Top 10 Agile Podcasts

Lately, I realized that people start listening more than reading and that podcasts become quite popular. So here is a list of my personal recommendations on top 10s agile podcasts.

#1: The #AgileWay Podcast by Zuzana Zuzi Sochova

#AgileWay podcast is exploring challenges organizations face on their agile journey. How to become a great ScrumMaster, how to change your leadership style, or how to embrace agility at the organizational level. Zuzi has also Czech language podcast “Jsme Agilni”.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agileway/id1555101534

#2: LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) Matters Podcast by Ben Maynard

The LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) Matters podcast guides you through a proper understanding of how to use Scrum with multiple teams. Ben invites practitioners from the LeSS community to share their experiences with scaling Scrum.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/less-large-scale-scrum-matters/id1605120218 

#3: (Re)Learning Leadership Podcast by Pete Behrens

(Re)Learning Leadership podcast is facilitated by Agile Leadership Journey founder Pete Behrens. The current ways of leading are failing to meet the challenges of our disrupted workforces. Today’s leaders have a choice between adaptation or atrophy: are you ready to evolve your mindset and accelerate change within your organization?

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/re-learning-leadership/id1551181774

#4: Relationship Matters Podcast by CRR Global

The Relationship Matters Podcast  We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole. Beyond Emotional Intelligence (relationship with oneself) and Social Intelligence (relationship with others) is the realm of Relationship Systems Intelligence where one’s focus shifts to the relationship with the group, team or system. This podcast is not specifically about agile, however in agile world relationship matters.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/relationship-matters/id1507583306

#5 The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast by Lisette Sutherland

The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast by Lisette Sutherland focus on remote work. Recently the remote work becomes a necessity, but not many organization knows how to make it healthy, effective, and collaborative space. Lisette Sutherland, one of the most experienced people about remote work I know,  is interviewing people and companies doing great things… remotely! These interviews are packed with stories and tips for those whose business models depend upon successfully bridging distance to accomplish knowledge work.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-collaboration-superpowers-podcast/id931999061

#6: The Agile Book Club Podcast by Justyna Pindel and Paul Klipp

The Agile Book Club by Justyna Pindel and Paul Klipp is a podcast about books. Agile books. Every month, Justyna and Paul review a different agile book, sharing our thoughts, elevator pitches for the books, favorite quotations, and key takeaways.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-book-club/id1465706071

#7: Agile Toolkit Podcast by Bob Payne

The Agile Toolkit Podcast by Bob Payne is one of the first agile podcasts, interviewing agile community about agile software development, methods, tools, and business agility.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-toolkit-podcast/id78532866

#8: Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast: Agile storytelling from the trenches by Vasco Duarte

The Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast by Vasco Duarte interviews Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches from all over the world to get you actionable advice, new tips and tricks, improve your craft as a Scrum Master with daily doses of inspiring conversations with Scrum Masters from the all over the world. Some of the topics we discuss include: Agile Business, Agile Strategy, Retrospectives, Team motivation, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Backlog Refinement, Scaling Scrum, Lean Startup, Test Driven Development (TDD), Behavior Driven Development (BDD), Paper Prototyping, QA in Scrum, the role of agile managers, servant leadership, agile coaching, and more!

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/scrum-master-toolbox-podcast-agile-storytelling-from/id963592988

#9: Bridging Agile and Professional Coaching Worlds Podcast by by Tandem Coaching Academy

Bridging Agile and Professional Coaching Worlds is a podcast with focus on anything and everything coaching – from Agile to Professional. We bring you the best of the best from the Agile and Professional coaching world, building that bridge between the two. We envision the future where Agile world embraces professional coaching skills and competencies, bringing them closer together.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bridging-agile-and-professional-coaching-worlds/id1499503189

#10: The Working Genius Podcast with Patrick Lencioni

The Working Genius podcast by Patrick Lencioni is designed to help people identify their natural gifts and find joy and fulfillment in their work and life. What type of work makes you thrive? Are you burning out because your job requires you to work in your areas of frustration? How can teams and families better tap into one another’s gifts? This podcast answers all these questions and more. This is another podcast that is not agile by focus, but quite relevant in agile space.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-working-genius-podcast-with-patrick-lencioni/id1553105854

Other great podcasts recommend by the community:

There are many more. Let me know if there is a podcast you like missing and I’ll add it here.

Agile Amped Podcast – Inspiring Conversations

The Agile Amped podcast by Accenture | SolutionsIQ is the shared voice of the Agile community, driven by compelling stories, passionate people, and innovative ideas. Together, we are advancing the impact of business agility.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-amped-podcast-inspiring-conversations/id992128516

Agile FM: “The Radio for the Agile Community”

Agile.FM by Jochen (Joe) Krebs interviews interesting agilists and bring their stories for a few years already, recording at many conferences. They cover a wide range of topics, for example Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Extreme Programming, CSM, PSM, Product Owner, Communication, Leadership, Agile Transformations and Cultural Change.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-fm/id1263932838

A day in the life of an Agility Enabler

A day in the life of an Agility Enabler podcast by Jesus Mendez helps with building the next Agility Enabler’s generation in Montréal, Canada. Highlighting talented Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and Agile Leaders from the Lean/Agile Montreal’s community, it intends to reveal what a day in the life of an Agility Enabler looks like and to help the audience with discovering the human being behind the Agility Enabler, its personal story, challenges, successful stories, tips, tricks and many more.

Listen on Apple Podcast: https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-agility-enabler-tEmuaAecxbf/#

You are a Leader

Some time ago I published my new book The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence that is looking at organizational agility and is focusing on the shift required from the leaders. I wrote this book to help people understand that agile is more than just some frameworks and practices. There are many stories from my friends and colleagues, which can give you a different perspective on the agile journey. People often ask me what is the biggest obstacle preventing organizations from embracing a greater level of agility. And I usually turn that question back to them. Everyone is a leader, everyone is having a power of influence and can make a difference. Don’t wait for some magic as it’s not going to happen. All you need is to have a vision, where do you see the organization in maybe five years from now, know why is it important for this organization to change. And what happens if the organization won’t change. Are we still going to be successful? Or are we going to starve? Share the vision of how different this organization needs to be, and why is it important. Create a sense of urgency. Without it, no change will ever happen.

You are a leader, no matter what position you are having right now. Leadership is the state of mind.

Once you have a vision, you need to be able to motivate people and learn from feedback. It’s not just about the ability to give feedback that people understand and are able to change based on that, but primarily about the ability to be open to hear the feedback yourself and learn from it. Giving feedback is hard, but receiving feedback is even harder. How many times you rejected the feedback from your peers by saying in your mind that something like “they don’t understand it”, “They don’t know all the details.. “, “I know better”. It’s easier that way, isn’t it?

In a complex VUCA world, where most of the problems involve volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, we need different skills. Individuals are not that successful in dealing with complexity and reacting to unpredictable and unstable business environments, we need a higher level of creativity, we need a team to come up with more innovative solutions to solve the challenges. That’s where the ability to listen to the feedback and learn from it is crucial.

Combining both strong vision and feedback feed the motivation. People are not working at their best just for incentives, they are working at their best when they deeply care about the outcome, where they feel a need to support that vision, where they feel involved and have a voice. Successful organizations know that and create environments with high trust, transparency, and open communication, where feedback is encouraged.

And don’t forget, you don’t need any positional power to become a leader. You are the leader, and you already have all the power you need, the power of influence.

Top 10 Agile conferences to attend in 2022

Every year I speak at many conferences and based on my experience I recommend some places to go for inspiration. It’s not my intention to cover them all, I’m sharing places where I like to return. Inspiring places with interaction, high energy, and great speakers.

  1. Business Agility Institute organizes several high-quality content conferences every year, bringing the best Executive, Thought-Leader, and Practitioner speakers to NYC to share their experiences and insights with you. No tracks, just the best stories, concisely told in 20-minutes. Join us in the NYC on Mar, 23-24, 2022.
  2. LeSS Conference is for practitioners. Since 2016, LeSS Conferences is where LeSS Practitioners share their LeSS experience and learn from new experiments. Join this year conference in Warsaw, Poland on Sep 22-23, 2022.
  3. AgilePrague Conference is planning to create two days of experience face to face this year on Sep 19-20, 2022.
  4. XPDays Benelux XP Days Benelux is a conference made for, and by, the Agile Community. It focuses on practical knowledge, real-world experience, and the active participation of everyone. There is no date yet, but the plan is to make the 2022 mini edition a physical gathering, in Belgium! Stay tuned.
  5. Global Scrum Gathering is back in Denver, Colorado this year. Reconnect with the community and join this outstanding event on Jun 5-8, 2022.
  6. AgileTestingDays is another great event happening for many years in Potsdam, Germany. Join Europe’s greaTEST Agile Testing Festival on Nov 21-24, 2022. There are always great speakers and a friendly atmosphere.
  7. ScanAgile is one of my favourite conferences. Planning started 🙂 But no details yet.
  8. Agile2022 conference brings Agile communities together year after year to share experiences and make new connections. Join passionate Agilists from around the world to learn about the latest practices, ideas, and strategies in Agile software development from the world’s leading experts, change agents, and innovators. This year it’s on July 18-22, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
  9. XP 2022 is the premier Agile software development conference to combine both research and practice. It is a unique forum where Agile researchers, practitioners, thought leaders, coaches, and trainers get together to present and discuss their most recent innovations and research results. The theme for XP 2022 is Agile in the Era of Hybrid Work. The conference is planned entirely as a physical event in Copenhagen on Jun 13-17, 2022.
  10. Finally, if you want to experience something different, joinRegional Scrum Gathering Tokyo. It’s organized by an enthusiastic agile community in Japan. The purpose is to provide a “Ba” (place) where practitioners share ideas among Scrum practitioners having a great diversity. Regional Gatherings provides a unique experience and even if you don’t speak Japanese, there are some talks in English and other translated. Join the local community on January 5-7, 2022.

The selection is based on my personal preference and experiences from those events.

Other conferences to consider this year

There are many great events that didn’t make it to this list, so please share your suggestions with us and we add them to the following list.

Being an Agile Leader

The article was originally published by Emergence Journal (Sep 2021). 

Four times a year, Emergence Journal brings together a curated selection of exclusive stories by great thinkers and practitioners from around the globe about business agility.

Subscribe for Emergence Journal and get a 10% discount using "agileprague" promo code. Read more about Emergence Journal.

References

Zuzana Sochova (2021) The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence

Over the past two decades the world has become increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – in other words, unpredictable and sort of ugly. The time where organizations could pretend change wasn’t necessary and that all they needed to do was improve their planning process is over. Once businesses accept that they are dealing with VUCA challenges, they realize that Agility at the organizational level is necessary to succeed in such an environment.

“Don’t DO agile, BE agile.”

Such organizations have reached a point on their agile journey far beyond team level frameworks and scaling approaches. Those are well described, and not that hard to apply when there is a strong sense of urgency and desire for change. The real challenge lies in embracing business agility and changing how the organization is structured and designed. People need to stop seeing agile as just another project management practice, and reconnect to the fundamental agile values and principles. It’s not about “doing agile” but “being agile”.

“Trust is a prerequisite for agility, transparency is an enabler, but purpose is the true driving force of agile”

Agile organizations are formed as a network of small autonomous teams. When an organization is not ready for such a level of agility and autonomy, changing processes and structures to build these new autonomous networks only creates chaos. Having the right culture and mindset is essential.

The first step towards an agile mindset is to build trust. It looks simple, but takes time. People need to invest time into building relationships with each other. They must come to know their colleagues outside the work tasks, and see others as people, not just roles. To form team spirit, team members need to experience something significant together.

How can this be achieved? First, start small and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Create a space where team members can share interesting moments from their history, or unusual (but not uncomfortable) facts about themselves. Later, once they are comfortable being open or even exposed, they can discuss their failures, weaknesses, and fears. Eventually they’ll be able to share embarrassing moments, which creates vulnerability.

Second, invest in diverse and accessible forms of teambuilding. There are no limits. Be flexible. Some teambuilding activities can be as simple as lunch together or a videocall. Other times, teams can go out together for a beer, go on a hiking trip, go bowling or boating, join a cooking class, and so on. Be creative when it comes to choosing teambuilding activities. The more diverse activities you do, the more you get to know each other.

Team members should also take some time to reflect on what they know about their colleagues. What are they great at? What are they passionate about? What are their hobbies? How do they behave outside their jobs? And so on. On the other side, team members should ask what people around them are afraid of and how they can help their colleagues feel more self-confident. Great teams are not afraid of conflicts. Once they reach the vulnerability trust level it becomes clear that conflicts are healthy, and that disagreement is a natural element of interaction. This is all useful for achieving productive dialogue, rich with varying perspectives and constructive arguments.

The second ingredient for creating an agile mindset is transparency. Being transparent about what needs to be done, what success looks like, and what to avoid is crucial for any environment, but in agile spaces we often go one step further. Great agile teams create radical transparency where everything is visible to everyone.

It’s true that radical transparency is scary at first. For some people, transparency is a threat as they have built their power and authority around hiding information. Lack of transparency is a weapon which can eventually kill agility as it makes collaboration and self-organization almost impossible. It’s a great friend of hierarchical structures supported by fear and politics. “If I’m the only one who has the information, no one can jeopardize my position.”

In addition, transparency creates anxiety for many people. Naturally, they’ll try to avoid it by brainstorming all the possible reasons why radical transparency is a bad idea. “People will feel overwhelmed by that much information! They don’t need to know everything!” they say.

To start with transparency, people must first have the courage to discuss their situations honestly, be prepared for difficult feedback, and trust that people will help them. People learn by doing, and team members must understand that perfection is not required. Instead, agile is about learning from small failures. Failure is a good thing as it allows people to improve. As such, creating a safe-to-fail environment is critical for agile organizations.

The third ingredient in the mix is purpose. Autonomy without a guiding purpose only creates chaos. The higher the autonomy, the stronger the purpose needs to be to glue it together. This gives everyone the same goal, belonging, identity, the reason for why they are there and where they are heading to.

 “Being an Agile leader is not about positional power, but your ability to leverage the power of influence.”

On their agile journey, organizations inevitably realize that to change the culture, change in leadership is also essential. Agile organizations are collaborative, creative, and adaptive networks. They are like living organisms, operating on different principles. They naturally flatten the hierarchical structure, rendering the hierarchical org chart unimportant. They are based on autonomy, self-organization, and empowerment, leveraging the power of self-organization. Instead of hierarchical leadership, they rely on emergent leadership which is not tied to any position but can emerge from different situations and needs on the fly. In Agile organizations, everyone is a leader. Everyone can step up and lead an initiative. If that initiative gains the interest of others, they form a team and support it. Being an Agile leader is not about positional power, but your ability to leverage the power of influence.

“Excellent Agile Leaders have four core competencies: Ability to define the vision, motivate, gain feedback, and ability to influence through themselves, others, and systems.”

Agile leaders are guides for the organization on its agile journey. Everything starts with a dream. Having a passion for something helps create energy. The ability to clearly formulate an appealing vision is the engine of change. The vision is not necessarily linked to a product or business but should be focused on the organization and its purpose.

Before chasing a vision and upending the status quo through organizational change, people should ask: what do we need to achieve? Why is it important? What major differences would it make if we achieved the change? These questions can help determine whether the vision is strong enough to leverage the discomfort caused by changing the status quo. As a test of whether team members are truly invested in the vision, they might ask: if I won the lottery tomorrow, would I still turn up at work to help my team make this vision into a reality? The stronger the vision, the higher the chance of achieving success.

You are a leader, no matter what official position you have right now. Leadership is a state of mind. Share a vision of how different your organization needs to be, and why it is important. Create a sense of urgency. Without it, no change will ever happen.

Agile Leader WheelThe second competency is the ability to motivate and give energy, which is closely related to the vision. If your team has a good vision, they will likely be self-motivated. The ‘carrot and stick’ model doesn’t work in complex environments. Instead, agile leadership builds on intrinsic motivation.

Agile leaders need to create an environment full of joy, where people can grow, and have enough autonomy to influence things. This allows them to co-create something they believe in and can be proud of. Doing something meaningful is the best motivation you can get.

The third competency of great Agile leaders is feedback – both giving and receiving. While many leaders understand how to give feedback which people can understand and use to improve themselves, great leaders are also open to hearing system-level feedback and learning from it. Giving feedback is hard, but receiving feedback is even harder. How many times have you rejected feedback from your peers, or disqualified their opinions by saying things like: “they don’t understand it”, “They don’t know all the details“, “I know better”. It’s easier that way, isn’t it?

In a VUCA world, where most of the problems involve volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, we need to build different skills. Individuals often struggle to deal with complexity or react to unpredictable and unstable business environments. To solve these issues, we need a higher level of creativity and the sorts of innovative solutions that only a team can accomplish. That’s where the ability to listen to feedback and learn from it is crucial.

The last competency is the art of influencing complex environments: specifically, to change systems, habits, support and consolidate culture. Agile leadership begins with a change of self, your judgments, values, behaviors, and style of work. Great leaders start with themselves as a role model. They change the way they show up, how they interact with others, and how they can inspire people around them to collaborate, create a team spirit, and become leaders. They can work with the entire system and influence the whole organization and its culture.

They are catalysts, creating an engaging environment with high transparency, trust and autonomy. They are good at forming teams and collaborative networks, not just working with individuals. They are efficient when dealing with complex situations and seek out different perspectives from diverse employee demographics when in search of solutions. They create inclusive environments that enhance innovations and creativity. They build trust, are not afraid to be vulnerable, and create safe-to-fail environments. Along their journey they make sure to invest in system coaching, large group facilitation skills, and agile leadership development. They help others to grow.

On top of the four competencies, Agile leaders must balance collaboration with decision-making. Even in an agile world you sometimes need to make a decision. While that’s not surprising to most managers, it’s often something which agile coaches struggle with. On the other hand, managers often struggle to collaborate and participate, while agile coaches are usually much better at it.

In an agile environment you need both decision-making and collaboration. Making decisions isn’t hard once you have a clear vision and purpose. Without that clear vision, leaders can become paralyzed by having too many options to choose from. The nature of a complex world makes many of those options look appealing. In truth, they’re all okay, but it’s impossible to know which option is the correct one without trying, inspecting, and adapting.

Again, the ability to hear feedback and learn from it is critically needed as in a VUCA world we can’t know which option is right for our team without experimenting and learning from failures. Agile leaders are also relying on two soft-skills: coaching and facilitation. Both require practice as well as the readiness and humility to step back and accept the fact that you are not an all-knowing expert. Instead, humble leaders use coaching and facilitation to help other people reflect, discuss, and decide what to do. In a complex world, a team is always faster at figuring things out, and coaching and facilitation skills will boost vital team collaboration.

In summary, leadership is a state of mind. All a leader needs to initiate a change in their organization is to have a vision. Positional power isn’t necessary because agile leaders are leveraging the power of influence. They enhance collaboration and build environments full of trust and transparency. They are catalysts. They are good at working with teams and networks, and they encourage people to take responsibility and ownership and become leaders.

When it comes to change, leaders need to change first. In time, the organization will follow.

Forecast, Don’t Estimate

There is almost no class where no one would ask me about estimations. So why estimations are not part of Scrum? Let’s start with a bit of context. The whole idea of agile estimation comes from Extreme Programming and the early days of agile where tools like Story points, Velocity, Planning Poker, Burndown, T-shirt sizing, used to be very popular. However if you look at current state of the art of Agile and Scrum teams, they are not using those techniques very often anymore.

Estimations were always core part of any project management, where we believed we know what needs to be done, so the whole problem is not about WHAT but HOW FAST. Therefore tracking the velocity, showing the burndown and estimating is very useful in such predictable environments where there is only little unknown. So when people shift to their first agile project, they very often still have the same mindset – we know what needs to be done so let’s create a backlog, estimate individual backlog items, and track how fast we are delivering it. That’s the world where estimates, Story Points, Bundowns and Velocity are very useful.  

In a contrary, the Agile world is focusing on dealing with complexity and fast changes. We start realizing our plans are failing and that we are often learning too late that something else should have been done instead. In such unpredictable world, all we can do is to change our way of working and be more reactive to the changes and more responsive to the feedback. We are realizing that it’s not about plans but planning as a continuous activity. Therefore refinement in Scrum is ongoing effort and we discover and detail backlog items just in time. In such world it’s not about going fast (often to the wrong direction) but going to the right direction (even if that is slower). The fundamental difference is that we realized we don’t know what needs to be done and so any estimation of that unknown is kind of useless. We know what needs to be achieved, but without getting frequent feedback from customers we don’t know how to achieve it. Of course you can still estimate the stories that are coming to the Sprint, but you need to have a good reason for doing that (see one of my previous blogs on estimating). Estimating the whole product is not really useful either as the Product Backlog will change based on the feedback anyway. The value to be achieved (vision and product goal) is clearly defined, just the journey of how to get there is to be defined based on what we discover though short iterations.

The problem we are trying to solve in Agile environment is about how can we maximize the value, while minimizing the effort spent (see more about the mindset shift). It’s more about prioritization, where we try to identify the minimal functionality that need to be done now, and the rest later or never, noting that 80% of the business value is in 20% of functionality. Our backlog items are not functionality driven (telling you what needs to be done) but value driven (telling you what needs to be achieved) where the solution is up to the team to be discovered during the Sprint. Therefore even individual story estimation makes little sense as the implementation (how) will be designed and updated during the Sprint. Scrum is not fixing the scope within a Sprint, as a Sprint Backlog is just a forecast on how we are most likely going to collaborate to maximize the value towards the Sprint Goal. While the Sprint Goal (value) doesn’t change during the Sprint, the Sprint Backlog can change any time, depending on the learnings, new ideas, and feedback we got from our customers and stakeholders. If Scrum team realize there is a better way to maximize the value towards the Sprint goal, they have to just inspect and adapt their forecast (Sprint backlog items) and continue collaborating on maximizing the value towards that Sprint Goal.

Traditionally teams were estimating what needs to be done and they were using those estimates on answering what can be done in a week, two or three. In Scrum, we set a Sprint Goal and then forecast what is to our current knowledge the best way how to achieve it. And what is based on our current experience feasible. We are ready to change it anytime if a new information emerge. To plan our Sprint we are using our understanding the of backlog items (stories) and our experience from the previous Sprint. We are looking at it from different perspective – how much can fit within a Sprint. And that’s not just about an effort but also skills & competences mix, risk, complexity, etc. It’s a similar type of problem as if you are packing to the weekend and measure the volume of all items you like to put in the bag. In reality it’s not just about the volume, but also about the shape and consistency. With Sprint Backlog it’s the same.

So can we tell our customers when are they going to get their product without estimating individual backlog items? Sure. We forecast how many Sprints it might take to achieve that value (Product Goal) and then prioritize so that we deliver the most important features first, which the rest later or never. 80% of the business value is in 20% of functionality so if your Product Owner can do the proiritizarition well, you can ‘never’ fail to achieve it (see more about the Product Owner role). Through that process we focus on different direction each Sprint (Sprint Goal) and inspect and adapt based on the feedback.

Finally there is the last question, can you estimate backlog items in Scrum? Sure. Same as you can drink coffee which is not part of any Scrum either. But I guess the downside is, that if you focus too much on estimates, it guides you from focusing on business value. And there is no correlation between the two. Bigger doesn’t mean better.

Collaborative Environment

Speaking of creating the right environment – even in the agile world you sometimes need to make a decision. While that’s not surprising to most managers, it’s often something that agile coaches struggle with. On the other hand, managers often struggle to collaborate and participate, while agile coaches are usually much better at it. All over in an agile environment, you need them both. Decision-making and collaboration.

Agile Leader Wheel

Decision-making is not that hard once you have a clear purpose of what you like to achieve. But without a clear vision, there are so many options to choose from and the nature of the complex world makes many of them looking good, they all are ok, but it’s impossible to know which one of the right ones, without trying, inspecting, and adapting. And again, the ability to hear feedback and learn from it is critically needed. As in a VUCA world we can’t know which option is the right one, all we can do about it is to experiment and learn from failures. Fail fast, learn fast. There are environments where people react well to what I’ve just said. They understand that it’s better to know you are not going in the right direction sooner than later, they work in short iterations, experiments and get open and honest feedback regularly. They know it’s better to return after a week than when the entire delivery is done in a year from now. Those environments are already agile, they have high trust and are neither afraid of transparency nor failure.

But there are environments where people react with frustration on my sentence. “What do you mean by failing?” they ask. “We can’t fail here!” they say and you can sense the fear and stress growing in the space. “We would be fired if we fail.”.  And I’m not surprised. They are living in a different mindset, where they still believe the world is predictable and the business problems can be analyzed, planned, and solutions delivered accordingly. They try to pretend that unpredictability doesn’t exist and that the world is not complex. Just analyze, plan, and do it. That’s it. And all the difficulty is in how to manage it. That’s a traditional mindset and if you like to change it, and increase the agility in a space, you need to start with increasing trust and transparency. Without it there is no real collaboration happening.

In collaborative environments, there are two soft skills needed – coaching and facilitation. You might never be as good at them as professional coaches and professional facilitators are, but be able to use them and help people to raise their awareness about the situation and have an effective conversation and collaborate better is always useful.

Finally agile is a change. Change of the way of working, change of culture and mindset. You can address it at three different levels – changing yourself, through your own behaviors and habits. Becoming a role model. In my mind, this is the most powerful change. Leaders need to change first, the organization will follow. Secondly, you can change the way we work by implementing different frameworks and practices. Thirdly, you can influence the organization and the system level and change the culture and social system.

Agile Leader

Over the last two decades, agile shifted from software teams to organizations. We talk about different cultures, agile organization, agile leadership, agile HR, agile finance, all over business agility. Simply the ability to embrace agile values and principles at the organizational level and change the way organizations run their business. It’s a fundamental change that is more than just implementing some framework.

“Business agility creates an organization best able to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings.”

I found this definition fascinating. In today’s complex, fast-changing, and unpredictable world, agile organizations are good at responding to the nowadays challenges. Agile brings flexibility, allows you to respond to changes fast, learn through the iterations, inspect and adapt. In order to be successful, organizations need to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings. Fixed plans are failing as the business environment is not stable enough. All that matters is creativity and flexibility.

In my second English book published by Addison Wesley – The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence I’m looking at organizational agility and focusing on the shift required from the leaders and organizations. Through practical exercises and assessments, you learn how to unleash your potential, become a better catalyst and community builder, sensibly apply transparency, improve functions from HR to finance, and guide entire organizations towards greater agility. Agility at this level is not about practices, nor frameworks. Though those are good at the beginning, as they are helpful in creating an environment with high transparency, autonomy, and collaboration, the real impact we need to create goes way beyond that. Creating a culture that supports innovations and creative solutions is a pre-requisite for real organizational change.

So how does agile start at the organizational level? You can say it starts with a management decision or training, but I would say it all starts with a dream. Is that dream strong enough to leverage the discomfort caused by changing the way we work? Is it strong enough for you? Or let me ask you this: If you won a lottery, would you be still going to work trying to make it happen? Or would you better give up and take a rest? And I’m not speaking about having a vacation to relax for a while, but is the vision important enough for you to hang around even if you don’t need to get paid? No change is smooth and agile brings a fundamental shift of values and culture, so you better have a strong reason for the change.

Being an agile leader is a journey. It always starts with you. You need to change first, the others will follow. Agile leaders need to have a vision that will motivate people to join their effort and work together to achieve it. They need to create a collaborative environment, with high trust, and transparency where the feedback is natural. They need to motivate people by giving them purpose, autonomy, and a learning environment.

Agile Journey

Agile is a journey. In the beginning, people think it’s about different tools, new processes, new names. They keep comparing it to what they know and they are frustrated that the new way of working doesn’t fit the world they know. They still try to analyze, plan, estimate, and track delivery. The problem with that is that they are changing to agile not because there is a new improved method, but because their current way of working is not as successful as it used to be. There is a strong need for significant change. The traditional way of working was effective in solving predictable problems, not in dealing with complexity. In the current world, organizations need to be more flexible, innovative, and creative to address VUCA challenges. Agile brings new paradigms, a new mindset, a new way of working. It’s not comparable anyhow to the traditional ways of managing and delivering work.

Once they pass the initial phase, stop comparing and start looking for understanding, people often fall into a trap of taking all agile as a ‘religion’. Just follow the process, implement tools, do scrum according to the Scrum Guide! This phase is not much fun either. But they are on a journey, not fighting with any strong resistance anymore, and deepening their knowledge about various practices. People are interested, they want to understand it, do it well, however they are usually asking fundamentally wrong questions, looking for the best practices, believing they can copy & paste practices.

When they experiment, fail, and learn from failures enough, they start realizing the real agility, which is not in practices and tools, but in a different culture, mindset, and approach to things. They start realizing the organization and leadership need to change in order to finish the transformation and allow the agility to be successful. Agile becomes the way you not only organize the work but the way you live. It will bring different values and different perspectives.

 

Top 5 Books You Have To Read Building Agile Organization

People are always asking me what to read. I created the three lists recommending books ScrumMasters shall read, books Product Owners shall read, and books agile leaders shall read. And recently I got some great books from my friends, so I thought I will write one update page referring to them. This list is intended to help people on their agile journey who want to deepen their understanding of what Agile organizations are about and how leadership needs to change.

top 5 books Agile organization

#1: Johanna Rothman – Modern Management Made Easy

The first recommendation is a trilogy Modern Management Made Easy from Johanna Rothman. The books are full of stories and practical examples. Here are few quotes from the three books so you can choose which one is the most interesting for you.

1. Practical Ways to Manage Yourself is focusing on you as a leader. Modern management requires we first manage ourselves—and that might be the most challenging part of management.

“When we exercise our personal integrity, it’s true, we might lose our job or a specific role. However, even I have never immediately lost a job. Very few managers lose their jobs if they say, ‘No,’ to a management request that lacks integrity.”

2. Practical Ways to Lead and Serve (Manage) Others is looking on how to work with other people. Great managers create an environment where people can do their best work.

“Many first-line managers see themselves as the expert, as the sole source of knowledge for their group. You may have started as the expert. However, as soon as you become a manager, start moving out of that expert’s seat. You can’t be the expert for the team.”

3. and finally the Practical Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization are looking at organization as a whole. Learn to create an environment where people can innovate.

“Great managers solve culture problems. And, culture problems are big, messy, systemic problems. You’ll address something over here and something over there will break. You’ll never run out of problems to solve. Maintaining a culture of integrity might be the most challenging job a manager can do.”

All over, the three books bring a nice overview of modern management practices, are easy to read, and give practical examples of how to change your leadership style. Each book covers several myths which help you to reflect on your current practices and change the way you work.

#2: Michael Spayd, Michele Madore – Agile Transformation

Another book I recently got is Agile Transformation: Using the Integral Agile Transformation Framework™ to Think and Lead Differently. It’s looking at agile transformation

“Becoming a transformational leader challenges us to make room for our own deep passion for change, coming up against the personal limitations in us that prevent this change from occurring through us.”

In the world we live in, which is complex and unpredictable, we need to re-think how we are thinking about organizations, leadership, and transformation. How can you work with other leaders, what kind of leadership is required to successfully lead transformational change, and what is realistically required for agile transformation?

#3: Zuzi Sochova – Agile Leader

The third on the recommendation list is my new book The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence. It continues where the Great ScrumMaster book finished and is focusing on how to change the organizations and leadership in the agile space. It will help you to unleash your agile leadership potential and guide your entire organization toward agility. It’s a great overview of concepts for managers, directors, executives, and entrepreneurs―anyone, regardless of position, who’s ready to take ownership, challenge the status quo, and become a true agile leader.

“Having a critical mass of agile leaders is the key factor to organizational success in the VUCA world. Supporting agile leadership and growing agile leaders is one of the most important tasks on your agile journey.”

#4: Heidi Helfand – Dynamic Reteaming

The fourth recommended book is looking at evolutions of teams. Dynamic Reteaming: The Art and Wisdom of Changing Teams got recently it’s second edition and it’s a great book for all people interested in the team dynamic.

“Whether you like it or not, your teams are going to change. People will join your team and people will leave your team. You can grow your organization with dynamic reteaming in mind so that you have a resilient and flexible structure, or you can adjust your existing organizations to enable dynamic reteaming.”

#5: 97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts

Finally, there is a fifth recommendation for a very interesting book collected and edited by Gunther Verheyen. This book is a collection of short essays from 97 thought leaders (97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts) who share their insights from their agile journey about transformation, product value delivery, collaboration, people, development practices, ScrumMastery, organizational design, and Scrum.

“Bring the agile values to the organizational level. Address the system in its whole complexity and turn it into a self-organizing network of great teams. At this stage, you can see your organization as a living organism. Being a ScrumMaster is a never-ending journey. The #ScrumMasterWay concept can guide them.”

Business Agility

People mostly believe that agility needs to start top-down and that they need management support first but I know many organizations where the top-down approach failed and many others where the bottom-up approach was successful. And more importantly, I see it as a fundamentally wrong question. Agile is not about hierarchy, but collaboration and self-organization so agile needs to begin by experiencing work at small self-organized teams. As teams experimenting with an agile way of working, learning from it, and gaining their own experience and success, they develop the mindset and influence the teams around. It’s like a snowball effect. Once organizations have decent experience with team-level agility, they quite naturally start experimenting with different scaling approaches and form multi-team collaborative ecosystems where organizations usually start seeing the real business impact of the change. While experience with the agile way of working is growing through the organization, the executive team and board of directors have to get their hands-on experience with teamwork and self-organization. Although their personal experience is helpful in scaling, it became critical when agility is applied at the organizational level which usually implies changing the culture, structure, and leadership role.

It all sounds very simple, but there are a few important pieces to focus on. Agile organizations give teams higher autonomy than traditional ones, allowing them to take ownership and responsibility for their decisions and collaborate. But no collaboration is happening without trust which is the most common obstacle we are facing in the organizations. Unfortunately, the higher in the hierarchy, the harder is to gain the trust and overcome the artificial harmony. Trust is a pre-requisite for any collaboration. Transparency on the other hand is an enabler. Without it, there is no collaboration as misunderstanding and politics take over. Finally, the last piece you need to have is an evolutionary purpose which is strong enough that people are willing to give up their own individual goals in favor of the common goal.

The most usual benefits of business agility are better communication & collaboration, better ways of working, speed to market, and customer satisfaction. No surprise here. But I’m missing one which is nowadays the most common reason why organizations shift to agile. It’s innovation, creativity, and adaptability. In other words, the ability to better respond to the VUCA challenges of the nowadays world. The new world brings new challenges and requires new ways of working. The organizations which could not innovate are not here anymore. So better to start now. Business agility can make your organization competitive in the VUCA world.