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.