepare for the engagement, identify opportunities, create alignment, and elicit real, meaningful and sustainable change for the organization.

Here is a sample diagram from a REALagility assessment, showing the relative rankings for an organization around five cultural measures. Detailed descriptions and insights for each cultural score are provided in the report.

Real Agility Assessment - Cultural Scores
Real Agility Assessment – Cultural Scores

 

Conclusion

In summary, I find it immensely helpful to “arm” myself with information prior to a Coaching or Consulting engagement, and these tools have been pivotal in filling that gap. Having early access to information such as this enables insights that might otherwise not be detected until I am on the ground helping the individuals, teams, and leadership tackle their business problems, which saves time, frustration, and money. An additional advantage with leveraging these electronic evaluations is that they provide an opportunity for people to provide ideas, feelings, agreements or disagreements that they may hesitate to share in a face-to-face interview.

There are certainly other tools that are designed to provide insights and information, but I’ve chosen these two because of my familiarity with them, and because of their effectiveness.

Of course, I would never replace good, valuable conversation with tools or data, but I do find these tools provide additional contextual information that further enables me to ask the right questions and have the right conversations early in an engagement. Finally, these tools can also be used as a benchmark for comparison of progress after a period of time has elapsed, which allows you as a Coach or Consultant to measure and be accountable for success.

 

Main Image – Paratrooper

Public Domain Image

http://www.acclaimimages.com/_gallery/_pages/0420-0907-2418-1546.html

Stock Photograph by Department of Defense Public Domain

Image Number: 0420-0907-2418-1546

 

 

 

 

 


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Six Rules for CHANGE – Notes from a Talk by Esther Derby

Hired to help change and grow a business? These ideas are a guide for agile coaches and consultants, when you’ve been asked by a company to make them “agile.”

Esther Derby began by noting that traditional ideas of change can get in the way of real change. For example, ideas such as “Driving the change” or, “Installing Agile” or, “Evangelizing Agile” are not helpful.

What is helpful is to NURTURE complex change in complex environments.

Her Six Rules are:

1.Work from a stance of congruence.

Congruence is a place from which empathy is possible. Consider your own internal state, the context, and the situation of the people who are facing change. Think about what legitimate reasons they may have to keep things as they are!

2. Honour what’s valuable about the past and what is working now.

Don’t force people to admit they’ve been wrong. Shift your language, i.e. “This served you well when…” People don’t change because of data, but only because of what they value!

3. Assess the current situation and the current system.

How is the system working now? What holds the current pattern in place? What might shift the pattern? Who benefits from the status quo, and who will benefit from change?

4. Work by attraction.

Find those who are willing to work with you, i.e. try pair-programming with someone. Find your allies and follow the energy. Don’t rely only on the formal hierarchy. Analyze existing networks, activate and enhance them. Those who cross silos can influence others and change people’s norms. Ideas can be contagious.

5. Guide the change, and work by successive approximation.

Everything (and everyone) thrives in different conditions. Not every scrum team needs to work in the same way. Consider where global principles apply, and what can evolve locally. “When people get their fingerprints on something, it becomes theirs.” Ask for more of this, and less of that – scrum teams aren’t necessarily standardized.

6. Use experiments.

Big changes scare people. Experiments help people practice and learn. Insert at least 3 ideas – not more – then observe, evaluate and adjust.

7. (Esther tacked on this extra…) Use your own curiosity, generosity, patience and self-care. Use yourself. Change is often stressful.

These are my notes from the Regional Scrum Gathering, Toronto, March 2018, and any misunderstandings of Ms. Derby’s presentation are mine.

See also http://www.agileadvice.com/2015/02/10/referenceinformation/retrospective-technique-what-did-you-learn/


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What Should Companies Focus on to Grow?

By David Vicentin

Nowadays, one of the buzzwords in companies is growth. Companies want to be better today than yesterday, and tomorrow even better than today. But the challenge itself is not the need for growth rate. The challenge is related to how to achieve continuous and sustainable growth over the years in a scenario which constantly changes.

Several studies have been done analyzing the sources of growth, especially related to companies and countries. Centuries ago Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus studied the elements which can influence growth in countries. These studies provided very rich knowledge when applied to companies of different sizes and industries.

It’s interesting to see how people explain growth. If you ask a company leader “What do you need to grow?” the answer might be “New investments.” If you ask “What kind of investments?” most will answer “New equipment.” If you want to be more specific and ask a colleague what should be done to increase sales, production or profit, he may respond “Buy new technology.” “Equipment or technology” may be correct, but it represents only one component of the answer.

Growth can also be explained based on the variables of Physical Capital (K), Labour (L) and Technology (T). So the idea behind this approach is a formula as represented below in which Y represents the results for each company in terms of revenue, output or even profit.

Y = f(K, L, T)

That means that a company output is influenced by different variables and not only technologies. The interesting point about this reflection is that one answer will not solve everyone’s problem. For over 15 years, working in different industries, my team and I were able to increase companies’ results 90% of the time, with ZERO investment in new technologies. So, what’s the miracle?

The answer is People. The eyes and expertise of a Consultant or a Coach can help your company, in a short-time frame, identify opportunities to increase productivity, quality, and much more. If we take a closer look at the Labour part above, we can identify new sources of growth. For example, labour can be seen not only as how many people you have under your organization but it MUST include knowledge acquired over time. Ask yourself: how is your team expanding their knowledge and understanding of methods and techniques over time? There are different ways of learning and once you create a learning organization you’ll start to benefit from it.

And if you’ve achieved the desired results, what’s next? Sustain the results. Whether the environment changes or not, it is important to have the right people (with the right knowledge) to respond properly to those variations. Training and “learning by doing,” as Agile proposes, can be very useful strategies to achieve long-term results.

In summary, growth is possible when you have the knowledge to achieve it. Consult experts and engage people toward your purpose and you’ll see the results.


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Mastering Soft Skills as a Scrum Master

We may not normally think of a Scrum Master in the same breath as mastering soft skills, but a recent discussion with peers lead me to consider this.

In 2017, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland sought to update the Scrum Values document, and together in a video they discussed the changes they were making. They talked at some length about the Scrum Master role. To quote Schwaber,“It’s a very tough job.”

The 2018 Scrum Guide states:“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.” An extensive list of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities follow in the guide.

In short, the Scrum Master (SM) serves the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the Organization. All of this involves facilitating Scrum events, coaching and educating, removing impediments, and much more. It is safe to say that successfully undertaking those relational interactions requires good people-oriented behaviours, or soft skills.

In recent conversation, a colleague categorically stated that a good Scrum Master must understand 4 things: the business s/he works in, the technology s/he works with, Agile and Scrum principles, and, most importantly, people! Based on his experience, he was adamant that when people are trained to become Scrum Masters, certification is not enough – soft skills should be part and parcel of their training!

How can some of these soft skills be taught?

The Role of the Certified Scrum Trainer

Not all Certified Scrum Trainers have soft skills training or behaviours under their belts. However, the first thing a CST can do is modelsoft skills in his/her training. That means s/he will treat the attendees with respect; s/he will be clear about the goals of training; s/he will listen and be attentive to attendees questions and concerns; s/he will create a safe learning environment; s/he will be honest and trustworthy. Modelling these behaviours is one way a CST can teach without words.

But in two days, is role-modelling enough? Let’s look at the Scrum Guide for clues. When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and buildtrust for everyone.” http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide

To what degree are these values discussed in training? What does “courage” or “openness” look like? It seems to me that in-depth discussion with examples/activitiesof each of those values would go some way in teaching soft skills.

Soft Skills Training for Scrum Masters

Two CST’s I know invited an Agile Team Developer into their CSM classes to give a half-hour workshop on soft skills. This is a very brief time to be effective, but it provided a taste of listening skillscreativity, risk-taking, etc.

The following is from an article I previously published in Agile Advice: Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.

If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.” http://www.agileadvice.com/2017/05/29/scrum-team-improvement/soft-skills-revolution-may-want-team-development/

Scrum Masters can and should be offered at the very least a one-day training by a good coach/ facilitator.

Scrum Masters can be guided through specific exercises that help them understand and practice the skills of openness, courage, respect, commitment, and focus (the Scrum Values), as well as the practice of compassion, communication, creativity, listening, building trust, and so on.

This video called “Agile and Scrum Soft Skills Needed to Drive Process Success” can provide some further helpful guidance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owa1fftIfzA

As a Scrum Master, do you feel you would benefit from soft skills training?


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Slaying Hydra: The Story of A Business Agility Coaching Partnership

Part I of III

Summer 2014. The IT group of “Big Data Marketing” was in the full throws of an Agile transformation spearheaded by the new CTO. I was brought in as a Scrum Coach. My initial objective was to launch a couple of Scrum teams and serve as their Scrum Master. Around the same time, the firm’s head of PMO had been re-assigned as the Agile Practices Lead (APL) and he and I began working together on supporting the new Scrum Master community of practice, populated by his new reports. Our work gradually evolved into much more than what either of us could have imagined at the time. This 3-part series is my first attempt at putting down the story of that partnership.

In addition to serving as the initial Scrum Master for some of the teams, I was also trying to help existing team members transition into the Scrum Master role. I wanted to develop internal capacity so that I could focus on supporting a growing program of multiple teams. As the number of Scrum Masters and teams I was supporting increased, so too did the need for collaboration with the APL.

At the time, senior IT leadership was focussed on getting those doing the work of creating value (the teams) to fundamentally change the way they were working. That is, into self-organizing teams with Scrum Masters as “servant-leaders”. This included the reassignment of project managers as Scrum Masters and business analysts as Product Owners and staff into cross-siloed teams.

Chaos and confusion ensued. It was a deliberate strategy of senior leadership: Disrupt the culture of complacency. Force people to transform by throwing them into chaos. Throw everyone into the deep end and the right people will learn to swim.

A great deal of pressure was placed on the Scrum Masters to measure and improve team performance (based on pseudo-metrics such as story point velocity). They were essentially told to create a new identity for themselves and this was painful. Similarly, the APL was on the hook to support all these people in their new roles – to be a “servant-leader of the servant-leaders”. This concept of servant-leadership was front and centre in the conversation: “What is it, and how do we make it work here?” My role was to help create a shared understanding of the desired new culture.

I discovered months later that the day after I started the engagement, around 50 people had been fired. This had nothing to do with me, but naturally people thought that it did. Even years later, this day was commonly referred to by the survivors as “Bloody Monday”. Because of the timing of the mass-exit, unprecedented in the company’s 25-year history, staff understandably regarded me as the consultant who advised the cull. It’s not exaggerating to say that it instilled terror, was emotionally coupled with the transformation as a whole and implicated me as an individual. I thought of myself as one contributing help, but I was regarded as one contributing to harm. I saw myself as a Hippocrates but I was known as a Procrustes. I only learned about this months later, after I had finally managed to cultivate a bond of trust with some folks. A consequence of this fear was that I found myself in many one-on-one sessions with new Scrum Masters who were struggling to adapt and afraid of being the next victim to lose their jobs. Rather than providing Scrum Master therapy, I should have been helping the company to improve its delivery capabilities.

The theme of this first stage was the deep, broad and painful disruption of people’s lives caused by this deep Satir J-curve transformation model deployed by senior management. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time is that emotionally, people experience change the same way they experience pain. The human brain literally responds the same. Not only were these human beings experiencing deep, chaotic change, they were also experiencing deep pain. And I was complicit in this.

The other contract coaches and I attempted to bring the crisis to the attention of senior management. We believed that it was a leadership problem, they believed that it was a staff complacency problem. The standoff lead to the coaches losing access to the leaders we were trying to help. This was a deep crisis for the group of coaches and the staff. The staff were beginning to see us as their advocates and we failed. For many Agile coaches, their part in the story ends here. In fact, some of the coaches on our team soon decided to move on to other opportunities. Others were not asked to extend their services beyond their initial contract term. Fortunately for me, the story didn’t end here. I will share more about this in Parts II & III of this series.

A teaser: These days, I advise and coach senior management to take responsibility to deliver services to customers, to understand what makes their services fit for the purposes of their customers and to design and evolve service delivery systems the fitness criteria of which are transparent to all those involved in the work. Then, allow people to truly self-organize around how the work gets done. In other words, manage the work not the people.

To be continued…


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Selling Organizational Transformation (Part I)

Perhaps the most difficult sales effort is the one where you need to move beyond the level you’ve fixed yourself in. The focus of this article is to look at one way to mature a relationship beyond the initial landing to where real traction occurs and where you could really sell effective transformational change in the organization. For example, you’ve landed a small deal somewhere in the junior corporate strata, say at the ‘Team’ level, and you’re now seeking to expand. The problem is you are stuck at that level and you may have pigeonholed yourself with that small deal. And now you face the real risk of losing out on larger opportunities – opportunities perhaps where you can help drive real business agility.

To further complicate matters, it is very rare that your customer will ever fully tell you exactly what is going on in an organization. And that can be for a number of reasons. And in my recent 24 years of sales efforts, the reasons are virtually endless.

However I have found there is one common tactic that works towards the successful expansion of your valued services within an organization, especially if the level you initially land on is junior.

To demonstrate, I’d like to look at what actually happens, in my experience, with the typical sales process. Personally, I love having my Senior Consultants helping medium and large enterprises achieve real business agility. It’s the difference, in my opinion, between ‘doing Agile’ and ‘being Agile’, so I have been quite keen on developing ways to drive towards this outcome.

True story (and all names are pseudonyms): I reached out to a colleague who introduced me to his friend in the IT side of a large bank. Purposefully I did not use a PowerPoint or give a presentation. Instead, we talked about his industry, his competitors, the future, and where the real change needed to happen in order to meet that future. As a salesperson, my feet are on the street, and I was able to discuss trends, customers, potential pitfalls and potential opportunities.

I was able to do this (hint) because I studied his industry – hard – before the meeting. I looked at the changes in associated industries, and the implications that might have on his industry. And the implications if his company initiates a strategy to meet those challenges, and the implications if they don’t make that effort. We discussed the impact on different generations, for example how Boomers consume services differently than Millennials do, and why.

Asking really good questions in such meetings can be difficult, if you are not prepared. So do your homework. I was able to secure a small deal at the ‘Team’ level based on the combination of what I’ve described above.

But still, even as the work started, I wasn’t getting the audience to discuss their larger organizational initiative, and that is really where I wanted to play.

In this same scenario, I found out that a new CEO had taken up the helm at this bank. Where did that CEO come from? What challenges were faced and overcome at their previous positions (aka, why did this bank hire her?). New CEO’s tend to ‘shake things up’, and given that, where do you think the first mandate will be directed? What is the lowest performing division or operations in that bank?

Look at the stock market, the Quarterly and Annual Reports. Look for clues. I found that the CEO stated that “it is a new era to find Efficiencies and Effectiveness” in a public announcement. I just discovered their organizational initiative.

Next step was to structure all meetings at that bank to sell that same message. If you’re not selling the same message, then you are not aligned to that strategy. And you will never get above that junior level you wish to move beyond. Of course, if you cannot deliver efficiencies and effectiveness, move onto a different client. But this happens to be completely aligned to what we at BERTEIG do, so it’s gold.

And use social media. What has that CEO written/published? How many followers does she have? Which symposiums has she attended or spoken at?

I found one of her Sr. Executives had traveled to the States for a conference. I found that out through Facebook. If you can suspend the ‘creep factor’, I was looking at his profile and I noticed that 50% of his friends were co-workers of a former 3-letter acronym company. And he published a photo of the road sign naming the city where the conference was held. Research showed there were 4 conferences in that city. Three were local in focus, but one was on Big Data and Analytics. LinkedIn told me that the Sr. Executive is in charge of End-User adoption (i.e. Customer focused).

It doesn’t take a leap of faith to figure out that the Sr. Executive is most likely looking at options to obtain and manage customer information in order to better support their customer, and to tailor future offerings to that customer. That’s a lot of data that has to be managed, and managed well. (I urge you to think like his customer when doing this research.)

Knowing that alone gives you something to talk about when you meet an Executive in an elevator – and you will get that opportunity.

But don’t stop there. Who spoke at the conference? Do a search. In my case I found out that the Sr. Executive who attended, had a former co-worker speaking on behalf of that 3 letter company. I downloaded his Big Data presentation. Since the two of them worked together, which is the most likely company to get invited in to do Big Data work at the bank? And if I went into a meeting with a negative view of that acronym company, how would that help my chances with the Sr. Executive, considering his friends are employed by it?

This is not a negative. You now know who your competition is. Do your research. That competition is really, really good at Executive-to-Executive pairing, but their delivery is known as being a bit ‘thin’. That’s your entry point. Don’t fight the battle on grounds you cannot possible win on.

You’ve done the bare minimum of research so far that if you were in an elevator and that new CEO was standing there, you could strike up a meaningful conversation of value, without “going over the head” of your contact. But the conversation must have meaning, bring value, be customer focused, show that you know her industry, and it must be aligned to her mandate.

I got that elevator opportunity, because I wasn’t sitting at my desk. “Sarah Jameson, I am Mark Kalyta, congratulations on your new role. I’m working with Christine Smith, your VP who is over in IT. We’re providing some consulting (don’t sell the ‘training’ for example, unless you want to pigeon hole yourself again) to help her team bring ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ to her vertical, and we are having some early measurable success”. Pause.

Note, you’ve just reiterated her mandate, you indirectly informed her that her message is reaching her VP’s, and ‘Christine Smith’ is actioning the CEO mandate by hiring you, and you are applying measurements that show your group is helping her team. In this case, I wasn’t able to insert my knowledge around their Big Data efforts, however I wasn’t worried, and I could play that card later.

So I started with a small bit of work in a junior team with no access to Christine Smith, the VP. LinkedIn research found a connection in the chain from my junior person up to the CEO, and identified Christine as my project owner, and the CEO as owning the mandate.

Back to Sarah Jameson. “Sarah, my challenge is that the work over there represents 5% of what my organization is really good at, and that is helping organizations at the Leadership level find those efficiencies and drive effectiveness (see what I parroted there?) so that your ‘customer’ sees the value and benefits from it” (and there). “We are doing great work with Christine, and early measurements show a 10% improvement in efficiency with her teams, and that is great for the overall effectiveness of your organization. I’d like to broaden that message across your Leadership team; is that something you can help me with or could delegate to me accordingly? Because I think we can duplicate this early success, if there is an appetite for it. How would you suggest I proceed?”

Now the above may seem sloppy, but there are key points that can be drawn from it. I am not going to get into all of them. You may fall flat on your face with this approach, and if so, that would be all about Sarah Jameson, and not about your skills. But you’ve hedged your bets.

Now, your next steps are clear. You need to advert the perceived “end-run”, and that requires a different strategy.

Read Part II to find out what comes next!


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Consulting and Coaching – An Exploration

We occasionally see people confusing the terms “consultant” and “coach”. Some people tend to use those terms interchangeably while other people see them as distinct. I believe a consultant and coach normally serve two different purposes, however I also recognize the overlap in their abilities and responsibilities that may often lead to the confusion.

To me, a consultant is a referential expert who understands a particular domain or field. They are often brought in to observe and provide domain expertise and knowledge, and it is usually conducted ‘on site.’ A consultant typically provides specific directives, recommendations, suggestions, data or case studies to help their client (company or individual) make informed decisions and avoid pitfalls that might otherwise not be known. They may act as a sounding board to a company’s expressed needs and offer specific guidance on how to achieve those outcomes.  Typical reasons for bringing in a consultant include but are not limited to a need for a timely or quick resolution, or a need for a single-event decision (e.g. where the knowledge or decision will not likely be needed in the future).

A coach is also a referential expert who understands a particular domain or field. They also are most effective if they are ‘on site’, however their approach differs substantially from a consultant. A coach observes and typically provides guidance and suggestions, but they do not normally give answers. A coach is usually there to help a client realize the answers through exploration and discovery, and in doing so grow the client’s domain knowledge and problem solving skills. A coach will often use tools such as asking powerful questions and reflecting what they are observing back to the client. Anecdotes, examples, data, and parallels may be provided by the coach when they are helpful at providing context. A coach often acts as an agent to help a company grow their own expertise on how to achieve their business needs and outcomes, as well as to continuously improve how they work together, and in doing so become systems thinkers and a learning organization.

Organizations generally will hire either a consultant or coach when they have goals and they need domain expertise to achieve those defined outcomes. These goals may be determined by various factors, such as a wish to grow the company, or a need to respond to disruptions in the business world that make change a necessity. Either way, this usually means the client has a need for more agility, and the consultant or coach can help them achieve those outcomes.

The choice whether to engage a consultant or coach is often a complex one. However, when needs are urgent in a company a consultant will often be brought in to expedite the solution by providing advice and expertise. Meanwhile, a coach will usually address longer-term goals to help a company grow and realize their own solutions. As such a coach typically is a longer-term investment, however they usually provide longer-term assistance to a business to grow on many fronts or at an enterprise level.

A key difficulty from a company’s perspective is knowing what problem needs to be solved or what the baselines should be for their defined goals. To help with this decision, reputable companies will provide proper guidance and pre-sales support.  For example, BERTEIG has created the Real Agility Assessment, which is a tool designed specifically to identify the problem(s) that require addressing as well as what the baselines are.  Based on the results from this assessment an organization may determine which type of support is required including whether a consultant or a coach is more appropriate (or even required!)

Regardless of whether a consultant or coach is required, an organization would be wise to ensure the expert they bring in will be compatible, empathetic, considerate, inclusive and respectful towards their existing culture and environment. Certainly the skills and domain knowledge of the expert are critical factors to success, but equally important is whether this external individual will know how to connect with the individuals and the organization so they may be effective.  When you know they are aligned with your culture you can also ensure they will be accountable for helping you achieve your outcomes.

At BERTEIG we recognize how critical culture is to determining success so we ensure our consultants and coaches are compatible with an organization to help them achieve their desired outcomes. Please take a few moments to learn more about our team, or learn more about our coaching and consulting engagements in these case studies from Suncor and SickKids Foundation.

Header Image: CC0 Public Domain.  Free for personal and commercial use.

Source: Pxhere – https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1026034 


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Agile and Scrum in Directing a Play

Before learning about and working within an Agile framework, I was a theatre arts professor, and directed countless play productions, large and small, modern and classical. I believe I took to the way of Agile quite naturally because it aligned with so much of my creative processes as a theatre-maker.

Recently, I had the opportunity to direct a newly-written script of a play called AfterWhys, which was commissioned by the Suicide Awareness Council of Wellington Dufferin. My BERTEIG colleagues supported me taking this on amidst my regular responsibilities.

After a five-year hiatus from theatre-directing work, I became extremely conscious of the natural alignment between Agile and Scrum principles and practices, and my style of directing. Here’s some of the principles and processes I used:

  • Cast actors that you can determine to have the capacity to play a variety roles – in other words, they have “cross-functional” skills as actors.
  • At first rehearsal, behave like a Scrum Master with a “team” – the director’s role is to encourage, support, and remove obstacles that may prevent them from doing their best.
  • At the first rehearsal, be vulnerable about who I am and how I work, and invite them to share their experiences and hopes as well, as in “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
  • In the first read-through of the script, invite the actors not to act – to just feel their way through the text and the scenes without pre-judging how they should be. Many directors pre-plan every movement and how every character should behave, sound and look before even starting rehearsals – I don’t, as in “responding to change over following a plan.”
  • Give them “the tools they need” to realize the truth of their characters and embody them – “teach if necessary,” ie. I taught the cast a new way to analyze their scenes which they found was very helpful.
  • Create the space and the environment necessary for experimentation, i.e. an environment of trust and safety, of failing fast, and learning and discovering.
  • Direct the scenes, scene changes, and costumes in response to the expressed needs of the stakeholders; in this case, the play would tour and be performed in a variety of venues, therefore simplicity of props, costumes and scene changes was a necessity.
  • Use the days and weeks of rehearsals as “sprints;” what is the desired outcome of each sprint? Rehearsals were time-boxed, and we had a four-week “delivery” goal.
  • Be transparent about progress – what’s working, what’s not, and how can I help each and all work better?
  • Hold a time of reflection (retrospective) at the end of each week or sprint – allow for the expression of feelings, concerns, questions, needs, etc. This created greater transparency, trust and unity in the “team.”
  • When actors change a direction or try something new that is not in the script (plan) and it works to enliven the play and make it more meaningful, I encourage them to keep that, as in “responding to change.”
  • The stakeholders (those who commissioned the play and organized their performances) came into the rehearsals twice to give their feedback on what we were creating. They were extremely pleased with the “product.”

To sum up, although this was clearly not a technical situation or a business, many of the Agile principles were used to create a finished product – a social issue play on elder suicide that went before appreciative audiences!

When I think about so many realms of life that we all work in, it is clear that Agile principles can be used in a variety of scenarios and endeavours to ensure a positive outcome.

What endeavours have you been involved in where Agile and Scrum were useful?

 


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