Tag Archives: Ideas

Never Spread Your Facilitator Butter too Thin

I like butter, and when I eat a piece of freshly baked bread, a good hunk of butter thickly spread is an essential ingredient. I don’t skimp on the butter. Using the butter for one piece of bread and spreading it across two or three slices saves cost, but at what price!? Why, the price is my enjoyment.

So how does this relate to Process Facilitators?

Continue reading Never Spread Your Facilitator Butter too Thin


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The Inner Ring

Here’s a slightly off-topic, but nevertheless excellent read: “The Inner Ring” by C S Lewis. This is a talk given by C S Lewis to what seems to be a group of university students. In it, he describes the notion of the inner ring and the desire to be “in”. It is amazing how much our culture in North America and our corporate culture is driven by this desire. I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is good or bad.


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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…

Continue reading Technical Debt


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Lean, Agile and Capitalism – Just a Thought

It occurred to me to ask: If the “invisible hand” in the free markets of capitalism is making for efficient markets, efficient work… then why is there some much room for improvement when we start using non-competitive, collaborative techniques such as lean and agile?

And if these collaborative techniques work on a small scale to improve efficiency, does this mean that we could do this across organizations as a “replacement” for capitalism somehow?

In agile methods, we “assume positive intent” on the part of individuals. What if we could do this across organizations? I’m not living in a dream world yet, but I think I have an inkling of what it might look like: Toyota and its collaborative, leaned-out supply chain.


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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.

Continue reading How to Avoid Context Switching


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Obstacle Types

The Art of Obstacle Removal is an important thing for the Process Facilitator to get good at. I was working with a client today and realized that there are really three broad categories of obstacles and only one category is easy to see. The other two are much harder for people to identify and deal with.

Continue reading Obstacle Types


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Thinking/Doing Loops

Ryan Cooper, who recently attended one of my agile training courses said:

It doesn’t make sense to separate the thinking from the doing.

So the real question is: why do we do this so often?

Continue reading Thinking/Doing Loops


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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.

Continue reading The Case for Context Switching


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Process Facilitator “Smells”

I have now trained over one hundred people in my Agile Project Managmenet / ScrumMaster Certification course. I’m starting to see and hear some of the results of this training. There are a couple specific “smells” that I have become aware of.

Continue reading Process Facilitator “Smells”


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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.

Self-Organizing Team

Any group of people that wish to be an Agile Team need to take the initiative to determine for themselves how they are going to work (process) and how they are going to do the work (product). The term “team” really applies quite broadly to any size group of people that are working together towards a common goal.

Teams go through stages of development as they perform their work. The most important result of team development is the team itself, and not the specific skills and abilities that the individuals learn.

If the team is part of a broader organization, that organization must give the team the authority, space and safety to learn to be self-organizing. The organization’s leadership is responsible for determining the “why?”, some constraints on “how?”, and then letting the team respond to the need as best as it can.

Also Known As: Whole Team (Extreme Programming), Cross-Functional Team (business management).

Deliver Frequently

Agile Work uses short fixed periods of time to frame the process of delivering something of value. Each of these iterations or timeboxes is structured so that the team or group actually finishes a piece of work and delivers it to stakeholders. Then, the team builds on what has previously been delivered to do it again in the same short amount of time.

The sooner that valuable results can be delivered, the more value can be obtained from those results. This extra value is derived from opportunities such as earlier sales, competitive advantage, early feedback, and risk reduction.

There is an explicit tradeoff: the shorter the time to delivery, the smaller the piece of value will be. But, like investing in one’s retirement account, the earlier you start, even with small amounts of money, the better off you are in the long run.

Also Known As: Sprint (Scrum), Iteration (Extreme Programming), Timeboxing (generic), Time Value of Money (accounting).

Plan to Learn

Every type of work is governed by a Horizon of Predictability. Any plan that extends beyond this horizon of predictability is bound to fail. Agile work uses an explicit learning cycle tied in with the planning of work to accomodate this inevitable change.

First, a goal is required. This goal can be long-term. Teams using Agile Work then create a queue of work items to be done in order to reach this goal. Each iteration, some of these items are selected, finished and then the queue is adjusted. The changes in the work queue are based on external factors, and learning that the team does as it goes.

One of the most effective methods for the team to learn about how it is doing its work is the retrospective. After each delivery of results, the team holds a retrospective to examine how it can improve.

Also Known As: Inspect and Adapt (Scrum), Kaizen (Lean), Adaptive Planning (generic).

Communicate Powerfully

A team needs to have effective means of communicating, both amongst team members and also to stakeholders. To Communicate Powerfully, a team needs to prefer in-person communication over distributed communication. Synchronous over asynchronous communication. High-bandwidth over low-bandwidth communication. Multi-mode communication over single-mode communication.

The results of failing to communicate powerfully include wasted time for waiting, misunderstandings leading to defects or re-work, slower development of trust, slower team-building, and ultimately a failure to align perceptions of reality.

The single most effective means to communicate powerfully, is to put all the team in a room together where they can do their work, every day for the majority of the work time.

Some types of work do not lend themselves to this approach (e.g. creating a documentary video), but every effort should be made to improve communication.

Also Known As: Visibility (Scrum), Whole Team and Team Room (Extreme Programming), War Room (business management).

Test Everything

Defects are one of the most critical types of waste to eliminate from a work process. By testing everything, by driving all the work of a team by creating test cases to check the work, a team can reach extremely high quality levels. This ability to prevent defects is so important that only an executive level decision should be considered sufficient to allow defects into a work process. Quality is not negotiable.

In Agile Work, removing a defect is the only type of work that takes priority over any new features/functionality/production. If the end result desired is to maximize value, then removing defects is an important means to that end.

A team has an ethical duty to discover new ways to effectively test their work. This can be through the use of tools, various feedback mechanisms, automation, and good old problem-solving abilities.

Also Known As: Canary in the Coal Mine (Scrum), Test-Driven Development (Extreme Programming), Defects per Opportunities (Six-Sigma).

Measure Value

Since Reality is Perceived, it is important for an agile team and organization to have a clear method of describing and perceiving what is important for the organization. Measuring value is a critical method for describing and perceiving what is important.

A single metric can be used to drive all the measurement and goal-setting and rewards in an organization. All other measurements are secondary and must be treated as such: limited in use and temporary.

There are many things which are easier to measure than value. It is often easy to measure cost, or hours worked, or defects found, or estimate vs. actual… etc. However, all of these other measurements either implicitly or explicitly drive sub-optimal behavior.

Also Known As: Measuring Results (Scrum), ROI (business management), Economic Driver (Good to Great), Running Tested Features (Extreme Programming).

Clear the Path

Everyone in an organization using Agile Work takes responsibility for clearing the path, removing the obstacles that prevent work from being done effectively. Clearing the Path doesn’t just mean expedient, quick fixes to problems, but rather taking the time to look at an obstacle and do the best possible to remove it permanently so that it never blocks the path again.

In the Agile Work method, the Process Facilitator is the person who is responsible for tracking obstacles and ensuring that the path is cleared. To do this, the Process Facilitator maintains a Record of Obstacles.

Clearing the Path is sometimes painful work that exposes things we would rather not deal with. As a result, it is critical that people build their capacity for truthfulness and work to develop trust amongst each other. Building a capacity for truthfulness is not something that can be done by using an explicit process.

Also Known As: Removing Obstacles (Scrum), Stopping the Line (Lean).


Remember also, that these practices must always be viewed and implemented in the context of the Agile Axioms. These axioms provide a check to ensure that the practices are not being applied blindly, but rather applied appropriately to the given situation.


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United Action

A few nights ago, I was having a conversation with my father, Garry Berteig, who is also an agile coach. He had an interesting insight based on a recent experience in Beijing: unity is a precondition to assistance.

Continue reading United Action


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Quality is Not Negotiable

Most of the teams and organizations I coach are working on using agile methods to improve their software development approach. Somewhere along the way, someone has realized that there must be a better way… either better than chaos, or better than bureaucracy. Over the years that I have been practicing agile methods, I have come to believe that quality is not negotiable.

Continue reading Quality is Not Negotiable


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The Queue Master

Given my interest in applying agile methods outside of software new product development, I’ve been often uncomfortable with the term “Product Owner”. My problem is two-fold: it’s too specific a term (referring to product development), and it fails to denote the responsibilities except in the most generic fashion. In other words, I think that it is both too specific, and at the same time, not specific enough. Updated the Agile Work cheat sheets to reflect this new terminology.

Continue reading The Queue Master


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Missing Terminology

I discovered that the agile methods that I know well (XP, Scrum, Lean) have no word or term for an important part of their process!

Continue reading Missing Terminology


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A Ninth Barrier to Effective Listening

I provided a link in a previous entry to an article about eight barriers to effective listening. Well, I was recently talking with someone about this and he pointed out a very important ninth barrier to effective listening.

Continue reading A Ninth Barrier to Effective Listening


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