AWA interviews Håkan Forss for Agile Tour London 2016

The London leg of the Agile Tour will be reaching the capital on the 21st October, featuring a packed line-up of local and international agile experts. As a member of the programme committee, Adventures with Agile are interviewing a selection of speakers at this year’s conference. 

Next up in the Agile Tour London [ATL] interview series is Håkan Forss.

1. Tell us a little bit about your agile journey?

You could say my Agile journey began the spring of 2000. I was asked to look into how we could be more effective as a team. I started research by reading Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck and some Rational Unified Process books. We then combined some of the thinking from both and started learning.

My next major step was in 2005 when I attended my Certified Scrum Master training with Jean Tabaka and some modeling workshops with Craig Larman with a strong agile touch. At this time I was also introduced to Mary and Tom Poppendieck work on Lean Software Development. This was a pivotal point in my Agile journey. Now I saw the world of software development in a totally new way. I moved more and more towards a Lean software development approach.

2010 I was introduced to David J. Anderson’s work on Kanban and Theory of Constraints and now I had change method I could use to help organization really improve their way of working. At this point I had also changed my focus to a full time Lean/Agile Coach. The spring of 2011 my view of Lean/Agile totally changed again when I read Mike Rother’s book Toyota Kata. Now the first and most important sentence of the Agile Manifesto came to the top of my mind – “We are uncovering better ways of developing  software by doing it and helping others do it.” Lean and Agile is about learning and improving, not implementing Scrum and/or Kanban.

I’m not on an Agile journey any more, I’m on a learning journey.

2. Your session is Toyota Kata Puzzle Experience, what are the origins of the game?

The session is based on Mike Rother’s concept Kata to Grow and is a highly interactive and intensive introduction to the Improvement Kata.

3. What is a Kata?

In the Toyota Kata context I would describe as follows:

The Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata forms a general-purpose framework for learning and improvements in a world of uncertainty. It is a framework to help us build a learning organization where the people doing the work will solve their own problems using a scientific approach. It is a framework for continuous probing through the unknown using small daily experiments.

The Kata concept in general I would describe as follows:

Kata means pattern, routine, habits or way of doing things. Kata is about creating a fast “muscle memory” of how to take skillful action instantaneously in a situation without having to go through a slower logical procedure. This frees your slower logical thinking to focus on the problem at hand. If we put this in the context of the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman the Kata is the fast, automatic, subconscious system 1 that frees us to focus our slow, effortful, logical, conscious system 2 on the problem at hand.

In the book “Managing Flow”, Ikujiro Nonaka describes Kata as a traditional Japanese code of knowledge that describes a process of synthesizing thought and behavior in skillful action; the metacognition of reflection in action. If the Kata itself is relative static, the content of the Kata, as we execute it is modified based on the situation and context in real-time as it happens. Nonaka also describes Kata as different from a routine in that it contains a continuous self-renewal process.

Kata is not to blindly copy, but to improve in an evolutionary way. You learn and evolve a Kata through the three stages of the learning cycle Shu (learn), Ha (break) and Ri (create). In the first stage Shu, you learn by following the teacher. You imitate the teacher’s practices, values and thinking. You will only move on to the next stage when you have made the teacher’s Kata your own. In the Ha stage, you break from the teacher’s practices and make modifications based on your own creativity. In the Ri stage, you leave the teacher and you start creating your own unique Kata. As you expand your knowledge into new areas, you will loop back to the Shu stage for those areas in an ever-growing spiral of knowledge.

4. Which sessions are you looking forward to seeing while you’re at Agile Tour London?

I’m sorry I will miss the session “The Cost of Queues – Informed Decision Making Using Cost of Delay” that run in parallel with my session.

I’m also very interested in:

 5.     What else is on your radar for this year; any conferences, events, books etc.?

This and last year has been very focused on my internal work at King, the makers of Candy Crush Saga. I’m especially excited about exploration we currently do around Cost of Delay and how to build a true culture of experimentation, both in our ways of working and on our products. I would highly recommend people to read  Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly

Book your ticket to this year’s conference.
Join London’s agile community, and choose from 25 different talks and workshops at the 4th annual Agile Tour London! Use discount code AWA_20 & get 20% off the ticket price.
Sign up here.


Lloyd Jones

I’m an Agile Coach and a former a software architect. Outside of work my interests are travel, snowboarding, video games and cooking.