Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back at 2011

I had one of those great, intellectually charged conversations the other day with a colleague and friend, one of those discussions that leaves your mind abuzz. One nugget that came out of it was what books I had read this last year that have had the biggest impact on me as an agile coach and trainer. Here's the list I shared with him:

Must Read
Switch - How to Change When Change is Hard - A great read with lots of science and stories behind how and why people and groups change. Provides a structure to follow in leading change. A must-read for coaches and those leading change efforts.

The Lean Start-up - Eric's book provides the framework, reasoning and experience on how to swiftly determine the product to build. More than that, Eric provides pragmatic understanding of why traditional businesses and management behave the way they do, and how to deliver measurable, actionable way to change that. A must-read for anyone in IT, product development, management or executive leadership (so, everyone). 

Getting Naked - Shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty - Patrick Lencioni shares what makes real consultants (and consulting) awesome, versus those traditional consulting companies that we all love to hate. A must-read for anyone in consulting or in other ways provides professional services.

I would add The Goal by Goldratt because I loved the use of a fictional story to learn about lean and the theory of constraints, but it hasn't had the practical impact that the other books above did.



I'll add to this list several of "Must Watch" videos:
Joe Justice at TEDx - Agile used to create a 100 mpg road-ready car in 3 months. More lessons for all businesses in this 10 minute video than any other I know of.

Simon Sinek - Leaders, Start with "Why" - One of the Top 20 most watched TED videos. All companies know What they do, some know How they do it, very few know Why. Great for product managers, management and leadership.

Animated Daniel Pink Talk on What Motivates Workers - A very engaging video, using graphical notetaking, that I show in many of my classes that shares the three things that motivates workers (and none are money). Based on Pink's best-selling book Drive. 

Marcus Buckingham on Learning Your Strengths - A well-polished 10 minute introduction to strengths. It is part of one of several DVD's that I play for teams as part of team-building or learning self-organization in agile. 

And ONE "Must Attend" conference:
"But, wait," you're surely saying, "didn't you attend four other agile conferences (and two one-day events) in 2011?" Yes. 

And I have referenced, quoted, shared, lended more by the speakers from The Leadership Summit (Lencioni, Godin, Booker, Schlesinger, Hybels, Furtick) than all the other conferences combined and doubled. And it was only two days. And 1/10th the price. And available (almost) everywhere in the world via simulcast. 
"But, wait - again," you might be saying, "isn't that a Christian event?" Hosted by a church - yes. Goal to make attendees Christians? Definitely not. Goal to change the world? Yes. I think it's good to be around a bunch of people who really want to, and honestly believe they can, change the world. Even if that means stepping out of your comfort zone. It may just radically change your Why (just as we hope to do in the companies we serve).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Agile Presentation - Dear 31 Year Old Me

My session was "Dear 31 Year Old Me - 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Dove Into Agile"
What agile practices were most important? What tools were most helpful? What books? How did you succeed? Where did you fail? What helped your career the most? If I could go back 10 years, there's a lot of things I wish that I could tell the 31-year-old me. Some lessons go counter to conventional wisdom, some are just not highlighted much. This session will cover what distilled, core lessons have helped me and teams that I've coached the most as we moved into agile.

Deck available here - 

There were some great questions during the Q & A session at the end of the day, including "If process doesn't save us, what does?" and "What's the best way to start up new teams in an agile adoption?"

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Three Simple Tools for New Teams

When I am delivering Certified ScrumMaster classes or starting up new agile teams, I share three simple tools that really help collaboration: creating a working agreement (also called team agreement), the art of the possible, and the fist of five. Based on feedback, these three items are often some of the important tools that team members take back and use immediately. Below is a simple way to introduce these by facilitating creating working agreements with your team.

Photo by Greencolander via Flickr.

Before you kick off your new team, get the team together and let them know the goal is to come up with some team agreements so that we all agree on how we’re going to work together. You might have some ideas, but first go around and hear others first. If you’re in a large group, pair up, otherwise each person can individually write down one statement about how their time together should be – everything from working hours to working conditions. Now collect these and put them on the wall, under the title “Working Agreements.” For general work, I often hear: take personal calls out of the working area, headphones on for music, keep your chat program on, put a flag or sign up if you don’t want to be interrupted (for less than an hour), shower regularly (seriously), no eating fish at your desk (yep, that too). Some common ones for meetings that I’d recommend are: one conversation at a time, start and end on time, electronics by exception (that is, no cell phones or computers unless it’s an emergency and everyone understands that), and have an attitude of the art of the possible.
The art of the possible means keeping an open mind that something covered here could work ormight be true, even if you disagree, instead of an attitude of “that could never work here” (even if that is your experience). There’s always a first time, and the difference of our attitude, effort and approach differ vastly when something “just might be” possible, rather than impossible. MacGyver believed in the art of the possible.
Now that we have everyone’s recommendations, decide on what the final working agreement list will be. My preferred way of collaborating on quick yes/no group decisions is with the technique called the “Fist of Five.” When you’re in a group deciding on something (such as where to go to lunch that day), you can simply say the recommendation and then have everyone hold up one to five fingers. The number of fingers represent where they stand: 5 means they love the idea, 4 means they like the idea, 3 means they’re not that happy but they won’t get in the way, 2 means they have some questions or concerns that if answered they’ll get on-board, and 1 means “No way, ever, never!” (and make sure the one finger is the index finger…) Fist of five is a great way to hear everyone’s voice and quickly see who’s not in agreement and why (and then work to get them in agreement).

I hope these tools help your team get off to a great start.

(This post also published on the BigVisible company blog at

Monday, October 24, 2011

10 Links for Changing the World (and World of Work)

Great links I've collected over the last few weeks, of things I've read and people I've met. 

Changing the World of Work
  1. How Willow Creek Is Leading the Church by Learning From the Business World | Fast Company - A great, thorough article from Fast Company about the Leadership Summit, that blends faith and business speakers and topics. I attended the Leadership Summit this year and am posting summaries on my blog. Click the Leadership Summit tag to read those.
  2. Circles and Soup Tool for Team Collaboration  - Circles and Soup tool/metaphor is a nice graphic way to capture issues in retrospectives into categories that give clarity around ownership and action: what the team controls and can take direct action on, what the team can influence and should have persuasive or recommending action, and finally what is just the organizational environment that they will have response actions for.
  3. People Don’t Shop for Organizational Change Great post by @softqual that points out that what business come to agile for is often not what the actually need. Though we may go on about changing organizations to be agile, that's not what they're signing up for at first.
  4. Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset | The Mindset Maven - The topic of the Agile 2011 closing talk by Linda Rising was about Mindset. Here is a good personal story and short summary of the book's most pertinent points.
  5. Getting to “Done” - Is the boundary of "done, done" within the team (and their capability) or the end of the value stream? And Lean Startup would say it's not "done, done" until the learning loop is completed…

Changing the World
  1. Welcome Home Ministries, Africa - This is the orphanage my family visited last year. We decided to adopt at the end of the trip, and now we are back here for several weeks completing our adoption. 
  2. Hackers For Charity - I met Johnny Long at his restaurant, The Keep in Jinja, Uganda. Applying his technical skills and professional network to helping nonprofits and training locals in computer skills is great. His restaurant is our favorite here as well.
  3. Kirabo -  We met the founder here in Jinja, and were so taken by the videos (linked on Vimeo from the site above). Kirabo Foundation has been providing scholarships and support to orphaned and disadvantaged children of Uganda. My wife and I were really impressed with the person running Kirabo, her heart, humility and the effort she and others are putting in to this effort to make education a reality for those who otherwise would never have a chance.
  4. Kiva - Kiva is a microfinance site that lets you search for needs around the world and lend money for specific people. You get to see a picture of the person and see their description of the request. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.Watch a great profile video from PBS
  5. the Journey - Kisses from Katie - After graduation from high school, Katie returned to Uganda, leaving behind family, college, friends, her boyfriend, and the American dream, to teach Kindergarten at an orphanage. She has stayed and adopted 13 girls, as well as started a nonprofit for community outreach, medical care/training, vocational training, spiritual discipleship, a preschool, and several other initiatives. There's a nice short  video about her work and a reference to the book that chronicles it -

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Overcommitment, Difficult People and the Defeated Mindset

In August I left the Agile 2011 conference two days early to attend The Leadership Summit. Although I heard there were some great sessions on Thursday and Friday at the agile conference (including oft-noted Linda Rising's closing session on The Agile Mindset), I have no regrets. 

As I posted previously about my prediction, and as came to pass, the Leadership Summit renewed and reinvigorated me. I needed this more than more information. It educated me as well, but most importantly, it inspired me. I find that agile coaching in the large enterprise is less about educating people and teams, and more about helping people grow, finding their strengths and helping them to see and apply them, challenging them, confronting fixed mindsets and old ideas, and having grace for people being human. All of which can drain you. And on top of that, I believe that we need to be leaders, and leadership is hard. So, with that in mind, let me share with you what I gained from The Leadership Summit this year.

Over the course of two days (mine at a simulcast site, one of hundreds across the world), there were eight sessions. The speakers were Bill Hybels, Len Schlesinger, Cory Booker, Brenda McNeil, Seth Godin, Steven Furtick, Mama Maggie Gobran, Michelle Rhee, Henry Cloud, John Dickson, Pat Lencioni and Erwin McManus. 

Bill Hybels on Overcommitment, Difficult People, and the Defeated Mindset
Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago and the founder of The Leadership Summit, began by saying, "I believe we can change the world, but we have to let go of the safe, the predictable and the comfortable." I was struck by this because of The Scrum Alliance's slogan of "changing the world of work." I love the vision and the challenge of what we have to let go of in order to get there. Hybels went on to add some great leadership axioms, such as:
  • Everyone wins when a leader gets better. 
  • Every leader can get better.
  • Where do you show that you're investing in getting better?
  • Swing hard or surrender your bat.

The main thrust of the talk was on leaders watching their commitment or challenge level. He drew something like a thermometer, marking three levels of answers to the question of "What is your current challenge level at work?"
  1. Under challenged (crossword, visit, watch the clock, don't feel fulfilled)
  2. Appropriately
  3. Dangerously over challenged (Look at to-do list and, OMG. Work late, not present

The ideal level was just barely into the Dangerously Over-challenged level. We learn and perform the best with just a bit of pressure and anxiety. I have seen this to be true on Scrum teams, and it's detailed as the best way our brains learn in Pragmatic Learning and Thinking.

But, he cautioned, if you go and stay above that level, you'll break down. At this level, we can't sustain the responsibility we've put on our plate. 

Do we, as leaders, set a bad example? The truth is, he said, is that we need a "discipline of replenishment". And we, as leaders, have to take responsibility for that. Leadership bucket. If you stay DOC, you can't have your bucket stay full no matter how many 3 day weekends, luxury vacations, hobbies, retreats, etc. you have.

Our performance over time, can go way up, but then it crashes. It's possible to overweb an organization. Also, we need to watch for being under-challenged, where there's nothing new, nothing that keeps us, our team or our organization on the edge.

Dealing with Challenging People
Hybels also asked, "What is your plan for dealing with challenging people in your organization?
Twice a year, he does personal evaluations, something he calls "The Line Exercise." He puts everyone on his team, that reports to him, or leads people, in order of keepers or indispensability. At the "not crucial" end, what you have is not bad people, just at the end of the line. This makes you ask some interesting questions. "Are these people carrying their weight? On the right issues? On mission? No longer a good fit? Are there known issues, but you're not looking at them? Are you avoiding tough conversations?" I've seen this a number of times in the places I've worked. The key to the future is unquestionably tied to ability to attract and retrain fantastic people, and also dealing with people no longer fantastic. He gave the example of "Bad Attitude Fred" - How are you going to deal with him? More importantly, how long will you let him spread his negative radio-active fallout?

Bill broke down an approach in the following way:
  • If the problem is just a bad attitude, give him 30 days to turn it around and if he doesn't, let him go. The truth is, these people will often truly be happier somewhere else, but they're just scared to leave or change jobs. 
  • If the problem is underperformance, given them 3 months to turn it around. 
  • If it is that the role has grown beyond their capacity, and they are missing the elasticity needed to adjust to that role change, give them 6 - 12 months and try to re-deploy them, break your back to honor them, and break piggy banks for their severance if you can't make something else work for them within the organization and you have to end up letting them go.

As an important side note, Hybels said that your stock as a leader goes up when you fire for clear values violations. If you don't, you drag down everyone. Fantastic people want to work with other fantastic people. These problem people are not really happy people. 90% they find something else and come back thankful.

So, are you naming, facing and resolving the problems that exist in your organization?

The Idea Lifecycle Diagram and a Defeated Mindset
Hybels said that every idea has a lifecycle. The lifecycle has four phases - Booming, Accelerating, Decelerating and Tanking -  "Nothing rocks forever." Pick some core areas, efforts or values and decide "We won't allow it to tank." Use re-invention, staff-lead efforts, and tackle cross-department problems in order to save these few and feed them back into Booming. Part of your job as a leader is to look problems straight in the eye, and ask if you're going to let it fail or arrest those tired ideas. Create a systematic way to address problems. This injects energy and self-esteem into your team, saying that we are not victims and can solve problems.

When is the last time you re-examined the core of what your organization is all about? Ask yourself "What business are we in? What's our main thing? Could we put it on a shirt? What's our core?" One company sold cars, but came to realize that they were actually selling transportation solutions. They're new slogan was "Bring your transportation challenges to us."

So, he asked, have you had your leadership bell rung recently? Leaders rarely learn anything new without having their world rocked. 

Cast a bold vision. You want your people to either say "Count me in," or think you're crazy. As leaders, we need our boldness back. We've lost a little faith. How hard are you willing to swing?

As a process, he wrote that we often go through something like:
  1. "If we could just do or be "X", we could rock."
  2. "But we can't... "
  3. So we stay stuck. 
  4. "But we're sick of being stuck!"
  5. But we're not sick enough.

I've seen this a lot, especially in large organizations. Hybels called this a defeated mindset, and said we're making excuses for being stuck instead of doing the hard work of finding solutions. Create an environment where people can be lead to bold solutions for stubborn problems. Don't just just preside over things, or preserve it from demise, but to move it from here to there, from Tanking to Booming. In agile words, "Move it from problem-saturated, political, fear-ridden, hierarchical bureaucracy to solution-orientated, growth mindset, empower, self-organizing, innovative teams." And Hybels added, "You have to believe God is willing to help you do it. If you don't, step aside. Make room for someone who does."

Hybels left everyone with a challenge, 
Maybe your next year could be your best. You could learn more, challenge each other more. Tell me why your next five years can't be your best? Your team deserves your best five. It comes down to whether you want to do it. Why go out with a whimper? How you finish is how you will be remembered. For those starting out, make your first year awesome, not average. Do you want that? Leaders call people to decisions. 
Also, check out this great summary of Hybels talk

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Summary of Agile 2011 Conference

Too much good stuff. With 14 sessions to choose from for each time slot, and many more hallway conversations, I walked away with a head full of knowledge of new things to try, new areas to dig into, and new people to collaborate with.

The first problem, though, was realizing that I had to choose between 14 talks. That's correct - 14. Although one is able to see this reality on the website (and they did a great job with Sched), it just doesn't hit you until you're picking that first talk from the handout. A great lesson for me in the value of coordinating in advance with others from my team in order to cover all the sessions we're interested in. I heard several people mention how hard it was to choose, and being a little late in deciding can sometimes mean missing a seat in the room.

My first session was Pollyanna Pixton's Collaborating with Non-Collaborators. What a great way to start off the conference. A knowledgable and experienced agilist and comfortable speaker. And she started off with a graceful approach of trying to understand why  someone might be a non-collaborator. My biggest take away was a grid she showed us (which is available from the links to her site). For one type of non-collaborator, "Passive Aggressive," she said "They are characterized by over competitiveness, lack of respect, self-preservation and personal agenda." I think I've seen that person more than once. How do you handle them? Her list was:
  • Don’t engage in a power struggle 
  • Wrap them up in process 
  • Don’t let them dodge accountability 
  • Make them step into their responsibility and make it the only possible step 
  • Make them commit in public 
  • Take the fun out of being dysfunctional 
  • Ask how they want to solve it
  • Don't let them be a manager
Her handouts also included a lot of self-evaluation, which I realized that I don't do enough of. I'm too busy taking inventory of client's issues to stop and notice mine. She said "You cannot fix people, you can only fix process." Check out her book Stand Back and Deliver: Accelerating Business Agility to dig in more. You can also watch a video of Pollyanna speaking elsewhere - the keynote at Agile Development Practices on Collaborative Leadership.

My next session was Michael Spayd on Transformation Path to Enterprise Agility. I got excited when it looked like they were going to do some live coaching, but I was waylaid at the break and never made it back to see if they did. It sounds like there was group work that was rewarding. For more in this area, check out Spayd's and Lyssa Adkins' training The Coaching Stance.

I finished my first day with a lively and fun group at Karl Scotland's Red Bead Experiment. Karl played the manager well, and the lessons of how management typically behaves, and what actually works, were clear. You can watch a version of someone else facilitating the red bead experiment on YouTube - You can watch Karl speak about kanban, or find out more about him on his blog.

Tuesday started out with a bang as I was blown away and greatly impressed with Jez Humble and his session on Applying the Lean Startup Model to the Enterprise. Jez understands the process, issues and value up and down the layers from dev to executive, and his insights bumped up his book Continuous Delivery on my wishlist. You can download the presentation. Biggest takeaways from his sessions:

  • Going agile must include DevOps. Building everything swift and smoothly, yet not being ready to have it go live swift and smoothly (much less keeping it running) is not success. 
  • Amazon has a saying of "You build it, you run it." Treat services being built as products and align full dev+ops teams to align, stick to and support those services. 
  • The Lean Startup mentality that "the feature isn't done until the learning loop is completed." You can get a good overview of Lean Startup by opening two tabs to listen to Steve Blank talk at SXSW while clicking through the same presentation.

The next session was my lightening talk on strengths (lesson learned - don't cram 1 hour of information into 8 minutes). For more (and better) information on strengths, visit the strengths tag on my blog.

After that, I went to my old colleague Aaron Sanders' session at Ten Tales of Positive Change. It's great to hear success stories at different levels, in different context. It's a very transferrable form of experience, strength and hope for all of us in the trenches about ushering in change with teams and organizations.

I then facilitated my other session, Narrative Coaching, with great help from colleague Skip Angel. I continue to come back to the value narrative brings on a non-prescriptive approach, finding and strengthening areas of success, and curious listening. I gave away a shirt with the classic Narrative saying, "The person isn't the problem. The problem is the problem."

Wednesday began with great insights and references to help with people and change. BigVisible coach Skip Angel discussed What are we supposed to do with these managers NOW?. Here's the summary I pulled from it:
  • Option 1: They need time to process change
    • Everybody processes change differently
    • Ask:
      • What's in it for me?
      • Am I gaining more than losing?
      • Will I be supported by the change?
  • Option 2: Change Roles
  • Option 3: Not Everyone Fits
  • Option 4: Willing to re-invent yourself?
    • More people go down this road.
    • We want managers to move from "Directing" to "Catalyzing Leadership" (from Bill Joiner's book Leadership Agility, which I heard referenced several times at the conference)
    • Be a sparkplug
      • Directive Catalyst
      • Analytical Thinking Systemic
      • Move from "Either/Or" to "Both/And" thinking
      • Unilateral Control Mutuality and Collaboration
      • Deterministic Chaordic. (Scary)
    • 9 out of 10 times, your ideas aren't as good as a team decision
    • Be flexible, adaptive
    • Be Possibility-oriented
    • Be Self-reflective - Thing learned the most - somewhere along the way, you have to learn that you don't know everything. That you can learn and grow. But there are expectations that you have to know everything (this was powerful for me)
    • Move to Helping Teams instead of directing or managing teams.
    • Teach and supporting to say "No."
    • Protect the stakeholder
    • Make team feel safe
    • Build capabilities
    • Partner with the ScrumMaster
  • Where can managers support teams?
    • Minimize Waste - Partial work, finding info, delays, over produce, extra steps, defects, handoffs
    • Create collaborative environments
    • Invest in Learning - provide Formal Training, give Research Time, set up a Community of Practice, Set-Based Design
    • Change the Organization
      • Evangelize, educate, show proof
      • Recognition and rewards
  • Everyone needs to understand the strategy (don't make it need-to-know). Get everyone involved, and in particular, what is THEIR PART!
  • Culture of Learning - The Fifth Discipline (another book I heard mentioned more than once), not a culture of fear. Mistakes are OK and encouraged. We learn from them.
  • Optimize the whole, not the parts.
  • Reduce delays in the process (and this could mean starting from budgetting and allocation).
  • Everybody needs to solve the problems (systems thinking) that impact effectiveness.
  • Agile will help, but cannot address all challenges. That's why we need people in these management roles. Rather than a coach solve all problems, managers do. 
  • Agile is not a "dev" thing, but a significant organizational change.
  • Agile is not a destination, but a journey.
  • Agile needs strong leaders within the organization to make a difference. 

That ended my sessions at Agile 2011 because I left early to return home and attend The Leadership Summit (you can find my summaries of those sessions on my blog, too). In between sessions, my time was spent in great conversations with Mark Kilby, Mike Cottmeyer, Gerry Kirk, a very fortunate and mind-filling "DevOps 101" hallway talk with Patrick Dubois (his site has lots of video presentations), a Senior Vice-President from a large investment company going agile, as well as Sean Buck, a presenter and head of the agile transformation at Capital Group. And there was a breakfast for CSC's and CST's where I got to meet trainers and coaches from around the world.

Sessions that I heard great things about or wish I could have attended but couldn't (either because the room was full or I was double-booked) included:

Some good reviews of the conference:

Sunday, July 31, 2011

More Information or More Change?

I have choose where to spend my time in August. The biggest conference in agile is coming up, as well as the most impacting leadership conference. Was I going to spend time learning more about agile, or was I going to spend time at the conference that had changed my life more than any other? The latter is The Leadership Summit - where I first heard Marcus Buckingham, who's work on strengths was the catalyst for change in what I was doing as a manager. It was where I heard Ken Blanchard, and then hunted up a copy of The One Minute Manager. I heard Colin Powell, Colleen Barrett (previous President of Southwest Airlines), USC President Steven Sample, as well spiritual leaders Erwin McManus and Bill Hybels.

While there's a lot that I've learned about agile principles and practices at conferences, more importantly I've been changed by The Leadership Summit. A parallel is that much of my coaching comes from a mix of business and faith-based (not agile) books I've read. As Seth Godin (speaking this year at The Leadership Summit) recently wrote, there is no such thing as business ethics, only personal ethics. I find myself at a loss when talking about Scrum values such as Courage, Openness, Respect, Commitment when there is no agile book or talk that I know of that coaches people on how to grow in these areas. Even getting agreement on what it means to coach at all is subjective.

I feel a responsibility to let others know that each of us needs to know where our roots are in these areas, and with conviction and confidence that goes beyond opinions and trends but can stand up to the challenges we have and will encounter when trying to introduce change in the jungle of the business world. In the end, I decided that I needed to fill up the personal leadership tank, and decided to leave the Agile 2011 conference early so as to not miss any of The Leadership Summit.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to Select an Agile Consultant

How to pick an agile consultant to help your company? I've learned a bit after helping a number a dozen or so companies and working alongside another couple dozen agile coaches. I started this post to describe the types of people I see out there, but what seems more helpful would be to provide guidance for those looking at bringing someone in to help them. Here's a cheat sheet of questions.

  1. Have they been a ScrumMaster on a team?
  2. Have they been the ScrumMaster on a project in Scrum from inception to completion?
  3. Have they worked in 1, 2 and 4 week iterations?
  4. Have they been the ScrumMaster on a  project with distributed team members or with a vendor?
  5. Have they introduced Scrum or agile to an organization where it was new? Specifically:
  6. Did they train team members on Scrum? 
  7. Were the teams fully-dedicated, cross-functional teams?
  8. Did they work with department managers on team composition, managing team members and other changes?
  9. Was there a PMO in the organization? Did they work with them on the agile roll-out?
  10. Did they initiate and facilitate release planning?
  11. Have they lead a multi-team roll-out? 
  12. Have they coached other ScrumMasters?
  13. Have they facilitated multi-team release planning?
  14. Have they collaborated with company leadership on crafting an agile adoption plan?
  15. Have they worked on an implementation of a new product?

Transitioning a small company (< 50) to agile is generally much easier than large companies. I've found more people who are there for career security and corporate ladder climbing in large companies than small. And these people see the fear, uncertainty and doubt in agile more than the gain (for the company, but more importantly, themselves). I've also fond more people in large companies who can get away with lower performance, and the visibility of agile can be scary. The approach, therefore, for large companies needs to be much more than the principles and techniques of agile. It needs to be strategic in determining who is influential, understanding how they feel and what are wins for them personally, as well as doing your best to make sure there are clear, early wins for agile in the company so that everyone can relax a little and get behind this thing. In some ways, this is no different from any change to an organization, and it's a bit like sales.

If you work at a large company, you'll need help. Going to the Certified ScrumMaster class is only the beginning, not the end, of finding out the how and why. There are now a lot of people out there who will sell you something that looks like help. In order of visibility...

  • Agile Networkers. Connected with a lot of agile coaches, trainers, thought leaders and businesses. As far as what you need, they may not be, but they might know people who are. Networkers may not have the agile experience to vet their connections on a professional level, or the depth and length of a personal relationship to vet the character, so the people that they recommend to you should still be evaluated independently. Keep in mind that often the main goal of the agile networker is looking to get connected with people and activities (training classes, conferences) that can help themselves, and hopefully help others. 
  • Agile Consulting Companies. They might have polished materials and perhaps a list of training classes, webinars or speaking events, but look at the questions above to evaluate the substance behind the materials.
  • Agile Trainers. Due to the popularity of Scrum, there are a lot of Certified ScrumMaster classes, but only a few who can do the training. Besides the CSM, there are a lot of other trainings out there, most of which I think are valuable. You might love the class, but someone being a great trainer and great coach involve very different skills and abilities, and I don't know that all the people can (or even want to) be both.
  • Agile Coaches. There are several different kinds of coaches, and you likely need some aspect of all. Most coaches can get a team going with agile and work through the people and team issues that arise. There are times when the business needs a level, though, that works with getting the executive team on board, working through strategic planning and political issues. This is much more about listening, building rapport and trust, patience, staying persistent and positive and selling by influence. Another key aspect of coaching is technical or software craftsmanship - being able to guide programmers and other team members, with hands on the keyboard, into the new world of test-driven development, continuous integration, pair programming and other agile practices (and hopefully you know how critical these areas are to the success).
In the end, nothing beats experience, and preferably a team of experienced people.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Metamorphosis - Manager to Agile Steward

I was listening to someone recently talking about the role of steward in previous centuries. The steward managed the estate for his lord and tried to get the most return for his lord while also keeping the people of the land content.

I thought of how this is a better metaphor for those in management, and perhaps more appropriate goals than I've experienced. My experience is that most managers are simply trying their best to keep everyone happy - mainly those requesting resources (people under the manager). They are also often simply trying to make sure everyone defensibly busy.

It's in the best interest of the manager's boss, though, that resources are used for the most return. This might take some educating or a little pushing. Think in terms of how a financial advisor is both making sure your funds are being put to use, but also often educating you along the way about why he thinks you should move some of your money here or there. This would obviously help get clarity around value - the value of different initiatives, the individual strengths of the people and how to best leverage those, and helping to see that value realized as soon as practical.

Without a clear path to value back to the manager's boss, managers can be left to simply growing their department as a means of validating their value (and therefore security) in the company. But imagine this happening with your financial advisor - "I can't tell you how your funds are doing because I really have no idea, but I have some reports that show how many people report to me."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Introducing Scrum at Your Organization

A Bad Prescription
I am often asked for advice on how to either introduce Scrum and agile at an organization, or how to roll-out from a given implementation of a team or teams to a broader level, such as program or division level.  While there is much to be said on this topic, it is best to start off with the imperative that there is no prescriptive approach that will work for everyone. There are many approaches, some successful despite being counter to standard recommendations. There are important contextual variations, such as company culture, personalities, recent experiences and history, project storyline and product market space that may all play an important part in how to roll out agile in your organization. This section will review some of those aspects, tools you can use, and then get to general recommendations.

Simply, here are the most important points that I have seen be effective:
1.     Ask why management wants to go agile. What is the win for them? Define success together. Rally co-creates Agile Success Plans at the beginning of customer engagements.
a.     Look at Geoffrey Moore’s adoption curve and mark where you think the company sits. Based on that, what is that group’s standard view of risk?
2.     Looking for the natural law win for those involved. Whether backers, decision makers or influential, be sure that you’re aware of or find out what would make this transition a win for each person. Along the way, you should find out, or uncover, what their concerns are (fear, uncertainty and doubt).
a.     Take a look at George Schlitz’s presentation on Mapping the Agile Battlefield for a deeper look at this area.
b.     The book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is a coaching-view towards helping managers succeed in change situations like these.
3.     Remember that your agile roll-out plan and effort in itself should be agile. Plan it, and then routinely assess what’s working and not working in it, and adjust.
a.     Organization change is not complicated, it’s complex. Look at the Cynefin model and remember to gather data, especially people and process narratives and then determine what to do next.

If your company isn’t agile yet, but you want management to consider adopting agile, consider selling it based on the success of other well known companies. That might lighten their risk.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Narrative Coaching Resources from Scrum Gathering Talk

Below are the books referenced in my talk on Narrative Coaching at the 2011 Scrum Gathering in Seattle:

  • Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, White and Epston, 1990
  • Narrative Therapy, Freedman and Combs, 1996
  • Maps of Narrative Practice, White, 2007
  • Practicing Narrative Mediation, Winslade and Monk, 2008
  • Coaching Agile Teams, Adkins
  • Dave Snowden and Cynefin -
  • Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, Heath

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scrum Doesn't Work for Us

"...because..." and then I hear a list of how a company, or a team, or a project is 'different' from others out there. This is common, and though there are great assessment tools out there, let me share with you three common issues that I and other coaches see.

1. The user stories are not estimated in points. I've heard lots of explanations of why, or how management doesn't understand points but understands hours, or points-to-hours conversions posted on the walls. In the end, the principle remains that we don't estimate well (just refer to the initial estimates of pre-agile projects). We compare well, referring a current feature or request to a simple, previous one that we know well. Also, estimating hours is often unconsciously optimistic. Not only do we think in terms of ideal, uninterrupted hours, but we don't stop and factor in risk, complexity or unknowns when saying "That will take 8 hours". Estimates are planning Marc and Liz's 2 hour meeting at church on Saturday, story points are planning Marc and Liz's wedding.
2. The team isn't voting on the size. Sam the Helpful Manager says, "Joe's the architect and he just tells us how many story points it is." Well, just because Joe (AKA Smartest Guy in the Room, whether others agree or not) is the architect, doesn't means he's as smart as everyone else on the team combined. No one person can see all the issues, has all the combined detailed experience, has all the creativity and innovation to come up with the best solution. And, worse yet, my experience is that it is less about Joe voting and the team missing out on better sizing, it's more often about pride, power and control. Joe likes his position and title and doesn't want to share power or the stage or 'important meetings' with those less than him. And because the team doesn't discuss and vote on the size, they don't feel or have a psychological ownership of the work. Someone else signed you up "Bob's Crazy No-Pain, No-Gain Exercise Boot Camp" how much will you really be into it? If the team didn't vote it, the team doesn't own it.

3. Don't know that you don't know. This is perhaps the most dangerous because teams think they know what to do and how to do it (but don't). It's like visiting another country and plugging in your hairdryer as a means of learning that voltage is different in other countries (and then blaming the hair dryer manufacturer). The first antidote is having an expert on site - someone trained in agile. The second is getting as many people as possible involved in the agile community (conferences and local events) in order to keep learning.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Humility - The Trait of a Good Coach

The last few months, I've met several great ScrumMasters and coaches. They understand agile and are helping their teams and organization in very important ways. I doubt that most companies, no matter how big the budget, can achieve success without people contributing in ways like these people are.

Given that people in coaching or ScrumMaster roles often know quite a bit about Scrum and agile, and given that those they are supposed to help in the organization do not know as much, it can become all to easy for the ScrumMaster or coach to feel important because of this knowledge, special, even superior. This subtle form of arrogance may not even been there before, but takes root and grows like a weed as people come to you to ask for information, help, solutions, or advice. And they're not just asking you about technical help, but for teams, departments, and management. How do you feel when you talk to them? When you educate them, direct them, help them, coach them? Are you there to serve them? Arrogance or pride prevents us from being truly effective in coaching by limiting how much we are able to help someone or how many people we can assist. 


Arrogance will tell you that you're in a special position of honor and influence, at the top or over others in importance or ability. And you'll believe that having this high place is solely due to YOU (not good fortune or opportunity that others did not get). Pride tries to lure you into believing that its solely because of the effort you have put forth and your knowledge and abilities. 

Not that you're effort and natural and developed skills and knowledge aren't important. They are. But would any of us have been in our current position if we were born in Libya or Haiti? For myself, I ask "What if my pervious employer hadn't paid for me to go to Certified ScrumMaster training so many years ago? What if my first big Scrum project had been cancelled after the first week? What if the first full agile adoption had been with an awful client instead of a great one (they had found me, not vice-versa)? What if I hadn't been selected to speak at the Scrum Gathering and Jean Tabaka just happens to sit in my session and we end up talking about Rally? Yes, I hear some of you saying that I helped create some of these "chance" opportunities because I was doing the work - submitting to the conference, leading the first project, going to the training. 

But if we fall prey to the fully self-made position, then we'll become convinced that we ARE better because of who we are and choices we made. And everyone else wanting or needing our help? They must be either less talented or did not make  good choices. What gets transmitted with this worldview, knowingly or not, is coaching via "Do what I do and try to become like me." And if that is true, then what hope does the one helped have of getting better? If you have arrived, are at the top, the coached try to get better by aiming for the goal, which is...YOU. To improve, they have to think like you, solve problems like you, lead like you, behave like you. They have to become you, because that's the goal. But how can anyone be someone they are not wired to be? How does the researcher become all about action? How does the thoughtful consensus builder become Type A Get 'Er Done?

Also, arrogance prevents us from helping because we're not really listening. We think that ff someone isn't understanding, it's because they're not trying or they're not very smart because it's certainly not because of us. We have all the right answers and communicate the right way, including telling them what to do. The truth is that it's hard to receive from someone who's not really listening or showing that they value and care about what you have to say. 

Rather, in acknowledging we are in a position of influence partly due to good fortune and providence, we can know that other people may end up in similar positions for the same, which allows them to be them (and you to be you). They don't have to become like you to be successful. And you can then share what you know from a stand-point of how fortunate you've been, and that you're just paying it forward. You can help because you've been helped. You're grateful for the opportunity to serve others knowing that you just as easily could have been in a very different situation. You teach knowing that you can learn from others, since you're not at the top of anything, but on a path like everyone else.

In an agile leadership economy, we don't raise parity unless we buy into the truism that to those who have been given much, much is expected.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Have Something of Mine

I was speechless. What I saw left me dumbfounded, like when you realize it was a trick play and you were chasing the person who didn't have the ball. I had been working so hard for months on proposals for the Agile 2011 conference - hours of collaboration, hundreds of pages of reading, a day long seminar. I've been waiting to hear whether I would be rejected again (for the fourth year in a row) when I saw the hornswoggling statement. A session had been accepted that was a summary of a book very similar to one that I had read. Helpful, yes. But cutting edge? World changing? Revolutionary? No, but that's where I was wrong. And I had been robbed.

Like many others, I'm always learning - reading books or blogs, talking to others and taking notes. New things are always interesting. But that doesn't mean that the old things are not still valuable. Also, those those old things are still new to other people. But that's not where I was robbed.

I was robbed when I listened to the voice that said, "No one's interested in the little things, the common things, that you value. It has to be completely new, completely unique, and obvious that it required lots and lots of effort."

I find that same line keeping me from giving my best to my team. "Don't share that with the team, they'll think its useless. Write up a bulleted summary with all the links. That would be better," "Don't tell him 'Good job!' What until the whole thing is finished, then tell him. It will mean more then," "Don't bring in cookies for the team. They'll think that's corny. Wait and ask the boss for approval to take them out to lunch." All those opportunities to give something good to others are robbed, robbed by the mirage of Great - the gold-plated big-bang delivery of perfection. Perhaps I would be better off to be agile and  give out what I have to offer early and often. Which leads me to be my next point.

You have something of mine - some story or tip or example that, although free for you to give, would be valuable to me. Don't hold back. Don't be robbed as I was. Let others decide the value, just like the Product Owners or customers we serve.

Monday, February 28, 2011

One Month to Live

My friend Brad asked a question last week that struck me so hard that I lost track of the conversation for a bit, lost in my thoughts. What if I only had 24 hours left on this earth? For most of us, it's fairly similar - going and letting all those we care about how much we love them, maybe forgiving some people or asking forgiveness. As powerful as that is, in my friend's opinion, how much more powerful if the question was "What if you had a month to live, or a year?" That question is richer, deeper, because you had time to do something, other than just communicate. You can change. And you can change lives.

Brielle Murray has changed a lot of lives. Barely 13 years old, she has touched many, many lives as she faced RMS cancer for the last three years. She passed away on Friday, February 17 at 9:45 A.M. In her room were still thank you cards and valentines that she was making for others. Brad's question had me going over and over Brielle's short life - here she was thinking of others while facing unbelievable challenges. Perhaps that question is part of the answer.

In our culture of Me First, we don't often think of what's left behind when the Me is gone. And yet, that's what's lasting. Recently, I was talking to a key person in one company's agile adoption and he kept referencing how one executive had made such a difference. When I went on LinkedIn to find out more, I saw that the executive had moved on to another opportunity years earlier. But you wouldn't know it from the way the agilist was talking - it was like the executive was still there. In some ways, he was. That exec was still making a difference through how he had impacted this agilist, and now how that agilist was coaching his ScrumMasters, QA folks, developers and others on the teams he was over.

You can make a difference. You can change lives - the way people view challenges, believe in themselves, respond to failure, treat others. But it doesn't start later. It starts now. It's starts with the focus, resolve and passion you would have if you were just told that you only have months or a year to live.

Below are some resources on how others responded to the same question -

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ScrumMaster as Coach: Mentoring & Drawing Out

In my Implementing Agile Teams trainings and Certified ScrumMaster classes agile training classes we discuss the various roles that the ScrumMaster plays. One of those roles is Coach. Although we usually have a good discussion, there's been a nagging sense that it wasn't complete or as deep as should be. 

I had some insight today from Leadership Coaching. Essentially, you, the ScrumMaster/Coach, are tasked to impart, strengthen or correct certain skills and practices. For example, making sure teams have daily stand-ups, but also tweaking and optimizing how it's facilitated, or explaining to others why daily stands-up are powerful and effective tools for collaboration. Perhaps you're helping coach on test-driven development or continuous integration. All great, valuable skills and practices. I think this type of coaching is Mentoring.

But coaching is not just imparting skills and practices, coaching is helping people become someone they were not before. We want, no, expect those on teams to be Open, Courageous, Focussed, Respectful, Committed. We want team members to trust, have healthy conflict, hold each other accountable and attentive to results (to borrow from Patrick Lencioni). We want them to ask powerful questions, collaborate effectively, be servant leaders. But my experience has been that I can't just walk up to a hardcore power-ogre team lead and say "Go forth and be highly collaborative!" or go wave a wand over a 15 year command-and-control PM and say "I bless you with the gifts of Facilitation, Listening, and Service. Go and empower someone today!" These things are not that easy. These involve people changing, not just learning. So, how do you help people change?

It Starts with You
"Becoming a transformational coach starts with being transformed." There are disciplines, skills and heart involved in helping people change, but we'll focus on the heart. As Tony Stoltzfus writes, coaching begins with a heart that radically believes in people. For example, in my training classes, I talk about three levels of listening. Although those are good to know, if you as coach don't value people, it won't matter. It won't work for you. Per , "Coaches don't listen because listening is a good technique…A coach listens because to listen is to believe in you."  My sharing about listening skills will only help those who are becoming someone who cares about others. We can not treat coaching as a set of techniques over being - style over substance. If you are just after results, than "technique without heart is manipulation."

I'll share in a later post about some of my practices in trying to become more and more of someone who has this kind of heart. For now, let me encourage you that believe the change we want to see in others already resides in them in some for. The preferred way we'd like to see them collaborate on the team has happened somewhere before and we as coaches help draw out what's already in there. We don't need to prescribe solutions and advice in the area of personal growth. Keep that to the skills and practices. 

Mentor coaching is giving what we know. Transformational coaching is drawing out what's already inside.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Assessing Your Learning Needs

There are lots of resources for continuing to learn about agile, the roles, engineering and test practices and adoption approaches, but where do you start and how much of an effort can you expect to invest? Well, it depends. As a rough guide, use the grid below. Chose one item per column that matches your situation, and score yourself according to the following:

First Row: 1 point each
Second Row: 4 points each
Third Row: 10 points each

Experience Level
Likely Future Number of Teams
1 - 3 Teams
4 - 9 Teams
Basics\Boot Camp
10+ Teams
Business or Project Environment
Business, Stakeholder Attitude
Basic Environment
Eager, Supportive
Complicated Environment
Listening, Cautious
Complex Environment
Hostile, Contrary

Add up the values you selected for each column. For example, a common situation I see is:

Experience Level
Likely Future Number of Teams
1 - 3 Teams
4 - 9 Teams
Basics\Boot Camp
10+ Teams
Business or Project Environment
Business, Stakeholder Attitude
Basic Environment
Eager, Supportive
Complicated Environment
Listening, Cautious
Complex Environment
Hostile, Contrary

This would yield a formula of 10 + 1 + 1 + 4 = 16

For scores below 15, you may only need to drive through the several items from a few learning areas, and then more at your leisure and discernment on what next from items referenced on this blog or lists elsewhere on the web. 

If your score is near 20 or above, you likely need to go through a lot of material of it at a good pace, and those beginners items are critical. Not only that, but you likely need to go through the material with others in your group in some fashion. More on that (Community) later. 

If your score is higher than 25, you need to power through all basic and intermediate material, and cover the advanced topics as soon as you can, with several others in your organization. Education will be instrumental, if not critical, to the success of agile in your company.

I'll provide a list of my recommended materials in a follow-up post.

agile, managementscrum, leadership

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Meeting with Executives Key to Growing Agile Success

I just returned from perhaps the most successful short engagement that I have had. It's a story that you, whether you are on the agile teams delivering or a manager, director, or executive management, would want to see lived out in your company.

It mirrors Rally's Flow-Pull-Innovate agile adoption model, but there was a catalyst that distilled what surely would have taken months of meetings and decision making down into just several hours. 

If you have some teams with some success under their belts, consider asking to schedule a meeting with management (as high up as you can) for a meeting where you will share the agile success metrics (of your team and others in the industry) plus a short overview of agile (what problems it solves, how it works, and culture changes/failure modes). Make sure to have the ScrumMasters and Product Owners on those one or two successful teams present to answer real life questions of what went well, not so well, and lessons learned along the way. 

In my case, our meeting ended with all of management: convinced agile works, understanding the road is long and hard, deciding on next logical steps (which projects, what training, etc.).

But lead with the success you and others have had. Executives need to know why they should care and what's in it for them, then tell them more.