Last week 23 new course offerings were posted at BERTEIG’s Training website.
These classes are offered by Senior Agile Coach Jerry Doucett who has worked in Agile transformation since 2008.
Have you ever wanted to run an agile project?
Or maybe you are a leader in an organization who has had an agile coach approach you requesting to run an agile project?
This light & comical sketch depicts the often humorous interactions between agile coaches and corporate leaders in various departments.
At the end of this clip, the agile coach has spoken with a CEO, Human Resources, Financial Department, etc and when he goes back to the first CEO he’s had a lot of conversations about his project, but it has not yet started.
The concept of two operating models existing within the same space is so clearly illustrated here. The one framework is about upfront-planning, documentation, assessment and projection of a plan. The other framework (Agile) is about very little upfront planning with a “jump-in-and-get-started” attitude. Adjustments are made along the way with continuous reflection and learning. The product continues to improve and is ready to deliver sooner.
The most successful businesses in the world are the ones where Agile methods have been adopted in every level of an organization.
It is just changing everything.
Several months ago I enrolled myself in a project management class. I wanted to learn about the “old way” of doing things–that is, more simply what we would refer to as the “Waterfall” methodology.
However after taking this course, i’m now apprehensive to call it “Waterfall” as there are so many other outlying elements apart from what defines it as “Waterfall” (Gantt Charts). Instead i’d refer to this practice of project management as being “traditional” and respectful towards a more old-style way of conducting business; or, operating business within a reactive environment.
Reactivity – a measure of the deviation from the condition at which a nuclear reactor is critical.
You see, i’m more of an Agile/Scrum guy (in case you were unaware). I attended this class with an open-mind, glass-empty, eyes-open and ears-listening perspective. However, every class I attended, I compared the methods to Agile/Scrum and thus i’d like to share my learnings from the class.
Before I continue, I would just like to mention that I loved taking this class, I learned new skills, I met talented people, and I would happily take this class under any other conditions.
I learned, there’s no reports in Agile. You reading this would disagree, but compare this to Waterfall–nope. The traditional project management system is designed with reporting in mind; in fact I would say that reporting is the first item on the “to do” list.
Before building anything! We need to make a report for it. (Let’s call it RDD – Report Driven Development)
One could argue that this is incredibly important when there are millions of dollars at stake, shareholders that need to know where their money is going, and of course good record keeping in the unlikely event of lawsuits. However, in all this documentation, when does the project actually yield some development? This is why I call it reactive–because to use this methodology is to focus on avoiding pitfalls, and attempt to foresee explosions.
Personally, I think reports are silly. I once saw a young mother have to stay two hours late for work on a beautiful spring Friday because she had to finish a report. She was the only one left in the office, and I asked her “Why do you have to send the client the report? Why not just schedule a meeting during office hours, and give them a presentation or conduct discussions containing the data within the report?”
“That’s a good idea, I never thought of that” she replied.
Possibly another case where a “nice to have” feature is causing stress to a worker just because a project manager is following an outdated methodology.
One thing I love about the traditional project management suite, is its dictionary of terms and definitions. A lot of really smart people developed and documented the standards that are used within PMP/PMI, such as academics, engineers and scientists. There’s now mountains of documentation supporting all of the concepts within the waterfall world, and rigorous thought-out processes for (almost) every instance that may occur in a project. Also, sidenote: I’m not saying that all of these career paths tend to rely exclusively on documentation, but there’s certainly a lot of documentation involved.
When I was a chef, if you were to cook on the east coast, you’d refer to the small crustacean “shrimp” as “shrimp”, if you were to travel to the west coast, all of a sudden the same crustacean would be referred to as a “prawn”. I’m sure you’ve been in a project where the east coast team used a term that was different from the west coast team, and if you consider communication to be the backbone of Scrum–this could lead to a failure.
Because of that, there’s not a word i’ve encountered within Waterfall that doesn’t have a standard definition. The word “baseline” is used to define the starting position, and that’s why I refer to this education as a “history” class. It’s the sort of stuff you learn before you get into large projects.
There’s a proper place and time for documentation, and in Agile it’s a discouraged practice. Because why have documentation when you should be acquiring the information from talking to human beings. Verbal conversation and timed-planned meetings can introduce subjects with greater accuracy and less time than a well-documented word file.
In dealing with million-dollar projects, and teams of hundreds of people there’s no room for ambiguity within language. And please keep in mind, documentation creates standardization, and it’s the processes required to generate the ubiquitous language that i’ve noticed is a shortcoming within Agile in comparison to Waterfall.
I’d say that the majority of the process we use in Agile project management exist foundationally within Waterfall–but we don’t even realize we use them. A tad bit of studying, and learning the baselines will enable individuals to fortify the foundation in their next project.
Yes, I learned about historical concepts within the project management world. Such as process theories and their corresponding theorists. It’s truly fascinating to learn about how we got to where we are today in terms of project management.
In 1962 Everett Rogers was considered an early adopter and supporter of modern change controls and change requests.
Ultimately, the sad truth is that the majority of processes we follow today in project management are just to cover ones ass. As, historically, the project manager tended to be the focus of “blame” when failures occur within a project.. and the first person to be fired.
Keep in mind that this project management approach is over a century old, and the Agile manifesto was formulated in 2001. So I like to believe Agility is devised for a new world of empowering teams and building stuff, however it’s very important to know where you came from.
The biggest takeaway from my history class, was learning about all the tools that currently exist within the antiquated project management methodology and their gorgeous tools for creating estimates.
Creating estimates is tricky in Agile; mostly because to adhere to the iterative development that the Agile framework represents, you don’t ever look too far into the future. The reality is though is that most businesses need a longterm plan and a lot of us in the Agile world use duct tape and a series of levers and pulleys to make Agile work with estimates. If you’re struggling with estimates, I recommend reading the Project Management Body of Knowledge Version 5 (PMBOK).
These guys have literally been doing estimates for an obscene length of time. I believe if we can hybridize their approach while adhering to the Agile workflow, we’ll have something that can truly change the world.
Having said that, as an entrepreneur I create a budget for all my projects. I accomplish all the business goals early-on in a project so that I can work to pivot them later. Pivoting is what it is to be an entrepreneur, and something that doesn’t work well with Waterfall–which is very un-business-like.
This is the most ridiculous thing i’ve ever seen. I’m familiar with the RFP process as i’ve worked for corporations that thrived from the activity, and during my history class we studied more about what makes the RFP “tick”. Every time I think of RFP’s, I think of how Walmart operates, have you heard this story before?
Walmart tells it’s toothbrush suppliers how much it’s willing to buy the product for, and if the toothbrush manufacturer is unable to accommodate that price, Walmart will choose to get toothbrushes elsewhere. Problem is, there’s always that factory in China who will do it for a third of the price of North America, and create miserable working conditions for the workers. Yes, that’s the world that the RFP creates.
I love the aerospace industry. And what’s the difference between NASA and SpaceX? Well that’s easily the argument of Waterfall vs Agile–as NASA is still using the RFP when they should be considering iterative in-house development. The James Webb Telescope announced in 2002, to cost $842 million and to launch in 2010 was awarded to (what is now) Northrop Grumman Space Technologies. Northrop Grumman then released separate RFP’s to build components of the spacecraft. It then became a global initiative as subcontractors from all over the world were bidding on the components. You can probably bet that those subcontractors put-out RFPs as well.. But that’s my assumption.
TLDR: As of 2013 it’s estimated to cost a total of $8.8 Billion, and launch in 2018. Oops.
If I could summarize Waterfall in one sentence, it would probably be something like: “Waterfall is an excellent tool to make stakeholders happy, and get money from venture capital”. Where Agile is like “Agile is an excellent tool to get shit done, and keep everybody involved in the project at a consistent level of satisfaction.”
Every time I hear about a project going over budget, extending deadlines, and ultimately creating failures within business–really breaks my heart. You know that all the troubles from such a project creates unnecessary headaches, and potentially unemployment. Be a responsible project manager and don’t focus on the happiness of stakeholders.
Learning more about Waterfall was great, and I learned a lot more about Kaizen (iterative development, or, Agile within the Waterfall world). It has also taught me more about what truly makes Agile unique, and not just a buzzword used within industry.
**subtext: if anybody wants to challenge me to building a spacecraft using Agile/Scrum — bring it on.
In the past, in our North American culture, power and authority in an organization was held by those who earned the most money, had the titles to go along with their authority, and they had the right to make decisions about where they went, when they went places and who they associated with. They also had the power and authority to decide what others did and didn’t do in their work environment. That was in the past.Where we are headed in a more unified and equal culture, based on principles of collaboration and understanding is that power is now more equally distributed. Those who didn’t have access to education now do. Those who were previously barred from environments of wealth and prosperity are now welcomed in. Corporate cultures, and organizational models across the board are changing and it’s good for everyone.The biggest challenge in any change arises when someone’s fear of being excluded is realized. The issue is no longer about money or time or integrity. The issue is that as work environments change, old (mostly unconscious) patterns of exclusion are changing too. It means janitors associating with doctors and delivery teams eating lunch with those in leadership (imagine that!). When an organization is going through a transformation, when they notice behaviours which were limiting and exclusive and change them, they are actively contributing to an ever-advancing civilization. They are creating a new and inclusive culture.At times, mistakes will be made. Old ways will sneak their way back in and one or more team member may get snubbed or excluded for one reason or another. This happens. It’s normal and is part of the learning process.But in time, the aim for any agile team is to continually make these old exclusive unconscious habits conscious so that work environments can continue to embrace a greater diversity of people, not just of cultural backgrounds but from different social and economic backgrounds, too.The difference in life experience from someone who has lived in poverty to someone who has lived in wealth is as if they grew up in different worlds, even though we inhabit the same earth. Everything is different. Language. Behaviours. Hopes and Dreams. Everything is different on any level.However, just as different races are now joining together in work and in marriage more often, so are people from different socio-economic backgrounds coming together too, in work, in community building, in families.The pain of the growth is a worthwhile investment into a brighter and more unified future not just for us but for the generation to follow us.
BERTEIG’s David Sabine presented “Rethinking Education” at the first ever TedX talk in Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2012!
“Rethinking Education” has received nearly 3000 views and offers an insightful perspective into the way youth are streamlined into either vocational or educational career paths, and the funding which supports curriculum development. He even addresses important issues such as gender bias. I like how David sees Agile Transformation as having a positive influence on change in our current educational model and how he invites a radical approach to a new way to think about education.
I absolutely love how he combines his background in music composition with his professional training as an Agile Coach at a time when his personal life was changing with the upcoming birth of his daughter. He says “What we need is a common understanding, for a collective effort, for a collective benefit. That is how collaboration will manifest in our social system.”
What an encouraging and inspiring presentation! Please watch the video and share your thoughts on how you would like to see our social education model change now for the future.
From the Scrum Alliance Orlando Conference ”Open Space” Discussion, April 2016, facilitated by Valerie Senyk
Transformation is a big word that Scrum/ Agilists use. It is what we promise our customers through training and coaching.
On the last day of the Scrum Alliance Conference during the Open Space forum, I posed the question: “What is transformation? What do we mean by it?” We had forty-five minutes to try and understand this issue.
Initially, discussion centered around the idea of change and some of the manifestations of change. However, it was pointed out that transformation requires more than a methodology we follow. In fact, it’s more of a way of thinking.
It is easy to say what transformation is NOT: it is not rigid, not prescriptive, not directive. It is about different ways of behaving, it is supportive, and requires a new mindset from being prescriptive to adaptive.
I asked if the participants saw themselves as agents of transformation. Almost everyone did. So, what do they do? And how do they do it?
Participants spoke of the need for greater knowledge and education around Agile, as well as the need to understand stakeholders. To be an agent of transformation is about enabling people, and to enable them we need to understand them.
One commented that when an organization experiences pain, that is an opportunity to go in as an agent of transformation and use that pain as a motivation and means to change.
Transformation is not a one-time event; it requires continuous learning. In order to have continuous learning, agents must create a safety net for innovation to occur. The mindset must be that failure is okay. Trust in the process and in the agent (agilist) is necessary for discovery.
It was understood we can achieve transformation at a surface level to begin with, but true transformation occurs at a personal level. How is it possible to achieve this deeper level?
One participant spoke about the need for love, for truthfulness and for transparency to be part of a personal-level transformation. As a member of the BERTEIG team, I know that love, truthfulness and transparency are integral to how we work, and how we deliver services.
Ultimately, there is a difference between change and transformation. Change means one can go forward but then step backward. Change is not necessarily permanent. But transformation is really about irreversible change! And small transformations are steps to larger ones.
Discussion then centered on what motivates transformation. Behavioural change needs to be felt/ desired at a visceral level. Organic analogies were suggested to help educate and motivate – that in the natural world we see constant development and change. Why would we be any different?
The question was posed: What do we transform to? People need to be shown the beauty of the next step…beauty in itself becomes a motivation.
Is it enough to help change an organization or corporation to run beautifully and smoothly within itself? Or is there a higher purpose to transformation?
One attendee spoke about how all the cells in the body work autonomously for a higher purpose, which is the functioning of a human being.
In business also, transformation can also be pursued for a higher purpose. Imagine a corporation transitioning from pursuing purely monetary rewards to its pursuit being about making a positive contribution to society. It was pointed out that studies show that companies with a higher purpose actually have higher revenue.
However, it was also expressed that everything that matters in life cannot be measured.
We concluded the session with the idea that transformation requires looking outward as well as inward. It’s not just about us and our customers – it’s ultimately about creating social good.
I have been grappling with the idea of transformation for many years, from the viewpoint of the spiritual as well as that of an artist. Hearing the ideas and understanding of the twenty-plus people who attended this session helped me see that transformation on a larger-scale requires patient but strongly-motivated steps toward an ideal that may seem intangible to some, but is worth every moment in pursuing. For it is in the pursuit of the best ways over the better that transformation is wrought.
Hundreds of Canadian employees from corporations, businesses and organizations are attending training to become Certified ScrumMasters and Certified Product Owners under the aegis of the Agile umbrella. From testimonials received from almost all attendees, they are enthusiastic about this training. As many have written, the training is helping them think beyond the status quo, and they are excited!
They return to their workplaces, report to their managers, talk amongst themselves – and then what happens? Nothing. Nothing changes. Their learning, their positive motives to enact change, their hopes slowly dissipate in the face of ignorance and apathy.
Where’s the disconnect?
It seems the disconnect belongs to the executives. CEO’s, VP’s, upper management have been avoiding a work revolution happening right under their noses. The revolution began in 1998 with the creation of the Agile framework, resulting in the Agile Manifesto, http://agilemanifesto.org, written in February of 2001 by seventeen independent software practitioners.
Not only has Agile transformed software creation, but it has been proven to be of value for all areas of business enterprises and organizations beyond software and IT departments.
Are executives remaining willfully ignorant of a twenty-first century framework for creating more fulfilling workplaces and delivering greater value to their customers? Or will Executives learn what is happening at the grassroots and make changes to fulfill the hopes of employees?
This is a call to action. It is time for executives to step up to the plate.
Real testimonials about training can be found at http://www.worldmindware.com/CertifiedScrumMaster
Very nice article called Why I Always Start a Meeting with a Check-In. From the article by Ted Lord, senior partner, The Giving Practice:
The greatest benefit of working in a group is our diversity of viewpoints and approaches; groups hobble themselves when they don’t continually give attention to creating a container of trust and shared identity that invites truth-telling, hard questions, and the outlier ideas that can lead to innovation
One antidote to over-designed collaboration is the check-in.
Great metaphor! Scaling Agile – a perfect method.
I have heard many reasons why a new team should wait to start “doing” Agile. Recently, I was asked to help a group who was struggling to get a Scrum team started. They had real obstacles to overcome, but waiting wasn’t helping them.
This group was part of an IT initiative to develop a business intelligence program for a large energy company. The existing processes were highly inefficient and wasteful. The losses were in the ballpark of $1M/day. There was a long history of failed solutions. Needless to say, this was a critical project.
Those of us who understand Scrum well know that the more critical a project is, the more urgent it is to get a team up and running as early as possible. Unfortunately for this group, there was a great deal of cultural inertia from the IT management holding them back, including chronic distrust between IT & business leadership. IT management perceived Agile to be a risk and a threat. They were tolerating it as a “pilot project”. They wanted to be sure that when Agile failed, they would not be left holding the bag. Their solution for self-preservation was to insist on getting the architecture of the system in place before the team started to work on features.
The only developer that management trusted with the initial architecture work was also extremely busy working on other projects. This individual and several other people slated to be on the new Scrum team were tied up working on change requests for a Waterfall project with no clear end in sight. It seemed impossible to predict when the system architecture work might begin, let alone end.
Meanwhile, the Product Owner was waiting for some new functionality that he could use and show to his superiors—the stakeholders that he reported to in the business. The program manager, who was the champion of the Scrum implementation, understood Scrum to be the way to succeed. The first Scrum team was wrapping up on the first project in the new program and the business was happy with the process and the results. This confirmed his understanding and gave him some traction to move forward. But he didn’t have authority over all of the slated team members (specifically the sole developer trusted by IT management) to start.
I tried to explore possibilities of moving forward with the program manager. The conversation went something like this:
TB: Are there some people who are available to start as the team for the new project?
TB: Great! Do you need the star developer on this project or are there other people who have the skills to do the work who could be on the team?
PM: There are other people with skills who are available and who could be on the team.
TB: Great! Do you have the authority to make that happen?
TB: Great! Can we have the first Planning Meeting tomorrow?
TB: Great! What time do we start?…
One might get the impression from reading that conversation that we were on our way to Sprint 1. However, as we know, things are usually not that simple. There were several more obstacles to work through.
(As an aside, I know that some people reading this might be thinking “what about Sprint Zero”. These guys were talking about Sprint Zero, -1, -2…basically all the way back to Waterfall. I needed to help them overcome that tendency.)
Below are a few of the other obstacles they were struggling with:
1. The program manager had assigned a project manager, one of his direct reports, as the ScrumMaster to the new Scrum team. This person was already responsible for (and overwhelmed by) the Waterfall death march project now in perpetual change request mode.
Advice for anyone in this situation:
Find someone else to be the ScrumMaster. It would be a better use of the external consultant (myself in this case) to serve as an interim ScrumMaster (coach) so that the team could just start, rather than trying to use a traditional project manager who was already overwhelmed by other responsibilities. In other words, don’t wait for your ideal ScrumMaster candidate to be ready. In most cases, management’s first choice for ScrumMaster is often not the best one. If you do not have an experienced coach to serve as interim ScrumMaster, then the best thing to do is hire someone specifically for this role. Again, it is better to just start than to wait for this new hire. If you have to wait for the new hire, someone from the team should just volunteer and learn on the job until help arrives. Even that will give you far better results than waiting. Just start!
2. The project manager who was assigned as the ScrumMaster was assigning Product Owner responsibilities to a business analyst that reported to him. The “BA” was worried that the Product Backlog was not ready for the team. The real Product Owner had created a high-level Backlog with items that were most likely too large for the team to complete within the two-week Sprint duration that they had decided on. The BA was trying to work with the PO, but there wasn’t much reciprocity there, mainly because of lack of knowledge of the business on the part of the BA and the PO’s lack of trust in the BA’s ability to serve as his proxy on the team. During one of my previous visits over a month before, the PO, BA and a few of the other team members had workshopped the Product Backlog, refining the top “epic” and creating a User Story small enough for the team to start working on and complete in the first Sprint. Now, that story was lost and forgotten.
Advice for anyone in this situation:
Don’t wait for the Product Backlog to be perfect. If the Backlog is not ready, use the first part of the planning meeting to identify what the team and the Product Owner can agree on as the deliverable for the first Sprint. In fact, that is all you should be discussing in this meeting in any case. With the right people in the room (the whole team) this can be done well enough. If the team is not able to agree within the time box of this meeting, it most likely means that you don’t have the right people in the room. For example, there may be a project manager and a BA who want to delay the start of the project because they feel uncomfortable with the perceived ambiguity of the process. It would be better if these people were not on the team and not in the room. If the team says something like “we can give you ‘X’ in two weeks” and the Product Owner says something like “good with me”, then make that your Goal for the Sprint and get on with the second part of planning—creating a set of tasks to execute the deliverable.
During the first Sprint, the Product Owner can be working with the team to refine the next items in the Backlog based on what has been learned from the Planning Meeting, which is probably a great deal. The purpose of the Product Backlog is to realize a great Product. Don’t wait for a perfect Backlog—just start!
3. The culture of fear and distrust perpetuated by IT management was pervasive and the team was afraid to make a commitment to a deliverable.
Advice for anyone in this situation
Help people understand commitment as a team capability that develops over time. Teams are able to make and keep commitments based on historical velocity. For at least the first Sprint and perhaps for a while after that, new teams will not be able to make firm commitments. Most teams fail to deliver after their first Sprint. There is a learning curve to Scrum. There is a lot of change and a lot of new things going on. The environment of a new Scrum team is drastically more dynamic and complex than what most people have previously experienced. It takes getting used to. People need space to learn. Help them overcome their fear of failure. Agile is about failing fast. Get it wrong early, learn, adapt and change course. What a young team needs to be committed to is learning what it needs to do in order to deliver potentially shippable product every Sprint. In order to do that, you need to be doing Scrum.
I started this post by identifying that there are many reasons to delay “doing” Agile. I believe this stems from a cultural dichotomy in our society between “being” and “doing”. We don’t start doing something until we believe that we are prepared to succeed at it. We have to “be” ready before we can “do”. This is a false dichotomy that Agile is designed to help us overcome. Another dichotomy is success vs. failure. The only real failure in Agile is the failure to learn and improve. Even the notion of “failure to deliver” is misguided. The real failure is not learning to deliver. In order to “be” Agile, you need to be able to fail. In order to “fail” at Agile, you need to do it. By doing Agile and failing, we learn to be Agile. There is no other way.
So, please… just start!
This is my first crack at a series of posts intended to document reflections, insights and experiences that have been generated over the past several years at Berteig Consulting in our work helping organizations to transform with Agile methods and approaches.
The most recent iteration of our collective practice is the Real Agility Program. The Program was created as a flexible yet systematic process for developing high-performance teams. The Program involves assessments, training, leadership and delivery teams coaching and internal coach development for teams and organizations that want to transform in order to become hyper-productive, lean and robust.
A central tenet of the Program is that teams are organic in nature. They are living systems that grow and develop in the right conditions. They also develop in stages. The Real Agility Program addresses the natural stages of team development with a sequence of steps or “sections”.
Much like a seed, a new team has the latent potential for developing into a complex organic system of high-performance capabilities. Capabilities of high-performance start out as a simple set of attributes and grow in complexity and strength over time. Capabilities to carry out more complex activities are built onto capabilities for more simple activities. Little by little, high-performance can be realized in this way.
Something that most teams need help with early on, particularly if they do not already possess a growth mindset, is overcoming the false dichotomy between theory and practice. An indication of this is when we hear people say things like “well, that makes perfect sense in theory, but it’s just not practical for us.” Or “we need help to put that theoretical idea into practice in our own reality”. This reveals a mindset that conversations around concepts and ideas are only valuable if they can be implemented immediately in a measurably beneficial way. The desire for technical recipes is understandable. They can help with immediate pain relief. They are not the most effective way to build capabilities.
The Tree of Organic Growth is an exercise that we often share early in the Program and is designed to help teams develop a more integrated mindset and approach to capacity building (very similar to The Tree of High-Performance in Lyssa Adkin’s wonderful book Coaching Agile Teams). The facilitator usually starts by drawing a simple diagram of a whole tree, including the roots. Sometimes, simply exploring the concept in a conversation serves the purpose just as well. The team is asked to identify values, concepts, principles, qualities, skills, attitudes, habits and knowledge that are already present on the team that will serve as roots for building capabilities of high performance. The conversation is not merely a nice, (“fluffy”) theoretical stroll in the proverbial park, but a critical aspect of the hard work of re-shaping thought, which in turn re-shapes reality.
Let’s look at an example of the aspects of building a specific capability. A well-known Agile capability of high-performance is the self-organization of the team. On one level, it starts to happen as soon as a group of people come together to accomplish something and no one person is identified as the “boss”. Without certain capabilities in the members, however, this can get very Animal Farm in almost no time. High-performance requires the development of qualities, attitudes, conceptual knowledge & understanding, habits and skills in all members of the team. For example, team members need to develop the qualities of openness, integrity and helpfulness. Attitudes such as a humble posture of learning and serving the team need to be developed. Knowledge of concepts such as consultative decision-making and Wideband Delphi and how self-organization differs from traditional command and control project management needs to be developed. Good habits and practices such as regularly coming together as a team to reflect and plan are essential for the team to become able to deliver complete increments of high value often. And, of course, team members will need to learn skills in terms of communication and collaboration, as well as other technical skills that may have previously been outside of their formal roles.
Furthermore, everyone can develop in any of these areas of any capability at any given time. Just like in any organic system, capabilities of high-performance benefit from constant nourishment, feedback and reinforcement.
Growing a high-performance team is a complex process that requires a great deal of effort, patience, time and a supportive organizational environment that will allow for all of these aspects to develop on a team. It is an investment in people as much as it is a business decision. There are no shortcuts or formulas, but with the right conditions, every team has the potential to develop capabilities of high-performance.
From push system to pull system thinking
One of the disconnects holding teams back the most in an organization embarking on an Agile transformation is the lack of will and perhaps understanding of vision on the part of the business. The required shift in thinking is from a “push system” to a “pull system”. Historically and still culturally, most organizations, even those claiming to be ‘Agile’ are very much push systems. The business folks in client services – VPs, Directors, sales people, etc. seem to make time (deadline) commitments to clients on behalf of teams and then the teams are given the deadlines to finish the work. Sometimes, the deadlines are decided on in consultation with particular individuals on the teams and very rarely, if ever, with the actual teams themselves. In any case, the fact that the business is almost entirely deadline-driven is the centre of the push system. Deadlines push or drive everything else. Deadlines are fixed and often considered non-negotiable. Deadlines are a taboo subject – it is considered a waste of time to even discuss them because they just don’t and won’t ever move. The general attitude is that if we try to move deadlines, we put the entire business at risk because our clients will drop us and turn to one of our competitors who claim to be able to promise and keep deadlines. If we lose our clients, we lose business, we lose money and it potentially puts us all out of jobs. What this exposes is not only a push system driven by deadlines, but a culture that is actually driven by fear. The not-so-implicit message is that if you miss a deadline, you might lose your job, so you had better do whatever it takes to not miss the deadline. Or else. Push and pull systems and mentalities are like oil and water – they don’t mix. In Agile, there is no place for fear of failure. Rather, teams must be allowed to fail (miss deadlines) and learn from their failures (plan better).
Why quality, not time/cost or scope is non-negotiable
The “make the deadline or else message” is couched and clouded by other talk. The main excuse is to blame the client, as noted above. “That’s just the way our clients work, the way the market works”. Of course, such an excuse contains a kernel of truth. Without a true understanding and embrace of Agile, the idea of not meeting deadlines and the perceived consequences can be truly scary. Generally, there is an understanding from the business that the productivity of teams may drop somewhat as they progress through the storming stage. What this translates into is a difficult discussion with clients around delayed delivery. It is tolerable in that it is temporary. “Once the teams get up and running, we can go back to meeting our deadlines, and even be able to deliver early because Agile is supposed to be faster.” But the benefits of truly adopting Agile are much more powerful than this.
Understanding the true business value of Agile
What needs to be understood is the true business value for investing in Agile processes and practices – how it may add cost and time to the initial development Cycle, but how it saves both the business and the client tremendously on technical debt and support long-term. This needs to be understood and championed by the business in order for the organization to become liberated from its enslavement to the push system mentality. At the heart of such a mental liberation is the wholehearted adoption and commitment to the Agile/Lean principle that quality is non-negotiable. The investment in Agile processes and practices is essentially an investment not only in quality, but in continuous quality improvements towards the goal of being able to frequently deliver products of increasing relevance and quality (value). The ability to ship frequently allows for sustainable growth. All of this is made impossible by the deadline-driven push system mentality/culture of fear.
The urgent need for slack
One of the first things that a team needs in order to focus on continuous quality improvements is slack so that it can learn to learn. The first goal of the business leadership should be to facilitate scope and deadline slack for the team. This goal should also be fully and visibly championed by the business leadership. In order to develop the capability to facilitate slack, the business needs to gain knowledge around the purpose and importance of Agile processes and practices and be able to articulate a strong business case for them. The business leadership needs to develop the skill of educating the team, management and business leadership on the long-term benefits of an Agile transformation – the transformation from a push system to a pull system. The key stakeholders and business leaderships need to possess the courage to engage in difficult conversations with management and clients who may be upset by the short-term pain of delays and missed deadlines and protect the team from continued attempts to push work into the team. Perhaps above all, the business leadership needs to develop an attitude of learning – a humble learning posture that allows for the setting aside of preconceived notions, fears and prejudices around what it means to be a good business leader. A leader possessed of this posture demonstrates a learning attitude by stressing first and foremost the importance of creating slack for the team to learn to learn. It is a common pitfall for inexperienced business leaderships and stakeholders to expect Agile to provide solutions for their push system woes, woes that include the broken trust of clients from consistently broken (unrealistic, dreamt-up) deadline promises and the crippling effects of technical debt (the fallout of the former – when scope, time and cost are fixed, quality is compromised).
If the business leadership, with the support of the Process Facilitators and the Transformation Team, is able to foster the organizational will to create slack for the teams, then the teams will have the space they need to truly focus on continuous quality improvements. This is a critical milestone on the path to realizing the true, measurable benefits of Agile. Although the support of others is needed, the business leadership is in a unique position benefitting from an intimate relationship with both the needs of the business as well as the daily life of the team.
Why the business leadership needs to own the process
The first way that the business leadership creates slack for the teams is by championing the process. In OpenAgile, like all other Agile methodologies, there are key features of the process the purpose of which are to give space for new teams to begin to make the often seemingly inconsequential, yet ultimately critical first steps towards continuous quality improvements. One of the most obvious of these features is the Agile team meetings. In the early stages of team development, organizational understanding and will, the OpenAgile meetings (particularly the Reflection and Learning aspects of the Engagement Meetings in OpenAgile) can easily be discounted as an obstacle preventing the team from getting the “real work” done. What is often forgotten under the pressure of deadlines is the fact that in order for a team to be able to learn to make continuous quality improvements, it needs to develop the capability of systematic (frequent & regular) inspection and adaptation of the way that it works. It is easy to save on the short term pain of perceived non-negotiable deadlines (meeting deadlines at all cost = success) by compromising on investing in the process, especially when the team is still learning to learn and the effectiveness of the meetings is not yet apparent. When the team and the organization have an expectation of Agile as something that fits into the push system and allows for a team to function better within such a system, it can be hard to understand how spending time in a kind of meeting that the team doesn’t seem good at yet can be of any value. This is where the business leadership needs to stand firmly behind the process. The team needs the meetings – the space to reflect, learn and plan – in order to learn to become more effective at making continuous quality improvements – a critical feature of an effective pull system. Without the meetings, the team will never develop this critical capability and as a result, will never become an Agile team. Instead, the team will revert back to getting the “real work” done with all of the quality problems crippling the organization and which led to the decision to adopt an Agile framework in the first place.
Why the business leadership should care about burn-down
Another key feature of the process for the business leadership to understand and champion is the concept of burn-down as represented by the burn-down chart of an Agile team. Agile doesn’t care about how much work the team gets done. It assumes that the team is doing valuable work and getting things done – in other words, that the team is managing itself and working towards its goals and commitments. There are no tools in Agile for an individual, least of all the business leadership, to measure and manage how much work the team is getting done. Agile acknowledges the reality that real (sustainable) productivity cannot be forced on any team. Instead, a team grows its productivity at a sustainable pace when it is given enough slack to do so. The team makes a plan at the beginning of the Cycle based on what it understands about its capacity, works towards that goal throughout the Cycle and hopefully delivers valuable results at the end of the Cycle. By learning to apply the process of continuous improvement, quality and productivity go up hand in hand. That is the essence of the pull model. Through all of this, the team manages “how” it gets work done. The productivity of a team can be measured, but the burn-down chart is neither an appropriate nor effective tool for measuring the productivity of a team. Instead, burn-down provides one specific measurement and ONLY this one measurement: WORK REMAINING (in order to achieve the goal/commitment of the current Cycle). It does not and cannot tell you how much the team got done and even less so the whys and hows of the output and productivity of the team during the Cycle.
So what is the purpose of burn-down and why should the business leadership even care? If it can’t be used as a tool to measure the productivity of the team (in other words, if it can’t be used to manage the team) then what importance can it possibly have? These are typical questions of teams and individuals that are coming from a traditional project management, i.e. command & control, i.e. “push” system mentality. Understanding the purpose of burn-down depends on the ability to make the shift from the push system paradigm to the pull system paradigm. In a push system, burn-down is nice but somewhat irrelevant. For an organization committed to an Agile transformation (towards a pull system of self-managed teams) it is an invaluable launch pad for powerful conversations that live at the heart of continuous quality improvements.
Commitment to the business requirements come from the Agile teams
When a team decides on a plan for a Cycle of work, the plan is a commitment. This is a critical step in the Agile process. It is only after a unanimous commitment from the whole team that the team begins to work on the plan. If any individual team member feels hesitant about the work in the plan, tasks and potentially even Value Drivers should be removed until everyone is comfortable making a commitment. When the business leadership is telling a team what the plan is, then it is not the team’s plan and therefore it cannot be a team commitment. This is not only an inappropriate use of authority, it is also breaking the Agile process. Moreover, when a plan and therefore a commitment is forced onto a team, the team cannot be held accountable for failure. Worse yet, the team will never learn to plan. If a team is not able to plan, then it is not able to make commitments. If the team is overwhelmed by an overly-ambitious, management-forced plan, it will not learn to evaluate its capacity and apply that knowledge to long-term planning and project estimates. It will not learn to make meaningful quality improvements and reflect on its progress. It will not learn to self-manage or self-organize. The purpose of burn-down is to establish commitment velocity. In other words, the amount of work that the team can truthfully expect to complete during the Cycle when it is making the Plan. The difference between the number of tasks in the Cycle Plan and the number of tasks remaining at the end of the Cycle gives the team its commitment velocity. Commitment velocity is always based on minimum historical velocity. The team uses commitment velocity to make a Cycle Plan containing no more than the number of tasks represented by its commitment velocity. This allows the team to spend just the right amount of effort and time on planning and allows the team slack to focus on the truly Agile work of learning and continuous quality and process improvements. Over-planning, especially when it is wedded to over-committing or even worse, non-committing (a common push system mentality pitfall forced onto teams by the business leadership) leaves the team in a state of dependent on daily micro-management and can completely halt the progress of a team. Not to mention that this is a flagrant violation of Agile values (truthfulness, responding to change over following a plan) and principles (sustainable development). Such compromises to foundational Agile values, principles and processes may produce desired results in the very short-term, but the long-term costs can be crippling to teams and organizations. The wasteful activity associated with team dependency on micro-management is what often leads organizations to the accumulation of technical debt that places them in dire competitive disadvantage and desperate need for Agile transformation in the first place. If an organization misses out on this golden opportunity, teams can become demoralized and innocuous to the Agile practices and the promise of an Agile transformation can quickly erode.
Coaching Agile Teams course descriptionCoaching Agile Teams is a training experience that covers both the being and the doing of agile coaching. There’s a lot to learn, experience and practice! At the end of the course, you will be capable of applying many new tools and techniques, as well as your own mindset changes, to coach agile teams to high performance. As practical as it is provocative, the Coaching Agile Teams course challenges agile coaches to rise to the fullest expression of their role and offer simple, practical ways to get there.
You’ll walk away from the course with your personal coaching improvement backlog – a tangible plan you can use to thoughtfully improve your coaching when you’re back in your daily circumstances. We use your real world situations and scenarios throughout the class allowing you to craft powerful ways to address the challenges you face. You’ll also have many new things to try with your teams and you will probably depart with a few provocative ideas to chew on (in fact, maybe wrangle with for a while). All of these outcomes add up to your ability to become the excellent agile coach your teams need.
Register for Coaching Teams Class here!
OpenAgile London 2013 is the first annual conference focused on OpenAgile and how it is used in organizations by real teams. London was chosen due to the great learning environment with both the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College being located here. This conference is meant to help both students and professionals by providing learning and networking opportunities.
The purpose of OpenAgile is to create an environment in which people are free to express their true nature and capacities to contribute to the betterment of their organization.
We welcome you to participate in this informative and inspirational event that will give you the tools for the future of management!
For Registration and more info visit visit http://www.openagilelondon.com/index.html
I’m pleased to announce that a mini-conference for OpenAgile, with some great speakers, has been planned and is ready to accept early-bird registrations! The conference takes place in London, Ontario (yes, there is an airport) at the University of Western Ontario on March 18th.
I will be one of the speakers, along with some great industry leaders! I look forward to seeing some of you there!