Category Archives: Team Dynamics

About Contracts That Support Agile Ways of Working



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts by Rick Waters, CST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Tips To Run ‘Big’ Retrospectives

For any team that uses scrum framework, a retrospective is a mandatory event that takes place at the end of each sprint.  It is an opportunity for a team to reflect on their most recent learning, while it is still fresh in everyone’s mind.  There are many tips, techniques and tools for running a retrospective.  They start with very basic guidelines of the Scrum Guide and expand into experiences and experiments of many teams and practitioners.
There are also recommendations on how to run a retrospective in more complex/scaled organizational settings, with multiple teams sprinting together (e.g. Overall Retrospective in Large Scale Scrum), as they work on the same product or service and support the same Product Owner and/or customer journey.
Depending on team(s) maturity, a retrospective could be run with or without assistance of an experienced facilitator (Scrum Master, coach) that possesses guide-level expertise in Scrum.
[Notably, a retrospective format is not unique to Scrum.  For example, Kanban teams can also retrospect, on-demand, whenever they feel there is a need.]

What about other organizational settings, outside of team dynamics? What about situations, when multiple individuals, from different organizational areas need to come together and retro-actively inspect (a.k.a. retrospect) on their work within and across various organizational areas, or across multiple organizations (e.g. internal departments, between partners-companies, vendors), involving communication, collaboration, reporting, managing each other’s expectations? 

Below, are some practical tips on how to organize and run a ‘big retrospective’ (e.g. after multiple sprints and/or completing key deliverable, with people that are not members of development teams).

  1. Most importantly, try having all required parties in the same physical location.  For people that are at remote locations, use video conference rooms, and to the extent possible, cluster people together. For example, if a group is distributed between location A and location B, and there is no way to bring everyone together at either location, don’t settle for letting ‘everyone joining from their desks’, via video phones.  At least, maximize clustering of individuals, at each respective location, by using conference rooms.
  2. For large groups (more than 20 people), try identifying individuals-delegates that represent views and opinions of others.  This is done to reduce noise (too many communication nodes and channels) from people involved in discussions.  Identifying delegates will also help with the first guideline above: collocating fewer people in the same place is more cost-effective.  Be careful, when selecting delegates:line managers, engagement managers, leads etc. – are not the best delegates.  Ideally, delegates should be on-par with people they represent.
  3. Consider bringing an external facilitator – someone who does not represent views or interests of any specific group of people or department.  A facilitator must be neutral and unbiased – a completely impartial person.  If a facilitator understands internal organizational dynamics – this is great but not mandatory.  An experienced facilitator will be able to adjust on-the-fly and leverage to his/her advantage, domain knowledge and subject matter expertise of other participants that are involved in a retrospective. Sometimes, one of the organizational units involved in a retrospective may have their own experienced facilitator available.  Falsely, such person could be perceived by other retrospective participants as someone who is subjective or biased.  Such preconceived notion may create a problem and must be addressed from start.
  4. With many people involved and/or joining from remote locations, consider doing some preparatory work that will help running a face-to-face retrospective more efficiently.  This could be effectively done by a facilitator, by collecting ahead of time, from all future retrospective participants, their preliminary feedback: wishes, concerns, recommendations.  All collected information can be then reviewed and analyzed, to make it more presentable and actionable at a retrospective: duplicates – removed, relevant items – grouped together.
  5. During a retrospective, a facilitator can present all participants with collected and refined information (4 above), in the form of index-cards and leverage one of facilitation techniques (e.g. dot-voting or priority vs. impact plotting) to decide on the order of items to be discussed. Additional, blank index cards should be available on-hand, in case there are last-moment ideas that emerge in a room.
  6. Each discussion point should be time-boxed.  However, since not all discussion points are of equal priority and complexity, time required to spend on each may not be the same.  It is also important to keep a discussion focused/tailored and not let it digress to tangentially relevant (or completely irrelevant) topic.  It is a good practice to spend some extra time at the beginning of a retrospective to not only prioritize discussion points but also estimate, roughly, how much time is each discussion point may take.  This approach of balancing discussion items’ priority vs. complexity, essentially, is identical to what a team does to backlog items during a product backlog refinement session.
  7. Retrospectives that involve people that don’t work on the same team, let alone, individuals from different organizational structures and of different levels of seniority may create a lot of additional tension in a room.  The latter, especially, may force more junior people become very reserved and un-confident in stating their opinions, in front of more senior colleagues (some of whom may also be their line managers).  Allowing privates speak before generals (a.k.a. “military democracy”)” could be one of the ways to ensure that junior people are not anchored to views of more senior people and feel comfortable and safe to speak out openly.
  8. Similar to a single team retrospective, a big retrospective, should culminate on a positive note (friendly, mutually supportive vibe) with at least, a handful of most critical items, becoming immediate actionable.  Since topics that are bought up at big retrospectives are usually more systemic/organizational in nature (as opposed to tactical, team-level), each actionable should be preferably owned by a more senior person.

 

 

 

BABA Meetup – Does Agile Really Work in Sales?

Business Agility is at the top of conversation in the workplace. The Big Apple Business Agility (BABA) MeetUp launched on Monday, March 11, with an interactive presentation, “Does Agile Really Work in Sales?”, by Marina Alex, Business Agility Transformation Coach.
Marina related several of her experiences applying agile to sales, from banks, to an Agile Museum to a chain of dental clinics, Marina shared data that proved improvements in sales were recorded rapidly. In one case 50% in two months, 12 months later 127%. Of course, a shift in culture was at the heart of the process and the biggest challenge, but outstanding results led teams to want to work this way.  A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here.
For the first time, publicly, SWAY Framework guide has been released.  To download a copy please click here.
Some of the steps to success were adopting a backlog that was also qualitative and becoming collaborative through stand-ups, retrospectives and cross-functional teams. One significant hurdle that needed to be overcome was identifying leaders who would take ownership. Marina has adopted an Agile Framework – SWAY, that she shared with the group. One of the highlights of the evening was engaging the participants with the content with the Nureva Wall + Span Workspace. The interactive Wall and collaborative software enabled them to make predictions and add their thoughts to the conversation.
SWAY Framework Guide

[Download Meetup Presentation]

Session Feedback

 

SWAY – Agile Sales Framework 1.0

Meetup-recap.  TBA.

 

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

Centralized vs. Decentralized Coaching

Key Takeaways

Read the original post on InfoQ.

  •  There is a frequently seen confusion with respect to the definition of agile coaching: coaching focus (e.g. enterprise vs. team) is confused with coaching alignment (centralized vs. decentralized) within an organization
  • Centralized coaching departments run the risk of turning into a single-specialty organizational silos that are locally optimized for their own expansion and personal success; they are also removed from real action. The reasoning behind: standardization – has its weaknesses.
  • Centralized coaching is often limited to being “responsible for introducing KPIs, documentation of script-style-one-size-fits-all best practices and cookie-cutting approaches”.  This leads to system gaming by other departments and organizational silos that must “meet numbers goals”
  • Centralized Agile coaching makes sense only when it takes place within an organization that is small enough to be effectively managed front-to-back (including its all organizational layers)  and is genuinely supportive of its own coaches, by providing them with “organizational immunity” and operational safety – to enable them perform their challenging duties
  • The main advantage of decentralized coaching approach is that coaches are close to real action: deeply engaged with products/services, and are intimately engaged with senior leadership.  Decentralized coaching is deep & narrow (as opposed to being broad and shallow) and takes time to cause meaningful and sustainable organizational changes.

Read the original post on InfoQ.

Proper Scaling of Scrum and Dynamic Financial Forecasting


The purpose of this post is to summarize two very important and independent topics and then integrate them together, into a joint discussion.  The topics are:

  1. Moving from rigid annual budgets to rolling forecasts (super important! in agile/adaptive product development environments)
  2. Quality of scaling in agile product development, specifically Scrum

…and tying effective scaling of Scrum to dynamic financial forecasting.


Rigid Annual Budgets vs. Dynamic/Rolling-Wave Forecasting

Challenges presented by rigid annual budgets have been known for a long time.  For people that are new to the topic, a great way to stay on top of most recent research and publications, is to follow what is going at BBRT.org (Beyond Budgeting Round Table).  One of BBRT’s core team members – Bjarte Bogsnes, in his book “Implementing Beyond Budgeting: Unlocking the Performance Potential” (please, refer to the book’s highlights here),  clearly summarizes the problems with conventional, end-of-year rigid budgets. They are as follows:

  1. Budgets represent a retrospective look at past situation and conditions that may not be applicable in a future
  2. Assumptions made as a part of a budgeting process, even if somewhere accurate at the beginning, get quickly outdated
  3. Budgeting, in general, is very time-consuming process, and it adds additional, financial overhead to organizations
  4. Rigid budgets, can prevent important, value adding-activities, and often lead to fear of experimenting, researching and innovating (crucial for incremental development)
  5. Budget reports are frequently based on subjective metrics, as they take on the form of RAG statuses, with the latter, introducing additional errors and omissions (for details, please refer to Red, Yellow, Green or RYG/RAG Reports: How They Hide the Truth, by M. Levison and The Fallacy of Red, Amber, Green Reporting, by G. Gendel)
  6. Budgets, when used as a yardstick to assess individual performance, often lead to unethical behaviors (e.g. “churning & burning cash”at year-end to get as much or more next year) or other system-gaming activities

…The list of adverse effects caused by traditional budgeting is long…

On contrary, a rolling-wave forecast, respects the fact that environmental conditions are almost never static, and recognizes that if too much reliance is placed on prior years’ financial situation, it may lead to miscalculations.  Rolling-wave forecasts are based on frequent reassessment of a small handful of strong KPIs, as oppose to large number of weak KPIs, as frequently done in conventional budgeting..  The more frequently forecasts are being made, the higher chance that most relevant/reliable information will be used in assessments.  One good way to decide on cadence of rolling forecasts is to align them with meaningful business-driven events (e.g. merchandise shipments, production code deployments, etc.).  It is natural to assume that for incremental/iterative product development (e.g. Scrum), when production deployments are made frequently and in small batches, rolling-wave forecasting could be a concurrent financial process.  Short cycle time of market feedback could provide good guidance to future funding decisions.

It is worth noting that one of the key challenges that Scrum teams face today, is the “iron triangle” of conventional project management, with all three of its corners (time, scope, budget) being rigidly locked. And while the most common approach in Scrum is to make scope flexible, ‘clipping’ the budget corner brings additional advantage to teams.  Above all other benefits, rolling-wave forecasts address the problem described in #4 above, as they provide safety to those teams that want to innovate and experiment.

But what if there not one but many Scrum teams, each working on their own initiatives, running under different cadences (asynchronized sprints) and servicing different customers?  How many independent rolling-wave forecasts can one organization or department adopt before things become too complicated?  What is too much and where to draw a line?

Before we try to answer this question, let’s review what is frequently seen, when organizations attempt to scale scrum.

 

Proper Scaling vs. “Copy-Paste” Scaling

Let’s look at the following two situations: (1) more than one Scrum team, independently, doing their own Scrum and (2) more than one Scrum team, working synchronously, on the same product, for the same customer, sharing the same product backlog and domain knowledge.  The former case, is referred to as “Copy-Paste” Scrum, clearly described by Cesario Ramos. The latter case can be seen in skillful Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) adoptions. Here are some of the most classic characteristics of both scaling approaches:

(1) – “Copy-Paste” Scrum (2) – Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) 
  • Product definition is weak. Applications and components that don’t have strong customer alignment are treated as products
  • “Doing Scrum” efforts are often a result of trying to meet goals of agile transformation (some annual % goals must be met), set at enterprise level
  • Tight subsystem code ownership
  • Top-down, “command & control” governance, with little autonomy and self-management at team level
  • Importance of Scrum dynamics and its roles are viewed as secondary to existing organizational structure blueprints
  • Too many single-specialty experts and very few T-shaped workers
  • No meaningful HR changes to support Scrum team design
  • Simplified organizational design. Reduction of: silos, handovers, translation layers and  bureaucracy
  • Scrum is implemented by coordinated, feature-centric teams, working on  widely defined Product, for the same PO.
  •  Local Optimization by single specialists is eradicated
  • Scrum is a building block of IT organizational structure
  • Teams are collocated Multi-site development is used for multiple locations
  • Strong reliance of technical Mentoring and Communities of Practice
  • No subsystem code ownership
  • Reduction of “undone” work and “undone department”
  • Focus on Customer values
  • Strong support by Senior Leadership & intimate involvement of HR

Note: Please refer to Scaling Organizational Adaptiveness (a.k.a. “Agility”) with Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) for additional graphic illustration.

Based on the above, the following also becomes apparent:

In “copy-paste” Scrum, development efforts, marketing strategies and sales (ROI) are not treated as constituents of the same unified ecosystem.  In this scenario, it is almost impossible to fund teams by means of funding real, customer-centric products.  Why?  There are too many independent ad-hoc activities that take place and artifacts that are created.  There is no uniformed understanding of work size and complexity that is shared by all teams.  Estimation and forecasting made by each individual team is not understood by other teams.  Team stability (and subsequently, cost-per-team member) is low, as individuals are moved around from project to project and shared across many projects.  Further, with multiple teams reporting into different lines of management, there is a much higher chance of internal competition for budget.  By the same token, there is a low chance that a real paying customer would be able to step in and influence funding decisions for any given team: too many independent and competing requests are going on at the same time.

In organizations, where “copy-paste” Scrum is seen (and is often, mistakenly taken for scaled scrum, due to lack of education and expert-leadership), there is still strong preference for fake programs and fake portfolio management.  Under such conditions, unrelated activities and, subsequently, data/metrics (often fudged and RAG-ed) are collected from all over the organization and “stapled” together.   All this information rolls up to senior leadership, customers and sponsors.  Subsequently, what rolls down, is not dynamic funding of well-defined customer-centric, revenue-generating products, but rather rigid budgets for large portfolios and programs that are composed of loosely coupled working initiatives, performed by unrelated Scrum teams (secondary, to conventional departmental budgeting).  As rigid budgets cascade down from top, onto individual teams, they further solidify the “iron triangle” of conventional project management and hinder teams’ ability to do research, experimentation and adaptive planning.

On the other hand, in Large Scale Scrum, things are different:

  • When up-to-eight LeSS teams work synchronously, together (side-by-side), on the same widely-defined product (real), their shared understanding of work type and complexity (having certain scrum events together really helps!) is significantly better. As a result, when it comes to forecasting a completion of certain work (features), eight LeSS teams will do a better job than eight loosely coupled teams that work completely independently, on unrelated initiatives.
  • Since all LeSS teams work for the same customer (Product Owner), there is a much higher chance that they will develop a shared understanding of product vision and strategy, since they are getting it from an authentic source – and therefore will be able to do planning more effectively.
  • Having more direct correlation between development efforts LeSS teams (output, in the form of shared PSPI) and business impact (outcome, in the form of overall ROI), makes strategic decisions about funding much more thoughtful.  When real customers can directly sponsor product-centric development efforts, by getting real-time feedback from a market place and deciding on future strategy, they (customers) become much more interested in dynamic forecasting, as it allows them to invest into what makes most sense.  Dynamic forecasting of LeSS, allows to increase/decrease number of scrum teams involved in product development flexibly, by responding to increased/decreased market demands and/or product expansion/contraction.

Noteworthy that in LeSS Huge cases, when product breadth has outgrown capacity of a single Product Owner and requires work by more than eight teams, dynamic forecasting can still be a great approach for Product (overall) Owner and Area Product owners (APO): they can strategize funding of different product areas and make necessary timely adjustments to each area size/grown, as market conditions change.


Conclusion:

All of the above, as described in LeSS scenario, will decrease organizational dependency on fixed budgets, as there will be less interest in outdated financial information, in favor of flexibility, provided by rolling-wave forecasting that brings much closer together “the concept” (where value is built – teams) and “cash” (where, value is consumed – customers).