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, would you like 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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A Culture of Unity: Facilitating a Junior Youth Empowerment Group

Public Training Coordinator, Nima Honarmandan, writes of his experience.

What does it mean to have a culture of “group unity and learning through action” ?

When I was asked to facilitate a Junior Youth Group of 11-14 year-olds, I felt completely out of my league. I took a course called “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth,” a secular course inspired by writings from the Baha’i Faith, which helped me understand that Junior Youth are like a vast reservoir of energy that can be directed toward the advancement of civilization.

By creating a space for them each week where they felt accepted and free to share their thoughts, the participants thrived in an environment where they could develop their powers of expression and make plans to help their community. I realised more and more that my role was to facilitate the growing bond between the group members, and to encourage their participation in each session.

Some kids were extremely shy or did not want to vocally participate, which was fine. However as time progressed, the participants looked less and less to me as a the coordinator. They started to encourage each other to read and participate. As a culture of cliques gave way to a culture of unity for the group, amazing things began to happen.

Undirected by me, the group decided to raise money for local charities and shelters, collect food for the food bank and visit a retirement residence to spend time and share photos with the residents.

Armed with the knowledge that there were no ‘bad ideas’ when it came to service, the Junior Youth tried many different projects, knowing that even if they did not succeed in the goal, their efforts resulted in ‘learning’ that would help them the next time.

In the Junior Youth sessions, I noticed that participants began to self-organise, and help each other to grapple with moral reasoning pertaining to the stories they encountered in the texts we studied. They were not dependent on me to have these deep discussions.

I discovered this statement to be true: ‘When encouraged and properly guided, the Junior Youth will grow up to be among the most valuable human resources in a community’. From my experience, I saw that it all begins by fostering a culture of safety and a unity of vision.



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How Valuable is Feedback, and Can it Help us Improve?

Do we use feedback to improve what we do?

For five years I have been monitoring the feedback and testimonials from BERTEIG’s training events, from CSM, to Kanban, to SAFe classes and everything else. Our feedback “forms” and questions have evolved over the five years, starting with paper forms then becoming electronic; and from being required to being optional.

BERTEIG’s policy is to use testimonials/feedback in two ways: 1) to learn from each class and consistently improve the quality of our training and customer service, and 2) to use testimonials to communicate our strengths.

In the first case, our trainers have become aware of their capacities and skill-sets, both strong and weak, and have endeavoured to constantly upgrade their presence in the “classroom.” They consistently work on soft-skills that help others learn, and on upgrading their knowledge. As well, those offering “customer service” learn what is required both before and after training is offered.

For the sake of specificity and transparency, here are some examples of feedback that has spurred our trainers and company to make changes (all names withheld):

Problem: Maybe I didn’t read the write-up properly but I was expecting _____ to lead the bulk of the course. _____ was great, covered the material adequately, etc but ______ was the person recommended to me. He clearly has superior anecdotes and real-life experience and if I sign up for a course with him, I don\t expect to be taught by someone else for the bulk of the material.

Solution: Emails to registrants now include the names of all trainers who will be facilitating a class. i.e. “The class will be led by _____. Everything you will need for your learning is provided at the seminar. The class will also be led by _____, who is in the final stages of becoming a Certified Scrum Trainer, supervised by _____.”

Problem: I had the impression that we didn’t catch the trainer on his best day. He seemed nervous and uncertain at times. I’d offer the advice that he should be cautious of his body language and focus when talking.

Solution: The trainer is becoming more aware of the need to improve his delivery and clearly focus on the students.

Problem: I like the course but I think should consider that some people we are completely new and don’t assume we already have knowledge.

Solution: All registrants are clearly encouraged to do the recommended reading prior to class.

In the second instance of feedback use, our event training site has a plethora of solid testimonials and high praise for our various courses. I do not know to what extent people, looking for training, read these. However, I do know that BERTEIG has gained a reputation in the community for having a culture of learning and excellent training, and most often people attend our classes through ‘word-of-mouth.’

Still, I pose the question: how valuable is this feedback?

Jerry Doucett, Senior Consultant and Trainer at BERTEIG, has expressed it this way:

To me, feedback is the critical part of the PDCA cycle for an instructor. If there is no feedback then an instructor shouldn’t really be confident they are adjusting their approach or materials to improve. They may try to guess what to improve, but without feedback they won’t know for sure.

Tying it specifically to Scrum, feedback may be seen as the fuel for empirical process design, and it enables the Scrum pillars (Transparency, Inspection, Adaptation) to support and sustain the Scrum Values.”

Not everyone agrees that feedback is useful. Take this article from Forbes Magazine regarding employee evaluations:

I agree with you that making every employee fill out an evaluation form and sit down to talk about it every year is a huge waste of time and energy, and most employees hate performance reviews.

If the relationship is healthy between the manager and the employee, they’re having regular conversations anyway —including quarterly and annual planning sessions. If that isn’t happening, I can help managers fix that — but having more conversations doesn’t require an evaluation process.

I eliminated performance reviews at my last company and everyone was happy about it.

Of course, employees need to be able to get feedback when they need it. If they can get that feedback without being graded like elementary school students then it’s a win-win for everybody.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2018/01/14/performance-reviews-are-pointless-and-insulting-so-why-do-they-still-exist/#49cb537072d1

In an interesting article on LinkedIn, the authors explore the top 20 reasons managers (for example) don’t want to give feedback:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20-reasons-why-we-dont-give-feedback-sergey-gorbatov/

Another view of feedback’s importance comes from David Anderson, founder of Lean Kanban University:

STATIK Step 2: Understand sources of dissatisfaction with the current system.

This is done in two steps: ask the customers what they are unhappy about; ask the service delivery organization if they have any internal sources of dissatisfaction – things which are preventing them from doing a good and professional job and delivering on expectations. Often the sources of unhappiness on each side, external and internal, can be matched – fix one and you fix the other. For example, a customer might complain of unpredictable, late delivery, while internally, workers may complain of being interrupted and disrupted with unplanned or additional requests taking a higher class of service. If we can address the sources of unplanned, disruptive demand, we can eliminate the interruptions and the service delivery becomes more predictable. Fixing one problem can make both sides happier – the workers are not interrupted and can focus on doing a good professional job, and the customer receives delivery within a reasonable tolerance of their original expectation.

Sources of dissatisfaction provide input for the kanban system design. We will try to design the kanban system, its capacity allocations and its classes of service to eliminate as many of the problems as possible.”

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/statik-systems-thinking-approach-implementing-kanban-david-anderson/ 

How do we handle feedback that is critical? It’s too easy to become defensive. Here’s a tip from the Harvard Business Review:

Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean you have to take the feedback. Being good at receiving feedback means just that: that you receive it. That you hear it. That you work to understand it. That you share your perspective on it. That you reflect on it. That you sit with it. That you look for that (even tiny) bit that might be right and of value. Then you get to decide whether or not to act on it.

Whatever you decide, circle back to your feedback giver to share your thinking. If you don’t, they will think you didn’t hear them, or didn’t care. Letting them know you took their input seriously will strengthen the relationship even if you ultimately go in a different direction.

https://hbr.org/2017/04/responding-to-feedback-you-disagree-with

I believe it’s safe to say that feedback from customers and stakeholders in all realms is a necessary step toward creating a culture of learning and improvement.

For people who have attended BERTEIG training, how would you like to engage in the continuous improvement process beyond the feedback you’ve given in a class? Contact me with your thoughts at valerie.senyk@gmail.com


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A Case Study of Netflix’s High-Performance Culture

A year ago I attended Certified Agile Leadership  (CAL1) training. As preparation for the course, we were to prepare a case study of a few suggested companies, such as Netflix, which has a high-performance culture. The facilitator of CAL1 focused on company culture, stressing this idea throughout the leadership training.

I was fascinated to learn that Netflix has a strong focus on its culture. It describes itself as being in a creative-inventive market. No one can doubt their success. So I was quite curious to research the company and see what I could learn.

In universal terms, Netflix prides itself on having a culture that embraces the two pillars of freedom and responsibility. It lists nine qualities and behaviours that it values:

  1. Judgement – make wise decisions, treat root problems, prioritize work

  2. Communication – be concise and articulate, listen well, be respectful and calm under stress

  3. Impact – accomplish great amounts of important work, reliable, focus on great results rather than process, avoid analysis-paralysis

  4. Curiosity – learn rapidly and eagerly, seek to understand, broadly knowledgable, and contribute beyond own specialty

  5. Innovation – find practical solutions to hard problems, challenge prevailing assumptions, create useful ideas, minimize complexity

  6. Courage – say what you think even if controversial, make tough decisions without agonizing, take smart risks, question actions inconsistent with values

  7. Passion – inspire others to excellence, care about company’s success, celebrate wins, tenacious

  8. Honesty – candor and directness, non-political, no backbiting, admit mistakes

  9. Selflessness – seek what’s best for company, ego-less regarding best ideas, help colleagues, share information pro-actively

(Of course, as I reflect on the above values, I do a simultaneous self-evaluation…)

Managers at Netflix use a unique employee evaluation tool called “The Keeper Test.” It goes like this: “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep?”

To understand this better, the idea of hard work is not relevant to the Netflix culture. Sustained B-level performance, despite one’s efforts, will win a generous severance package. To counter that, a sustained A-level performance, despite minimal effort, gets more responsibility and great pay. This high-performance culture is made for those who thrive on excellence, candour and change. They value those who are self-motivating, self-aware, self-disciplined, self-improving, and (this I especially love!) those who act like a leader but who will pick up trash from the floor.

One surprising idea in Netflix’s culture is that they believe that optimizing processes is a negative. Instead, they pursue flexibility over safer efficiency. Their option to growth and chaos is to “avoid chaos as you grow with ever-more high-performance people – not with rules.” This allows them to leverage self-discipline and attract creativity.

They use a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, which speaks volumes about their culture:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

I believe that that quote almost encapsulates the Agile way.

To read more about Netflix, go to https://www.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-1798664/19-Seven_Aspects_of_our_Culture


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The Agile Family: How Agile Can Improve Family Life!

Do you have an Agile Family? Contrary to common opinion, Agile is not just for the business world. It can be an amazing way to further more bonding in families, and to introduce the idea of teamwork.

Some years ago, on a Saturday, I watched my eldest son create a list of household clean-up items on post-it notes, and then all four children had to choose one item to start. When they chose an item, it went into the “in progress” line, and when they finished a task it went into the “done” pile. After a task was “done,” each child would choose a new task, until all the work was completed. At that time, I didn’t realize my son was using an agile strategy to encourage everyone in the household to participate in chores. I thought he was just very clever, and why hadn’t I thought of that when I had younger children?

Soon after, when I began working for BERTEIG (my son’s company), and I had to learn a lot of new ideas from the business world, I realized he was using Kanban/Scrum methodologies at home.

In writing about this, my purpose is to introduce readers to this insightful online article called Strategies of Agile Families. I believe it will prove to be very helpful. Enjoy!

https://blog.trello.com/the-sage-strategies-of-agile-families?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=jan2018_newsletter1

Also read this previous Agile Advice article, “Family Kanban for Cleaning” http://www.agileadvice.com/2015/01/06/scrumxplean/family-kanban-for-cleaning/


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Seeking Patterns Between Human Rights and Agility

Image Attribution

Photographer:  Zoi Koraki – https://www.flickr.com/photos/zoikoraki/
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zoikoraki/15046030905/in/photostream/
License: Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Preface: To be transparent in my agenda, I firmly believe there are strong parallels between Agility and Human Rights, and I believe that is a purposeful and direct by-product of the primary outcomes of the Agile Manifesto.  However, I have attempted to make this article a little different from others by more subtly embedding the learnings and patterns within the messages and on several levels.  As such I hope the connections are still obvious, and that you find this article refreshing, insightful, appropriate and useful.

A Premise

It seems everywhere I turn lately there is a scandal of greed, lust, abuse, harassment, violence or oppression in both the workplace as well as personal life. I’d like to believe the number of despicable activities is not actually increasing but rather I am simply exposed to more because we live in an age when the speed and ease of access to information is staggering. Certainly recent events are no exception to human history that records thousands of years of oppression, subjugation, control, and violence. My question is: as a supposedly intelligent species, why is it we have seemingly learned very little over the millennia?

I propose we have actually learned a great deal and made significant advances, yet at the same time we have experienced setbacks that repeatedly challenge that progress. These setbacks are often imposed by select individuals in positions of authority that choose to prioritize and exert their power, individual needs or desires over the rights and needs of others. However, I believe if we can truly harness the power of unity and collaboration we can make a significant positive difference, and that is what I seek your help in doing.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
~ Aristotle

Finding a Beacon in the Darkness

Every day I find it disheartening to bear witness to people being physically and mentally hurt, abused or taken advantage of. In their personal lives and at home. At the workplace. In wars and conflicts. In human created environmental disasters. It seems there is no end to the pain and suffering or the countless ways to inflict it.

Meanwhile I sincerely believe many of us have the desire to make the world a better place, but given our positions and busy lives it can be daunting to make a real difference. In many instances we feel powerless to change the world because someone else has authority over us or over the system. It may also seem pointless to commit to change something we as an individual have little to no control over. It can also be risky to draw attention to ourselves by speaking against others in a position of power who may and sometimes will exert their influence to attack and hurt us as well as those we care for.

Despite the temptation to hide from the noise we must remain strong and acknowledge that by creating transparency and visibility in to dark and sometimes painful events we are actually opening the door to the opportunity for positive change. Obscuring truth does nothing to help a worthy cause or to better society. Remaining silent about an injustice does not provide the victim with any form of respect or comfort. Pretending something didn’t happen doesn’t make the consequences and outcomes any less real for the casualty. Inaction does not provide any benefit except perhaps the avoidance of an immediate conflict.

Many times, shining a light on something does provides tangible benefit. It creates visibility and awareness, and provides opportunity for the truth to be exposed. Although transparency itself may not solve a problem, reflection and openness should make the misalignment more critical and obvious. I believe the majority of us want trust, and honesty wherever we are, whether it be in the boardroom, on the manufacturing floor, in a political office, or even in a private home.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
~ Robert Kennedy

However we must also acknowledge that sharing truth may often be painful and uncomfortable, and in order to create the opportunity for truth we must first provide individuals with safety so they may find the courage to do what is right. Without safety people fear reprisals, embarrassment, retribution, consequences, and loss of respect. History has taught us that without safety and courage we can not expect most people to bridge the chasm from fear to justice, and as a result the silence will continue. With silence there will be no hope for change. So in order to help define expectations and to foster a safer environment for effective communication we need a code to live by; one that provides standards and creates safety – that serves as a beacon in the darkness so that we may uphold ourselves and one another to it.

To be absolutely clear, I am not saying that policies, processes and tools are more important than people. Instead, I am acknowledging that the right combination of policies and processes with appropriate tools and a method to uphold those ideals should serve to provide opportunity for fairness for people, which is the desired outcome.

A Disturbing Retrospective Leading to a Hopeful Outcome

At the end of World War II when “relative” safety was finally achieved, people were exhausted, shocked and appalled with the magnitude of human atrocities they bore witness to. Given the darkness of the times it may have seemed less painful to move on, put it in the past, and perhaps even obscure disturbing facts rather than revisit them in the pursuit of learning. Instead, the leadership of that time chose to leverage careful inspection to uncover truths and provide visibility with the aspiration that something good could flow out of the evil. In the end the aim was to use the learnings to create a shared understanding and define standards and expectations for a safe environment in the future.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
~ George Santayana

To this end I believe we already have a code to live by, but I surmise most of society doesn’t give it the continuous, serious consideration and support it deserves. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was created on December 10, 1948 as a direct outcome of the learnings from World War II, and in this brief but impactful document are 30 articles that define human equality and set the standards for safety. Despite some of its choice wording and age (at almost 70 years) I believe it is still directly relevant and bears serious attention.

(http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/)

UDHR
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The UDHR document transcends political borders, gender, orientation, race, religion, boardrooms, workplaces, homes, family, and economic status. Every person on this planet should not only just read it, but actively live, work, and explicitly honour the values it represents. The UDHR should become the definitive core learning article for every child. If we all continuously make a firm commitment to hold ourselves and others by the standards in the UDHR I believe we could collectively create opportunity for better safety, transparency, respect, and courage in the workplace, at home, and abroad by putting focus on what matters most – equality and the value of and compassion for human life.

The UDHR document may be policy, but with continuous effort, unilateral agreement and support it enables and empowers people. It may not be perfection, but it is aspirational towards it. It focuses on individual rights but strongly values human interaction. It promotes balance, harmony and partnerships. It demands mutual respect and caring. It is elegant in its simplicity. It promotes collaboration and shared responsibility. It defines clear expectations for a safe environment.

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
~ Winston Churchill

I believe the UDHR is the manifesto of real, human agility, and if enough of us embrace and enforce it I believe we could collectively make real, positive change.

Now, A Challenge

I challenge each and every one of you to take time to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I don’t just mean on the train on the way to work, or over morning coffee, or while your kids are playing soccer or hockey, or whatever you do to pass a few minutes of time. I mean take time to really, truly and deeply comprehend what each of the thirty articles are saying. Reflect on the value of wisdom that it provides and how that wisdom came from pain and learning. I then encourage you to share it with every family member (adults and youth) and ask for constructive feedback on what it says about them and personal life. I encourage you to share it with every co-worker and then have an open, honest dialogue about what your company culture and leadership either does or fails to do to provide a safe work environment and to promote equality, truth, transparency and human rights.

Then, I challenge you to ask every single day “Given the declaration, what small positive adaptation or change can I make right now to help our family, friends, peers, coworkers and humanity achieve these goals and outcomes?” You could start with something as simple as a brief conversation, and see where it goes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I asked myself that very question after visiting the UN General Assembly and Security Council Chambers in New York late last year. In response, one of my first actions in 2018 is to publish this article in an effort to re-establish awareness about the UN declaration and how it may bring hope and positive change if we can rally enough people behind it. How about you?

A secondary (and arguably less important) challenge I am issuing for Lean and Agile enthusiasts is for you to identify the patterns and key words in this article that I have borrowed from various facets of the Lean and Agile domains (hint: there are at least 20 different words – can you spot them). I purposefully embedded these patterns and key words in this article to explicitly highlight the parallels that I see between Agility and the UDHR and I hope you see them too.


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Is There a Flaw, a Discrepancy, in the Agile Manifesto?

Recently, Mishkin Berteig recounted that one individual attending a Scrum training class with him argued that there is a misalignment, a discrepancy, in the Agile Manifesto  between these two statements:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” (1st Value), versus Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software” (1st Principle).

This left me pondering the difference between a value and a principle. My dictionary tells me that value refers to the worth, usefulness or importance of a thing.

A principle is a fundamental truth or law as the basis of reasoning or action.

Therefore, although they seem to be related, the idea of value is something that is held dear, while a principle is something one uses to reason and act from. Perhaps one can say the former is subjective and the latter is objective.

The first value,individuals and interactions over processes and tools” means, to me, that all individuals, employees and customers alike, are valued more than processes and tools. The manifesto makes it clear that “processes and tools” are still important, but not as important as individuals and interactions: That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Comparing this value with the first principle of Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer…” does not appear to be a contradiction – in fact, I believe they work hand in hand; they are “both, and.” Here’s why.

When a company values its interactions and individuals, employees will likely create products most satisfactory to their customers. Happiness and satisfaction are infectious. The principle of “early and continuous delivery of valuable software” becomes possible because both employees and customers are valued.

In another part of the online Agile Manifesto, one can read an essay on its history written by Jim Highsmith, one of the signatories to the Manifesto. For me this brief paragraph from that essay encompasses both the value and the principle in question:

At the core, I believe Agile Methodologists are really about “mushy” stuff—about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about “people as our most important asset” but actually “acts” as if people were the most important, and lose the word “asset”. So in the final analysis, the meteoric rise of interest in—and sometimes tremendous criticism of—Agile Methodologies is about the mushy stuff of values and culture.”

http://agilemanifesto.org/history.html


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Interview with Janice Linden-Reed, CPO at Lean Kanban Inc.

Janice Linden-Reed was asked to help our readers understand the efficacy of Kanban training, as well as its relationship to Agile frameworks. The following is her response (republished from the REALagility Newsletter, Nov. 2017).

“Kanban is useful in any situation where the flow of work is uneven, and/or people are swamped with too much work. It is not a replacement for Scrum; it can be overlaid in any current system a business may be using. Kanban helps organize and manage, so that everyone understands customer demand versus individual capacity. Kanban enables one to sort out, and get back into control of, their work.

There is lots of debate around the relationship between Kanban and being agile. David Anderson, Kanban’s founder, had been experimenting with applying Lean principles to knowledge work in particular. In a sense, Kanban combines being agile with Lean principles. Kanban can create order just in time for changing conditions (disruption). Kanban is not in an either/or position with Scrum; the two can be combined.

Around 2005 David Anderson was approached about a complex project at Microsoft, and started to apply what he’d been learning. By 2010 his book, Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change, was published. In 2011, the Lean Kanban University (LKU) was established because the capacities of people who were teaching Kanban varied greatly. The university ensures people use the right materials and learn all the elements of a successful Kanban curriculum. Thus an Accredited Kanban Trainers (AKT) is endorsed by LKU.

Kanban teaches: start where you are now, whatever your situation, whatever framework you may be using. The challenge with Kanban is simply knowing what you’re doing at any given moment. Kanban can help you start with getting visibility of the work, so that everyone – managers and employees alike – are on the same page. Kanban is very free about then allowing change to occur.

Kanban is used by the agile community worldwide, to differing degrees, offering both shallow visuals or deep risk management. It works mainly for knowledge and service work, i.e. insurance companies and banks – work that is essentially invisible, and is of different sizes. Because knowledge work is not visible, management may not know how much an employee has on his or her plate.

A trained AKT understands systems thinking and a pull system, all the way to applying advanced techniques to improve flow and predictability. The training will be eye-opening – time well-spent!”

Read more about Kanban at:

http://www.agileadvice.com/2017/06/01/kanban/kanban-real-scaled-agility-enterprise/


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Scrum Guide Revisions: from a Webinar with Ken Schwaber & Dr. Jeff Sutherland

If you’ve not had a chance to view this webinar which explains changes to the 2017 Scrum Guide, I offer this brief review.

Some History

The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Dr. Jeff Sutherland was first formally presented in 1995 at an OOPSLA Conference in Texas. The first version of the Scrum Guide was released in 2010 as the official “Body of Knowledge of Scrum.” This was posted in a neutral open space for anyone to access, and the authors received tons of feedback.

The 2017 Scrum Guide, according to Schwaber, provides a minimal approach to Scrum to enable people to use it, but not be restrained by it. He adds that this 2017 version was motivated by people’s feedback and input.

So what’s new?

  • The uses of Scrum – Scrum has expanded far beyond IT

  • Refined role of the Scrum Master – SM is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide, by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practice, rules and values; and, as much as is possible, within the culture of the organization, and according to the SM’s organizational and political skills, and patience. It’s a very tough job.” (Schwaber)

  • Clarifying the purpose of the Daily Scrum – The daily scrum has been a problem area; it’s more than reporting your action; it’s about replanning and refocussing, and moving the backlog to “done.”

  • Time boxes – only require a maximum length; clarity has been added around time boxes using the words “at most” to remove questions that events have to be a certain length.

  • Sprint Backlog – includes feedback from the sprint Retrospective; it’s about continuous improvement; the sprint backlog makes visible all the work that the development team identifies to meet the sprint goal; it includes at least one high priority process improvement identified in the previous Retrospective meeting. (The authors struggled with this, worried it would be too prescriptive.)

Misconceptions?

Schwaber and Sutherland also address common misconceptions in the webinar. One topic they emphasize is that Scrum is not only relevant to software delivery, but can be used in many different domains, from products to services.

They also address the idea that releases may be delivered at any time, not just at the end of the sprint. Sutherland calls this “continuous deployment.”

Another misconception the authors discuss is whether or not Scrum and DevOps are competitive.

Jeff Sutherland states: “The biggest problem in attempting Scrum is not using every part of it.” The parts are interlocking, and all need to be synchronized. In other words, use all of Scrum!

The Future

Scrum may be needed more than ever. The rate of change in the world has accelerated beyond being linear. The authors outline three universal dimensions of change:

  1. People – including markets, population, distribution, social and religious organizations

  2. Technology – !

  3. Mother Earth – including climate, desertification, oceans, etc.

Changes in these three areas cause great cultural instability. The sweet spot of Scrum is vision with a team of people who can create something new and needed!

The webinar contains valuable nuggets of information, plus it’s fascinating to watch these two innovators. Enjoy!

https://www.scruminc.com/scrum-guide-revision-webinar


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A Litmus Test for Agility

Being Agile seems to be the rage these days and everyone has an opinion on what Agility means and how to do it “right”.  This article doesn’t make process recommendations, but it does provide a quick, effective way to help your team and organization get on track with being Agile (primarily a mindset measurement) and not just doing Agile (primarily a practices measurement).  Presented below is a simple and lightweight test that can be applied by almost anyone; it provides clear steps for improvement, and it is geared for alignment with the core Agile Principles and Values.

The Need

CoachThere are lots of Agile practitioners, coaches and trainers out there claiming to be experts.  Some are genuinely skilled while others have a few key certification letters beside their name and yet little to no in depth, real-world experience.  Although most have a genuine intent to help and they might actually succeed at it, others might inadvertently do more damage and provide harmful guidance.  How can you help them help you?

FrameworkThere are also numerous frameworks, methodologies, and practices that claim they are well suited to help an organization become more Agile.  Some of them are simplistic, process-based approaches that may not account for your environment, culture, or specific business needs, while others are more complex and pragmatic.  Depending on your situation it can be tricky to know what will work best.  How can you find a suitable fit?

MeasurementThere are also many tools and approaches to measure a team’s Agility, the leadership’s alignment with Agile, or the organizational maturity.  Some of these simply measure the number of practices (i.e. are you doing Agile), others account for an in depth assessment of cultural factors (i.e are you being Agile), and some are based on scenarios that are idealistic given common real world business challenges.

Indeed there are a wide variety of indicators of varying complexity, so you might be challenged to determine if they are simply vanity measures, helpful health indicators, or suitable fitness criteria, and more specifically if they appropriately measure for the outcomes you are looking for.  How can you ensure they are providing valuable insights and actionable results so you may make data driven decisions?

Keep it Simple and Focused

Given all these complexities, how do you know what it really means to be Agile, how can you align the effort, and how do you know how successful you are?

The answer is keep it simple and focused, and be outcome driven. Specifically, start with the foundations of Agile and then evaluate Agility from your perspective, your organization’s business needs, your employee’s needs, and most importantly from your customer’s needs.  Then, use that information to measure and steer improvement towards your real desired outcomes of Agility.

In the spirit of keeping it simple and focused, I’m sharing a “quick” and lightweight Agility Litmus Test and Procedure below to measure how you are doing and to ensure you, your stakeholders and your approaches are all headed in the right direction.

A Straightforward Procedure

1) Align With The Agile Manifesto

Read the Agile Manifesto.  I don’t mean gloss over it on the train on the way to work, or over lunch, or during your kid’s sports game.  I mean READ it, focusing on the twelve guiding principles AND the four value statements.

If it helps, boil each of the twelve principles down to two or three key words to provide clarity.  Then, when reviewing each principle ask yourself what you think it really means, and why you think it was important enough for the signatories to explicitly call it out in the Manifesto (what the intent was).  To ensure everyone has a similar frame of reference you may find it useful to host a time boxed, focused discussion on each principle.

2) Choose Key Agile Measures

Of the twelve principles ask yourself which ones (pick 3 or 4 at most) are core, or most important to you and your stakeholders (your organization, your leadership, your customers and your team).  Don’t just speculate or guess what the answers are; you will likely need to facilitate several workshops with the appropriate people to get to the truth to those questions.

This activity in itself is a test.  If there is not close alignment on what the most important principles are then stop right here.  Do not proceed until you align on what those key principles are.  If you proceed without alignment you risk working against one another and not towards a common goal or outcome.  Note that getting alignment might prove contentious so you may need a series of facilitated sessions to hash it out.

Once you align on several core principles they become your key indicators for the Litmus Test for Agility.  These are also your defined Agile outcomes, because they encapsulate what it specifically means for you to be Agile (where you want to be).

3) Perform a Critical Assessment

Starting with your key indicators, honestly answer the question how close or how far away are we” for each one.  Use a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 means “not close at all” and 7 means “we are totally nailing it”.  I chose 1-7 because it gives just enough range to differentiate measures.  That, and it is exactly 1/2 of the pH range for a proper Litmus test!

Be sure to seek fair and equal participation in this evaluation, as it is important to help reduce bias and ensure perspectives are accounted for.  This means you should ensure you have adequate representation from as many groups as is practical.

Honesty and transparency are also extremely critical here so you may require a facilitated session.  You may also need to provide a safe environment to encourage honesty in responses, so anonymous scoring and evaluations would be an appropriate technique to use.

4) Determine Actions

Critically review the summary of evaluative responses for your key indicators.  If the average is less than 6 out of 7 then hold a strategic planning session to determine actions to get you closer to achieving those outcomes.  Note also if there is a wide dispersal of the individual responses for a key indicator that would strongly suggest there is a large misalignment amongst the respondents, and you need to address that gap.

One question to ask would simply be “what would it take…”, or “what would we need to do to get us to a 6 or higher?   When following this line of reasoning be sure to account for the coaches, practitioners and experts you are relying on by asking “What can or should they be doing to align with our key indicators and Agile outcomes?”

Also, look at the frameworks and approaches you are using and ask “How can we switch, change or improve our ways to improve Agility?”

Finally, look at the tools and measures you are leveraging and ask “Are these vanity measures or are they really meaningful?” and “How can we improve these measures (not just the values, but the metrics themselves) to provide more meaningful insights and help us better realize our defined Agile outcomes?”

As a group then choose at least one and no more than three specific actions that came out of the discussion above, implement them, hold one another accountable for them, and measure on the next round if your actions had the desired effect of improving the scores for your key indicators.

5) Learn and Refine

Repeat steps 3 and 4 of this procedure at frequent and regular intervals, being sure to not only measure but also define and take new action.

6) Reassess and Pivot as Needed

If time permits or if your key indicators all show consistent strength, consider switching to some of the other Agile Manifesto Guiding Principles.  If it seems logical you may even want to go back and repeat the entire process as your needs and outcomes may have changed.

Conclusion

The core value this Litmus Test for Agility provides is a) in its simplicity, b) in it’s inherent alignment with the Agile Values and Principles, and c) in its focus on what matters most for you and your stakeholders.  It uses the Manifesto as a foundation, and then allows you to focus on what is most important to you.

Like all tests and models this approach has some inherent strengths and weaknesses.  For example, it is lightweight, cheap, easy to implement, and aligned with core Agility, however it is not an extravagant or in depth test so it may not account for complexities.  As such it should never replace sound judgement.

Meanwhile, if you sense or feel there is something deeper going on that may be impeding your organization’s ability to become more Agile then be sure to investigate thoroughly, work with others to obtain nonpartisan assessment, and provide clarity along the way on intent, outcome, and learnings.

If you are practicing Scrum, using a more sophisticated tool such as Scrum Insight (a virtual “Coach-in-a-Box”) can provide much richer, deeper feedback and insights, including recommended actions.  Even the free version of the tool provides keen insight.

Depending on circumstance you might also find it advantageous to call in expert facilitation, advisors or coaches to either conduct an Agility test such as this or even help your team or organization get to the heart of their issues and challenges.  Organizations such as BERTEIG are not only Agile teachers but they are also hands-on practitioners that can coach your team and organization to reaching new levels of Agility, either with a lightweight touch or a fully immersive engagement.

Coincidentally, reflecting, collaborating, providing transparency, and adopting a continuous learning and improvement mindset are in and of themselves indicators of Agility.  So identifying core values such as these and then making them part of your Agile Litmus Test (i.e. making them your new Agility outcomes) shows how simple it can be to improve, adapt and grow even this lightweight approach!


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