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!

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!

Agile2016: Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

Technically, Agile2016 is not software, BUT, Agile2016 is about product delivery.  It is a product of hard work of countless volunteers, track and submission reviewers, sponsors, companies, and the people who attend.  And while I know that there was probably copious amounts of documentation and communication in paper form, the end game is not and will never will be about the documentation.

To dig into this further, I went to the principles behind the manifesto to get more understanding on this key pillar of Agile and how it applies to the actual conference.  If you peruse through the principles, there are key phrases related to the actual software product such as, “satisfy the customer,” or, “deliver… frequently,” or that the product is, “the primary measure of success.”  Each of these could be asked as questions in regards to the success of Agile2016 so far.

Is the customer satisfied?

As a customer (and no, I will not format this as a user story) – yes!  The way that the hotel staff has been attentive, the quality of the company booths, the attentiveness of the volunteers, the excitement and energy exuded by the attendees.  The answer is a whole-hearted YES!  Add to that the camaraderie of even competing organizations and the people focused on skills improvement and relationship building and Agile2016 is a resounding success.  I wish I could find the picture of one of our competitors chatting it up with us in booth – sharing stories, or seeing the two name sponsors’ staff hanging out in each others booths.  It is a sign of success of not just the conference but the movement.  Customer Sat? Check.

Is there frequent delivery of value?

Again, absolutely.  In 1:15 increments, speakers are delivering value.  In 3 hour bursts, the exhibit floor is bursting with value!  Even the breaks where one can chat with other agilists is a sign of creating instantaneous value.

Is the customer satisfaction and product delivery the primary measure of success?

This one adds to the first.  Not only do we recognize the need to create satisfied customers, but for our growth and for our validation of abilities, we need to actually deliver something.  What is the “product” that Agile2016 delivers?  Strategic and tactical agile transformation concepts, relationships, and vendor solutions.

On that note, welcome to Agile2016 day 2!  We look forward to more “quality product delivery” today!


Agile 2016: The First 12 1/2 minutes

I might be going a bit overboard on Agile this week with blogs, primarily because I’m at Agile2016, one of the largest gathering of us weirdo, hippie agilists – along side some still buttoned up folks – in the United States.

Upon walking in I was met by a wonderful group of volunteers; ready and eager to help as well as to laugh at my silly jokes.  I was also faced with my company’s competitors but this week we are not mortal enemies, but fellow agile journey-takers on a mission to get more info, sharpen our skills, and most of all meet more agile folks.

There is excitement in the air; a sense of urgency as people make their way to the keynote speaker session.  Others are headed down to put the finishing touches on booths or just talking with people they haven’t seen since last year.  All this excitement could also be because of the copious amount of coffee available to the attendees!

Overall, I’m looking forward to a week of getting to know a new set of people, talk “shop” for a full week, and listen to some thought leaders in the space.  Watch for Facebook Live, Periscope, Live Tweets, and other nonsensical stuff coming from me this week from Agile 2016.

Kings and Priests and Representative Republics

Today I heard a young lady call into a talk show and state that our government leaders are the result of divine providence.  While this sounds absolutely fine and great, there are some problems.  One of these problems was outlined as the follow-up from the show host that, using her thinking, God “put” President Obama in place.   For the sake of this post, I am not going to argue the “is he good or evil” of our current president.  But what the talk show host was insinuating was that for one to believe that God has full control over our leaders, we must fully accept that He has placed evil people in office simply to do His will.  As I listened and, more accurately, yelled at my radio, I realized that we might need a different perception on this topic.

First, let’s set up some basic theological context.  This post is not against the thought that God is in control, but rather strives to remind us all that part of Jesus’ mission was (is) to bring restoration to the Adam to God relationship.  Romans 5 tells us, “just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Jesus’ death and resurrection] resulted in justification and life for all people.”  Justification here doesn’t just mean “sin is covered now” – it actually means a realignment in our relationship with God and His original intent for us.  God has realigned our relationship and given us this “new” relationship through Christ Jesus.  What was this realignment?  Well, to go along with what he told Adam to do in Genesis, He also reminds us in the book of Revelation that He, “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  For those who remember me teaching on this a long time ago, the greek there speaks to how we are all kings under and deriving our power from the Great King (that’s God for those who are concerned about my theology).  So, what we have established so far is that Jesus came to realign us to the Adamic calling, which was to be both Kings and Priests.

Second, Fast forward to the 1740’s and such.  There was a spiritual uprising that started in Great Britain and moved its way to the American Colonies that we refer to as “the First Great Awakening.”  I almost feel terrible summarizing this amazing movement of God and His people by saying that it focused on one thing – a return to a personal relationship between a person and God the Father with the only mediator being Jesus.  Before this time, most leaders in the Church taught that a person’s relationship with God was through another appointed man on the earth.  Catholicism (and not knocking our wonderful Catholic brothers and sisters) at the time taught that this salvation was only available through the Pope and his Priests, and the Church of England taught that this was through the King of England.  The First Great Awakening reminded every one of the difference between what should be accountability of the saints to one another and our ultimate need for a personal, one on one relationship with God through Christ Jesus alone.

Ok, now we are getting to the good stuff.  Third, as we look through history, Spiritual Awakenings always precede governmental or social responses.  In this case, the response in the Colonies was that the King of England was not to be our master in all things, but rather was a man just like the rest of us.  He was not in fact given to us by God as the ultimate Physical, Spiritual, and Governmental Father figure, but rather we, as “kings and priests” and those in alignment with God were directly linked to God the Father.  Ultimately, we are able to govern ourselves (or elect people to govern as we empower them).  This, my friends, is the basis for our representative republican government – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” That is why the Declaration also talks about the colonial individual’s equality with the king of England!  Can you imagine such a thought?  That American Colonials believe themselves to be Kings?

And we circle back around to the scripture quoted this morning by this wonderful millennial sister – Romans 13:1 – “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”  With all of this context, who actually is the governing authority in the U.S.?  That’s right friends, we are; “We the People.”  We have this wonderful experiment which calls each and every individual in this great country the authority!  While we still need to submit ourselves to one another as Paul states to the Ephesians (for this is the reason, as our founding fathers stated, that being founded in christian morals is a must for our government to succeed), it is important not to just put our responsibilities aside and let others take that which was gifted us through Jesus.

Again, this is just a different idea/concept.  God values our partnership and our relationship with Him.  He has set us up to be leaders in this world.  And in the U.S., we have the opportunity to exercise that leadership as individuals through the roles established by our founders.  Please do not sit idly by and wait for others to govern you!  Submit to one another, but also know that you are called to lead!  What do you think?