Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Already and The Not Yet

In 1944, the US Coast Guard Cutter Eastwind, an icebreaker ship patrolling Greenland, discovered the German naval transport ship Externsteine trapped in ice. The German ship, transporting a crew and supplies for a weather station, surrendered without a fight. The German ship was rechristened the USS Eastbreeze and set sail to take this prize to Boston.

Now, the ship was under American control, flying an American flag and under the command of an American captain and some of the crew from Eastwind, but the German crew was still there, as well, a crew that for years had been under the authority and training of the German regime. Although the previous crew formally acknowledged the new authority of the Americans, it took time for individuals and groups to accept it. Perhaps there were excuses for why certain duties took so long, or to delay the trip or not keep things in good running order. It's easy to imagine how it would take even longer for the crew to act according to the rules of the captain, even when the captain would never know. Even longer to know the captain personally, such as why he did things differently and to even come to value those same things that made the captain who he was and why he ran the ship the way he did. 

The ship did eventually make it to Boston. Though it took longer than it would have with a solely American crew on a ship they already knew well, what arrived in Boston was not only the ship full of cargo, but a ship potentially full of people who understood, could believe in and perhaps even supporting the Allied cause.

Agile is full of promise and possibility. Agile is fraught with challenges and open space. There is so much to be gained at all levels of the organization when adopting agile, but there is no way to predict what specific challenges each person, or team or department will encounter. There's common problems, of course, but I've found many more uncommon problems. And there is no simpleton set of rules or turnkey solution for success that comprehensively predicted those issues. In the same way we explain why predicting a detailed plan for creating products does not work well, so to with expecting a detailed plan for going agile, a plan that takes away all fear, uncertainty, and risk. Your approach to adopting agile should also be iterative - team by team, evaluating results and planning next steps.

You have everything you need to succeed, you don't have what you need for your next step forward. Whatever information and resources that are necessary for you, your team and your organization to have a successful agile adoption are out there. What you need to do to bring the next right thing to bear for you, your team and your organization will always be the next thing to. The "already and not yet" of agile. 

With the new captain on board, the ship was now American, but at the same time, it was also not yet American. In deciding to adopt agile, your company is agile, but also not yet agile. The mission for each of us, within our role and authority (and perhaps more importantly, our sphere of influence) is to bring those aspects of what is true about agile into our projects and teams and organizations. 

Begin with you. Make sure that you are bringing agile into yourself. Do you value others? Do you value interactions, moving towards face-to-face meetings and away from email?  Be the change you want to see. If you want those around you to be willing to learn about agile, go learn about agile at your local user group, the next conference (or one of the other 31 things you can do today to be more agile). If you want them to be learning from each other, share what you're learning with others - start a weekly brown-bag book club, and quotes to your email, go have lunch with the other ScrumMasters or agilists in your company.

Know that it will take time. In the U.S. culture, we often want instant gratification, can be impatient, and easily forget previous progress. One of the most successful large agile adoptions I've recently heard of has been 22 months in the making. Another large company has several full time agile coaches helping  their adoption for over a year. Accept that it will take time, and help educate and set the expectations for others. That way, when issues arise (and they surely will) you've prepared decision makers to respond according to truth and reality rather than react emotionally.

It's all about the people. In the end, much of agile adoption is about culture change. Change is hard, and culture can be deeply rooted. Given that the agile manifesto points to valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools, we should always be aware that the focus of our time and energy, as well as key to addressing problems and issues, will be people over modifying the agile process or details of a roll-out plan. The most successful adoptions and problem solving have come when I've made a point to spend one-on-one time with the right people. The "right" people might be the most influential, or most vocal, or most frustrated. 

Be willing to invest in a journey that, although not the most shortest, will bring about the most change - genuine, enduring change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Principle of the Agile Path

After hearing Andy Stanley speak on The Principle of the Path, I realized that it addressed a number of issues that I commonly see with teams or organizations trying to start or grow their adoption of agile practices. I recently shared about the Principle of the Agile Path at the Agile Comes to You event in Orange County.

Years ago, I agreed to join my friend Joe on a hike up San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California. I purchased a map of the trails and got my equipment ready to go. Days before the hike, he decided to try a closer peak, Mount Baldy, but make up for the lower challenge in elevation by adding miles to the length of the hike. I wasn't find maps for the entire hike, only the beginning, and that proved a significant point later on. The hike itself started fine, at the trail head at 6 A.M., with a plan to be at the summit just after lunch and down by late afternoon. That left some time to get to the local diner at have a hearty, celebratory meal. We did indeed make the summit on time. Joe was full of excitement and wanted to tack on one additional challenge - go back down via a different route. It was an unmarked, gravelly bowl on the side of the mountain. All we had to do was head down and the trail would become apparent soon enough. The first hour or two was fun and easy, but we didn't come across the trail yet and we were out of food. We decided to change our angle somewhat, but an hour later were still without a trail, and now without water. By now we should have been back at the trail head, so we went towards what we thought was a trail we saw. We went up and down large slopes and through waist-high brush. Still nothing, only hungry and thirsty now, and the sun was starting to go down. Out of options and getting desperate, we decided to go aggressively straight across the mountain, up and over one side of the mountain, then two, and then we ran into a small, impassable, 100 foot gorge. The only way around was to go back up the mountain and drop into the riverbed below. By that time, it was dark. Having hiked 12 miles over 13 hours, We were exhausted, scraped up, out of food, water and energy. With no overnight supplies, we contemplated what it would be like to sleep on the rocky bed with no protection.

That was not the destination I had planned on when we left that morning. My intention was that at 7 P.M., I would be relaxing at a greasy spoon restaurant with a hamburger the size of a dinner plate in front of me, celebrating with Joe about our successful hike. But my intentions didn't matter when we started down from the summit. What mattered was our direction. That's the Principle of the Path.

Your Destination is Determined By Your Direction, Not Your Intention
You may want to repeat that once or twice. Try replacing some of the words with your company or team's verbiage, i.e. - "Our Goal is Determined By Our Decisions and Actions, Not By Our Mission Statement", or "Our Final Stage is Determined By Our Activity, Not By Our Over-arching Strategy." However you need to adjust it to hit home, the point is that where you will end up is not about what you want to happen, but about what is happening. Let's look at the four aspects of the Principle of the Agile Path.

1. You are on a path
For those wondering when you might start your journey into agile, you are already on an agile path. You are moving, things are already in motion. The question is where is, more accurately, what direction are you headed? Since my adventurous hike, I have since purchased a wonderful hand-held tool that let me know what direction I'm headed.

2. You often don't know that you are off course
I recently heard an agile coach comment that when he hears, "We can't do that here," he responds, replace that statement (at best inaccurate) with the truth "You can do it here, it's just a matter of how hard will it be and are you willing to do whatever it takes?" So, are you off course or on course? Unfortunately, we often don't know when we're off course or lost. When I was hiking, there was no dotted line along the ground that indicated we were off course, and how especially true this is when you are trailblazing. When going down the road, you may see many signs, but you won't see the sign that says, "You, in the blue sedan! Turn around - you're going the wrong way!"

I was on a trip recently, and have become much better at finding my way. I had the directions to my hotel in Mountain View ready in advance. I followed the signs perfectly and found the hotel without missing a turn. When I went to check in, the friendly clerk told me that I did not have reservations. Without trying to appear too smug for being in the right, I showed him my printed reservation information. "Sir," he replied, "that reservation is for our location in Cupertino." Think critically about your destination, because you could be on the wrong path while following all the right signs to a wrong destination.

3. You need objective feedback
This is also important because you can feel good about the situation and still be going in the wrong direction. I felt great about my hike hours into going the wrong way. I felt great about the hotel trip all the way up to the check-in counter. And don't set the bar so high for who you ask to listen to you and give feedback.

Given that so many challenges are rooted in people (and the culture that comes out of a group of people), you could get this feedback from friends, peers or colleagues over lunch, email or regular collaboration such as coaching circles (weekly conference call for like-minded professionals).

4. Judgement = Time and Experience
The core of value in objective feedback is that it is based on good judgment. Good judgement comes from time and experience. Even though the average professional football player has more experience than many in agile, you will still find someone on the sidelines guiding their progress. Their coach is someone with more time and experience around the game, and who is somewhat physically removed from their effort and activity.

Take a moment right now and consider where you, your team and your organization are heading on your path of agile adoption. Write down what you feel good about, what concerns you and write down the name of a person that you will contact today - take the bold step of reaching out and begin getting some objective feedback. They may just be the person to tell you to take a different way down the mountain.

You can watch some of Andy Stanley's talk here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Vision is Spelled "R-I-S-K"

I remember the first time I heard the Product Owner in Scrum referred to as "the single throat to choke." I was watching a video about the roles in agile. It was on YouTube and done by someone with a nice, therapeutic voice named Lyssa Adkins (who turns out to be a nice, therapeutic person who knows a ton about agile and gifted in helping others achieve and be more than they thought they could). At the time, I thought that phrase used in the video was a bit strong, yet I agreed and respected it. I use it today. And it is not just true for Product Owners, it's true for anyone in a position of leadership.

Product Owners, ScrumMasters, architects, leads, managers and those above them are just some of the roles and titles that are in some aspect about leadership, and vision is a significant attribute of leadership. Ken Blanchard wrote that after "studying leadership and organizations for more than thirty-five years and have come to a conclusion: All the world-class organizations we know are driven by three critical factors," the first of which is "clear vision and direction championed by top management", adding "Vision and direction are essential for greatness."

Vision is seeing something ahead, in the future, that is some positive, fulfilling goal or desire of what you or your team or company (or country, or family) could be. When sharpened, it stirs you, motivates you, bugs you, pulls you into action. And when sown into those around you, it will often do the same for them. Ken Blanchard described vision as "being so clear about purpose, so committed to it, and so sure about your ability to accomplish it, that you move ahead decisively despite any obstacles." Vision, like faith, is being "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." And borrowing from what a pastor once said, Vision, like faith, is spelled "R-I-S-K."

In order to have a truly compelling vision for our product or service, for our team, for our company or ourselves, we at some point have to step out into some unknown. Jim Collins' vision framework includes BHAGs - "big, hairy audacious goals." If we limit ourselves to only a safe next step, "like X but better", we miss the power of challenge, good anxiety, and focus that are part of the traits of good Scrum teams. Those traits draw teams together and yield the multiplier effect.

Helpful links on items mentioned:
Jim Collins' 14 page Vision Framework guide
That Vision Thing, article by Ken Blanchard