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

Going Beyond the Beginning

Movements are finicky.  There is always a balance of retaining the original fire that drove the change but also looking forward to see the greatness that could be as the movement gains traction and fresh perspectives.

Over the past several days I have seen some people tweet or comment about “how xyz isn’t what was intended when the manifesto was signed,” or one of my favorites, “I don’t remember massages at Snowbird.”  While I have a tremendous amount of respect for these “founding fathers,” Agile is not a government of rules or a republic, We Are Agile – the people, the decisions to think outside of the norm, and continuous ability to consume change!  I believe in honoring the past and in remembering our history, but I also believe that the beginning was just that – a beginning!

Outside of agile, I have been involved in other movements that always look back to the “firsts.” These firsts are looked upon not only as absolutely amazing and empowered people [that they are/were], but in some ways “the finals” as well.  They were the last ones allowed to do awesome things or say amazing things or even have any new insights.  And anyone who adds, subtracts, or has a different viewpoint are considered apostate – even if they still focus on the core values and principles – and are pushed into some corner reserved for the rebellious and stupid kids.

Today, at Agile2016, there was a new idea spoken about called Modern Agile.  This set of principles or strategies  take the amazingness of the Agile Manifesto and slightly shift them for modern era.  You see, we have accomplished a lot using the tools and practices of the Agile Manifesto and team/organizational change agents like Scrum, etc.  But we can do better.  We can think greater.  We can Inspire!!!!!  It is completely understood that Modern Agile seeks to inspire, but it is not the only movement that is pushing us to think ahead, to focus on developing a vision for the future, and encouraging us to move “beyond” the beginning.

So whether it is Modern Agile or other “streams” of agile, it is time to stop just implementing agile – it is time to start developing the future of good work, empowered employees and customers, innovative practices, and more!

Re-Post: Cooking with Agile (Literally)

The following blog was posted on MATRIX Resources blog.  It can be found here.


Oftentimes at MATRIX, we talk with prospective customers about the common sense of Agile. While it can be a big investment and challenging to transform corporate cultures, the concepts, principles, and practices are actually pretty common. I know it sounds crazy, but the ideas that we use in high-tech and corporate organizational agility are very close to the way that other disciplines operate!

For example: the food service industry. In order to be successful, restaurants, food trucks and caterers need to work in a high level of agility. Take the act of preparing meals; the ability to deliver is based on a keen sense of the market, the direct and continuous feedback from someone (or some group) of customers, the capability of the team to adapt and work in a co-located space, and the availability of resources or ingredients based on a host of variables!

Recently, MATRIX partnered with The Food Movement to host a take on their “Team Building with Taste” that we called “Cooking with Agile.” The idea came from the concept that other activities can provide a working analogy of how we should work with Agile and help solidify concepts that might be more difficult to embed. Call it creating mental muscle memory using food. While we had an idea that there were similarities that we would be able to create learning experiences around, it was amazing to all of us involved just how similar the concepts and principles would be between the two disciplines.

Respect the Timebox

In most Agile methodologies, there is a concept of some sort of timebox. Whether this is based on a release construct or based on a calendar, the idea that we have a small amount of unchanging time to complete an increment of work is pretty common. Think about your day.  We sometimes joke about wanting to extend the amount of time we have in the day to fit the work, but the fact is, we can’t – we have to fit the work to the time. Likewise, in preparing meals, I can tell you from experience that, as a father, I am under a pretty strict timebox to get food ready for my family. If not, I will definitely experience negative customer feedback! In “Cooking with Agile”, this was heightened more by a strict timebox. Teams were given 50 minutes to prepare the entire range of tapas for the contest. This was good and somewhat challenging for us Agile Coaches. We wanted to take each person’s move or each team’s decision and relate it back to an Agile concept. What we found was that we couldn’t – the teams were too focused on delivering a product. They were self-organizing! They weren’t listening to thing we were saying! And it was great!

Limited and Changing Ingredients

One of the most frustrating Agile principles that organizations comment on during transformation is that it is difficult to constantly consume customer change. Oddly, most of our customers at MATRIX state that this is one of the main reasons they have hired us to help them– consume change while still working within the constraints of their technologies. On the cooking front, it would be amazing, nay, heavenly to open my pantry door each night and see thousands of endless possibilities of ingredients to prepare dinner. But alas, most nights it is more, “hey honey, what can I make with ramen noodles, chicken, and that frozen vegetable mix in the freezer?” The fact is that not only do I need to meet the needs of my customer (kids need to grow up healthy) but I also have resource and infrastructure constraints. I have a limited amount of ingredients, a set of devices, and a finite kitchen size to achieve a solution and in the midst of that sometimes I have to change an ingredient or even start over with a dish. Chef Paul with The Food Movement took this concept to another level. He provided a must-have list of ingredients, forced the teams to share space and kitchen infrastructure, and on top of it changed some of the ingredients about halfway through. In one way, this sounds like we were trying to prove a point, but the fact is, it’s real life! As we watched the teams consume the newly added “cream cheese” to their dishes (we say creativity), we watched as they gracefully consumed the new requirement while fitting it in with the original set of constraints. It was agility at its finest.

Fail Fast, Fix Fast

It is amazing and, honestly, occasionally comical when we tell organizations that failure is ok. Failure helps us learn quickly and often it is better to know what not to do rather than just know what to do. Of course, the completion of failing is fixing. Failing over and over and doing the same thing is lunacy, but failing and making quick decisions to change the scenario is wisdom. We teach this to teams and leaders within organizations in order to help foster innovation, collaboration, and transparency. In the kitchen, this concept is seen at its most elegant and simple – tasting. I have always been told to taste the ingredients, to season at every step and taste again. This constant tasting allows a failure to be recognized early in the process and for corrections to be made quickly. Most of the time, a problem caught early can be fixed without starting over, whereas waiting to the very end can give your family that “I will never eat your cooking again!” look on their face. Chef Paul, during the introductions, pointed out the large container of plastic spoons at each workstation. He called out that these were tasting spoons and that they should be used! At the end of the event, there was only one tasting spoon left at one of the tables. The teams took the time to taste often. Even as the Agile Coaches walked around, the teams offered samples of their “in progress” works of culinary genius to us. They weren’t afraid of our feedback; they weren’t concerned that their mid-timebox food wouldn’t be good enough. They were transparent and were actually excited about their work!

The event was fabulous, the hosts were incredible, the food was even good (for scrum masters, executives, and the like), but what amazed us all was that there was so much commonality and “common sense” concepts that this event brought out which aligned with organizational agility.  Next time you or your teams are struggling to overcome the latest hurdle or if you plateau with your improvements, get creative – look to everyday life for examples of how you just don’t “do” Agile, you have to “be” Agile!

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?

And over here is QWERTY who will tell us what we have learned today!

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at to seminars for MATRIX Resources in Atlanta (with a fellow coach) and in Chicago.  The focus was on dealing with some of the Agile “pain points” that our clients experience.  Here is a blog I just posted on our MATRIX Professional Services website regarding the follow up to these seminars.


 

QWERTY Growing Pain

I think it takes a somewhat unique [read: crazy] mind to be an Agile Coach. As Agile Coaches, we deal with challenging situations and have to use both old and new techniques and concepts in order to enable organizations to succeed. Because of this, everything – every movie, book, song, cultural experience – in life becomes an example or analogy that we can use to strengthen and reinforce these concepts. So you might be amazed at what pops into the heads of Agile Coaches, or in this case, mine.

As I was pondering how to recap my recent seminar on the topic “Relief for Agile Growing Pains,” I had a tune pop into my head. It was from the children’s show “Veggie Tales.” At the end of the show, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato look to their desktop computer friend “QWERTY” to provide the Lesson of the Day. You know what that means – you guys are getting a QWERTY-esque blog!

Lesson of the Day #1: Reframing growing pains helps us focus on the right fixes
“If a problem can’t be solved within the frame it was conceived, the solution lies in reframing the problem.” ― Brian McGreevy, Author

If you were to ask the attendees of our seminar whether we walked through in-depth solutions for each of the four main growing pains that we covered, I expect you would get mixed answers. Yes, we answered with concepts like cross-pollination in order to bring consistency to agile adoptions or slicing organizations properly to create agile pilots; but we mainly tried to reframe the more fundamental questions. For example, instead of simply stating that there is a true definition of the perfect agile methodology (when responding to the pain point about “What does Agile look like”), we presented an idea that each agile adoption varies depending on what benefits and patterns from the Agile Principles are focused on; that organizations should use a contrast model instead of a compare model when assessing teams. For another pain point regarding Agile metrics, we introduced the concept of asking what business and leadership wanted to know and answering with increments of done measurement rather than just falling into a traditional way of reporting. You see, it is important to get organizations to engage in critical thought and negotiation. This is Agile “thought;” this is reframing the growing pains.

Lesson of the Day #2: Growing Pains are good – they help us focus on points on what needs to be improved
“Change comes with pain… But this pain later becomes a gain.” ― Israelmore Ayivor, Leadership Coach

It is a difficult sell – telling people that pain is good. Whether it is with our health or in the case of organizational change, the concept of pain is generally seen as a negative. In the seminar, we discussed how each organization’s agile journey is similar to the journey that we take as human beings. We talked about how new agile adopters are like newborns where every situation is brand new and exciting all the way to the professional who is high-performing, secure, and changes to make incremental efficiency improvements. But, at each stage and in every “growth spurt” there is some pain that needs to be overcome. Recently, my 11-year-old son was complaining of his legs hurting. Knowing it was growing pains and that the changes needed were that of nutrition adjustment didn’t lessen the impact, however, it focused where we needed to spend time and change what we were doing in order to alleviate the pain and grow. What we identified for organizations is the same: when a pain point shows up such as not being able to convince certain teams or groups within an organization to adopt agile, it helps us to dig into the growing pain and find the root. For this example specifically, it could be that transparency would create too much scrutiny or business sees it as just another fad that IT is undertaking. Whatever the pain, dig into the cause and find the necessary remedy to bring relief.

Lesson of the Day #3: Reach out to an Agile Coach – we are here to help
“The only mistake you can make is not asking for help.” – Sandeep Jauhar, Medical Doctor

Finally, this might seem like a shameless plug, but it really isn’t! Having the background I do, I have watched many people struggle with physical, emotional, and mental issues. Most of the success stories have one common thread – they reached out to someone for help. Whether it was to a doctor or a counselor, in order to fix a problem (or pain point) there is sometimes the need to seek out people who have encountered the issue before and get their advice. Many agile coaches rely on the years of experience in different agile roles to bring solutions; some even have backgrounds outside of agile or software development that lend to dealing with the organizational, sociological, and team dynamics challenges that can inhibit growth. What I would recommend, though, is do not expect an instantaneous change. While some small pains can be fixed quickly, those that are challenging require patience, multiple approaches, and an ability to dig into an issue while still fostering positive relationships. In other words, sometimes you simply need a professional.

What it comes down to is that this agile journey is challenging. We are all going to face bumps in the road and growing pains. The upside is that these situations do not have to destroy us! They can be the building blocks that both our current teams and future teams can build on in order to grow up and become successful. If you are experiencing growing pains, consider it an honor. Because you are a pioneer for your organization; a strong forerunner that is able to patiently learn from the pains, not let them stop you! And remember, “Being patient is never easy, but the reward is worth the wait!”