Humor – A Typical Project Launch Meeting

One of the things that I love is how many great videos there are that show the ridiculousness of a lot of corporate behaviour.  This video is a hilarious (and painful) look at one aspect: the way we treat our experts.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that we should never be sceptical.  Rather, sometimes we just have acknowledge reality: there is no magic to make a red line with a green marker.  The role of the expert is to clarify reality to others through their knowledge and experience.

When I am doing CSM and CSPO training, I often am faced with people who want to know how to make high-performance teams with distributed team members.  They are often looking for some sort of magical solution.  This is an example of not being willing to face the reality that distance makes communication slower, less effective, and less likely to happen at all.

I’m sure all of you have interesting experiences of being the expert in something and your audience pushing you to find the magical solution… share your stories in the comments please!

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100 Monkeys… great new blog

Earlier today at the Inspirational Expo in London Ontario, I met two young, enthusiastic people: Brette Hamilton and John Preston.  Brette and John told me that they had grown frustrated with working in traditional media and had started 100 Monkeys as a way to bring a positive focus to the world… to share stories that would help rather than hinder, discourage, or cause grief.  Their tag line is “A positive media site”… I hope you take the time to visit them!  Here is a photo from the event:

100 Monkeys - Brette and John

Thanks to Brette and John to a great attempt at building a professional career on something positive!  I wish them well, and I hope you all visit them often, and help them out in whatever way you can!  (Sharing the link is probably the easiest!  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or your own blog!)

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Estimation – Bad Advice

Here’s a fun article on PMI.org.  By omission, it gives some very bad advice about estimation.  What is it missing?  Asking the people who are going to do the work!!!  Any estimation method or approach that fails to ask the actual human beings who are going to do the work about the effort required is going to be badly wrong.  (Of course, even asking the people who are going to do the work is no guarantee of good estimates.)

The starting point of the linked article is a study that showed 90% of projects having cost overruns.  To me, this just shows the futility of predicting the future, not anything about how we can (and should?) make better estimates.

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Worth Reading: The Scrum Compliance

Tobias Mayer, whom I respect greatly, has written a significant article on the nature of the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Certification.  http://agileanarchy.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/the-scrum-compliance/

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Case Study: OpenAgile for Charity Volunteer Management

Cross-posted from my personal blog: A Changemaker in the Making

For the past several weeks, I have been helping a small charity solve a dilemma. Because the charity is well-recognized for their good work, they regularly attract volunteers who want to help. Unfortunately, the two overworked staff members are too busy to recruit, train, and manage them. My approach has been to use OpenAgile, an open source system for delivering value to stakeholders, to implement a few simple techniques to help them.

There are several aspects of OpenAgile that fit very well for managing volunteers:

1. Self-Organizing Behavior

This means people “volunteer” for tasks instead of doing them based on a tightly defined role or having someone tell them what to do. This frees the staff from having to assign work. Instead, they identify priorities and rely on the volunteer’s creativity and personal motivation to do the task in their own way.

2. Shared Responsibility for the Workload

When there is more than one volunteer, they work in a team and share the responsibility for the workload. The team of volunteers discuss the priorities of the organization, and decide among themselves what tasks need to be completed. Then, they create and commit to a 1-2 week short-term plan that will deliver those results. Finally, they come back after the 1-2 week period and reflect on what they accomplished.  This pattern of action, reflection, learning, and planning is one of the Foundations of OpenAgile.

3. Visible Tasks

This means that all people doing the work should be able to see what tasks needs to get done, what is in progress, and what tasks are done. One technique that co-located teams often use is simply posting tasks on a wall using sticky notes. (Check out my OpenAgile Task Wall Prezi) Another cool idea is Card Meeting which works on the same principle, but it can be useful for distributed teams.

4. Learning Manifesto

The emphasis on learning is perhaps the most important aspect of OpenAgile that aligns with the needs of volunteer management.  The Learning Manifesto states that “Learning is the key that unlocks human capacity.”  Volunteers are drawn to an organization because of its vision but can get pushed away when they feel they’re underutilized or not able to contribute in a meaningful way.  By making it explicit that the volunteer is primarily accountable for learning, the organization creates a safe space for experimentation and innovation.

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Project Defibrillation

Imagine your father is in surgery for a routine tonsillectomy.  Something goes wrong with the anesthesia and his heart goes nuts.  The defibrillator is brought out, the paddles applied to your father’s chest and the surgeon yells “CLEAR!”.  He triggers the defibrillator, but nothing happens, just a small clicking noise.  He quickly checks the machine, and everything looks okay.  He tries again.  “CLEAR!”  There’s a small buzzing noise and your father’s body trembles slightly.  The surgeon puts the paddles down, and, getting frantic, yells at the nurses to find another defib machine, “NOW!!!”.  Thirty agonizing seconds pass.  One of the nurses rushes into O.R. with a cart with another defibrillator machine on it.  It gets set up.  Another fifteen seconds pass.  It charges and the surgeon applies it again.  “CLEAR!”  There’s a huge shock and your father is killed instantly.  It takes a few more minutes for him to be officially pronounced dead.

Is this how projects are run in your organization?

If this had been a description of a real event, you would be furious.  You would demand that the defibrillators work better – one hundred percent of the time would be about right!  You would sue the hospital for buying shoddy defibrillators.  You would sue the company that made them.  You would sue the surgeon.

Let’s stop running projects this way.  Agile is a reliable defibrillator for your organization’s heart.

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Mentoring, Coaching and Training – What is the Difference?

Over the years working with clients, I’ve discovered that there is often confusion about what are the differences between mentoring, coaching and training.  We all know that these are ways for an expert or experienced individual to help people do something more effectively.  That’s the similarity.  But the differences…

Mentoring

Mentoring is generally an informal relationship between two people.  A mentor will do many of the same things as a coach or even someone who is a trainer, but there is no formal obligation on the part of either party.  A mentoring relationship often develops gradually from a friendship or a professional association, intensifies as the mentor discovers he has valuable insight and experience to share, and as the person being mentored discovers his desire to learn from the mentor.  The two people will at some point recognize the special nature of their relationship, but may not name it.  And as life circumstances change, the relationship will gradually de-intensify.  It will often turn into a friendship of peers.

Coaching

In working on this article, I read a number of other articles about the differences between coaching and mentoring.  All of them talk about how a coach does not provide solutions or answers.  I beg to differ.  Think of an athletic coach.  An athletic coach definitely does not simply ask the athlete questions and help them bring out their own solutions to problems.  An athletic coach helps point out problems, makes very definite suggestions, and sometimes even intervenes physically to help the athlete do the right thing.  So what is coaching?  The main difference is in terms of formality.

A coach is a coach from the start of the relationship with the person being coached.  The person being coached has a specific goal to achieve.  It can be long term or short term, but it is specific.  The coach is there to help that person meet their goal.  Once the goal is met, the relationship is re-evaluated.

Here are some of the ways that coaching can happen (actually, mentors do these things too):

  • The Socratic Coach – asks lots of probing questions.
  • The Hands-On Coach – shows people a way to solve a problem, but leaves it to the individual to mimic or do something different.
  • The Intervention Coach – mostly observes and at key moments intervenes to help an individual choose a specific path of action.
  • The Guiding Coach – provides constant (usually gentle) reminders to help an individual keep withing a specific path of action (guide rails).

Training

Classroom training is the type of training we most often think of, but it is not the only kind.  There is also on-the-job training and of course all sorts of e-learning methods of training.  Training is very formal, should have well-defined learning objectives, and is often relatively brief as compared to coaching or mentoring.

Training can also include many of the types of interaction that are found in a coaching environment, but there is a very strong focus on the trainer being a subject matter expert.  The trainer has extensive experience or knowledge in the subject that is being delivered in the training.  It is expected that the participants in the training learn from the trainer – there is knowledge transfer.  How this happens can be very flexible, of course, and good training is never just a speaker standing at the front of the room and lecturing for the whole time.  Discussion, simulations, case studies, and other forms of interaction are critical for an effective training experience.

Some other links:

Workplace Coaching and Mentoring – Some Key Differences to Maximize Personal Development

Coaching is Not Mentoring, Training or Counselling

What are the Similarities and Differences Between Coaching and Other Things?

Are You Coaching Mentoring or Training Your New Employees?  Distinctions New Managers Need to Know.

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Shervin Satareh on NGO-corporate collaboration

I subscribe to the European Baha’i Business Forum newsletter which often posts interesting articles and interviews about the relationships between business, corporate responsibility and social and economic development.  In his interview, Satareh discusses the need for closer collaboration between corporations and NGOs and how opening up this kind of discourse will contribute to advancing the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement.

I found this intriguing in light of the BCI team’s current project of developing the OpenAgile™ Learning System™ and the corporate learning institute.

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Esther Derby Writes about Trust Building

Five Ways that Team Members Build Trust.  The five things Esther mentions are all good and actually seem fairly comprehensive as categories.  I often think about trust and it’s relationship to Truthfulness.  I see truthfulness as comprising:

  • Integrity – acting on your principles with wisdom and without compromise.
  • Honesty – telling the truth as you understand it to other people.
  • Self-Awareness – knowing your capabilities and limits (being honest with yourself).

What else is required for Truthfulness and Trust-building?

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Lateral Violence and Workplace Safety – Awareness for Agile Teams and Coaches

Two very interesting videos.  The first, a presentation by Rod Jeffries, goes through a treatment of “Lateral Violence”.  The second is three role-play scenarios to demonstrate the concepts.  Both of these videos are in the context of nursing in hospitals… however, it takes little imagination to see how they apply in other environments.  I would actually assert that the problems described in these videos are endemic to most organizations.

Alistair Cockburn has also written about safety in a team context.

Scrum and other agile methods all have some mechanisms for dealing with this sort of challenge, but they can start failing quickly if the sponsors of the agile effort do not overcome the habitual and cultural challengs.

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Why I Joined Berteig Consulting

Most business persons and businesses understand the concept of strategic alliances.  The reason to form alliances are many and varied and include such reasons like; monetary, distribution, market access, shared technology and others.  My reason for joining Berteig Consulting is a little unusual.  First reason is that I am an international consultant, trainer and coach.  My international work requires 100-150 days of travel outside North America every year.  I have been doing this for 10 years and it does not hold the same appeal it did in the beginning of the travel.   Don’t misunderstand me, I still like the travel but I pay a price physically.  So joining a reputable and successful Canadian company was appealing to me.

My second reason for the alliance is that I am very impressed with the knowledge, skills, abilities and professionalism that exists in the Berteig Consulting team. Their values were consistent with mine.  During the summer of 2008, Mishkin Berteig (the co-founder of the Berteig Consulting) and I began to investigate how we could work together.

Needless to say we hit it off.  There is mutual respect.  So I made the move to become a CSM and begin to train, coach and consult within his company.  Mishkin and I have already decided to co-write a book about Agile. I have currently written 5 books which are published in 10 languages, one of which is a best seller.  Mishkin and I hope to publish in late 2009. I will continue my international work to some degree, but my strategic relationship with Berteig Consuting will become more important in the coming months and years.

I look forward to adding value to Berteig Consulting, the team members and all of our clients.   I will do what needs to be done to insure the existing and future customers receive the best advice, coaching and training available in the Agile marketplace.   I care about the people at Berteig Consulting and will make sure they receive value from me.  There is a quote I respect … People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!   We at Berteig Consulting care about the quality of our interactions with our customers and the results of our efforts.

James M. Heidema, CSM, CLU, CIAM
Berteig Consulting team member
James Heidema’s Profile

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Why we like working at Berteig Consulting

From Paul Heidema:

Most people despise the end of Sunday. This means that Monday, the dreaded start of the work week, is just around the corner. Most people don’ have a team that they trust at work. Most people are unable to be truthful with their boss, or even truthful with themselves about their work.

Fortunately, I am not one of those people. I work with great people. They are kind, honest, caring, and very professional. I work at Berteig Consulting. My team is made up of four people, one of which is me. Travis, who is very gifted in the arts is also very professional and down to earth. Mishkin is an ideal boss who cares deeply about his co-workers, and treats us all like brothers and sisters. Laila is pure and able to make others feel completely at home (she is also my wife).

I never know what will happen each week but I do know that I will be happy and enjoying the experience with such a wonderful team.

From Mishkin Berteig:

Every day that we start work, I’m happy to be here.  It’s a bit cliche, but I love the people I’m working with.  I also love the work we are doing.  The vision of the company is maturing and our focus on education has already changed the way some things are being done.  I like our work environment: there are three of us “crammed” into a small office room – we are constantly collaborating, discussing options and problems and reminding each other of work to do.  Hiring Laila to work with us part time has been an incredible change.  She thinks systematically about our way of working and makes suggestions in such a loving way that it is impossible to feel like we were even doing anything wrong in the first place.  For me personally, having Travis focus on the role of Process Facilitator (ScrumMaster) has also been a huge relief for me.  He keeps us in line with a lightweight agile process and I’m loving it!!!  Finally, for me, focusing my own efforts on business value has been great – with the help of Paul, Laila and Travis, I now have the mental space and the actual time to devote to this critical part of running a business.  I’m still learning like crazy, and it’s great fun!  I wish everyone could work in an environment like this… which is, of course, why we offer the services that we offer! :-)

From Travis Birch:

At Berteig Consulting, we practice Agile.  I am currently working in the role of process facilitator for our new team of 4.  We work in 1-week iterations.  As a couple of the team members have a 4-day work week, we have our retrospective on Monday mornings at 10 AM, followed by the planning meeting for our next iteration at 11 AM.  The remaining work days begin with a daily stand-up meeting using the reporting methods of a daily Scrum (each member reports 3 things to the team – “What I did yesterday”, What I’m doing today”, and “What are my obstacles”).  We work in a collocated team room, with items, tasks, obstacles, definition of done and burn-down chart all up on the walls.  We just completed our second iteration.  As part of today’s retrospective, team members actually did some demos – Mishkin showed us some of the great changes he’s made to his course material and Paul demoed our beautiful newsletter.  Laila even demoed some travel tools that she’s been working on for the trainers.  We also decided to each write our reflections in order to share them with those who might find it useful as a way of wrapping up the retrospective for this iteration.

Visibility of work and openness of consultation feeds an overall feeling of excitement and optimism in the team!

From Laila Heidema:

Having worked at Berteig Consulting for merely two weeks, I already feel that I am part of a team. I feel that I am contributing in helping people with their business in an environment that is creative, supportive, joyful and cooperative. I know that each week will bring interesting new tasks that will not feel like a mundane set of work, or carried out in order to finish the week. Rather, each project is completed with a sense of contribution towards the company’s quest to be the best corporate educator for humanity. Were it not for Berteig’s positive atmosphere and team dynamic, this would not be possible.

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Returning to Work

The summer has been interesting for me.  Lots of really great things including the Agile 2008 conference, some really great training experiences, and some really great business challenges.  I’ve learned a huge amount over the last few months.  In many ways, September always gives me the “back to school” feel from when I was growing up.  This year it is particularly so.  This year, I’m working with a team instead of on my own.  This year, I have a systematic approach to running my business using OpenAgile.  This year, I’m being deliberate about creating my corporate culture.

One thing I wanted to share publicly: Berteig Consulting has the start of a vision and mission.  For several years now, I’ve been focused on agile methods.  But I also have always known that in many ways those methods are not what I am committed to.  Rather, there is something deeper.

Berteig Consulting is going to be the best corporate educator of humanity.

Agile methods are a tool or set of practices that are compatible with this vision.  We teach agile methods, we mentor and coach agile methods, and agile methods themselves help individuals, teams and organizations to learn – to self-educate.  So using agile methods enables our vision.

But it doesn’t stop there… (to be continued).

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First Day of Agile 2008 Conference

The first day of the Agile 2008 Conference was fabulous!  I’m working with five other great people including my wife, Melanie, my father, Garry, and three good friends: Paul, Travis and Laila.  We have set up a beautiful booth designed by my brother, Alexei Berteig.  Working at the booth has been a tiring yet exhilarating experience.  Before the conference we received Boothmanship Training from The Portables.  The people at The Portables have been excellent and I highly recommend them to anyone embarking on a booth display at a conference.

Today I delivered the first of my two presentations at the conference.  The thirty minute experience report: “Extremely Short Iterations as a Catalyst for Effective Prioritization of Work” was well received.  There were about 25 people in attendance and despite the short time for questions, there were some good ones.  I enjoyed delivering the presentation and it was filmed for later publication on InfoQ.  I also received highly positive feedback after the talk.  On Thursday, I am giving a much more substantial presentation titled “Meta-Agile: Using Agile Methods to Deliver Agile Training“.  This will be a three hour workshop in two parts: a 90 minute presentation, and then a 90 minute participatory patterns workshop.  If you are a trainer or coach, I highly recommend attending this one!

I also ran into many friends… too many to list, in fact.  It is surprising to me to see how many people I know in this community.  There are over 1500 people at this agile conference, and I can’t walk more than 20 steps without running into someone I know.  One other really cool thing is that everyone is commenting on how much they like the notebooks that were included in the conference bag – highly popular.  In fact, three people have commented that it was the only useful thing in the bag… which is actually a bit of an exaggeration since the conference program was also in the bag and I suspect that it might be just a wee bit more useful :-)  Nevertheless, the feedback has been great.

Come check us out at our booth if you are at the conference – it’s unmistakable – strong red backdrop with the Berteig Consulting logo across the top.  We also have a great raffle so be sure to drop off your raffle entry which is found in your notebook pocket.

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Agile Tools vs. Agile Books

Agile Tools vs Agile Books

I have been working with Agile for a few months. At Berteig Consulting we are using OpenAgile to run our small business. As such we try to use various tools to make our life easier. I have already mentioned that we use CardMeeting for our cycles and tasks. I have tried using PlanningPoker for online estimation. It seems useful, but maybe our team is too small to make great use of it. I am also looking for other ways to manage the reflections and learning from each cycle.

I have received an email from David Wolrich of CardMeeting that states: “Anyways, I rely on the trickle of news from legitimate organizations like yours to let users know that CardMeeting is still around, that I am still adding features, and to generate interest; thanks again.” So maybe some of you could try it and give him a shout. Much like other free applications on the net such as Drupal and Neo Office this one could become more robust and useful.

I am wondering if I am spending too much time on tools and not enough reading and researching Agile methods. I am enjoying reading about Agile success stories. Anybody know of small businesses that have documented or written about achieving success in Agile? Is there an Agile bible or maybe a book about the best ways to succeed using Agile?

So this is the question that I am wondering: Are tools better than books when it comes to Agile?

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