Agile Came to London in a Bag!

I love conferences. The amount of energy they give me is enough to make me think I can change the world. Ok, not the world but, at least, Reed online, the company I’m currently working for. So, on Friday 10th June, I went to Agile in a Bag.

The day was nice and warm and the venue, Mary Ward House, had a lovely garden where I could enjoy the delicious breakfast while admiring the cool bag they provided. The garden was also the perfect place for the networking in between the sessions.

The programme was divided into 3 streams so, as in almost everything in life, I had to choose the sessions I wanted to attend. I would have attended all sessions if I could. Seriously!

The first session I attended was “Wicked problems in organisational design” delivered by Simon Powers. Every Agile Coach and Scrum Master will have experienced at least one wicked problem. Agile Transformation is one of them, high turnover in companies is another example. I have experienced both and they are really wicked! Simon showed some frameworks that can help in solving those problems and explained how organizational change is not just a bunch of binary decisions, that is instead a lot of trade-offs that need to be made in order for one to succeed.

If I could summarize his talk using 2 sentences they would be:

  • “Every problem is a people (related) problem”
  • You can’t buy Agile/Lean transformation out of a box, you need to consider the context you are in and understand that it’s a long road and that you need help.

After a short break (and a cup of tea) I went to the second session of the day: Coaching the Agile Organization by Ryan Behrman and Jon Sleeper. Coaching is my passion so I was very excited with this one. Ryan and Jon talked about how we spend the majority of our time thinking and talking about process and technology. Oops, we forgot about people! They also presented their view of the Agile landscape (Individuals, Executive teams, Software teams and Multi teams) and pointed that we need to talk to all of them, looking for themes, asking what’s really going on. We then watched a live coaching session (how awesome is that?) with Ryan being coached by Jon. After that it was our turn, in pairs we coached and were coached. A real opportunity to practice.

Another cup of tea and it was time to listen to Anna Obukhova talking about Coaching a tired team. I must say that it’s the second time I went to one of her talks and I always feel I could sit there and listen to her forever.

Anna explained the 4 stages of burnout:

  1. Idealism and overtaxing – You set so many goals, stretch yourself as much as possible, work long hours.
  2. Emotional and physical exhaustion – You are so tired that you can’t concentrate anymore, your mind and body can’t cope with the rhythm you set to yourself.
  3. Dehumanisation as an antidote – You start to feel you are not a good person, blame yourself for not achieving the goals and start seeing no light at the end of the tunnel.
  4. Terminal phase: loathing syndrome – Depression starts.

“Burn out hits the best people” and traditional coaching doesn’t help when people are burned out. So what can we do?

According to Anna, there’s a recovery strategy that can be followed:

  1. Slow down
  2. Get support
  3. Re-evaluate goals and priorities

For Agile teams that are in any of the burn out stages, she suggests that we, as their coaches or scrum masters, should micro manage their process (please note I said process, not people) and we should not ask them to self-organize. We need to help team members to save their already low energy to the work that needs to be done. Training, if needed, should be done in very small doses: a bit of training, practice, repeat next day.

After lunch time, I went to Andrea Darabos’s workshop about Scrum for non-IT teams. Did you know we can use Scrum for almost everything, from wedding planning to writing books? I didn’t! And I was thrilled when I found it out. Andrea suggested that we should rephrase the Agile Manifesto when talking to people outside the IT world. Removing the jargon will help people to relate to it. During the workshop we had the opportunity to learn and use a rephrased Scrum framework.

If you want to try, here are the steps:

  1. Goal – What is it that I’m trying to achieve? What does success looks like?
  2. Now – Understand your reality
  3. Customers – Who they are?
  4. Value – What is the value I’m delivering?
  5. Tasks – Which tasks you need to achieve your goal?
  6. Impact – Which are the tasks you must have and which are the nice to have? What is the impact and the risks?
  7. Feedback – What will be your feedback frequency?
  8. Team – Who do you need in your team? Which skills we need?
  9. Visualize – What is the process to deliver the tasks? You can also set your own Kanban board to improve visualization.
  10. Do-measure-learn – Do the tasks, measure the success, learn from doing!

Another break and I headed to the last session of the day: “I have questions…!” by Tony Bruce. What a fun session! Through some games we understood why we ask questions and we brought back the child we once were, the one that questions everything. We learned how the tone of our voice and the emphasis can change a question and how there’s a right time, environment and person when it comes to questioning.

Thank you all the speakers, Agile in a Bag was great and I can’t wait to go again next year.

 

Elaine Tittanegro
I like to think that if you work hard the sweet days, like today, will come, no matter what. I’m a very curious person, the famous T-shaped-skills-type-of person (start talking about something interesting and you will get all my attention!).