Leadership is the Key – Agile 2017 Day 1

It’s Agile2017 time again!  Woohoo!.  Everyone from developers and scrum masters and lowly vendors to the “stalwarts” of the agile movement is here.  Over the next week, we will listen to speakers talking about principles, application of agility, tools, systems, and even the new shiny stuff that is all around.  But it tells me something about where we are headed as a “philosophy” when the first keynote speaker, David Marquet, doesn’t speak of principles, tools, processes, or practices, but instead speaks of “leadership.”

Leadership not Leaders

Leadership is not a group of people but rather it is 1) what we do each day to take responsibility for the work we do, 2) our attitude toward learning and improvement, and 3) our ability to use our skills in a way that best serves our colleagues and our end goal.  The word “lead” is derived from a german word that means “to set a plumb line;” meaning that leadership is all about demonstrating for those around us what the good way is.  In agile, we move leadership solely out of hands of those “in charge” and into everyone’s hands.  We ask and (sorry for the word) demand that individuals and teams lead.  So when we talk about leadership being the key, we don’t mean the managers, we mean building people to where they can be in possession of their own leadership!  David Marquet, a former Naval Submarine Commander and now speaker, talked about how he got out of the “giving orders business.”  He required that his entire crew be leaders in their thinking; he created an environment where people wanted to be leaders in their work and where to improve to get there!

Leading Leaders

When we take this leap to where leadership is now in the hands of those closest to the work, how we lead these individuals changes.  They are no longer resources that are to be consumed, they are not simply “red workers” (again see David Marquet’s work), and they are definitely not the bottom of the pyramid in the organizational chart.  They are now the people getting the work done, learning and knowing the best way to execute, and are the one’s who are driving the solutions!  They are now leaders! Leading these folks just became harder at the same time it became easier!  Our job, as leaders, moves from telling people what to do and now becomes focused on how we inspire, improve, and influence.  It will require that leaders in this new revolution learn new skills.

Leadership = Constant Improvement

In the book, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, the author speaks of how Toyota’s culture is built around continuous and constant improvement and how even Sr. Leaders are required to learn new methods and improve old ones.  In some cases at Toyota, leader’s growth was temporarily halted to return to the basics and learn a better way to do the simple things before moving up.  Other cases required that leaders be moved around to different teams to learn new ways of leading without having authority.  In all cases, leaders were expected to be able to provide an environment where everyone could grow and improve constantly.  I will say this – in order for us to challenge our team members, we must start by challenging our thoughts in how we lead!

And so…

This is how we kick off Agile 2017 – with a call to change the way we approach leadership, thinking, and work!  it is a great reminder that leadership is at the core of agility and that in order to move into a new way of working, radical leadership is required!

Look for more on the happenings of Agile 2017 soon!

Three Reasons Why You Should Not Hire an Agile Coach

Originally posted on LinkedIn here.

I admit it – I am an agile coach. I walk teams through starting up, I work with Product Owners on building backlogs, I work with organizations on agile adoption, I help people and companies get more “awesome.” And now I am going to tell you three reasons why you shouldn’t hire me, or anyone like me! Now, this doesn’t mean every organization should never hire coaches, but over the years I have witnessed scenarios where coaches could not be successful.

Continue reading “Three Reasons Why You Should Not Hire an Agile Coach”

Agile Adoption or Transformation?

Hey all!  This is a repost from my blog at MATRIX Resources.  Check out the original here:

Matrix Resources Professional Services Blog – Adoption or Transformation?


There is only one answer to this, isn’t there? Unless you do a full-on, top down, inside out, grassroots, executive-led, business-driven transformation, you’ll never experience the benefits of agile practices, right? If you would have asked me several years ago, I would have told you that there was only one way – a full-scale transformation. Over the past couple of years, however, I’ve worked with several organizations that, for some reason, simply could not commit to a full transformation.

Understanding Where We are Headed

Let’s first look at what is meant with agile adoption or transformation. I’m sort of a word guy -my background (and just my brain) tends to have me looking up the meanings and the origination of words. So, here we go:

Transform: make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of. Transform comes from the Latin word transformare which literally means “across form” or to change form. The Romans would have used this word to describe the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Adopt: to accept or act in accordance with (a plan, principle, etc.). Adopt comes from another Latin word, adoptare (I am so glad I took two years of Latin – thank you Magistra Sullivan!), which means “to choose or desire for oneself.” Once more, the Romans might have used this when talking about bringing specific holidays, cultural improvements, or architectural techniques from conquered states into their own.

So, if we look at just the basics, agile adoptions mean that companies chose certain practices that are agile. They are, in this case, bringing these principles or practices or tools into their existing business framework. On the flip side, transformations mean that these companies are letting the principles, values, and practices change them. In some cases, organizations might view this transformation as opposed to their business models, their existing strategic goals, or even detrimental to their client relationships. Let’s look at a few navigational decision points that will help your organization decide which journey is right for you.

Organizational Strategic Alignment

That’s a mouthful! In essence, does your organization already have a strategic set of goals set up to achieve this value and is it static? We have worked with organizations that answer a resounding “yes” to this question. They have invested millions of dollars to make sure that their business processes, tactical and organizational frameworks, and strategic goals all align to their primary product delivery. To take on a full transformation, even if it is IT only (which is NEVER recommended), would require more than just a systemic change to their business model – it would possibly mean tearing it down and starting over. Adoption of certain agile practices, even at the executive level, simply mean increase the efficiency by which the organization can execute and deliver value.

For other companies, transformation is necessary. They might struggle with keeping up with their market’s vastly changing needs and when they do deliver, they are already behind the curve. They might even have no way of supporting or transitioning their existing products to 21st century products. These companies NEED transformation; adoption for them would simply be injecting chaos into an already chaotic environment.

“Championing” Agility

Another buzzword! A fancy way to ask, “who is going to run with this initiative?” I’m reminded of a customer where the sponsor of the agile initiative had a manager who was almost anti-agile. This individual, even though a vice president, had to expend additional effort just to counteract the challenges from the manager. In addition, the business didn’t engage fully. This left the IT manager only able to focus on targeted adoptions and tactical changes to delivery. Was this a failure? Not at all! While it wasn’t all that this individual (or we, to be honest) wanted, there were pockets of success and improvement in delivering working products. Adoption is not always transformation’s evil stepbrother! Sometimes the sponsor can only champion adoption.

Funding Models

How does your company fund projects or initiatives? This subject can get very complicated, but fortunately, we are not talking about the several different ways that organizations can improve their funding. We are also not talking about capitalizing or operationalizing work. We are simply asking here whether your company is at a place where it makes sense to address changes in funding. Why is this such an important question? Many companies have implemented very project-centric funding methods by which monies are allocated in very large chunks, sometimes into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Oddly enough, these same models require down-to-the-task level coordination and oversight from project and program managers. Agile frameworks at a program and portfolio level generally reduce the size of work, therefore reducing risk. Transformation seeks to tackle this issue by thin-slicing portfolios of work and providing autonomy to allocate funds as needed, incrementally. Adoptions, on the other hand, could keep a project-based funding model and simply improve the way we look at tracking the funds. Is your company at a place where finance should and could be addressed?

Staffing and Team Components

How much does your organization rely on offshore, nearshore, or vendor-delivered solutions? Please hear me out on this one! I am not saying that an organization cannot “be” agile if they have offshore teams or work with vendors for their supporting products. I am saying that the questions must be asked to see what makes sense. Several of our customers have a large offshore component with one company having approximately 75% of their software development occurring offshore. Another client has a dependency where they rely on mostly external vendors (some of them rather sizeable) and simply cannot say, “hey largest-provider-of-CMS-products, we want you to change the way you deliver software!” Understanding the trade-offs (needs of strategic partners vs. the company’s direction) is key to deciding whether agile practices are adopted or whether the organization looks at a full-scale agile transformation that could impact how the work occurs with partners.

Size of the Company

I can hear it now! “Joshua, are you saying that big companies should not think about transformation? Are you saying that agile is so delicate that only certain practices could be adopted by our Fortune 100 organizations?” Absolutely not! This question, just like the funding model question is based on what the organization is willing to do. There are companies that are big and act monolithically and there are those that still have the flexibility (and agility) to respond to change. There are companies that see change as the only constant and those are the ones where transformation aligns with their core values. But let’s also be very transparent – size of the company does play a part. We must ask ourselves, if we are in a large organization, what is the appetite for change? As some companies grow, their desire and will to make changes that keep them on the cutting edge can dim. In this case, there is still hope of agile practices, delivery, and even skunkworks-type scenarios where agile can be adopted but the thought of a full-scale transformation is more challenging.

And in closing…

As you have read this way-too-long blog, I hope that it has at least sparked questions and even help expose some of the hidden challenges that your organization may face. This was not meant to dissuade anyone from transformation or, worse, shame organizations that haven’t been able to punch through. This hopefully highlights the concepts and ideas that need to be made transparent to make a good decision!

Our Customers Don’t Care if We Are Agile

This quote by Steve Jobs, “It Just Works,” sums up the long winning streak that Apple had from when Jobs came back to Apple until he unfortunately passed away.  During that time Steve and teams delivered innovation after innovation and continued with wins like OS X and iOS from a digital media standpoint, not to mention some underrated killer work like Aperture and Final Cut.  But do you know what I never heard?  What methodology Apple uses.  I also never heard how many people are on each of their teams.  And I never heard about their team agreements.  Matter-of-fact, all I know is that when I get a product, it just worked; it did what I needed it to do, and if there were bugs they got fixed.

Oh and sorry about the seemingly harsh headline – my wife warns me about my propensity for the dramatic but alas, here we are. Then again, maybe this is what we need to start focusing on what matters. For the past several years we have seen a movement where how a product or service is accomplished the creation/cultivation/delivery mattered for than the quality of the product itself. We care about organic, non-GMO, antibiotic-free. We care about fair-trade or sustainable farming. We even care about intelligently sourced materials. And these are important. But you know what no one screams about? Whether we use waterfall or agile practices to deliver digital products. Why is that? Because, in the end, our digital products are different that food, cars, and coffee and our users want high quality products delivered regularly with updates that work.

Why do I bring this up? Because, unfortunately, Agile has stopped being a word that heralds speed, quality, and innovation, and has become some buzz word that is used for garnering more clients or additional funding from investors. We have watched as more and more folks have created an industry where agility is not a mindset but is a sales pitch. Consultants are “versed in agile methodologies” and yet do not want to partner with their clients to make the hard decisions and find the real problems. And, because in the end, our users want high quality products delivered regularly with updates that work.

Usually in the third paragraph of a blog like this, there is a call to “return to the principles of the original manifesto,” but I would say that this is overplayed. It is time for us to move forward and focus on what our customers and our clients’ customers want – good products with great features faster. If that means we use different methods and we address different problems using different tools, then so be it. Whatever it means, the ultimate goal is not agility, it is valuable products. And why is this (repeat after me): because in the end, our users want high quality products delivered regularly with updates that work.

From Manager to Agile Leader

This is a repost of a blog I wrote for MATRIX Resources.

See more at: http://www.matrixres.com/resources/blogs/

Dear Coach Josh,

Last month our CEO sent out a memo stating that our company was now an Agile company. I know what Agile is, but I don’t know what to do now because I am a manager. I have heard that Agile no longer uses managers and I have been reminded of this by some of my employees after attending a training session. Help!

Signed,

Scared in Scrum

agile-manager_horizontalphoto

Dear Scared in Scrum,

Go get a cup of coffee or nice chamomile tea and know this – nothing in Agile calls for the removal of managers or leaders in companies! This isn’t the French Revolution! Now, did you get your hot beverage of choice? Good! Since that is out of the way, let’s look at what has changed, what this means to you, and what this means to the people the company has entrusted you to lead! But first, a little background.

Agile has its roots in a time where developers sat in small cubes in back rooms and banged out code while project managers, business analysts and the like (the people persons) worked with the customer directly. These PMs and BAs then brought back well-thought-out documents and plans, handed completed specifications to the developers, and returned to their tracking of projects and talking with the customers. Resource managers, then, focused on creating and enforcing rules, acted as subject matter experts (because they once were developers or the like), and held the organizational bureaucracy together. Then came the Agile Manifesto and the meeting in Snowbird. Developers were done with being relegated to the dark corners of the cube jungle and started working directly with clients, PMs were banished from the land, BAs stopped writing massive documents, but managers were still there! Even though some agile frameworks completely leave managers out of their thoughtful methods, companies didn’t know what to do with managers. And it seemed the boys in Snowbird didn’t either.

Many good folks have spent time talking about the role of managers, and this blog is just the latest in a litany of attempts to explain what managers do now.

Managers are no longer managers; they are leaders of leaders.

It may seem like semantics, but there is a huge difference between a manager and a leader. The good ole dictionary defines a manager as “a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company”. The word even derives from the Latin which means “to handle”, specifically, “to control or handle a horse.” A leader on the other hand, comes from a word that means “to guide or conduct,” and can be defined as “a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or group.”

In an Agile organization, we ask everyone to be a leader. We ask team members to organize themselves and be responsible for their work, their relationships, and their own improvement! In the old days, the “head” of a group of people or team did not stay in the back of the group giving orders, rather they were in front and the first one out among many. This concept is reaffirmed in stories of Alexander the Great, George S. Patton, and some of the greatest military and strategic champions throughout history. This means that Leaders of Leaders are there to help guide individuals by bringing them along with them. Do you want your folks to become stronger in their core competency? Then show them by example what that looks like through your actions and open up a path for them to improve. Do you want the people to learn to communicate more effectively or create a more cohesive team environment? Then YOU make that change first. One of our clients, after doing some training with our own Bob Woods, converted their entire floor to a more open space to facilitate communication and collaboration. While that was impressive, the most impressive change was that this Sr. Leader actually moved himself out of his office into one of the desks among the teams. The reason? He wanted to be in the midst of his people and let them know that collaboration was important. This was a not-so-subtle notice that he needed his folks to take up the initiative of collaboration across teams and start to communicate more and is an example of a Manager-to-Leader moment.

Agile Leaders surround themselves with people that are smarter than they are.

There is a saying, “if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” It can be attributed in bits and pieces to people from Steve Jobs to clinical psychologist Natalie Frank. The underlying wisdom in this is that, as a leader, if you are the smartest person in the room, the focus is no longer on those you lead, but on you. And this is not good. In Agile organizations, this is amplified even more with the focus on teamwork. Teams are looked upon to deliver both business-as-usual work as well as innovative solutions for the customer (whether internal or external). As a leader, our job becomes to build the people within the teams to become more effective, efficient, and successful.

“But what does this look like tactically,” you might ask, “how do I make this happen?”

There are several areas of growth that teams can and should focus on. And as a leader, it is your responsibility to pave the way for this growth. Here they are:

21st Century Skills

21st Century Skills_horizontalThe whole concept of 21st Century Skills is centered around the trend of people entering the workforce not having the holistic intellectual and emotional growth necessary to compete in the today’s marketplace. While there are multiple flavors, one prominent educational group defines four primary categories – Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration. These are a must if your team members are going to grow!

Improved competency in existing technologies and introductions to new technologies

Back in the day, I was a “self-taught” IT guy. I learned how to break networks in order to figure out the best way to architect them. But when my leaders sent me to classes, it filled in all of the holes of knowledge that I had and exposed me to the wisdom of the trainer. In an Agile organization, training on doing the existing work better or on new technologies is not something that happens after I finish my 40-hour workweek, it is part of the continuous journey of improvement. And as an Agile leader, it is important to reiterate this to your leaders and make sure the value you place on education in the workplace is evident to those you lead.

Leadership skills

Yes, you need people to replace you. One of your primary responsibilities should be to work yourself out of a job. In order to do this, training people on how to be good leaders is a must! There are tremendous resources for leadership training such as John Maxwell or the Center for Creative Leadership.

Agile leaders are change champions.

Admittedly, this is more of a “rah, rah” point but it’s important nonetheless. As the teams focus on delivering products and improving themselves they need people to continue to drive for change and improvement within the organization. In the past, success was measured by how well people met the processes and followed the rules of engagement. In Agile organizations, leaders are charged with reducing organizational waste, removing processes that slow innovation and delivery, and consuming changes in products and in practices as the organization evolves. I once heard a leader state that if you wanted to see productivity go through the roof, ask your people what rule/process gets in their way the most and remove it.

So, Scared in Scrum, as you can see there is plenty of room in agility for leadership! Does it mean there is change in your future? Absolutely! But it is exciting to know that, as a leader, you are a necessary part of a growing, changing, and improving Agile organization!

Your Biggest Fan,

Coach Josh