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 – The One About The Queen With No Heart

  Queen of Hearts 2

Who’s been painting my roses red?

WHO’S BEEN PAINTING MY ROSES RED?

Who dares to taint

With vulgar paint

The royal flower bed?

For painting my roses red

Someone will lose his head.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was smart, who got things done. She was single minded in her pursuit of the results. She was focused. She seemed to have a perfect life and all the things she could ever want. But the higher up the corporate ladder she climbed, the more self-important she became and the lonelier and unhappier she was.

She was a brittle, one dimensional, self-centered monarch and nobody liked her. Like Lewis Carrolls character  from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that he pictured as a ‘blind fury’ she was quick to decree sentences at the slightest offense. She was the Queen of Hearts She was me some years ago – and she had no heart

I have been on my own road to Damascus. When Saul became the Apostle Paul, he said don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others, be humble and think of others as better than yourself.

Paul was an Agile guy.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader and I love this example of the agile leadership heart set. Picture a rough country road leading through the wilderness to a river where a dozen soldiers are working hard to build a bridge with insufficient resources and manpower. It’s 1776 and the Revolutionary War is underway. An impressive looking man approaching on a fine stallion and asking the weary workers, “You don’t have enough men for the job, do you?” In reply, the lieutenant in charge states, “No, the men will need a lot more help if we are to finish the bridge on time.” “I see,” replies the man from his horse. “Why aren’t you helping the men?  I notice you’re just standing back watching them work.” “That, sir, is because I am an officer!” snaps the lieutenant. “I lead, I don’t do.” “Indeed,” says the mounted man. At this point he dismounts his horse, rolls up his sleeves and works under the hot sun with the men for hours. ‘Upon completion he remounts his horse and says to the lieutenant, “The next time you have too much work and not enough men, the next time you are too important or high ranking or proud to work, send for the commander-in chief and I will come again.” The distinguished man was General George Washington. The impression he left for servant leadership is timeless. And if you think of all the great inspirational leaders they are compassionate and selfless. They put the needs of the people who they serve ahead of themselves. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela…. They inspire you to follow Agile leadership is the ability to internally motivate people, through trust, to accomplish the teams higher purpose, goals and objectives.  The Agile leader is defined by security, integrity, selflessness, and compassion. As with command control, without these traits, followership is typically defined by necessity, external controls, or maybe fear, which only reduces the potential of both leader and follower. I am reminded of a function I went to a few years ago, I was excited because this was the first time I had ever been invited to an ‘executive’ event and the senior management team were going to be there.  After the speeches the executive huddled around in a closed circle only talking to each other, they dressed exactly the same and laughing at the same jokes, comparing sports cars and the best restaurants. They were much smaller than I thought they would be and I remember thinking – none of you are interested in people that work for you.   And I thought your not worthy of my followship. In Simon Sineks eloquent Why Leaders Eat Last he describes those leaders who aim to raise their own status simply so they can enjoy the perks themselves without fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders. While they may achieve alpha status and rise in the ranks, possess talents and strengths that could earmark them for alpha status, they only become leaders when they accept the responsibility to protect those in their care. Selfish and power hungry, intoxicated by the chemicals, they can forget that their responsibility as a leader is to their people. Sadly this describes many senior leadership teams in traditional organisations. The ‘people’ leader in such organisations stands out because this executive is liked by the people, and is often least popular with his or her peers. Leaders are the ones willing to look out for those to the left of them and those to the right of them. Life requires leadership. What is yours? What would your family and your team say about you? Perhaps the most important question is, what defines your character that communicates your value of people? The answer to that question is essential in your character and Agile leadership stand. It will determine the level of ‘motivated trust’ that people will give you in followership. As Oswald Sanders states: “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.”

Adventures In Agile – The One About It Being Hard

broken wings

Agile is a culture

Its not a product or a set of processes, it’s a mind-set and Michael Sahota writes about this comprehensively in his survival guide to agile transformation. Scrum he says is designed to be disruptive and introduces new roles, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Team.

For a leadership team in the early stages of Agile transformation, the introduction of new concepts such as transparency, trust and collaboration can be emancipatory and emotional.

For some the early stages of the agile mindset shift it can feel like a transcendental experience, for me at least I spent a good 12 months firmly in this space.

I’d written about this in earlier articles as a consciousness awakening, I found others of the same ilk, some found me.

I can spot the difference because those that have made the shift are just different from those who haven’t. Perhaps it’s the transparency and collaboration factor, they seem to have a different energy, vibe and presence.

Now I am in privileged and humbled to be able to help others through this journey, while I am still on this journey myself.

It’s been described as an emotional roller coaster and in the very early stages of our journey the team likened it to being in an amusement park or a circus.

It’s magical, mysterious and powerful and right now it’s hard.

I think we’re all  facing the day to day reality that we are trying to change ourselves, how we work, our mindset and still operate within a larger organisation who are not Agile and that we must now operate in a dual culture.

We have all in our own ways opened our minds and have wholeheartedly embraced the change, we are getting better at inspecting and adapting everything we do, and we are moving through that really uncomfortable place where we are trying, succeeding and sometimes failing on the way to our goal.

But this agile transformation isn’t about us as a leadership team.

It’s about whom we have been entrusted to lead. Simon Sinek so eloquently describes this when he talks about why leadership matters. He says leaders set the tone and when a leader makes the choice to put the safety (feeling safe and a sense of belonging) and lives of the people inside the organisation first, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong.

So we are beginning to ask our people to help us rebuild an ecosystem and mindset which previously saw them not being trusted completely to get the job done, and where we did not create an inclusive environment that fostered trust, courage or transparency.

We are at the first stages of learning about servant leadership and what it might mean and it’s a natural partner with agile.

If we are no longer managers of people than who are we, what value do we bring?

But this isn’t about us

It’s about our people

Take these broken wings

Take these broken wings

And learn to fly again, learn to live so free

When we hear the voices sing

The book of love will open up and let us in

Take these broken wings

We Walk The Line

Frisa

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change and my role in it. Over the past 10 years I’ve interchangeably moved in and out of traditional change management roles and HR roles. Sometimes it’s been a dream and I feel I have been wildly successful and other times I think I’ve failed at it.

And its vexed me – why have my experiences and successes been variable?

I read Claire Le Grices article (the first of the 12 Blogs of Christmas hosted by HRMANZ). She said

 “Doing the right thing, or winning, or both, does not mean you will be in the majority, or liked, or successful, or even jubilant. However it doesn’t mean you have to stop”.

Her blog touched a nerve

Ask anyone about me and you’ll get a polarized response, either I am completely  amazing or I’m a pain in the proverbial. The latter is a really uncomfortable place to be for me and it used to generate a lot of negative self talk and introspection.

Maybe I’ve got a split personality.

When I started to evolve into (what I hope) is a creative networker, I met many folk of a similar ilk, and either we all have multiple identities or there is some rational explanation as to why in some situations we thrive and others which make us wilt. I loved this comment from Claire

It made me think of how it can be uncomfortable, or unpopular, (or both!) to challenge the status quo in our places of work. I imagine those of you reading this know what I mean. For some reason being the one to say ‘oh hang on, there may be a better way to do this’ can be a lonely role, and over the last couple of months I’ve learnt it is not specific to NZ”.

So maybe its got something to do with personality types.

I am an INTJ on the (MBTI).

Those letters mean that I prefer:

  • Introversion (I) [energy by myself] over Extraversion (E) [among people]
  • Intuition (N) [perceiving information from within my own construct] over Sensing (S) [perceiving information from others]
  • Thinking (T) [making decisions based on consciously weighing pros and cons] vs. Feeling (F) [making decisions based on feelings]
  • Judging (J) [structured and planned ] over Perceiving (P) [living a less structured life open to spontaneous events]

I am willing to chance that many of you (not saying all of you) who are at the forefront of ideation on the new “HR” or who are change agents share the combination of the N and T preferences (INTJ, ENTJ, INTP, ENTP). The “NT” and the “J” folk are members of the rational group, we excel at logic, conceptualization, strategy and abstract thinking.

And our crowd most highly values knowledge, truth, competence and autonomy.

For me personally this has been my greatest gift and my greatest curse

Our types are inherently driven to analyse and question many or all aspects of our environment. We seek to organize the information we mine, we discern patterns, principles, relationships and most importantly connections.

And because we seek to piece all of these elements together in a way that generates a complete puzzle; we can spot deficiencies and incoherence very early and very upfront – where others can’t. This cause and effect thinking will often see us reach conclusions about a current state very quickly.

Most of the N T people I know spend a significant amount of time and effort analyzing information and building their systems of knowledge – you know it – the constant whirl of mental activity waking at 3am in the morning and hitting on a solution. We are constantly thinking and evaluating, but we do this privately and others usually don’t see this. We are constantly in the ‘zone’.

We back our insights and we are very confident in our knowledge. Because of the systemic nature of our thinking, we see all of the parts to whole, the relationships between them and importantly the order and sequence they need to occur.

Personally I am more flexible than I used to be, I know with some recipes you can toss the ingredients in any order and get a good outcome. Others like a soufflé require more precision with timing. In both cases the outcomes are reliably predictive.

We learn with speed and we assimilate new information very rapidly because of our constantly evolving systems of knowledge and new knowledge is immediately organised with existing understandings.

And you might know that early creeping, sinking feeling of unease where you start to see the fundamental missing parts and know you’ll be pushing it uphill to convince anyone? Necessary I know – but I lose most of my sleep in this phase.

It can be slow going. Even when it’s blindingly obvious to us.

The good news is that in environments where there is good sponsorship and where our innovative and optimisation thinking will be welcomed – we do great – we are stars – we are happy – we shine. Start-ups, businesses truly wanting to transform and collaborate to do so – are the best gardens for us – we thrive and grow. This is where we are most valued.

Those dream projects happen here. The most challenging change problem statements are solved, worked through and true transformation happens.

But if we find ourselves in a situation with with sub optimal efficiency and where we are required to sacrifice authenticity, where asking the questions isn’t welcomed – then its not great.

And this I think this is where we are most likely to experience the variability of our ability to be successful, where we may have experienced conflict. The trick here is to choose very carefully what assignments to take on and which ones are better left to folk who don’t mind doing a bit of change and coms and that’s all.

Happily I’ve learnt , that some environments and some personalities I will find painful, to avoid the former if I can and to empathise with the latter. There are predicable systems and patterns there too.

I have finally accepted the gift, as you have or will

But we walk the line