Are You Getting What You Need From Conferences?

Professional Development opportunities are everywhere and they are easy to find at any price-point on any topic at any location. The hard part is deciding how to spend your time.

It is important to think about why you attend conferences. Most importantly, why do you choose some conferences over others? Do you want to learn from peers in your field? Do you want exposure to the latest industry trends? Are you looking for a new job? Or do you just want to be blown away by great people?

I attended the Agile Coach Camp Canada last weekend in Cornwall, Ontario, and that incredible experience has caused me to reflect on the variety of conferences I have enjoyed in recent years…and why I choose some over others.

Like any great product, successful conferences have clear and focused goals which create specific opportunities for their participants. Conference organizers choose location, venue, date, duration, registration cost, format, theme, etc. The best conference organizers are courageous and willing to make difficult decisions in order to compose their events with utmost respect to the collective vision and goals of the attendees, sponsors, and founders. The organizers of Agile Coach Camp Canada, for example, are dedicated to creating an event in which the agile coaching community can “share in an energizing and supportive environment”. That’s it! A clear and compelling vision. This clarity of vision guides decisions like whether to host the event in a metropolis (which may result in larger numbers and more sponsorship opportunities) or away from large cities (think overnight “camp”) — this is one formative decision of many that make Agile Coach Camp Canada so intense and unique year after year.

Some background: This was the 6th annual Agile Coach Camp Canada and the 2nd time that I have attended; the event generally starts on Friday evening and includes supper followed by lightning talks, Saturday uses Open Space Technology to produce an agenda followed by supper and socializing (late into the night!), then Sunday morning wraps-up with retrospection then everybody leaves in early afternoon; the cost per person is between $300-$500 for the entire weekend including meals, travel, hotel room; the event is often held in small-ish towns like Guelph or Cornwall which are a few hours from a major airport. Having been there twice — both times just blown away by the community, their expertise, their emotional intelligence, their openness — I understand very clearly the responsibility of conference organizers and I have gained new respect for the difficult decisions they must make.

Upon reflection, I know that I attend the Agile Coach Camp Canada because (a) I learn a lot and (b) I have bonded deeply with my colleagues. Those are the two reasons that I will return next year and the next. I do not attend that event with an expectation to develop new business, or attract new leads, or stay on top of industry trends — instead, I will look to other conferences for those opportunities.

What/where/when is your next professional excursion? Do you know what you want to get out of it? Here’s a tip: choose one objective from the list below and find a conference that delivers exactly that!

  • Business development: Find new or reconnect with existing business contacts.
  • Professional development: Find or explore opportunities for career enhancement.
  • Learning: Listen/watch/share with others who practice in your areas of interest.
  • Community building: Connect and communicate with people with interests or qualities that you appreciate.
  • Market exposure: Evangelize a product or service for a captive audience.
  • Other?

Life is short…make it amazing!

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The Agile Manifesto – Essay 3: Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

How much documentation does it take to run a project with ten people working for six months?  For some organizations it takes way too much:

Photo of heavy documentation for software project

This binder (about 3 or 4 inches thick) is all the documentation associated with such a project.  In looking carefully at the project, creating the documentation took far more time than the time spent on designing, writing and testing the software.  Yet, the documentation does not produce any value.  Only the software produces value.  The Agile Manifesto, asks us to focus on the outcome (working software) and to make tradeoffs to minimize the means (comprehensive documentation).

The Agile Manifesto asks us to challenge our assumptions about documentation.  In many work environments, documentation is an attempt to address some interesting and important needs:

  • Knowledge sharing among stakeholders and the people working on a project.
  • Knowledge sharing across time as people come in and out of a project.
  • Verification and traceability for contracts or other compliance needs.
  • Decision-making and analysis for business and technical problems.
  • Management oversight and control.
  • Various aspects of individual accountability.

Documentation is usually heavier (more comprehensive) the more the following circumstances exist in an organization:

  • Geographical distribution of people.
  • Lack of trust between people, departments or organizations.
  • Regulated work environments.
  • Depth of management hierarchy.
  • Number of people directly and indirectly involved.
  • Knowledge and skill sets highly segregated between people.
  • Culture of respect for written texts.

Working Software

What if the software itself could address the needs that often documentation is used to address?  Let’s look at them in turn:

  • Knowledge sharing among stakeholders and the people working on a project.
    If the software is functional at all stages, as supported by Agile methods such as Scrum and Extreme Programming, then the software becomes an effective representation of the knowledge of all the people who have participated in building it.
  • Knowledge sharing across time as people come in and out of a project.
    Software that is technically excellent is often easier to understand for people who are new to it.  For example, excellence in user experience and design means new users can get up to speed on software faster.  Use of good design patterns and automated testing allows new developers to understand existing software easily.
  • Verification and traceability for contracts or other compliance needs.
    Test-driven development (code) and specification by example (scripting and code) are forms of traceable, executable documentation that easily stay in-sync with the underlying software system.
  • Decision-making and analysis for business and technical problems.
    In particular, diagrams can help a great deal here.  However, electronic tools for creating such diagrams can be slow and awkward.  Consider the practice of Agile Modelling (basically using a whiteboard and taking photos) as a good alternative to precise technical diagramming if you are doing problem-solving.
  • Management oversight and control.
    Reports and metrics drive much of the traditional documentation in an organization.  Simplifying reports and metrics often leads to a clearer picture of what is going on, reduces the opportunities to “game” the system, and always results in lower levels of documentation.  As well, some reports and metrics can be generated 100% through automated means.  All that said, the fundamental premise in the Agile manifesto is that management should base decisions on what is actually built – the “Working software” by looking at it and using it.
  • Various aspects of individual accountability.
    If you really need this, a good version control system can give you the information for this.  Sign-offs and other types of accountability documentation are typically just waste that doesn’t actually help in process improvement.  Most people who are in high-compliance environments already have licenses and/or security clearances that provide this accountability.  If you software is working, however, then this isn’t even a concern as trust is built and bureaucracy can be reduced.

In my recent training programs as research for this article, I have surveyed over 100 people on one aspect of documentation – code documentation.  Every individual surveyed is either currently coding or has a coding background, and every single person had the same answer to a simple scenario question:

Imagine that you have just joined a new organization and you are about to start working as a software developer.  One of the existing team members comes up to you and introduces himself.  He has with him a piece of paper with a complicated-looking diagram and a full binder that looks to be holding about 250 pages.  He asks you, “you need to get up to speed quickly on our existing system – we’re starting you coding tomorrow – would you prefer to go over the architecture diagram with me or would you prefer to review the detailed specifications and design documents.” He indicates the one-page diagram and the binder respectively.  Which would you prefer?

(I’ve put up a Survey Monkey one-question survey: Code Documentation Preference to extend the reach of this question.  It should take you all of 60 seconds to do it.  I’ll post results when I write the next Agile Manifesto essay in a month or two.)

The fact that everyone answers the same way is interesting.  What is even more interesting to me is that if you think through this scenario, it is actually almost the worst-case scenario where you might want documentation for your developers.  That means that in “better” cases where documentation for developers may not be as urgent or necessary, then the approach of just going to talk with someone is a lot better.

Documentation and Maps

The problem with documentation is the same problem we have with maps: “the map is not the territory” (quote from the wisdom of my father, Garry Berteig).  We sometimes forget this simple idea.  When we look at, say, Google Maps, we always have in the back of our consciousness that the map is just a guide and it is not a guarantee.  We know that if we arrive at a place, we will see the richness of the real world, not the simplified lines and colours of a map.  We don’t consider maps as legally binding contracts (usually).  We use maps to orient ourselves… as we look around at our reality.  We can share directions using maps, but we don’t share purpose or problems with maps.  And finally, maps assume that physical reality is changing relatively slowly (even Google Maps).

Many times when we create documentation in organizations, however, we get confused about the map versus the territory.

Agility and Documentation

Of course, code is a funny thing: all code is documentation too.  The code is not the behaviour.  But in software, code (e.g. Java, ASM, Scheme, Prolog, Python, etc.) is as close as possible to the perfect map.  Software is (mostly) deterministic.  Software (mostly) doesn’t change itself.  Software (mostly) runs in a state absent from in-place human changes to that software.  Software (mostly) runs on a system (virtual or physical) that has stable characteristics.  The code we write is a map.  From this perspective, documentation becomes even less important if we have people that already understand the language(s)/platform(s) deeply.


This essay is a continuation of my series on the Agile Manifesto.  The previous two essays are “Value and Values” and “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools“.

 

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New Video Series: Kanban in One Minute by Michael Badali

Check out our first video “Kanban Basics”.

Michael Badali is a Kanban expert with years of experience in Kanban and other Agile methods including nearly 2 years working as an internal coach at HP in China and the UK.

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Retrospective Technique: What Did You Learn?

Retrospectives are a key part of continuous improvement in Agile teams.  The retrospective techniques that a team uses should be adjusted to the needs of the team.  In a Scrum team, for example, the ScrumMaster will often decide on the techniques to use based on the current issues facing the team and then facilitate the retrospective for the team.  There are some great resources which give you collections of tried-and-true retrospective techniques including Esther Derby’s book “Agile Retrospectives” and the amazing online tool “Retr-o-mat“.  As an active consultant and trainer, I am always looking for new techniques to share with my clients.  Sometimes, I even create a new one (or at least new to me).  The “What Did You Learn” technique is new: I’ve been using it and testing it for a few years now to refine it.

What Did You Learn?

By itself, this is a powerful question.  As part of my work with OpenAgile, I’ve been helping teams and organization to focus on learning as an even broader category than continuous improvement.  The Learning Circle and the processes in OpenAgile help with focusing on learning.  The question “what did you learn?” is very open ended, and can certainly work as an extremely simple type of retrospective in OpenAgile or in Scrum or other Agile methods.  Often people like to have a little more structure and guidance so the “What Did You Learn?” retrospective technique provides four categories of learning for people to think about, share, and discuss within a team.

Setup

Setup for this retrospective is very simple: a flip chart or whiteboard divided into four sections or columns works fine, along with a piece of paper for each person in the retrospective, divided up the same way, and sufficient markers and pens for everyone.  Here is a downloadable PDF version of the handout for the “What Did You Learn” retrospective.

The facilitator will also participate at various points if they are a member of the team (e.g. a ScrumMaster).  It is easiest to do this with a group in-person, but can also be done reasonably well with video or teleconferencing.

Process

The facilitator introduces the retrospective with a welcome and, if necessary, a recitation of the Retrospective Prime Directive.  Then, the process is described to the group.  Each of the categories of learning is also explained as follows:

  • Questions.  When you can formulate a question about something, it means that you have learned about a gap in your knowledge.  In other words, you have discovered something that you would like to learn.
  • Information / Data / Facts.  These are specific details that relate to some area of knowledge or skill.  This category of learning is the simplest and is often what people focus on when asked “what did you learn?”  Information tends to be dry and unemotional.
  • Insights / Concepts / “Aha!” Moments.  Often when we have a collection of facts or an experience, we see a pattern or make interesting connections between things.  This leads us to the great feeling of an insight.  Insights tend to be exciting or scary and have an emotional component.
  • Action Items.  These are decisions about what we would like to do in the future, but they could be extremely short-term or very long-term or anything in between.

There are three main stages in the retrospective as follows:

  1. Individual Reflection.  For 10 to 15 minutes, each individual works silently to write down the things that they have learned in the appropriate category on the handout.  Everyone should try to get at least a couple things into each of the four categories, but more is welcome.
  2. Sharing with the Group.  Systematically going around the group and getting people to read from what they have written.  This is another 10 to 15 minutes.  This stage should not get bogged down in discussion, but brief clarifying questions should be welcome.
  3. Identifying Important Learning.  The group now has open discussion to decide on a small number of things it considers the most important that it has learned.  This could be based on popularity, but impact, depth, or uniqueness might also be factors in considering importance.  These are the items that get written down on the flip-chart.  This is usually the longest part of the retrospective and can take up to 30 minutes.

Applicability

This is an excellent retrospective for a team that is going through a significant transition such as starting a new project, a major change in business direction for a product, or as a wrap up technique for sharing lessons learned with other parts of an organization.  It is not a good technique for a brand new team that hasn’t worked together before as there will be little common ground for deciding on the importance of peoples’ various shared learning.

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Announcing: The Real Agility Program

Real Agility Program LogoThe Real Agility Program is an Enterprise Agile change program to help organizations develop high-performance teams, deliver amazing products, dramatically improve time to market and quality, and create work environments that are awesome for employees.

This article is a written summary of the Executive Briefing presentation available upon request from the Real Agility Program web site.  If you obtain the executive briefing, you can follow along with the article below and use it to present Real Agility to your enterprise stakeholders.

The Problem

At Berteig Consulting we have been working for 10 years to learn how to help organizations transform people, process and culture.  The problem is simple to state: there is a huge amount of opportunity waste and process waste in most normal enterprise-scale organizations.  If you have more than a couple hundred people in your organization, this almost certainly affects you.

We like to call this problem “the Bureaucratic Beast”.  The Bureaucratic Beast is a self-serving monster that seems to grow and grow and grow.  As it grows, this Beast makes it progressively more difficult for business leaders to innovate, respond to changes in the market, satisfy existing customers, and retain great employees.

Real Agility, a system to tame the Bureaucratic Beast, comes from our experience working with numerous enterprise Agile adoptions.  This experience, in turn, rests on the shoulders of giants like John Kotter (“Leading Change”), Edgar Schein (“The Corporate Culture Survival Guide”), Jim Collins (“Good to Great” and “Built to Last”), Mary Poppendieck (“Lean Software Development”) Jon Katzenbach (“The Wisdom of Teams”) and Frederick Brooks (“The Mythical Man-Month”).  Real Agility is designed to tame all the behaviours of the Bureaucratic Beast: inefficiency, dis-engaged staff, poor quality and slow time-to-market.

Studies have proven that Agile methods work in IT.  In 2012, the Standish Group observed that 42% of Agile projects succeed vs. just 14% of projects done with traditional “Bureaucratic Beast” methods.  Agile and associated techniques aren’t just for IT.  There is growing use of these same techniques in non-technoogy environments such as marketing, operations, sales, education, healthcare, and even heavy industry like mining.

Real Agility Basics: Agile + Lean

Real Agility is a combination of Agile and Lean; both systems used harmoniously throughout an enterprise.  Real Agility affects delivery processes by taking long-term goals and dividing them into short cycles of work that deliver valuable results rapidly while providing fast feedback on scope, quality and most importantly value.  Real Agility affects management processes by finding and eliminating wasteful activities with a system view.  And Real Agility affects human resources (people!) by creating “Delivery Teams” which have clear goals, are composed of multi-skilled people who self-organize, and are stable in membership over long periods of time.

There are lots of radical differences between Real Agility and traditional management (that led to the Bureaucratic Beast in the first place).  Real Agility prioritizes work by value instead of critical path, encourages self-organizing instead of command-and-control management, a team focus instead of project focus, evolving requirements instead of frozen requirements, skills-based interactions instead of roles-based interaction, continuous learning instead of crisis management, and many others.

Real Agility is built on a rich Agile and Lean ecosystem of values, principles and tools.  Examples include the Agile Manifesto, the “Stop the Line” practice, various retrospective techniques, methods and frameworks such as Scrum and OpenAgile, and various thinking tools compatible with the Agile – Lean ecosystem such as those developed by Edward de Bono (“Lateral Thinking”) and Genrich Altshuller (“TRIZ”).

Real Agility acknowledges that there are various approaches to Agile adoption at the enterprise level: Ad Hoc (not usually successful – Nortel tried this), Grassroots (e.g. Yahoo!), Pragmatic (SAFe and DAD fall into this category), Transformative (the best balance of speed of change and risk reduction – this is where the Real Agility Program falls), and Big-Bang (only used in situations of true desperation).

Why Choose Transformative?

One way to think about these five approaches to Agile adoption is to compare the magnitude of actual business results.  This is certainly the all-important bottom line.  But most businesses also consider risk (or certainty of results).  Ad-Hoc approaches to Agile adoption have poor business results and a very high level of risk.  Big-Bang approaches (changing a whole enterprise to Agile literally over night) often have truly stunning business results, but are also extremely high risk.  Grassroots, where leaders give staff a great deal of choice about how and when to adopt Agile, is a bit better in that the risk is lower, but the business results often take quite a while to manifest themselves.  Pragmatic approaches tend to be very low risk because they often accommodate the Bureaucratic Beast, but that also limits their business results to merely “good” and not great.  Transformative approaches which systematically address organizational culture are just a bit riskier than Pragmatic approaches, but the business results are generally outstanding.

More specifically, Pragmatic approaches such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) are popular because they are designed to fit in with existing middle management structures (where the Bureaucratic Beast is most often found).  As a result, there is slow incremental change that typically has to be driven top-down from leadership.  Initial results are good, but modest.  And the long term?  These techniques haven’t been around long enough to know, but in theory it will take a long time to get to full organizational Agility.  Bottom line is that Pragmatic approaches are low risk but the results are modest.

Transformative approaches such as the Real Agility Program (there are others too) are less popular because there is significantly more disruption: the Bureaucratic Beast has to be completely tamed to serve a new master: business leadership!  Transformative approaches require top-to-bottom organizational and structural change.  They include a change in power relationships to allow for grassroots-driven change that is empowered by servant leaders.  Transformative approaches are moderate in some ways: they are systematic and they don’t require all change to be done overnight. Nevertheless, often great business results are obtained relatively quickly.  There is a moderate risk that the change won’t deliver the great results, but that moderate risk is usually worth taking.

Regardless of adoption strategy (Transformative or otherwise) there are a few critical success factors.  Truthfulness is the foundation because without it, it is impossible to see the whole picture including organizational culture.  And love is the strongest driver of change because cultural and behavioural change requires emotional commitment on the part of everyone.

Culture change is often challenging.  There are unexpected problems.  Two steps forward are often followed by one step back.  Some roadblocks to culture change will be surprisingly persistent.  Leaders need patience and persistence… and a systematic change program.

The Real Agility Program

The Real Agility Program has four tracks or lines of action (links take you to the Real Agility Program web site):

  1. Recommendations: consultants assess an organization and create a playbook that customizes the other tracks of the Real Agility Program as well as dealing with any important outliers.
  2. Execution: coaches help to launch project, product and operational Delivery Teams and Delivery Groups that learn the techniques of grassroots-driven continuous improvement.
  3. Accompaniment: trainer/coaches help you develop key staff into in-house Real Agility Coaches that learn to manage Delivery Groups for sustainable long-term efforts such as a product or line of business.
  4. Leadership: coaches help your executive team to drive strategic change for long-term results with an approach that helps executives lead by example for enterprise culture change.

Structurally an enterprise using Real Agility is organized into Delivery Groups.  A Delivery Group is composed of one or more Delivery Teams (up to 150 people) who work together to produce business results.  Key roles include a Business leader, a People leader and a Technology leader all of whom become Real Agility Coaches and take the place of traditional functional management.  As well, coordination across multiple Delivery Teams within a Delivery Group is done using an organized list of “Value Drivers” maintained by the Business leader and a supporting Business Leadership Group. Cross-team support is handled by a People and Technology Support Group co-led by the People and Technology leaders.  Depending on need there may also be a number of communities of practice for Delivery Team members to help spread learning.

At an organizational or enterprise level, the Leadership Team includes top executives from business, finance, technology, HR, operations and any other critical parts of the organization.  This Leadership Team communicates the importance of the changes that the Delivery Groups are going through.  They lead by example using techniques from Real Agility to execute organizational changes.  And, of course, they manage the accountability of the various Delivery Groups throughout the enterprise.

The results of using the Real Agility Program are usually exceptional.  Typical results include:

  • 20x improvement in quality
  • 10x improvement in speed to market
  • 5x improvement in process efficiency
  • and 60% improvement in employee retention.

Of course, these results depend on baseline measures and that key risk factors are properly managed by the Leadership Team.

Your Organization

Not every organization needs (or is ready for) the Real Agility Program.  Your organization is likely a good candidate if three or more of the following problems are true for your organization:

  • high operating costs
  • late project deliveries
  • poor quality in products or services
  • low stakeholder satisfaction
  • managers overworked
  • organizational mis-alignment
  • slow time-to-market
  • low staff morale
  • excessive overtime
    or…
  • you need to tame the Bureaucratic Beast

Consider that list carefully and if you feel like you have enough of the above problems, please contact us at tame.the.beast@berteigconsulting.com. or read more about the Real Agility Program for Enterprise Agility on the website.

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Super-Hard ScrumMaster Quiz – Test Yourself!

For a little while last year I was using a quiz in my Certified ScrumMaster courses that was deliberately designed to be super hard.  Why?  Because if anyone could answer it correctly before the end of the class, I would give them their certification early and allow them to leave.  Not a single person out of several hundred was able to do it.

So… want to give it a try?  I’ve got two files here.  One is the quiz without answers.  The other is the answer key.  Let me know if you have any questions!!!

CSM Class Test – Super Hard! (PDF, 1 page)

(Please, give it a try before you even download this next piece!!!)

CSM Class Test – Answer Key (PDF, 1 page)

This test was first created by me and one of my close colleagues, Julien Mazloum from Outsofting.  We were trying to make the CSM class something that the Chinese audience would really appreciate culturally.  It worked well, up to a point.  The main problem was that some of the questions were too subtle for people for whom English was their second language.  That said, when I used it in my North American courses, still no one passed it!  In fact, the best score I ever saw was 25 correct out of 30.

Have fun!

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Retrospectives: A Quick Random Retrospective Generator

Thanks to my good friend Deborah Hartmann Preuss for showing me this great tool: Retr-O-Mat – Inspiration (and Plans) for Agile Retrospectives.  It’s a great way of generating a plan for your retrospective if you’re feeling a lack of inspiration!  Includes all five stages of a retrospective: set the stage, gather data, generate insights, decide what to do, and close the retrospective.

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Leveraging the Team for Good PDPs (if you need them)

I am currently working with a relatively new Scrum team (5 Sprints/weeks young) that needs to rewrite their Personal Development Plans (PDPs) in order to better support Scrum and the team.  PDPs are still the deliverables of individuals required by the organization and likely will be for some time.  The organization is still in the early days of Agile adoption (pilots) and they are large.  So, instead of giving them a sermon on why metrics for managed individuals are bad, I am going to help them take the step towards Agility that they are ready to take.

The Plan:

  • Facilitate a team workshop to create an initial Skills Matrix;
  • work as a team to develop a PDP for each individual team member that directly supports the team’s high-performance Goal (already established)—
    • in other words, when considering an appropriate PDP per individual, the team will start with the team’s performance Goal and build the individual PDP from there;
  • develop a plan as a team for how the team will support each team member to fulfill his/her individual PDP—
    • in other words, all individual PDPs will be part of the team’s plan for team improvement;
  • Internally publish the plan (share with management).

I’ll follow up with another post to let everyone know how it goes.

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The Rules of Scrum: I am willing to learn any skill needed to help my team

Scrum Team Members, excluding the ScrumMaster and Product Owner, must be completely open-minded to learning new skills.  Skills can be technical, business, personal, tools-based, etc.  A Team Member is sensitive to the needs of the Scrum Team and will learn skills by multiple means as the needs of the team evolve.  A Scrum Team where people are not willing to learn new skills will suffer from bottlenecks, time pressure, quality problems, and often will become generally demoralized as the willingness of some people on the team turns into apathy and cynicism when others refuse to learn.  In a team where everyone is willing to learn new skills, there will be a consistent raising of capacity and the team will be able to do more and more work more effectively.  This attitude is a key requirement for the formation of high performance teams.

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Scrum Master, Process Facilitator, Growth Facilitator. Managers or Leaders or Neither?

“I now can see why Corporations have such a hard time identifying the Scrum Master in their organizations. Scrum Masters basically don’t fit either category, yet most corporate hiring is done based on hiring of “leaders” and “managers”.”

For the complete text click here

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Announcing our winter 2012 course schedule

Hi Everyone!

We have delayed announcing our winter 2012 schedule until now because we have been working on a new platform for listing our courses and creating a community environment for people who have taken our courses.  So, without further ado, I would like to offer to you: World Mindware!

Since we are agile ourselves, this site is still very basic.  We have our list of courses and you are able to register for courses.  However, we welcome feedback of all kinds including bug reports, suggestions for improvements or requests for assistance.  Please contact operations@berteigconsulting.com if you have any feedback about the site.

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Cultivating a Learning Culture

I’ve recently joined Berteig Consulting Inc., and we are wrapping up our first cycle as a new team. The last two weeks has been an extraordinarily rich experience for me in a multitude of ways.

The time I’ve spent reviewing various online and published Agile reference materials, thinking deeply about the concepts in the Agile Manifesto and Principles, studying some in-house materials and portions of different books about agile coaching and retrospectives has been really useful to my deepening in the concepts surrounding the framework of Agile. Even more helpful though has been the fact that I have had the opportunity to complement this reading and studying with action and engagement with our clients, and that our team has been so open to the reflections I’ve shared and has shared their own. Previous experiences have taught me that familiarity with resources and guidance, without practical application, can be limiting and create an over-intellectualization of concepts that, when divorced from action, can create an artificial version of reality, and that makes me even more appreciative for the time I’ve been able to spend interacting with clients and thinking about what I’ve been reading about and how this would be applicable to their teams.

Our team regularly articulates and works to apply concepts we think are foundational to growth and transformation, such as truthfulness, consultation, and agility in thinking and action at the individual and group level. I’ve found that our ongoing communication in our team room and reflection throughout the day has been instrumental in creating a space that is open and forward moving for us.

I’ve also realized a lot of factors have contributed to the culture of learning we are continually developing in our team, including our openness and honesty during progress meetings, our efforts to use consultation as a guide and instrument when we’re trying to make decisions, the actions we take to complete a task, and our readiness to respond to change. I think we’re also all really aware in our team how important our approach to the process of learning is. I’ve found this manifested in different team members in different ways: experienced ones practice coupling expertise with humility, others display incredible levels of patience and servitude to the team, still others animate the group with high levels of joy and kindness.

We also each seem to have a very conscious appreciation for the new culture we are trying to create within our team, which will help us in accompanying other teams to develop as well. Personally, I am continually striving to transform my actions to reflect what I learn through each experience each day and feel that the individuals on our team are doing the same. We increase our understanding of how to transform our own actions and those of the team as a unit as we apply what we are learning simultaneously to areas and interactions beyond ourselves. From what I’ve seen so far, transformation is a key concept with every team we are engaged with, and I think that we can contribute to that process a lot more if we are also always trying as a team to do the same.

The spirit of collaboration I have experienced within our team and with our clients has been really uplifting to me and for that I thank each of you, my collaborators, for your contributions and all that we have been able to do and learn together.

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The Agile Planning Onion is Wrong

The concept is simple: there are six levels of planning in an organization, often represented as layers of a metaphorical onion. In the agile planning onion, strategy is the outermost layer. This is meant to indicate that it is the driver of all the planning in the inner layers, which have shorter time horizons, down to the daily planning that occurs in the Daily Scrum or the Daily Standup of the agile teams.

Culture is Missing

The agile planning onion is a reasonable metaphor, but it has a serious limit: culture is missing. Many of you will have heard the quote “Culture eats strategy for lunch [or breakfast]” (attributed to quite a number of different people – I’m not going to sort out who was the original). How do we represent culture on the onion? Is it a seventh layer on the outside? Maybe, but for most organizations, culture is not planned.

Single Loop Learning

The main problem with the planning onion is that it gives no indication that the planning cycles deal with anything but the product / business side of the work. This implication of single-minded focus gives us permission to limit ourselves to improving our products. This is learning, but it is limited. It is sometimes referred to as “single loop learning”. We make improvements, but never question our underlying beliefs, habits or goals. All improvement (and planning) is within the narrow guard rails of a product mentality.

Double Loop Learning

Culture both surrounds the planning onion, and cuts right through it (nice way to extend the metaphor!) The problem with a visual metaphor that does not include culture is it means that culture remains unconscious. As individuals we might, from time-to-time, find that the organization’s culture clashes with our own expectations, habits or beliefs. But other than this occasional dissonance, we are like onions in dirt – completely unaware of the dirt, yet completely utterly dependent upon it for growth (couldn’t use “fish in water” because that would have introduced a different metaphor – I’m trying for consistency).

In the best agile transformations, individuals, teams and organizations become aware of their culture and consciously work to change it. This is usually due to a strong clash between their current culture, and the behaviors, norms and attitudes of a embryonic agile culture. In Scrum, we find impediments and remove them. In OpenAgile we look for learning about product, process and people. This is, again, roughly speaking, double loop learning… it is learning about learning and applying this to our belief systems, our habits and our attitudes.

Transformation vs. Adoption

Those who share the agile planning onion model, probably don’t realize its limits. I would like to strongly encourage those who use this model to consider re-framing it in terms of culture and organizational learning, rather than planning. I’m terrible at diagrams – I hope someone out there will consider creating a new compelling Agile Learning Onion diagram to show that agile is about Transformation, not merely adoption of planning practices.

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Case Study: Agile Process and a Twist on “20 Percent Time” for a Self-Organizing Volunteer Team

Cross-posted from the personal blog of David D. Parker: A Changemaker in the Making

I am engaged in a learning process with a charity that has undertaken to implement a new model of volunteer coordination based on OpenAgile, an open source agile method.  We recently held an orientation with our new volunteers.  In the hopes that this information will be useful to others who are trying to innovate on their  model of volunteer coordination, here are the instructions I shared with the volunteers.  In summary, they cover our process for sharing tasks, the tools we use to communicate with each other, and our use of what we are calling “60/40 time” a twist on Google’s “20 percent time“.

ORIENTATION INSTRUCTIONS:

I. Agile Volunteer Team Process

We are all here to support the charity. We are inspired by its mission and goals, and we want to help in a way that draws on all of our abilities, knowledge, skills, and creativity.
Our team uses a specific system for producing valuable results. We work in Cycles of 5 weeks. The charity’s staff talk with the stakeholders and decide what steps are necessary for accomplishing the organization’s goals. Each one of these steps, called Value Drivers, add up to providing value for the stakeholders once they’re delivered. The staff also decide the priority order for completing the Value Drivers.
In week 1 of the Cycle, there is a planning meeting with all the volunteers who are committed to doing work during the 5 week Cycle. All volunteers are urged to attend and participate.
  1. The meeting begins with reflecting on the results of the previous Cycle. These observations and lessons are an important part of the planning process.
  2. Next, the team of volunteers works together to create a Cycle Plan by taking the highest priority Value Driver and breaking it down into tasks. Tasks are represented by sticky notes on the wall.
  3. Third, the volunteer team counts the number of tasks needed to complete the highest priority Value Driver. If the past Cycle showed that the team can complete more tasks, then the team takes the next Value Driver in the list and breaks it down into tasks. This process continues until the team makes a unified decision that it has taken on the amount of work it can actually accomplish.
  4. The last part of the meeting is commitment. Everyone shares the responsibility for completing the Value Driver (represented by multiple tasks) by the end of the Cycle of work. Therefore each volunteer must truthfully commit to completing the work. If a volunteer is not comfortable committing to all the work on the task wall, then some tasks must be removed until everyone is able to commit.
In week 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the Cycle, the team of volunteers complete the tasks in the Cycle Plan (aka “doing work”).
  1. Volunteers are free to take whatever task is of interest to them. If they need more information about the task, they ask the other volunteers or the staff for details.
  2. When a volunteer begins a task, they sign their name on the bottom of the sticky and move the task into the “in progress” column.
  3. When a volunteer completes a task, they move the task into the “done” column.
  4. There are weekly conference calls where all the volunteers check in. They answer 4 simple questions
    1. What did I do last week?
    2. What will I do this week?
    3. What did I learn/observe?
    4. What obstacles, if any, are affecting my ability to do work?
  5. New tasks can be added to the wall based on any of the volunteers’ observations, obstacles, clarifications, questions, urgent new tasks, etc. If you add a new task to the wall, add your name to the bottom of the task, so that other volunteers can know who to go to for questions. Note that these new tasks must also be completed by the end of the 5 week Cycle.
At the end of the 5 week Cycle, the team presents the valuable results it has produced to the charity staff/stakeholders. Any insights, observations, corrections, etc. are factored into the next Cycle Plan.

II. Communication Tools

Over the time we have worked together, the volunteer team has decided to use a few tools to help us communicate. The main tool is the task wall and sticky notes. The secondary tool is a shared Gmail account.
NOTE: This list of instructions is a working, evolving document; it is not set in stone. Volunteers are encouraged to work together and adapt the way we do things to create a system that works well for all of us.
ACCOUNT INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Login and read new messages
  2. Emails in the Inbox means there is work to be done (if the task is complete, archive the email to remove from the Inbox aka the To Do List)
  3. Apply Labels – Gmail doesn’t use folders; it uses labels instead. Apply labels to emails to assist other volunteers with how to treat the content of that message.
  4. Write up volunteer tasks for the task wall (Note: Label as “Task Written & Posted”)
  5. Get work done:
  6. Move the task on the wall to in progress
  7. If the task came from an email, label the task with your name
  8. When the task is complete, label as “Task Complete” and archive the email so it doesn’t appear in the Inbox
CURRENT LABELS:
  • ??? – this means more information or context is required to understand the request –> ASK QUESTIONS, or get help, to complete the task
  • By Volunteer Name –> This means the task/email is in progress; A volunteer labels the email with their name when they accept responsibility for a particular task
  • FYI (For Your Information) – these are emails that contain information that is relevant to volunteers, but does not necessarily require action be taken. If action is required, write up a task and post it on the wall)
  • Task Complete – Use this to label When a task is complete; archive the email so it doesn’t appear in the Inbox
  • Task Written & Posted – apply this label after you write up the task and post it on the wall
  • Social Media – these are emails that apply specifically to social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Website – these emails are relevant to website updates

III. What is 60/40 Time?

There are many reasons why people volunteer.  Here is a short list that comes from Molly Schar’s article Making the Most of Nonprofit Volunteers:
  • Belief in the mission of the charity
  • Desire to “give back”
  • Meet new people
  • Make new business contacts
  • Invited or inspired by another volunteer or staff member
  • Improve resume
  • Learn new skills
  • Benefits such as free events
We want all of our volunteers to get the most out of their experience here. Rather than insisting that every moment of a volunteer’s time be spent on completing tasks on the wall, we ask you to split your time 60/40. We want to give our volunteers freedom to spend a large portion of time doing things that satisfy their motivations while still providing value to the organization. For example, if someone has an interest in building skills in using social media, but there aren’t currently any tasks on the wall related to social media, the volunteer would be encouraged to use 40% of their time using social media to benefit the charity. The remaining 60% of the time is essential for delivering other important results to the organization. We aspire to having a trusting environment, so it is up to you to monitor how you’re spending your time. During progress updates, all volunteers are encouraged to share what they’ve accomplished during their 40% time. This will help other volunteers to learn what motivates their teammates and will give the team information that can be integrated into future Cycle Plans.
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More Agile Practices for Social Innovation, Non-Profits, Charities and Volunteer Organizations

I have started composing a series of articles on my blog A Changemaker in the Making that are intended to briefly explain how to apply different agile practices to the work of social innovators, non-profits, charities and volunteer organizations.

The first article covers Self-Organizing Teams an important consideration for organizations that want to use their people resources more efficiently and to create a culture of empowerment.

The second article explores The Agile Workspace and ways to create an environment that is conducive to fruitful interaction.

Enjoy!

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