Professionalism and Agility

Recently, I have been reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Fascinating reading. In this book, Mr. Gladwell chronicles some of the backgrounds of top professionals in artistic, sport and business endeavors. He tried to determine why these individuals/groups have accomplished so much in their lives and why they are in the top of their profession. Tiger Woods, Bill Gates and the Beatles are a few of the many professionals he examines. There should be no doubt in your mind that Tiger Woods is the top golfer, Bill Gates is a very successful entrepreneur, and the Beatles are a prolific band.

Please forgive me Mr. Galdwell if I summarize and distill your findings into a few short sentences. The answer is 10,000 hours. Each of these individuals or groups put 10,000 hours into their chosen profession before they arrived at the top. They viewed their professions differently, were passionate about what they did and behaved differently when learning their profession. I am not suggesting you need to work for 10,000 hours before you are successful. I am suggesting if you adopt the same methods they do, you will increase your chance of success.

As I observed these top professionals, I began to see similarities in a number of areas. They seem to share a comfort in their ability to grow and develop. I am not sure they set out to be the top but they certainly thought they would overcome what life threw at them and they trusted their own capacity to excel. I have found that giving yourself a steady message of what is possible helps you deal better with life and to overcome all the negatives around us. As an example, I seldom read the newspaper or watch the news, for this barrage of negative messages affects my outlook of what is possible. It seems to me that these top professionals insulate themselves from negative messages as well.

Next, they have incredible self discipline skills. They practice their profession with passion. They don’t believe in luck as much as they believe in hard work. This is where the 10,000 hours come into their development. They are constantly practicing to improve and master their profession. The top professionals did not achieve their position through luck, they attained the position through hard work.

To summarize, their methods are to be positive about your ability to cope with the future, give yourself positive messages, be disciplined about mastering your profession and be prepared to work hard to achieve the position of the professional.

There is a quote I like that was told to me by a businessperson from Jamaica. When asked his view of life, he said “I refuse to be held hostage by circumstances!” The top professionals choose their future and are agile as they cope with what life offers.

It seems to me another reason why these individuals are so successful is that they were very agile in their approach to life. They created their future rather than follow others. Through their own personal agility they made the right decisions to gain a top position in their chosen profession.

So the question I have been wrestling with is this: If they can be the top, then why not me? What is holding me back? Well, if you have ever spent time with me, or read any of my books, you would know the answer. The only thing holding me back is me. Can I get better? Yes, I can. Can I work harder? Yes, I can. Can I be more successful? Yes, I can. Can I be more agile in my approach to life and its challenges? Absolutely yes!

So how about you? In these troubled economic times, we have an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. The best way to survive and thrive from our current situation is to build the future we desire. Rather than expending a lot of energy worrying about your current situation, you should be taking that energy and using it to take charge of your future and build a new reality. Approach whatever life throws at you with agility. I believe success is a choice. Make good choices and everything is possible.

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Agile Benefits: Responding to Change

The fact that agile methods increase return on investment, accelerate learning, increase stakeholder satisfaction, and enable better control of work are all an interesting result of this final benefit: responding to change.

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Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment

We wouldn’t do agile if we didn’t think it was better in some way. More and more, I am seeing the adoption of agile methods being driven by business management (rather then engineering). There is a clear reason for this: agile methods offer the possibility of early return on investment compared to other methods of working. This benefit is only one of five essential benefits of agile, but it is one of the most practical and easiest to measure. Therefore it is important to clearly understand how agile methods can deliver this benefit… and how they can fail to do so!

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Strategic Plan

Okay, this is only marginally related to agile, but I thought it was interesting nevertheless: How to Write a Detailed Strategic Plan. The main connection to Agile Work, is that you need to have a clear performance goal in mind towards which you are working. This may be a great way to clarify your thoughts about such a goal.

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First Interation Ending

My first iteration using Agile Work for my business development has come to a close. Here is what I did for a “demo” and retrospective.

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My First Challenge

Wednesday is nearly done and I’m looking at my list of tasks and cringing! I’ve only done a few out of the forty for this week. What’s going on?!

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Technical Debt

Last night I was thinking more about the analogy of technical debt. In this analogy, design and quality flaws in a team’s work become a “debt” that must eventually be paid back. This analogy is fantastic because it can be taken just a little bit further to understand just how bad defects are…

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How to Avoid Context Switching

Given the huge interest in the article by Dmitri Zimine about context switching, and despite a couple of good articles about how to determine iteration length, there has been no empirical method described, only reasoning processes. This article describes a simple method to quickly determine iteration length by experimental means.

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The Case for Context Switching

Recently, Dimitri Zimine wrote an excellent little story about context switching. Joel Spolsky writes in “From the ‘You Call this Agile’ Department“:

Dmitri is only looking at one side of the cost/benefit equation. He’s laid out a very convincing argument why Sarah should not interrupt her carefully planned two week iteration, but he hasn’t even mentioned arguments for the other side: the important sale that will be lost.

Okay… I’ll bite.

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Agile Team Launch – a Howto Guide for Managers

Starting off on the right foot is just as important as it ever was. However, with Agile Work, this takes on a significantly different meaning than it does in other methods as the emphasis of what is “right” is also significantly different. This is a short guide on how to successfully launch a team using Agile Work.

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The Seven Core Practices of Agile Work

Agile Work consists of seven core practices. These practices form a solid starting point for any person, team or community that wishes to follow the Middle Way to Excellence.

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How the Process Facilitator can Help the Team Handle Out-of-Scope Work Requests

Sometimes an agile team is innundated (or maybe just slightly distracted) by requests for individuals on the team to do work for people or groups outside the team’s official stakeholders. This can happen, for example, in a corporate culture that promotes the exchange of favors. This past weekend at our Agile Coach’s gathering, Deborah Hartmann shared her method of detecting, exposing and discouraging this unofficial work.

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Agile or Not Agile?

Every once in a while the del.icio.us tag for Agile turns up something really interesting. This evening, I found this article about the ongoing use of the term “Agile”. The article is brief and a little weak, but it brings up a concern that is always niggling in the back of my mind. Interestingly enough, a good friend of mine, Christian Gruber, emailed me another web page of similar import…

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Work Item Backlogs as Queues – Agile vs. Lean

A recent discussion on the Scrum Development list (Start of Discussion) provides a good follow up to my parting words in The Art of Obstacle Removal about agile practices themselves becoming obstacles. I have excerpted a small amount of the discussion and added my own comments here.

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Amplifying Learning Through Fostering Critical Reflection

I have written previously about the tendency we have to limit future learning based on previous learning. This tendency has aptly been termed by Mezirow as the central learning problem of adulthood: “that we fail to notice that failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” In Transformative Learning literature a central method advocated for overcoming this learning problem is critical reflection. Critical reflection is the act of becoming conscious of our beliefs and assumptions (Where do they come from? Are they valid? What are their limitations? etc.) and either expanding, validating or discarding them.

Stephen Brookfield has written extensively about critical reflection and the following is a brief summary of a part of a chapter he wrote in a text on adult and continuing education entitled “The Concept of Critically Reflective Practice.”

Brookfield outlines Four Traditions of Criticality found in different fields:

Ideology critique

It is based on a premise that uncritically accepted and unjust dominant ideologies are embedded in everyday situation and practices. The purpose of ideology critique is to examine these assumptions in order to effect change at the social and institutional level. An example of this kind of approach to learning is found in the work of American popular educator Myles Horton. As the founder of Highlander Folk School, during the civil rights movement he started literacy program for African Americans. Study groups would learn to read while engaging in ideology critique in their own lives and communities using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a the text.

Psychoanalytic and psycho therapeutically inclined critique
These are traditions that work on identifying and reappraising limitations created through childhood traumas. This tradition advocates individual and group therapy for personal learning and development for the purpose of integration of all aspects of self.

Analytic philosophy and logic
This is the tradition that for most is closely associated to critical reflection. Here critical reflection means to recognize logical fallacies and see the difference between bias and fact and opinion and evidence, and become effective at using different forms of reasoning.

Pragmatic Constructivism
This tradition is based on the premise that reality is perceived, that is, we construct our own meaning out of experiences. The focus here is how people interpret their experience v.s. universal and recognizable truths. There is also a strong emphasis on creating new realities together.

Brookfield proposes that to engage in reflection is not the same as engaging in critical reflection. His understanding of critical reflection is centered on ideology critique rooted in the pragmatic constructivist approach. Renowned Brazilian educator Paulo Friere speaks of a similar process by which adults “achieve a deepening awareness of both the sociocultural reality which shapes their lives and… their capacity to transform that reality through action.” Ideology critique is rarely used in the work place. For the most part a culture of conformity and obedience is promoted by organizations.

Brookfield presents a picture of what the process may look like: “The adult educator’s task is that of helping people articulate their experience in dialogic circles and then encouraging them to review this through the multiple lenses provided by colleagues in the circle. On the basis of these collaborative critical reflections on experience adults reenter the work to take critically informed actions that are then brought back to the circle for further critical analysis.”

To engage in collaborative critical reflection based on a rhythm of action and reflection is not only a process of building collective knowledge and consensus, but also strong foundations for both trans formative learning in the work place and thriving self-organized teams. It is also a way to discover appropriate forms of metrics because it helps people apply multiple lenses of analysis to their work.

Critical reflection should be taught to teams through modeling. For example the coach disclosing his/her won process of critical reflection. Critical reflection should no be associated with self berating and putting others down or the culture of “telling it like it is” without regard for others.

Try the list of questions in the extended text to get a sense of how your work as an Agile practitioner (or whatever work you do) can be enhanced by critical reflection.

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