What Should Companies Focus on to Grow?

By David Vicentin

Nowadays, one of the buzzwords in companies is growth. Companies want to be better today than yesterday, and tomorrow even better than today. But the challenge itself is not the need for growth rate. The challenge is related to how to achieve continuous and sustainable growth over the years in a scenario which constantly changes.

Several studies have been done analyzing the sources of growth, especially related to companies and countries. Centuries ago Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus studied the elements which can influence growth in countries. These studies provided very rich knowledge when applied to companies of different sizes and industries.

It’s interesting to see how people explain growth. If you ask a company leader “What do you need to grow?” the answer might be “New investments.” If you ask “What kind of investments?” most will answer “New equipment.” If you want to be more specific and ask a colleague what should be done to increase sales, production or profit, he may respond “Buy new technology.” “Equipment or technology” may be correct, but it represents only one component of the answer.

Growth can also be explained based on the variables of Physical Capital (K), Labour (L) and Technology (T). So the idea behind this approach is a formula as represented below in which Y represents the results for each company in terms of revenue, output or even profit.

Y = f(K, L, T)

That means that a company output is influenced by different variables and not only technologies. The interesting point about this reflection is that one answer will not solve everyone’s problem. For over 15 years, working in different industries, my team and I were able to increase companies’ results 90% of the time, with ZERO investment in new technologies. So, what’s the miracle?

The answer is People. The eyes and expertise of a Consultant or a Coach can help your company, in a short-time frame, identify opportunities to increase productivity, quality, and much more. If we take a closer look at the Labour part above, we can identify new sources of growth. For example, labour can be seen not only as how many people you have under your organization but it MUST include knowledge acquired over time. Ask yourself: how is your team expanding their knowledge and understanding of methods and techniques over time? There are different ways of learning and once you create a learning organization you’ll start to benefit from it.

And if you’ve achieved the desired results, what’s next? Sustain the results. Whether the environment changes or not, it is important to have the right people (with the right knowledge) to respond properly to those variations. Training and “learning by doing,” as Agile proposes, can be very useful strategies to achieve long-term results.

In summary, growth is possible when you have the knowledge to achieve it. Consult experts and engage people toward your purpose and you’ll see the results.


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Mastering Soft Skills as a Scrum Master

We may not normally think of a Scrum Master in the same breath as mastering soft skills, but a recent discussion with peers lead me to consider this.

In 2017, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland sought to update the Scrum Values document, and together in a video they discussed the changes they were making. They talked at some length about the Scrum Master role. To quote Schwaber,“It’s a very tough job.”

The 2018 Scrum Guide states:“The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.” An extensive list of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities follow in the guide.

In short, the Scrum Master (SM) serves the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the Organization. All of this involves facilitating Scrum events, coaching and educating, removing impediments, and much more. It is safe to say that successfully undertaking those relational interactions requires good people-oriented behaviours, or soft skills.

In recent conversation, a colleague categorically stated that a good Scrum Master must understand 4 things: the business s/he works in, the technology s/he works with, Agile and Scrum principles, and, most importantly, people! Based on his experience, he was adamant that when people are trained to become Scrum Masters, certification is not enough – soft skills should be part and parcel of their training!

How can some of these soft skills be taught?

The Role of the Certified Scrum Trainer

Not all Certified Scrum Trainers have soft skills training or behaviours under their belts. However, the first thing a CST can do is modelsoft skills in his/her training. That means s/he will treat the attendees with respect; s/he will be clear about the goals of training; s/he will listen and be attentive to attendees questions and concerns; s/he will create a safe learning environment; s/he will be honest and trustworthy. Modelling these behaviours is one way a CST can teach without words.

But in two days, is role-modelling enough? Let’s look at the Scrum Guide for clues. When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and buildtrust for everyone.” http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide

To what degree are these values discussed in training? What does “courage” or “openness” look like? It seems to me that in-depth discussion with examples/activitiesof each of those values would go some way in teaching soft skills.

Soft Skills Training for Scrum Masters

Two CST’s I know invited an Agile Team Developer into their CSM classes to give a half-hour workshop on soft skills. This is a very brief time to be effective, but it provided a taste of listening skillscreativity, risk-taking, etc.

The following is from an article I previously published in Agile Advice: Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.

If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.” http://www.agileadvice.com/2017/05/29/scrum-team-improvement/soft-skills-revolution-may-want-team-development/

Scrum Masters can and should be offered at the very least a one-day training by a good coach/ facilitator.

Scrum Masters can be guided through specific exercises that help them understand and practice the skills of openness, courage, respect, commitment, and focus (the Scrum Values), as well as the practice of compassion, communication, creativity, listening, building trust, and so on.

This video called “Agile and Scrum Soft Skills Needed to Drive Process Success” can provide some further helpful guidance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owa1fftIfzA

As a Scrum Master, do you feel you would benefit from soft skills training?


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Slaying Hydra: The Story of A Business Agility Coaching Partnership

Part I of III

Summer 2014. The IT group of “Big Data Marketing” was in the full throws of an Agile transformation spearheaded by the new CTO. I was brought in as a Scrum Coach. My initial objective was to launch a couple of Scrum teams and serve as their Scrum Master. Around the same time, the firm’s head of PMO had been re-assigned as the Agile Practices Lead (APL) and he and I began working together on supporting the new Scrum Master community of practice, populated by his new reports. Our work gradually evolved into much more than what either of us could have imagined at the time. This 3-part series is my first attempt at putting down the story of that partnership.

In addition to serving as the initial Scrum Master for some of the teams, I was also trying to help existing team members transition into the Scrum Master role. I wanted to develop internal capacity so that I could focus on supporting a growing program of multiple teams. As the number of Scrum Masters and teams I was supporting increased, so too did the need for collaboration with the APL.

At the time, senior IT leadership was focussed on getting those doing the work of creating value (the teams) to fundamentally change the way they were working. That is, into self-organizing teams with Scrum Masters as “servant-leaders”. This included the reassignment of project managers as Scrum Masters and business analysts as Product Owners and staff into cross-siloed teams.

Chaos and confusion ensued. It was a deliberate strategy of senior leadership: Disrupt the culture of complacency. Force people to transform by throwing them into chaos. Throw everyone into the deep end and the right people will learn to swim.

A great deal of pressure was placed on the Scrum Masters to measure and improve team performance (based on pseudo-metrics such as story point velocity). They were essentially told to create a new identity for themselves and this was painful. Similarly, the APL was on the hook to support all these people in their new roles – to be a “servant-leader of the servant-leaders”. This concept of servant-leadership was front and centre in the conversation: “What is it, and how do we make it work here?” My role was to help create a shared understanding of the desired new culture.

I discovered months later that the day after I started the engagement, around 50 people had been fired. This had nothing to do with me, but naturally people thought that it did. Even years later, this day was commonly referred to by the survivors as “Bloody Monday”. Because of the timing of the mass-exit, unprecedented in the company’s 25-year history, staff understandably regarded me as the consultant who advised the cull. It’s not exaggerating to say that it instilled terror, was emotionally coupled with the transformation as a whole and implicated me as an individual. I thought of myself as one contributing help, but I was regarded as one contributing to harm. I saw myself as a Hippocrates but I was known as a Procrustes. I only learned about this months later, after I had finally managed to cultivate a bond of trust with some folks. A consequence of this fear was that I found myself in many one-on-one sessions with new Scrum Masters who were struggling to adapt and afraid of being the next victim to lose their jobs. Rather than providing Scrum Master therapy, I should have been helping the company to improve its delivery capabilities.

The theme of this first stage was the deep, broad and painful disruption of people’s lives caused by this deep Satir J-curve transformation model deployed by senior management. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time is that emotionally, people experience change the same way they experience pain. The human brain literally responds the same. Not only were these human beings experiencing deep, chaotic change, they were also experiencing deep pain. And I was complicit in this.

The other contract coaches and I attempted to bring the crisis to the attention of senior management. We believed that it was a leadership problem, they believed that it was a staff complacency problem. The standoff lead to the coaches losing access to the leaders we were trying to help. This was a deep crisis for the group of coaches and the staff. The staff were beginning to see us as their advocates and we failed. For many Agile coaches, their part in the story ends here. In fact, some of the coaches on our team soon decided to move on to other opportunities. Others were not asked to extend their services beyond their initial contract term. Fortunately for me, the story didn’t end here. I will share more about this in Parts II & III of this series.

A teaser: These days, I advise and coach senior management to take responsibility to deliver services to customers, to understand what makes their services fit for the purposes of their customers and to design and evolve service delivery systems the fitness criteria of which are transparent to all those involved in the work. Then, allow people to truly self-organize around how the work gets done. In other words, manage the work not the people.

To be continued…


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Selling Organizational Transformation (Part I)

Perhaps the most difficult sales effort is the one where you need to move beyond the level you’ve fixed yourself in. The focus of this article is to look at one way to mature a relationship beyond the initial landing to where real traction occurs and where you could really sell effective transformational change in the organization. For example, you’ve landed a small deal somewhere in the junior corporate strata, say at the ‘Team’ level, and you’re now seeking to expand. The problem is you are stuck at that level and you may have pigeonholed yourself with that small deal. And now you face the real risk of losing out on larger opportunities – opportunities perhaps where you can help drive real business agility.

To further complicate matters, it is very rare that your customer will ever fully tell you exactly what is going on in an organization. And that can be for a number of reasons. And in my recent 24 years of sales efforts, the reasons are virtually endless.

However I have found there is one common tactic that works towards the successful expansion of your valued services within an organization, especially if the level you initially land on is junior.

To demonstrate, I’d like to look at what actually happens, in my experience, with the typical sales process. Personally, I love having my Senior Consultants helping medium and large enterprises achieve real business agility. It’s the difference, in my opinion, between ‘doing Agile’ and ‘being Agile’, so I have been quite keen on developing ways to drive towards this outcome.

True story (and all names are pseudonyms): I reached out to a colleague who introduced me to his friend in the IT side of a large bank. Purposefully I did not use a PowerPoint or give a presentation. Instead, we talked about his industry, his competitors, the future, and where the real change needed to happen in order to meet that future. As a salesperson, my feet are on the street, and I was able to discuss trends, customers, potential pitfalls and potential opportunities.

I was able to do this (hint) because I studied his industry – hard – before the meeting. I looked at the changes in associated industries, and the implications that might have on his industry. And the implications if his company initiates a strategy to meet those challenges, and the implications if they don’t make that effort. We discussed the impact on different generations, for example how Boomers consume services differently than Millennials do, and why.

Asking really good questions in such meetings can be difficult, if you are not prepared. So do your homework. I was able to secure a small deal at the ‘Team’ level based on the combination of what I’ve described above.

But still, even as the work started, I wasn’t getting the audience to discuss their larger organizational initiative, and that is really where I wanted to play.

In this same scenario, I found out that a new CEO had taken up the helm at this bank. Where did that CEO come from? What challenges were faced and overcome at their previous positions (aka, why did this bank hire her?). New CEO’s tend to ‘shake things up’, and given that, where do you think the first mandate will be directed? What is the lowest performing division or operations in that bank?

Look at the stock market, the Quarterly and Annual Reports. Look for clues. I found that the CEO stated that “it is a new era to find Efficiencies and Effectiveness” in a public announcement. I just discovered their organizational initiative.

Next step was to structure all meetings at that bank to sell that same message. If you’re not selling the same message, then you are not aligned to that strategy. And you will never get above that junior level you wish to move beyond. Of course, if you cannot deliver efficiencies and effectiveness, move onto a different client. But this happens to be completely aligned to what we at BERTEIG do, so it’s gold.

And use social media. What has that CEO written/published? How many followers does she have? Which symposiums has she attended or spoken at?

I found one of her Sr. Executives had traveled to the States for a conference. I found that out through Facebook. If you can suspend the ‘creep factor’, I was looking at his profile and I noticed that 50% of his friends were co-workers of a former 3-letter acronym company. And he published a photo of the road sign naming the city where the conference was held. Research showed there were 4 conferences in that city. Three were local in focus, but one was on Big Data and Analytics. LinkedIn told me that the Sr. Executive is in charge of End-User adoption (i.e. Customer focused).

It doesn’t take a leap of faith to figure out that the Sr. Executive is most likely looking at options to obtain and manage customer information in order to better support their customer, and to tailor future offerings to that customer. That’s a lot of data that has to be managed, and managed well. (I urge you to think like his customer when doing this research.)

Knowing that alone gives you something to talk about when you meet an Executive in an elevator – and you will get that opportunity.

But don’t stop there. Who spoke at the conference? Do a search. In my case I found out that the Sr. Executive who attended, had a former co-worker speaking on behalf of that 3 letter company. I downloaded his Big Data presentation. Since the two of them worked together, which is the most likely company to get invited in to do Big Data work at the bank? And if I went into a meeting with a negative view of that acronym company, how would that help my chances with the Sr. Executive, considering his friends are employed by it?

This is not a negative. You now know who your competition is. Do your research. That competition is really, really good at Executive-to-Executive pairing, but their delivery is known as being a bit ‘thin’. That’s your entry point. Don’t fight the battle on grounds you cannot possible win on.

You’ve done the bare minimum of research so far that if you were in an elevator and that new CEO was standing there, you could strike up a meaningful conversation of value, without “going over the head” of your contact. But the conversation must have meaning, bring value, be customer focused, show that you know her industry, and it must be aligned to her mandate.

I got that elevator opportunity, because I wasn’t sitting at my desk. “Sarah Jameson, I am Mark Kalyta, congratulations on your new role. I’m working with Christine Smith, your VP who is over in IT. We’re providing some consulting (don’t sell the ‘training’ for example, unless you want to pigeon hole yourself again) to help her team bring ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ to her vertical, and we are having some early measurable success”. Pause.

Note, you’ve just reiterated her mandate, you indirectly informed her that her message is reaching her VP’s, and ‘Christine Smith’ is actioning the CEO mandate by hiring you, and you are applying measurements that show your group is helping her team. In this case, I wasn’t able to insert my knowledge around their Big Data efforts, however I wasn’t worried, and I could play that card later.

So I started with a small bit of work in a junior team with no access to Christine Smith, the VP. LinkedIn research found a connection in the chain from my junior person up to the CEO, and identified Christine as my project owner, and the CEO as owning the mandate.

Back to Sarah Jameson. “Sarah, my challenge is that the work over there represents 5% of what my organization is really good at, and that is helping organizations at the Leadership level find those efficiencies and drive effectiveness (see what I parroted there?) so that your ‘customer’ sees the value and benefits from it” (and there). “We are doing great work with Christine, and early measurements show a 10% improvement in efficiency with her teams, and that is great for the overall effectiveness of your organization. I’d like to broaden that message across your Leadership team; is that something you can help me with or could delegate to me accordingly? Because I think we can duplicate this early success, if there is an appetite for it. How would you suggest I proceed?”

Now the above may seem sloppy, but there are key points that can be drawn from it. I am not going to get into all of them. You may fall flat on your face with this approach, and if so, that would be all about Sarah Jameson, and not about your skills. But you’ve hedged your bets.

Now, your next steps are clear. You need to advert the perceived “end-run”, and that requires a different strategy.

Read Part II to find out what comes next!


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