Agile Bal Masqué

Mask

To the people

In the new world

Haven’t you heard

Everybody’s got a great life

We’re living in the blur

Tokio Hotel

After almost a year of being lost in an parallel space and time continuum of an Agile Transformation – I’ve learnt many things, Of most importance to me?

That Agile means different things to different people.

For some, agile means adopting ‘proper’ Scrum, working in iterations, daily inspection, adaption and transparency, collaboration and team work. For others, it can mean the waterfall-style development,with some aspects of the ceremonies and practices such as daily stand-up meetings.

I have definitely become less of a ‘purist’ when considering adopting agile outside of software development than working with development or project teams. I sense its somewhere between Shu and Ha in this operational context of agile transformation. Subsequently I’ve become obsessed with spotting Agile anti-patterns.

I’ve made many mistakes – the consolation is that this is supposed to be normal.

I hope you can learn from mine.

In your agile adoption or transformation journey, when this becomes unbalanced, you will experience and see some obvious symptoms.

If your approach is very process orientated with strict adherence to the Scrum processes with less emphasis on say transparency, team work and collaboration you probably won’t have a happy or high performing team but you’ll get some stuff done.

Inversely if you choose to adopt only some of the practices and ceremonies and focus on collaboration for example but aren’t inspecting and adapting with transparency then I think you could end up with a variation of agile which isn’t ‘pure’ Agile.

And does that really matter in the end?

Regardless of where you stand in this continuum, to be an Agile organisation or business unit I’ve formed the view that you need to have the right balance of Agile strategy, mind-set – people, interactions, behaviors, culture and processes, practices and tools for you. 

Different strokes suit different folks.

I think this is particularly relevant to Agile in an operational context.

After all, as long as you have some sort of agility it makes sense, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want their organisation or their change initiative to be more agile?

Scrum & Agile

Let’s revisit what Scrum is and its importance to Agile.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum. The Scrum Guide describes Scrum as a framework where teams can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum as a framework is lightweight, simple to understand but difficult to master. Edwin Dando has talked about this with me many times – I now well understand what he means.

“The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artefacts, and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage. The rules of Scrum bind together the events, roles, and artefacts, governing the relationships and interaction between them”.

Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage

And so common is it for Agile teams to find themselves skipping over the key components that it’s got its own term and Wikipedia definition – Wagile. Agile + Waterfall = Wagile.

“….that result from slipping from agile back into waterfall, doing a lot of short waterfalls and thinking it is agile”  

I think Scrum is an important framework and I’ve seen broad adherence as well as a more looser interpretation. The loose interpretations I used to freak out about. I’ve become more comfortable with the looser approach to method because I’ve also seen that the agile mindset and ways of working – do work!

And what can you do in the future to ensure you stay on track with your Agile Transformation journey with an approach that works for you? What’s important to consider?

Recruit for Agile Mindset/Experience

You can recruit for this and it’s critical that you do. You might get push back that it doesn’t really matter. You can teach any framework but it’s much harder and takes a long time to teach Agile mindset. Perhaps you’ve inherited the team or new people have joined. Induction and expectation setting then takes on real importance    

Agile Working – What’s Importance to Us?

Being really clear about Agile – what it is, what it means, how you experience it and see it. Taking the time to explain that the principles behind say your stand ups or your planning process. What does “Team” mean and what it feels like when everyone is collaborating? How is the way we work different for an individual not familiar with Agile concepts? How does this play out day to day?

Be Really Clear on Delegation

Delegation can work differently in Agile environments. For new managers joining an Agile environment this can be confusing. Scrum is clear about the relative roles and responsibility of the PO, SM and Team. Jurgen Appelos “Delegation Poker” is good for any new manager, functional lead or team member joining an Agile environment.

What is the Role Of The Manager in Agile?  

As with delegation, being clear and discussing what the role is and what it is not in Agile is super important. Does it mean consulting the team but making the final decisions? Or is it about facilitating a high performing team and what does that look like? While a manager isn’t in the Scrum team in that role, sometimes in operations a manager may also do work in the team but take that hat off.

Be Sure to Explain Where You Are & How You Got Here 

Agile is a journey and if you are moving from a traditional to Agile environment where individuals are typically signed off on their work, to a more collaborative, team oriented process, it’s vital to factor this into your Agile transition plan.

It takes time and coaching and effort. And be aware that it’s going to take more than just or two sprints for your team(s) to find their groove. Because, in the end, Agile is far more than a process change – it’s a game-changer for the entire business.

Over a 6 – 12 month period I would view as the foundation layer, learning and making mistakes, things won’t be perfect – and it is really important to be able to tell the story of that journey and the changes that have happened.

Because without this any one new cannot appreciate or understand what has gone before, what you have learned and how you got to today. Your unpicking at scale a hundred years of management practices and notions of how work can be done.

Self-Managing Teams Don’t Just Happen   

I used to believe that teams would just self-manage to the level to what I expected them to. This was naive. A team can be engaged but may not able to self manage say to the level of dev team because of relevant levels of expertise. Outside of software development you get into to notions of relevancy. So being able to self manage to the level of capability of that team and be realistic about the level of coaching support and guidelines needed.

David Marquet showed us In “Turn the Ship Around” to give the team the keys to ship without a gradual release of delegation aligned to competency will result in confusion and failure.

Agile Is Not For Everyone  

Some peoples brains are not wired that way and despite your best efforts won’t change. Help them find something fulfilling satisfactory elsewhere.

Transition Will Cause Resistance

I believe you cannot manage change, you can only help navigate it. There are too many variables. Naturally is it not going to be all smooth sailing, your changing their world and long held belief systems. Some people will just plain not like it,

Agile Isn’t A Silver Bullet 

Agile is not magic. We can’t produce something from nothing or make other trade-offs go away.  You can’t expect to maintain the status quo AND improve. It’s simply not the “real world.” You cannot a team to become self-managing overnight. You might not see any improvement to performance quickly because your Agile programme aligns at a point of time to balance the longer term with the now. And then you’ll see results. The trick is knowing what point that is and ensuring alignment to that point,

To me Agile is all about embracing the uncertainty of change and learning how to use it to your advantage.

And becoming Agile means being open to possibilities and options.

Being Agile is understanding what innovation truly means in the same sense that an artist understands what “creativity” means.

I can explain the values, principles, practices, and dynamics of agile culture to someone, but I can’t tell them how to be innovative.

That’s something that has to come from within – the want to be truly great, to be better than you ever thought possible.

It’s uncomfortable, change.

And, through discomfort, we learn and grow.

Adventures in Agile – Going To Abilene

Aberline

I’d been reading aloud to my husband chapters from The Humane Workplace by my friend Amanda Sterling. In Collaborative Communities, she talks about the myth that an open plan office will make authentic, transparent communication and collaboration happen. She says that group think is also more likely to emerge when physical boundaries are removed, as the lack of boundaries encourages homogeneity because people are nervous about standing out as individuals.

I have seen this Abilene Paradox happen in new teams, old teams even. It can be confounding and not without irony when faced with this phenomenon in Agile teams – I personally find it the mother of agile anti-patterns to deal with.

Merely saying you want self management, self directed teams – does not make it magically happen even within the context of good and fertile systems and conditions.

So what is the Abilene Paradox? And why should we care?

The term was introduced by  Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.

On a hot afternoon in a family is comfortably sitting on a porch, the father-in-law suggests they go to Abilene, a town about 90 km away for dinner. The wife agrees and the husband, despite not really wanting to agrees too and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law says she wants to go as she hasn’t been tto Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I didn’t want to go I only went to satisfy the rest of you. The  wife says she went along to keep everyone happy.  The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it.

The phenomenon is explained by theories of social conformity and social influence which suggest human beings are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of a group. It may occur when individuals experience action-anxiety — stress concerning the group expressing negative attitudes towards them if they do not go along.

This action-anxiety arises from what Harvey termed “negative fantasies” — unpleasant visualizations of what the group might say or do if individuals are honest about their opinions — when there is “real risk” of displeasure and negative consequences for not going along. The individual may experience “separation anxiety”, fearing exclusion from the group. 

Travel the road to Abilene and you’ll arrive at a place where deeply held, logical values fall victim to group dynamics. It’s a bumpy ride that can culminate in meaningless outcomes and blame, but you can skip the trip if you know how to read the signs….

Lack of Transparency

This can happen when members of a team exhibit different opinions in a group setting as opposed to one on one. If people are telling you one thing and then offering their true opinions in private, not wanting to speak up in a group setting – then its suggestive of group think. Especially where the right conditions exist, ie a social contract is in place, team self-management is being actively desired and true opinions are being encouraged.

People will often “go along to get along” if they have any doubt at all about what will happen if they present opposition.

Members Discouraged To Lead

When someone on the team offers constructive dissent or starts to lead – the homogeneity of the group can be threatened. Anyone sticking their head up over the precipice may be told they are trying to manage. In Agile teams you even hear cries of “command and control”. Leadership is not command and control. In healthy mature self-managing teams different members will come forth at different times and lead. Self-management does not mean consensual homogeneity

Members Don’t Hold Each Other Account

For fear of upsetting anyone in the group, the group often won’t hold each other to account for the work being done (or not done)  If no-one feels the freedom to point out that the work hasn’t been completed in a sprint or where the definition of done wasn’t achieved, then no one wants to take responsibility for them either.  Anyone then holding the team to account as a peer can be ostracized, no longer welcome in the clique.

Members Exhibit A Lack of Trust

Eventually this lack of transparency erodes trust. Team politics can emerge and cliques can form. I’ve seen a whole team form a clique which excluded the poor Product Owner. This is symptom of a low maturity team mistakenly viewing the Product Owner as manager and creating a “them and us” dynamic.

SO WHAT DO WE DO?  

Look at the system that is enabling this anti pattern to exist, to thrive even. Change the system.

Make Room For Individuals

I use the Sail Boat, Wind and Anchor exercise (thanks to my “roomie” Kathleen Coulton Agile Coach, Trans America). You draw a boat on the board with sails on the sea. You draw the island as the Agile team destination and talk with the team about what will be their wind in the sails, and what the anchors weighing them down, you do this on stickies as an individual exercise which you then discuss as a team. Silent brainstorming is also another good technique. Or “round robins” where you collect on stickies everyone’s opinions.

Facilitate Don’t Manage Conflict         

Don’t seek to manage or smooth over conflict. Facilitate it, call it out in Retrospectives.  Help the team with practical tools like how to give impact feedback or the use of a Conflict Dynamics Model and how they will as a team agree to surface conflict.   Dealing successfully and openly with conflict can be most emancipatory for the team

Change the Language

Avoid language that plays to agreement in groups

Canvas each person’s opinion privately and then bring those views with you to the table rather than “is anyone opposed to this, because anyone slightly opposed won’t speak up. Don’t use rule by consensus where everyone must agree – I think that’s a common myth in Agile. Use data and transparency to make the best decisions

Educate That Agile Is Not A Free For All  – Its Leadership for All!

The team will have direction set and work within certain parameters but anyone can lead at any time. In an Agile environment, we are all expected to be leaders.  Anyone can trust and delegate, have a clear vision and communicate it to others.  Any team member can ask questions and solicit suggestions. Anyone can make a stand.

Agile is Simple But Hard!