Do we need CEO in Agile Organization?

Agile at the organizational level changes everything. I wrote here already about Agile HR, Agile Board of Directors, and Agile at the Executive Team Level. Let’s have a look at the top of the organization. Should it remain the same? Or shall we go one step further and change it as well?

Searching for an “agile mindset CEO” is frankly a nightmare. Everyone who tried it can confirm that. There are not many CEOs with enough Agile experience yet in the world and those few who has it are not likely looking for a job as they are usually quite happy in their current organization. So, no matter which executive search firm you choose, or what you write to the position description, the search firms are no real help here. Unless you already spent effort up front on growing the talent internally, you need huge luck to get someone who understands agile more than a basic theory. No matter how desperate you are searching for a CEO, this is still just a small obstacle, not the real reason for a structural change.

The real need for top-level change starts when most of the organization is having an agile mindset. The Agile transformation is about being agile. How many times you’ve heard this request: “How about if our management give us more support on your Agile journey?”, “How about if our executive team is Agile and don’t just push it to us?”, “How about if they practice the same way we work as well?”Would that make it a difference? Maybe. So why don’t we go one more step ahead and change from the top and become a role model for the entire organization? As the organization has changed and Agile is not solely the domain of the IT anymore, but the business agility got into every department, the need for a change at the top level is inevitable. Why do we need a CEO in the first place? Just because that’s how organizations always been? Shouldn’t we ‘eat our own lunch’ and change the way we work entirely? Shouldn’t we apply the same principles the team do? Sounds simple, right.

And as usually it is simple to understand, hard to do as it needs courage. Courage to say “We are going to be different.” We will have Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner instead of a CEO because it will be closer to the way we work at this organization, fits our values, and last but not least we believe it will help us to be more flexible and adaptive at the organizational level. And that’s worth of trying.

The Organizational ScrumMaster would be focusing on the right culture, mindset and structure, so we become high-performing innovative organizations which embraced agility, and Organizational Product Owner would be focusing externally to the business, vision a purpose to we know where are we heading and why and are value driven. Both roles need to respect each other and be open with each other, the same way as it is in a single Scrum team, as together they will be part of the Organizational Leadership Team, and the network structure of self-organizational teams. There are two roles in Scrum by a reason instead of one. When you ask people if they would suggest to combine them, no one feels it is a good idea. And at the top organizational level, we would still do it? The similar reasons are valid at this level as well. When you think about it, it fits the way we work much better, then a single CEO – supports the right organizational mindset, transparency, and collaboration, it is consistent with who we are.

From a legal perspective, it is perfectly possible, and it’s not that much work either. You might need to change the bylaws a little, but there is no reason why you can’t do it. From a hiring perspective, it’s much simpler, as you are not looking for that ‘superhero’ personality who would be great with both internal and external sides. Try it. As I said already, all you need is courage. And that’s one of the Scrum values anyway. Experiment, and from that stage inspect and adapt. Now, do I believe that this SM-CEO or PO-CEO will eventually make themselves out of job? No, I don’t. It’s the same as the team level. Even if the team is self-organized and knows the business well, there is still work for ScrumMaster and Product Owner. Similarly, at the organizational level, there is still a need for Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner even when the network of collaborative teams got self-organized, business value-driven, and customer-centric. The Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner would use Leader – Leader style to build other leaders around them, and if they are successful, the organization will become purpose driven where leadership will be emergent and structure liquid. The same way as it is in the Scrum team, the Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner will move from those who explain, tell and share, to those who coach, facilitate, and keep the system spinning. And that’s what is the Agile Leadership about.

From Good to Great: Agile Mindset

The next blog in the From Good to Great series which started by Don’t copy, find your own way and Radical transparency is focusing on the most important part of being Agile – Agile mindset. The mindset change is very difficult to describe. People who are far from being Agile are often saying “That’s what we are already doing, so what is this buzz about Agile about?” or “This will never work in reality, Agile is only for unicorns.” But it still exists so I thought I will share with you the picture how I see the Agile mindset change journey now.

Delivery

At the beginning of the Agile journey, it’s all about output. The delivery is the key. People care about efficiency, measuring velocity, estimating effort and complexity using Story points, T-shirt sizes, drawing Burndown charts. “How can we deliver faster?” is the most common question. People want to measure everything. They still believe the work which needs to be done can be analyzed and planned, so they create mini ‘stories’ aka business requirements with all the details specified, often using acceptance criteria to add more details. They also believe that we only need to follow the plan and deliver everything as described as soon as possible to be successful. Nice and simple world. But that’s not what Agile is about so you can freely forget most of the practices mentioned above. They might be better than some others from pure traditional world, but most of them have nothing to do with being Agile. It’s just ‘fake Agile’. On the other hand, most of the people couldn’t learn how to dance overnight, so a bit of ‘fake Agile’ might be a good step towards the mindset change. To be fair there are some aspect teams need to master at this level, mostly going back to the XP (Extreme Programming) like continuous integration, shared code, TDD, regular refactoring, and pair programming or mob programming, but that’s not enough to be agile.

Strategy

The more you apply the agility, and aspects like self-organization to raise empowerment, cross-functionality to be business value driven, and frequent product reviews to be customer-centric, the more your focus turn from delivery to the vision: Why are we doing it? For whom? What makes it different? What is the value? How are we going to change the world? People start to see that delivery is important, but just prerequisite. It’s not about delivering faster (but wrong things). It’s about maximizing value, which actually can be achieved by delivering less than before. The million-dollar question is how can we know this item brings value. The answer is surprisingly simple: Feedback. You can start with the implementation of Scrum. Short Sprints help teams to focus value delivery through defining Sprint Goals, cross-functional teams enable fast feedback from customers through regular Sprint Reviews, and good Product Owner brings decent business knowledge and creates a relationship with the customers so the feedback makes sense. Tools like User Stories and Story Mapping, which are by definition customer-centric value-driven (if used how they are supposed to be) are useful concepts to start a conversation about the business value. At this stage, people believe that if they have a good vision, and understand the customer well, they are going to be successful. Sounds great, the only weak point is that often that’s not enough in nowadays constantly changing the world.

Impact

Finally, the last stage of the Agile mindset change is acknowledging that we don’t know where the value is, we can’t analyze it, we can’t plan it. All we can do is to iterate and inspect and adapt. This stage is finally where we stop pretending we know where the value is, and start heavily experiment. Note, that 80% experiments must fail by definition, so you need to run very small tiny reality checks which are expected to be opportunities for learning. Teams learn fast from day to day failures, always looking for better ways, and when every experiment goes as they expected they take is as an indicator of lack of transparency, honesty and relevant feedback. All over radical transparency is their best friend, empowerment doesn’t stop at the at the team level but goes through the entire organization, and emergent leadership is the key engine to creativity and innovations. The delivery at this mindset stage is needed but is quite unimportant. It’s like walking. You would say you need to walk to get somewhere. But if you don’t know where the ‘somewhere’ is, walking no matter how fast only makes you tired. At this stage, it’s not even about a strategy that much as the strategy is emergent and changes depending on the feedback. It’s all about if the outcome created impact. If you know what do you want to achieve, you can measure if it’s happening. The sooner the better. Gojko Adzic and his Impact Mapping is a good tool to start. As he often shares in his stories you don’t implement functionality because you know how to implement it, nor because someone believes or say it is a good thing to be done. You do it to achieve your goal. If you have any evidence that the impact you need to achieve it is happening, you continue. If not, you stop and find another assumption to test. If you think about it, this is a very different way of prioritization, working, and thinking. That’s the real agile mindset. Once you embrace such a way of working, you are Agile.

I travel and speak at many conferences per year, and often to help them promote their event I draw a picture from some interesting talk. This time I decided to share Gojko’s keynote sketch from Agile Vilnius (#9 to attend this year 🙂  ) here as it is well aligned with my blog post and there is never too little visualization.

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.

What Certified Scrum Trainers (CST) need to learn

One of the things you have to know as a trainer is how to design a content for your class. The traditional teaching methods which were mostly about listening and reading, are very inefficient. Even if you tell a lot of stories, most of the content never survive in people brains until next week. The modern teaching methods are about experience. When you think about it, the things which you remember the most are those you experienced, things you have to figure out yourself. Therefore, the modern teaching is much more about team discussion, simulations, and facilitation of the class instead of teaching. After all, no matter what you say, people are only able to keep focus for about 5min. Then they start their own thinking process in their mind of side thoughts initiated by any associations with what they heard and simply they stop following what’s happening. Don’t believe me? Say them something important in the middle of 15min block. Do it the best you can. Work with your voice. And then, one hour later ask them the question about it. Surprised? And it’s even worse. The more different is the message you are saying to their current reality, the smaller the chance is they remember it and even hear it. It can work for mathematics, but not in a class which has only one goal – change the mindset.

The most popular book which describes a different approach to teaching and learning is Training from the Back of the Room. Get a copy and try it. The hardest is to accept that your students are creative and smart enough so they can figure it. You don’t have to tell them the answers; instead, you shall design a class in a way so they can answer their questions by themselves. They will figure it out.

Interestingly, one requirement which every CST – Certified Scrum Trainer has to do, is to design the class content. The candidates including me were always asking why is that. But it’s actually quite important. Firstly, it proves that you understand the topic enough so you can put it together in a meaningful way – and yes, during co-training with many CST candidates, I’ve seen people teaching Scrum in quite a random way – you know, cooking a soup from great ingredients, doesn’t necessarily ends up as a great soup. Teaching somebody else’s material is like using great chef’s recipe. And again, we are not teaching simple stuff, Agile and Scrum are about changing mindset. So it’s not a cupcake recipe, it’s more like baking macarons. Secondly, considering modern learning trends, where you shall facilitate (not teach) a class, and coach the entire system there to highest learning – there is no way you can copy someone else’s content. It must be authentic. It’s like an art 🙂

Once you got that, one of the skills you need to develop is to design a game. It’s not that hard, but still, it’s great to have a framework. If you like to know more, I can more than recommend Luke Hohmann’s Game Design Master Class, which shows the “secret ingredients” of serious, collaborative game design. Cooking had never been easier :). I joined game design class this summer and I very much enjoyed it, so here is my recommendation. We talked about game theory, game structure, and design strategies, all in very collaborative and fun environment.

So here is my current recommendation summary, if you want to be successful in teaching Agile and Scrum, changing people’s mindset and eventually becoming CST – Certified Scrum Trainer which is the highest quality bar of teaching Agile and Scrum, you need the following mix of ingredients:

  • Class facilitation (i.e. Training from the Back of the Room.)
  • System coaching (i.e. ORCS – Organizational System Relationship Coaching)
  • Game design (i.e. Game Design Master Class)

Be aware that this is not official advice; I’m just one CST (Certified Scrum Tariner) sharing my personal experiences on how to be a great Agile and Scrum Trainer.

You can get inspired by a story from Anderson Diniz Hummel about what it was like to go through the process of becoming a CST. http://drunkenpm.blogspot.com/2018/01/becoming-certified-scrum-trainer-w.html

Are we Agile… ?

Are we already Agile? How do we know we are Agile? What level of Agility have we? It’s hard to say. On one hand, you never touch Agile as Agile is like a star on the horizon. On the other hand, you can feel it after the first 15 min you enter the organization from the energy, level of the positivity, interactions from people, and company space setup. A bit later you might search for more tangible proofs of Agility / non-Agility. But the initial sense if usually right.

It’s so hard to measure as once some authority publish the assessment questions, companies make those things happen and fake it. It will most likely not even be conscious, as people are starving for simple recipes. So such assessment can only work once in life. Here are the first seven ideas which come to my mind. If you like to answer, be honest and use the whole scale <0 .. 10>.  No organization is ideal, and so there is low chance you will be the ideal one.

I can continue, but firstly people can only answer few questions, I hope 7 is not too much and secondly, it’s just a short test which is only valid for the first time you do it, next time when we meet during my Agile coaching, I will ask a different set of random questions :). It’s not any complete assessment, just a fun test which can possibly make you think about yourself and your way of work.

If I got enough replies, I will publish them in some of the future posts.

Scrum Transformation Journey

As one of the CSTs – Certified Scrum Trainers – I’ve got a unique opportunity to travel around the world during the last two years and teach Scrum at a variety of businesses, organizational environments, and very different cultures. I must admit that Scrum is awesome as it is universal. You can apply it to software, hardware, marketing, HR, executive teams and be rapidly successful, significantly better, change the way of work and become the best of the greatest. The flip side of the coin is, that despite the easy way how Scrum is defined, there are still companies, teams and individuals completely failing to understand what Scrum is and therefore failing to implement it.

I draw this picture to illustrate that becoming Scrum is a journey. You can’t just do Scrum, you have to embrace it. You have to become Scrum yourself first. It’s often not that straightforward as we’ve been got used to the traditional processes throughout the history, but at the same time, this is the very best strength of Scrum. Once you master it, it becomes the part of your life. It’s not just a process, it is a way of living.

Scrum Transformation

 

Technical Scrum

First, let me say explicitly that “Technical Scrum” is not Scrum. It only pretends to be Scrum. It’s a camouflage. However, it might be the necessary first step in certain organizations to move to the real Scrum. How do you recognize Technical Scrum? People “do” Scrum. They are looking for ways how to remain the same as they used to be. They are eager to get checklists of practices which need to be done, in order to do proper Scrum. Therefore Technical Scrum is all about estimations techniques, burn-downs, measuring velocity. The very important metric would be individual utilization, so they usually insist on time task estimates, capacity calculations, and time-sheets to be filled. They have identified new roles, but in reality, they just renamed the traditional roles and didn’t change the behavior. Scrum meetings are usually long and felt redundant. Managers use Scrum to micromanage.  The overall team focus is on “how”. The team is not any team but a group of individuals working on similar items. The individual accountability matters. They are looking how to split responsibilities instead of how to collaborate to achieve the goal. Product Backlog is usually a to-do list where most things have to be done.

Scrum Mindset

In the real Scrum, your team understands the mindset and they are “living” Scrum. They take it as the way how to focus on customers, how to innovate, how to collaborate. The estimates, efficiency, and utilization become quite unimportant, as they focus on delivering value to the customer and overall long term results. The first step here is usually “Team Scrum” where the development team becomes a real self-organized and cross-functional team which works together. The team creation process produces a huge trust internally among the team members but also externally to the organization. It’s the first tiny ‘snowball’ which afterward starts the whole transformation and creates forces to change how we run our business and how the organization itself is structured.

The “Organizational Scrum” builds on top of the values we experienced at team level – openness, transparency, and trust which leads the organization to be more business driven, flexible, and open to innovations. The business slowly starts to be picking up and the organization has to follow the rest. At this time, the snowball is big enough to attract the rest of the organization. At that time, you are truly Agile.

Such transformation can take years. It’s not uncommon that companies are falling back and restarting the whole initiative again. It’s hard. To succeed you need a good reason for change and courage. Eventually, every company has to change as the word is getting more complex and fast. The same way as industry revolution changed the way we were hundred years ago, the complexity of our current life is changing us now. To succeed in a long term, we have to be more flexible and dynamic – more Agile.