Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a topic that has not been fully addressed on this site, yet it has great ramifications for anyone choosing or hoping to practice Agile and/ or Scrum.
I obliquely touch on it in my article: “The Soft Skills Revolution: Why You May Want Team Development,” and I think I can safely equate most “soft skills” with “emotional intelligence.”
My purpose is not to connect the dots for anyone, but simply to introduce the idea. If you go to the site below and read and watch the videos, you may understand for yourself the importance of emotional intelligence in all that you are endeavouring to do. Thanks to John Hawthorne for pointing this out to me – enjoy.
Your business is an ecosystem of interdependent services, a complex adaptive system.
A bunch of organizations I know started their journey of increasing their agility with Scrum. That didn’t solve all of their problems. Kanban enables organizations to evolve their service delivery systems towards mature business agility.
As addressed in How Kanban Saved Agile, pure Scrum is extremely rare. Scrumbut (the disparaging label that spawned from so many organizations reporting that they do Scrum, but…) on the other hand, is extremely common.
In order to not be Scrumbut, you need the following:
Cross-functional development team of 7 +/- 2 people—ALL skills needed to ship product is present on the team—there are no dependencies external to the team;
One source of demand with no capacity constraints—the Product Owner is the customer AND full-time member of the team;
Sprints are one month or less, begin with starting new demand from the Product Owner and end with the delivery of potentially shippable Product Increments, followed by a retrospective about how to do better next Sprint;
“Potentially Shippable” means that the decision about whether to actually ship is purely a business decision. All the technical work is done;
If all of the technical work required in order to ship isn’t done, then the Sprint is a failed Sprint;
The Scrum Master is a servant-leader and Scrum educator to the entire organization.
How many organizations do you know of with Scrum teams that meet all of the requirements above? I don’t know one.
So, what’s the solution? Give up on Scrum? Are we still getting benefits from Scrumbut? Alright, let’s stop it with the Scrumbut already. Let’s acknowledge what’s really going with real teams in the real world and call that Scrum. Let’s refer to the above checklist as “Ideal Scrum”.
Agile scaling methods have become a popular risk hedging tactic for all the loose ends dangling around the real teams in the real world.
Here are some of the reasons for adding layers of scaling around Agile teams:
Teams are not fully cross-functional;
Teams have external and opaque depencies;
Many of these dependencies are shared services with multiple sources of demand and constrained capacity—often overburdened;
External dependencies can be other teams—demand from other teams shows up in their backlogs, prioritized by their own Product Owners;
Many dependencies don’t play by the same rules at all—some reside in a different part of the organization, with different structures and political forces;
The Product Owners are proxies for multiple stakeholders and customers and the Product Backlogs represent an array of multiple sources of demand, with different service level expectations, strategic origins, degrees of clarity, urgency and political forces pushing them into the deliver organization;
The Product Backlogs are made up primarily of solutions defined by stakeholders and translated by the pseudo-Product Owners as pseudo-user stories—how they get there is opaque, the “fuzzy front end”—and somewhere in here a fuzzy delivery commitment was already made;
The work of a Sprint includes all of the work that the non-cross-functional teams can get done—then whatever the teams get “done” is “delivered” (handed-off) to a subsequent set of teams or process steps (usually fairly well defined at an organizational level but outside of the teams’ influence);
Delivery decisions are made based on constraints imposed by legacy technology, systems and their gatekeepers (for historically good reasons);
The teams are “done” at the end of each Sprint, yet much work is still to be done before their “done” work is potentially shippable;
The Scrum Master’s are held collectively accountable for the collective deliverables of the teams and their ability to cross-team coordinate and integrate—accountability by committee translates into no one is actually responsible.
Middle managers are scrambling to pick up the pieces because they are actually accountable for delivered results.
Generally speaking, the aim of Agile scaling methods is to apply larger Agile wrappers around clusters of Agile teams in order to re-establish some kind of hierarchical structure needed to manage the interdependencies described above. Whether its a Release Train or a Nexus, or whatever else, the idea is that there is an “Agile Team of Teams” managing the interdependencies of multiple, smaller teams. As long as the total number of people doesn’t grow beyond the Dunbar number (~150), the Dunbar-sized group is dedicated and cross-functional, there is a team managing the interdependencies within the Dunbar, there are no dependencies outside of the Dunbar and there is some cadence (1-3 months) of integrated delivery—it’s still “Agile”. All of this scaling out as far as a Dunbar (and only that far) allows the enterprise to still “be Agile”—Scaled Agile.
This is all supposed to be somehow more realistic than Ideal Scrum (with perhaps am overlay of Scrum of Scrums and a Scrum of Scrum of Scrums). It’s not. How many organizations do you know of that can afford to have ~150 people 100% dedicated to a single product? Perhaps today there is enough cash lying around, but soon enough the economic impact will be untenable, if not unsustainable.
How does Kanban address this problem? Your business is a complex adaptive system. You introduce a Kanban system into it such that it is likely that the complex adaptive system is stimulated to improve. The Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban—STATIK—is how you can make such a transition more successful (@az1):
Understand the purpose of the system—explicitly identify the services you provide, to whom you provide them and why;
Understand the things about the delivery of the service that people are not happy about today—both those whose needs are addressed by the service and those doing the work of delivering the service;
Define the sources of demand—what your customers care about and why;
Describe the capability of your system to satisfy these demands;
Map the workflow of items of customer-recognizable value(@fer_cuenca), beginning with a known customer need and ending with the need being met through stages of primary knowledge discovery (Scrum teams somewhere in the middle, towards the end)—focus on activities, not looping value streams;
Discover classes of service—there are patterns to how different kinds of work flow through your system (they are not arbitrarily decided by pseudo-Product Owners), what are they? Group them, they are classes of service and knowing them enables powerful risk management;
With all of the above as an input, design the Kanban system for the service;
Learn how to do steps 2-7 and start applying it directly to your own context in a Kanban System Design class;
Repeat with all of the interdependent services in your organization—every “dependency” is a service—Kanban all of them with STATIK and begin implementing the Cadences.
Don’t get hung up on teams, roles, your latest reorg, how people will
respond to another “change”, who’s in, who’s out, etc. These are all part of the service as it is now—your current capability. Initially, no changes are required at this level. The kanban system will operate at a higher level of scale. Through feedback-loop cadences, it will evolve to be fit for the purpose of your customers without a traumatic and expensive reorg. Who is responsible for this? Identify this person. If you are the one thinking about this problem, there is a good chance that it’s you. Whoever it is, this is the manager of the service; take responsibility, do the work and make life better for everyone.
Our IT group started with Scrum. Scores of people got trained. Most of our Project Managers became “Certified” Scrum Masters. Most of our Business Analysts became “Certified” Product Owners. We purged some people who we knew would never make the transition. We reorganized everyone else into cross-functional teams – mostly developers and testers. But now they are Scrum Developers. We tried to send them for “Certified” Scrum Developer training but hardly anyone of them signed up. So they are Just Scrum Developers. But we still call them developers and testers. Because that’s still how they mostly function—silos within “cross functional teams”, many tales of two cities rather than just one.
After the Scrum teams had been up and running for a while and we were able to establish some metrics to show the business how Agile we were (since they didn’t believe us based on business results), we had a really great dashboard showing us how many Scrum teams we had, how many Kanban teams, how many DevOps, how many people had been trained. We even knew the average story point velocity of each team.
The business didn’t get it. They were worried that Agile wasn’t going to solve their problem of making commitments to customers and looking bad because we still weren’t able to deliver “on time”.
As IT leadership, we were really in the hot seat. We started to talk about why the transformation wasn’t going as it should. We knew better than to bring the Agile coaches into the boardroom. They were part of the problem and needed to be kept at arms length from those of us who were making important decisions. Besides, their Zen talk about “why?” was really getting old fast. Some thought it was because we didn’t have the right technology. Others were convinced it was because we didn’t have the right people. After all, we didn’t go out and higher experienced (above-average) Scrum Masters and Product Owners, instead we just retrained our own people. Clearly that wasn’t working.
We started with improving the Scrum Masters. We went out and hired a few with impressive resumes. We developed some Scrum Master KPIs (HR jumped all over this one). Then one day we had a collective flash of brilliance—since the ScrumMasters are the servant leaders of teams, we will make them responsible for collecting and reporting team metrics and this will tell us how well the teams are doing and how they need to improve. This surely would be the key to improving the performance of IT and get us on a better footing with the business.
But we didn’t get the response we were hoping for. The ScrumMasters soon complained that the metrics of the teams were impacted by dependencies that they had no influence over. When we pushed harder and shamed them publicly for failing to produce meaningful metrics, they tried harder, but they weren’t able to do it. Some began disengage. “This is not the job I signed up for” became their new mantra. This was puzzling. We were empowering them and they were recoiling. Maybe we didn’t get the right Scrum Masters after all. Maybe we needed to go out and find people who could think and act effectively beyond the confines of their own teams. Or…
If you go on line and type “soft skills” into your browser, you will come up with a plethora of sites. That’s because soft skills are being touted as the most important skill set for any individual in any career. Soft skills are becoming de rigeur in job applications and leadership training of every kind. One might say that there is, in fact, a soft skills revolution occurring in every sector of society.
What is motivating this revolution? Perhaps the more automated our world becomes, we see that our more human characteristics and relationships are needed to balance such a high degree of automation. Perhaps it’s become clear that human characteristics are what drive everything forward in either a positive or negative fashion.
With the advent of the Agile Manifesto (www.agilemanifesto.com) and agile processes permeating business and organizational cultures more and more, people are abandoning the silo mentality and striving to create a more communal environment and team consciousness. Many organizations and businesses are learning that teams rather than individuals are more effective at accomplishing goals.
When a team of people have to work together, there is an expectation that they will all do their best to get a job done. On the other hand, it’s also normal for people on a team to encounter hiccups and even conflicts, whether it’s issues of personality, ego or disagreements of one kind or another. Then there are those team members who do not feel safe to offer their opinion, or those who harbor a prejudice against a certain type of person they may be required to work with.
By putting people together to work alongside each otherday after day, we are creating a potent mix. Human beings are extremely complex and diverse after all. There are volumes written about both the need for and the difficulty of people working and achieving together.
From a recent Insight BTOES newsletter about hiring practices:
“If they’re the best there is in their craft but would prefer to just do their job and be left alone, it isn’t likely they’ll engage in team improvement activities and become a contributing part of the new culture.It’s simply not worth taking on the resistance/non-engagement that you’ll have to deal with until your patience runs out and you’re right back where you started…”
Many corporations now claim that soft skills are the number one priority when hiring, Hard skills can be easily taught but soft skills make the difference whether a person is even teachable and flexible enough for a corporate environment.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, because soft skills have not been the focus of our education systems, and those who have them need continuous practice and improvement. But everyone has the potential to become more empathetic, cooperative, supportive, and respectful.
Whether it’s learning to communicate effectively, or to create a sense of cohesion in a team, there are many pieces that can be put in place to help any team (and its individual parts) be more powerful, effectual and happy.
One very basic ingredient that can make a world of difference to a team’s work is to feel safe. Safety comes with having clear and consistent goals. Team members feel safe to speak his or her mind without fear or judgement, even if their opinion is different from others. A team feels safe to experiment and to succeed or fail. Safety is built on the very essential idea of trust.
Psychologist, author and consultant Harvey Robbins has written extensively about the idea of trust as a key element of any team. He describes trust as follows:
· Trust means setting clear, consistent goals. If people don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to, they will feel set up to fail…
· Trust means being open, fair, and willing to listen. This requires more than making a thoughtful, considerate face. It means listening to the words other people are saying.
· Trust means being decisive… It’s a challenging thing to say, but sometimes it’s better to make any decision – good, bad, or indifferent – than it is to make no decision at all.
· Trust means supporting one another…Your team belong to you, and you belong to them.
· Trust means sharing credit with team members. You are there for them, not vice versa. If you are a glory hog, you are stealing from the team.
· Trust means being sensitive to team members’ needs. You should know what legitimate secondary agendas they may have, and be willing to help them achieve their personal goals.
· Trust means respecting the opinions of others. The worst thing a leader can do is denigrate or dismiss or ignore team members. If they’re no good, move them off the team. But even then you owe them your respect.
· Trust means empowering team members to act. It means trusting that they are up to the challenges that you trained them for…
· Finally, and ultimately, and most difficultly, trust means being willing to suffer… The ordinary leader exposes his people to all the risk. The trusted leader assumes risk himself.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/716760
When a team has clearly articulated goals, it helps build a sense of cohesion, in that every member is aware of what they are working toward. When team members are allowed to work out an action plan toward achieving a goal, this gives everyone a stronger sense of purpose and ownership.
If you’re wondering whether a Team Development workshop would be of benefit to, or is necessary for your business or organization, here are some thoughts from MindTools that can help you decide:
Are there conflicts between certain people that are creating divisions within the team?
Do team members need to get to know one another?
Do some members focus on their own success, and harm the group as a result?
Does poor communication slow the group’s progress?
Do people need to learn how to work together, instead of individually?
Are some members resistant to change, and does this affect the group’s ability to move forward?
Do members of the group need a boost to their morale?”
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.
Organizing such a workshop for your team does not mean they are not doing well or failing. It means you, the team lead/ manager/ CEO/ HR person, etc, care about your team’s best interests, highest achievements and happiness.
Valerie Senyk is a facilitator for Team Development with BERTEIG, and can be contacted by going to http://www.worldmindware.com/AgileTeamDevelopment
So you’ve taken Scrum training, received your industry certification, and perhaps even experienced being a Scrum team member. In your heart you believe Scrum is the right tool and approach for you, and you believe your current organization and your customers could really benefit from Scrum practices.
However, for whatever reason your organization is either hesitant to consider Scrum or outright believes it’s a bad idea. Perhaps there was an experience with a poorly executed pilot. Perhaps your leadership see it as being too risky.
What do you do?
This article explores how you could subversively practice ScrumMaster-ing in your workplace without getting into trouble or breaking the rules. Ssh…we won’t tell!
Before you even begin strategizing, you need to ensure that what you do aligns with the Scrum values, namely:
Doing Scrum subversively will certainly take considerable courage, focus and commitment on your part. Be aware you will be challenged to respect the existing organizational culture and norms, and they may push back on your efforts.
You also need to acknowledge that the very act of being subversive means you are not being completely open and transparent that you are practicing Scrum to the extent possible.
Or you could tell your workmates, “I’ve had this terrific training in Scrum and could we try a few of the techniques to see how they work?” Then introduce something as simple as time-boxing or holding retrospectives with your colleagues.
You will also want to ensure what you do is harmonious with Scrum Theory and the pillars of empirical process, which are:
1. Transparency 2. Inspection 3. Adaptation
Normally, one could say there’s a direct conflict between being transparent and being subversive. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative you be absolutely transparent on the actions you are taking and what the specific goals, outcomes or learnings are that you hope to achieve.
However, given the circumstances you’ll likely choose to not explicitly use Scrum terminology and language to describe what you are doing. In other words, describe the practices and activities that you are implementing or recommending, express their benefits and what you hope to accomplish, but don’t explicitly call them by their Scrum name.
As for Inspection and Adaptation, those approaches should be perfectly aligned with your intent to try to help your company become a learning organization. That means you will need to park your ego at the door and accept the results. If your learning shows your subversive Scrum activities do not provide the benefit you are aiming for, you will need to stop them regardless of whether you think they should work or not.
Let’s explore some activities and practices you may want to tactfully consider to help your organization benefit from Scrum (without actually “doing” Scrum).
1. Lead by Example
As someone that appreciates the values of Scrum, you should aim to educate others and provide them with a similar understanding. That means practicing them in how you show up and in everything you do, even explicitly calling out certain actions when they are a prime example (and of course, whenever it is appropriate).
This does not mean preaching! Instead, it could be sharing your thoughts about something when contributing to a decision, or simply pointing out when and how something that aligns with the values contributes to a better team, a better experience, or a better solution.
Leading by example also means being human and honest when mistakes are made or when failures occur. This can be particularly risky in an organization that has not embraced Agility, or where failure is frowned upon. That is where you need courage, and a commitment on your part to hold improvement of the work your organization does above your own individual career needs.
2. Communicate More
Make a concerted, conscious effort to communicate with your team and partners more. For example, get up out of your seat and spend more time in informal face-to-face discussions rather than sending e-mails or chat messages.
Perhaps you can have short, informal meetings with just the team either daily or several times a week to see what has been done, what still needs to be done, and what challenges the team is facing. The key here is to keep it mercifully short, focus on what needs to be done to move work forward, and define actions to address issues. Then always follow up and make sure the actions are being pursued and progress shared with the team.
3. Be Open And Transparent
Although you may consciously choose to not use the proper terminology and language of Scrum, the key is to always be honest about what it is you are trying to do, why it is important, and what the desired outcomes are.
To this end the goal should never simply be to have teams adopt Scrum. The goal should be to become a learning organization that “learns about learning”, constantly tries to improve, delivers value faster, and applies new knowledge in the best possible way. Scrum may be a fantastic catalyst for that, but there are many other approaches that will achieve similar results.
4. Use Better Meeting Practices
Another approach to consider is improve meeting experiences by time-boxing and defining specific scope for each meeting. Setting a time limit and specific outcomes for a discussion helps create a sense of urgency, manage expectations and focus the conversation on the most important topics. The facilitator will need to enforce these constraints if you really want to be successful, otherwise you lose the effectiveness of the practice.
5. Have One or More Key Stakeholders Empowered to Make Product Decisions
This may be a considerable challenge in organizations where there is little appetite or understanding about Agile practices and Scrum, but do what you can given your authority and influence. If possible, try to have a single voice (key stakeholder) defined as the person with the final authority on the product or service that your team is delivering. Then, work with that individual to set them up for success by connecting them with the other stakeholders, perhaps facilitating discussions with them, and showing the key person(s) effective techniques for prioritizing and rank-ordering the work that is being asked for.
6. Limit Efforts to What Matters Most
One practice that is important to apply, but often difficult to master, is focus. Limit work and discussions to the most important tasks and activities, and request that other discussions on lesser-important work be delayed. Always try to focus the conversation back to what is currently the most important work.
On occasion you may even want to point out times when plans were well-defined in advance but ultimately changed a lot when the actual work was in progress. This indicates the waste in planning too much up front and in constant task-switching. When done in conjunction with time-boxing this practice becomes a little easier.
On a macro scale, when possible try to limit development to smaller chunks of end-to-end deliverables. In other words, deliver small things often all the way to completion as much as possible (e.g. to a staging environment). Then show the outcome and deliverable to stakeholders and customers, explaining that although the final product may not be done, this is specifically to get them something fast and gather feedback.
7. Reflect on Learning
When possible, ensure that reviews of completed work happen frequently. Ensure the outcomes, functionality and value is shown and that learning (for the product as well as the methods) are part of the discussion.
Without becoming intrusive, seek stakeholder feedback frequently and informally. Then, be willing to demonstrate an ability to pivot plans based on that feedback.
As a team, hold informal retrospectives of how you worked together. If the term “retrospective” is contentious, consider calling them something else such as a debriefing or a reflection.
8. Visualize and Display Work
Have your own personal backlog and list of current activities visible at your desk. Use post-its to represent all work that you have on your plate, and ensure it is always up-to-date. Prioritize the work items you have coming up, and visually represent this as a rank-ordered list of things that you have to do.
It won’t take long for people around you to notice what you are doing and ask about it. Use this as a great opportunity to educate others on the values of transparency and focus.
9. Keep Your Team Size Appropriate
If you are on a particularly large team, see if it is possible to split that large team in to smaller groups. The benefit is more face-to-face time and interaction across the new team, an increased sense of belonging and commitment to the new team’s purpose, and it should also be easier (in theory anyway) to get decisions made and increase alignment.
The challenge will be finding a logical way to split the teams to mitigate dependencies of people, skills and products, and ensuring the new teams can still collaborate with one another. Geography might be a good way to split the team if you are distributed, but you would need to ensure all the skills to deliver the solution exist on all new teams.
10. Push for Automation
If you are in a development environment where tools, automation and engineering practices are not currently being used, and they could be of value to your organization, then start investigating whether it is possible. Tools and automation are not cheap nor are they easy to implement, but they dramatically encourage you and your teams to collaborate better and they enable the adoption of Scrum practices such as fast delivery of value.
Be confident that your own creativity may help you unlock ways of practicing Scrum methodology without disrupting your organization’s practices.
You may or may not be able to implement all of the above actions but, as one Agile Coach likes to say, “it’s all about how YOU show up, how YOU are.” In the final analysis, your example, your enthusiasm, your courage will be the best you can offer.
From Essential Kanban Condensed by David J Anderson & Andy Carmichael
“Kanban is a method for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work, such as professional services, creative endeavors, and the design of both physical and software products. It may be characterized as a “start from what you do now” method—a catalyst for rapid and focused change within organizations—that reduces resistance to beneficial change in line with the organization’s goals.
The Kanban Method is based on making visible what is otherwise intangible knowledge work, to ensure that the service works on the right amount of work—work that is requested and needed by the customer and that the service has the capability to deliver. To do this, we use a kanban system—a delivery flow system that limits the amount of work in progress (WiP) by using visual signals.
I’ve been reading the above book on Kanban (the alternative path to agility) to familiarize myself with the method before taking the Kanban course by Accredited Kanban Trainer Travis Birch.
Two points from my learning are the principles of “Change Management” and “Service Delivery.”
Kanban regards “Change Management” as an incremental, evolutionary process as Kanban is utilized. For example, Kanban starts “with what you do now.” A business agrees to pursue improvement through evolutionary change, which happens over a period of time, based on experience and understanding. If one is using Kanban for the first time, there may be some awkwardness at the beginning, with a number of people trying to understand the principles, and how the visual board works. As the work goes on, understanding is increased, and with the new learning, change occurs in a very organic way. Acts of leadership are encouraged at every level. Changes can occur in all sectors: within individuals, within the environment, and in the cumulative outcomes of the work.
“Service Delivery” in Kanban requires that there is an understanding of and focus on the customer’s needs and expectations. The work is managed by people self-organizing around the work, and by the limiting of work-in-progress (WIP). This can help people feel that they have the right amount of work to accomplish with the right amount of time. WIP limits are policies that need to be made explicit in order to establish flow. The work on the board is “pulled” into the in-progress section only as people become available to do the work. An employee can focus on bringing higher quality to the work, and not feel threatened by a backlog that is crushing them. Policies are evolved to improve outcomes for the customers.
Of the nine values outlined in Kanban, three are directly related to change management and service delivery. The first is “respect;” by limiting the work-in-progress, respect is shown for the employee’s time and efforts, along with respect for the customer’s expectations. “Flow” refers to there being an ordered and timely movement to the work being done that is not overwhelming. “Transparency” occurs because everything is visible on the Kanban board and it becomes clear what is being done, when and by whom.
It’s been proposed that Scrum is for teams and Kanban is for services. In that way, they are both essential to the improvement of many organizations, especially those in which pure Scrum is not enough. They are complimentary from the perspective of improving business.
“Kanban has principles and general practices, but these must be applied in context, where different details will emerge as we pursue the common agendas of sustainability, service-orientation, and survivability. As a result, the journey is an adventure into unknown territory rather than a march over familiar ground” (from Essential Kanban Condensed)
In a recent scan of the e-literature on the reciprocal impact of Agile on HR, I connected some very interesting insights which I’d like to share. A set of insights that looks like ripples across the surface of a pond. Ripples that started when the Agile stone was thrown into the pond in 2001. In its simplest form, Agile is about a different way of working with each other in teams. Teams that are cross-functional, collaborative, co-located and customer-driven in their decision making. The insights provide compelling reasons why HR needs to take an active role in Agile implementations.
“In the most successful Agile transformations, HR is a driver of the change and a key hub that steers other departments’ success.”
HR certainly needs to be ‘a’ driver in the change, but not ‘the’ (sole) driver. Rather they need to partner in the change. Successful Agile transformations will benefit from HR’s expertise in
Learning & Development
Workforce Planning & Talent Management
The driver of the change, historically IT, will need HR’s help to manage the impact to people and traditional HR processes/tools. As the change scales and starts to impact other departments in the business, HR can play a large role in ensuring the business overall stays aligned in delivering end-to-end value to customers.
“2016 will be the year of Agile HR… most HR teams have no clue what Agile HR means.”
(HR Trend Institute)
Agile was a hot topic for HR in 2016 as evidenced by the number of times ‘Agile HR’ has made the shortlist of topics being brainstormed for HR conferences and networks. It was the #1 trend on the 2016 HR Trend Institute list. Its popularity is not cooling off in 2017. And yet most HR teams still don’t have a clue what ‘Agile’ means, never mind what ‘Agile HR’ means.
“As the world becomes more volatile, organizations need to find ways to become highly agile. HR will need to support a world where people may no longer have predefined ‘jobs’ that lock them into doing one activity.”
Agile has entered the mainstream. A necessity given the VUCA world we live in. Agile is no longer the sole domain of IT. The common refrain from all C-suite leaders these days is increased agility and nimbleness across the entire business – not just IT. The impact of capital ‘A’ Agile or small ‘a’ agile will affect HR. People will no longer have predefined jobs – People’s career paths will change. In this VUCA world, standardized career paths are no longer effective. Batch-of-one career paths will become the norm.
“HR’s job is not just to implement controls and standards, and drive execution—but rather to facilitate and improve organizational agility.”
The HR profession itself has been going through its own transformation. The HR profession has evolved from an administrative and transactional service to a strategic business stakeholder with a seat at the executive table. The role of HR now includes a focus on organization-wide agility and global optimization of departmental efforts.
“Human capital issues are the #1 challenge for CEOs globally.”
(The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2016)
The Conference Board’s 2016 survey of global CEOs ranked human capital issues as the number one challenge. It has been number one for the last four years in a row. Within that challenge, there are two hot-button issues:
Attracting and retaining top talent
Developing next-generation leaders
The adoption of agile ways of working will change
How we recruit and engage
How we nurture and grow not only our leaders but our talent in general
In the words of Robert Ployhart, “…employees don’t just implement the strategy – they are the strategy”. CEOs around the world would tend to agree.
The net of these insights is the more HR professionals understand Agile and its implications, the more effective Agile or agile initiatives and people/strategy will be.
I’d like to see HR ride the wave.
 VUCA is an acronym introduced by the US military to describe a state of increased Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity
 Ulrich, Dave, William A. Schiemann, Libby Sartain, Amy Schabacker Dufain, and Jorge Jauregui Morales. “The Reluctant HR Champion?” The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders. Alexandria, VA: HR Certification Institute, 2015. N. pag. Print.
Note: This review is based on an incomplete pdf copy of Product Mastery that was shared with the reviewer, which therefore limits discussion of the book.
Geoff Watts, author of Scrum Mastery, has now released Product Mastery: From Good to Great Product Ownership, published by Inspect & Adapt Ltd. The book contains two Forewards by Jeff Sutherland and Roman Pichler, both masters in the field of Scrum management.
The prose Watts uses is straightforward and provides an easy and intelligent read even for the layman, with graphs and illustrations that illuminate his ideas.
The book is built around the idea of DRIVEN, an acronym Watts uses to discuss the traits and characteristics of a great product owner. The book uses each letter as headings, i.e. D = Decisive, R = Ruthless, I = Informed, V = Versatile, E = Empowering, and N = Negotiable. Each heading offers pragmatic advice into the many responsibilities of being a product owner. I will give a few snippets of some insights that Watts shares.
In the first section, entitled “Decisive,” Watts creates stories and discussion that show how product owners need to have courage and trust themselves and others to make decisions, often with incomplete information. He gives strategies to make the decision-making process easier, such as reducing the number of options a product master is considering, and prioritizing. He cites Edison as once famously saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Under “Ruthless” Watts shares a mantra used by product owners: “If the product is going to fail, then I would rather it fail in month 2 than month 22.” In other words, it is better to develop the wrong thing quickly and get feedback, than wait too long in an effort to make sure no mistakes are ever made.
The third section is called “Informed.” Watts includes a quote by Roman Pichler, author of Agile Product Management with Scrum, who told him: “Customer feedback is the basis for ideas. Customer data is the basis for decisions.” Watts then cites the experience of a company that creates mobile games. Rather than ask for ratings or feedback, the company monitors actual usage of their games.
In “Versatile” Watts advises product owners to “remain flexibly firm.”
Under the last heading, “Negotiable,” he outlines games to play when negotiating attributes of a product. In this section Watts makes it clear that product owners need to be careful to not fall into the trap of being a perfectionist. He writes: “The temptation to just add a little extra here or there is very strong; but those little bits here or there quickly add up and can easily lead to significant delays, not to mention an unnecessarily cumbersome product to support.”
Product Mastery is a book that is sure to attract a wide readership as it provides a balance
between vision, direction and execution. Wisely, Watts is not dogmatic in his style. He gives numerous approaches to the items under a product owner’s watch. He writes: “Great product owners know how to find the right middle ground, one with an appropriate balance of data and intuition – and a good measure of courage.”
I personally will be adding Product Mastery to BERTEIG’s book offerings for our Certified Scrum Product Owner attendees.
Product Mastery: From Good to Great Product Ownership (282 pp)
“Business engagement alone is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Agile to succeed”
It’s taken a while but now it’s well understood amongst seasoned Agile practitioners that Business engagement is necessary for successful Agile implementations. Just when we thought engaged Business owners were enough, we’re now realizing Business engagement alone is not sufficient. The impact of corporate shared services, especially Human Resources (HR), on Agile adoptions or transformations are often overlooked. In fact, Agile practitioners often bypass HR in their zeal to quickly change the way they work and the related people processes.
“Companies are running 21st century businesses with 20th century workplace practices & programs”
– Willis Towers Watson
It’s not just IT departments practicing Agile but 21st century businesses overall that are characterized by flatter organizations and an insatiable appetite for small ‘a’ agility. Agility that is pushing and breaking the envelope of current HR processes and tools. Agile individuals and teams are very vocal when it comes to calling out technical obstacles in their way. The same could be said when it comes to HR related obstacles that impact Agile individuals and teams. If we listen, here’s what we would hear:
“Can we team interview the candidate for attitude and fit?”
“I was an IT Development Manager. What’s my role now?”
“My manager doesn’t see half of what I do for my team. How can she possibly evaluate me?”
“With no opportunity for promotions in sight, how can I advance my career?”
“Why do we recognize individuals when we’re supposed to be focused on team success?”
“Charlie’s not working out. Can we as the team fire him?”
As the volume increases, how will HR and HR professionals respond?
“2016 will be the year of Agile HR … most HR teams have no clue what Agile HR means”
– HR Trend Institute
The reality is that most HR teams have no clue what Agile is, never mind how it will ultimately rock their world. Most Agile initiatives emerge from the grass-roots or are driven independently by IT functions with little to no involvement from HR. HR sits on the sidelines and watches IT “do their thing”. There is a misconception that Agile exclusively falls under the IT domain; overlooking the fact that the core of Agile is about the people and culture – the sweet spots of the HR profession.
There are three significant change movements gaining momentum:
Reinventing the way we work – whether it’s IT adopting Agile or an organization becoming more nimble.
Reinventing HR – where HR is moving beyond its historical focus on basic people administration, compliance and transactions to a valued place at the executive table; ensuring context and alignment across the business to generate Customer delight.
Reinventing organizations – as the level of human and organizational consciousness evolves from valuing meritocracy, accountability and innovation to valuing self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. (See “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/)
All three have the common denominator of people; an integral part along the entire timeline of each movement. As these three movements overlap – at the intersection – will be HR. So, who better to help navigate the emerging paths of each change than “the People’s people”?… otherwise known as “HR”.
An analysis of the Human Resources Professionals Association’s (HRPA) Competency Framework shown below can help guide which HR competencies will have the greatest impact (on a scale of 1 to 10) on Agile.
“How do we get HR started towards their destiny?”
If you’re an Agile team member, invite HR to start a conversation about what Agile is and how they can help you and the team.
If you’re an HR professional, here are some suggestions:
Learn about Agile
Visit with your Agile teams during sprint reviews or daily scrums
Talk to your friends and colleagues about their Agile experiences and challenges
Review in-progress HR process & tool changes through an Agile lens
Partner with IT and other Agile implementation stakeholders to guide the success of Agile
To help HR take the first step, here are some suggested Agile learning resources:
In a search for new vistas and growth, my husband had been scanning employment ads across the country and applied for a job he was well-suited for with a large corporation. He received two interviews by telephone and SKYPE. The new job would require us to move several provinces, leaving family, friends and a community we were attached to.
He received confirmation by telephone that the corporation wanted to hire him. We spent a few days agonizing over a decision, consulting with family and friends, praying about it, and decided my husband would accept the job. After his verbal acceptance, a contract followed a few days later, which he duly signed and sent back. He was told it had been signed at the other end and he could now announce the new job publicly.
He gave notice to his present employers, as did I mine, and we proceeded to take steps to put our house on the market, search for housing in the new city, and pack. We had begun to say good-bye.
Three days later a phone call came from the HR Department of the corporation saying they had to rescind the contract as someone “higher up” had not given approval for it.
We were stunned. There had been no hint in any part of the process that the job offer was in any way tentative or not thoroughly vetted. We had taken many steps forward, and now had to backtrack several steps.
My husband had to go, hat in hand, to his current employers to see if he could retain his job. After a painful good-bye session with my team I had to inform them that I was not leaving.
This whole experience has brought to mind the importance of what my employer, BERTEIG Inc, is attempting to do through agile training, consulting and coaching.
The “Agile Manifesto” proclaims:
“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
And, further on:“Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.”
These are prime values to be lived by small and large businesses.
Admittedly, Agile was initially created for software developers, but more and more corporations and organizations are seeing the value in being agile, and are responding to this necessary change of culture in what is currently a time of deep disruption.
What if the corporation my husband was contracting with had honored the implications of “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and “customer collaboration over contract negotiations?”
If some “higher up” had not actually given approval for this hiring, once the contract was signed at both ends (which it was), could this higher-up not have responded with more agility, more compassion, and more ethically?
What if he had acted in such a way that, even if he did not approve the contract, he acknowledged the good intentions of both sides and let it go? After all, his corporation was getting a highly-qualified, experienced employee.
What if he was transparent and acknowledged that the contract was not to his liking, and asked would my husband consider some other version of it? And then consulted directly with my husband and HR over certain changes to the contract? And made sure everyone was agreeable with the changes?
What if the “higher-up” just called my husband directly, apologizing that the contract was made without his say-so, that they were not in a position to hire him, and offered two-months salary for any damages – material and emotional – that had been incurred?
The above scenarios could have changed the situation from one of loss, to one of win-win for both sides. Agile frameworks are clearly proving to be of great benefit to employers and employees alike.
Hundreds of eager attendees take Certified Scrum Master and Certified Product Owner training from us. Many have taken our Certified Agile Leadership offering in cooperation with Agilitrix. Do the corporations they belong to welcome the changes these attendees are prepared to make? Are corporations taking steps to truly alter their culture?
The Losing End
My husband was almost employed in that organization, where hundreds of others are employed. I wonder how often their employees experience this type of trauma, since this neglectful handling of my husband’s contract is a likely sign of ongoing cultural problems within.
This rescinding of a contract was a losing situation on both ends. The corporation in question lost a highly-talented employee who would have been extremely loyal and hard-working (as was determined in the interviews). My husband lost professional credibility having to backtrack with his current employers. We lost the challenge of a new adventure.
We’re recovering, despite this having a huge emotional impact on our lives. We’ve been agile enough to say: we’re still here, we still have jobs, we can make the best of it all.
I just wish that Big Corp would get it. And soon. Before more is lost.
In reality, Kanban isn’t actually saving Agile nor is it intended to, nor is any thoughtful and responsible Kanban practitioner motivated by this agenda. What I’m really trying to convey is how human thinking about the business of professional services (including software development) has evolved since “Agile” as many of us know it was conceived around 20 or so years ago. The manifesto is the collective statement of a group of software development thought leaders that captured some of their ideas at the time about how the software industry needed to improve. Essentially, it was about the iterative and incremental delivery of high-quality software products. For 2001, this was pretty heady stuff. You could even say that it spawned a movement.
Since the publication of the manifesto in 2001, a lot of other people have had a lot of other good ideas about how the business of delivering professional services can improve. This has been well documented in well known sources too numerous to mention for the scope of this article.
Substantial contributions to the discourse have been generated by and through the LeanKanban community. The aim of Kanban is to foster environments in which knowledge workers can thrive and create innovative, valuable and viable solutions for improving the world. Kanban has three agendas: survivability (primarily but not exclusively for the business executives), service-orientation (primarily but not exclusively for managers) and sustainability (primarily but not exclusively for knowledge workers). Kanban provides pragmatic, actionable, evidence-based guidance for improving along these three agendas.
Evolutionary Theory is one of the key conceptual underpinnings of the Kanban Method, most notably the dynamic of punctuated equilibrium. Evolution is natural, perpetual and fundamental to life. Long periods of equilibrium are punctuated by relatively short periods of “transformation”—apparent total and irreversible change. An extinction event is a kind of punctuation, so too is the rapid explosion of new forms. Evolutionary theory is not only a scientifically proven body of knowledge for understanding the nature of life. It can be also applied to the way we think about ideas, methods and movements.
For example, science has more or less established that the extinction of the dinosaurs, triggered by a meteor impact and subsequent dramatic atmospheric and climate change, was in fact a key punctuation point in the evolution of birds. In other words, dinosaurs didn’t become extinct, rather they evolved into birds. That is, something along the lines of the small dinosaurs with large feathers hanging around after Armageddon learned to fly over generations in order to escape predators, find food and raise their young. Dinosaurs evolved into birds. Birds saved the dinosaurs.
There has been a lot of social media chatter and buzz lately about how Agile is dead. It is a movement that has run its course, or so the narrative goes. After all, 20 years is more or less the established pattern for the rise and fall of management fads. But too much emphasis on the rise and fall of fads can blind us to larger, broader (deeper) over-arching trends.
The agile movement historically has been about high-performing teams. More recently, market demand has lead to the profusion of “scaling” approaches and frameworks. Scaling emerged out of the reality of systemic interdependence in which most Agile teams find themselves. Most agile teams are responsible for aspects of workflows—stages of value creation—as contributors to the delivery of a service or multiple services. Agile teams capable of independently taking requests directly from and delivering directly to customers are extremely rare. For the rest, classical Agile or Scrum is not enough. The feathers just aren’t big enough. Agile teams attempting to function independently (pure Scrum) in an interdependent environment are vulnerable to the antibodies of the system, especially when such interdependencies are merely denounced as impediments to agility.
Some organizations find themselves in a state of evolutionary punctuation (the proverbial sky is falling) that can trigger rapid adaptations and the emergence of local conditions in which independent service delivery teams can thrive. Most large, established organizations seem to be more or less in a state of equilibrium. Whether real or imagined, this is what change agents have to work with. However, more often than not, the typical Agile change agent seems adamant that the sky is always falling and that everyone accepting that the sky is falling is the first step to real and meaningful change. This is not an attitude held by Agile change agents alone. This is a standard feature of traditional 20th Century change management methods, the key selling point for change management consulting.
Naturally, most self-identifying “Agilists” see themselves as change agents. Many of them find themselves in the position of change management consultants. But the motivation for change can quickly become misaligned: Change needs to happen in order for Agile to work. If you are passionate about Agile, you will seek to bring about the environmental changes that will allow for Agile to thrive. We don’t need to follow this path too far until Agile becomes an end in itself. It is understandable then that for some, Agile appears to be a dead end, or just dead.
But if there is a larger, over-arching historical process playing out, what might that be? Perhaps it has something to do with the evolution of human organization. Perhaps we are living in a period of punctuation.