Six Sigma is a methodology which has been used for more than 30 years to deliver great strategic and financial results. It has brought significant results for industries and companies from different industries.
I am a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma, and for the past 15 years I have trained over 5,000 people and conducted projects for many companies in South America, North America, and Europe.
Globalization has shortened the distance between customers and business, requiring more speed and adaptability from companies to sell their products and services.
Through a combination of training and consulting in Six Sigma, my team has been supporting organizations to embrace projects towards variability reduction as well as waste elimination to increase customer satisfaction. Millions of dollars have been saved, and we have satisfied our stakeholders.
The reward for our success was that project opportunities came flowing in, yet we were challenged to complete projects even faster and better than before. How could my team do that? We needed to figure out a way together. More and more frequently we were collaborating with our customers and stakeholders to understand exactly what was important. We were inviting the team, analyzing many possibilities, rethinking our approach and then implementing the new framework.
The business environment forced new techniques to achieve different results. I realized that if I challenged our team at the planning meeting stage, we would find new ways to reach the goal (most of the time utilizing a better approach than before). Even if, during the process, we encountered a roadblock, we were able to involve the team to find a creative solution. We found we could do almost anything because we had created an environment of trust.
All along, our stakeholders were aware of what was happening, and they were encouraging the team to keep using the ‘new strategy.’ We stopped wasting our time with delays, dropped the useless documentation, while always ensuring that people were seen as more important than the process. Because of this, we were already delivering results faster than expected and had started the process of becoming Agile.
David Vicentin, Director of Business Development, BERTEIG
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Coach, Trainer and Agile practitioner, has more than 15 years in management consultancy experience delivering operational excellence and Agile implementation across various businesses. His experience and capabilities have taken him to Spain, United States, Mexico, Brazil, UK and Canada. David’s enthusiasm and practical coaching experience have allowed him to mentor senior managers to achieve sustainable results. An Industrial Engineer with a Masters degree in Economics and Finance, David is able to create an environment of learning in various fields of work.
Over the years I have done a number of talks for local chapters of the Project Management Institute. They have covered a range of topics, but one common theme that comes up over and over is that Scrum is not the best Agile method for delivering an IT Project. I even published a short video on the topic:
Several years ago, I also published a short article describing what Scrum is good for:
So… if Scrum isn’t so good for IT project work, then what can bring real agility to IT projects?
IT Project Attributes
Most of my work experience prior to running my business was in IT projects in banking, capital markets, insurance and a bit in government and healthcare. I mention that merely to indicate that my discussion of this isn’t just theoretical: I’ve seen good projects and bad projects. I’ve been on death-march projects, small projects and massive projects ($1b+). I’ve dealt with regulatory issues, vendor issues, offshoring issues, telecommuting issues, architectural issues, political issues, and seen enough problems to understand the complexity of reality.
IT projects have some common characteristics:
Like any project, there’s a deadline and a scope of work and a budget. These things don’t work well with Scrum. It’s possible to force them to fit together, but you lose a lot of what makes Scrum effective.
IT (as opposed to, say, tech startups) tends to use more mature technology platforms. Scrum is neutral about technology, but there are other Agile methods that address this type of technology more effectively.
IT Projects are often not the only thing going on in the technology organization. In particular, operations and user support add to IT project complexity, and require different “classes of service” than Scrum provides.
The issues that I mentioned above such as regulation, vendors, offshoring etc. are also common attributes of IT projects. Scrum makes harsh demands on an organization that challenge the approach to dealing with these issues. The change required to accommodate Scrum may not be worth it.
The Bad News about IT Project Agility
The whole project orientation to IT work is questionable. It’s just not a good fit. In most mid- to large-size organizations, IT does two things: it provides technology services to the rest of the organization, and it provides technical product development capacity to lines of business. For example, upgrading the office wi-fi routers and adding a new payment type to the online customer portal, respectively. The work of the IT department, therefore, falls into several different categories:
New artifacts that need to be created. Usually this is the stuff like coding algorithms and other business logic, creating new databases, configuring purchased systems, etc.
Repetitive activities that need to be sustained for a period or indefinitely, or which occur on-demand but at irregular times. For example, running a nightly batch process or deploying an update to a production environment.
Quality problems that need to be fixed. Defects and production problems are the obvious categories here, but also quality problems that are causing user confusion or time wastage.
Obstacles to work that need to be overcome. Often obstacles come from outside the project team in the form of interruptions. Other forms of obstacles can be unexpected bureaucracy, shifting funding, problems with a vendor, etc.
Calendar events that need to be accommodated. Milestones in the project, particularly regulatory milestones are crucial in IT project work, there are many other types such as all-hands meetings, statutory holidays, hiring or contract end dates, etc.
Of these, only repetitive activities and calendar events fit well into a project perspective. The others typically have a level of uncertainty… complexity… that makes it very difficult to approach with the project perspective of fixed deadlines and scope.
On the other hand, Scrum only really handles new artifacts and obstacles directly, and quality problems indirectly. These are the kinds of activities that are the focus of product development. Repetitive activities and calendar events are anathema to the core Scrum framework. If I think about this from a scoring perspective, Scrum supports these kinds of work as follows (-5 means totally counter, 0 means no impact, +5 means total support):
Scrum Support for IT Project Work Types:
New artifacts: +5
Repetitive activities: -2
Quality problems: 0
Calendar events: -5
SCORE: +2 – barely positive impact on IT project work!!!
The bad news, therefore: neither a project orientation nor Scrum really cover all the needs of an IT project environment.
There are many, but these are my three favourite alternatives: Extreme Programming, Kanban and OpenAgile. All three of them cover the five types of work more effectively than Scrum. All three of them are oriented to more generic types of work. After describing each briefly, I’ll also mention which one is my top choice for IT project work.
Extreme Programming for IT Project Work
Historically, Extreme Programming (XP) emerged in an IT Project context: the famous C3 project at Chrysler. This approach to IT project work has many things in common with other approaches to agility (which are described in the Agile Manifesto). XP allows the five types of work as follows:
New artifacts are the core of XP and are usually expressed as User Stories. This is common to Scrum and many other Agile methods. These are typically the features and functionality of a system… the scope of the project work. XP does not make any strong assertions about the size or stability of the backlog of new artifacts and as such can accommodate the project orientation in IT with relatively fixed scope.
Repetitive activities are not explicitly addressed in XP, but nor is there anything in XP which would cause problems if an XP team is required to do operational or support work which is the source of most repetitive activities in an IT environment.
Quality problems are addressed directly with both preventative and reactive measures. Specifically, Test-Driven Development, Acceptance Test-Driven Development are preventative, and Refactoring and Continuous Integration are reactive. XP has a deep focus on quality.
Obstacles are not directly addressed in XP, but indirectly through the XP value of courage. Implicitly, then, obstacles would be overcome (or attempted) with courage.
Calendar events are not addressed directly for the most part with the exception of release planning for a release date. However, the stuff related to other calendar activities is not directly handled. XP is less antagonistic to such things than Scrum, but only by implication: Scrum would often put calendar events in the category of obstacles to be removed to help a team focus.
XP Support for IT Project Work Types:
New artifacts: +5
Repetitive activities: 0
Quality problems: +5
Calendar events: +1
SCORE: +13 – moderate to strong positive impact on IT project work!
Summary: much better than Scrum, but still with some weaknesses.
Kanban for IT Project Work
Kanban is different from most other approaches to agility in that it is a “continuous flow” method, rather than an iterative/incremental method. This distinction basically means that we move packages of work through a process based on capacity instead of based on a fixed cadence. Kanban asks that we visualize the current state of all work packages, limit the amount of work in progress at any stage in our delivery process, and use cadences only for iterative and incremental improvement of our process (not our work products).
Kanban is much gentler than Scrum or Extreme Programming in that it does not require leader-led reorganization of staff into cross-functional team units. Instead, we identify a service delivery value stream and leaders manage that stream as it currently operates.
New artifacts in Kanban are supported, and certainly welcome, but Kanban does not seem to acknowledge the problem of formal complexity (creativity, problem-solving, human dynamics) in the creation of new artifacts. There are good attempts to apply statistical methods to the management of new artifacts, but their fundamentally unknowable cost/end (undecidable problem) is not really effectively addressed.
Repetitive activities are handled extremely well in Kanban including different classes of service. Repetitive activities are handled well partly as a result of the history of Kanban as a signalling system in manufacturing environments.
Quality problems are handled similarly to new artifacts: supported, welcome, and even possibly addressed in the cadences of continuous improvement that Kanban supports. However, quality problems are another area where technical complexity makes proper analysis of these activities difficult.
Kanban relegates the handling of obstacles to the manager of service delivery. There is no explicit support for strong organizational change efforts. In fact, Kanban discourages “transformative” change which is sometimes required given the problem of Nash equilibriums.
Kanban works well with Calendar events by treating them as activities with a particular class of service required.
Kanban Support for IT Project Work Types:
New artifacts: +3
Repetitive activities: +5
Quality problems: +3
Calendar events: +5
SCORE: +16 – strong positive impact on IT project work!!
Summary: even better than XP, easier to adopt. (Actually, almost anything is easier to adopt than XP!!!)
OpenAgile for IT Project Work
OpenAgile is an obscure non-technology-oriented method based on the work I and a few others did about 10 years ago. The OpenAgile Primer is the current reference on the core of the OpenAgile framework. OpenAgile has been applied to general management, small business startups, sales management, mining project management, emergency services IT, and many other areas of work. I’m partial to it because I helped to create it!
OpenAgile emerged from consulting work I did at CapitalOne in 2004 and 2005 and work I did with my own business in 2006 and 2007. A great deal of the older articles on this blog are forerunners of OpenAgile as it was being developed. See, for example, Seven Core Practices of Agile Work.
The types of work listed above, are indeed the core types of work described in OpenAgile. As such, OpenAgile fully supports (nearly) all five types of activities found in IT projects. However, OpenAgile is not just a work delivery method. It is also a continuous improvement system (like Kanban and Scrum) and so it also assumes that a team or organization using OpenAgile must also support learning. This support for learning means that OpenAgile does not over-specify or give precise definitions on how to handle all five types of work. Thus, my scores below are not all +5’s…
OpenAgile Support for IT Project Work Types:
New artifacts: +4
Repetitive activities: +4
Quality problems: +4
Calendar events: +4
SCORE: +20 – very strong positive impact on IT project work!!!
Summary: OpenAgile is the best approach I know of for general IT project environments.
Regrettably, I wouldn’t always recommend OpenAgile – there are just too few people who really understand it or know how to help an organization adopt it effectively. If you are interested, I’d be happy to help, and we can certainly arrange private training and consulting, but mostly I would recommend Kanban to people interested in taking the next step in effectiveness in IT projects. Please check out or Kanban learning events and consider registering for one or asking for us to come to your organization to deliver training, coaching or consulting privately.
So, what “awful circumstances” led to Equifax’s recent breach?
Let’s reflect: News has surfaced (TechCrunch, Reuters) that hackers have scraped untold amounts of sensitive data from Equifax systems. 143+ million people are affected as hackers have amassed a huge database of names, addresses, credit records, license numbers, banking histories. (That probably includes you too!)
I want to be clear though, the news broke yesterday but the problem started long ago. The security vulnerability has existed for (probably) years and I have no doubt some Equifax staff have known about it.
Equifax! We’re not talking about some high-school project with junior coders and tech newbs. We’re talking about one of the world’s most trusted organizations. We’re talking about a company whose very existence (their whole business!) is to protect our collateral. This is supposed to be one of the best-funded, most secure, most technologically-advanced companies on the planet.
But I’m not surprised. Here’s why…
I teach Scrum and my classrooms are filled regularly with people who work in companies exactly like Equifax. I hear their stories every day:
“Our managers don’t provide the tools we need to do the job.”
“Our managers don’t understand the time required to deliver high-quality software. We’re always pressured to cut corners to meet arbitrary and impossible deadlines.”
“Our systems are broken, everyone knows it, but managers continue to outsource and off-shore our QA.”
“We don’t have authority to decide the implementation, we’re often told what to implement by architects and supervisors, even if we know it to be rotten.”
“Our managers never ask us about quality…they ask us only ‘when will this be done’?”
And that’s the crux of the problem: people are hired by companies like Equifax to provide technical expertise, then their advice is ignored and their implementation decisions aren’t trusted.
Some important questions to consider…
1. Does Equifax lack the money to hire excellent technical staff?
No, their offices are filled with some of the best programmers in the world. I meet them (or people like them) regularly in my classes and I have no doubt that the technical staff at Equifax have warned the managers for years of security holes and technical defects. I have no doubt those managers have ignored the alarms and have pushed the staff to deliver deficient code.
2. Does Equifax lack the time to build high-quality systems?
No, last I checked they’ve been at it a long time and their existing contracts will carry their operation years into the future. And as mentioned earlier, securing our data is the reason the company exists. It’s the one thing they’re supposed to get right – I’d think their time should be entirely devoted to building high-quality systems.
3. Does Equifax lack the financial resources to invest in proper tools and training for security/quality testing?
No, such techniques and tools are widely available and inexpensive (even hackers can afford them!) Managers at Equifax have denied budgets for training, tools, and upgrades because “it’s too costly” – hmm…I wonder the cost of this data breach?
4. And my favourite question of the day: Are the hackers “smarter”?
Absolutely not. But they’re more dedicated and have equipped themselves with good techniques and tools for penetration testing. In my personal experience as a hacker (er, I use that term loosely) security holes are all around us if we look for them. Equifax simply wasn’t looking!
What to do about it…
First, it’s clear to me the problem isn’t technical or financial. It’s cultural. I see it all the time. Teams of good product developers are surrounded by bureaucracy instead of support. Teams of good coders aren’t trusted to see the source code of the systems used by the company – yes, that’s as crazy as it sounds! Teams of good coders are kept silent about the security vulnerabilities they see. Solutions are ignored by management and the arguments are: “improving the security isn’t a priority right now” or “we know there are some possible security concerns and we are in discussion with vendors or outside agencies to address it” or “we have a budget for security improvements scheduled for next quarter; let’s focus for now on new features instead”. Managers are more concerned with deadlines than with quality. Managers scrutinize the number of hours a developer works on a task, and outsource or off-shore the quality assurance and testing! Managers conduct endless planning activities then compress the implementation into tight budgets and timelines – evidently, a lot of energy is spent getting the plan “right” but getting the software right is not a priority. I could go on.
If you’re interested to know how things work at Equifax, just think of the Dilbert cartoons. I mean it. I am very serious. Dilbert isn’t funny because it’s fiction; it’s funny because it’s NON-fiction. Sadly. Typically, for enterprises like Equifax, their technical staff and customers take a back seat to management “theatre”. This needs to be fixed and it starts by asking the technical staff a single, simple question: “Who among you have raised concerns about technical debt with your managers/supervisors and were ignored?” That question will unearth bugs which have been deprioritized by managers, budgets that have been denied for technical training and automated testing, projects which have been reported as “done” before they were actually ready for deployment – in other words, that question will reveal the many (fixable) ways managers get in the way of quality.
Second, executive staff at Equifax need a crash course in automated testing. Yes, THE EXECUTIVE STAFF! It’s is essential they understand and see with their own eyes that:
Automated testing is cheaper and exponentially more effective than manual testing;
ALL defects are discoverable and fixable before hitting production environments;
Quality is not something one outsources
and the techniques to achieve ZERO DEFECTS are well-known, teachable, repeatable, and proven. I’m of course referring to techniques like Test-Driven Development, Continuous Integration, Refactoring, and Swarming. For example, these technical topics form the bulk of our Certified Scrum Developer classes. (Shameless plug.)
And third, technical staff need to stop behaving like sheep. So far in this article, I’ve been very critical of managers, sure, and anyone who knows me personally knows I have no time for inept management. But too often I meet smart, well-meaning developers who deliver shoddy code – perhaps at under pressure and against their better judgement, but in the end whose code is it? Developers! I understand you might feel trapped in a pattern of quantity-over-quality and you are frequently coerced by your management to cut corners. I get it… I understand it… it’s easy to feel that deadlines are some sort of immutable truth and that managers wield all the power. But the fact is, developers, YOU hold all the responsibility and therefore you need to be the professional. You need to say “no” and demand the latitude you require to deliver high quality. You’re the one closest to the code and therefore directly responsible for the safety and well-being of your users.
So, Equifax and enterprises everywhere, I’m speaking now as your user or stakeholder or customer…
Equifax has failed. Miserably. The company deserves all the class-action suits coming there way. From leaders to developers. Everyone.
Most members of society are unwilling participants in all this. Most of us aren’t your direct customers. Example: I’m not a direct customer of Equifax – nobody has chosen Equifax as their personal agent. Instead, our banks and our governments have selected Equifax on our behalf. This presents a problem: if I were a direct customer of Equifax I’d call them today and close my accounts; but I can’t do that. Instead, the best I can do as an individual is contact my banks, lenders, and insurance agents to demand change. (Yes, I likely will do that. I’m that sort.)
However, the larger issue is that we are at the mercy of YOU who produce software. I’m talking about the software in our vehicles, in our heart-monitors, in our subway systems, in our air-traffic-control centres, in our banks – this is serious stuff! We must be able to trust those systems…with our lives, with our security. We must be able to trust you even though we don’t and won’t ever know you.
A hacker friend of mine once said, “if self-driving cars are being produced without complete automated test coverage, then that’s a future I don’t want.”
Do you want love in your work life? Is it a possibility? Would love in your work life give you a happier step as you leave home each morning?
To be clear, romantic relationships with colleagues at your work place is not the topic. The love I’m proposing is love for your work, and loving affection from and for everyone you deal with in your workplace. So if your answer to the question is “yes,” then read on.
I previously taught Theatre Arts and Drama at universities for over 20 years. I loved my subject. I loved watching students transform from insecure, self-conscious, wary creatures to confident, trusting and expressive actors. How did this happen?
In my approach to teaching, I made every effort to nurture students with care and affection, to create a safe and trusting space for them, to provide them with the best learning tools I could find to strengthen their capacities. I treated each one as an individual, trying to understand his or her particular needs. I truly cared that every student would advance.
My door was always open to them outside of classes. They could come to me with personal problems that ostensibly had nothing to do with their course work. I listened with empathy. I made sure that I was trustworthy in all my actions.
For example, I never asked anything of my students that I myself wasn’t willing to perform. I nudged them, sometimes gently, sometimes a bit aggressively (depending on their nature), to move outside their comfort zone. This often resulted in exhilarating experiences for the student.
In other words, I loved my students!
What Creates Safety?
When people are polled about which cultural attribute is most important to them in their workplaces, the highest percentage list “safety.” By safety, they usually mean things like “feeling safe to express my self;” “safe to have a difference of opinion;” “safe to sometimes fail without negative repercussions.”
If we look for the root of what helps us feel safe, I think we can trace it back to receiving human affection and loving care. This is what causes us to stay with a marriage partner over time. It creates lasting bonds with our children, family members, and long-time friends.
How often have you asked yourself the question: “Do I stay in this job that I intrinsically like, but have the urge to flee because its culture is unsafe and unloving?”
Imagine when you were a kid in school and had a favourite teacher. Who was s/he? Why was s/he your favourite? Was s/he especially kind or affectionate? Encouraging? Generous with her time? Think of the way s/he managed her class of several children.
Now think about a person in your workplace with whom you do not feel safe, and imagine that this person is actually like the teacher who was your favourite. How does that change how you feel about that colleague? How differently might you react to him/her?
It may sound flakey, but it has been proven that one of the ways to receive love is to give it. It can start with your thoughts toward a difficult manager or colleague. Reflect on this statement:
When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship and happiness.
A wonderful article by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A.O’Neill in the Harvard Business Review discusses this subject of love in the workplace. Here’s a snippet from their article (which is worth reading in its entirety):
We conducted a follow-up study, surveying 3,201 employees in seven different industries from financial services to real estate and the results were the same. People who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.
I first encountered love as a conscious factor in the business world when I joined BERTEIG. Its founder, Mishkin, spoke often about the importance of expressing love in his training, consulting and coaching events. I found this fascinating, because my impression of big business was that of cool efficiency.
On the BERTEIG website, you can find this Vision Statement:
We co-create sustainable, high-performance organizations where continuous improvement is deeply embedded in the culture. We believe truthfulness is the foundation of improvement, and love is the strongest driver of change.
For the past four years, I have seen the benefits of that vision of love being a strong driver of change in the BERTEIG team. Thus, despite being a very diverse group of people, we have a great deal of affection for each other. This affection enables us to grow, to continuously develop our capacities, and to offer our best. Clients who attend our training courses sometimes gush (yes, gush) about their trainer. Affection not only helps our own internal collaboration but our external as well. When we commit to a project/ job/ event, we follow through because we care.
And, too, one of the beautiful things about love is that it will radiate out to whomever we work with, andto whatever social spaces we participate in.
Now – You!
Do you want love in your work life? Do you believe love can be the strongest driver of change? If so, how can you action this in your own workplace?
The Agile Manifesto was signed and made public in 2001. It begins with short, pithy statements regarding what should be the priorities of software developers, followed by Twelve Principles. In this article I want to call attention to the fifth principle in the Agile Manifesto, which is:
“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
Although it appears to be a very simple statement, I suggest that it is jam-packed with profitable guidance, and is essential to, and at the heart of, real Agility. Human qualities must be considered.
The first part of the principle urges us to build projects around motivated individuals. What does this imply?
The idea of “building a project” makes it a process, not necessarily a fait accompli. It can change and be altered as one works toward it. There may be a structural roadmap, but many details and aspects can change in the “building.”
The second part of the statement describes motivated individuals. The verb “motivate”is an action word, meaning to actuate, propel, move or incite. Thus, in this line, is the “project” the thing which will “move or incite” those being asked to carry it out?
Or do we understand this to imply that the individuals are already “motivated” in themselves, which is an emotional condition of individuals? Is this motivation already there prior to starting a project?
The topic of motivation is rich. How does motivation occur? Is it the culture and environment of the company, lived and exemplified by it’s leaders, which motivates? Or is motivation an intrinsic quality of the individual? It may be both. (Daniel Pink, author of “Drive,” uses science to demonstrate that the best motivators are autonomy, mastery and purposeful-ness – ideas which are inherent in the Agile Manifesto.)
In any case, the line itself suggests that the project may be a) interesting to pertinent (perhaps already motivated) individuals, b) do-able by those same individuals, and c) contains enough challenges to test the mastery and creativity of the individuals. In other words, it’s going to be a project that the individuals in your company care about for more than one reason.
The second line from the fifth Principlehas two distinct parts to it. The first part, “Give them the environment and support they need” puts a great deal of responsibility on whoever is assigning the project. Let’s look at the idea of environment first.
In a simple way, we can understand environment as the physical place which influences a person or a group. It can be any space or room; it can refer to the lighting, the colours, the furniture, the vegetation, the walls, whether water or coffee is available – physical elementswhich will certainly affect the actions of people and teams. For example, creating face-to-face collaboration environments is also part of the Agile Manifesto.
But we must remember that environment also entails the non-physical ie, the intellectual, emotional, or even the spiritual. Is the environment friendly or not? Cheerful or not? Encouraging or not? Affirming or not? We can think of many non-physical attributes that make up an environment.
These attributes allude to the second part of what’s to be given by an owner or manager: “…and support they need.” This idea of support pertains not just to helping someone out with tools and responding to needs, but that the environment is supportive in every way –physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. This may be a more holistic way of considering this Agile principle.
The last part of the statement is of great importance as well: and trust them to get the job done.
If you as product owner, or manager have created motivation, environment and support, then the last crucial requirement of trust becomes easier to fulfill. There is nothing more off-putting than being micromanaged, supervised or controlled with excessive attention to small details. Trust means you have confidence in the capacity of your team and its individual members. It also implies that they will communicate with transparency and honesty with you, and you with them, about the project.
The principles of Agile do not exist in a vacuum, because, of course, other principles such as the following, are relevant to this discussion:
“The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”
This fifth principle has application far beyond IT projects. I wanted to reflect on it because it speaks to human qualities, which must be recognized as a key factor in happy work places, and in any high-performance team.
Valerie Senyk is a Customer Service agent and Agile Team Developer with BERTEIG.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a topic that has not been fully addressed on this site, nor in the agile or corporate world, yet it has great ramifications for anyone choosing or hoping to practice Agile and/ or Scrum.
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 the materials 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
You want to be practicing Scrum! 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 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 your organization 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 or transparent that you are trying to practice Scrum.
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 use Scrum terminology 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’re aiming for, you will need to stop them regardless of whether you think they should work.
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 these values in how you show up and in everything you do, even explicitly calling out certain actions when they are a prime example (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 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’s been done, what needs to be done, and what challenges the team is facing. The key here is to keep it short, focus on what is needed to move work forward, and define actions to address issues. Then always follow up and make sure the actions are being pursued and that progress is 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’s important, and what the desired outcomes are.
To this end the goal should be to become an 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 a specific scope for each meeting. Setting a time limit and 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, 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 Scrum practices, 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. 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 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, 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 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. 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.
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 aren’t cheap or 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 says, “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)