Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else.

Lessons from a Scrum Webinar with Paul Goddard

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“Improv-ing Your Scrum Team” was the title of the webinar given by Paul Goddard, a CST and Coach from the UK with a background in improvisational theatre. He has written and coached extensively on the use of improvisation to help Scrum teams develop. Because of my own experience in teaching and creating theatre, I was eager to see how Mr. Goddard used improv to improve Scrum teams.

For clarity’s sake, we can describe improvisation, in theatrical milieus, as the act of making things up as you go along. Improvisers are normally people who know their discipline very well, and are able to allow their creativity to take them into new places, new expressions, in their art.

Themes

The improv themes Goddard covered that can be used with Scrum teams were: creating safety, being spontaneous, telling stories, changing status and increasing sensitivity.

He likened these themes to the Agile Manifesto which proclaims: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” and “Responding to change over following a plan.” He also related improv to Agile principles of “welcoming change,” “face to face is the best way to convey information,” and “the best designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

Myths

In an interesting aside, he also compared myths of Agile to myths about Improv, for example, that Agile is only about creating software, and Improv is only about comedy. Another myth is that Agile and Improv are about unstructured chaos, whereas both prescribe being disciplined within a framework. Goddard described the Scrum framework as “a lightweight structure that uses constraints to unlock creativity;” improv also provides such a structure.

Creating Safety

Improv starts with “creating safety.” Since it is impossible to improvise alone, we must learn to trust others. This involves a team behaving as a family who rescue each other if necessary. There are no mistakes in improv; team members work for each other. When we try too hard in improv to get it right, it becomes a struggle to feel safe. Ultimately, we should be able to feel safe whether we win or lose, and definitely we feel safe when we PLAY.

Being Spontaneous

The second theme is “being spontaneous.” Spontaneity is the ability to act on impulse as soon as an idea occurs. This is the bread and butter of creativity. We are less spontaneous when we filter or edit our ideas before trying them out. We usually do this filtering because we fear our ideas being deemed crazy, or obscene, or unoriginal. Good improvisers increase their spontaneity by giving and receiving offers from team members. Offers are the currency of improv: you go with an idea, build on it, and keep a scene going. Bad improvisers put up blocks, that is, they reject ideas, and a scene goes nowhere.

Telling stories

Goddard tells us that the power of storytelling lies in the fact that many parts of the brain get activated: empathy is increased, oxytocin hormone and cortisol is released when we feel empathy for a character, and so on. Conversely, the brain switches off ideas or stories that are cliches – things we’ve heard too many times before and are inured to. The beauty about stories is that they make dry data more human and therefore interesting.

Changing status

Status always exists, especially in business environments. Some jobs or roles imply having a higher status, i.e. Scrum Master. If physical power poses adjust the hormones in our bodies, as Goddard claims, then the opposite is also true. In improv, playing high or low status and then changing it becomes a dynamic and creative game. It assists in collaboration. Low status players in improv tend to accept offers from their fellows; high status tend to refuse offers, unless they can control them. Scrum teams can learn to play with status to collaborate more effectively.

Increased sensitivity

Great improvisers develop certain qualities: selflessness (they want to make others look good), listening, observation, recollection/ memory, and emotional awareness (ability to pick up on cues). They are able to be “fully in the moment.” Goddard describes this as “thinking inside the box,” i.e. with safety established, the ideas are already there.

Back to Scrum

Just as in an improv team, a Scrum team’s firmest foundation is trust. How can one introduce improv and its beneficial themes to a Scrum team? Start with the idea of a game. It’s not about performing. It’s simply about having fun together, getting to know each other, learning common values, shaking off the dust of work-related responsibilities and allowing time for play. If you’re working with introverted types, allow that person to opt out. Make sure no one is judged. It’s important to be able to joke and feel like a family. Even a non co-located team can play word games over the telephone.

I look forward to trying out some improv with my own team, and, hopefully, in the future with others.

For a more in-depth understanding of the use of improv see Paul Goddard’s book “IMPROV-ING AGILE TEAMS” available at www.amazon.ca.


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Fun Video: Bloopers from the Scrum Myths Video Series

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The Scrum Myths videos have been popular and I’m very happy with people’s comments about the videos.  I’m going to be making an even more extensive new series for publication in just a few weeks.

Unbeknownst to me, the videographer, my brother Alexei Berteig, created a bloopers video from some of the many, many, many, MANY mistakes I made while making the videos.  I hope you will watch it…. but I strongly recommend taking a look at one or two of the “good” videos first.  Try these:

Scrum Myth – Excessive Preparation

Scrum Myths – Stretch Goals are Good

Now, without further ado, here is the Scrum Myths Bloopers video:


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Insight from a new Scrum Master

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I recently had the pleasure of doing some coaching with someone who is new to Scrum and has taking on the role of the Scrum Master as part of a team of teachers.

Edwin Portfillo - Scrum Master
Edwin Portillo  – (c) Copyright Edwin Portillo, 2015

Last week, I unexpectedly received this email from him. I wanted to share it as a thought for other new Scrum Masters in the making…..

I’m beginning to understand that being a SM involves me not coercing people into following a specific task but guiding them into  deciding as a group what must be done for the team to move efficiently.

“We never want to be in a position where 100% of the work is 80% done.

On the other hand, if 80% of the work is 100% done, you have a qualified success.”

 Edwin Portillo
High School teacher (Scrum Master – The Teaching Team)
Hope High School / Blueprint Education

As you can see, Edwin has come a long way already in his understanding of the role. Please feel free to share your Positive comments with Edwin if you wish.  I’m sure he’ll appreciate it :->

I’ll start…  Thanks Edwin for taking the time to really think about how your actions should impact your team. Thank you for sharing your ideas with new Scrum Masters in such a simple and effective way.

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile

References: 

Scrum – http://www.scrumalliance.org
Hope High School – https://www.facebook.com/hhsdiamonds
Blueprint Education – https://www.blueprinteducation.org/about


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Practice Focus: Send Less Email & Close Slack

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Very few people are paid to chat or write email: executive assistants and lawyers mostly.  Everybody else is paid to do other work like write code, build things, solve problems, or transact with customers.  Think about what you’re actually paid to do, then do that and only that.

If the Slack channel side-bar represents your definition of “collaboration”, stop! If you need to communicate with others while doing your work, do it face-to-face whenever possible or by phone & video. To be clear: Slack channels may be good for announcements but quickly digress as water-cooler drivel and those chatbots are sorry excuses for actual event logging. Perhaps it’s reassuring to be reminded that there’s nothing in Slack (or Yammer/HipChat/Asana/Jira/Trello) more important than the work you’re actually paid to perform.

If your “Sent Items” folder is a CYA repository, stop! If it’s necessary in your organization to CYA then document your activity in a personal journal and stop involving other people in your CYA habit.

If your Inbox is your to-do list, stop!  Use sticky-notes, a hipster PDA, or a calendar.


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Going to SAFe Program Consultant Training – London England

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Travis Birch and I are going next week to the SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) training with Dean Leffingwell.  For Berteig Consulting, this will be an opportunity to expand our knowledge and to, perhaps, offer some new services including training and consulting.  Of course, there have been many articles written about SAFe from a Scrum perspective, but I’m hoping to write an article about it from an enterprise Agility perspective.  I have been involved as a coach and consultant in a number of such transformations, and I’m interested to see what I can learn from SAFe and perhaps how it can help to improve our Real Agility Program.  I currently consider SAFe to be a “pragmatic” approach to enterprise Agility vs. a “transformative” approach.  This perspective is based on some light reading and 3rd party reports about SAFe… clearly not a good enough base of knowledge!  I’m looking forward to bridging that gap!


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Humor – A Typical Project Launch Meeting

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Shervin Satareh on NGO-corporate collaboration

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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

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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

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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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