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.”

Agile Transformation Metrics

It’s very common that people ask me how they shall measure the success of their Agile transformation. It’s a hard question because there is no meaningful metrics unless you know why you decided to start the agile transformation at the first place at all. Agile is not your goal, it’s just a way how to achieve some of your more strategic goals i.e. address complexity better, be more change responsive, shorten time to market, be more flexible, … And once you know why you are starting your agile journey, then those reasons are exactly the metrics you are going to measure at the organizational level. All are business-oriented and value-driven  (outcome), so there is no velocity, no story points as those are focusing on output.

Team Measures

If you want to have a fast culture check on how far you have moved towards the agile mindset, you may look into how many experiments the teams are running, what are their actions from the retrospectives, and how they help them to deliver more value, how likely your teams take failure as learning vs. blaming opportunity, how close are they to customers, and how they collaborate vs. work individually or in silos. As a follow-up, you can have a look to your positions (are they rather broad supporting cross-functional teams than detail task-oriented), recruiting (are we hiring for approach and personality over the hard skills), performance review (team-oriented based on peer feedback over the individual), goals and objectives (team-based focused on purpose and outcome over tactical and individual KPIs focused on output), … and I can continue.

Looking to technical practices, you can check how your software teams implemented Extreme Programming practices i.e. Continuous Integration (even one-minute old code is old code), TDD – Test Driven Development (and overall attest automation), if they use pair programming or mob-programming to collaborate, having strong Definition of Done, focusing on one story at a time, and are ready for Continuous Delivery.

All over Agile is about team collaboration, customer-centered value-driven way of working, and short feedback loops. The rest are just practices, processes, and tools which might support your journey or not. The most important is not what exactly you are measuring, but what you are going to change based on that metric. If the metrics is helping you to improve and change your way of working, it’s a good metric. Measuring something just so you have it, or so you can draw a chart is a waste of your time.

Starting the Agile Journey

Understand Scrum is simple. If you don’t know what Scrum is and is not, there is a 17-page definition called Scrum Guide. If you like to know what is agile, go to the four values and 12 principles of Agile Manifesto. The agile community mostly agrees on both. As large products increase the complexity, there is no common agreement on how to apply agile and scrum to multiple teams and organization as a whole. The good news is that there are many options to choose from and many organizations can serve as inspiration on jour journey – Menlo Innovations, Zappos, Valve, Odde, ScrumAlliance, and I can continue. The first two are even often organizing visits to see how they work.

Agile Journey

In agile we love options and know, there is no one way how to do things. Some options are easier to apply, some harder, some less agile, some more. But remember Agile is not your goal, it’s just the way how to achieve your strategic goals so at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. The less agile ways are not necessarily bad options for given circumstances. Some companies go faster, some slower on their agile journey. Your organization needs to be internally ready for the higher level of agility and without direct experience with self-organization at the team level (across the organization at product teams but also at the executive teams and boards), it’s hard to go forward towards the organizational agility, Agile HR, Agile finance, and last but not least Agile leadership. I started this article by referring to the Agile and Scrum definitions. Would the definition of an Agile Organization be useful? It may look that way however I don’t think it’s needed. The Agile organization is not about practices, processes, not frameworks. It’s about being agile. It’s about agility hardcoded in the organizational DNA and culture. It’s about living the values. Be courageous to change the status quo, be open to feedback, respect different opinions, and have focus and commitment to deliver value not only to the customers and shareholders but also employees. So if you want to check your readiness to apply agile principles at the organizational level, start with the values. Do you like them? Do you live them? Or do you think they are not important?

Agile HR: Shape the Culture

I already wrote here that during the agile journey, the Agile HR changes the entire focus from being compliant driven to focus on overall employee experience. Agile HR is about leadership, system coaching, and large groups facilitation. And there is another layer. Agile HR should shape the culture. Yes, that’s right. There is an interesting framework of Competing Values which is in a very simple way describing culture as a tension between control and creative quadrants and competing and collaborative quadrants. The traditional organizations were grounded in the control and competition hemisphere, having the fixed processes, hierarchy and competition at the both individual and organizational level, while the agile organizations are more leaning towards the collaboration and creativity hemisphere changing the focus from individuals to the teams and networks, having higher level of autonomy and empowerment, forming partnerships instead of fighting with competitors.

As organizations continue on their agile journey, the culture is shifting and sooner or later the practices need to follow. For example, having a very hierarchical narrow position structure becomes an obstacle of a higher level of collaboration and self-organization. The silos are in the way of the cross-functional teams so the first step is to get rid of traditional positions i.e. Developer, Analyst, Tester and create a team member position as in the cross-functional team that’s all we need. The steep carrier path gets in the way of collaboration from the other side so organizations usually descale and become (more) flat as they rely more on intrinsic over extrinsic motivation. Speaking about motivation, how many of you are motivated by performance review and KPIs? None? That’s right. So what’s the other option? When we remove the individual goals and KPIs together with the performance review, how can we assure people get actionable feedback? So instead of artificial annual performance conversation, we invest into creating a learning environment where people learn from failures, get frequent peer feedback and mentoring from their colleagues so they can co-create their journey and grow as individuals and teams together. It’s not that much about any magical practices, but more about coaching and facilitation skills – that’s where ScrumMasters could be quite helpful. And I guess I can continue.

And keep in mind, it’s not about practices, processes, and tools, those can only support or make your journey harder. It’s about having a strong sense of purpose, common values, and joined identity. Once you have it, the practices will follow in a very natural way. So where to start? Think about your organization, where your culture is right now, and then think about where you need to be to keep up with nowadays business challenges and stay competitive. Only then, you are ready to assess individual practices. Are they supporting that shift? Are they indifferent? Or are they in the way of the desired culture shift?

Using tribes, squads, and gilds is not Agile by itself

Many Czech corporations are now starting their Agile journey, at least they say so. Despite fancy labels, they don’t have any desire to change so, unfortunately, you can only expect some ‘fake Agile & Scrum’ and no real outcomes nor fun. How do you recognize them? Most of them got inspired by so-called “Spotify model” (which was never supposed to be any model to follow anyway) or got it second-hand from Dutch ING. Both were just a case-studies how they work at the given time. Both case-studies have one thing in common – both organizations went through a significant change in their values, approaches, and culture. Those who only follow what they shared usually don’t get such a culture and don’t pay any attention to the mindset change either. Just re-structure departments to tribes, squads, and guilds, it’s cool, so it must be the right Agile. But unfortunately using cool labels is not enough to be successful so such organizations who blindly followed what the others wrote about in the case-studies are failing miserably in a few months.Agile Transformation

One example from a huge corporation who applied ‘Spotify model’ – after a year of implementing it, they end up in such a mess that they had to throw away a year of the development and start from scratch again. Quite painful. And expensive. They faced the same issues as the most of such corporations. Not enough of collaboration, culture, and mindset. After all, they didn’t really want any change. They just want to mark it ‘done’. We implemented Agile, we are cool. The similar business model like SAFe (apply new process and terminology, you don’t have to change the mindset or your way of working), just in this case we don’t use any ‘trains’ which if you thought about it are out of fashion for years now, but a modern terminology of tribes, squads and guilds. Nonetheless, the result is similar. Unfortunately. One huge American corporation recently started their 13thAgile transformation. How fascinating. The rumors say that this time they are going to make it. It seems they finally understand that Agile transformation is a journey. It’s not about new terminology, it’s not about tools, practices or processes. It’s a different way of working, a different mindset. So even if it looks like a disaster right now, don’t cry :)… another five attempts and you make it as well. You just need to be patient and wait for the right moment. After all, it’s not that hard. Just stop pretending the change is not needed, and start the real transformation. Change your mindset. Change the way you work.

Any change starts small, with a sense of urgency. Only when you have a strong enough strategic reason, you will change. Remember that Agile is not your goal, it’s only the best way how to achieve your goals in the nowadays constantly changing complex world.

The hot topic of the next few years will be leadership

Modern world brings not only the different way of developing software called Agile but also changes in the organizational structure and leadership. You see it more and more often. People at the classes are asking why their managers are not there to hear the message. But very often they are, and they are ready to change the entire organization and their leadership style.

ShuThe ‘Shu’ level of Agile transformation is focused on practices and individuals or teams. How can we start? As a result, we create small isolated islands of Agility where we get to experience and learn more about what does it mean to be Agile. Sometimes companies are looking for shortcuts. But you can’t skip this level. It’s your foundation. If you make it solid, you are more likely going to be successful with Agile at the organizational level. At this level, you might see some improvements, but can’t achieve greater efficiency across the whole organization.

HaThe ‘Ha’ level of Agile Transformation is when you start Scaling phase. This is where the Business Agility starts to take place. That’s where the different leadership starts to be critically needed as you have to grow the different structure and mindset. The key focus is shifting towards how to develop leaders and how senior employees are growing within a company. As the right culture is getting its place, people are coming with innovative creative ideas which can make a difference in the company results. This situation is currently the biggest challenge we are facing now as an industry and its topic of many discussions. Together with Scaling frameworks (like LeSS – Large Scale Scrum) which address the organizational design, we talk about different Agile management practices, Agile HR, Agile in marketing, Agile in finance. Companies that understand this can create an environment that is more efficient, productive, and more successful than anything we have ever achieved with classical management methods.

RiFinally, the ‘Ri’ level of Agile transformation starts when the Business Agility is the normal way you operate your business. We have individual Agile leaders in the organization, and people take over initiatives. This is a time for another organizational shift. At this stage, we have a true Agile executive team, focusing on long-term strategy and Agile Board of Directors focusing on the purpose and vision both working as teams collaborating together. Both truly living Agile values.

Agile Culture

Culture is intangible. It’s hard to touch. Hard to define, hard to measure. However, it is the critical piece for the organizational success. We may debate if culture follows an organizational structure or vice versa, but I don’t think it is important. Culture reflects our values and philosophy. The way we are. Being Agile is about changing mindset. If enough people change their mindset, the culture changes and they become Agile Organization. Simple if you say it this way, but hard to do.

I’ve been looking for a good definition of culture for years. I surprisingly find it at CAL (Certified Agile Leadership) training which I attend from Michael Sahota in California. I very much like his way of describing culture, and I used it as an inspiration for my drawing.

Agile CultureThe culture consists of two parts. The mindset and structure. I’ve always seen the mindset as the most important part of culture, a driving force. Something which can change the structure part if done well. To my belief structure is always preventing us from change, from being successful. So shall we change the structure or mindset?  I would always go for the mindset. It’s harder, but it brings significantly better results. Create a clear goal. Purpose. Something which makes to you stand up every morning and put energy into it. Something you truly believe in and are willing to take ownership and responsibility for. Something which makes you collaborate with others, something which makes your day. When you succeed with the mindset, you are usually ready to change the structure. So I truly believe that structure follows mindset. Which is good, because as the first step you can start with changing yourself. 🙂

Leadership – Myself Dimension – #ScrumMasterWay concept

Let’s continue with the last element of ‘Myself’ dimension. As we already said in the previous blog posts, each element of this dimension is represented by a dice which you can roll every day of Sprint and choose the aspect you are going to take. The fourth dice stands for leadership. If you want to transform the organization, your leadership style shall change first. In this element, we talk about being a servant leader, creating the culture, feedback, motivation, collaboration, and leader-leader style.

Servant Leader

ScrumMaster is a leadership role. One of the aims of ScrumMaster is to make others work better, they are servant leaders. They can heal relationships, create communities, listen to others, have empathy, and think beyond day-to-day tasks and short-term goals. Only when you become servant leader you can be the great ScrumMaster.

We Culture

Agile needs the right culture. It’s all about us, how we work as a team. Be collaborative, support each other, take over responsibility and ownership for the team. ScrumMasters shall be using their leadership skills to create such culture because without it Agile and Scrum can never be successful.

Feedback

Give and receive feedback is critical for every leader. It’s important prerequisite to inspect and adapt. ScrumMasters shall be actively searching for feedback and find creative ways to allow people to learn from it.

Motivation

Part of the motivation is coming from the environment and culture. ScrumMasters support intrinsic motivation factors as they are aligned with their goal to create a self-organized team. Motivate through an understanding of the purpose and clear goals, safe to fail learning environment, and open and transparent culture.

Collaboration

Collaboration is written in the Scrum DNA. Scrum is all about teams and collaboration. There is no individual work important in real Scrum, no individual goals. We do our best to achieve the goal – deliver value to the customer.

Leader-leader

The leader-leader model helps you to change the traditional leadership style of leader–follower where people are expected to follow orders into the leader-leader concept of servant leadership where leaders are here to help the other people to grow and become leaders themselves.

Agile at Saigon, Vietnam

I had an opportunity to spend some time with teams in Vietnam. Explain them Agile and implement Scrum process, bring in the understanding of it, and help them to apply it. It’s always good to travel for your work to some nice places, and Saigon is indeed very nice city. Very friendly people. How was it? Quite different. The way of explaining things needed many detail examples, however there were fewer problems with having people accept the whole idea.  The most difficult part was I guess to explain the agile mindset, implement agile culture. They always used to be organized by strict hierarchy. Who reports to whom. And now we had a cross functional teams consist of both developers and testers, so who do I report now? Who is going to assign me new tasks? And all those questions. If you for some reason put one person out of the teams as a shared resource, he immediately stop working and did just management decisions from that time. When we asked why, it’s because only the team members are here to do the work. And I’m now more important. So I don’t do any usual daily job. On the other hand, once they understood the process, they follow it. They don’t discuss if they should or not, no complains that they are corporation with specific habits so why they should change them.  Once you explain it so they understood they do their best to make it working.

Agile community

I’ve always tried to meet with local community while I’m traveling. It’s fun. They sometimes reply and you organize something together, sometimes there is no response at all. Agile Vietnam was a surprise; they have extremely active Facebook community. I’ve sent an introduction and in a few seconds I’ve got several replies. So already the first night at Saigon I’ve met with a group of people to talk about startups. Small group, not really from IT environment, but trying to learn new thinks, improve English, it was nice evening.

The next day I arrived on Barcamp. Huge event with 3500 people registered, kind of unconference where attendees are voting for presentation to be presented. I was talking about agile implementations, some British lady about bringing Broadway Theater to Saigon. You can talk about anything. Audience is deciding whether it is interesting or not.

The last event I had there for the community was free Starting Scrum workshop. One afternoon the organizers of Agile Vietnam invited everyone to Saigon Hub. And we had two hours to try basic Scrum principles. I introduced a game where the teams were building a high tower from marshmallow and spaghetti. It was fun. The very good think is the game was working well even in this different culture. They did a great job, and learned a lot about how Scrum process works with respect of the delivery of PSP at the end of every Sprint, communication to the customer, team development.

Back home

So to summarize my experiences, I would love to come back to Vietnam or another interesting country for work. It’s different, it’s fun, and it’s working. The training itself will not make any big difference to them. To change their way of working and mindset you have to be there, you have to spent time and help them understand and apply the theory. This is something which I as an agile coach can help them.