Top 10 Secrets of Agile Transformation with Michael Sahota

I dutifully watch Scrum Alliance’s webinars whenever they offer something I want to learn about, so I recently attended Michael Sahota’s “Top Ten Secrets of Agile Transformation.”

Sahota is a bit of an Agile guru, and well-respected in the community. He founded the Toronto Agile Community, and can be seen at Scrum Alliance gatherings everywhere. He also facilitates a Certified Agile Leadership course. You can learn more about Sahota by going to his website www.agilitrix.com.

The webinar he conducted was fascinating, because by the time he went from #1 to #10, I realized his “secrets” were very simple, and that one could start with #10 and work backwards to #1 and learn the same things.

By simple I mean his points were clearly articulated and comprehensive.

Before enunciating his secrets Sahota started with the idea that “Culture is the #1 Challenge with Agile.” He asked, “What are we (agilists) doing to create resistance to a change of culture in an organization?” Mindset, he averred, is more important than the practice of Agile – by which he referenced creating safe and trusting relationships, engaging with others, promoting continuous learning, innovation and so on. On a continuum line with “practices” on one end and “mindset/culture” on the other, he urged practitioners to find a balance between the two.

And now for the count-up:

Secret #1 – Clarify the purpose of bringing in an Agile coach by asking “why?” Usually the answers have to do with improving the quality of a product and encouraging more collaboration.

Secret #2 – Focus on organizational goals (and drop the word “Agile”). If the goals are clear, as those articulated above, one can drop the Agile initiative and try another. Agile is not the goal, but focussing on doing and being Agile can set up the wrong expectations. You may say, “Of course we will likely use Agile to help us achieve the organization’s goals,” but remember that Agile cannot be the goal!

Secret #3 – Focus on growth (and drop “transformation”). The idea of transformation is that it is a painful process. It also implies an end point: one is transformed. The idea of growth is more natural, and transformation is really about creating healthy change and growth. It is ongoing.

Secret #4 – Increase awareness of the global context. Global trends mean that an organization must be growing to survive. A lot of organizations do not know how to read their engagement surveys, or don’t even have them. People’s talents are wasted when engagement is low, which leads to massive financial waste. Millennials demand change – will not seek to work in an organization that’s regressive or stagnant. An agile enterprise is resilient and anti-fragile. How well is an organization set up to thrive in the future?

Secret #5 – Increase awareness of organizational context – what’s happening in an organization? However, resist telling leaders that their organization is broken. Start with humility and compassion, and then show leaders that there is a lack of engagement by their members by reading the survey. It’s not about blame – have the leaders acknowledge this and say what they want to do about it. What difficult conversations are needed here? The coach must stand in the truth of what’s happening, listen and understand. Be real.

Secret #6 – Clarify the focus of the initiative. Is more time spent on tactical initiatives (as in, how do we work?), in strategic initiatives (what do we want to achieve?), or in cultural concerns (who do we want to be?)? Discuss what percentage of time is needed to spend on culture in order to have a bright future.

Secret #7 – Build a shared understanding of what culture is. Culture has to do with both consciousness (or energetic property) and structures. Consciousness includes identity, values, beliefs, and the unwritten rules and norms in an organization. It includes values such as safety, trust, people being valued… Structure (practices) and consciousness (culture) co-exist together and are inter-dependent.  Refer to the Agile Manifesto: people over process. – focus on structures without consciousness cannot succeed.

Secret #8 – Clarify the leaders’ role in growing. The consciousness of the leadership is most important. New organizational behavior requires new leadership behavior. Growth requires leaders go first! How do we invite them to go first?

Secret #9 – Honour the leaders’ freedom to choose. Do they wish to work on something tactical? Cultural? A coach must let go of what he or she wants. We cannot coerce people into believing what we believe.

Secret #10 – Growth can happen anywhere.You, as an individual, are the limit for growth.

Sahota suggests creating a culture-bubble in which consciousness and safety can be grown. In this last point he quotes Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

I am aware that in the 45 minutes of the webinar, Sahota went through each point relatively quickly. Each one in itself provides room for reflection. For me, the fact that the tenth “secret” puts the onus on each individual to grow is telling; if we change, we can help those around us in their transformation. But that requires extra-consciousness, I think, and humility. Overall, Sahota points to values and culture within and without as the key.

Michael Sahota is offering his Certified Agile Leadership class in the new year through BERTEIG – you can find dates at this site: http://www.worldmindware.com/Certified_Agile_Leadership#schedule


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Link: Change Can be Fun or Exciting by Mike Caspar

This is a good reminder: change can be fun or exciting.

Change isn’t always bad.  To add my own opinion to Mike’s excellent post, change is how we grow.  If we don’t change, that is death.  It is stasis that we should fear!!!

From Mike’s article:

If you are a person who helps others to embrace or live through change (whatever your interpretation of change is)….

… consider the damage you are causing by inspiring fear where it simply may not be appropriate or necessary.


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A Book Review: “The Great ScrumMaster”, by Zuzana Šochová

In Brief

Buy it! You won’t be disappointed!

In Depth

I read the book in 3 sittings.

The First Sitting

Zuzi gave her book to me in October. She was visiting Toronto at the time and we spent a few days together teaching Scrum – I was honoured that she would share a classroom with me and that I’d get a sneak peak at her new publication. Almost immediately after she gave me the book I found a few minutes to thumb through it and read the foreword and first chapters. I immediately liked what I saw.

The foreword is written by Linda Rising who frames the book nicely by reminding us of these simple principles: “successful change is built around small steps and learning”, and “the book offers a chance for reflection and evaluation”. Zuzi’s preface describes briefly her journey to become a great Scrum Master. Hers is a story about humility and studious peristence; the journey is unique and difficult for us all. I could relate! The best aspect of the early pages in the book are the photographs of Zuzi. The book exudes her character traits: a friendly and insightful expert, a colleague and advisor. Her photos, as well as her illustrations throughout the book, help the reader to understand her colourful character; her stance as a coach and mentor; and her voice as an author.

My time was limited so I didn’t get far in that first sitting though my first impressions of the book are memorable. It’s a big book – not thick, that’s not what I mean. I mean large, wide pages. Approximately 20 centimetres square. It’s the kind of book that lays open on a coffee table. This is important! I understand many people buy digital books but if you can find the book in physical format, buy it! The medium is the message, as Mcluhan said. The medium, in this case, is a lightweight book that rests easy, open-faced, on a desk or coffee table. As you pass by the table or sit for a while to enjoy a conversation, you’ll find the book open and waiting for you. You’re likely to thumb through it lazily, your mind wandering while on the phone or talking with a friend, then something will catch your eye. It’ll be a page you’ve looked at a dozen times but suddenly a sentence or illustration will stand out for you, draw your attention. Like, “…if you join a discussion with the core metaskill of curiosity it will be different than if you choose listening or teaching”. That sentence is on page 88 – that’s the one that jumped off the page for me today. I’ve read that page a few times already but this day, in this moment, that sentence resonates. Such a simple sentence on a page and sparse text and white space…but exactly the solace you will need.

The Second Sitting

I was riding a train with the book open on my lap. Through the window passed the Canadian landscape, and I’d glance at the book between sips of coffee to take in another paragraph, picture, page. (See how cool the format is??) What I’ve learned from the next chapters of the book is that I share Zuzi’s interpretation of Scrum and of the Scrum Master’s role.

Her perspective is a philosophical one, yet she effectively relates the material to practical examples. Zuzi describes a concept she calls the #ScrumMasterWay. This is an innovative model for understanding how a Scrum Master can adapt their mode of service depending on the conditions of the organization they serve. Perhaps at first, the organization they serve is ‘A Scrum Team’ – and in that mode of service a Scrum Master will facilitate Scrum and help the team to self-organize. Next, after all the easy fruit has been picked and the Scrum Team is capable of continuous and deep self-improvement, the Scrum Master’s mode of service is likely to change – the team no longer needs help with the rudiments so the Scrum Master may focus more intently upon relationships to and within the team. And finally, the 3rd level of #ScrumMasterWay is achieved when the Scrum Master is able to focus their effort toward the entire system, “bringing the Agile Mindset and Scrum values to the company level”.

The Last Sitting

Reading about Zuzi’s #ScrumMasterWay concept in the previous sitting led me to think nostalgically about my own journey. I know this book, had she written it a decade ago, may have saved me from some mistakes of my own. I’ve come to more deeply appreciate her telling of the Scrum Master role.

In the 2nd half of the book, she provides a glimpse into numerous related practices and concepts. A collection of references and teaching tools that most Scrum Masters will discover along their journey. For example, all Scrum Masters will find themselves in discussion with stakeholders about the nature of complex problems and, ta da!, like a stone tablet from a high mountain will appear Dave Snowden’s CYNEFIN framework! A simple diagram…it’s so obvious! All Scrum Masters will find themselves in a personal struggle between telling and listening: “should I coach as a teacher?” or “coach as a facilitator?” and, without fail, a fellow Scrum Master will recommend a training course with the Agile Coaching Institute to better understand the coaching stance(s).

Here’s the truth of it: if a young jazz musician wants to become a great jazz musician, there are some iconic recordings to which they must listen: Kind of Blue; anything by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong; Blue Train; Saxophone Colossus. No drummer is worth their salt without having spent a zillion hours listening to Max Roach and Jimmy Cobb. Likewise, every great Scrum Master has had to grapple with the iconic challenges of servant leadership – they’ve spent a zillion hours pondering the difference between the words “should” and “could” and they’ve praised the power of the question, “what if?”

So, to help Scrum Masters along their journey, Zuzi has compiled many of the community’s greatest hits in her book. Einstein is often quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Perhaps then, one can examine how well a person understands a concept by how simply they can explain it… right? By that measure, it’s evident that Zuzi understands her material as she’s able to distill complex topics to just a colourful drawing and a few bullet points. “Root cause analysis” is described concisely with 3 paragraphs, 4 bullet points, and a beautiful drawing of a tree. Her purpose, keep in mind, isn’t to make the reader an expert in root cause analysis – her point is as if to say, “remember…problems often run deeeeeeep in the system. They’re organic. Find the seed.” I’m hearing in my mind a wise old music teacher, telling the aspring young jazz musician, “remember Herbie Hancock…go listen to Maiden Voyage…behold the deeeeeeep groove and floating melodies. It’s organic”.

The collection of materials which complete her book include highlights of Tuckman’s “Stages of Group Development”; Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”; the martial artist’s progression through “Shu Ha Ri”; a shortlist of “Powerful Questions”; and a few others. In this last sitting, as I finished reading the book, I was struck by the similarity between Zuzi’s journey and interests and my own. I too have enjoyed Lencioni’s books, Tuckman’s model, the practice of co-active coaching. While I’ve lived and practiced all these years in Canada and Zuzi has lived and practiced in Prague, how is it we have been exposed to a similar body of knowledge and wisdom? I take some comfort in that, actually.

Conclusion

I face a difficult decision now. Zuzi signed this book for me and it’s in pristine condition. However, if I’m not careful, I am certain in the coming years this book will become littered with notes and comments, dog-eared pages and sticky-notes everywhere. Shall I allow myself to ruin this pristine book? Yes. Yes, I shall 🙂

See also:


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Lessons from a Scrum Webinar with Paul Goddard

“Improv-ing Your Scrum Team” was the title of the webinar given by Paul Goddard, a CST and Coach from the UK with a background in improvisational theatre. He has written and coached extensively on the use of improvisation to help Scrum teams develop. Because of my own experience in teaching and creating theatre, I was eager to see how Mr. Goddard used improv to improve Scrum teams.

For clarity’s sake, we can describe improvisation, in theatrical milieus, as the act of making things up as you go along. Improvisers are normally people who know their discipline very well, and are able to allow their creativity to take them into new places, new expressions, in their art.

Themes

The improv themes Goddard covered that can be used with Scrum teams were: creating safety, being spontaneous, telling stories, changing status and increasing sensitivity.

He likened these themes to the Agile Manifesto which proclaims: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” and “Responding to change over following a plan.” He also related improv to Agile principles of “welcoming change,” “face to face is the best way to convey information,” and “the best designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

Myths

In an interesting aside, he also compared myths of Agile to myths about Improv, for example, that Agile is only about creating software, and Improv is only about comedy. Another myth is that Agile and Improv are about unstructured chaos, whereas both prescribe being disciplined within a framework. Goddard described the Scrum framework as “a lightweight structure that uses constraints to unlock creativity;” improv also provides such a structure.

Creating Safety

Improv starts with “creating safety.” Since it is impossible to improvise alone, we must learn to trust others. This involves a team behaving as a family who rescue each other if necessary. There are no mistakes in improv; team members work for each other. When we try too hard in improv to get it right, it becomes a struggle to feel safe. Ultimately, we should be able to feel safe whether we win or lose, and definitely we feel safe when we PLAY.

Being Spontaneous

The second theme is “being spontaneous.” Spontaneity is the ability to act on impulse as soon as an idea occurs. This is the bread and butter of creativity. We are less spontaneous when we filter or edit our ideas before trying them out. We usually do this filtering because we fear our ideas being deemed crazy, or obscene, or unoriginal. Good improvisers increase their spontaneity by giving and receiving offers from team members. Offers are the currency of improv: you go with an idea, build on it, and keep a scene going. Bad improvisers put up blocks, that is, they reject ideas, and a scene goes nowhere.

Telling stories

Goddard tells us that the power of storytelling lies in the fact that many parts of the brain get activated: empathy is increased, oxytocin hormone and cortisol is released when we feel empathy for a character, and so on. Conversely, the brain switches off ideas or stories that are cliches – things we’ve heard too many times before and are inured to. The beauty about stories is that they make dry data more human and therefore interesting.

Changing status

Status always exists, especially in business environments. Some jobs or roles imply having a higher status, i.e. Scrum Master. If physical power poses adjust the hormones in our bodies, as Goddard claims, then the opposite is also true. In improv, playing high or low status and then changing it becomes a dynamic and creative game. It assists in collaboration. Low status players in improv tend to accept offers from their fellows; high status tend to refuse offers, unless they can control them. Scrum teams can learn to play with status to collaborate more effectively.

Increased sensitivity

Great improvisers develop certain qualities: selflessness (they want to make others look good), listening, observation, recollection/ memory, and emotional awareness (ability to pick up on cues). They are able to be “fully in the moment.” Goddard describes this as “thinking inside the box,” i.e. with safety established, the ideas are already there.

Back to Scrum

Just as in an improv team, a Scrum team’s firmest foundation is trust. How can one introduce improv and its beneficial themes to a Scrum team? Start with the idea of a game. It’s not about performing. It’s simply about having fun together, getting to know each other, learning common values, shaking off the dust of work-related responsibilities and allowing time for play. If you’re working with introverted types, allow that person to opt out. Make sure no one is judged. It’s important to be able to joke and feel like a family. Even a non co-located team can play word games over the telephone.

I look forward to trying out some improv with my own team, and, hopefully, in the future with others.

For a more in-depth understanding of the use of improv see Paul Goddard’s book “IMPROV-ING AGILE TEAMS” available at www.amazon.ca.


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CLEAR Servant Leadership

Sun rising over field - servant leadership

I facilitated this workshop today for a senior leadership team. I mostly employ famous quotations familiar to many to provide a brief overview of Servant Leadership as well as a learning framework for systematically building capacity in others while improving the systems in which they work. The folks in the workshop seemed to really connect with Scott’s CLEAR model (not so famous but ingenious in its deceptive simplicity). I offer it as a guide for designing CLEAR acts of leadership.


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9 Common Mistakes in Hiring an Agile Coach

Nearly everyone is hanging out the “Agile Coach” shingle.  Agile has reached the point where many large organizations are adopting Agile practices.  As a result, consultants and consulting companies are trying to jump on the bandwagon to take advantage of this fad.  Unfortunately, we at BERTEIG are often being called in to clean up after other Agile coaches have made a mess of things.

Here are the most common mistakes that organizations make when hiring Agile coaches.

1. Not Measuring the Results of Your Agile Coach

Agile coaches should be able to measure their results as they work with your teams and your organization. Important measures include performance, cost, quality, time to market, customer satisfaction and others.  If you aren’t measuring results, you can’t possibly know if the money you are investing into your Agile coach is worth it.  Of course, some qualitative measures such as staff satisfaction with the coach are useful too, but quantitative measures are also essential.

2. Not Benchmarking before an Agile Coach Starts

You need to be able to know if an agile coach is making a difference. Knowing where you are starting is necessary.  Having benchmark measurements of important KPI’s will help you to make sure that your agile coach is successful.  Benchmarking is something that your agile coach should be able to help you with, but make sure that you are involved directly!

3. The Agile Coach is Lacking Advanced Certifications

Agile coaches need to have proven their knowledge and experience by obtaining advanced certifications. A “Certified Scrum Master” designation is just not sufficient. At a bare minimum a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) or Kanban Management Professional (KMP) certification are critical. However more advanced certification’s such as Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), Kanban Coaching Professional (KCP), or even non-Agile coaching certifications such as Leadership Circle Profile are important to see in a candidate.

4. Lack of Diversity of Agile Experience

An Agile coach must be able to prove having worked with at least Scrum and Kanban methods on more than one team in more than one organization.  However, there are many other Agile methods and techniques, and it is critical to explore the depth of your candidate’s knowledge and experience with those techniques.  Do they know how to do the Agile engineering practices?  Have they used many different retrospective techniques?  What about Innovation Games?  Estimation and planning tools?  If your coach has less than five years of experience with Agile techniques, chances are they don’t have the depth to deal with the complexity of your situation.

5. No Huge Agile Coaching Failures

An Agile coach needs to be able to explain how they have failed to achieve results in at least one case, ideally getting fired as a result. Failure and learning from failure are critical parts of the Agile framework. If an Agile coach can not share with you a significant failure then you cannot trust that they are able to learn from their mistakes.

6. No Systematic Agile Coaching Approach

Helping teams, groups and organizations become more Agile requires systems thinking and systematic approaches.  Organizations are complex (and sometimes chaotic!) – if an Agile Coach does not know how to deal with this complexity, and cannot describe to you their systematic approach, then they probably aren’t going to be consistent in their results.  And if the approach they describe doesn’t seem to make sense to you, you are probably right to give that coach a pass.

7. Missing Clear Agile Coaching Goals

This mistake is a little less common, but it is important enough that it still needs to be mentioned: your organization absolutely must have clear goals for the Agile coaching.  Those goals should be related to both Agility and business results.  Agile techniques are a means to an end.  Lacking clear goals often results in an organization spending far more than it needs to on Agile coaching.

8. Hiring an Agile Coach to do Training

(Or the other way around.)  Coaching and training are two completely separate disciplines!  It is rare to find an individual who is able to do both well.  The systems and techniques of coaching are different than those of training.  Becoming excellent at one, takes many years of focused work.  Becoming excellent at both, takes deep commitment and opportunity.  If you hire an Agile Coach who has good experience, don’t just assume that they can do training just because they have delivered a few talks or made up a slide deck.  Put the same discipline into hiring an Agile trainer that you would put into hiring an Agile coach.

9. Not Letting Leaders and the Agile Coach Work Together

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes of all!  An Agile coach must work with your organization’s leaders to have any hope of helping you with lasting change.  No matter how large your organization, the culture is set by leadership, Agile has a huge cultural impact, and your Agile coach needs to be able to link the two together (leaders and Agile culture).  Even if the Agile coach is “just” working at the team level, a lack of contact with leaders will make the coaching work inefficient, frustrating, and unsustainable.


Your organization deserves the best chance it can have.  Consider contacting us at BERTEIG to help you make sure your Agile coach (or Agile coach candidate) is up to the challenge.   We have a systematic program to develop Agile coaches.

BESTEIG Real Agility logo - Agile Coach development program


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Doc Norton introduces Host Leadership at 8th Annual Toronto Agile Confernce

“Sometimes we get so caught up in what should be that we miss the beauty of what is.” – Doc Norton

At the 8th Annual  Agile Conference, held in Toronto, Ontario last week, the keynote speaker Doc Norton presented some insightful ideas on Host Leadership, about the roles people take when initiating, launching and facilitating new ideas. The basic premise of having a Host Leader mindset is to be fluid with the needs of the environment. While there is a time and place for authoritative decision-making, otherwise called gate-keeping in Host Leadership lingo, there is also a need for a humble approach to supporting an idea from conception to fruition without clinging to hard-and-fast expectations about what must happen.

In his example of applying these principles, he shared how his family decided to host a Euchre game to create an opportunity to meet new neighbours. When something different than expected emerged, he experienced the value detaching from “what he wanted it to be” and accepting “what was becoming.”

In brief, here are the 6 key aspects of Host Leadership.

  1. Initiator – The person that provides the initial spark. A new idea.
  2. Inviter – Extends the invitation to people who may be interested in the idea. Who to invite and who not to invite.
  3. Space Creator – Those who create the physical and emotional space for those in attendance to feel safe, to learn, and to engage in the opportunity.
  4. Gate Keeper – Defines and protects the space which is created. Lets people in and out as necessary or appropriate. People who enforce the rules, doing interviews and hiring.  Note: there is a right balance for this where there is not too much gate-keeping but just enough to create the right boundaries.
  5. Connector – Brings people together. They are conduits for information. They are typically the ones who know how things get done.
  6. Co-participator – Team leads participating in a retrospective as equals.

Sometimes the Host Leader sets and reinforces rules, but sometimes they serve others. This depends on the moment and context. 

Doc Norton laughed at his own story when he revealed that even though he and his wife put lengthy effort into creating “Euchre Night” he discovered that in the basement a large group of guests started playing poker. Rather than becoming disgruntled about the change, he adapted and became a co-participator. As a result of letting what was becoming just be, the neighbours found themselves carrying out Poker nights monthly for a decade.

Host Leadership is about creating space for great things to emerge and surrendering the inclination to control the outcome.

These six items are aspects of roles of everyone on a team and shouldn’t be thought of as one person per role per team. Instead, when people on a team ebb and flow around these roles the thought-processes and discoveries can be shared with the team, and the growth on the team supports the initiatives for team members.

What were his concluding words of wisdom to the audience?

He said, “Consider your leadership role at work. Regardless of your title, think about what you are initiating. How do you extend invitations? What space are you creating and maintaining? When are you gate-keeping? How are you connecting with others? How are you joining what is emerging even if it is different than what you expected?”

 The take away from this inspiring opening address was the optimistic message that what is becoming may be better than anything anyone could have hoped for. 


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REFLECTIONS ON TURNING A PROJECT INTO A PRODUCT

Even after attending 2-day trainings for both ScrumMaster and Product Owner certifications, the real significant difference between ‘project’ and ‘product’ didn’t emerge, for me, until becoming a Product Owner of a Weekly Care Package. That’s when the deep learning began. I hope by sharing some learning here, other new (or old) Product Owners might consider the shift in thinking around working with products rather than working on projects. 

When first agreeing to formally launch and support a social action initiative to provide fresh food weekly to a neighbour who is experiencing financial hardship, I could easily see how food could be collected, packaged and delivered in weekly increments. As a Product Owner, I would oversee what items came into the package and ensure everything was delivered on time. Reaching out to a few friends, neighbours, and colleagues resulted in dozens of people contributing to the package consistently over a period of a month. Surprisingly, approximately $400 was also donated. Without a doubt, the first iterations proved there are interested contributors and also a grateful recipient.

Interestingly, an experienced Agile trainer & coach, took notice of my efforts. He offered some advice, as a ScrumMaster might share with a new and fledgling Product Owner. In a half-hour conversation, he counselled me on some features of agile product development. He shared a few meaningful links with me, and after reminding me that Product Owners work with products, not projects, he invited me to return to an article I had written on the initiative.

I followed his guidance and when returning to my piece I found the word “project” used about half a dozen times, speckled through the article. Clearly, even though I was consciously creating a product called ” a weekly food package,” still I was unconsciously thinking of the initiative as a project. When I modified the article to insert “product,” then the way I saw the work also changed.

As a project, each time I deliver the package, the work is done. Project complete! As a product, which is a part of a delivery model called Scrum, it means each time a package is delivered it is then time to reflect in a retrospective. It’s time to learn and plan for next week’s delivery.

A project, in my mind, requires a lot of advanced planning, designated role assignments, accountability reports, and status updates. It requires a start date and a date of completion. ***

My new understanding of product development, which emerged from watching this Myths of Scrum video and reading this  is that action can begin even with minimal planning. Interested people volunteer as they wish to support the development. No one reports to anyone or assigns tasks to anyone. When a successful iteration is complete, it’s useful to come together to talk about how it went and apply learning to the next week’s product.

With this learning, I later said to the ScrumMaster who was coaching me, that “I don’t see any reason for “projects” because when the focus is around a “product” then the quality is just so much better.”

In his wisdom he replied, “Imagine how it feels to Project Managers to hear something like that and you will then understand why this is such a hot topic in the industry.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I get it.”

(Michael Caspar recently tweeted about this Scrum-based social action initiative. You can read the article he shared at this link.)


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Three Links For Agile Product Development

Last week, conversations in the Scrum Facebook Group clamoured around the topic of Agile Product Development and Agile Project Development or Management.
To be honest, when I posed a question on the topic I had a hint of its significance but did not have even a glimpse of the depth of this can of worms until many more conversations, online and offline, and research on websites and YouTube on the topic.
One respected coach said to me that there may be no bigger issue than this in the Agile industry. Well then, let’s explore it a little bit.
Here I’m including three links which Facebook group members recommended. I hope these links may also be useful to other new Product Owners who are grappling with the concept of “no projects” in their work environments.
This is undoubtedly by far the very best Product Owner video I’ve seen to date. It’s just 15 minutes long. The speaker is clear and easy-to-listen to. The graphics are descriptive and simple despite representing complex ideas and systems. I came away from this video with a much more thorough and concrete understanding of the role of Product Owner.
This book is recommended by a fellow Scrum enthusiast. Amazon describes it in this way,” In Agile Product Management with Scrum, leading Scrum consultant Roman Pichler uses real-world examples to demonstrate how product owners can create successful products with Scrum. He describes a broad range of agile product management practices, including making agile product discovery work, taking advantage of emergent requirements, creating the minimal marketable product, leveraging early customer feedback, and working closely with the development team.
While I haven’t had the chance to read it yet myself, I find it reassuring that a renowned author addresses this important topic and offers his valuable insight into the conversation around Product Owner and Project Manager.
agile-team-room-example
On September 09, 2016 a blog post about User stories addressed this very relevant question. The first line states, “User stories can be considered the basic units of work in organisations using an agile approach to product development.” I found this post and this website very useful in understanding the importance of user stories and how these fundamentally shift work process around delivery of value to customers.

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Leading to Real Agility – Communicate the Vision for Change

Leading an organization to Real Agility requires that you communicate the vision for change throughout your organization.  This video introduces the four key concepts of communicating this vision for change as you and your executive team lead your organization to Real Agility.

The video presents four core concepts:

  1. Continuous communication at every opportunity: every meeting, every phone call, every email, every presentation!
  2. Simplicity of the message: short, jargon-free, concrete.
  3. An emotional component that encourages a change in behaviour.
  4. And urgency!  (A window of opportunity, a competitive threat or an internal problem that needs to be addressed now.)

Leading to Real Agility References

Here are some additional references about how leaders can help their organizations move towards Real Agility by communicating the vision for change:

Please subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive notifications when each new video is published! (There are 15 more videos coming in this series, and more beyond that on other topics!)  You can also find the summary article that helps you find all the videos and additional references here: Leading to Real Agility – Introduction.

Mishkin Berteig presents the concepts in this video series.  Mishkin has worked with leaders for over fifteen years to help them create better businesses.  Mishkin is a certified Leadership Circle Profile practitioner and a Certified Scrum Trainer.  Mishkin is co-founder of BERTEIG.  The Real Agility program includes assessment, and support for delivery teams, managers and leaders.

BERTEIG Real Agility logo - leading to Real Agility


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Launching a New Product: #1 Question – Is this a Project or a Product?

Recently, it’s come to my attention that a friend is experiencing nearly insurmountable financial hardship. After initially offering to help out by sharing a few food items, I realized that a few items shared once is not enough. This inspired me to consider the idea of sharing food weekly. I decided to create a regular care package of sorts, until she got back on her feet again.

She agreed to pick up a care package from me weekly. And that’s how this social action initiative was born.

Once I knew I’d be doing this weekly, several logistics had to be sorted out. Where was the food coming from? Where would I store the food between pick-ups? When would it be picked up?

Interestingly, I don’t have enough food in my own cupboards to share with someone weekly. Fortunately, I know many others who are like-minded and highly value supporting and helping others so I began to reach out. Within days I had more than seven bags of food to share and it occurred to me that this would be my goal – 7 bags for 7 days. That should get her through the week.

It didn’t take too long for me to see that if I considered myself as the Product Owner of this product – a weekly food package – that there might be valuable Agile concepts and practices which could easily help support the sustainability of this initiative. 

Is this a Project or a Product?”

 

Immediately, an Agile Coach inspired me to think of this not as a project, but as a product. The main difference, he reminded me, is that a project has a start and an end. A product doesn’t have an end date. It can always improve.

At the beginning, I thought of this as a “project.” You know? A bunch of us getting together with the vision of sharing food weekly. It was our “Food Sharing Project.”

Before long, I realized that was an old way of thinking about work. When I thought about the food package as a product a lot changed. It became easier to see what was needed for this product to be useful to the recipient. The quality of this product became clear.

I also watched this video from Mishkin Berteig which encouraged me to think about the ways in which this package could be run with Scrum. (So far, I am the Product Owner. Now I just need a ScrumMaster and Scrum Team. You never know, maybe this will evolve some day!)

Then I read this article by Mike Caspar which got me thinking about acceptance criteria and the importance of consultation, reflection, learning and planning.

The key learning for me today is that when I think about this service of delivering a weekly care package as a product I see it’s likely it can continue indefinitely, always improving. That really excites me.

It is not a project, but a product and is being organized and delivered using Agile methods.

This is one way that Agile is being used outside of IT with great success.

 

 


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14 Things Every Agilist Should Know About Kanban

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So you are embarking on an Agile transformation. One important thing you need to figure out (and hopefully you have some consultants helping you) is how many Scrum Teams you will need for product development and how many Kanban teams you will need for operations, deployment, support, maintenance, keeping the lights on, etc. Because when you create a bunch of cross-functional teams they will have gaps in their Agile engineering practices and their definition of “done” will have to be limited by several organizational factors. The teams won’t have access to many of the environments and there won’t be enough specialized resources to assign to each team. Plus, the nature of the work coming into the ops and support teams are much more finely grained and varied than user stories in a Sprint Backlog and it’s important that the Scrum teams focus on their products and are not disrupted by every little change request from the business. So you need Kanban teams to do the work that the Scrum Teams can’t do yet as well as the stuff that you don’t want your Scrum Teams to be distracted by.

That’s more or less the popular consensus on the role of Kanban in the Agile community. Some acclaimed thought leaders have even written popular books and blog posts about it. But if one digs a little deeper, one finds that there is much more to Kanban than meets the common agilist’s eye (although clearly this is changing, evidenced by the existence of this piece of writing). So here are the 14 things that I can think of off the top of my head:

  1. The Kanban Method is not about transformation. At least not the radical, deep Satir J-Curve brand of transformation that has been attempted in many organizations. All too often with the radical approach, there is enough resistance to change and enough ensuing chaos for the leaders of the organization to lose patience with the change initiative before the system has a chance to recover.
  2. Moreover (and dangerously), many so-called champions of change are not aware that Satir was a psychotherapist and that her J-Curve method was employed to change the identity of her clients, breaking them down and building them up again. What’s important here is that Satir was a psychology professional working with willing clients to help them transform into the people they wanted to be. This is not the case with most professional knowledge workers. Knowledge workers tend to not be seeking this kind of service from managers and coaches. A more brutal version of this technique has been employed to transform teenagers into deadly soldiers.
  3. Instead of deep J-Curve transformation, the Kanban Method proposes small, rapid J-Curve experiments. This approach to change provokes less resistance, avoids extended periods of thrashing in chaos and the severe testing of leadership patience. Well-designed small J-Curve experiments produce just enough organizational stress to stimulate change without drop-kicking people into deep chaos and despair and forcing the regression of an organization to lower levels of trust and maturity.
  4. The Kanban Method is a management system for the design and evolution of the interdependent services of an organization. Such services are often composed of several Scrum Teams, shared services, managers, senior staff and specialists and are often themselves served by other services. Every service is delivered via a system of stages of knowledge discovery (rather than hand-offs). See more on this here.
  5. The design of a system determines the fitness for purpose, flow of value and quality of the service (as demonstrated by Deming’s Red Bead Experiment). It’s not about high-performance teams. It’s about the performance of the system.
  6. Transparency of the system empowers knowledge workers to self-organize around the work because they understand the system and are trusted to know what to do in order to deliver the service.
  7. Kanban managers are systems managers, not people managers and not coaches.
  8. Team-level Kanban is actually a form of proto-Kanban—still Kanban, but in an immature state, an incomplete rendering of a service delivery system.
  9. A Kanban system is a pull system. The capacity of the system is calibrated for optimum flow. New work enters the system when there is sufficient capacity to absorb the new work without overburdening the system and disrupting flow. Demand is balanced against capacity.
  10. All demand is potentially refutable. When there is capacity in the system to start new work, sources of demand collaborate to determine what is the most important work to start next and the system is replenished.
  11. Deciding what to start next is based on economics—transparent and rational risk assessment.
  12. Once the system is replenished and there is a commitment to deliver the newly-started work, risks are managed with explicit policies such as classes of service, work-in-process limits, pull-readiness criteria, feedback loops and relevant metrics (i.e. not team velocity).
  13. Average lead time from project or feature commitment to completion is a basic metric. Improving the system results in a reduction in both lead time and lead time variability. Delivery forecasts are based on historical lead time data. Deadlines are also managed with lead time data (i.e. deciding when to start something).
  14. All of the above is the responsibility of management. This should leave little management capacity for monitoring individual performance and story point velocity of teams (white bead count). A sign of a mature Kanban system is that managers have improved their behaviour and are focused on improving the system and that knowledge workers are free to self organize around the work as skilled, adult professionals.

If you are interested in the history of the Kanban Method, start here.

Best starter book: Essential Kanban.


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Week-long Sprints Work for Weekly Newsletters

What I like the most about Agile-thinking is the principle of taking action with very little planning. This philosophy of learn-as-you-go creates space and time for the team to experiment with ideas to create a successful product.

For the past year, I have participated in an agile experiment of sorts. Basically, the goal was to write a weekly newsletter. But more specifically, the intention was to create meaningful content to readers of the newsletter which would empower them to continue to make positive change in their organizations by applying Agile methods.

Six weeks after starting the newsletter, I attended my first Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) training in Toronto, Ontario. At first, I thought I could manage the newsletter content and delivery using Scrum. I quickly realized I couldn’t. Even if I viewed myself as a ScrumMaster, I wasn’t working on a Scrum team. There was no Product Owner. It couldn’t be run using Scrum.

However, I realized something essential that I could glean from Scrum and that is the idea of Sprints. I realized right away that if I viewed the creation and delivery of the newsletter in one-week Sprints I likely could be successful. And indeed, this application of a Scrum method was extremely useful.

Thinking about delivering a newsletter in one-week Sprints helped me to think about the smallest amount of content which could be easily and predictably delivered weekly. As my capacity, and the capacity of the team improved, so could the level of complexity also increase.

As the level of complexity increased, the newsletter itself improved in quality.

I would like to write more about how a newsletter can be created and distributed using Sprints and other Agile methods because doing it this way helped me to stay adaptive & flexible as the newsletter was refined.

5 keys for using Sprints to create & distribute a newsletter

  1. Understand “Done Done!” – Before CSM training, the newsletter was “done” when I pressed ‘send’ on my computer. When I better understood the meaning of “Done Done” in a Sprint I changed my thinking and behaviour. When I sent the first draft to be proof-read, this was “Done” and when it was returned to me edited and when I did final revision then it was ready for scheduling. When I pressed “Schedule” then the newsletter was “Done Done.” I would plan to schedule the newsletter three days before it was expected to be released. That gave me three days of  ‘buffer’ to accommodate last-minute changes, if necessary. I was learning to become more Agile.
  2. Learn to Accommodate Last-Minute Changes – If last minutes changes cannot be easily accommodated, then the product delivery is likely not Agile. When I started creating and distributing a weekly product, with the expectation that things could change at any time then I learned to establish a “bare-minimum” which could be produced even if changes occurred. This gave me the ability to be flexible and adaptive and much more Agile.
  3. Be Agile; Don’t Do Agile – When I went to CSM training, I thought I would learn how to do Agile things on my team. When I completed the training and started applying Sprints to the weekly distribution of a newsletter, then I realized I must “Be” Agile in my approach, in my communications, and in my creation of the product. I learned that Agile is really a state of mind and not a “thing” at all. Agile is about continuous action, reflection and planning with an open-mind and a readiness to always learn and grow and change.
  4. Action, Reflection, Planning – Before using one week Sprints, I didn’t give myself enough time to reflect and plan the next Sprint. I had a backlog with enough items to keep me busy for 6 months. My work-in-progress was a nightmare and unmanageable. I had four weeks worth of drafts saved and often got confused between what content was going out when. Establishing a regular weekly cadence helped me take control of this “mess” by just taking small action steps, reflecting on them weekly, and using the learning to plan the next steps. This revolutionized my work.
  5. Prepare For Growth – When a product is delivered successfully with Sprints, it keeps getting better and better. This leads to goals being met and growth happening on the team. In this case, it lead to increasing numbers of subscribers and the establishment of a collaborative team approach to creating and distributing the newsletter. Without Sprints, without an Agile mindset, I’m absolutely certain the goals would not have been achieved and growth wouldn’t have occurred. But with Sprints, things just keep getting better and better every week. I love it!

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If you’d like to subscribe to the weekly newsletter I mentioned here, you can do so at this link.


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5 Links To Engaging Retrospectives

When a team starts implementing Scrum they will soon discover the value and the challenge in retrospectives.

Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews says that “retrospectives offer organizations a formal method for preserving the valuable lessons learned from the successes and failures of every project. These lessons and the changes identified by the community will foster stronger teams and savings on subsequent efforts.”

In other words, retrospectives create a safe place for reflections so that the valuable lessons can be appreciated, understood and applied to new opportunities for growth at hand.

The Retrospective Prime Directive says:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

With these noble principles in mind, there should be no fear from any team member about the learning, discoveries and occasions for progress.

These 5 retrospective techniques may be useful for other teams who are looking for fun ways to reflect and learn and grow.

  1. Success Criteria – The Success Criteria activity helps clarifying intentions, target outcomes, and results for success criteria. It is a futurospective activity for identifying and framing intentions, target outcomes and success criteria.
  2. 360 degrees appreciation – The 360 degrees appreciation is a retrospective activity to foster open appreciation feedback within a team. It is especially useful to increase team moral and improve people relationship.
  3.  Complex Pieces – Complex pieces is a great energizer to get people moving around while fostering a conversation about complex systems and interconnected pieces.
  4. Known Issues – The Known Issues activity is a focused retrospective activity for issues that are already known. It is very useful for situations where the team (1) either knows their issues and want to talk about the solutions, or (2) keep on running out of time to talk about repetitive issues that are not the top voted ones.
  5. Candy Love – Candy love is a great team building activity that gets the participants talking about their life beyond the work activities

 


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