January’s Q & A Panel

Chris Norris Asked:

The passing of another year allows us to pause and reflect on the previous year, as well as to set out a path to further develop and address the challenges for the upcoming one.

What then, for you, were the key learning points, either from the numerous thought leaders in attendance at AWA events in 2015 or from your own experiences, and where do you think there is further work to be done in 2016 to ensure even more success with respect to scaled agile adoption?

The Panel's Answers

karim-harbottFor me, 2015 was undoubtedly the year of scaling. We saw the launch of LeSS, Nexus and SAFe 4.0, not to mention a continuing interest in how Spotify do it.

Coinciding with that, we saw a huge spike in demand for people who are experienced with scaling frameworks of various flavours. With so many large organisations, from banks to governments, aiming to increase their agility, I do not see this going away any time soon.

The big learning point for organisations that I work with is the need tor minimally prescriptive approaches. With complexity levels higher than ever before, trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution seems doomed to fail. By specifying a few rules to get people going, trusting in empiricism and empowering teams to experiment with their processes, organisations can end up at a solution that is right for them.

As for further work in 2016, I see three areas on which we, as a community, need to be better:

Building internal capabilities. Many of us are independent coaches. As such, it is our duty to work towards making ourselves redundant. Giving good advice to organisations is valuable, but only while we continue to work with them. Building an internal capability of people who can carry on the work that we do it vital for a lasting transformation. We should be building ScrumMasters, Product Owners, Agile Coaches and Leaders who can carry on our work long after we have moved on.

Agile leadership. Alexander Den Heijer said: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”. Many of the issues we encounter when scaling Agile are organisational in nature. As such, they need senior leaders to help to resolve them. Creating better cultures involves creating better systems and structures. This is a big shift for today’s leaders. The focus moves firmly away from command-and-control towards creating the environment for successful self-organising teams. As coaches, we need to support that journey.

Technical excellence. I do not think most organisations understand how far they are from technical excellence and what is involved to achieve it. Technical agility will always constrain business agility. So much so, that when scaling, I believe organisations should be hiring more Technical Coaches than Agile Coaches. I very rarely see this. This is the enabler for so many other things we aim to do, yet how many organisations can truly say that they are in a place where they use the engineering practices to allow them to ship working software every sprint? This should be a central part of any transformation strategy.

All-in-all, I think 2016 will be a great year.

More and more leaders are understanding the need for agility and becoming aware of the dangers of applying Taylorism in knowledge work. There are some great frameworks out there to help them to improve. I, for one, look forward to supporting the personal and organisational journeys towards more effective ways of working.

ivorI have been to and learnt from a number of agile events and happenings in 2015. Many of them were organized by AWA.

There is one phrase that keeps popping up in my mind and continues to be very relevant to me. It is “We don’t do this alone”. It takes me directly to the 1st and 3rd of the “items on the left” in the Agile Manifesto.

I want this phrase to call out to me whenever I sit down alone with a pad or a keyboard, crack my knuckles and think “OK, now to get something written”, which actually means agonize over, draft, rehash and carry on for far too long before getting someone else’s valuable opinion.

Some people don’t like meetings. I’d prefer to be able to say of myself “I don’t like some meetings”. But a good meeting, one where we are all contributing relevant material to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts – what’s not to like with that?

How is this relevant to Scaled Agile? How does “We don’t do this alone” relate to building and growing cross functional, feature-based teams that will counteract the silos, queues and organizational dysfunction of some enterprises?

If nothing else, it prepares me for a lot of good old human interaction in 2016.

simon powersImproving upon the first talk of 2015 on Large-Scale Scrum by Craig Larman was almost impossible. Craig and Bas’ framework takes Agile to its current limit and Craig’s style strips away the ability to hide behind mediocrity and blind habit. He uncovers the truths of organisational design with a cutting wit like no other.

Bas Vodde presented later in the year with much softer tone but no less powerful. The insights I pulled from LeSS are that full optimisation around value and customer focused product development is not only possible but beautifully simple. LeSS brings us relief from the self-inflicted suffering of product development due to poor organisational design choices.

Scott Ambler co-creator of Disciplined Agile gave us another view. His technical background gave us a huge set of goal based options for multiple problems across the organisation. For challenges in getting started, delivery, forming teams, outsourcing, architecture, operations, and HR, the Disciplined Agile framework provides pragmatic steps to move us along the Agile journey. No other framework provides such specific answers to specific problems. And what I got most from Disciplined Agile and Scott’s training was deep insight in architectural light-weight modelling, and other technical challenges when moving from silo teams and large sequential process to self-organising cross-functional teams.

Chris Matts, who has been an excellent support to AWA, brought us the Agile team at Skype who demonstrated real world examples using different organisational change techniques. What I got out of this talk was that no one size fits all, and the combination of various techniques iteratively combined to make a successful solution that continues to evolve. I love the SWAG estimating.

Gabrielle Benefield brought us a new way to think about outsourcing contracts that I have used in my day to day since. Gabrielle brought a new way to look at defining the tricky supplier relationship in an Agile delivery model.

Shaun Smith gave us Causal Loop diagramming which we all learnt by doing. Mapping out relationships and examining the different types of control mechanisms has given us a real tool for systems thinking. This is something I have used several times since to show complex relationships with many dimensions.

Fabiola brought us into the world of HR or People Operations as I prefer to call it. By examining the problems that confront People Operations when moving to a more Agile and Lean organisation, we can start to find solutions that motivate individuals to stay rather than try and retain them with money. Seeing things from the perspective of People Operations is essential when we move towards people focused methodologies such as Agile.

The insights from James Priest with Sociocracy 3.0 are far beyond where most organisations exist today. Using the language from Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux, James showed us a practical and real way to achieve a Teal Organisation. Examine fractal organisational design and using techniques to derive decision making when there is no leader gave us a vision for the future and a possible organisational utopia to aim for.

I put together a framework that wove all of these ideas and others into an evolutional journey framework that maps behaviours to Agile and Lean tools. By definition, it is impossible to see beyond your awareness. By mapping behaviours into an evolutionary path, it is possible to find where you sit and what tools are likely to be most appropriate. What I hoped to give with this talk was a way to end the framework battles and see which one or part of one was most appropriate for where you are now.

Don Reinertsen, gave us a financial model in which to make decisions. He is the maths behind Agile. When we need to explain queues, or the cost of delay, or prioritisation of disparate things, then Don’s work is there to help us. I have extensively used Don’s work to explain why LeSS works so well and to overcome systemic problems.

From Maths to People, we swing to emotional intelligence and the development of coaching. Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd brought us the most powerful transformational experience I have undergone in a 3 day period. The level of human mastery demonstrated by Michael and Lyssa changed the lives of those on the course both professionally and in some cases personally too. I wrote a full review of the course here.

Finally for 2015, we launched the book on Cynefin, written by Greg Brougham. Greg presented at the launch along with Cynefin framework creator Dave Snowden. Greg’s knowledge of complexity and architecture is amazing and hearing stories of his work was fascinating. Dave Snowden has an enormous wealth of experience that far exceeds organisational change and hearing more about Cynefin has given me a much better understanding of why we need Agile and Organisational change more than ever before.

For 2016 we have much more planned! We’re adding many more courses and meetups to the AWA event calendar:

  1. more sessions from international thought leaders who will also run training sessions
  2. more sessions and case studies from local leaders, coaches and people implementing changes
  3. experiential learning and games

In addition to these 3 streams, we are also going to hold 3 big events as celebrations, one in Spring, one in Summer and one next Christmas.

I have also recognised that any stream no matter what the topic, even case studies, are not related directly to the audience’s context.

So we will be creating an inner community of two circles made up of those most active members who are motivated to contribute back to others. These two circles will be a motivated support network that gives contextual real-time to each other during the working day, and the other is a consultancy with a difference. I will be announcing these inner circles shortly.

To further bring context into the community and to provide a place for us all to interact online, we will also be launching an online community developed purely with organisational change in mind. Allowing support, questions and answers, and healthy debate for the community. The first iteration of which will be launched in the next few weeks. Register here for more info.

If you are interested in getting involved with any aspect of AWA, such as speaking, writing content, running a game, offering a room, then please get in touch. I will be making the lean startup approach, hypothesis, tests etc available so that you can comment, help, advise on how we can improve. You can also follow on Twitter and join conversations on our LinkedIn group.

In addition to continuing to work in London, we are also looking to run events across the UK, and also continue to link up and help groups across the globe. We are now proud sponsors of the San Fransisco Bay Area Agile Leadership Network, we are running courses in NY, San Fran, and Prague. We have sister groups in Sydney and Stockholm. I hope to grow these connections globally and link up to India communities.

That covers my highlights from 2015 and the hopes and plans for 2016.