Time to Change Performance Review and Rewards System

I wrote here about the need of changing the HR in agile organizations. Agile HR helps organizations to adapt their culture to be more creative and collaborative and less control and compete oriented. They are here to create best employee experience from the first contact, through day one, support their growth, motivation, and increasing their value to the organization. And once you embrace such collaborative and creative culture, it’s time to redesign the performance review and overall evaluation process. The individual KPIs created by managers for upcoming year becomes irrelevant as the people are inspecting and adapting not only of what they deliver, but also what their roles are as those are changing depending on the needs. Some organizations are going towards team created and measured goals (like OKRs) but the others are removing any fixed goals with exchange to the radical transparency and strong evolutionary purpose. That’s where we talk about team organizations.

If you are not there yet, any type of the 360s, like Comparative Agility, Agility Health radar etc. can be a good start. It helps to start with receiving feedback and learning based on that. We are shifting from management feedback and ranking to self-assessment, peer-feedback, and coaching for growth with regular check-ins. I remember that the biggest shift happened where we stopped evaluating and started coaching people. Help them to design their own journey. We made organizational goals transparent and let teams and individuals to create their own goals. Together with a strong sense of the ownership, it helped to feed the motivation.

Finally the last step is to change the rewards and bonus system. It’s only possible if you already created a culture based on collaboration, transparency and purpose driven. Removing the detailed positions goes hand in hand with changing the evaluation system. The peer feedback is flowing there and back on a daily basis, most of the teams would be running their regular retrospective to improve, and help each other to grow. Most of the agile organizations are shifting towards higher base salary with no variable part as they realize that money are more demotivating factor at the end of the day. In creative complex world incentives for tasks are not really working. So that organizations are decoupling financial rewards from individual performance. If there is any bonus it’s more at the overall organizational level, split to the teams and allowing them to distribute it themselves, then given by the KIPs evaluations or decided by management. Some organizations go further on and make salaries fully transparent to everybody. Such level of transparency is a good review system as any inconsistency is visible to everyone.   

Agile organizations focus on rewarding people behavior, and learning, over just doing your job.  They realize that flexible working hours, self-selection of work, unlimited vacation, work from any place on the world, etc. are better motivation factors than your salary and bonus.

It’s all very different world. And it will not shift overnight. So start small, and inspect and adapt from there. The very first step is to get awareness about what culture you have in the organization and what is the desired culture. You might need a good communication, facilitation, and coaching skill to be able to help your organization to reflect that way, but that’s only the beginning. It’s all about changing mindset. Grow that mindset first, the different practices will follow.

In a summary, Agile HR helps organizations to change their culture to be more creative and collaborative and less control and compete oriented – we build organizations around motivated individuals, involving them in co-creating their journey. Agile HR focuses on the best employee experience from the first contact, through Day one, support their growth, motivation, and increasing their value to the organization. It’s not about processes but a different culture, different mindset.

Top 10 Agile conferences to attend in 2023



Every year I speak at many conferences and based on my experience I recommend some places to go for inspiration. Here is my list of the Top 10 Agile conferences to attend in 2023. 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 Conference is one of my favorite conferences every year. Two days full of stories from organizations on their agile journey by executives, practitioners, and thought leaders. Join us in NYC on Apr, 26-27, 2023.
  2. AgilePrague Conference is definitely one of the best conferences in Europe. In two days, it creates a unique collaborative space. Two tracks with short talks, and inspirational keynotes. Join Agile Prague on Sep 18-19, 2023, Prague, Czech Republic.
  3. Agile Testing Days is Europe’s greaTEST Agile Testing Conference. Join Agile Testing Days on Nov 13 – 16, 2023 in Potsdam, Germany.
  4. Scrum Australia Sydney is another conference in an awesome city with awesome speakers. Join Scrum Sydney 30-31 March, Sydney, Australia.
  5. 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’s conference in Berlin on Sep 27-28, 2023.
  6. ScanAgile is one of my favorite conferences. This year is planned for March 28-29, 2023 in Helsinki, Finland.
  7. Scrum Day Colombia has a great program this year and it’s definitely worth visiting. Join Scrum Day Colombia on 24-25 de March 2023.
  8. Agile2023 conference brings agile enthusiasts together every 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 in Orlando, Florida.
  9. Agile on the Beach is a great event to attend and explore the summer in Cornwall, UK on July 6 – 7, 2023.
  10. XP 2023 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 2023 is Whole Team Sustainability. The conference is planned on June 13-16, 2023 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.



Psychological Safety, Motivation, and Growth



In my previous post, I was writing about the need for awareness of what is happening in the organization. Looking deeper into the culture, safety is a prerequisite of collaborative environments. Without it fear of failure will take over and people stop experimenting and try new things and start hiding behind roles, rules, and processes. The level of psychological safety correlates with team performance – people need to have trust that they won’t be punished when they make a mistake. One of the famous studies done by Google in 2012 on teamwork and team performance –  Project Aristotle – identified that psychological safety is the most important for a team’s success. Creating safety is key for motivation and if your environment is not safe enough, no agile can be successful there. Agile and Scrum teams address the safety issue by operating in very short iterations. Even if the entire iteration fails, it’s so short, that it won’t create any huge problem. We can still learn and improve. At the end of each iteration, there is a time to reflect, inspect, and adapt via regular retrospectives. It’s not about being perfect and never fail. But in agile space, we take failure as a good thing – an opportunity to learn.

It’s interesting how some organizations are almost freaking out when they hear about learning through experimenting. I guess they imagine the experiment as something big, like the whole product. No surprise they are afraid to fail the entire thing. But experiments in agile are small and tiny steps. In the nowadays world, there is no clear solution exists. Problems we are mostly facing can’t be analyzed, planned, and delivered according to that plan anymore. The plans are failing. For that, most of our problems are too volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. In the VUCA world, we can’t just say what needs to be done because we don’t know how to solve it yet. However, what we can do is an experiment, try different options, and learn from feedback. The three pillars of empiricism are transparency, inspection, and adaptation. And empirical process core for an agile environment.

Psychological Safety

The other interesting shift we are facing in agile organizations is about motivation. Traditionally organizations focused on extrinsic motivation factors where a reward is used as a motivator for specific activities. Already from school, we are stimulating the fixed mindset where people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are given and talent creates success without effort. On the other hand, in agile organizations, we rather focus on intrinsic motivation, where we believe that people do the work because it’s internally rewarding. It’s fun and satisfying. In agile environments, we stimulate the growth mindset where people believe that one can always improve, or exceed their natural talents. Now let’s pause a minute here. How do you motivate people? What is your organization doing? Is it more extrinsic motivation (money, bonuses, gifts, …) or intrinsic factors (purpose, autonomy, environment, …) ? Do we believe they are creative and smart and can learn what is needed from them? Or do we approach them more as machines?

All we need to do is to create a good learning environment, help people to be confident, and deliver continuous feedback. And here is the role of leadership and specifically HR in an organization. Agile HR is here to help create such an environment that is safe to fail, rewards learning, and builds a growth mindset. It seems to be simple, but in reality, it’s often where organizations are failing.

To assess your environment, you can ask a few questions:

  • Are goals clear to everyone?
  • Do you believe that the work you are doing matters?
  • Do you expect team members to take accountability?
  • Can you trust team members to do their best?
  • How comfortable do you feel taking risks on the team?
  • How comfortable do you feel depending on your teammates?

Remember, the level of psychological safety correlates with team performance, so it’s a good place where to start your business agility journey.



Agile HR: Start by Getting Awareness



As organizations are changing the way they work, their need for overall business agility is growing. Different departments are trying to not only implement the agile frameworks and apply Scrum or Kanban to enhance their capabilities to deliver value but also completely redesigning their function and AgileHR is one of those departments which requires a radical shift. You need to change the way you look at things and approach things. Agile requires a different culture that is team oriented, and much more collaborative and creative. As many practices organizations currently use for Recruiting  & Onboarding, Positions & Career Paths, Performance Review & Evaluation, and Rewards and Bonus systems are individual oriented, and are coming from competing and controlling cultures, the change is inevitable. The higher level of business agility is in the environment, the stronger pressure is for changing the practices as well. So what is HR role in the agile space?

We can say that: “We build organizations around motivated individuals, involving them in co-creating their journey.” Agile HR focuses on the best employee experience from the first contact, through Day1, supporting their growth, and motivation, and increasing their value to the organization. It’s not about processes but a different culture. We simply create environments enhancing collaboration, co-creation, innovations, and creativity. Very different from what HR role is in traditional environments. I see HR as the core of the transformation. They need to allow it to happen, they need to support that shift.

Continuous Feedback

Every change needs to start with awareness about the current and desired stage. What is our current culture? What are our values? What is the current level of safety? What is the engagement of people? Do we understand employee satisfaction? Are they promoters?

If you look into the ADP Research Institute Global Study of Engagement “Only about 16 percent of employees are ‘Fully Engaged’. This means 84 percent of workers are just ‘Coming to Work’ instead of contributing all they could to their organizations.”

Be aware of those things is a good starting point. Many organizations start by measuring engagement on yearly basis. And it’s a good start. Having the ability to compare results not only to the global data but also to your company trends. But if you start doing it, two interesting things usually happen. First – people start complaining that they have to fill in too many questions at one time, and second that once you start digging into the data and trying to inspect and adapt based on that, people start telling you that their responses are not particularly valid anymore – for example, there was a lot of stress in December, but now, in January we feel we are fine, etc. So sooner or later you realize you need to do such surveys more frequently, and also in a distributed way. The good news is there are many tools that can support that need. I have experience with using Officevibe which is designed to ask one question per week and that way is giving you more frequent data points and trends so you can make it actionable. It’s easier to be measured and you can see the impact of changing the practices right away.



Join the 10th anniversary of the Agile Prague Conference

I started organizing a conference because I wanted to bring interesting people to the Czech Republic, to Prague where I live. I wanted to give people here some sort of feeling of what it means to be agile across the globe, how different organizations do things, what is a hot topic nowadays in the world, and give them an opportunity for two days to learn from the best agile speakers.

The first year we started small and run an experiment as a track of the WebExpo conference and because people liked it, we decided to start a full dedicated conference called Agile Prague. This year we are celebrating a 10th year anniversary. I guess time flies.

Agile Prague is always on Mon-Tue in September so you can enjoy the weekend in Prague and connect pleasure with a bit of learning. We start creating a program already in January, while I speak & travel for different events, I also search for interesting speakers and inspirational stories so many of our speakers are joining on our invitation.

This year you can join us on Mon-Tue Sep 19-20, 2022. We are having two parallel tracks of short practical talks, where people can deep dive into the topics during the open space each day. The entire conference is in English and the topic is “Sustainable Agility”.

To give you some idea about the program, we have several keynotes presented this year:

Alexey Krivitsky and Roland Flemm will help you to “Improve Transformation results in corporate organizations with Adaptivity that fits”. Many organizations struggle to adopt agile in a way that delivers on its promise to make the company fast, flexible and efficient. Alexey and Roland created a model called Adaptivity Fit, that helps you to create a map to guide your agile transformational journey.

Boris Glogger is in the Agile and Scrum space almost forever. I was in his Scrum class many years ago and I still remember it.  During the conference, he will share his experience with us presenting his keynote “Let’s do it again – the role of agile consulting for a sustainable world”.

Evan Leybourn will explore “The Shape of Agility” and what it takes to build the organization ready for no matter what the future brings. Evan is the co-founder of Business Agility Institute which has the best collection of curated content about business agility.

Pat Guariglia will talk about “Quiet Resistance | An understated force”. Change is hard. Transforming to an agile mindset, environment, and way of working is always challenging. Could agile transformations be challenged with something more basic and fundamental, something more core to human behavior? The success of agile depends so much on social interaction and collaboration.

Richard Cheng and Karim Harbott will close the conference with “What is Business Agility and Why It’s Important”. Richard and Karim explore why business agility is critical for our teams, organizations, and leaders and why they need to understand the concept and values around Business Agility.

And together with them, we are bringing over 30 awesome speakers from all around the world.

Join us at Agile Prague Conference Sep 19-20,2022 agileprague.com.

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.

who is agile?

Who is agile? is the video edition of the leanpub e-book of 2010. A book of personal reflections on journeys where people stumbled on agile.

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.