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11/13 – LESS TALKS: NYC LeSS CLP and Meet-Up with Craig Larman

NYC LeSS Meetup with Craig Larman (Video Recording)
Summary by a featured guest-blogger, Enterprise Strategy & Organizational Design expert and Certified LeSS Practitioner – David Stackleather.

I had the opportunity to watch the NYC LeSS Meetup with Craig Larman via video. I attended one of these when Craig was in California, and have attended two CLP training sessions with him, so I have some idea about his message. It’s always useful to hear the news again if for no other reason than to overwrite some of the general nonsense one hears so often in the hallways of the average corporation or on the average Slack channel. Fresh air is good for the soul.
For those who haven’t heard Craig speak, or attend one of his training sessions, the best way I can describe him is that he’s the honey badger of change consultants, he just doesn’t give a, well you catch my drift. There aren’t a lot of weasel words or marketing fluff. Just the simple facts as he sees them. These facts, a description of reality really, can be challenging to hear at times. It’s why you often hear folks giggling uncomfortably in these sessions when Craig says something stark. The thing everyone should understand is, he’s not joking. So pay attention.
Although these sessions only run an hour or so, there is enough content to fill a book, literally. The concepts go deep, and the skills and tactics mentioned in a few sentences can take years to master and fully understand (things like systems modeling, for example). Here are just a few items that stood out to me during this particular session.
Scale Matters
A difficult thing to understand for many is that behavior at small scale is almost meaningless at large scale. Everyone wants to think they can improve their process, or get a little better at their job (or, hope that the other guy gets better at his). Larman makes the point that at scale, it’s the structure that drives change. The root cause of the problems many large enterprises encounter are the result of their design not how good the developer sitting in a cube on the 42nd floor is. Deming taught us this long ago; the workers are not the problem; the problem is at the top.
I like to think of this scale issue from the standpoint of process improvement. In process improvements focused on cycle time, improving the performance of individual processes is unlikely to improve end to end cycle time much if at all. Just messing with the procedures is just as likely to elongate the cycle time as it is to reduce it. The queues and delays between are the story. It’s the structure of the process that must change, not the pieces. Same for organizations. This is a very difficult message for folks to hear if they are not in the mahogany lined offices on the top floor. You can improve locally, and that is all well and good, and I’d advise it, because moving forward is the only way to survive, but it won’t solve your organization’s problems.
The market for deep change
Craig makes the point that the worldwide market for deep change, meaning those companies that really want to change at a fundamental level, is small, perhaps 500 companies total.
I’m not sure how many companies there are but I found online that the total listed companies across all stock exchanges is around 45,000. This is wrong, no doubt. It excludes private companies (some of which can be very large even in countries with deep financial markets where listed would be advantageous), and many of those 45,000 companies are likely rather small. But given that number, we’re looking at one percent of listed companies as being open to real, fundamental, change. That’s a sad state of affairs, but there are deep-seated reasons that there is so little appetite for change at the power center of companies.
Without a profound sense of urgency deep change doesn’t happen. Until leaders are backed against the wall with a real crisis, they are loath to upset the very system that has provided so much. Most large organizations are elegantly designed to provide a steady stream of only what the boss wants to hear. Everyone down the chain of command is in on the game as well, so they want to play by the rules as well. Any information that is raw, real, and innovative is squeezed of real value before it ever gets to the board room. This all feeds very nicely into the strong confirmation bias we all have. It’s very near a closed-loop system in many organizations I’d wager, recycling the same excuses over and over again.
Problems are provoked with fake change
Fake change are those change efforts where the senior leaders are unwilling to fundamentally change the organization, even if they say they are. Instituting change in this environment can provoke existing power structures. When problems inevitably are uncovered, there isn’t the courage to tackle the root cause. There isn’t the courage because that wasn’t the point. The most significant sign that the organization isn’t ready for real change is the avoidance of making the fundamental structural changes necessary. There will often be reasons to retain the old structure or relabel them. If that’s the case, it’s just a show. If you begin a change program in such an environment, you run the risk of awakening a dragon with no ability to slay it, at least organizationally. The problems initially articulated that provided the excuse for the change are not resolved and perhaps made worse by the change chaos. In some cases, it would be better to let the dragon sleep.
Is it hopeless?
Perhaps 99% hopeless. But that means there is a chance! Larman makes a great point about the individual, however. A point I think too many people miss because it’s uncomfortable. If you are in management, or any other specialist function that isn’t directly related to building something customers are willing to pay for, plan your exit. Learn a skill, become valuable. So many people operating in large organizations are intently focused on moving up the hierarchy that they forget that the purpose, at least in theory, of hiring anyone for anything is the skills that person brings to the table. If you never gain marketable skills or let them atrophy after years in the corporate environment, you will find yourself a prisoner. A prisoner of the very same organization you complain about.
Certified LeSS Practitioner –  Feedback From The Room

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About Contracts That Support Agile Ways of Working



One of various under-served (ignored) dimensions of agile transformations that frequently limit an organization’s success, there is one that requires special attention.

It is vendor management that can be traced back to legal contracts between a client company and supplier/vendor.

Vendor management norms and guidelines define relationships and interaction between a company’s own employees and external workers, individually and in team-level settings.  Unfortunately, this issue is not always obvious and therefore, is neither explicitly raised by inexperienced agile coaches, nor adequately addressed by senior leadership that is satisfied with limited results (could be also a sign of complacency).

There is a lot of improvement required in how corporate attorneys and vendor managers define, initiate and maintain external relationships with third parties.

This post provides a short summary of recommended improvements – they are  listed below.  It is based on a more comprehensive excerpt: Agile Contracts Primer, by T. Arbogast, C. Larman, B. Vodde.

(Also, please refer to Top-5 high-level recommendations for what to look for in vendors, selected for agile projects, in “Survival List to Vendor Selection on Agile Projects”)

Recommendations for Attorneys and Vendor Managers:
  • Acknowledge that Legal, just like Finance and HR can diminish project success if not considered as a part of agile ecosystem
  • Get rid of false dichotomies around the 3rd Agile Manifesto value: “just because we value customer collaboration than contract negotiation, it does not mean that a contract has no value” 😉
  • Make sure that attorneys understand that a “successful contract” is not the main goal.  It is a successful project or product (delivery) that is the main goal.
  • Draw analogy between software project complexity and your own (if you are an attorney) legal work complexity, to appreciate how difficult it is to do precise upfront estimation on huge, unpredictable body of work
  • Understand how agile approaches can lower (not completely remove) friction around, such areas of contract negotiation as liability, warranty, payments, pricing, deliverable
  • Understand that external legal contracts have downstream impact on internal non-legal contracts – relationships between people
  • Understand repercussions of subjective incentives and rewards (bonuses), given to attorneys for legal outcomes (event if they are successful), instead of focusing on an overall project success
  • Understand/study agile and iterative development (e.g. Scrum, Kanban), system thinking concepts, lean principles and agile project assumptions differ from traditional project assumptions
  • Gain strong grasp of what Acceptance Criteria, Definition of Done, PSPI and MVP mean
  • Study how continuous deployment and incremental development can reduce risk and exposure, as oppose to sequential/waterfall SDLC that usually  increases it
  • Understand positive implications of agile ways of working Limited Liability and Warranty, Deliverable and Pricing
  • Specifically, with regards to Pricing, understand:
    • Variations of T&M contracts and why they are good for agile projects.  For example:
      • Fixed price per iteration (per unit of time), fixed-price per large project
      • Fixed price per unit of work
      • Pay-per-use models
      • Hybrid shared pain/gain models
      • Capped-Price, Variable-Scope vs. Capped-Price, Partial-Fixed-Scope vs. Fixed-Price, Variable-Scope
      • Target-cost
    • Reasons why FPFS contacts are least desirable/most risky and what are some of the ways of lowering such risks
    • Difference between flexible scope without and with penalty (shared gain/pain)
    • Early termination – does not mean failure
Conclusion

Contracts are not necessarily always bad.  Having an external, legal contract between a client and a vendor/service provider/supplier is perfectly normal and even necessary.  It is the form of a contract that matters, as it has downstream effect on dynamics and behaviors between people within a client company, as well as between the parties.

To produce a meaningful contract for an agile project, an attorney should have good understanding of what is valued most in agile work, by agile teams, and optimize his/her own work for the benefit of an overall project, not just for having an amazing contract (locally optimized for an attorney’s benefit).  To gain such understanding a legal professional needs to invest significantly in studying principles of agile/adaptive product development (e.g. Scrum, Kanban), lean and system thinking.

Some of the above listed contract types are more supportive of agile work than others and each once must be explored in detail for suitability, depending on unique organizational settings.

 

Thoughts by Rick Waters, CST

Rick Waters is a Business Agility Coach and Trainer, from Chicago, with more than 15 years of technical software development experience, and almost 10 years of Agile leadership experience.  Rick primarily trains Scrum, Enterprise Scrum Business Agility, and Kanban.
This is what Rick wrote, in support of the recently released book by Gene Gendel (Adaptive Ecosystems: The Green Book: Collection of Independent Essays About Agility):

Nearly every time we talked, my dear friend, Mike Beedle (RIP), would challenge me to think deeper about less conventional concepts that I wouldn’t normally consider having an impact on the subject matter we were discussing.  Often, Mike would come back to Employee Experience.

“Employee Experience,” he would say “is the where we need to focus in order to truly give our customers the amazing experience that we want them to have with us, as a company, and our products.”

Recently, the well-meaning practices of installing ping-pong and foosball tables, or game rooms, or a kegerator in the lunchroom, have come under fire.  Though these ‘perks’ to working in a space where at least someone is focusing on an aspect of Employee Experience (EX) seem great on the surface (mainly to new employees during the interview process), they don’t speak to the long-term EX.  They speak, mostly, to something I like to call Short-term Employee Gratification.

I want to reiterate, the people responsible for work-place ‘improvements’ like those already mentioned, are well-meaning.  But, like many good deeds, they don’t go unpunished.  Here, mostly because these Short-term Employee Gratification efforts are just that – short-term.

Long-term EX is about sustainability.  We see, in the Principles behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, that there has always been someone concerned with sustainability.

“Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

So, why do even the best of us not understand that our actions are not having the intended effects?  Because we are HUMAN BEINGS, and we have this natural tendency to believe that when we ‘fix’ something, that it stays ‘fixed’.  In this case, when we make our employees happy, they should stay happy.

So, why don’t employees stay happy?  Because they are HUMAN BEINGS, and trying to get a human being to stay happy when nothing around them is improving, the morale suffers.

We talk a lot, in the Agile world, about the concept of Continual Improvement.  We also warn those whom we mentor, to only take on as much change as they can handle at any given time.  Trying to change too many things at once and realize which of those changes actually had a positive effect can be darn near impossible at times.

So, in this example, maybe just provide one perk at a time.  But, in all fairness, slowly rolling out toys for employees to play with at work … that’s still just a stop-gap measure to gratification, not a solution to improving the Employee Experience.

I now invite you to take a trip down memory lane with me.  The year was 2004.  I was working at a young company in Chicago, still relatively small at 100-125 employees.  We had a culture of freedom, not fear.  That would come later.  Our products were platforms and API’s for electronic traders (of stocks, bonds, future, options, etc.) to make trades quickly, setup their own custom automatic trading rules, and develop custom trade strategies.

Life was great!  For a while.  There were monthly bonuses for everyone, when the Sales department hit their quota.  There were free donuts and bagels once a week.  I believe that, for a time, there were even free soft drinks from the vending machines.  Our team even had full autonomy over who we interviewed, and who we hired.

As the company grew, and we grew quickly, these perks slowly disappeared.  Every one of them.  Until if we asked around, “Hey, do you remember when we used to have <perk>?”  The general answer was likely “That was before my time.”  But, in reality, it likely wasn’t before their time, they just didn’t remember it.

Let’s fast forward a bit through the ugly parts – fast growth in head count, demanding deadlines and the resulting loss in quality, stolen/lost autonomy, creation of a command and control environment, increasing number of periodic performance evaluations, and finally periodic layoffs.

The changes did not take long.  Two years at most.  But they, and their resulting culture, lasted for much longer.

I eventually left the company.  I knew I was a valuable part of my team, but I was extremely frustrated with many of the negative turns the company had made, as well as some of the decisions my immediate co-workers had made.  I needed to get out to preserve my sanity.  Or so I thought.

I let my manager know I had another job offer, and I had already accepted it.  I gave my two-week notice.  He begged me to stay.  I asked him “If the company values me so much, why doesn’t anyone feel this way?”

Two hours later I got a meeting request from the CTO.  I was to bring all of my improvement suggestions to him, for discussion, first thing the next morning.  Improvement suggestions?  The CTO!?!

I went home and immediately started writing down everything I thought was wrong with the company and how they could improve the working relationships with their employees.  From problems with retention of talent, to employee happiness, to wage inequality, etc.  It ended up being a 3 page long handwritten bulletized list.  I was proud and scared at the same time.

The next morning I handed the papers across the CTO’s desk, and we had a 3 hour long conversation about why I was leaving, the devolution of morale at the company, my unwillingness to stay, his failure (his words not mine) to his employees, and much more.  This is saying a lot about a man who repeatedly would blow off scheduled meetings and short people on their time to talk with him.  Our meeting was only scheduled for 30 minutes.

I left that meeting feeling extremely valued.  Exactly what I wanted all along.  I was shocked, because nowhere in those three handwritten pages had I even come close to mentioning that a deep face-to-face conversation, with the CTO focused on me as an important employee, was enough to restore my hope in the company.  But that did the trick!

Out of foolish pride, I left anyway.  I wasn’t always as enlightened as I am today.  I’m still not as enlightened as I wish to be.  So I made mistakes.  And I will make mistakes.  Leaving the company at that point was probably a mistake.

After I left the company, it took me six weeks to meet with the CTO again and ask to come back.  He agreed.  He wanted me to see the changes that he was making.

I returned to the office (with a raise and promotion) after 10 weeks of absence.  I found a foosball table and a conference room had been transformed into a game room (the newest Nintendo® and XBOX® game systems installed with many games for each).  These were suggestions I had made.

But during those 10 weeks of absence, I realized I was wrong three different ways.  #1 for leaving.  #2 my suggestions were based on short-term gratification. #3 I never brought up any of my suggestions at the times they occurred to me over the last several years.

Just as you might guess, these improvements, and a few more over a short period of time, had an immediate positive effect on employee morale.  But, long-term systemic change had not been addressed.  Frequent performance evaluations still remained.  Deadlines were a constant source of stress.  Development was not focused on building Quality into the product, so it had to be tested out of the product afterwards.  Layoffs became more frequent, and the culture of fear quickly resumed, after the shine of the foosball table dimmed.

The EX had only gotten better for a short period of time.  Eaten alive by the terrible system that was still in place.  Like painting and waxing a rusty automobile, without grinding away the rusty bits first.

Agility is defined slightly differently by almost everyone in our industry.  To me it speaks of a company culture that I would love to work in.  During my entire career, I can think of only a few years when I worked in an environment that I can confidently describe as Agile.  All other environments were either deviating further and further from Agility, or trying everything they could think of to get closer to Agility (with varying levels of short-term success).

While hearing Mike Beedle’s words about Employee Experience echoing in my head, I blend them with Craig Larman’s.  Craig saying that cultural change follows only if there is systemic change, makes clear sense to me these days.

Today, when large organizations want me to help them change their culture, I try to refocus them on their system and how they are providing a long-term gratifying Employee Experience.  Cultural change will follow, and thus Customer Experience.

07/30 – LESS TALKS: Real life “war story” of LeSS adoption at Large Financial Institution – Continued

This was the second great presentation by Gordon Weir who delivered part-2 of his “Real life “war story” of LeSS adoption at Large Financial Institution” at NYC Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) meetup.

Please download Gordon’s Presentation (light on context, with very rich story behind)

This time, the event was made available globally, by using Nureva Span tool that allows to bring together distributed sites for real-time collaboration.  People from Canada and India have joined.  Zoom was added to capture in-class dynamics.

Participants were able to submit questions and comments for the speaker ahead of and during the session.   Canvas instance is captured ‘as is’ as well as transcribed below:

  Questions/Comments (about LeSS & Agile:

Transcribed Questions/Comments (about LeSS & Agile:

  • How did LeSS help financial org to stay lean and bring high impact and value to customers?
  • What involvement does HR have in LeSS adoption?
  • Will the speaker cover HR -related aspects of LeSS adoption?
  • What are some of the tricks you learned to break through the resistance to change?
  • How can we tell if our engineering practices are getting in the way of our success with LeSS?
  • What does LeSS recommend in terms of number of teams per Product Owner?
  • How product or value defined in Less?
  • Please, elaborate on Risk management with agile?
  • How to transform team divided by components into feature teams?
  • What will happen if any organization stops doing all the work except what is minimally essential?
  • As per Frederic Laloux, Teal is the color for agile.
    Ceremonies in Less
  • Attempting any sort of change in a financial institution is exhausting. How do we prevent burnout?
  • Most org’s/teams are not clear what their PRODUCT is – or agree on it!
  • Measurement, MBOs, Balanced Scorecards, OKRs, KPIs, lions, tigers, and bears.
  • Could you share practical ideas on changing status-quo mindsets of middle & first level mgrs?
  • Less Approach is a lot of work. Not for the faint of heart.
  • Are Agile transformations dependent on the right culture as a solid foundation?
  • Roles in Less compared to SAFe
  • Moving from SAFe to LeSS
  • Non-Violent (NVC) Friday discussion topics.
Transcribed Questions/Comments Nureva Span

Many questions about Nureva Span can be answered by visiting this page, where its technical documentation is listed.  The tool has been used for LeSS meetups and various agile events for some time.  For more information, please inquire directly by submitting a question at the bottom of this page.

More Kodak Moments:

 

Guidelines to hiring a professional Coach

Let’s face it, today, finding an experienced and credible agile coach, is not easy.  If you disagree with this statement, you are either very lucky and have special access to some great talent (e.g. referrals or networking) OR your perception of the role may need to change.
There is no need to be ashamed of not being able to find a good coach. You are not alone, many companies face the same challenge.
Truth be told, unfortunately, the industry has changed significantly  of the last few years and became the source of many problems (some very classic problems are described here).  Today, the term “Senior Agile Coach” has been grossly diluted. 🙁
But fortunately, there are still great standards and guidelines you can follow, when looking for an agile coach, irrespective of industry trends.  Please, consider the dimensions below, when looking for a professional agile coach, for your organization.  The original sources of these requirements are listed at the bottom of this page and you are encouraged to explore them for additional details.
Please, do not reduce, simplify or trivialize some of the key expectations of a professional agile coach.  Because, if you do, the following two problems will follow:
  • Industry coaching quality (average) will be further decreased,… and even if you don’t care about this fact as much…you will care about the next fact….
  • Quality of service to your own organization will be also low

…with that….


“Must-Have” for Professional Agile Coach

Quantitative Assets:
  • Has significant hands-on experience in at least one of the roles on a Scrum Team
  • Has coached multiple organizations, departments, or programs
  • Has, at least, 1000 hours of experience coaching at the enterprise/organizational level or a combination of enterprise and multi-team level coaching
  • Has diversity of coaching experiences that can be demonstrated, using different client engagement examples, and which include experience at the organizational level
Demonstration of deep knowledge:
  • Has formal and informal education about coaching and strong mentor relationships
  • Has good working knowledge of Agile and Lean values, principles, and practices.
  • Has helped individuals, teams, and leadership to understand and apply Agile and Lean values, principles, and practices effectively
  • Understands the dynamics, patterns, and development of multi-level teams and how they interact at the organizational level
  • Knows the difference between consulting and coaching and knows when to apply each.
Ability to clearly articulate and substantiate one’s own:
  • Coaching Career Overview (coaching, agile history and how a person got where he/she is today. Include key milestone years)
  • Coaching Focus (summary of a person’s professional self today, including a coaching approach and/or philosophy to coaching)
  • Coaching Goals (personal development goals in coaching)
  • Formal Coaching Education (formal education activities which have contributed significantly to your coaching journey. This includes a wide range of courses on topics including facilitation, leadership, consulting, coaching, process, tools, techniques, frameworks, and other related activities which have influenced our coaching practice)
  • Formal Mentor-ship Education (coach mentor-ship and significant collaboration activities where a person has DEVELOPED a skill or technique or RECEIVED guidance to his/her coaching approach and mindset.)
  • Informal Coaching Learning (significant topics you have studied outside of the Scrum literature which has impacted his/her coaching approach or coaching philosophy)
  • Agile Community Participation (agile community events, such as user groups, gatherings, retreats, camps, conferences, etc. in which a coach has participated)
  • Agile Community Leadership (leadership contributions to the agile community (e.g. writing, publishing, presenting, facilitating, organizing, training and other activities) through events, publications, courses, blogs and forums)
  • Agile Community Collaborative Mentoring & Advisory (significant collaborative agile mentoring, advisory activities, where a person was mentoring, advising other individuals to increase their competency or in development of a specific goal)
  • Coaching Tools, Techniques or Frameworks known (coaching tools, techniques or frameworks which you have implemented, customized, co-developed or developed in one or more client engagements)
Skills, Tools & Techniques:
  • Has contributed to significant improvements in organizations or departments through coaching techniques
  • Has helped organizations and teams beyond the basics of Scrum theory and practice
  • Has enabled organizations to find their own solutions to business problems through the application of Agile principles
  • Is familiar with, promotes and embodies the mindset of Servant Leadership
  • Uses a rich set of facilitation, training and coaching tools, and models
Personal Qualities:
  • Coaching Mindset Coaching skills/practices and frameworks
  • Evidence that the coach has taken both their Experience and Learning and synthesized these into definitive practices, frameworks, approaches, and strategies)
  • Self-awareness: Able to reflect on their own contribution to the coaching by virtue of their own ‘being’
  • Constant Learning: Has and continues to acquire Coaching oriented learning through multiple dimensions
  • Diversity of Experience with different types & sizes of organizations
  • Participation in the Agile community

Note: Your company needs to have internal expertise to validate a person, based on the above.


Resources:

Why Is LeSS Authentic? Why Should Leadership NOT Exempt Itself from Learning LeSS?

Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) is the agile framework that has a history of implementations, trials & errors, experiments and experience reports collected and documented throughout a decade.
LeSS is Scrum, performed by multiple teams (2-8) that work on the same widely defined product, for the same Product Owner.
LeSS stresses the importance of organizational descaling (a.k.a. flattening) that needs to happen before agility can be scaled.  The first LeSS book (out of three published so far) was written in 2008 and it had incorporated the ideas of its two authors, C. Larman and B. Vodde, by mainly including their own experiences of initial LeSS adoptions, from years before.
Overall, LeSS journey has begun many years before Large Scale Scrum has been officially presented to the world and recognized, as a framework, and this is important to acknowledge.  But why?    

Because LeSS, unlike some other very popular and commercially successful frameworks, that are very easy to ‘unwrap and install’, was not invented re-actively, as a “quick fix/hot patch”, in response to growing market trends and business needs (commercial driver).

LeSS is authentic.  LeSS took its time to mature and cultivate, as a philosophy and way of thinking, not as a revenue-generating utility.  LeSS did it at its own pace, without a rush, while incorporating learning of many coaches and companies that went through LeSS adoptions, over years.   LeSS has naturally “aged”, in a good sense of this word 😊.

Important Point: Whereas, deep learning of system dynamics and organizational design is equally available to everyone who attends LeSS training, not everyone can equally impact-fully apply this learning, when they go back to work.  But why?

Lots of LeSS learning (through system modelling, using causal loop diagrams) touches upon organizational elements, such as HR norms and policies, reporting structures, career paths and promotions, location/site strategies, budgeting/finance processes, etc. – things that are considered to be “untouchable” for an average person (employee).

Of course, it does not mean that an average person is not able to start seeing things differently (they definitely do!) after studying LeSS but it is just that he may not have enough power/influence to make necessary organizational changes that are required by LeSS.  In fact, for many people, this newly gained knowledge which is no longer possible to “unlearn” 😊 (e.g. ability think systemically), is accompanied by realization of one’s own powerlessness – and could be pretty frustrating.

Things are different for people that occupy higher organizational positions.  A senior leader is able to combine the decision-making power that is given to him by his organization and the power of newly obtained knowledge, coming from LeSS training.  These two powers, united, can have an amplified effect.

Notably, a senior leader who wants to apply LeSS learning to improve his organization must have something else that is very special, in addition to just having general curiosity of the subject and desire to experiment: it is called a ‘sense of urgency’.  The best examples of senior leaders that have learned LeSS and then applied learning to reality, came from situations, where the need to change was urgent and separated success from failure.  Then, if the above is true, the formula of LeSS adoption success becomes:

(Organizational Power + Power of Knowledge)  x Sense of Urgency = Success of LeSS adoption

Important Point: It is strongly not advisable for senior leaders to delegate LeSS learning to people that are below them organizationally and therefore, not empowered to make organizational changes. Granted, individuals at all organizational levels will be benefited from learning LeSS (it is a great eye opener).  But senior leaders – people that are empowered to make significant organizational changes, must attend LeSS training in person and not delegate attendance to their subordinates.  Leadership should not exempt itself from learning.
In fact, and ideally, senior leadership should attend LeSS training, accompanied by their respective organizational verticals, so that everyone goes through the same learning journey together.  Having HR and finance people, alongside with C-level executives and staff members of lower organizational levels – is a HUGE BONUS.

Not All Scrum Anti-Patterns Are Easily Identifiable

This is not true Scrum!!!” – we often hear from people, pointing at omissions and pitfalls of fake Scrum implementations.  The list of classically seen Scrum anti-pattern could become pretty exhaustive.  Here are some examples of  “Dark Scrum” (as Ron Jeffries puts it):

  • Multiple people playing the role of Product Owner
  • No Scrum Master present or line manager performing the role
  • Scrum events are dismissed, in favor of status calls
  • PMO or first-line managers driving team dynamics , assign and monitor team work
  • Teams are understaffed and miss required skill-set to complete work
  • Too many translators-BAs that sit between real customers and development teams (see below)

But not all Scrum anti-patterns are equally obvious.  Let’s take a look at three instances of team-sprinting, where (1) Scrum anti-pattern is obvious, (2) Scrum anti-pattern is not obvious, (3) Scrum is done well.

Just before we proceed, let’s recap (paraphrase) what the Scrum Guide says: In Scrum, in every Sprint, a team delivers Potentially Shippable Product Increment (PSPI).  This is fundamental for Scrum.  In order for this to happen, each team must possess all necessary attributes (skills, knowledge, domain expertise) required to get work fully DONE (potentially shippable). This is what makes Scrum - real Scrum. Many teams that lack the required Scrum attributes still attempt to sprint, however, effectiveness of such “sprint-like activities” is significantly reduced.  Not all anti-patterns of Scrum are equally obvious.
Instance 1: Scrum anti-pattern is obvious
  • Separate, phase-specific backlogs or
  • Single backlog with phase-specific items
  • Local optimization by single-skill specialists (e.g. PM, BA, QA, Architect, Developer)
  • Hand-overs, toll-gates, “internal contracts”
  • Long periods of down-time by specialists, when it is not “their phase” to work
  • “Water-scrum” /” Scrum-fall”
  • Very weak Definition of Ready & Done
  • PSPI – takes many sprints to produce
Instance 2: Scrum anti-pattern is not obvious
  • Separate, component-specific backlogs or
  • Single backlog with component-specific items
  • Local optimization by component specialists (e.g. UI/UX, middle-tier, back-end, web service, architecture)
  • Hand-overs, toll-gates, “internal contracts”
  • Multiple non-development sprints needed to integrate all components and fix bugs
  • Weak Definition of Ready & Done
  • PSPI – takes many sprints to produce
Instance 3: Scrum is done well.
  • Single, shared, customer-centric backlog
  • Single, empowered Product Owner
  • Shared ownership of work, no siloes
  • Swarming by T-shaped people
  • Strong Definition of Ready & Done
  • PSPI – every sprint

For organizations and teams that are new to agile and scrum, did not make a required investment in proper training/education, have not made an effort to improve organizational design for better agility and do not have experienced agile coaches, supporting them in their journey, option 2 above, may seem as “OK way to sprint”.  But please, beware, that you are not getting a real benefit of true Scrum, when you have so much “Undone” work at the end of each sprint cycle ☹.

Below is a graphic illustration of the three types of sprinting described.

 

06/13 – LESS TALKS: Real life “war story” of LeSS adoption at Large Financial Institution

On June 13, Gordon Weir delivered his great presentation “Real life “war story” of LeSS adoption at Large Financial Institution” at NYC Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) meetup.

Here are some of the key points made in the presentation:

  • In 2006, there was a decision made to stop using the concept of a ‘project’, as this fake and artificially fabricated term implied start and end of something that was meant to be continuous: product development.
  • In 2007, there was a decision made to stop using Component-centric work and Release Trains – something that was mistakenly introduced by SAFe implementation
  • During 2006-2008 – the number of ‘feature points’ (equivalent to deployed features) delivered each sprint was pretty low. Introduction of SAFe did not improve the situation: too much ‘undone’ component-work remained at the end of each sprint
  • Between 2008 and 2009, Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) was introduced, and it led to a number of ‘feature points’ increasing steeply, every sprint
  • Closer to 2009, when 150+ development teams introduced SBE (specification by example), ATTD (acceptance test-driven development) and feature toggling (engineering practices that are strongly advocated by LeSS), a number of ‘feature points’ delivered each sprint grew even higher, with many teams becoming capable of releasing to production multiple times each sprint
  • Forming properly structured feature teams in NY, London, Kiev, Hyderabad and Hong Kong brought about the following benefits:
    • Reduced hand-offs: “concurrent engineering”
    • Clear accountability for feature delivery (by each team)
    • Code base sharing, across all teams that resulted in greater quality, evidenced by very minor issues, following latest release
    • Each team, focusing on one feature at a time – something that led to shared purpose and reduced task switching (ultimately leading to greater efficiency)
    • Teams, having greater appreciation for customer needs

Why did everything work? Because there was an environment of Autonomy, Fearlessness and good practices of software Engineering created.

Many companies start agile adoptions by introducing a long array of “agile processes” and “best practices”, falsely assuming that they are all universal or absolute.  But they are not.  Every company, every department, every situation has its own context.  Also, starting with “best practices” concept is wrong because hardly any of them are always “best”; rather “great” and only contextually.  Instead companies should start with introducing good principles that can be over time developed into good processes and practices that will always remain contextual.

The magic formula then becomes: Process + Practices = Principles + Context

Download Gordon Weir’s Presentation

May 19-22: Global Scrum Alliance Gathering | AUS-TX

An amazing 2019 Global Scrum Alliance Gathering (May 19-22), organized by SA staff that brought together a record-high number of professionals from around the globe and had countless amazing events – too many to describe them all in one newsletter. 🙂
Here, I would like to  recap what committed to my memory the most:
  • Keynote presentation by Daniel Pink
  • My personal experience from servicing the ‘Fans of LeSS’ booth, attended by hundreds of people
  • Highlights of my own presentation that draw more than 100 people: “How to Stop Deterioration of Coaching Quality: Industrially and Organizationally” and feedback from the room
  • Coaches Clinic and Coaches/Trainers Retreat highlights 

Keynote Presentation by Daniel H. Pink

During his keynote presentation, Daniel H. Pink (the best-selling author, contributing editor and co-executive producer, known world-wide) shared the highlights of his new book: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

Pink’s Synopsis: “We all know that timing is everything. Trouble is, we don’t know much about timing itself. Our business and professional lives present a never-ending stream of ‘when’ decisions. But we make them based on intuition and guesswork. Timing, we believe, is an art.  But timing is a really a science – one we can use to make smarter decisions, enhance our productivity, and boost the performance of our organizations.

Some highlights from Pink’s talk:

Scientifically and statistically, both humans and apes, have the lowest well-being at mid-life.

Therefore, D.Pink’s recommendation on how to deal with such unpleasant mid-points, are as follows:

  • Beware [of such mid-points]
  • Use midpoints to wake up rather than roll over
  • Imagine you’re a little behind

Then, D. Pink also stressed that there are hidden patterns of how time-of-day affects our analytic and creative capabilities – and how simple work rearrangements can improve our effectiveness. For example, when a person makes an appointment to a physician, it is best to ask for a morning time slot, instead of afternoon slot, since physicians tend to have more analytical capabilities before lunch.

D. Pink’s next point was that as individuals get older, at the end of each decade, they are more prone to take certain actions that psychologically make them feel younger. As an example, he used statistical data of marathon runners: people are most likely to run their first marathon at the ages that are just at the brink of next decade: e.g. 29 or 49 years old.

“Because the approach of a new decade… functions as a marker of progress through the life span…people are more apt to evaluate their lives as a chronological decade ends, than they are at other times.”- Daniel H. Pink
How about psychological reaction to the fact that something will be GONE and the time when it will happen is coming up shortly?

In one case study (left image), when a person was given one chocolate candy at a time, and was asked to give feedback about its taste, a response was usually consistent, for each subsequent candy. However, as soon as a person was told that it was the last candy to taste, feedback about how a candy tasted became significantly more positive.

In another case study (right image), when a group of people was asked to fill out a survey, in order to receive a certificate, before it expired, responses were different, when conditions were set as “will expire in 3 weeks” vs. “will expire in two months”.  Apparently, proximity of expiration date made people much more responsive to the request to fill out a survey.

D.Pink’s next point was about how half-time checks can shape our behavior and impact final results. According to D. Pink, scientists and researchers really like statistical data from sports because it is ‘clean’.  Here, using an example of basketball teams, when teams play a game, the following can be observed, depending on half-time results:

  • Being significantly behind – usually results in a loss
  • Being significantly ahead – usually results in a victory
  • Being slightly behind – motivates people to step up and put an extra effort, which results ultimate victory
  • Being slightly ahead – makes people relaxed, less focused and less persuasive, which results in ultimate loss

As such, there is a conclusion:

“Being slightly behind (at half-time) significantly increases a team’s chance of winning” –D.Pink

Fans of LeSS Corner
A small group of Certified Scrum Trainers and Certified Enterprise-Team Coaches, supported the Large Scale Scrum (LeSS booth):  Fans of LeSS.

At least a few hundred people has come by the booth, asking for information about LeSS.
The booth servants received the following three biggest take-away points:

  • Unfortunately, still not too many people are aware of LeSS.  This is not to be confused with attempts or successes of adoption.  Rather, this is about general knowledge of what LeSS is. Ironically, the booth was labeled “Area 51” – the world’s best kept secret :).
  • Once being explained what LeSS is, how simple and common-sense it is, for many people, it has become an ‘AHA’ moment. The most awakening moment was understanding the difference between ‘global and local optimization’, ‘deep and narrow, as opposed to broad and shallow’, ‘owning vs. renting’.
  • Amazingly, how many people shared the same, almost standard complain/pain-point: “… we are currently using a very complicated, monolithic and cumbersome process (usually referring to some widely marketed XYZe framework), with multiple organizational layers involved,… and it creates lots of overhead, waste and friction,… practically nothing has changed in our workplace since the time we adopted it…same people, same duties and responsibilities (practically) BUT different terms, labels and roles … We really don’t like what we have to deal with now and our senior management is also frustrated but it seems that there is really nothing we can do to fix it at the moment…“.

“How to Stop Deterioration of Agile Coaching Quality: Organizationally, Industrially?” (my own presentation)

The goal of my presentation (Gene is here) was to discuss with the audience:

  • What is the problems’ origin [as it is derived from the title]?
  • Examples of the problem’s manifestation?
  • How can we solve the problem?

Throughout the course of my presentation I:

  • Exposed some classic systemic dysfunctions that sit upstream to the problem in scope.
  • Gave some examples of the problem, by using cartoons and satire
  • Delineated between the problem aspects, coming from outside organizations vs. siting on inside
  • Described types of internal (organizational) coaching structures that are to be avoided vs. tried
  • Gave some suggestions on what to avoid vs. what to look for in a good coach
  • Gave additional recommendations to companies, coaching-opportunity seekers and companies’ internal recruiters

“Download Presentation as PDF”


…and a some additional highlights from the gathering….
The Coaches Clinic – for 3 days
This traditional ‘free service’ by Scrum Alliance Enterprise and Team coaches and trainers what at the highest ever: 300 people were served in total,  over  course  of  3 consecutive days.


Certified Enterprise & Team Coaches and Scrum Trainers Retreat – Day 0:

This year brought together the biggest ever number of CECs-CTCs and CSTs.  One of the most important themes that was elaborated: how important it is for guide-level agile experts (CECs, CTCs, CSTs) to unite together in a joint effort to change the world of work.

Note: Thanks to Daniel Gullo (CST-CEC), who generously created for each attending Certified Enterprise Coach – colleague a memorable gift: Coach’s Coin with The Coach’s Creed:

  • CARITAS: Charity, giving back, helping others
  • COMMUNITAS: Fostering community and interaction
  • CONSILIARIUM: Counseling, consulting, The art of coaching
2020 Global Scrum Alliance Gathering is in NEW YORK(registration is not open yet)