Category Archives: MeetUp

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

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

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

Summary by a featured guest-blogger, Agile Coach and Certified LeSS Practitioner – Soledad Rivero.

Definitely, participating in Craig Larman’s CLP training has fundamentally raised the bar for me, as a change agent, Scrum Master and Agile Coach. I managed to incorporate new concepts that will not only help me in my current situation, but will also be handy for many years to come. During this course we dont get into a deep dive of LeSS experiments (there are more than 600 of them and for that, there are 3 books that provide guidance, with examples and practical techniques in different chapters).  Instead, in this course we had a very unique 3-day experience with Craig, as he taught how to design your organization in a systemic way, thinking systemically, seeking to optimize the whole and not just locally. This course broke my mindset and perception and then put it back together again.  It opened up my mind, giving me more tools, and energy to keep changing things.

As Craig said in class: “to be an agent of change in an organization you need a lot of patience and big amount of sense of humor“.   It will not be easy, but for sure it will be worthy. Thanks again for amazing learning opportunity!

More Kodak Moments

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

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

Keynote Presentation by Daniel H. Pink

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

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

Some highlights from Pink’s talk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As such, there is a conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throughout the course of my presentation I:

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

“Download Presentation as PDF”


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


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

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

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

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