Category Archives: Agile_Role

HR-Related LeSS Experiments – Deciphered

Large Scale Scrum has a history of more than a decade. The first book about LeSS was published by C. Larman and B. Vodde (the co-creators of LeSS) in 2008.  There were two more books on LeSS, subsequently written in 2010 and 2016.  There is no surprise, why the collection of LeSS experiments from the field is so valuable: the authors have documented many (more than 600) experiments, based on their personal experience with LeSS adoptions, as well as feedback and information collected from other organizational design consultants, coaches and early adopters of LeSS, around the globe.
Today, references to LeSS Guides and Experiments can be found in various places on the internet and intranet of many companies that have decided to experiment with LeSS.
This writing is about a small sub-set of LeSS experiments that are specifically related to HR norms, policies and practices. They are all listed in the guide (referenced above), under the section “Organization” and it implies that they are directly related to organizational design – the first-order factor that is responsible for success of LeSS adoptions and agile transformations, at large.
Experiments with Performance Appraisals:
Avoid… Performance appraisals – p. 273 — There is a lot of research and evidence, supporting that individual performance evaluations and individual appraisals that are linked to monetary rewards, are not an effective way to make individuals to become more efficient and productive.  When a manager appraises an employee, usually only one opinion in the room that matters: a manager’s.  Feedback that is delivered once or twice a year is not timely and therefore is hardly actionable by an employee, thus useless, for the most part.  Neither an individual that delivers an appraisal, not an individual that receives it – like the process.  The process, is also pretty expensive, as it uses a lot of company’s resources: it involves lots of documentation, coordination and men-hours spent by many people, from first-line management to HR.
It is worth noting that there is an indirect relationship between conventional Budgeting process and conventional Performance Management process – both of which harmfully feeding off of one another. This is described in the book “Implementing beyond Budgeting: Unlocking the Performance Potential“, by Bjarte Bogsnes.  In his work, Bjarte refers to performance appraisals as “legal trail for a rainy day”.

Avoid… ScrumMasters do performance appraisals – p. 275” —Just like performance appraisals done by agile coaches could lead to serious dysfunctions (page. 130), performance appraisals done by ScrumMasters are extremely harmful.  Drafting ScrumMaster into this role will create a serious conflict of interest and will hinder ScrumMaster’s ability to influence natural growth and evolution of learning among team members. Impartiality and neutrality of ScrumMaster is highly important; becoming an appraiser – takes away this advantage.  Only by remaining neutral and non-authoritative (performance appraisal is exhibition of authority) will ScrumMaster be able to help a team to self-discover, self-improve, and become autonomous in their journey to success.

“Try… De-emphasize incentives – p270.” | “Avoid… Putting incentives on productivity measures – p. 271.” — If achieving a higher productivity (output, velocity) is coupled with monetary incentives/perks or other political gains (typical of many companies that overuse scorecards, metrics, KPIs, RAGs), there is will be always attempts by individuals/teams to claim successes/achievements by ‘playing the system’, in pursuit of recognition and a prize.  For example, in pursuit of ‘higher productivity’ teams may start inflating estimates, to claim higher velocity or deliver work that is low in priority but simple to deliver – just to create an illusion of volume. Incentivizing ‘higher velocity’ is an invitation to moving from “low Fibonacci numbers to high Fibonacci numbers” during estimation.  (Also, see Addressing Problems, Caused by AMMS)

Try… Team incentives instead of individual incentives – p. 272 — The process of individual performance reviews loses its original meaning when people work on same teams, where swarming (working together on the same task) and collective ownership is encouraged.  Offering individual incentives to people would just polarize them and move in opposite directions, towards becoming selfish, individual performers and super-heroes. In cases such as these, people may be easily drafted into unhealthy competition with each other over claims of success, trying to privatize what should be owned and worked on collectively. Companies that continue incentivizing individual performance with monetary perks just continue widening the gap between “what science knowns and business does” (quote from Daniel Pink).

“Try… Team-based targets without rewards – p. 273” — Clearly, team-level behavior, is an extension of individual behavior.  Just like individuals could be inclined to ‘game the system’, so could whole teams, under certain conditions.  Just like individuals, whole teams could be drafted in unethical conspiracies to game numbers, in pursuit of meeting targets, or beating other teams (e.g. producing ‘higher velocity’), whenever monetary rewards are at stake.  It is absolutely necessary to set targets to individual teams that work on par with one another, for the same organization, it would be best to decouple team targets from team rewards.  The latter could be handled through, some sort of profit sharing formula, based on a company’s financial success that is traceable back each team’s work.
Experiments with Job Titles:
“Avoid… Job titles – p. 276 | Try… Create only one job title.  Try… Let people make their own titles – p. 277 | encourage funny titles” – p. 277 —In pursuit of job titles, individuals may also seek gaining authority and “upper hand” over their peers and colleagues.  This may lead to artificial organizational complexity and hierarchy, as well as a casting system.  Individual job titles can also polarize people and drive them in opposite directions, away from shared ownership.  It is for this reason that on agile teams (e.g. Scrum), there is only one title – Developer.  This approach encourages people to think of each other as on-par, as peers, and grow into T-shaped, multi-skilled, cross-functional, willing-to-swarm workers.  In situations, where some distinction between individual jobs is absolutely necessary funny job titles are recommended.  For example, instead of calling someone QA Tester, a person could be called “Bug Finder and Exterminator”
“Try… (if all else fails) Generic title with levels – p. 277” — If it is absolutely necessary to have title distinction (e.g. to signify different levels of seniority/expertize of individuals), try using a leveling system.  For example, Developer level 1(junior), Developer level 2 (mid-level), Developer level 3 (senior)…. However, care should be exercised, not to explicitly associate different title levels with different levels of pay.
Experiments with Jobs:
“Try… Simple general job descriptions – p. 278” – Do not overcomplicate job descriptions.   Precision in a description may lead to contractual perception of what a person should and should not do, in a workplace.  This may also limit a person’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone and learn other areas of work, other skills and becoming multi-faceted.  It may then further lead to “managing by objectives” that are based on detailed job descriptions, and subsequently bring about problems of performance appraisals, described above.  Complex job descriptions also have a tendency attracting underqualified external candidates, whose resumes are excessively long, as they are ‘tailored to closely match complex job descriptions’.  (Relevantly, attracting bad agile coaches, by creating inappropriate job descriptions is a known problem).
“Try… Job rotation – p. 279 | Try… Start people with job rotation – p. 280” — Give individuals opportunities to learn new domains, technologies, lines of business.  This is will reduce the risk of a person becoming uninterested/bored with his current job.  Further, by rotating from one job to another, a person may discover where he fits best and delivers most value.  By having this opportunity, a person will also have a higher chance of merging the gap between “having to do a job” and “wanting to do a job”.  This is especially important with newly hired people that have a limited industry experience (e.g. recent college graduates).
 Experiments with Hiring:
Try… Hire the best – p. 280 | Avoid… Hiring when you cannot find the best – p. 281” — Do not settle for less than “best people your money can buy”.  It is better to rely on fewer great people that you already have on-staff than bring on more under-qualified people, to speed up work, especially at the end of a project that is already late (Brook’s Law).  From a system thinking perspective if you are trying to increase velocity (output) by a scrum team and decide to do so by adding more developers that you procured on low budget (low pay will most likely buy you low-skilled developers), you will most likely reduce velocity, by having low-skilled developers introducing more bugs into a system. Please, see why.
Try… Team does the hiring – p. 281” — If you plan on hiring an individual to join a team, please make sure that a team does most of interviewing and vetting.  Through that, not only a person’s skills and experience will be examined but it will become more apparent if a person can organically jell with a team: if there is compatibility, chemistry and synergy with other team members.   Panel interviews by whole teams are usually much more effective, since they include practical tests, real-life simulations and hands-on exercises.  It also allows some people to observe, while others ask questions, and then rotate.  Try to reduce the level of influence that HR personnel and first-line management have on the process as much as legally possible.  This will reduce the amount of subjective, administrative, frequently bias and error-prone screening (refer to top of page 17).
Conclusion:
As a summary, please consider the following quote that describes sushi-roll-like organizational design in Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), by C. Larman (also, explained in detail in Agile Organization, as a Sushi Roll):
In it, HR policies is listed as one of the vital elements of overall organizational agility.

02/07 – LESS TALKS: MEETUP – Scrum Master, F/T Role @ JPMorgan

This was an amazing performance by Erin Perry of JP Morgan –  last night, at NYC Large Scale Scrum meetup. The highest ever, record-high number of RSVP-ed people: (108) – since the meetup’s inception in, 2015.
Erin spoke about the ‘guerrilla agility’ approach that she has experimented with her colleagues, while coaching the organization, without even calling it ‘agile’.  Before Erin dove into the journey of Scrum Master, being made into a full time role at JP Morgan, she demystified some most commonly known misconceptions about the role.

 

This is what Erin shared with the crowd about the most commonly known misconceptions around Scrum Master role:

  • “Mature teams don’t need a Scrum Master” — Erin brought up a great analogy from sports to explain why this is not true:  “Athletes and musicians at the top of their game are surrounded by coaches and trainers. Why do we think our development teams will grow past the need of them?”
  • “Scrum Master is an administrative role (that consists of maintaining JIRA,running the daily stand-ups, reporting in the scrum of scrums, and facilitating meetings)” — This is very commonly seen in organizations but it is wrong perception.  Trivializing/reducing the role of Scrum Master to JIRA-Master-Admin is the sign of deep misunderstanding of Scrum, as a framework and and Scrum Master, as a role.  Administrative tasks are best rotated through the team to allow the Scrum Master to focus on the deep coaching needs of the Product.This is frequently seen in companies that are trying to ‘fit agile’ in their otherwise archaic organisational design, without making much of an effort to change the ladder.
  • “Scrum Masters are non-technical” –  Although many great Scrum Masters are not fully capable coders, many very experienced and effective Scrum Masters are hands-on developers.  Even if someone starts off as non-technical Scrum Master, it is great if that person has aspiration to learn new things and acquire some basic technical skills (especially, if Scrum is used in software development environments).
  • “Scrum Master is a junior role” – Deriving from Erin’s talk, this is probably one of the biggest evils in the list of common misunderstandings about the role of Scrum Master.  This critical misunderstanding alone, to a large extent, is also responsible for depreciation of Agile coaching profession in a market place.  This is how:   Scrum Masters are underpaid because companies don’t value the role high enough >>> Instead of honing their craft, as Scrum Masters, people try to ‘upgrade’ themselves (on a resume) to Agile Coaches too soon  >>> under-qualified Agile coaches flood the market,  get hired and set a low coaching bar for companies >>> coaching profession deteriorates further >>> companies stop seeing value in real, experienced organizational coaches >>>there is nobody, really, to provide good coaching and mentoring to existing Scrum Masters that are at the beginning of their career journey >>> Scrum Masters don’t ‘grow’ in their profession >>> Scrum Masters get frustrated with their role and low pay >>> and the cycle begins again…It’s the same dysfunction we saw in the last two decades with developers and the architect role. Scrum masters should become great scrum masters, not aspire to a “promotion” to agile coach. 
    • [Author’s note: This is what has produced so many Chief-Sheriffs-Power-Point Architects: individuals that tend to tell others what enterprise architecture should look like, without actually doing any hands-on development]
  • Career path for Scrum Master inevitably requires climbing up the organizational ladder” – This is another huge misconception about Scrum Master role.  Compensation and organizational seniority should not be coupled to to the pursuit of promotion to Coach, or Team Lead, or Manager.  A person should be comfortable to build expertise in Scrum Master role, passionate about it, grow within the role, and an organization must provide a healthy habitat for this to be possible (providing fair compensation is one of key things).  Erin stressed how this dilemma is swiftly addressed in Large Scale Scrum, where Scrum Master is viewed is a very senior and experienced role, whose focus changes over time. The difference between Scrum Master path Myth vs. Reality – is illustrated below.

This is how Erin has exposed some most common misconceptions about a career path of Scrum Master:

 Avoid This (Myth) Try This (Reality)

 

It has been a great pleasure (and honor) to host Erin’s presentation to the LeSS community of NYC.  Her views on Scrum Master role and career path are very much in line with my own and are strongly supportive of what is recommended in LeSS.  The way Erin sees Scrum Master in LeSS (as a very seasoned, experienced and well-versed practitioner) and how sheelevates the role to the level of a team-level coaching, also brings back good memories of our past collaboration, when we together summarized, for the benefits of a global coaching community, what the role of agile coach should be (please, refer to 2015 “Agile Coaching –  Lessons from the Trenches“)

 


Special thanks to Khalid Sultan, Raghu Raghunath and John Bradley for sharing their graphics and notes, and to Jim Dermend for his real-time tweets (below):

 

Download presentation

Prince 2 and Agile: any Relationship?


The below blogs come from some of the most reputable experts in the industry.  Please, reach out to any/each contributor directly to collect additional insight and recommendations.
Experience Report by Guest- Blogger Rowan Bunning

Rowan Bunning, CST and Agile Coach working for ScrumWithStyle, based in Australia, shares his extensive experience of working in environments, where PRINCE2 was implemented in its pure form, as well as attempted to be used in agile.  

Below, are some of the most salient quotes from his Part 1 writing.

Please, refer to “PART1 – With PRINCE2 Agile, the victim is Agile“, for a comprehensive discussion of:

  • “…Which would you rather your organisation were more like:
    • the British Civil Service; or
    • a product innovator capable of out-maneuvering a superpower’s market leaders?..”
  • “…PRINCE2 is a very widely used project management method in the U.K., a number of European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. Those in the U.S. might consider it to fill a space similar to the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK in those countries…”
  • “…PRINCE2 Agile values:
    • Processes and Tools over Individuals and Interactions
    • Comprehensive Documentation over Working Software
    • Following a Plan over Responding to Change…
  • “…PRINCE2 constrains ability to be Agile…”
  • “…PRINCE2 Agile makes The Contract Game likely…”
  • “…Like SAFe, PRINCE2 Agile wrappers Scrum which is contained to be exploited as just a “delivery” approach….”
  • “…PRINCE2 Agile is still: Plan driven from Project Board down…”

Please, refer to “PART 2 – With PRINCE2 Agile, the victim is Agile“, for a comprehensive discussion of:

  • Conflicting Roles
  • Conflicting Roles and Accountability
  • Conflicting with Development Team accountability
  • Conflicting approach to project management
  • Product Owner role misinterpreted and limited to tactical (if implemented at all)
  • Product Owner role replaced with an SME or business analyst
    Committee vs involved individual
  • Committee based steering conflicts with Product Owner steering
  • Decision making cycles overly long for meaningful agility
    Progress reporting conflicts
  • Organisation Design conflicts
  • Not designed for Agile performance characteristics
  • Conflicting use of project and product concepts
  • Accommodating Agile adoption rather than improving it
  • Compensating for and holding back Agile maturity
Experience Report by Guest- Blogger Geir Amsjø

Geir Amsjø, CST and Agile Coach working for Lean Venture, based in Oslo, Norway shares his thoughts:

PRINCE2 is very popular in IT in Norway – especially in government projects. I also believe it is widely used in Sweden and Denmark, but not in Finland. Even if development of PRINCE2 was funded by the UK government it would be pretty much abandoned there for public digitization because Government Digital Services wisely prefer and  rely on Design Thinking and Agile these days.

PRINCE2 is probably one of the best Project Management frameworks for IT there is. It contains “stages” which, at a glance, may look similar to iterations. But PRINCE2 all about Management and Governance, while “following the plan” and very little about true adaptiveness. PRINCE2 is very prescriptive and heavy and contains a bunch of roles, documents, process steps and everything one would expect from a classic PM framework.

Many of my CSM/CSPO class participants have PRINCE2 certifications and they often tell me that it would be extremely hard to combine PRINCE2 with Scrum, or another agile framework, for the following reasons:

  • There are a lot of committed up front planning, prediction and estimation
  • Changes are not embraced but are rather regarded as exceptions and they need to go through cumbersome Change Control Board
  • Decisions are hard to make on-the-spot, in a decentralized fashion. They need to be escalated up the chain of command for approvals and sign-offs
  • Project Managers is viewed as the authority and can override teams’ decisions

I became curious about the new PRINCE2 Agile a couple of years ago, and attended a sales meeting from a training provider. As it was expected “Agile” was more slap-onto PRINCE2 itself, not a way to change the ladder.

Ironically, PRINCE2 Agile teaching contained all the right references and buzzwords, and it was very open to iterative approaches. It was clearly focused on learning and exploration. So far so good…

And I have had discussions with people who were quite satisfied with the Agile version of PRINCE2. There was no reason to doubt that PRINCE2 Agile could represented a big step in the right direction compared to the traditional version.  But how on earth can it “be agile” if you put Agile on top of a heavy framework like PRINCE2? Would it not be like putting a lipstick on a pig?…

All heavy process descriptions lead to forming a certain mindset: “Please obey the procedures. Don´t think for yourself, because you don´t really own the problem.” This would be clearly incompatible with the agile mindset.

Experience Report by Guest-Blogger Kurt Nielsen

Kurt Nielsen, CST, of AgileLeanHouse in Denmark, shares some of his personal insight:

Remember that Prince2’s logo or mantra at the beginning was Plan-Delegate-Monitor-Control (sort the dark side of the force Plan-Do-Study-Act), it is not promoted these days, but that is what it is at the core, designed for compliance.

In that is a complete parallel to Leffingwell’s SAFe, the best orchestrated marketing gambit for years, selling people (well classic Management) what they want but don’t need. In our little pond (the Danish Market) we have lost significant territory to SAFe, the whole financial sector have jumped on that bandwagon. One of our largest customers (we lost them) did that with devastating effects on the Teams, I have met several staff members, who have just “headed for the Mountains”.

As Schwaber said about SAFe: “The empire strikes back!”, the hierarchy has a hard time changing, perhaps some of you would appreciate an article, we did here.

September 17-19th: Certified LeSS Practitioner Course With Bas Vodde | NYC

Experience Report by Guest-Blogger Heitor Roriz Filho
I am not going to entertain your hypothetical situation” answers Bas during the LeSS training in the last three days in NYC. His modesty during answering the questions posed by participants, advanced or more basic, really struck. The strong influence from Systems Thinking brings to mind the importance of experiments and hypothesis validation, one thing that most companies using Scrum today have completely misunderstood. Overall the three days of training were entertaining and served for me to consolidate the knowledge acquired during the first LeSS training I attended in Minneapolis with Craig Larman earlier this year.
Less (Large Scale Scrum) is a very strong and solid option scale Scrum in organizations. This is due to the fact that LeSS, as pointed out by Bas Vodde, was actually the result of Systems Modeling exercises and discussions. As a consequence of that, LeSS explores the organizational ability and desire to be more adaptive and to create and maintain customers by producing products or services they actually love. Systems Thinking applied in practice to actual problems organizations face, Product Owner responsibilities, team accountability and several real life examples and case studies were the things that stood out in the training.
If you are willing to learn more about LeSS, or become a LeSS trainer, you need to attend both classes: with Bas and the one with Craig. One complements the other in such a way that someone who is passionate with Agile can feel reinvigorated to go back the their clients and promote real Agility. Both instructors teach theory and practice but Craig’s class stands out laying more theoretical and philosophical foundations (crucial for true Agility) while Bas brings that to the trenches (crucial to get your hands dirty).

Experience Report by Guest-Blogger Michelle Lee
This was the first training class I have attended in several years. I’ve been reading Bas’s books and visiting the LeSS.works website to learn about this scaling framework. I ended up in New York on accident. I was suppose to attend this same training a week prior in Atlanta, but that class was cancelled due to scheduling issues. I am so glad it was. 

I have been interested in LeSS for about 5 years. What attracted me to this framework over others was the simplicity of the principles. For anyone who has done Scrum with a team, the principles just make sense, period. Had I attended the previously scheduled class in Atlanta, I would not have had Bas as the facilitator and I don’t think I would have learned as much. No offense to the trainer who I would have learned from, but the opportunity to learn from one of the co-creators made the class all the better. Bas does a great job telling stories and giving examples, he doesn’t pretend to know the answer to everything and he is honest about it. Just as all good Scrum Masters know, you can set up the guardrails, but until you experiment with what works for your company, team, style, it’s just an opinion. 

The content of the class was what I expected, and more. To be honest, I was frustrated after the first day. Why was I frustrated? I was frustrated because my table group and I were storming during our first exercise. Most of the people in the class are used to being the coach, not the player! When you are used to being the coach, jumping “in the game” requires you to look at the problem from a different angle and I wasn’t used to looking from that angle!! The exercises Bas put together forced each of us into having to play the game, listen to our teammates and self-manage our time to accomplish the outcomes. Sometimes we did well, sometimes we didn’t – sometimes we failed. I was reminded that failing is hard. Yet, we coach teams through failure all the time? We coach teams to learn from their failures, in fact, as Bas shared, most of the time we know an idea will fail, and we let it play out because we know the learning will be worth it!

The 3-days have made me look at how I coach differently and I thank the “banking table” team and Bas for allowing me the opportunity to fail, to learn, and to improve! New York was also a great city and the location was amazing, nothing against Atlanta. 🙂

Sept 13 -14 | 3rd Global LeSS Conference | NYC


Unforgettable 2 days at the 3rd Global LeSS Conference, at Angel Orensanz Foundation – the historical landmark in NYC.


Conference Space and Our People
Experience Report by Guest-Blogger Ram Srinivasan

Though I have been associated with the Large Scale scrum (LeSS) community for about five years (though the “community” did not exist,  I can think of my association with like minded folks) this is my first LeSS conference. While I used to attend a lot of conferences in the past, I have started focusing more on deep learning (by attending focused workshops) than focusing on conferences. But this year, I had to make an exception for the LeSS conference Why (a) it was the first LeSS conference in North America  (b) It was not very far and (c) I was thinking that I might meet some of the smartest people in the LeSS community whom I may not meet otherwise and (d) I have heard that it is a “team based” conference (unlike other conferences where you are on your own) and I wanted to find out what the heck it was. I was not disappointed.

The venue itself was very different from the conventional Agile conferences  – not a hotel. That definitely caught my attention !! I was pleasantly suprirsed to see both Howard Sublet (the new Chief Product Owner from Scrum Alliance) and Eric Engelmann  (the Chairman of the Board of Director of Scrum Alliance ).  Howard and I had good discussions on LeSS, Scrum Alliance, the marketplace, and scaling
Some sessions that I attended and major takeaways:
  • Day 1 morning keynote –  Nokia LTE  implementation  – Takeaway – Yes, you can do Scrum with more than 5000 engineers
  • Day 2 keynote  by Craig Larman. I always find Craig’s thinking fascinating and learnt quite a few interesting facts about cognitive biases (and strategies to overcome them).
  • LeSS Games – component team and feature team simulation lead by Pierluigi Pugliese – very interesting simulation – I used a variation of this in my CSM class past weekend and people liked it. I hope to write about sometime, in the coming days
  • LeSS roles exercise by Michael James –  I have always been a fan of MJ. Very interesting exercise which reinforces the concept of LeSS roles
  • TDD in a flip chart – Guess I was there again, with MJ. Well, just learned that you do not need a computer to learn about TDD.
  • An open space session with Howard Sublett on LeSS and Scrum Alliance partnership (yours truly was the scribe) – Lot of interesting discussions on market, strategy, and positioning of the LeSS brand.  I personally got some insights from Rafael Sabbagh and Viktor Grgic.
Two days was short !! Time flew away.  It was a great experience !! And  I wish we could have a North American LeSS conference every year !!

Experience Report by Guest-Blogger Mark Uijen de Kleijn

I’ve attended the 2018 LeSS Conference- my first – in the Angela Orensanz Center in New York. I was really inspired by the many great speakers, experiments and experiences and was glad I could help Jurgen de Smet by his workshop on Management 3.0 practices that can complement LeSS with experiments.

A couple of notes on the Conference; it has been the first Conference I attended in years where I actually learned a lot, either from the many speakers, experiments and experiences, but from my ‘team’ as well. As the LeSS Conference is a team-based conference, we reflected on the content and our insights during the Conference, which accelerated my learnings.

As I use many games and practices in organizations or courses, I’ve seen several great new games that I can use myself. The ‘building agile structures’ game of Tomasz Wykowski and Justyna Wykowska was the most outstanding game for me, because it makes the differences between component and feature teams very clear when scaling work, and I will use this for sure in the future. The experiences at Nokia by Tero Peltola were very inspiring and especially the focus on the competences (of everybody) and technical excellence I will take with me.Thoughts that will stick with me the most after the conference: the focus on technical excellence (including e.g. automation, code quality, engineering practices etc.) and the importance of the structure of the organization, following Larman’s fifth law ‘Culture follows structure’. The latter I’m already familiar with, but needs to be reprioritized in my mind again. The former will be my main learning goal the coming period and I will need to dust off my former experiences.

Interesting quote to think about, by Bas Vodde: ‘we should maximize dependencies between teams’ (to increase collaboration between teams).


Games and Team Activities

LeSS Graphic Art


My partner in crime (Ari Tikka) and me  – Presenting on Coaching

Click here to download presentation: Ari’s deck | Gene’s deck.


Personal Memorable Moments


Next LeSS conference (2019) – Munich, Germany

December 6th-8th: Certified LeSS Practitioner Course With Craig Larman | NYC


Another Large-Scale Scrum Training (CLP), taught by Craig Larman in NYC, is in the CompuBox.

More than thirty people from all-around the globe (North America, South America, Europe) came together for this brain-jelling learning experience! The group consisted of product owners/managers, software engineers, managers and organizational design consultants (scrum masters, coaches and trainers) – people coming from different backgrounds and with a focus on different aspects of organizational agility. What has united them all, however, was their eagerness to learn in-depth about principles of organizational design and implications of Scrum adoption at scale in complex organizational settings.

Course Highlights

With exception of a few rare questions/clarifications, the class spent NO time discussing basic Scrum.  It was implicit (assumed) that everyone in class had strong knowledge and hands-on experience with the basic framework.  On occasions, the topics discussed would bump into “…oh this is not even LeSS-specific; this is just basic Scrum…” but those cases were rare.

Not until day three,is when the class took a deeper dive into LeSS Framework and LeSS-specific events, artifacts, roles…. Why was not it done sooner?   Well…

  • LeSS is Scrum. It is the same very Scrum described by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in the Scrum Guide, but done by multiple teams, as they are working together, on the same product, for the same product owner.  LeSS is not “…something that IT does, that is buried in a company’s basement, under many layers of organizational complexity…”. LeSS is an organizational design that uses Scrum (team) as a building block.  Understanding basic Scrum made understanding of LeSS very easy for everyone.
  • The class was made of people that have completed all assigned homework (self-study), before attending. People knew what LeSS picture looks like 😉, when coming in.  Everyone in class was an educated customer.  Importantly: there were no attempts to change LeSS (or change training content 😊  of LeSS), to make it better fit conditions of organizations, where people came from.
  • Spending the first two days on understanding system modelling techniques, differences between causation and correlation (as well as other dynamics) among many system variables, made full understanding of LeSS on day three, come more naturally.

The class learned how to see ‘the whole’/full picture of organizational ecosystem and learned to appreciate why Organizational Design is the first-order Variable that defines System Dynamics (followed by everything else: culture, policies, norms, processes, etc.)

One of my (Gene) biggest take-away points (on the top of an excellent LeSS refresher, from Craig himself), that I plan on using immediately, was the fact from history that was discussed at the beginning of the course (and, sadly, forgotten or known known by many).  And it goes as follows:

…Back in 2001, at Snowbird, UT, where the group of seventeen entrepreneurs-product-developers have met and came up with what is known today as ‘Agile Manifesto’, the two contending terms to-be-used were adaptive (suggested by Jim Highsmith, the author of Adaptive Software Development) and agile (suggested by Mike Beedle).  ‘Agile’ won because of the reasons that are described here.  Truth be told, because the English meaning of ‘agile’ is not as intuitive is the meaning of ‘adaptive’, today, there is a huge number of fads and terminology overloading/misuse that make the original meaning of agile so diluted and abused…. As it was meant to be: Agile == Adaptive ==Flexible.  We all have to be careful with the meaning of words we use, to avoid this painful irony😉.


Here are some Kodak moments from the event:

How Detailed Should Business Requirements Be? Discovery Through Agile Gaming.


Last week, at New York Scrum User Group (NYSUG) monthly event, co-facilitated by  the agile coaches Dana Pylayeva and Emilie Franchomme, there were multiple agile games presented – all for different purposes and for all types of audience.  Above all, what really stood out was  the “Beautiful Meadow” game that helped with making a revealing discovery about handling business requirements.  Below is the summary:

Game Rules:

Team A and Team B, of 8 people each,  were given the following drawing instructions (click on the image below to enlarge):

Team A Team B

The requirements of Team A were very detailed, whereas the requirements of Team B were rather generic.   Each team was given a set of color markers and a  large flip-chart sheet.  Both teams were allowed to review the requirements in silence – for 30 seconds.  Then both teams were given another 60 seconds to draw a picture, based on given requirements, but they were allowed to collaborate in sign language only.

Observations and Results:

For the first 30 seconds of the exercise both teams’ dynamics were very similar: hurdling around the requirement, trying to understand it, orienting yourselves are around the canvas.   Silently,  some people seemed to volunteer to draw various elements of the picture.  For the second 60 seconds interval, dynamics significantly changed:

At a glance, Team A seemed to be somewhere less organized and more hectic.  People seemed to move around the canvas anxiously, trying to pull markers from each other’s hand.  What also became obvious was that each person was trying maximize their contribution to the picture, by drawing in a silo, without much collaboration with others.

Team B, on the other hand, seemed to be much more organized and focused.  Individual work of each person seemed like a continuity of someone else’s effort.  Markers were effectively passed on from one person to another.  There was much more collaboration and common effort here.

After 60 seconds of drawing, the teams produced two images, illustrated below: Team A  – left canvas, Team B -right canvas (click on the image below to enlarge):

Team A has produced a picture that consisted of multiple disjointed elements that together did not seem to fit well.   Oddly it even produced two suns – in two opposite corners of the canvas, whereas the instructions  clearly asked only for one sun.

On contrary, Team B was able to produce a simple, coherent logical picture, with each element enriching the overall composition with  additional relevant detail.

Conclusion:

This exercise clearly demonstrated that too detailed requirements, passed on to a group of individuals, as one conclusive document, are executed much poorer than light requirements  passed on to a similar group of people.  In case of Team B, there was a request of “WHAT” to draw, not “HOW”.  The team was able to use all of this innovation and artistic skills to produce what was required.   Oppositely, team A was asked to delivery “WHAT & HOW” and the teams’ ability improvise on-the-fly was significantly reduced.

Disclaimer:

There were two sets of teams (two Team A and two Team B) and the results produced by the second set of teams were very similar to the case described above.

Relevant Article: Waterfall Requirements in Agile Product Development

What Should Agile Leadership Care About?


Agile frameworks (e.g. Scrum, Kanban, XP), individuals’ roles & responsibilities, processes & tools, metrics & reporting, burn-up charts, estimation techniques, backlog prioritization, agile engineering practices, agile maturity models etc. – all of them are important attributes of a typical agile transformation.  However, NONE of them are first-degree-of-importance system variables that are responsible for transformation success.  Most of them, are good superficial lagging indicators of agility but they are all corollary (secondary or tertiary) to another much more important system variable.

What is the most important system variable that defines a company’s agility?  It is Organizational Design –  the most critical element of organizational ecosystem that defines most of its dynamics.

When organizational leadership decides to take an organization through an agile transformation journey (it could take years, sometimes), it [leadership] needs to acknowledge that real, sustainable agile changes are only possible if deep, systemic organizational improvements are being made.  For that, leadership needs to be prepared to provide to its organization much more than just support in spirit, accompanied by organizational messages of encouragement and statements of vision.  Leadership must be prepared to intimately engage with the rest of an organization, by doing a lot of real “gemba” (genchi genbutsu (現地現物)) and change/challenge things that for decades, and sometimes for centuries, have been treated as de-facto.

What does it really mean for leadership to engage at System Level?  First, it is important to identify what a system is: what are a system’s outer boundaries?  For example, one of the most commonly seen mistakes that companies make when they decide on “scope of agile transformation” is limiting its efforts to a stand-alone organizational vertical, e.g. Technology – and just focusing there.  Although this could bring a lot of local (to IT) success, it may also create unforeseen and undesirable friction between the part of an organization that has decided to change (IT, in this case) and parts of an organization that decided to remain ‘as is’ (e.g. Operations, Marketing, HR, vendor management).  For example, if Scrum teams successfully adopt CI/CD, TDD or other effective engineering practices that enable them deliver PSPI (potentially shippable product increment) at the end of every sprint, but business is not able to keep up with consumption of deliverable (too many approvals, sign offs, hand-overs red tape) then the whole purpose of delivering early and often gets defeated.  Then, instead of delivering to customers soon, in exchange for timely feedback, teams end up delivering in large batches and too far apart on a time scale.

A successful Agile Leader must treat an organization, that he wants to transform, as a sushi roll.  Just like seaweed alone does not provide a full spectrum of flavors and does not represent a complete, tasty meal, one single department (e.g. IT) is not sufficient enough to participate in agile transformation efforts.  Other organizational layers need to be included as well in a  transformation journey.  On-point!: a slice does not have be too thick. In fact, if organizational slice is too thick, it might be too big to “swallow and digest”.  But still, even when sliced thinly, an organization must include enough layers that constitute a complete ‘sushi meal’.

Note: A great example of treating an organization as a sushi role, while making it more agile, is Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) adoption.

So, what are some key focus areas that every Agile Leader must keep in mind, while setting an organization on agile transformation course?

  • Location strategies. Geographic locations.
  • HR policies (e.g. career growth opportunities, compensation, promotions)
  • Budgeting & Finance
  • Intra-departmental internal boundaries and spheres of influence
  • Organizational Leadership Style
  • And some other areas that historically have been considered as …untouchable

All the above listed areas are defined by Organizational Design and can be better understood through self-assessment, done by organizational leaders at all levels.

Agile Organization, as a Sushi Roll


When we ask an experienced Scrum developer what defines a good User Story, the answer we hear almost immediately is that “…every user story must be INVEST-able…(taken from B. Hartman’s post)”.

When we further elaborate on “INVEST” part, we hear that splitting user stories should be done Vertically (along features), not Horizontally (along components or applications layers).  Why is the latter condition so important? Because when split vertically, and cross-cutting through multiple components, a user story has a much higher chance of representing a potentially shippable product increment (PSPI).  Delivering, UI/UX alone, or business layer alone, or database alone, does not present value to a buying customer.

Frequently, we hear the analogy of a sushi roll, when describing story slicing: “…every User Story must represent a thinly sliced sushi roll that provides taste and flavor of multiple layers (caviar, seaweed, rice, tuna, avocado, etc)…


…Now, imagine an organization that undergoes agile transformation.  Predominantly (statistically), transformation efforts stem from Technology, where agile improvements come in the form of introducing good engineering practices, such CI/CD, TDD, unit testing, test automation, automatic deployments, etc.  But technology alone, is just one layer of an organizational sushi roll.  Sure, just like seaweed alone, it may be tasty enough for starters, but without adding additional flavors, it is not a complete, tasty meal.

Other organizational layers need to be included as well, when identifying a slice for agile transformation experiment.  A slice does not have be too thick. If organizational slice is too thick, it might be too big to “swallow and digest”.  But still, even when sliced thinly, an organization must include enough layers, to be considered as complete meal.

What are some of those layers?  Let’s consider a few:

Business & Operations:  it is imperative to have real customers intimately involved in agile transformation efforts and make them closely aligned with technology partners. This requires identifying and providing a strong support for some key agile roles, such as product owner, stakeholders and SMEs.  Often, this requires organizational realignment and changes to sphere of influence.

HR:  Subjective monetary rewards that are based on individual performance assessments and fueled by invisible internal competition among employees, must be discontinued, in favor of incentives that promote teams’ collective ownership and performance.  An organizational slice that wants to become more agile will have a much higher chance for success if HR policies were genuinely supportive of the initiative of the efforts.

Budgeting & Finance: For agile teams (Scrum, Kanban) that use adaptive planning and iterative development, and continuously have their work re-prioritized by business, it is imperative to have flexible budgets (“flexible spending”).  By unlocking a rigid budget corner of what is known as Project Management Iron Triangle (budget, scope, timeline), technology dramatically increases their chances to do research or conduct new experiments, if an opportunity presents itself (often, unexpectedly).  There is also a higher chance that more Scrum teams would be built out faster, if budgets were flexible and not done as ‘budgets against the wall’ (‘the world ends on December 31st’) – more flexibility to acquire new talent.

Vendor Management: Relying on same-old vendors-partners that are just convenient to engage because they are listed at the very top in a vendor management system, may no longer be viable.  Engaging vendor companies on “fixed-everything” SOWs, while expecting them to work in an agile fashion may create tension and friction.  Considering vendor-workers and a part of an agile team (e.g. Scrum, Kanban, XP), yet still treating them as ‘external workers’ and structuring communication with them, by going through engagement managers and ‘on-site leads’ would defeat the purpose of teaming, diminish transparency, collaboration and knowledge sharing, as well as would be un-supportive of healthy dynamics and interaction, expected of agile teams.  Organizations should apply a different set of standards and benchmarks, when selecting vendors that are expected to engage in agile work (e.g., development, installation, configuration, etc.).  Contracts and SLAs should be supportive of agile (adaptive) ways of working.

Real Estate & Facilities: Having agile teams co-located under the same roof is a huge win: e.g. Scrum team dispersed around the globe is not as good as Scrum team placed on the same floor. (Note: Please, do not confuse a single Scrum team spread thin across multiple locations with multi-site Scrum product development, when many, whole teams are collocated but separated from peers-teams by geography).

However, putting a team on the same floor is not sufficient.   Interior design must be supportive of team collaboration and dynamics: ‘caves & common’ (read A. Cockburn about XP), information radiation techniques (lots of whiteboard space, flip-charts), breakout areas, extra space to accommodate extended user community during sprint reviews, etc. – is all required.  It is unfortunate but it is pretty common to see so-called Scrum team members sitting in a long single row, next to each other, spear-headed by a line manager (usually, a window seat), all joining a daily stand-up call by phone (while sitting!) and ‘reporting on status’, while staring at an electronic story board on their respective monitors.  Agile teams don’t want that.


As a summary, please consider the following quote that describes sushi-roll-like organizational design in Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), by C. Larman:

Listen to the Webinar: https://vimeo.com/259108134

You Get What you Ask For: Agile Coaches-“Centaurs”


Why are there so many troubled agile “transformations”?  We frequently hear the following answer: “because companies lack senior leadership support”.  True.  And let’s not trivialize this: without strong and genuine support by senior leadership (beyond slogans and “support in spirit”), without selecting a deep, systemic approach to problem resolution, companies can only expect localized, peripheral and, most likely, short-term improvements.

But is there anything/anyone else that can be conveniently held accountable for failed agile transformations?

How about ineffective agile training and coaching?  [Note: If you are interested in learning more about some of the most common challenges with agile training, please visit this page.  This post is about coaching .]

…There is a vicious cycle that hurts so many companies (can be also considered as a self-inflicted wound):

initially, companies set a low bar for coaches, based on poor understanding of a coaching role  low quality coaches (quasi-coaches-“centaurs”) are hired, most of whom are not even coaches, but rather people that have mastered agile jargon and know how to impress HR and uninformed hiring managers  weak coaches (most of whom have minds of conformists, not challengers) cannot effectively guide companies to fix systemic weaknesses and dysfunctions  teams and departments  don’t really improve; rather create a superficial appearance/illusion of progress (often, to impress senior management)  companies lose faith and stop seeing value in coaching → companies start trivializing a coaching role  companies decide not to spend more money on high quality coaching cheaper, even less effective, coaches are hired (or internal, misplaced people are refurbished into coaches, overnight, as per Larman’s Law # 4) initially, low-set coaching bar, is lowered even further…and so on….

Graphically, it looks something like this:

As a result, what was initially meant as a strategic organization- improvement effort, now takes on a form of just another system-gaming change management fad that ultimately leads to a failure and responsibility/blame-shifting.

What are some of the reasons why the above happens?  Here are some suggested reasons:

  • Companies don’t understand the essence of agile coaching role: it is viewed as another “turn-on switch” management function
  • Leadership does not feel a sense of urgency (p. 14) to make changes and exempts itself from being coached: people are too busy and too senior to be coached; they find coaching trivial
  • Certain organizational pockets are genuinely resistant to/feared of changes that can be brought about by real coaches (as per Larman’s Laws 1 – 3)
  • Market over-saturation with unskilled recruiters that hunt for low-quality coaches and contribute to the above cycle: this further lowers a company’s chances to find a good coach
  • This list can be extended….

Who is responsible for initiating this vicious cyclic dysfunction?  Does it really matter if we identify guilty ones?  Maybe it does, but only, as a lessons-learning exercise.  What probably matters more is how to break out of this cycle.  Where to start: discontinue low-quality supply (coaches) or raise a bar on demand (by companies)?  Usually, demand drives supply and if so, for as long as companies remain complacent and reliant on outlived staffing/head-hunting approaches, cold-calling techniques, and ineffective HR-screening processes, performed by people that poorly understand the essence of an agile coaching profession, while trying to procure cheap “agile” resources or treat seasoned professional coaches, as “requisitions to be filled”,  a coaching bar will remain low, and companies will be getting EXACTLY  what they have paid for: coaches-centaurs.

Big question

What should companies be looking for when hiring a coach?”

An organization should be looking much father and beyond of what is typically presented in a resume or a public profile of a candidate: usually, a chronological list of an employment history or a long list of google-able terms & definitions,  popular jargon or claims of experience in resolving deep, systemic organizational challenges with Jira configurations 😊.  Much more attention should be paid to the following important quantitative characteristics of a coach:

Coaching Focus: What is an approach and/or philosophy to coaching does a coach have?  This will help a company understand an individual mindset of a coach.

Coaching Education AND Mentorship: What active journey through education, mentorship and collaborative learning in coaching and related activities over significant period has a coach taken?

Formal Coaching Education: What has contributed significantly to a person’s coaching journey, including courses on topics of facilitation, leadership, consulting, coaching, process, and other related activities which have influenced a person’s coaching practice? Such education may not have to be degree-related (training and/or certification from any recognized institution could be sufficient).

Coaching Mentorship & Collaboration: How a coach developed a skill/technique or received guidance to a coaching approach and mindset?  Respect and recognition of mentors – matters here.

Informal Coaching Learning: What important topics outside of Agile/Scrum literature have impacted a person’s coaching philosophy?  This increases chances that a coach is well-rounded, beyond standardized book learning.

Agile Community Engagement & Leadership:  Does a coach engage in agile user groups, gatherings, retreats, camps, conferences, as well as writing, publishing, reviewing, presenting, facilitating, training, mentoring, organizing, and leading agile events?  An active participation and leadership in the agile community is a good demonstration that a coach has not developed herself within a unique organizational silo, by self-proclaiming and self-promoting, but rather has diverse and ‘tested’  industry experience.

Agile Community Collaborative Mentoring & Advisory: Does a coach mentor or advise other individuals (not for pay) on how to increase their competency or development?  Is a relationship on-going, purposeful and bi-directionally educational?

Coaching Tools, Techniques and Frameworks: Does a coach develop awareness and understanding of tools, techniques and frameworks while engaging with organizations?  Has she customized or developed anything that was client/engagement-specific?

In addition to quantitative characteristics , here are qualitative characteristics of a good coach:

Coaching Mindset
  • How does a coach react when an outcome of coaching was different from what she had desired? In the past, how did a coach address this situation?
  • How, based on clients’ needs, a coaching mindset had to change? In the past, what compromises did a coach make? What was learned?
  • What new techniques or skills did a coach learn, to meet a client’s needs?
Coaching Competencies
  • Assess – Discovery & Direction
  • Balance – Coaching & Consulting
  • Catalyze – Leadership & Organizations
  • Facilitate – Focus & Alignment
  • Educate – Awareness & Understanding
Coaching Specialties
  • Lean / Kanban
  • User Experience / Design
  • Scaling Agile / Enterprise Agility
  • Technical / Quality Practices
  • Organizational Structures
  • Lean Startup
  • Product / Portfolio Management
  • Organizational Culture
  • Learning Organizations
  • Non-Software Application
  • Business Value / Agility
  • Technical / Product Research
  • Multi-Team Dynamics
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Organizational Change

[Note: The above, is based on guidelines provided by Scrum Alliance application process for CTC and CEC.]

While running some risk of sounding self-serving (very much NOT! the intent here) : please, be mindful and responsible when you select guidance-level professionals in your agile journey 😉.