Tag Archives: Culture

Towards a Culture of Leadership: 10 Things Real Leaders Do (and So Can You)

This article is adapted from a session proposal to Toronto Agile Conference 2018.

Leadership occurs as conscious choice carried out as actions.

Everyone has the ability to carry out acts leadership. Therefore, everyone is a potential leader.

For leadership to be appropriate and effective, acts of leadership need to be tuned to the receptivity of those whose behaviour the aspiring leader seeks to influence. Tuning leadership requires the ability to perceive and discern meaningful signals from people and, more importantly, the system and environment in which they work.

As leaders, the choices we make and the actions we carry out are organic with our environment. That is, leaders are influenced by their environments (often in ways that are not easily perceived), and on the other hand influence their environments in ways that can have a powerful impact on business performance, organizational structures and the well-being of people. Leaders who are conscious of this bidirectional dynamic can greatly improve their ability to sense and respond to the needs of their customers, their organizations and the people with whom they interact in their work. The following list is one way of describing the set of capabilities that such leaders can develop over time.

  1. Create Identity: Real leaders understand that identity rules. They work with the reality that “Who?” comes first (“Who are we?”), then “Why?” (“Why do we do what we do?”).
  2. Focus on Customers: Real leaders help everyone in their organization focus on understanding and fulfilling the needs of customers. This is, ultimately, how “Why?” is answered.
  3. Cultivate a Service Orientation: Real leaders design and evolve transparent systems for serving the needs of customers. A leader’s effectiveness in this dimension can be gauged both by the degree of customer satisfaction with deliverables and to the extent which those working in the system are able to self-organize around the work.
  4. Limit Work-In-Progress: Real leaders know the limits of the capacity of systems and never allow them to become overburdened. They understand that overburdened systems also mean overburdened people and dissatisfied customers.
  5. Manage Flow: Real leaders leverage transparency and sustainability to manage the flow of customer-recognizable value through the stages of knowledge discovery of their services. The services facilitated by such leaders is populated with work items whose value is easily recognizable by its customers and the delivery capability of the service is timely and predictable (trustworthy).
  6. Let People Self-Organize: As per #3 above, when people doing the work of providing value to customers can be observed as self-organizing, this is a strong indication that there is a real leader doing actions 1-5 (above).
  7. Measure the Fitness of Services (Never People): Real leaders never measure the performance of people, whether individuals, teams or any other organization structure. Rather, real leaders, practicing actions 1-6 (above) understand that the only true metrics are those that provide signals about customers’ purposes and the fitness of services for such purposes. Performance evaluation of people is a management disease that real leaders avoid like the plague.
  8. Foster a Culture of Learning: Once a real leader has established all of the above, people involved in the work no longer need be concerned with “safe boundaries”. They understand the nature of the enterprise and the risks it takes in order to pursue certain rewards. With this understanding and the transparency and clear limits of the system in which they work, they are able to take initiative, run experiments and carry out their own acts of leadership for the benefit of customers, the organization and the people working in it. Fear of failure finds no place in environments cultivated by real leaders. Rather, systematic cycles of learning take shape in which all can participate and contribute. Feedback loop cadences enable organic organizational structures to evolve naturally towards continuous improvement of fitness for purpose.
  9. Encourage Others to Act as Leaders: Perhaps the highest degree of leadership is when other people working with the “real leader” begin to emerge as real leaders themselves. At this level, it can be said that the culture of learning has naturally evolved into a culture of leadership.
  10. Stay Humble: Real leaders never think that they have it all figured out or that they have reached some higher state of consciousness that somehow makes them superior to others in any way. They are open and receptive to the contributions of others and always seek ways to improve themselves. Such humility also protects them from the inevitable manipulations of charlatans who will, form time to time, present them with mechanical formulas, magic potions, palm readings and crystal ball predictions. Real leaders keep both feet on the ground and are not susceptible to the stroking of their egos.

If you live in Toronto, and you would like to join a group of people who are thinking together about these ideas, please feel welcome to join the KanbanTO Meetup.

Register here for a LeanKanban University accredited leadership class with Travis.


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Agility: Knowledge Generation and Beauty

Compromised Agility

The authors of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development expound a set of values and principles that define “Agile Software Development”. These values and principles, written in 2001, became the focal point of a revolution in how software developers work.

In the last several years, that revolution has spread beyond software development to encompass other aspects of technology, and beyond technology into operations, management, engineering, business development, sales, marketing and even outside of for-profit organizations into education, health, government, community and charitable organizations. Originally written in the context of software, we can easily generalize the values and principles to other types of work. For example, the Manifesto refers to valuing “working software over comprehensive documentation.” We can easily generalize this to a more abstract statement that we value “results over bureaucracy.” The other values and principles can be similarly abstracted.

As the revolution has spread, unfortunately, the values and principles have also become compromised or selectively applied. Perhaps most obvious is how Agile Lifecycle Management tools such as Jira have often been substituted in place of the first value of the Manifesto: “we have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools” [emphasis added]. The irony of this substitution seems to be lost on those selling and buying these tools. Many other compromises or selective applications are common, and they are usually unique to each organization’s circumstances.

This evolution of the application of the Manifesto’s values and principles can be understood negatively or positively. I’m an optimist; yet we need to look at the negative, critical side before we can see the positive.

Cargo Cult Agility / No True Agilist

There are two common ways to understand the failure of organizations to do “true Agile”. Both are negative in the sense that they are criticisms without a reasonable solution to help an organization out of the situation into a better situation. As a consultant seeing many organizations, as a trainer hearing about many organizations, and as an active member of the global community of Agilists, I hear these criticisms quite regularly.

The first approach to understanding this partial agility is by comparison to the cargo cult mentality:

A cargo cult is a millenarian movement first described in Melanesia which encompasses a range of practices and occurs in the wake of contact with more technologically advanced societies. The name derives from the belief which began among Melanesians in the late 19th and early 20th century that various ritualistic acts such as the building of an airplane runway will result in the appearance of material wealth, particularly highly desirable Western goods (i.e., “cargo”), via Western airplanes.

In this approach to understanding an organization’s failure to embrace true Agile, the critic asserts that the leaders and employees of the organization do not really understand true Agile and are only practicing the obvious ritualistic aspects such as daily stand-ups (from Scrum), note cards on a wall (from Kanban), or user stories (from Extreme Programming). This criticism has some merit: many people are told to “do Agile” without proper training and coaching to understand the theory or the contextual applicability of various practices. The critic continues to compare this approach to Agile as a belief in magic: that the benefits of Agile can be gained through an application of the rituals without an understanding of, and more importantly adoption of the values and principles.

The “cargo cult” criticism does not offer a solution. When asked, the critics themselves will say, effectively, “well, you just need to really understand it!” This criticism also suffers from the inherent notion of the superior position of the critic: “I understand it… you don’t.” Not particularly helpful, especially for the staff in an organization who depend on executives and other leaders to support true Agile. And, not particularly helpful for the executives who often do not have the skill to support such a deep change.

The second common approach to understanding the failure of organizations to achieve real agility is the “No True Scotsman” comparison. This is a bit more challenging to describe because it is actually a criticism of other critics. Wikipedia describes No True Scotsman this way:

No true Scotsman or appeal to purity is an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample. Rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule (“no true Scotsman would do such a thing”; i.e., those who perform that action are not part of our group and thus criticism of that action is not criticism of the group).

The starting point of this criticism is actually the reciprocal of the cargo cult criticism: the critic conflates true agility with the compromise happening at an organization and then accuses agility of being a failure. This criticism is often brought up in the following style of discussion:

Person A: Agile sucks because Big Corp is trying Scrum but it is really just an excuse for executives to micro-manage every little bit of work.

Person B: But Scrum and Agile are against micro-management! Big Corp isn’t really doing true Agile.[NOTE: this is the cargo cult criticism in brief.]

Person A: That’s just an excuse. You’re using the no true Scotsman argument and it’s a logical fallacy. Agile is what people are actually doing, therefore Agile sucks.

Person B: !

Interestingly, this argument style is often used between competing brands of agility. Leaders of both the Scrum and Kanban approaches to agility are well known for this approach to argument, particularly about each other’s chosen approach: “method X doesn’t work, as clearly seen by all the organizations doing X badly, therefore you should try my method Y which does work.” Again, this is ironic given the first value of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development “…over processes….”

Like the cargo cult criticism, the no true Agilist criticism does not offer a solution, other than reverting to a non-Agile approach to work (or more rarely, another approach that suffers the same imperfect implementation in organizations). And, like the cargo cult criticism, there is some truth in the no true Agilist view: legitimately, many organizations are doing a very very poor job of applying the values and principles (and associated practices). The conclusion that Agile sucks and therefore we shouldn’t even be trying is forgivable. However, the people online proclaiming this problem tend to be loud in their conclusion: let’s go back to our halcyon bygone days where the wind was fresh, the sun was bright, and we were all bucolically happy with our defined roles, our rigid processes, and our tools we could blame for every failure of our efforts (ironic hyperbole intended).

Both criticisms, reciprocal as they are, leave a gap. They don’t offer a full explanation of what is happening, nor do they offer a positive path to improvement. For that, we need to change our perspective just a bit.

Knowledge Generation and the Benefit of Time

I have been working with Agile methods for over 20 years. As a programmer and then enterprise architect, I adopted agile methods relatively early – even before the term “Agile” was applied to software development and these methods were referred to as “lightweight” methods. I mention this not to tout my expertise or even my experience, but rather my perspective. I’ve “been around” enough to know with a fair degree of certainty the following important points:

  1. There is no large organization that has successfully “transformed” from a non-Agile state to an enterprise-wide Agile state. By “large”, I mean at least 5000 total employees.  By “transformed” I mean that it grew up using traditional techniques and has fully switched over to Agile management techniques throughout the total employee population. And by “successfully” I mean that it has sustained the use of Agile management techniques at the organizational level through at least one boom/bust economic cycle, and one change of C-Level leadership. (If you are reading this, and you know of such an organization, I would be excited to hear about it!)
  2. Large organizations that have high levels of agility typically started as small organizations with high levels of agility. Google, Amazon and Facebook come to mind. Their level of agility includes a high level of technical agility in addition to their management agility. I’m not sure, but I suspect that these two types of agility go hand-in-hand; certainly the Manifesto for Agile Software Development suggests they do go together.
  3. The only proof of transformation is in the sustainability of that transformation through existential crisis.
  4. Partial or compromised agility is the only kind of agility that is, so far, successfully sustained in a few rare cases of large organizations. Capital One is an example of this. They have been trying to adopt Agile methods and approaches since 2001. They have tried many techniques, and had many ups and downs in their journey. In 2017 at the Lean Kanban North America conference, two senior Agile coaches from Capital One asserted that they still have a long way to go for full enterprise agility – after working at it for 17 years already.

How does this compare to other management philosophies? The history of the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing, at least 50 years in the making so far, has shown us that revolutionary changes in the way work is done, can take many decades to become normalized. In the 1980’s and 90’s many organizations adopted “lean” as a management fad.  We saw a swift rise and then fall in the popularity of lean. But the core principles and ideas of lean survived, and have continued to spread throughout many industries. Now, many organizations are “culturally” lean: they won’t revert to other methods of working even in crisis situations… and many others are not yet there.

With a timeline of 50+ years, perhaps we can consider our efforts to transform organizations to a greater level of agility in a more positive light.  Human society at large is learning about agility though many many experiments run in thousands of organizations. Sometimes these experiments are motivated by wise and considered thought, but often, they are motivated by the faddish popularity of Agile methods such as Scrum, SAFe, and Kanban. Regardless of the motivation, the compromises organizations are making as they attempt greater levels of agility are part of a larger process encompassing all of human society in which knowledge generation is the primary outcome.

There is still one more problem to address: that individuals and organizations continue to try to improve agility even when they have experienced it done badly or seen it fail to take hold. One of my favourite authors and a prominent figure in the Agile community is Ron Jeffries. In the last couple of years, he has started to call out “Dark Scrum” as a blight in organizations that is causing suffering. I believe there is also “dark kanban”, “dark SAFe”, “dark extreme programming”, etc. These dark implementations of the various paths to agility, aren’t actually paths to agility for the people, teams and organizations implementing them. So again, why do people keep coming back to these methods?

Motivation to Try Again and Beauty

Let’s return to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and here quote the four values. If you have read them before, even many times, I encourage you to read them again, slowly, and savour them:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

I would like to assert that anyone who has read these values, and further, read the principles behind the manifesto has been attracted to the inherent beauty of these ideas. This beauty is the source of the motivation to try again. This beauty is the source of the influence of the manifesto. This beauty is the reason why so many want to “own” it through the creation of their own brands, methods, schemes, and promotions. And, this beauty, while it is constantly struggling against corrupting influences, is powerful enough to inspire people to come back to it even when they have seen the dark side of agility.

Real agility is a culture founded on the beauty that inspires these principles. It’s not any particular method, it’s not a formula, it’s not merely a set of laudable or effective practices. Rather, this beauty is inspired by the Spirit of the Age in which we live. As individuals, teams and organizations, we will rarely live up to that beauty, rather we will experience it in moments, greater or lesser, strung together by our efforts to increase humanity’s collective knowledge. And as that knowledge grows, our patience for the partial, incomplete agility of many organizations will also grow for it is the source of our new-found knowledge.


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Selling Organizational Transformation – Part II

In Part I, I highlighted the basic importance of proper preparation in anticipation of an impromptu CxO meeting. The aim, of course, is to move up the organizational structure to the decision-makers who are most likely to require a greater portfolio of my services. My background is rooted in helping organizations achieve business agility so that they can better provide services that their customers desire.

If we pick up from the end of Part I, let’s assume I’ve piqued Sarah’s interest. There is a very strong possibility now that CEO Sarah will have an unscheduled, casual ‘elevator’ discussion with Christine about her efforts and perhaps even the work she’s contracting me for.

VP’s, like other Executives, hate surprises. Not knowing their relationship, there is a high probability that things will go south at this point, largely because I’ve potentially introduced risk to Christine and her career. The probability that something is going slightly ‘wrong’ in her portfolio is likely high. And she’s now on the CEO’s radar.

Next steps are obvious – it is imperative for me to speak with Christine, preferably face-to-face. Positioning the conversation is key now. In my experience, this is a “build trust” or “destroy trust” conversation. Prior to that face-to-face, I need to prioritize my talking points, which should be as follows:

  • Confirm the positive impact my team is having with respect to the organizational goals “to drive effectiveness and efficiencies”. Collect the “Yes”.
  • Determine the relationship, if any, she has with her CEO and determine the hierarchy between her and the CEO and, if possible, determine the alignment of their efforts to the CEO’s mandate (there is always a ‘black sheep’ in that mix and it could be Christine’s SVP, or even Christine herself, for instance)
  • Reduce the perceived risk by specifically reiterating the connection between my efforts, Christine’s efforts, and the corporate strategy. Collect the “Yes”.
  • Then, and only then, discuss the brief, impromptu elevator discussion I had with her CEO – and this takes tact and professionalism, and must be delivered with maturity.

My approach and the questions I’d propose, likely would take the following direction:

  • “Christine, what’s your overall ‘take’ on my teams efforts to….? [reiterate the mandate]”.
  • “Does your SVP share those thoughts, and is your leadership in the corporate strategy recognized?”
  • “And are your successes recognized outside of this channel?” [collect the “Yes”]
  • “Christine, you understand the corporate structure here, is there any risk that this project can be derailed, and is it important enough to thrive? Because, I am speaking in hypotheticals right now, but it has to look good for you, correct?” [collect the “Yes”]
  • [This is the tricky part] “Christine, you know part of my role is to champion you, your team and your efforts [insert mandate]. I wanted to meet today because I had the unplanned opportunity to speak briefly with Sarah about this particular project and she was quite keen about the positive work you are doing here. And specifically how it is in-step with the corporate mandate and her strategy. She was fully supportive of such efforts and I wanted to put this on your radar, should the conversation come back to you [pause].
  • “The other part of my job, of course, is to look for additional ways that we can help this organization. If I can help you, help your SVP and help Sarah in this process, then I’d like the opportunity to take a greater role and do so [stop].

I’m not going to walk away with a multi-million dollar contract today, but hopefully I achieved my objectives: clear the potential minefield of risk with Christine, deepen our relationship, gain further understanding of the organizational structure, continue to build trust, show that I am indeed talking with her peers and that I have the best intentions in doing so with her in mind, and I asked for further business.

In sales, we are always looking for that “inside champion” to help our deal move forward. In addition to this, I believe that in building better business relationships, the road goes both ways. I try to equally be that champion for my client. Because it serves so many purposes to do so, and it is the right thing to do as it aligns to the deeper principles I believe in, which are:

To create unity in diversity, and to help people orient their work lives towards service. To engage with people, and customer-focused organizations that seek to continually learn and grow. To work in the spirit of truthfulness, teamwork, and transparency, as this is the foundation of improvement.


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What Should Companies Focus on to Grow?

By David Vicentin

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

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

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

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

Y = f(K, L, T)

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

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

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

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


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Slaying Hydra: The Story of A Business Agility Coaching Partnership

Part I of III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…


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Selling Organizational Transformation (Part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Part II to find out what comes next!


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Consulting and Coaching – An Exploration

We occasionally see people confusing the terms “consultant” and “coach”. Some people tend to use those terms interchangeably while other people see them as distinct. I believe a consultant and coach normally serve two different purposes, however I also recognize the overlap in their abilities and responsibilities that may often lead to the confusion.

To me, a consultant is a referential expert who understands a particular domain or field. They are often brought in to observe and provide domain expertise and knowledge, and it is usually conducted ‘on site.’ A consultant typically provides specific directives, recommendations, suggestions, data or case studies to help their client (company or individual) make informed decisions and avoid pitfalls that might otherwise not be known. They may act as a sounding board to a company’s expressed needs and offer specific guidance on how to achieve those outcomes.  Typical reasons for bringing in a consultant include but are not limited to a need for a timely or quick resolution, or a need for a single-event decision (e.g. where the knowledge or decision will not likely be needed in the future).

A coach is also a referential expert who understands a particular domain or field. They also are most effective if they are ‘on site’, however their approach differs substantially from a consultant. A coach observes and typically provides guidance and suggestions, but they do not normally give answers. A coach is usually there to help a client realize the answers through exploration and discovery, and in doing so grow the client’s domain knowledge and problem solving skills. A coach will often use tools such as asking powerful questions and reflecting what they are observing back to the client. Anecdotes, examples, data, and parallels may be provided by the coach when they are helpful at providing context. A coach often acts as an agent to help a company grow their own expertise on how to achieve their business needs and outcomes, as well as to continuously improve how they work together, and in doing so become systems thinkers and a learning organization.

Organizations generally will hire either a consultant or coach when they have goals and they need domain expertise to achieve those defined outcomes. These goals may be determined by various factors, such as a wish to grow the company, or a need to respond to disruptions in the business world that make change a necessity. Either way, this usually means the client has a need for more agility, and the consultant or coach can help them achieve those outcomes.

The choice whether to engage a consultant or coach is often a complex one. However, when needs are urgent in a company a consultant will often be brought in to expedite the solution by providing advice and expertise. Meanwhile, a coach will usually address longer-term goals to help a company grow and realize their own solutions. As such a coach typically is a longer-term investment, however they usually provide longer-term assistance to a business to grow on many fronts or at an enterprise level.

A key difficulty from a company’s perspective is knowing what problem needs to be solved or what the baselines should be for their defined goals. To help with this decision, reputable companies will provide proper guidance and pre-sales support.  For example, BERTEIG has created the Real Agility Assessment, which is a tool designed specifically to identify the problem(s) that require addressing as well as what the baselines are.  Based on the results from this assessment an organization may determine which type of support is required including whether a consultant or a coach is more appropriate (or even required!)

Regardless of whether a consultant or coach is required, an organization would be wise to ensure the expert they bring in will be compatible, empathetic, considerate, inclusive and respectful towards their existing culture and environment. Certainly the skills and domain knowledge of the expert are critical factors to success, but equally important is whether this external individual will know how to connect with the individuals and the organization so they may be effective.  When you know they are aligned with your culture you can also ensure they will be accountable for helping you achieve your outcomes.

At BERTEIG we recognize how critical culture is to determining success so we ensure our consultants and coaches are compatible with an organization to help them achieve their desired outcomes. Please take a few moments to learn more about our team, or learn more about our coaching and consulting engagements in these case studies from Suncor and SickKids Foundation.

Header Image: CC0 Public Domain.  Free for personal and commercial use.

Source: Pxhere – https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1026034 


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A Culture of Unity: Facilitating a Junior Youth Empowerment Group

Public Training Coordinator, Nima Honarmandan, writes of his experience.

What does it mean to have a culture of “group unity and learning through action” ?

When I was asked to facilitate a Junior Youth Group of 11-14 year-olds, I felt completely out of my league. I took a course called “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth,” a secular course inspired by writings from the Baha’i Faith, which helped me understand that Junior Youth are like a vast reservoir of energy that can be directed toward the advancement of civilization.

By creating a space for them each week where they felt accepted and free to share their thoughts, the participants thrived in an environment where they could develop their powers of expression and make plans to help their community. I realised more and more that my role was to facilitate the growing bond between the group members, and to encourage their participation in each session.

Some kids were extremely shy or did not want to vocally participate, which was fine. However as time progressed, the participants looked less and less to me as a the coordinator. They started to encourage each other to read and participate. As a culture of cliques gave way to a culture of unity for the group, amazing things began to happen.

Undirected by me, the group decided to raise money for local charities and shelters, collect food for the food bank and visit a retirement residence to spend time and share photos with the residents.

Armed with the knowledge that there were no ‘bad ideas’ when it came to service, the Junior Youth tried many different projects, knowing that even if they did not succeed in the goal, their efforts resulted in ‘learning’ that would help them the next time.

In the Junior Youth sessions, I noticed that participants began to self-organise, and help each other to grapple with moral reasoning pertaining to the stories they encountered in the texts we studied. They were not dependent on me to have these deep discussions.

I discovered this statement to be true: ‘When encouraged and properly guided, the Junior Youth will grow up to be among the most valuable human resources in a community’. From my experience, I saw that it all begins by fostering a culture of safety and a unity of vision.



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Seeking Patterns Between Human Rights and Agility

Image Attribution

Photographer:  Zoi Koraki – https://www.flickr.com/photos/zoikoraki/
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zoikoraki/15046030905/in/photostream/
License: Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Preface: To be transparent in my agenda, I firmly believe there are strong parallels between Agility and Human Rights, and I believe that is a purposeful and direct by-product of the primary outcomes of the Agile Manifesto.  However, I have attempted to make this article a little different from others by more subtly embedding the learnings and patterns within the messages and on several levels.  As such I hope the connections are still obvious, and that you find this article refreshing, insightful, appropriate and useful.

A Premise

It seems everywhere I turn lately there is a scandal of greed, lust, abuse, harassment, violence or oppression in both the workplace as well as personal life. I’d like to believe the number of despicable activities is not actually increasing but rather I am simply exposed to more because we live in an age when the speed and ease of access to information is staggering. Certainly recent events are no exception to human history that records thousands of years of oppression, subjugation, control, and violence. My question is: as a supposedly intelligent species, why is it we have seemingly learned very little over the millennia?

I propose we have actually learned a great deal and made significant advances, yet at the same time we have experienced setbacks that repeatedly challenge that progress. These setbacks are often imposed by select individuals in positions of authority that choose to prioritize and exert their power, individual needs or desires over the rights and needs of others. However, I believe if we can truly harness the power of unity and collaboration we can make a significant positive difference, and that is what I seek your help in doing.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
~ Aristotle

Finding a Beacon in the Darkness

Every day I find it disheartening to bear witness to people being physically and mentally hurt, abused or taken advantage of. In their personal lives and at home. At the workplace. In wars and conflicts. In human created environmental disasters. It seems there is no end to the pain and suffering or the countless ways to inflict it.

Meanwhile I sincerely believe many of us have the desire to make the world a better place, but given our positions and busy lives it can be daunting to make a real difference. In many instances we feel powerless to change the world because someone else has authority over us or over the system. It may also seem pointless to commit to change something we as an individual have little to no control over. It can also be risky to draw attention to ourselves by speaking against others in a position of power who may and sometimes will exert their influence to attack and hurt us as well as those we care for.

Despite the temptation to hide from the noise we must remain strong and acknowledge that by creating transparency and visibility in to dark and sometimes painful events we are actually opening the door to the opportunity for positive change. Obscuring truth does nothing to help a worthy cause or to better society. Remaining silent about an injustice does not provide the victim with any form of respect or comfort. Pretending something didn’t happen doesn’t make the consequences and outcomes any less real for the casualty. Inaction does not provide any benefit except perhaps the avoidance of an immediate conflict.

Many times, shining a light on something does provides tangible benefit. It creates visibility and awareness, and provides opportunity for the truth to be exposed. Although transparency itself may not solve a problem, reflection and openness should make the misalignment more critical and obvious. I believe the majority of us want trust, and honesty wherever we are, whether it be in the boardroom, on the manufacturing floor, in a political office, or even in a private home.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
~ Robert Kennedy

However we must also acknowledge that sharing truth may often be painful and uncomfortable, and in order to create the opportunity for truth we must first provide individuals with safety so they may find the courage to do what is right. Without safety people fear reprisals, embarrassment, retribution, consequences, and loss of respect. History has taught us that without safety and courage we can not expect most people to bridge the chasm from fear to justice, and as a result the silence will continue. With silence there will be no hope for change. So in order to help define expectations and to foster a safer environment for effective communication we need a code to live by; one that provides standards and creates safety – that serves as a beacon in the darkness so that we may uphold ourselves and one another to it.

To be absolutely clear, I am not saying that policies, processes and tools are more important than people. Instead, I am acknowledging that the right combination of policies and processes with appropriate tools and a method to uphold those ideals should serve to provide opportunity for fairness for people, which is the desired outcome.

A Disturbing Retrospective Leading to a Hopeful Outcome

At the end of World War II when “relative” safety was finally achieved, people were exhausted, shocked and appalled with the magnitude of human atrocities they bore witness to. Given the darkness of the times it may have seemed less painful to move on, put it in the past, and perhaps even obscure disturbing facts rather than revisit them in the pursuit of learning. Instead, the leadership of that time chose to leverage careful inspection to uncover truths and provide visibility with the aspiration that something good could flow out of the evil. In the end the aim was to use the learnings to create a shared understanding and define standards and expectations for a safe environment in the future.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
~ George Santayana

To this end I believe we already have a code to live by, but I surmise most of society doesn’t give it the continuous, serious consideration and support it deserves. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was created on December 10, 1948 as a direct outcome of the learnings from World War II, and in this brief but impactful document are 30 articles that define human equality and set the standards for safety. Despite some of its choice wording and age (at almost 70 years) I believe it is still directly relevant and bears serious attention.

(http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/)

UDHR
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The UDHR document transcends political borders, gender, orientation, race, religion, boardrooms, workplaces, homes, family, and economic status. Every person on this planet should not only just read it, but actively live, work, and explicitly honour the values it represents. The UDHR should become the definitive core learning article for every child. If we all continuously make a firm commitment to hold ourselves and others by the standards in the UDHR I believe we could collectively create opportunity for better safety, transparency, respect, and courage in the workplace, at home, and abroad by putting focus on what matters most – equality and the value of and compassion for human life.

The UDHR document may be policy, but with continuous effort, unilateral agreement and support it enables and empowers people. It may not be perfection, but it is aspirational towards it. It focuses on individual rights but strongly values human interaction. It promotes balance, harmony and partnerships. It demands mutual respect and caring. It is elegant in its simplicity. It promotes collaboration and shared responsibility. It defines clear expectations for a safe environment.

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
~ Winston Churchill

I believe the UDHR is the manifesto of real, human agility, and if enough of us embrace and enforce it I believe we could collectively make real, positive change.

Now, A Challenge

I challenge each and every one of you to take time to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I don’t just mean on the train on the way to work, or over morning coffee, or while your kids are playing soccer or hockey, or whatever you do to pass a few minutes of time. I mean take time to really, truly and deeply comprehend what each of the thirty articles are saying. Reflect on the value of wisdom that it provides and how that wisdom came from pain and learning. I then encourage you to share it with every family member (adults and youth) and ask for constructive feedback on what it says about them and personal life. I encourage you to share it with every co-worker and then have an open, honest dialogue about what your company culture and leadership either does or fails to do to provide a safe work environment and to promote equality, truth, transparency and human rights.

Then, I challenge you to ask every single day “Given the declaration, what small positive adaptation or change can I make right now to help our family, friends, peers, coworkers and humanity achieve these goals and outcomes?” You could start with something as simple as a brief conversation, and see where it goes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I asked myself that very question after visiting the UN General Assembly and Security Council Chambers in New York late last year. In response, one of my first actions in 2018 is to publish this article in an effort to re-establish awareness about the UN declaration and how it may bring hope and positive change if we can rally enough people behind it. How about you?

A secondary (and arguably less important) challenge I am issuing for Lean and Agile enthusiasts is for you to identify the patterns and key words in this article that I have borrowed from various facets of the Lean and Agile domains (hint: there are at least 20 different words – can you spot them). I purposefully embedded these patterns and key words in this article to explicitly highlight the parallels that I see between Agility and the UDHR and I hope you see them too.


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Kanban: Real Scaled Agility for Your Enterprise

Your business is an ecosystem of interdependent services, a complex adaptive system.

A bunch of organizations I know started their journey of increasing their agility with Scrum. That didn’t solve all of their problems. Kanban enables organizations to evolve their service delivery systems towards mature business agility.

As addressed in How Kanban Saved Agile, pure Scrum is extremely rare. Scrumbut (the disparaging label that spawned from so many organizations reporting that they do Scrum, but…) on the other hand, is extremely common.

In order to not be Scrumbut, you need the following:
  • Cross-functional development team of 7 +/- 2 people—ALL skills needed to ship product is present on the team—there are no dependencies external to the team;
  • One source of demand with no capacity constraints—the Product Owner is the customer AND full-time member of the team;
  • Sprints are one month or less, begin with starting new demand from the Product Owner and end with the delivery of potentially shippable Product Increments, followed by a retrospective about how to do better next Sprint;
  • “Potentially Shippable” means that the decision about whether to actually ship is purely a business decision. All the technical work is done;
  • If all of the technical work required in order to ship isn’t done, then the Sprint is a failed Sprint;
  • The Scrum Master is a servant-leader and Scrum educator to the entire organization.

How many organizations do you know of with Scrum teams that meet all of the requirements above? I don’t know one.

So, what’s the solution? Give up on Scrum? Are we still getting benefits from Scrumbut? Alright, let’s stop it with the Scrumbut already. Let’s acknowledge what’s really going with real teams in the real world and call that Scrum. Let’s refer to the above  checklist as “Ideal Scrum”.

Agile scaling methods have become a popular risk hedging tactic for all the loose ends dangling around the real teams in the real world.

Here are some of the reasons for adding layers of scaling around Agile teams:

  • Teams are not fully cross-functional;
  • Teams have external and opaque depencies;
  • Many of these dependencies are shared services with multiple sources of demand and constrained capacity—often overburdened;
  • External dependencies can be other teams—demand from other teams shows up in their backlogs, prioritized by their own Product Owners;
  • Many dependencies don’t play by the same rules at all—some reside in a different part of the organization, with different structures and political forces;
  • The Product Owners are proxies for multiple stakeholders and customers and the Product Backlogs represent an array of multiple sources of demand, with different service level expectations, strategic origins, degrees of clarity, urgency and political forces pushing them into the deliver organization;
  • The Product Backlogs are made up primarily of solutions defined by stakeholders and translated by the pseudo-Product Owners as pseudo-user stories—how they get there is opaque, the “fuzzy front end”—and somewhere in here a fuzzy delivery commitment was already made;
  • The work of a Sprint includes all of the work that the non-cross-functional teams can get done—then whatever the teams get “done” is “delivered” (handed-off) to a subsequent set of teams or process steps (usually fairly well defined at an organizational level but outside of the teams’ influence);
  • Delivery decisions are made based on constraints imposed by legacy technology, systems and their gatekeepers (for historically good reasons);
  • The teams are “done” at the end of each Sprint, yet much work is still to be done before their “done” work is potentially shippable;
  • The Scrum Master’s are held collectively accountable for the collective deliverables of the teams and their ability to cross-team coordinate and integrate—accountability by committee translates into no one is actually responsible.
  • Middle managers are scrambling to pick up the pieces because they are actually accountable for delivered results.

Generally speaking, the aim of Agile scaling methods is to apply larger Agile wrappers around clusters of Agile teams in order to re-establish some kind of hierarchical structure needed to manage the interdependencies described above. Whether its a Release Train or a Nexus, or whatever else, the idea is that there is an “Agile Team of Teams” managing the interdependencies of multiple, smaller teams. As long as the total number of people doesn’t grow beyond the Dunbar number (~150), the Dunbar-sized group is dedicated and cross-functional, there is a team managing the interdependencies within the Dunbar, there are no dependencies outside of the Dunbar and there is some cadence (1-3 months) of integrated delivery—it’s still “Agile”. All of this scaling out as far as a Dunbar (and only that far) allows the enterprise to still “be Agile”—Scaled Agile.

This is all supposed to be somehow more realistic than Ideal Scrum (with perhaps am overlay of Scrum of Scrums and a Scrum of Scrum of Scrums). It’s not. How many organizations do you know of that can afford to have ~150 people 100% dedicated to a single product? Perhaps today there is enough cash lying around, but soon enough the  economic impact will be untenable, if not unsustainable.

How does Kanban address this problem? Your business is a complex adaptive system. You introduce a Kanban system into it such that it is likely that the complex adaptive system is stimulated to improve. The Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban—STATIK—is how you can make such a transition more successful (@az1):
  1. Understand the purpose of the system—explicitly identify the services you provide, to whom you provide them and why;
  2. Understand the things about the delivery of the service that people are not happy about today—both those whose needs are addressed by the service and those doing the work of delivering the service;
  3. Define the sources of demand—what your customers care about and why;
  4. Describe the capability of your system to satisfy these demands;
  5. Map the workflow of items of customer-recognizable value (@fer_cuenca), beginning with a known customer need and ending with the need being met through stages of primary knowledge discovery (Scrum teams somewhere in the middle, towards the end)—focus on activities, not looping value streams;
  6. Discover classes of service—there are patterns to how different kinds of work flow through your system (they are not arbitrarily decided by pseudo-Product Owners), what are they? Group them, they are classes of service and knowing them enables powerful risk management;
  7. With all of the above as an input, design the Kanban system for the service;
  8. Learn how to do steps 2-7 and start applying it directly to your own context in a Kanban System Design class;
  9. Socialize and rollout (learn how by participating in a Kanban Coaching Professional Masterclass);
  10. Implement feedback-loop Cadences for continuous evolution—learn the 7 Kanban Cadences and begin applying to your own context in a Kanban Management Professional class;
  11. Repeat with all of the interdependent services in your organization—every “dependency” is a service—Kanban all of them with STATIK and begin implementing the Cadences.

Don’t get hung up on teams, roles, your latest reorg, how people will
respond to another “change”, who’s in, who’s out, etc. These are all part of the service as it is now—your current capability. Initially, no changes are required at this level. The kanban system will operate at a higher level of scale. Through feedback-loop cadences, it will evolve to be fit for the purpose of your customers without a traumatic and expensive reorg.  Who is responsible for this? Identify this person. If you are the one thinking about this problem, there is a good chance that it’s you. Whoever it is, this is the manager of the service; take responsibility, do the work and make life better for everyone.

For more information about LeanKanban University Certified Kanban courses provided by Berteig, please go to www.worldmindware.com/kanban. Some spots are still available for our classes in Toronto, June 12-16.

For Agilists who have read this far and still don’t get it, start here:

14 Things Every Agilist Should Know About Kanban

The story below may be familiar to some:

Our IT group started with Scrum. Scores of people got trained. Most of our Project Managers became “Certified” Scrum Masters. Most of our Business Analysts became “Certified” Product Owners. We purged some people who we knew would never make the transition. We reorganized everyone else into cross-functional teams – mostly developers and testers. But now they are Scrum Developers. We tried to send them for “Certified” Scrum Developer training but hardly anyone of them signed up. So they are Just Scrum Developers. But we still call them developers and testers. Because that’s still how they mostly function—silos within “cross functional teams”, many tales of two cities rather than just one.

After the Scrum teams had been up and running for a while and we were able to establish some metrics to show the business how Agile we were (since they didn’t believe us based on business results), we had a really great dashboard showing us how many Scrum teams we had, how many Kanban teams, how many DevOps, how many people had been trained. We even knew the average story point velocity of each team.

The business didn’t get it. They were worried that Agile wasn’t going to solve their problem of making commitments to customers and looking bad because we still weren’t able to deliver “on time”.

As IT leadership, we were really in the hot seat. We started to talk about why the transformation wasn’t going as it should. We knew better than to bring the Agile coaches into the boardroom. They were part of the problem and needed to be kept at arms length from those of us who were making important decisions. Besides, their Zen talk about “why?” was really getting old fast. Some thought it was because we didn’t have the right technology. Others were convinced it was because we didn’t have the right people. After all, we didn’t go out and higher experienced (above-average) Scrum Masters and Product Owners, instead we just retrained our own people. Clearly that wasn’t working.

We started with improving the Scrum Masters. We went out and hired a few with impressive resumes. We developed some Scrum Master KPIs (HR jumped all over this one). Then one day we had a collective flash of brilliance—since the ScrumMasters are the servant leaders of teams, we will make them responsible for collecting and reporting team metrics and this will tell us how well the teams are doing and how they need to improve. This surely would be the key to improving the performance of IT and get us on a better footing with the business.

But we didn’t get the response we were hoping for. The ScrumMasters soon complained that the metrics of the teams were impacted by dependencies that they had no influence over. When we pushed harder and shamed them publicly for failing to produce meaningful metrics, they tried harder, but they weren’t able to do it. Some began disengage. “This is not the job I signed up for” became their new mantra. This was puzzling. We were empowering them and they were recoiling. Maybe we didn’t get the right Scrum Masters after all. Maybe we needed to go out and find people who could think and act effectively beyond the confines of their own teams. Or…


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5 Insights to Help HR Ride the Agile Wave

In a recent scan of the e-literature on the reciprocal impact of Agile on HR, I connected some very interesting insights which I’d like to share. A set of insights that looks like ripples across the surface of a pond. Ripples that started when the Agile stone was thrown into the pond in 2001. In its simplest form, Agile is about a different way of working with each other in teams. Teams that are cross-functional, collaborative, co-located and customer-driven in their decision making. The insights provide compelling reasons why HR needs to take an active role in Agile implementations.

Insight #1

“In the most successful Agile transformations, HR is a driver of the change and a key hub that steers other departments’ success.”

(cPrime.com)

HR certainly needs to be ‘a’ driver in the change, but not ‘the’ (sole) driver. Rather they need to partner in the change. Successful Agile transformations will benefit from HR’s expertise in

  • Organizational Effectiveness
  • Learning & Development
  • Workforce Planning & Talent Management
  • Total Rewards

The driver of the change, historically IT, will need HR’s help to manage the impact to people and traditional HR processes/tools. As the change scales and starts to impact other departments in the business, HR can play a large role in ensuring the business overall stays aligned in delivering end-to-end value to customers.

Insight #2

“2016 will be the year of Agile HR… most HR teams have no clue what Agile HR means.”

(HR Trend Institute)

Agile was a hot topic for HR in 2016 as evidenced by the number of times ‘Agile HR’ has made the shortlist of topics being brainstormed for HR conferences and networks.  It was the #1 trend on the 2016 HR Trend Institute list. Its popularity is not cooling off in 2017. And yet most HR teams still don’t have a clue what ‘Agile’ means, never mind what ‘Agile HR’ means.

Insight #3

“As the world becomes more volatile, organizations need to find ways to become highly agile. HR will need to support a world where people may no longer have predefined ‘jobs’ that lock them into doing one activity.”

(HRO Today)

Agile has entered the mainstream. A necessity given the VUCA[1] world we live in.  Agile is no longer the sole domain of IT. The common refrain from all C-suite leaders these days is increased agility and nimbleness across the entire business – not just IT. The impact of capital ‘A’ Agile or small ‘a’ agile will affect HR. People will no longer have predefined jobs – People’s career paths will change. In this VUCA world, standardized career paths are no longer effective. Batch-of-one career paths will become the norm.

Insight #4

“HR’s job is not just to implement controls and standards, and drive execution—but rather to facilitate and improve organizational agility.”

(Josh Bersin)

The HR profession itself has been going through its own transformation. The HR profession has evolved from an administrative and transactional service to a strategic business stakeholder with a seat at the executive table.  The role of HR now includes a focus on organization-wide agility and global optimization of departmental efforts.

Insight #5

“Human capital issues are the #1 challenge for CEOs globally.”

(The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2016)

The Conference Board’s 2016 survey of global CEOs ranked human capital issues as the number one challenge. It has been number one for the last four years in a row. Within that challenge, there are two hot-button issues:

  1. Attracting and retaining top talent
  2. Developing next-generation leaders

The adoption of agile ways of working will change

  • How we recruit and engage
  • How we nurture and grow not only our leaders but our talent in general

In the words of Robert Ployhart, “…employees don’t just implement the strategy – they are the strategy”[2]. CEOs around the world would tend to agree.

The net of these insights is the more HR professionals understand Agile and its implications, the more effective Agile or agile initiatives and people/strategy will be.

I’d like to see HR ride the wave.

 

 

[1] VUCA is an acronym introduced by the US military to describe a state of increased Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

[2] Ulrich, Dave, William A. Schiemann, Libby Sartain, Amy Schabacker Dufain, and Jorge Jauregui Morales. “The Reluctant HR Champion?” The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders. Alexandria, VA: HR Certification Institute, 2015. N. pag. Print.


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How HR Can Save or Destroy Agile

“Business engagement alone is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Agile to succeed”

It’s taken a while but now it’s well understood amongst seasoned Agile practitioners that Business engagement is necessary for successful Agile implementations. Just when we thought engaged Business owners were enough, we’re now realizing Business engagement alone is not sufficient. The impact of corporate shared services, especially Human Resources (HR), on Agile adoptions or transformations are often overlooked. In fact, Agile practitioners often bypass HR in their zeal to quickly change the way they work and the related people processes.

“Companies are running 21st century businesses with 20th century workplace practices & programs”

– Willis Towers Watson

It’s not just IT departments practicing Agile but 21st century businesses overall that are characterized by flatter organizations and an insatiable appetite for small ‘a’ agility. Agility that is pushing and breaking the envelope of current HR processes and tools. Agile individuals and teams are very vocal when it comes to calling out technical obstacles in their way. The same could be said when it comes to HR related obstacles that impact Agile individuals and teams. If we listen, here’s what we would hear:

  • “Can we team interview the candidate for attitude and fit?”
  • “I was an IT Development Manager. What’s my role now?”
  • “My manager doesn’t see half of what I do for my team. How can she possibly evaluate me?”
  • “With no opportunity for promotions in sight, how can I advance my career?”
  • “Why do we recognize individuals when we’re supposed to be focused on team success?”
  • “Charlie’s not working out. Can we as the team fire him?”

As the volume increases, how will HR and HR professionals respond?

“2016 will be the year of Agile HR … most HR teams have no clue what Agile HR means”

– HR Trend Institute

The reality is that most HR teams have no clue what Agile is, never mind how it will ultimately rock their world. Most Agile initiatives emerge from the grass-roots or are driven independently by IT functions with little to no involvement from HR. HR  sits on the sidelines and watches IT “do their thing”. There is a misconception that Agile exclusively falls under the IT domain; overlooking the fact that the core of Agile is about the people and culture – the sweet spots of the HR profession.

There are three significant change movements gaining momentum:

  1. Reinventing the way we work – whether it’s IT adopting Agile or an organization becoming more nimble.
  2. Reinventing HR – where HR is moving beyond its historical focus on basic people administration, compliance and transactions to a valued place at the executive table; ensuring context and alignment across the business to generate Customer delight.
  3. Reinventing organizations – as the level of human and organizational consciousness evolves from valuing meritocracy, accountability and innovation to valuing self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. (See “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/)

All three have the common denominator of people; an integral part along the entire timeline of each movement. As these three movements overlap – at the intersection – will be HR. So, who better to help navigate the emerging paths of each change than “the People’s people”?… otherwise known as “HR”.

An analysis of the Human Resources Professionals Association’s (HRPA) Competency Framework shown below can help guide which HR competencies will have the greatest impact (on a scale of 1 to 10) on Agile.

“How do we get HR started towards their destiny?”

If you’re an Agile team member, invite HR to start a conversation about what Agile is and how they can help you and the team.

If you’re an HR professional, here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about Agile
  • Visit with your Agile teams during sprint reviews or daily scrums
  • Talk to your friends and colleagues about their Agile experiences and challenges
  • Review in-progress HR process & tool changes through an Agile lens
  • Partner with IT and other Agile implementation stakeholders to guide the success of Agile

To help HR take the first step, here are some suggested Agile learning resources:

It’s time for HR to get off the sidelines and get in the game.  HR needs to be a “friend” to Agile, not perceived as a “foe”.

Borrowing from a Chinese proverb,

When the winds of change blow, some will build walls while others build windmills… the harnessing of your greatest natural resource, your people, into power.

Build windmills.


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How a Non-Agile Big Corporation Lost Out

The Scenario

In a search for new vistas and growth, my husband had been scanning employment ads across the country and applied for a job he was well-suited for with a large corporation. He received two interviews by telephone and SKYPE. The new job would require us to move several provinces, leaving family, friends and a community we were attached to.

He received confirmation by telephone that the corporation wanted to hire him. We spent a few days agonizing over a decision, consulting with family and friends, praying about it, and decided my husband would accept the job. After his verbal acceptance, a contract followed a few days later, which he duly signed and sent back. He was told it had been signed at the other end and he could now announce the new job publicly.

He gave notice to his present employers, as did I mine, and we proceeded to take steps to put our house on the market, search for housing in the new city, and pack. We had begun to say good-bye.

Three days later a phone call came from the HR Department of the corporation saying they had to rescind the contract as someone “higher up” had not given approval for it.

We were stunned. There had been no hint in any part of the process that the job offer was in any way tentative or not thoroughly vetted. We had taken many steps forward, and now had to backtrack several steps.

My husband had to go, hat in hand, to his current employers to see if he could retain his job. After a painful good-bye session with my team I had to inform them that I was not leaving.

This whole experience has brought to mind the importance of what my employer, BERTEIG Inc, is attempting to do through agile training, consulting and coaching.

The “Agile Manifesto” proclaims:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

And, further on: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

These are prime values to be lived by small and large businesses.

Admittedly, Agile was initially created for software developers, but more and more corporations and organizations are seeing the value in being agile, and are responding to this necessary change of culture in what is currently a time of deep disruption.

What If?

What if the corporation my husband was contracting with had honored the implications of “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and “customer collaboration over contract negotiations?”

If some “higher up” had not actually given approval for this hiring, once the contract was signed at both ends (which it was), could this higher-up not have responded with more agility, more compassion, and more ethically?

What if he had acted in such a way that, even if he did not approve the contract, he acknowledged the good intentions of both sides and let it go? After all, his corporation was getting a highly-qualified, experienced employee.

What if he was transparent and acknowledged that the contract was not to his liking, and asked would my husband consider some other version of it? And then consulted directly with my husband and HR over certain changes to the contract? And made sure everyone was agreeable with the changes?

What if the “higher-up” just called my husband directly, apologizing that the contract was made without his say-so, that they were not in a position to hire him, and offered two-months salary for any damages – material and emotional – that had been incurred?

The above scenarios could have changed the situation from one of loss, to one of win-win for both sides. Agile frameworks are clearly proving to be of great benefit to employers and employees alike.

Hundreds of eager attendees take Certified Scrum Master and Certified Product Owner training from us. Many have taken our Certified Agile Leadership offering in cooperation with Agilitrix. Do the corporations they belong to welcome the changes these attendees are prepared to make? Are corporations taking steps to truly alter their culture?

The Losing End

My husband was almost employed in that organization, where hundreds of others are employed. I wonder how often their employees experience this type of trauma, since this neglectful handling of my husband’s contract is a likely sign of ongoing cultural problems within.

This rescinding of a contract was a losing situation on both ends. The corporation in question lost a highly-talented employee who would have been extremely loyal and hard-working (as was determined in the interviews). My husband lost professional credibility having to backtrack with his current employers. We lost the challenge of a new adventure.

We’re recovering, despite this having a huge emotional impact on our lives. We’ve been agile enough to say: we’re still here, we still have jobs, we can make the best of it all.

I just wish that Big Corp would get it. And soon. Before more is lost.


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Formula for Building a Successful Scrum Experience

Under the right conditions Scrum can be a tremendous success story, but it often requires hard work to get there.  For new Scrum teams it means learning to fundamentally work very differently than they are used to, such as relying on a lot more collaboration, making and delivering on shared commitments and building a high degree of trust.  For existing Scrum teams it means constantly renewing the team commitment to each other, the cause, and to the Scrum framework.  This includes the rather painful practice of revisiting the fundamentals and ensuring any deviations from accepted processes or practices were for the right reasons and had the right results.

To have a chance at achieving high performance a new-to-Scrum team will not only need to just change their processes, but fundamentally change the culture and behaviour of the team and all of the supporting roles (that includes their leadership).  Meanwhile, a mature or well-established team should never assume they are high performance; they should always be checking (and rechecking) that they are still living the Agile values.

Needless to say this can become an extremely complex challenge!  To be absolutely clear, I’m not proposing there is a single formula or recipe that works, but I do believe certain criteria can dramatically improve your Scrum team’s chances of success.  To that end here are 10 tips (plus a bonus) that may help you focus your efforts towards building a successful Scrum team and experience.

 

1. Right Number of Team Members

Currently the Scrum Guide recommends that Scrum teams will work best with three to nine people (not including the Scrum Master and Product Owner).  Too few people on the team and you risk not having enough technical expertise and coverage of critical skills.  Too many people on the team and you may become challenged to truly collaborate effectively.  Remember, this is just a guideline and you may be successful with different numbers, you just need to be aware of the impacts and make sure the gaps are covered.

2. Appropriate Balance of Skills

Scrum teams really should be balanced and cross-functional.  Having all of the necessary skills on the team for delivering a complete solution (not roles, but skills) will encourage and support end-to-end thinking all the way from design to implementation.  This approach will result in a better solution and a superior customer experience, but it relies on whole team collaboration.  Note this does not mean individual team members need to be fully cross-functional, but what is important is that all the critical skills are represented on the team and each team member contributes their domain expertise towards the collective strength.

3. Propensity for Engineering Technical Ability

For increased chances of success, a Scrum team should leverage technology and engineering practices whenever possible.  Techniques, skills and tools that facilitate Agile approaches such as Continuous Integration, Automated Testing and Test Driven Development all make technical excellence, continuous improvement and truly being “Done” every Sprint a possible reality for a Scrum team.

4. High Team Member Allocation

Scrum team members should be allocated to as few different initiatives as realistically possible.  The more projects you are allocated to, the more task switching you may have to perform, the longer it will take to complete any one item, the thinner you will be spread and the less effective you will be.  In other words, people (and teams) should limit their work in progress as much as possible and focus on completing those things that truly matter most.  This is true for any framework, but it is particularly emphasized with Agile ones.  Note there is a slight but fundamental difference between being allocated to a team and being dedicated to a team – that is a topic for a future article.

5. Empowered and Knowledgeable Product Owner

Your Product Owner needs to be informed, available, business-savvy, knowledgeable, collaborative, and empowered to make decisions about what to build and what order to do it in.  They also need to be a strong negotiator and very capable at conducting business driven trade-offs.  In the end, a Product Owner needs to effectively communicate, convey and deliver on a clear vision to the Team and Stakeholders to ensure a useful solution is created.  Without empowerment, knowledge, and vision in a Product Owner the team will struggle.

6. Equitable Scrum Master

Having a good process is only part of the equation.  A good Scrum Master will champion and enforce that process, protect the team, encourage collaboration, highlight (escalate when necessary) and encourage the removal of obstacles, facilitate discussions, provide fair and constructive feedback, cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and learning, and work to help the team live the Agile values.

Remember that the Scrum Master has authority over the process but not over the team.  As the process champion the Scrum Master may sometimes even find themselves in a conflict between maintaining the Scrum rules and guiding the team as they discover the need to adapt practices to better align with their own needs and ways of working.  In that regard a Scrum Master should understand and embrace the servant leader role.  In the end, a Scrum Master needs to be the person that helps the team make decisions, but not the person that makes decisions for them.

7. Strong Executive Support

Leadership is the key to driving change and progress.  Executives and managers of Scrum teams need to nurture the environment, let go of the “how”, allow the team to learn from mistakes, and encourage and coach the growth of the collective team knowledge and overall experience.

Understanding the dramatic impact leadership has on a transitioning team is also very critical, as a single word or direction from the executive level can single-handedly affect (either positively or negatively) the team’s future behaviours and resulting successes or failures.  And without a true environment of trust built by the leadership, team members will often shy away from taking a risk to try something new or unknown.

8. Solid Partnership Commitment

There must be a consistent commitment and engagement from all parties in the organization towards adopting the Scrum framework, Agile methods, and thinking.  The initiative must be an open, collaborative experience and there must be complete understanding  and alignment by all parties in assuming the risks and rewards as well as sharing in the effort.  This includes not only business partners and their IT counterparts, but their leadership as well as all of the people and teams supporting an Agile initiative.

9. Reduced Team Dispersion

Co-located teams are more effective communicators and can sometimes experience increased productivity by up to 60% if situated together in the same room.  More simply stated, the greater the dispersion factor, the greater the challenge of collaboration.  Note that time zones are often considered the largest dispersion factor and can have a greater impact than geography.

Although it is strongly recommended that teams be co-located, it is not mandatory to success.  In fact, certain Agile practices have factors, tools and techniques inherent to them to help bridge some of the shortcomings of increased dispersion, such as a higher reliance on frequent collaboration and communication.  But to be clear, they do not replace the value of face-to-face conversation, they are merely a crutch to not having it.

10. Consistent Education and Coaching

To ensure consistency and a shared understanding, whole teams (including the business, IT, and their leadership of executives and managers) should receive a common skills development and education experience in proper Agile Thinking, the Scrum Framework, aligned practices and mindset training.  Coaching should then reinforce this new knowledge and encourage appropriate behaviours to turn these new practices into habits.  Indeed, learning should be a continuous cycle and endless journey towards excellence, and Scrum leverages this through frequent retrospection and continuous improvement.

11. The Right Attitude!

Mutual respect and caring are the cornerstone to the team’s success and it needs to be integral to their culture and beliefs.  Not just saying but living the belief there are no heroes or scapegoats.  Everyone, including the business, executives, team members and leadership must collaborate and share in celebrating the successes as well as accepting responsibility for setbacks and failures.

Everyone must have the right attitude and commit to not only DOING as needed by attending the ceremonies or following the process and practices but truly wanting to BE part of the solution by willingly changing the way they think, work and collaborate.

 

At the end of the day your goal should not be to become Agile or Scrum savvy.  Instead your real goals and outcomes should align with achieving the key benefits of Agility, and with what Scrum offers.  These should include (but are not limited to) increased customer satisfaction, faster delivery of value, improved feedback loops, adopting a continuous improvement mindset, improved employee morale and increased employee retention.  Scrum is just one of the many tools or approaches you may choose to get there, but it is certainly an important one to consider if these outcomes align with your goals.

For Scrum to be truly successful at your organization, you must dramatically transform your very culture and business approach.  To be clear, this is not easy to do but the rewards are well worth the effort.  By embracing such a transformation, the adopted change in behaviour, beliefs and practices should result in a more successful Scrum experience and a higher degree of satisfaction for both your customers and employees.

Can you think of other success factors that might help your Scrum team succeed?  There are lots, so feel free to reach out and share them below.

 

Thanks to Photographer: Chris Potter for this awesome photo.

Sourced from stockmonkeys.com | Flickr Portfolio


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Article Review: Thinking About the Agile Manifesto

Often times, as I’ve been researching about agile methods and how to apply these to create real and sustainable change in an organization, I come across reference to the Agile Manifesto. I list it here today for those who are new to the field or who are getting back to the roots after trying a few things with different-than-expected results. It is an instrumental document. The values and principles listed here truly do shape the way agilists think and operate and to some degree or another the results appear to be better than before this founding document was introduced. So here is my “hats off” to this remarkable item which plays a pivotal role in cultural transformation.

The four key values are:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Personally, I find the first one the most meaningful of all. When we value individuals and interactions over process and tools we are truly improving in leaps and bounds in creating collaborative environments which are continuously improving.


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