2018 Business Agility Conference @ NYC is in the books. More than 300 people attended – they came from all over the world: to listen to selected speakers, on great topics. Evan Leybourn (the main organizer) also announced the birth of Business Agility Institute.
On impulse, and with a lot of excitement, NYC-based meet-up was created: Big Apple Business Agility (BABA)
Special thanks to Stuart Young (on right, below) from the UK – the legendary professional Business Visualiser who has perpetuated many agile events with his amazing graphic art:
Speakers’ Quotes & Main Take-Away Points
Below are some highlights of the most memorable quotes, from selected presenters. (Note: some notes are captured verbatim, others are transcribed from presenters’ slides, yet others – closely paraphrased. What is underlined – really resonated especially strong. Please forgive any potential omissions and if you find any, please request correction)
>>> Nancy Taylor of IBM
- “Beware of people that say: I am a coach but i really never coached anyone.”
- [There are too many ]”box-checking” agile transformation by companies, out there”
>>> Jonathan Smart of Barclays
- “Business agility is the future”
- “Descale work, descale org, DONT scale”
- “Substitute agile for nimble (without capital A)” [too see is meaning remains the same]
- Change your language from “hi, I am John i will enforce agile on you” to “hi i am John, i will deliver better products for you“.
- [Chasing] “increased productivity leads to churning and faking. Instead, focus on better value and safer environment”
- “You need enterprise agility, not just [agility for] IT”
- “The better your brakes, the faster you can go”
- [Move from] “task-based definition of success” to “outcome definition of success”
- [You should be ] “moving from hard/fixed budgets to rolling scorecards”
Irony in some of his Jonathan’s slides:
- “Our people are not suited for self-organizing, we’ve got the wrong ones…”
- “We want best of both worlds”
- “Easy job. Just fire the managers and tell the teams the are in charge now”
- “It can be done without restructuring the back office.”
“It won’t work, it is just a hype.”
>>>Andy Cepio of Target
- “Don’t crush the chips”: the smallest and most impact-ful innovation NOT to crush fragile chips at the bottom of a box was to make two holes on both sides of a box, as hand grips
>>>Steve Deming of Learning Consortium
- [There is] “lots of agile faking. In Learning Consortium companies have safely, and this is where they can share their experiences.”
Jimmy Allen of Bain & Company
- “The purpose of good organizational design is to create conflicts”
- “When you get to a certain organizational size, any initiative takes about 18 months…to fail“
- “Micro teams MUST report directly into senior Leadership, periodically. Otherwise, mid-level management will kill agility, as they hate agile teams”
- “Jumping to playbooks is silly.”
- “[You have to] create a vocabulary that describes misery [of your people],so you can speak about it
- “The biggest problem of failed agile efforts is distance b/w sr. leadership and doers”
- “Modern organizations must flatten”
- “Only 1 in 11 companies grow sustain-ably – and yet in only 15% of cases do those that fail to grow blame the market”
“Scaling as a capability: 10 lessons from the Masters”
- Recognize that scaling will be critical to your success, demand that your leaders remain in balance
- Winning repeatable models demand an iterative process; don’t declare victory after a good prototype
- Don’t jump to playbooks; there are different scaling models depending on the degree of tailoring needed
- The best scaling models consider the “unit of scaling” to identify resource bottlenecks early
- Address bottlenecks and “Everyone wants Brent” problem from Day 1
- Don’t underestimate behavioral change required especially across functional hierarchies
- Understand the role of the three communities; especially the Scaling Community which acts as a bridge
- Scaling well demands dynamic resource allocation; shift resources fast behind a “winner”
- Eventually scaling will demand changes to your operating model
- Use Engine 2 to build specific capabilities
Jutta Eckstein and John Buck of The Cociocracy Group
- “Every company is a software development company but some dont know it yet
- “There is no such thing as “Spotify model”. If you take their model, inspect and adapt, then maybe it is OK….So they say.”
- “Always use lower case A in “agile” (substitute for ‘nimble’, whenever your can)
- “Fixed budgets will kill organizational agility (refer to Beyond Budgetting)”
Laurence Jourdain of BNP Paribas Fortis
-[You should] “keep a small group of internal coaches but hire many professional coaches from” [reputable places]
Joshua Seckel of Sevatec
- “I don’t have a power point today. –> I may not have any power but I do have a point to make.”
Sudhir Nelvagal of General Electric
- [The company] “is transforming and it is over 125 years old into a lean start up”
- [You have to make] “huge focus on Senior Leadership coaching”
- Using burn-down charts with Senior Management has pluses and minuses. (E.g. velocity policing [is a big minus])
Susan Courtney of Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Problem statement: “Leadership did not know how to reward talent”
- [Had to] bring in Leadership Development coach
- “Culture change is not negotiable”
- Lessons Learned:
- “Build critical mass around the journey – find like minded people”
- “Right people – in the right roles (nice does not = good fit)”
- “Identify and remove toxic people, especially leaders”
- “Value culture fit as much as functional skills”
- “Clarity & co-creation of road-maps”
- “Do this WITH OR in-spite of HR”
- “CULTURE-CULTURE-CULTURE…if you say it’s who you are, you have to mean it (actions not just words)”
David Horowitz & Matias Nino of REI Systems
- “We should stop thinking that ‘everything that what happens in retros stays in retros. We should produce a lot of retrospective radiators.”
Melissa Boggs of Agile42
- “Your have to change organizational culture as a barrier to agile success”
- “It makes sense to focus on principles not on practices”
Jason Tice of World Wide Technology
“If you want to be able to speak to HR, you have to learn how to speak their language”
Amanda Bellwood of Sky Betting and Gaming
- “Embed HR people onto teams”
- “Have HR run their own daily stand-ups and have them come and see what other teams are doing at their stand-ups”
Some personal Kodak moments at the conference:
- 1st row (Left to Right): w/ Steve Denning, w/Mike Beedle
- 2nd row (Left to Right): w/Zuzi Sochova, w/Jeff Suit Lopez-Stuit
This page is being gradually developed towards May, 2018 Big Apple Scrum Day Coaching Clinic.
For similar past events please visit:
Below are some basic guidelines for participating coaches on how to run a coaching clinic during Big Apple Scrum Day. Experience and working models of previous clinics (Scrum Alliance, Agile Alliance) have being used. If you have other recommendations or additional ideas, please suggest 🙂 .
General Coaching Guidelines:
- Wear a coaching hat – we shall try to get some from Scrum Alliance folks (their ‘station’ should near the clinic)
- Walk-ins are OK if we have capacity
- Each session is limited to 15 min, unless there is no line – then you can attend to another person
- Appointments get priority over walk-ins
- It is OK to offer a business card for future consultation but Do NOT sell services or proactively solicit business, while coaching
- Paired coaching is OK if we have capacity (one coach works, another observes; then– debrief).
- Always, start off with understanding what brought a person to the clinic (e.g. “What brought you here?” or “How I can help?”)
- We can briefly retrospect at the end of the day or, if not possible, later via email
Participating Coaches (BOARD view):
This is us – the clinicians:
|Coach’s Name||Home base|
|Gene Gendel||New York, USA|
|Jeff Patton||Salt Lake City, UT|
|David Liebman||New York, USA|
|Jim York||Leesburg, VA|
|Alexandr Kizhner||New York, USA|
|Amitai Schleier||New York, USA|
|Mariya Breytner||New York, USA|
|Ross Hughes||Burlington, Vermont|
|Diane Zajac||Erie, Pennsylvania|
Coaches’ Availability (BOARD view):
In the morning, we shall put up a board in our working area. On this board, each coach will put his name (on a sticky), in a time slot when he/she is willing/able to offer service. Example below:
|Time Slot||Available Coach|
|8:00 – 8:30|
|8:30 – 9:00|
|9:00 – 9:30|
|9:30 – 10:00|
|10:00 – 10:30|
|10:30 – 11:00|
|11:00 – 11:30|
|11:30 – 12:00|
|12:00 – 12:30|
|12:30 – 1:00|
|1:00 – 1:30|
|1:30 – 2:00|
|2:00 – 2:30|
|2:30 – 3:00|
|3:00 – 3:30|
|3:30 – 4:00|
|4:00 – 4:30|
|4:30 – 5:00|
Note: Time slots should correlate to the Event’s Main Schedule
Appointment Schedule (BOARD view):
On this board, each attendee will put his/her name/discussion topic (on a sticky), into a time slot when they are planning to attend the clinic. Attendees may request multiple time slots, within reasonable limits. Each request = one sticky note. Example:
15-min Time Slot During
Attendee Name/Discussion Topic
|Morning Session Part 1|
|Morning Session Part 2|
|Afternoon Session Part 1|
|Afternoon Session Part 2|
Note: Time slots should correlate to the Event’s Main Schedule
BOARD: Coachee’s Response:
On this board, every clinic attendee will be asked to write a brief feedback on a sticky note (example from Orlando). They may or may not provide the name of a coach that offered assistance – it is up to them. We, the coaches, don’t have to watch them doing this. Once we are done with a coaching session, they can self-manage.
BOARD: Appointment Counter
On this board, we shall be collecting all sticky notes that were served. Attendees will be asked to post them there, after they attended the clinic.
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.
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:
On October 31-st, 2017, the Mayor of NYC Bill de Blasio signed the new Law, prohibiting companies in New York City from asking, searching or verifying a job applicant’s salary history during the hiring process. From now on, violation of this law, by any NYC-based employer, will be viewed as an “unlawful discriminatory practice.”
(Please, read more about the NYC Salary History Ban.)
Below are some potential, consequences of this Law, as it applies to any employees-candidates and any NYC-based employing organizations:
- If an individual has worked for a long time at the same company and, while employed, has acquired a lot of practical experience/skill set, but unfortunately was not able to secure compensation that was an objective reflection of her capabilities/expertise, she may now seek an employment at another company without worrying that prior, unfairly low compensation, will be a benchmark for her future offer.
- If an individual is a self-starter/entrepreneur who has acquired a lot of knowledge/experience in ways, other than formal employment (e.g. self-paid study or research) and by doing so, has significantly increased her professional maturity, she may confidently leverage these rightfully owned credentials , when negotiating a salary with her next employer.
- If an individual’s goal has always been to remain as a hands-on contributor (she loved what she did, and did not want to lose her practical skills) and was never aspired to seek a promotional/managerial position – something that usually leads to higher compensation, she may do so more freely, without worrying that she will miss out on a “compensation-bargaining-chip”, at her next job interview. This also means that employees will be more experience/knowledge-seeking and less promotion-seeking, as it is really an experience, not prior organizational position that define their true self-selling power. (note: often, promotions are associated with loss of hands-on expertise, in favor of managerial/administrative responsibilities).
- If an individual’s full compensation consists of base salary and discretionary bonus (the latter, often being too subjective, as it is based on individual performance appraisals, efficiency of which have been proven as ineffective, for many decades), with a bonus, representing a significant chunk of her full salary, she does not have to be concerned so much with her next employer, trying to count in only her base salary, as a ‘benchmark’ , while making an offer. This will also, hopefully, drive companies towards paying higher base salaries, and away from subjective bonuses.
- Recruiting agencies and staffing firms will have fewer opportunities to ask unethical questions (“how much were/are you making at your prior/current job?”), something that is often delegated to them by companies’ HR departments, with the ladder not wanting to be directly associated with unethical behaviors. Further, this may lead to more transparency and direct interaction between hiring managers and candidates.
- Companies-employers would have to improve their vetting/interviewing/hiring approaches significantly, by incorporating validation methods and more reliable/objective assessments of candidates, to prevent under-qualified, low-skilled individuals (some of whom may have strong negotiations and “talking the talk” skills) from slipping through companies’ doors and causing internal problems. This may require conducting more practical tests, real-life simulations and hands-on exercises, administered directly by hiring areas and peers-coworkers. Further, this could also reduce an amount of subjective/administrative, error-prone and often unnecessary screening processes, usually handled by companies’ departments that are least benefited from hiring high-quality candidates, but at the same time, most benefited from creating and administering actual processes 🙂
In all the above situations, the main compensation-determining factors will be:
- From an employee’s perspective: her professional competency, skill/mind set, ability to produce tangible results and deliver business value
- From an employer’s perspective: ability to properly assess a candidate for what she is worth (not for what she was price-tagged in her past) AND clear understanding of how much an employer is willing to pay for a given job/to a given candidate
The natural question that comes to mind: Does the new Law have any relevance to internal hiring situations (when employees move around a company)?
According to the Employer Fact Sheet, the Law does not apply directly to internal re-employment (also, for most companies, employees’ compensation is transparent to hiring managers of the same company).
However…. There could be some indirect implication: NYC-based employers will probably realize that properly educated (know the Law) employees will have more confidence to ask a higher pay, when they seek a new employment internally. The new “compensation-bargaining chip” for employees will be their increased self-confidence that they will be able to get a higher compensation elsewhere, irrespective of their current compensation (should their internal efforts not materialize). As a result, to avoid losing good people to their direct competitors, employers will probably revisit their compensation increase standards, with regards to internal re-employments.
Tonight -a great presentation by Malik Graves-Pryor of Natoma Consulting, as he shared how his company leveraged LeSS to achieve stunning results, while facing challenges and learning lessons.
At the Thursday October 12, 2017 NYC Large Scale Scrum Meetup, Malik Graves-Pryor shared his company’s LeSS case study, “Web and Mobile Applications Agile Transformation”. He covered the extensive issues the company faced at the beginning ranging from only 1-2 releases a year with hundreds of defects, and how they transformed over the course of several months to an organization that released monthly, and then continuously, with low defects and high customer satisfaction and engagement.
The discussion covered the merger of the Sales and Product Management Pipelines, adoption of technical practices leading to a DevOps-focused culture, how to take the necessary steps to build trust and cooperation within the organization, as well as the road-map they used to iteratively migrate the organization to continuous integration and deployment.
The interactive discussion spanned two hours with attendees raising questions and issues about the case study, as well as correlating them with their own challenges and aspirations.
Presentation deck is available at Natoma Consulting website for download.
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:
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 glace, 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.
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.
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
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 (p.17).
“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:
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 😉.
2017 Scrum Coaching Retreat in Kiev is in the books!!! The event has brought together a few dozens of agile coaches and trainers from nearby and far away.
The participants came from different backgrounds and focus areas but due to everyone’s extensive experience in self-organization and self-management, got the show on the road very quickly. After a short round of self-intros, each participant introduced a few topics that they wanted to discuss. By using a combination of dot-voting and affinity clustering techniques, the group came up with a handful of key topics that everyone wanted to deep dive into. The group broke up into four teams, with each team picking one high-priority topic – to be worked on in consecutive three (3) sprints.
The team I joined (“Happy 7”) picked up the topic “How to influence decisions of senior management directly, from the bottom of organizational pyramid”. The team consisted of experienced ScrumMasters, Team-level and Enterprise-level coaches.
The problem statement that defined our team’s effort was:
“There are so many instances, of challenges and obstacles that teams face, are not being heard at the top of a food chain. And even when they are heard, often, original messages get distorted and lose urgency, as they travel up through multiple “translational” layers. What can be done to fix this problem? What techniques could be used to effectively segregate impediments that are local and can be resolved by teams and the ones that are systemic/organizational – and must be aggressively escalated upward?”
The problem above has direct dependency on organizational design, specifically, on its thickness: the number of organizational layers between working teams (on one hand) and senior leadership/paying customers (on the other) – is a well-recognized challenge today.
Our working group has identified the following organizational design scenarios that define dynamics and human interaction in modern Product Development:
- Development teams and Product Owner belong to the same organization and end-Customer is positioned internally
- Development teams and Product Owner belong to the same organization and end-Customer is positioned externally
- Development teams represent Vendor-company and Product Owner represents Client-company and relationships between Vendor and Client are based on:
- Out-staffing model – when a vendor provides human assets (developers) that are then owned by a customer, from management perspective, whereas legal ownership (e.g. insurance, taxes) is still by a vendor
- Out-sourcing model – when an entire project gets outsourced to a vendor and a paying customer has no or minimal interaction directly with human assets (developers) that do work (most of communication flows through Engagement Management)
Interestingly, since many of our working group members had a lot of experience with #3 option above, the primary focus of our discussion was about how to bring closer senior leadership of paying customers and agile teams of delivering vendors, closer together, despite multiple “anti-agile” organizational layers that frequently reside in-between the former and the latter.
The ultimate result of our brainstorming was the invention of a non-commercial, collaborative game that was given the name of Influence Poker.
Our game’s purpose was:
- To identify challenges that delivery teams often face
- To classify challenges, based on origin, severity and implications
- To discuss potential ways of resolving and/or escalating challenges
- To ensure resolution ownership and transparency on its progress
The most serious organizational design challenge, when a paying customer engages with a vendor-company, is seen with an out-sourcing model. Here, no matter how agile/robust technology teams are, their ability to deliver effectively is hindered by:
- Involvement of Delivery Manager (usually, placed on a client site) who owns a relationship with a customer, serves as a single filter-channel of communication between a customer and teams, makes commitments and furnishes progress reporting on behalf of teams. The same person also streamlines feedback from a customer back to teams and frequently assigns work to team members. This is usually accompanied by micro-management and command and control behavior. The situation can be further worsened by the presence of Vendor Management function (customer side) that enforces SLAs, SOWs and other formal contracts between a customer and vendor: this just adds additional tension to a relationship and moves further apart end-customers and delivery teams.
- Weakening of Product Owner role – the importance of this critical Scrum role gets downplayed, because a customer company no longer sees value in direct communication with technology teams. Instead, Delivery Manager is treated as a single person, responsible for project delivery. This dramatically narrows all communication media that are used in Scrum (holding events, sharing artifacts).
The above two challenges are inter-related through a positive feedback loop: the less disengaged Product Owner becomes, the more pivotal the role of Delivery Manager becomes. The opposite is true too: strengthening the role of Delivery Manager, leads to further “excusing” Product Owner from stepping into the game, as Scrum requires. This is a viscous, de-stabilizing loop that continuously weakens Scrum.
Please, look out for the Influence Poker.first official release that is coming soon! It may greatly help your teams visualize their organizational problems and discover potential workable solutions.
The 2017 Agile Maine Day event is in the books. Great event organization. Great energizing crowd. Amazing presenters and speakers.
Below are the summaries of two selected presentations, whose themes were mostly relevant to System Thinking and System Design:
Don Macintyre’s topic “Agile Leadership” was about Radical Management (Steve Denning’s teaching) and covered:
- Shifting focus from making money for shareholders to focus on delighting customers through continuous innovation
- Managers focusing on controlling individuals to Managers empowering and supporting self-organizing teams
- Shifting from controlling work with bureaucracy to guiding innovation with priorities
- Shifting from predominantly valuing efficiency to valuing Continuous Innovation
- Shifting from top-down command structures to horizontal communication and collaboration
Don also talked about Agile Leadership Mindset and stressed the importance of the following behavioral transitions:
- From Directing to Coaching
- From Hiding Failure to Learning from Failure
- From Telling to Collaborating
- From Avoiding Blame to Seeing Feedback
Bob Sarni’s – “Radical Collaboration” delivered the following main message: “Organizations cannot compete externally until they can collaborate internally“
Bob referenced the book “Corporate Culture and Performance” by John Kotter and James Heskett: Non-enhancing Cultures vs. Enhancing Cultures, alluding to the fact that sometimes the best way to overcome resistance, is to remove resistors.
The following four quadrants of self-discovery were covered:
- Who we are (Self-mastery):
- Emotional Intelligence
- Interpersonal (Social Intelligence):
- Rules of Engagement
- What we Do:
- How We Do it:
- Decision Making
Bob also stressed the point that when it comes to going through organizational changes, companies tend to focus on Practices, instead of focusing on underlining Principles and Values. This results in unsustainable, short-term successes only.
Another great quote from Bob’s session: “Business Analysis have their focus on the outer side of business”, mainly focusing on questions of ‘what should we be doing?‘ and ‘how can we do it better, faster and more efficiently’. It turns out that the inner side of the business is where the greatest opportunity for radical improvement resides”. The inner side of the business contains the heart and soul of the business.
Finally, Bob talked about Red Zone vs. Green Zone Behaviors (refernicing work of James Tamm)
(At closing, a kodak moment with Dan Mezick and Bob Sarni)