The Grindstone of Agility Happens Here – A Positive View of the Future

Grindstone: a stone disk used for polishing, grinding or sharpening tools

What is it that makes the members of the Agile community so close? We come from different walks of life, yet at conferences and meet-ups, we greet each other with warmth, as friends. Perhaps it is because as trainers and coaches, we see the world through a lens that gives us a uniquely positive view of the future: in our work we are fostering collaborative and uplifting workplaces for humans, the individuals behind the shiny impenetrable face of corporations. We are working to help the humans of the workforce AND we believe that Agile actually has a wider potential reach than just the workforce.

Image result for grindstone image

The toil of corporate coaching has both marked our souls and produced an everlasting bond. We dare to imagine an Agile society, Agile schools, Agile governments: based on the Agile Manifesto’s principles. We believe in trust, respect, face-to-face interactions, people over process, motivation and self-organization. We are walking the talk: upholding these values and principles gives us a sense of purpose and a strong belief that the future will be a better place. Together we swim upstream daily (right into the waterfall you could even say).  In classrooms, corporate offices where we coach, and the blogosphere the environment is peppered with nay-sayers and pessimists. Instead one can have a more positive view of the future. This is where the learning and co-creating happen: the grindstone of Agility.

The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, and that goal applies the same in the workplace as it does everywhere else. Together we can make a huge impact on the world of work and society as a whole, with positive attitude as our vehicle. Considering many of us spend over 100,000 hours at work over a lifetime, why not improve that experience? As we all know, aiming high is a good character trait, and supporting each other, a valiant aim.

Let’s create more willingness to accept that lofty goal, and recognize that the grindstone is a long-term polishing process that requires positivity.

by Nima Honarmandan and Katie Weston

Check out the recent article by Valerie on the same topic: Build Positive Relationships with Trust in Your (Work) Life.


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Announcing the Launch of Scrum Insight – an Automated Online Scrum Coach

Scrum Insight is a tool for Scrum Masters and Scrum Coaches to help them improve their teams.  It leverages the accumulated experience of six expert coaches in an automated online tool.

Scrum Insight Logo - Online Scrum Coach

We have just launched version 1.0.  This version includes easy access  to a free report.  It also includes an optional paid Professional report that replaces the equivalent of 83 hours of on-site coaching.

For Scrum Masters this means access to Scrum coaches that may not otherwise be affordable.  For Scrum Coaches, this means leveraging your time to make progress on the hardest problems facing your Scrum teams.

Using Scrum Insight

Using Scrum Insight is a simple two-step process:

  1. Get all your team members to fill out the Scrum Insight survey (and remember to save everyone’s “survey codes”!!!).
    Taking the survey requires between 8 and 11 minutes.  It seems like a long survey, but is actually very quick to go through.
  2. Load your survey codes and generate your team’s report.
    The free report includes a single piece of advice optimized to your team, plus a score for how well you are doing Scrum and how well your organization is supporting your use of Scrum.
  3. (Optional) Upgrade your report to the Professional version for just $500.
    The Professional report gives you much more in-depth advice, more detailed score breakdowns, a permanent link to your report and much more.

So far, 102 teams have used the Professional Scrum Insight report, and many more the free report – let your team be the next to take advantage of Scrum Insight.

We have posted a more permanent description of Scrum Insight as a page here on Agile Advice.

Reminder: when you do the survey, keep your survey code(s) and print the report that is generated.  We don’t collect your email address to use the free report so there is no permanent way to access it other than using the survey code(s).


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Mind-bender: A Scrum team increases their velocity by doing less work!

Sub-title: Breaking the Iron Triangle

Sub-title #2: Jeff Sutherland’s book could have been called: “Scrum: Twice the decision-making in half the time leading to half the work and twice the output.”
But every smart publisher would throw out that title.

A discussion is raging at LinkedIn about the Iron Triangle because Jeff Sutherland, co-author of Scrum, often says that “Scrum breaks the Iron Triangle”. This, you can imagine, causes ripples through the Project Management community. Mr. Sutherland also speaks of “Velocity” and sometimes as a way to explain the breaking of the Iron Triangle, he’s known to say that a Scrum team can increase their velocity by employing various patterns of behaviour which reduce hand-offs, increase quality, et cetera — and this “breaks” the Iron Triangle.

I have captured some thoughts on the subject below.

In Product Development, the end state cannot be known in advance of starting — that is, the scope cannot be known in advance of starting. And even after starting, the product scope changes rapidly as market conditions and users’ needs change and/or are better understood.

Therefore, the iron triangle is a weak model to apply. The Iron Triangle is a useful model only if the conditions which define scope, time, and cost have low variability. If building a house, for example, the end state can be known before starting its construction; apart from the paint colours and some finishing touches, every part of a house can be modelled and codified before starting its construction. Thus, the Iron Triangle can be useful to inform discussion and decision making: would we like to speed up construction of the house? Maybe…so let’s spend more to hire more contractors.  Will cost change if we add another bedroom and detached garage?  Probably, unless we buy cheaper materials.  See, the variables have predictable outcomes.

If developing product, such as creating software wherein the future states of the source code are unknowable, the iron triangle causes weird discussion and isn’t likely to improve decision-making. Perhaps other theories of constraints can be more useful.

Theories of constraints share a common supposition: “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link”. In complex, adaptive problems, the weakest link is neither scope, nor quality, nor time, not cost, nor knowledge, nor technique — it is common understanding or coherence.  Note, those factors are missing from the Iron Triangle. The Iron Triangle quickly becomes an irrelevant model in the realm of Product Development or complex/adaptive problem-solving. The only way to force the Iron Triangle model in this realm is to consider ‘time’ to be, not just a variable, but a changeable dimension. That is, as a Scrum team increases cohesion and alignment, they make decisions faster — this has the effect of making ‘time’ slow down, they can make more decisions per unit of time as though the team is travelling faster through time.  Weird, right?  So it’s just easier to throw away the Iron Triangle.

About Velocity

Yes, Jeff Sutherland discusses velocity in depth. But I’d like to remind everyone his definition of velocity…

Velocity is a measure of distance travelled over time. In other words, the *distance travelled through the Product Backlog* over *Sprint Length*. To say that velocity, in Scrum, is the speed of the Scrum team is quite inappropriate. More appropriately, an increase in velocity means the team is travelling further through the Product Backlog per Sprint.  It helps to stop thinking of the Product Backlog as a bunch of items and a bunch of story points. It’s more helpful to think of the Product Backlog simply as ‘the work that needs doing’ — a Scrum team can increase their rate of travelling through ‘the work that needs doing’ by…well…by learning.

An increase in a team’s velocity does not mean (necessarily) they are going faster. It OFTEN means they are going smarter. A Sprint is a learning cycle. The team learns as they work together. (Where’s “learning” in the iron triangle!??) When Mr. Sutherland  says Scrum “breaks” the triangle, I believe he is thinking of this very notion of learning. As transparency increases, the team can make better decisions, meaning they can eliminate waste (doing LESS work!!) and cohere more rapidly and achieve high-quality decision-making, thus going increasing their output.

“One of the ways a team increases their velocity is BY DOING LESS WORK.”

As a Scrum team travels through the backlog, a learning team will discover ways to reduce work per Product Backlog Item: they’ll figure out ways to automate a bunch of repetitive stuff; they’ll produce modular designs which create opportunities for reuse and adaptation; they’ll learn from their mistakes, reduce risk, and increase quality. (These are the results of learning as a team and one of the key reasons for Scrum’s rules that a Scrum team is small and has stable membership for long periods — communication saturation enables cohesion and therefore enhances learning…as a team.)

In other words, the team finds ways to travel further through the backlog each Sprint while not working harder/more.

Hence, the iron triangle as weak model for understanding the constraints in complex problems.

Tip: Angela Montgomery has written extensively about Theory of Constraints in complex settings — her writings are waaaaay more helpful to us in the realm of Product Development than the limited Iron Triangle.


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Finding Compassion – Lessons Learned From My Street

It may be a cliche to be talking about “Compassion” in the workplace, as it is a “concept” that has been addressed multiple times over many years.

Frankly, it is difficult to actually put into practice. And for me, it was something I explored, adopted, and then ignored, over the past number of decades as real-world priorities shifted.

But I want to share a very personal story that unfolded just today. Bear with me on this, as I will relate this personal situation to the workplace interactions we’ve all likely experienced.

My neighbour is a struggling single mother to whom I genuinely want to succeed, as she is a dedicated mother and a hard worker. However, she recently took a very base-level approach to an emotional situation that affects many people within my neighbourhood.

In short, her dog has behavioural issues which have lead to attacks and mock-attacks upon myself, my family, local contractors, and fellow neighbours. Latitude has been given to her in each instance as she has made earnest efforts to curb this behaviour, but for the most part, she has had marginal success. Most recently the dog actually attacked a local boy, who spent 3 days in hospital as a result.

Clearly, the issue with the “dog in the room” needed to be escalated and dealt with. The injured boy’s father rightly requested that a muzzle order be put in place: an order that has subsequently been appealed by the owner.

Think about this for a moment.

The position of the dog owner just changed, from “I am making earnest efforts” to “my dog is not the problem. You are the problem”.

Why?

Well, there’s been a trigger event and it’s because of a strong emotional connection to her dog. To justify this, she has created a “story” about all the people that are involved in this situation: the young boy in the hospital “provoked” the dog. The “dog doesn’t have the problem, everyone else does, and it’s all lies”. My personal situation in which I had to physically defend my family from the aggressiveness of this loose dog “never happened”. And of course the contractor who locked himself in a room until she came home……. well, you get the point.

It is very easy for me, as a professional who is accustomed to teams, and boardrooms, proper process, HR, and mature interactions that move business forward, to look at her position as an immature and flailing attempt to justify a deeper need. An  emotional need to protect the love she has for this dog and what the dog represents as part of her family.

Relating this to business, I’ve met people who have acted much like her in the workplace. The same story of innocence the dog owner positions, is often found in the boardroom! The questions are why, and secondly, do such people tend to remain in their position or do they get moved along?

They survive. While they may be unskilled and unready to address the actual deep personal issue driving their behaviour, they often position themselves in a very innocent light, and they tend to point out those “liars” around them.

The light went off for me when I found myself emotionally wrapped up in being called a liar by a person who was clearly to blame. How do you defend yourself with your “team skills” and “boardroom skills” against a person with “street skills”?

That is where I found Compassion.

As in situations with my co-workers, colleagues, clients and friends, I realized that this single mother is just trying to provide her son with a home, an education, a pet to call his own, and in between, cut the noise in her life, and find her own sense of happiness while shouldering 100% of the burden.

Moving this concept to the workplace, could it be that a percentage of your colleagues who sometimes leave you scratching your head, have some well-developed “street skills”?

After today I do believe it begins with you – not them – just as this personal revelation with the neighbour began with me.

In the end, the injured son’s father expertly resolved this emotional powder-keg: and I learned it’s not about defending against the accusations, it’s doing exactly what this father did.

He listened to all parties with genuine interest and curiosity. He asked neutral-based questions, keeping his emotions in check. He did not take the accusations personally. He sought answers and he sought consensus. He asked for timelines and process. He often asked for help, and sometimes he had to escalate (i.e. getting a muzzle order) where he needed. But he exercised Compassion at every step.

I learned that defending myself against accusations is not the name of the game: it’s about taking the father’s approach. His Compassion renewed Compassion in me.

https://businessconnectworld.com/2017/11/28/simple-ways-help-people-next-door-around-world/


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What Kanban Is (And Isn’t)

The Kanban Method is a management method for…

  • Directly improving service delivery;
  • Catalyzing improvements;
  • Evolving a business to be fit for purpose.

The Kanban Method is also…

  • An evolving and flexible system of pragmatic, actionable, evidence-based guidance;
  • Adaptable to the unique needs of each context to which it is applied;
  • Inclusive of evidence-based guidance from a broad range of professional disciplines, including economics, psychology, sociology, process management and change management.

The Kanban Method is not…

  • A project management method;
  • A software development lifecycle process;
  • Completely defined in a “manifesto” or “guide”;
  • An immutable process framework with binding rules, extant only in its entirety—in other words, you don’t need to be doing all of Kanban for it to be Kanban, nor is it advisable to try.

You would likely benefit from exploring the applicability of Kanban to your business because…

Your organization is an ecosystem of interdependent services—a complex, adaptive system. You introduce a Kanban system into it such that the complex system is stimulated to improve. – Alexei Zheglov

This wikipedia entry provides a fairly accurate description of the Kanban Method:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

The Kanban Method has 3 Agendas:

  1. Survivability (of the business, for business executives);
  2. Service-orientation (for all levels of management);
  3. Sustainability (for professional services knowledge workers);

The Kanban Method could help you if one or more of the 3 agendas above applies to you.

The Kanban Method has 9 values:

  1. Customer focus
  2. Transparency
  3. Understanding
  4. Agreement
  5. Leadership
  6. Respect
  7. Collaboration
  8. Balance
  9. Flow

The Kanban Method has 6 principles; 3 change management principles and 3 service delivery principles.

Change Management Principles:

  1. Start with what you do now.
  2. Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change.
  3. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels.

Service Delivery Principles:

  1. Understand & focus on customer needs and expectations.
  2. Manage the work, let people self-organize around it.
  3. Policies govern service delivery.

The Kanban Method has 6 practices:

  1. Visualize
  2. Limit WIP
  3. Manage flow
  4. Make policies explicit
  5. Feedback loops
  6. Improve & evolve

You are “doing” Kanban if your intentions are that…

  • Management behaviour in your organization changes to enable Kanban;
  • The customer interface changes, in line with Kanban;
  • The customer contract changes, informed by Kanban;
  • Your service delivery business model changes to exploit Kanban.

LeanKanban Inc. is the authority on the Kanban Method. LeanKanban University is the accredited training organization of LeanKanban Inc.

David J. Anderson is the founder of the Kanban Method. Essential Kanban Condensed, co-authored by Anderson and Andy Carmichael, is available as a free download.

Travis Birch is an Accredited Kanban Trainer with LeanKanban University. You can sign up for his upcoming public Kanban courses in December 2017 at Berteig World Mindware.

 


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Sleep and Productivity – Sustainable Pace

Good article on sleep and productivity – you need at least 6 hours per night to not fall into a vicious cycle of lower productivity leading to longer work hours, less sleep, and then lower productivity.

The Agile Manifesto asks us to work in such a way that we can maintain our pace indefinitely.


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What if no one was forced to do Scrum?

I just commented on a LinkedIn thread about “Sprint Zero”. It occurred to me that Sprint Zero is often used as one of many coping mechanisms for people who are forced to do Scrum. It also occurred to me that in my 9 years or so working with a reliable sample size of Scrum teams, not one of those teams was populated entirely by people who were not coerced into doing Scrum.

Gut check: The percentage of people I know who are currently on Scrum teams and who would be doing Scrum if it wasn’t mandated by management could be lower than 50%. This begs the questions: What if Scrum was offered to teams as an optional way to manage their own work? Would there be less Scrum in the world?

With one exception, all of the Scrum teams I have worked with were mandated (forced) by management to implement Scrum. The exceptional team was exceptional in other ways. They were by far the happiest and most revolutionary (in terms of recognition for business success in their organization). Although one or two hesitant team members were roped in by their peers, the social climate of the team allowed the wary to adapt safely and gradually to their new reality.

For the overwhelming majority (in my experience), there is an irony, even a paradox at play. A lot has been said & written about how command and control management is antithetical to Scrum. Yet, many—if not most—Scrum adoptions are commanded by management with vanity metrics (i.e. velocity) installed to uphold the illusion of control.

What are some of the other coping mechanisms for people who are forced to do Scrum? What is driving this behaviour? How many of these behaviours have been labelled as “anti-patterns” and why?

Safety is an essential success factor for any organization. Is it safe for people to choose to not do Scrum, or express dissent about Scrum adoption in their organization? What does this tell us about Scrum itself? Does Scrum need to be reimagined or reframed in order to make Scrum adoption safer for more people? Is it safe to do so?


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