Agile Work is a set of methods that are useful in working effectively and delivering value to stakeholders. There are many good business reasons to use Agile Work. There is also a very important human reason to use this method: developing trust and the capacity for truthfulness.
Given my interest in applying agile methods outside of software new product development, I’ve been often uncomfortable with the term “Product Owner”. My problem is two-fold: it’s too specific a term (referring to product development), and it fails to denote the responsibilities except in the most generic fashion. In other words, I think that it is both too specific, and at the same time, not specific enough. Updated the Agile Work cheat sheets to reflect this new terminology.
Today I had a very interesting and unique opportunity. I went through my agile project management training materials with a single individual instead of a class. Was it training, or was it coaching?
You love your work. You love your family. It’s a difficult balancing act: which is winning at your house, these days?
Perhaps, right now, the fulcrum on this precarious teeter-totter is set for more teetering than tottering. How to move the fulcrum? Readjusting work-life balance, while desirable, may seem impossible given the projects we are embroiled in right now. How do we get into this situation? How do we get out?
This simple simulation exercise helps people to understand the efficiency that can come from moving away from a waterfall or large batch process. The exercise can be done with 20 pennies, 5 people and a clock with a second hand.
In general, an organization should have one metric that is used to measure success. However, along the way, it may be useful to temporarily use other metrics to help motivate, track, or predict work. Here are two metrics that can be used in this temporary manner for Agile Work.
I have written previously about the tendency we have to limit future learning based on previous learning. This tendency has aptly been termed by Mezirow as the central learning problem of adulthood: “that we fail to notice that failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” In Transformative Learning literature a central method advocated for overcoming this learning problem is critical reflection. Critical reflection is the act of becoming conscious of our beliefs and assumptions (Where do they come from? Are they valid? What are their limitations? etc.) and either expanding, validating or discarding them.
Stephen Brookfield has written extensively about critical reflection and the following is a brief summary of a part of a chapter he wrote in a text on adult and continuing education entitled “The Concept of Critically Reflective Practice.”
Brookfield outlines Four Traditions of Criticality found in different fields:
It is based on a premise that uncritically accepted and unjust dominant ideologies are embedded in everyday situation and practices. The purpose of ideology critique is to examine these assumptions in order to effect change at the social and institutional level. An example of this kind of approach to learning is found in the work of American popular educator Myles Horton. As the founder of Highlander Folk School, during the civil rights movement he started literacy program for African Americans. Study groups would learn to read while engaging in ideology critique in their own lives and communities using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a the text.
Psychoanalytic and psycho therapeutically inclined critique
These are traditions that work on identifying and reappraising limitations created through childhood traumas. This tradition advocates individual and group therapy for personal learning and development for the purpose of integration of all aspects of self.
Analytic philosophy and logic
This is the tradition that for most is closely associated to critical reflection. Here critical reflection means to recognize logical fallacies and see the difference between bias and fact and opinion and evidence, and become effective at using different forms of reasoning.
This tradition is based on the premise that reality is perceived, that is, we construct our own meaning out of experiences. The focus here is how people interpret their experience v.s. universal and recognizable truths. There is also a strong emphasis on creating new realities together.
Brookfield proposes that to engage in reflection is not the same as engaging in critical reflection. His understanding of critical reflection is centered on ideology critique rooted in the pragmatic constructivist approach. Renowned Brazilian educator Paulo Friere speaks of a similar process by which adults “achieve a deepening awareness of both the sociocultural reality which shapes their lives and… their capacity to transform that reality through action.” Ideology critique is rarely used in the work place. For the most part a culture of conformity and obedience is promoted by organizations.
Brookfield presents a picture of what the process may look like: “The adult educator’s task is that of helping people articulate their experience in dialogic circles and then encouraging them to review this through the multiple lenses provided by colleagues in the circle. On the basis of these collaborative critical reflections on experience adults reenter the work to take critically informed actions that are then brought back to the circle for further critical analysis.”
To engage in collaborative critical reflection based on a rhythm of action and reflection is not only a process of building collective knowledge and consensus, but also strong foundations for both trans formative learning in the work place and thriving self-organized teams. It is also a way to discover appropriate forms of metrics because it helps people apply multiple lenses of analysis to their work.
Critical reflection should be taught to teams through modeling. For example the coach disclosing his/her won process of critical reflection. Critical reflection should no be associated with self berating and putting others down or the culture of “telling it like it is” without regard for others.
Try the list of questions in the extended text to get a sense of how your work as an Agile practitioner (or whatever work you do) can be enhanced by critical reflection.
I just recently read the article by Ron Jeffries: A Metric Leading to Agility. It’s a good, well written, well thought out article. If you are in the software business, check it out if you haven’t already.
However, much as it is good advice, I believe that I must add a cautionary note.
Time to market/process cycle time is improved, possibly to reducing the time to that of a single iteration. This reduced time to market can produce an incredible competitive advantage both by increasing an organization’s ability to respond to change and by proactively instigating change that other organizations will not be able to respond to adequately.
Using Agile Work practices and focusing on Agile Work disciplines improves the chance of projects being delivered under budget. In fact, the whole notion of budget becomes meaningless when agile projects are delivering incredible value incredibly quickly. Profit-oriented organizations will see their budgets expand as their profit grows and non-profit organizations will see the value they deliver grow far beyond expectations with a constant budget.
Stakeholders, in particular end-users have ownership of the solution and are more likely to accept it. Whatever system or result Agile Work is used to create, that result will have very low levels of waste due to non-acceptance. This is also a reduction of the risk that the wrong solution or a poor solution is delivered.
Improvements in staff development and retention by providing a positive learning culture. In some industries and sectors staff turnover is a major expense or source of waste. Agile Work is interesting, exciting and satisfying. People who have experienced Agile Work actively promote it and seek it out because it creates a situation where their talents are valued and used effectively. Adopting Agile Work will attract talented team players to your organization.
By Dr. Patricia Cranton
“I value and see myself as an authentic teacher. To me, authenticity means three things: the expression of the genuine self in the community, understanding how others are different from us without attempting to make them into our own image (helping others discover their authenticity as a way of fostering our own authenticity), and critically participating in lifeâ€”questioning how we are different from the community and living accordingly.”
Pete Behrens has an excellent outline with graphics of a quick overview presentation of agile that can be given to executives. The presentation focuses slightly on agile software development, but a similar presentation could be constructed for Agile Work in general.
From the article:
The study found that agility — the ability of the workplace to adapt to change — has emerged as the single highest priority in the workplace industry. The agile workplace needs to be flexible enough to support many ways of working — no one size fits all — and its boundaries need to expand to support work at any time, in any place, with anyone.
The study also examined the effects of the agile workplace. It discovered, for example, that organizational structures tend to be more team-oriented and less hierarchical when it’s easier for workers to collaborate across the boundaries of time, space and geography.
Cause or effect? I suspect that there is a positive feedback cycle at work here. As teams and organizations adopt agile practices, they adapt their workspaces to be more suitable. As the workspaces change, the organization is able to more effectively adopt agile practices.
At a team level this is certainly true in my experience. At first, many organizations adopt agile practices without, for example, having the team sit all in the same room. As the team becomes more proficient at the agile practices, it becomes more and more of a burden that the team is not co-located. At some point, it becomes critical for the team to be co-located if they are to become any more efficient. The organization/team then bends itself to enabling co-location. Once the team has found itself a space and moved in, it reaches a new level of effectiveness… until the next environmental constraint is encountered.
Why smart people defend bad ideas by Scott Berkun looks at a fascinating, and fairly common, problem. Interestingly, this problem of smart people doing dumb things / defending bad ideas, is often related to perception. Agile principles and practices are about aligning perception among all the stakeholders, and in particular, between an execution team and the rest of the stakeholders. By aligning perception, the best environment is created for doing the right thing. In the case of a business, your project teams are the experts in “how” to do stuff, and your business teams are the experts in “why” to do stuff. This combination of “how” and “why” is done as efficiently as possible using agile work methods.