Awesome Agile Article about the Retrospective

Glen Wang, a former student of mine, has written another fantastic article about Scrum called “The Retrospective: Know Yourself and Adapt to the World“.

I love Glen’s philosophical take on things!  This article is strongly recommended to any ScrumMasters, Process Facilitators and Agile Coaches out there!

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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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Agile is Not Communism

Last week I taught an introductory course on Agile Work. Normally this is pretty easy stuff. However, I was teaching this course in Bucharest, Romania (cool), and I have come across a substantial, strong and vigorous objection to agile (also cool, but challenging too). Several people in my class are asserting that agile is just like communism and since communism failed, agile is not likely to succeed either. I’m looking for help on this!

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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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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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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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It’s NOT About the Money

David Anderson, on the ScrumDevelopment Yahoo! group asked, somewhat rhetorically:
Is agile about economic benefit or not?

I would like to assert, without much to back this up, that agile is not about economic benefit.

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An Introduction to General Systems Thinking

I recently completed reading An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg. Since it was mind-blowingly fantastic, I thought I should probably write a brief review of it so you-all can check it out!

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Agile Axioms – A Brief Exposition

The previous article was interesting enough for me that I wrote it up real nice, got it edited, and published it as a downloadable pdf. Check it out at the Berteig Consulting Inc. Agile Work Resources page. There is also a whitepaper about Agile and Lean and a one-page Agile Work Cheat Sheet. Have fun!

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Bombs and Agile

The coach’s gathering last weekend also got me thinking about the ethics of Agile Work and coaching. Is it okay to use agile methods for destructive purposes?

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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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Catastrophe, Crisis and Victory

Today I came across Tobias Mayer’s article Catastrophic Organizational Change. Much as his thoughts on the topic resonate with me, I think there is something still missing.

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Agile, the Adult Educator and Ethical Considerations

A review of Tara J. Fenwick’s “Limits of the Learning Organization: A Critical Look” (article found in Learning for life: Canadian readings in adult education).

This article is a critique of learning organization literature (as presented in the works of Peters, Senge, Watkins, Marsick, Argyris, Schon and others). I chose to do a review of it because learning organization literature can and does inform the work of Agile practitioners. The writer, Tara Fenwick, offers a critique of this literature as an academic and practitioner in the field of adult education. Even though the language and tone of the article is judgmental and at times affronting to the corporate trainer audience, it is never-the-less challenging and valuable because she raises interesting ethical questions that can serve as cautions against potential trends that can distort agile practice. I will summarize her argument in the some of the areas most relevant to Agile practice.

Fenwick’s summary of the model of learning organization found in the literature, is an organization that: “creates continuous learning opportunities, promotes inquiry and dialog, encourages collaboration and team learning, establishes systems to capture and share learning, empowers people toward collective vision and connects the organization to its environment.”

The following is a summary list of some of Fenwick’s critiques:

Who’s Interests are Served
Although the learning organization literature holds great promise for a more humanitarian and egalitarian workplace, it has the potential to distort learning “into a tool for competitive advantage” and in turn, exploit people as resources in the pursuit of profit. To explore this idea she asks a valuable question: “Who’s interests are being served by the concept of learning organization, and what relations of power does it help to secure?” She argues that learning organization literature tends to serve the interests of educators working as trainers in organizations and managers interested in their own self preservation.

How Learning is Defined
Learning, in learning organization literature seems to be defined as that which benefits the organization, all other learning falls into the dysfunctional category. This perspective negates other ways that people create meaning and learn and potentially causes a person to become “alienated from their own meaning and block flourishing of this learning into something to benefit the community.”

Assumptions about Learners
The learning organization literature subordinates employees by seeing them as “undifferentiated learners-in-deficit”. Educators and managers are the architects of the learning organization while employees are busy “learning more, learning better and faster” trying to correct their knowledge deficit. In the learning organization workers become responsible for the health of the organization without the authority to determine alternative ways to reach that health. The fear of being left behind in a quickly changing market environment is used to create anxiety and fear as motivations for learning. All of these factors serve to put serious limits on the potential of people to learn in the work environment.

Diversity and Privilege Overlooked
Perspectives of race, class and gender -which research has shown affects the way people learn and collaborate- are lacking in the literature. Fenwick challenges the notion of achieving a democratically ideal situation for open dialog -that the learning organization literature calls for- when all people in the work place do not “have equal opportunity to participate, reflect, and refute one another” (for example because of the status of ones job, character, gender, class, age etc.)

Fenwick sheds a clear light on where the good philosophies of the learning organization are found wanting. The Agile community can benefit from asking some of the same ethical questions she asks in relation to our work. Her critique is a good challenge for Agile practitioners. It challenges us to:

  • Continue to strive for higher levels of ethical excellence in our work
  • To consider issues of power in our work
  • To become conscious of how we use our own power
  • To give thought to what voices are included / excluded in the creation of the learning organization
  • Pay attention to how we motivate learners
  • How to foster collaborative environments that are conscious of the privileging of some over others
  • Think about who decides what is valuable knowledge and learning and how that affects the knowledge creation process

Reflecting on these issues will go a long way to contributing to the development of agile practice.

The full text of an old version of Fenwick’s article can be found here.

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Agile Coach/Mentor Job Description (Process Facilitator)

Given the Agile Axioms and Disciplines then an agile coach or mentor should have some really specific experience and capabilities. This list constitutes a first attempt at a job description.

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Tools Versus Capabilities Approach To Agile Training

Which approach is most valuable in training that fosters collaborative work for the purpose of optimizing the performance of an organization: a tools / methodologies approach or an inner capabilities approach? The typical orientation that most organizations take is often external and rule-based. This consists of creating methodologies, rules, boundaries, systems and processes to enhance collaboration.

These external approaches ultimately fail to have a lasting effect on people and the culture of the organization because they don’t address change at the level of habits of mind. People then work in the new structure with the same patterns of behaviour. Behind this kind of surface approach to change are assumptions about human nature. At worst this consists of a belief that people are base (greedy, selfish etc.) by nature. At best that people are fundamentally good but cannot improve except through external measures. It is true that we need external systems and structures to give expression to our inner capabilities, to test, foster and develop them in action. However all the investment that companies make in tools, systems, methodologies are obviously not enough. We need both external and internal approaches to training people in collaborative processes. Systems and tools provide only a framework that then need to be filled in with character. At the core of Agile there are disciplines (such as Empower the Team, Amplifly Learning) without which the methodologies would have no life. The practice of the disciplines fostered by the development of inner capabilities infuses life into the Agile methods and at the same time the methods act on and reinforce the inner practice of the disciplines.

As Agile champions (coaches, facilitators, practitioners) we must invest energy on fostering -through modelling and coaching- the development of inner capabilities. The Agile community will benefit from an identification of core capabilities required and a deep exploration of how to foster their development in individuals, teams and organizations.

Although it is our nature to organize in groups and we may have much experience with collaboration, we nevertheless live in a culture of contest and individualism. Out of this culture comes a set of belief systems which are so deeply rooted in our lives that we are not fully conscious of them and their affect on us. These belief systems cannot change easily through the introduction of external structures alone.

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