Quotes on Agile, Leadership and Communication

I like to live a life based on my own set of values. This includes ideas big and small, as well as the ones I just throw in for the fun of it. Every now and then I stumble upon something someone says, said or wrote somewhere that expresses these values in words, like I’ve never seen better.

Furthermore I want to communicate well. There definitely are patterns in my (probably all of our) language that in hindsight I don’t like, but can’t prevent me from still using. Again sometimes people say phrases that stick with me so well, they influence the way I speak. It’s sentences that trigger once I use the disliked pattern, so I can catch myself before (best case) or latest immediately after (normal case) I miscommunicate. These, too, I want to share with you here.

I have used this quote so many times. In every company, every team I bring it up. Sometimes it sticks. When it sticks, team members get:

  • more focused because before starting a 2nd task, they finish the 1st
  • more collaborative because before starting a new (1st) task, they try to help others finish something
  • more goal oriented because when they find new work, they ask themselves “Is this really required for this story?” (See also YAGNI)

Researching when and where this originates took some time. It wasn’t around beginning of the 2000s, but only appeared in 2009. By now this mantra of the Agile community is omnipresent at least in the realm of Agile practitioners.

CEO of GameDuell used to say this, the first company I worked for. Of course the quote is debatable: Sometimes, some things need to be perfect. The point is not that this is a 100% correct. The point is that we should ask ourselves 100% of the times: “Am I being a perfectionist right now, or do I really need this to drive the business forward?”

To me and to this day this quote is the short, more concise version of

“It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” — Antoine de Saint Exupéry

The original (German) quote was: “Hoffnung macht die Realität nur noch grausamer.” Googling this I found an original phrase that is well spread over the web (banners, pics, t-shirt slogans):

“It’s better to feel the short pain of truth, than feeling the permanent pain of false hope.”

The effect of this quote is very simple: Do we or our leaders hope for things in your professional life? Doesn’t this mean, we are not in full control of our destiny? Whenever this memory gets triggered, I’m asking myself: “What (other than hoping) can I do to make this happen?” Hope is not the means to an end. Hope doesn’t change things. Action does.

The second quote on this list, that I haven’t heard by someone in person. Technology being the product of the culture building it, most certainly is a bit of a generalization of Conway’s Law:

“organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Still I like the quote for its brevity and exactly the higher context: Culture goes much deeper than organizational structure. If you have great culture, a temporarily bad restructuring might well be overcome. Yet in an unfit organizational structure no good culture can emerge from a bad one. (See also: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.”)

Bottom line: When looking at transforming a company’s technology, we have to transform that company’s culture. We all try to leave personal stuff at home, but eventually it’s personal connections that shape a company’s culture. How can we create strong personal connections without becoming personal?

This was the line that inspired the idea of sharing these quotes. We were talking about automation and how it could be that for some components of our system it was easier to manually deploy them, bypassing Jenkins and the most basic tests and without other people knowing. So we restricted this way with the above rationale.

That’s it. No more throwing things over the fence. No more finger pointing on who is responsible. Everybody is. And pretty much no shorter way to say it.

Here’s another one on communication: Just like with “hope” now “assume” triggers me to be more attentive. Instead of ASSuming nowadays I just ask a question. If the assumption was right, the question is quickly answered, causing only a very short interruption. But if the assumption was (would have been) wrong, by asking the question instead I’m not hurting the relationship.

SGDUB17 Closing Keynote: Lyssa Adkins – We Are the Leaders We Have Been Waiting For

Closing Keynote: Lyssa Adkins – We Are the Leaders We Have Been Waiting For

Lyssa Adkins closing keynote of the already excellent Global Scrum Gathering in Dublin in 2017 is still sending shivers down my spine.e.

First of all, I was impressed with her speech building patterns: Starting very very personal, grabbing our attention, not letting it go again, she focused on a trip to Peru and the very visible disastrous changes to our environment humanity is causing.

Addressing our inability as a species to take on big global challenges, she spanned the arc to people working together in organizations (at least that’s how a month later I reconstruct it).

She asks:

If individuals and interactions are so important,
Why do tools and processes often run the show?

Lyssa Adkins - We are the Leaders we have been waiting for sgdub17Illustrations by Steve Silbert

Secondly she taught about Integral Theory, we then focused on the We quadrant (see image above) and dove deeper into relationships. Why are there sometimes difficulties in human relationships? This is when I learned about the Third Entity:

The next step took us to Spiral Dynamics (for which there is only a German Wikipedia article). This psychological approach means to “understand worldviews or systems of thinking held by individuals, organizations and societies” and I believe it is an inspiring and generally optimistic look into the future of mankind:

Read more about it here: http://www.cruxcatalyst.com/2013/09/26/spiral-dynamics-a-way-of-understanding-human-nature/

But how does all of this relate to us? To you and me? What does it mean? It means everything!

Lyssa Adkins - We are the Leaders we have been waiting for sgdub17Everyone has the potential (!) to change the world for the better. Power might be different, capabilities might be different, but this is just a reference frame. Eventually it comes to a single question:

Do you want to make the world a better place?

Lyssa Adkins gracefully narrowed the scope from this high level concept to the group of several hundred Agile Coaches, ScrumMasters, Software Developers in the room asking:

What are you applying Agile to that’s worthy of you?

Then we used https://pollev.com/ to do a live survey, creating a word cloud of what the audience would apply Agile for. It looked something like this:

Lyssa Adkins Agile Leaders Keynote Wordcloud sgdub17Even before, I was determined to use Agile in non-software-development environments. The CPO of one of my clients connected me to Christian Breternitz, who already talks to schools and universities regarding EduScrum in Germany and Berlin especially. But Lyssa Adkins’ talk highlighted even more the importance of improving the world around us and not just the place we call work.

Obtaining CSPO Certification

On my way to becoming a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) I recently participated in a really good Certified Scrum Product Owner Training® (CSPO) in Berlin. The course was organized by KnowledgeHut and hosted by Marco Mulder, Certified Scrum Trainer and Enterprise Coach.  Covering the complete curriculum he not only made this training a Scrum project, he also succeeded in highly engaging both starters and experienced practitioners.

The course agenda does not vary from the agenda of my workshop for Product Owners and stakeholders. A strong encouragement to further pursue the path of becoming a CST.

Following my approach from the Global Scrum Gathering Dublin 2017 I again scribbled notes throughout the training, taking a protocol of the “agenda”, practicing my drawing skills and of course memorizing some of the most noteworthy points.

Course outline:

  • Origins of Agile
  • Product Backlog Creation
  • Scrum
  • Roles
  • Product Vision & Story Mapping
  • Sprints
  • Backlogs
  • Scaling to more teams

Here are my scribbles:

Becoming CSPO

Becoming CSPO

Becoming CSPO

Becoming CSPOOver the course of the two days a lot of questions had been asked. Some of them were not covered by the agenda and took us on a little detour:

  • Stakeholders interfering with the Sprint (side requests)
  • Big team in grooming meetings and whether a split would be recommended
  • How to deal with “non-value” efforts? (I.e. track velocity for bugs?)
  • Breaking down stories bigger than 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 (or just limiting the scale)
  • Dependencies on other teams

In future posts I will go into detail on the questions. I was happy to see that I could answer all of them.

Global Scrum Gathering Dublin 2017 Recap

Global Scrum Gathering Dublin 2017 Recap

Those who know me wouldn’t describe me as a very risk affine guy. So it’s no wonder I attended my first Global Scrum Gathering on familiar ground: Dublin! I’ve lived in Ireland, started photography and had loads of fun with the guys at Each&Other. A trip to the Emerald Isle promised much and left me with some strong ideas and inspiration. If you’re short on time: Invest in reading about the most inspiring Closing Keynote by Lyssa Adkins.

First, let me share some facts about the conference, which I shamelessly copied from the closing newsletter by the Scrum Alliance:

  • 649 Scrum and Agile practitioners attended SGDUB17
  • 40 different countries were represented
  • Over 100 members of the community attended the first-ever Trainers Clinic
  • Over 250 members of the community attended the Coaches Clinic
  • Scrum Alliance welcomed 13 new Certified Scrum Trainers
  • Scrum Alliance added 2 new Certified Enterprise Coaches

Second, I’m gonna go into detail on the sessions I took notes of or that inspired me greatly. Also except for the Opening and Closing Keynotes I didn’t follow a chronological order, but rather ordered the sessions according to how I believe they fit the project life-cycle.

Opening Keynote: Tobias Mayer – Interacting Individuals

When you expect boring talks at a conference about coaching, be prepared to be overwhelmed! Tobias Mayer set the stage with an inspiring interactive session about values. I’d say the minimum viable product (result) of a keynote should be audience engagement with the conference that’s about to start. Tobias Mayer did so much more. In his session we:

  • defined a set of values that for each individual should shape the conference to come
  • made (at least) one human connection that became a good contact over the course of the next days
  • formulated a statement of intent for the gathering

Mine contained Purpose, Passion and Authenticity. Purpose kept me going to sessions (and sometimes enduring pretty low-level introductions), passion kept me participating actively whenever possible and authenticity kept me being myself in this highly professional environment.

Not only the content was great – the method was, too! I will describe it in detail here once I tried this. I promise!

Project Initiation or Product Inception

Against popular belief being agile does not mean we don’t plan. We do plan. We do prepare. Without a rough backlog I’d never start a project. Without refining that backlog with stakeholders, leaders and of course the team, I’d never start development. So in this stage there’s a lot of interaction and most certainly this is when interaction with the project’s stakeholders is most intense.

Debunking the Product Owner Role – Roman Pichler

Creating the Agile Organization

I always wanted to see Roman Pichler, since he’s been among the first people to – through his book(s) – spark my passion for Agile. Whilst writing my Diploma thesis I devoured his book “Scrum – Agiles Projektmanagement erfolgreich einsetzen”. It’s only available in German, but even after having read dozens of books on the topic, this remains my personal favorite for its level of detail and the sophisticated yet understandable explanations.

Roman Pichler - Debunking the Product Owner Role sgdub17Now during this Scrum Gathering Roman Pichler hosted a session on debunking the Product Owner Role. And that he did. He demanded “big Product Owners”, who can shape a product from grand vision to little button, instead of “small Product Owners”, who merely put in a Product Backlog what they’re being told. This is how the role should be filled, lived, fulfilled.

Bottom line he was asking everyone to think big, for which he also provided support by sharing one of his tools: The Product Vision Board. Explaining the different (easy to understand) parts of it, he highlighted how creating and validating this should be a collaborative effort between Product Owner and stakeholders, driven of course by the PO.

Product Roadmapping That Works! – Jason Tanner

Collaborating Effectively with Customers

Jason gave a good presentation on Product Roadmapping (here’s the best two links I could find). The audience, including myself, had pretty mixed feelings. Here’s what I think (in consensus with several people after the session):

Having a roadmap like this doesn’t hurt. As long as it is being created collaboratively by all stakeholders and team representatives, the exercise will be important and useful. Still the roadmap remains an artifact that only evolves with the company if people use it and work with it. Otherwise it will be disconnected from people’s everyday life.

If we manage to transform an organization’s way of thinking to apply agile values across all levels of management, we won’t need a roadmap like this. We will get a company backlog which becomes the living representation of our plans. Top down updates feed into teams, bottom up changes will be reflected in the high level backlog.

However I will try this exercise soon, since it is a good step on the way from little to no organization to an appropriate high level organization.

Implementing the Project/Product aka Working with the Team

Discover Your Dream Teams Through Self-Selection with the Team Ingredients Game – Dana Pylayeva

The Essence of Agile

In this part presentation part interactive session Dana Pylayeva both spoke about the prerequisites to enable team self-selection and simulated one such process with us, the audience.

Common arguments against team self-selection are:

  • It won’t be possible to staff all teams with required skills
  • People will never be able to organize themselves
  • This is gonna result in endless arguments
  • There are people who don’t get along and mustn’t be in one team

Following these steps, the prejudices can be overcome:

  1. Prepare yourself
    • learn, network and pitch
  2. Prepare management
    • solve their issues, do a trial run
  3. Prepare the process
    • work with team representatives to fine tune the process
    • clarify the participant list
  4. Prepare participants
    • create individual participant cards
    • host Q&A sessions, do 1x1s, address worries and fears
  5. Prepare the space
    • big enough for separate areas
    • prepare posters and material
    • food and beverages (duh!)

The highlight: We tried it in this session. Yes, it is possible for a group of 40 people to all get what they want. At the same time teams (in our case in “offices around the world”: Zurich, Dublin, Kyoto, NY, Cape Town) can be staffed with all the required skills to get the job done. In our group of 40 people we only had to mediate in 3 cases, so people voluntarily picked their second choice!

Conflict? Try Perspective Switch – J. and T. De Jastrzebiec Wykowski

Collaborating Effectively with Customers

In this certainly underestimated session (I was surprised that there were max. 40 people) Justina and Tomasz De Jastrzebiec Wykowski not only told us, but interactively demonstrated “putting oneself in the others’ shoes”.

The approach sounded super easy and obvious when resolving conflicts, but first: It requires a bit of organization, ideally from a third, neutral party and second: It’s tougher and more powerful than I would have expected.

Justina and Tomasz split each group into three roles: Development team, Product Owner and client(s). Each group got a scenario description of which we, the participants, quickly derived our groups main goal. First stating the conflict from our native perspective, then doing three rounds of rotating through the other roles until we were back in place, we realized:

  • Putting ourselves in the others’ shoes is harder than expected
  • Thinking about what we expect from the other roles (amongst them: our (native) selves) lead to deep understanding of the other party’s frustration and
  • Generated lots of ideas how to better collaborate

This can be simulated for any group in conflict and even higher numbers of conflict parties. In that case all you need is a bit more time. A powerful extension of an Agile Coaches tool belt.

Fragile Agile: Coaching a Tired Team – Anna Obukhova

The Essence of Agile

I found this session particularly interesting on the agenda. Because when do companies get help? By ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, call it what you want? Exactly: Most of them only get help when managers learned something is wrong.

Unfortunately at that time, most people, team members will already have endured “whatever is wrong” for quite some time. Sometimes these team members have already tried to remedy the situation. Sometimes with more, other times with less success. This actually means that “Coaching a tired team” is the rule rather than the exception. So because of this I joined Anna Obukhova’s session in order to get some advice.

Surprisingly the talk was focused ~70% on the symptoms, spiced with some interaction with the audience and self evaluation(s). I didn’t get much hands on advice in the end, yet I rated the session ★★★☆☆ (3/5 stars). Mainly because even though it strongly differed from my expectations I got some great hints on further reading, references and it at least further sharpened my eye for symptoms of tired teams. Please see my scribble for details:

Anna Obukhova - Coaching Tired Teams sgdub17Here’s the direct links to the things mentioned in her talk:

  • APGAR – a quick self test to identify symptoms
  • The Upward Spiral – an inspiring book on how to escape the downward spiral
  • Welltory App – an app to measure stress levels

From One-time Success to Reproducible Success

Some sessions we not focused on Agile practices, but on organizational change. I’ve visited two of these:

Surprise! Coaching Leaders is DIFFERENT than Coaching Teams – Bob Galen

Creating the Agile Organization

Robert “Bob” Galen lead us through principles of coaching leaders in this inspiring session. It has not necessarily been the session with the most innovative content, still it was a lot of fun experiencing Bob. We concluded with a practical, hands-on management-coaching exercise in groups of three which was not only insightful, but also lead to a lot of post-session conversations.

Robert Galen - Coaching Leaders sgdub17

The Key to Sustained Organizational Agility – Kurt Nielsen

Creating the Agile Organization

Kurt Nielsen from AgileLeanHouse provided a talk about sustained (also sustainable) organizational agility. Unsurprisingly key to it is agile / lean thinking and acceptance of the underlying values by an organization’s leadership.

Kurt Nielsen - Agile Lean Leadership sgdub17The fact sheet covering some of the topics of this talk and his trainings is available here.

Bottom line: I have rarely been inspired this much over this short a time frame. Visiting the Global Scrum Gathering Dublin was great: A fun, learning and networking experience definitely a good ROI and also Return on Time invested.

Questions? Remarks, comments? Express yourself below! And see you in London 2018!

Hello World! Built this site, thanks to a box cutter

This very site is a result of a weird Monday. Building it was long planned (meaning: I had the plan to “eventually do something”), but I just didn’t have time it just didn’t have any priority.

Due to injury it happened that I got more time than I asked for. Gifted so to say. And here’s what happened:

In the morning, I had just gotten ready to go to work, I wanted to open the box of my new Makita electric screwdriver. Thing is: They are closed tight with a really thick cable fixer. No problem: For those I have a really sharp box cutter.

You know how when you watch someone working with those ones you say: “Cut away from the body!” Typically, they then roll their eyes and do it. Because: You are right.

Turns out: Today nobody told me “Cut away from the body!”. And this is how the the really sharp box cutter, after severing the really thick cable fixer, dashed really deeply into my upper thigh.

Ayayayay! If you always wanted to know what things look like inside your thigh, whilst kneeling, then I got something to satisfy your curiosity:

  • The skin is pretty tense, so it doesn’t pose much resistance against pointed things.
  • Directly beneath is something orange.
  • It could also be a different color, but mixed with blood (of which I’m time and time again surprised just how dark it is) it looked orange.

I didn’t investigate any further.

End of story: Screamed “FUUUCK”, followed by “HONEY, QUICK: DRESSING MATERIAL, URGENT!”, three little jumps into the kitchen, grabbed a towel, stretched out the lag, wrapped the towel around, got a professional pressure bandage by Anja, who reacted extremely fast, put the leg up. Fifteen minutes later moved all my work events to tomorrow.

On the upside, just a few hours later this site is finished. New hosting, new WordPress installation, first time multilingual. Nice.

Best comment of the day, by a colleague on Slack:

tomorrow on slack: I wanted to come in today but I screwed my hand with an electric screwdriver

Well… The laugh is always on the loser.

Oh and about this site: This is gonna be my professional site. All content about Agile and Coaching and Agile Coaching will go here. The gaming and private project stuff will remain on kalle-online.net. And of course I also went to see a doctor this afternoon. She only said: “Oh, what a nice straight cut. Straight and nice.” gave me a new bandage and congratulated me on the good job so far. Let’s see what it takes to finish the next piece of content.