Don't be a monkey - think why over how?

After World War II, some South Pacific islandians transformed a practice and lost focus on the principle behind it. Practices for planning multi-million dollar portfolios, programmes, releases or sprints without understanding the principles behind collaborative agility is one of the core curse and a considerable agile lament.


During the war - people had seen large cargo planes attracted to small landing strips, bringing food and survival kit in bulk from the sky. Once the war ended, these apparently supernatural creatures took away the foreigners and never returned with more provisions.


The locals had seen the foreigners and their way of attracting the cargo to be delivered. They cleared landing strips out of the dense jungles, lined them with lights, prepared control towers  and sat in them speaking into radios conjured the planes to land and listening on headphones for signs of the cargo’s return.

But their microphones were bamboo, their radios straw, and their headphones were made of coconut shells. And so the planes never came back. They were certain they were doing everything right, it looked just the way it looked before, but something was missing. They said the same incantations (what I completed yesterday, what I intend to do today and any blockers, sad-mad-glad …) into the mics connected to their radios, but the planes never returned with the cargo.

And just like the people on these islands, many organizations keep practicing cargo cult agile and lean practices; they follow all the apparent steps like daily stand-ups, sprint planning, retrospectives, release planning, work in progress limits (WIP limits) and many more. However, they’ve missed something essential (the principles) and the planes never land.

Practices for planning multi-million dollar portfolios, programmes, releases or sprints without understanding the principles behind collaborative agility is one of the core curse and a considerable agile lament.

Next time you sit down and try to play planning poker (at any level) - ask the group of ‘Why are we showing the choice of points together?’. Similar to my shocking experience, you might enjoy that painful silence followed by the cargo cult answers.

I knew you would come for my rescue - Part 1 of 3

After a very intense engagement with Germans, a soldier asked permission from his officer to go into no-man's land to bring back the body of his partner in World War II.

The officer tried to reason with the man and said, 'Look he is dead. What is the good of risking your life to bring back the dead body?'. However, the soldier was adamant and persistent and so in the end the officer gave in. He ordered the company to lay down covering fire while the soldier went out to the body of his friend. A few minutes later, he returned unharmed, with the body of his friend. The officer asked him,
'So was that worth risking your life? To get back a dead man?'

The soldier replied, 'Yes Sir. It was worth it because when I reached him, he was still alive and said to me', I knew you would come for my rescue.' He was waiting for me and he died in my arms. Yes Sir, it was worth it.'


Faith in a team starts where logic ends. It is not the process, a norm or a standard best practice. The aim of successful high performing organisations is to inculcate innate faith amongst and around the team members. 

It is the power of faith in the team and a positive culture of responsibility that members go out of their way for the greater good. 

Consider this scenario in the workplace in a service oriented environment that requires a rotating role of the "Build Monkey" (on a weekly ). The purpose of the role is to have a single ringable neck who takes ownership of critical issues throughout the week, based on the service level agreement (SLA).

The normal SLA process is generally in place where build failures trigger escalation to the next level based on the duration of delay. "Build Monkey's" role is that of a firefighter. However - in critically complex challenges, the subject matter expertise is required from within or outside the team.

In such scenarios, the team members voluntarily get together and go out of their way to resolve the issue together. At this point - it does not matter whether the contractual hours are exceeding, over-time will be paid or not - it is just a pure faith based relationship that drives the passion to deliver together.

In essence - higher performance is not achieved through processes, procedures or practices - it is purely a culture driven and principles based outcome.

While there is no silver bullet to solve all challenges in every scenario, according to my experience - introducing agility driven collaboration at multiple levels is one of the most effective ways of developing such a culture. As an outcome, team members feel the confidence that they will not be left alone in the battlefield. In the back of their mind, each team member shares a feeling. The sense that,
'I know  you would come for my rescue'.

Innovative Succession Development

Organizations reaching a major milestone of entering S&P 500 rating used to stay there for 25-35 years. The cycle time of this rating has reduced to less than half, with the average lifespan of 10-15 years. 

Success of organizations was sustainable for a longer period of time with natural leadership and little need to develop a formal mechanism for filling the gap. On this burning platform - succession planning with the overall production engine is a critical organizational need. 

Let us go through some high level steps of making this transformation effective.

With the iterative, incremental, collaborative and innovative mindset, the two extreme layers of the leadership need to collapse and break barriers from top down and bottom up simultaneously. The methodology has inherent opportunities to nurture upcoming potential leaders while maintaining humility and will, to succeed in a bigger picture.


While talking to global executives recently (primarily based in the Middle Eastern region), we explored cutting edge methods for business and technology teams with a focus on the following three aspects:



    Purpose:

    What is the purpose of leadership development?

    Practice:

    What is the current industry practice for empowerment?

    Process:

    What is the recommended process for a sustainable succession?

    • Purpose: Empower to make strategic decisions
    • Practice: Keep making new mistakes
    • Process: Nurture leaders with humility



    Contrary to the popular belief that leaders are born and not developed - our methodology approaches this challenge differently. We enable organizations in developing leaders with the right culture and management style and nurture them from the grass root levels.


    Training can open the eyes and help us see things differently. It is the actual on-job collaborative coaching that brings sustainable results. 

    Your contextual questions on how to enable your organization in meeting this critical need are most welcome at more@agilelaments.com

    Innovation and Collaboration in High Performing Agile Teams


    Waterloo (London) rocked with innovative agility earlier this week (on Mar 28, 2013) with the Agile Evangelists. Thank you very much to the audience for collaborating in the ideas and engaging in the innovative thoughts.
    My personal favourite idea of the night about using a real burnt chart instead of a burn-chart (burn-up or burn-down) was very well received and tweeted. The intention of this activity to highlight and improve communication between business and software delivery teams with real information radiation.

    We will be scheduling a follow-up webinar within April for the wider global audience. Stay tuned at the meetup site http://www.meetup.com/Agile-Evangelists/

    Executive Summary:
    The survival tactic in these challenging times demands a culturally diverse and regular intersection of teams at various levels. One of the symptoms of continuous lamenting by the delivery team is rooted in its inability to impact the programme, portfolio and longer term vision within the organization. A critical root cause is the lack of ability to collaboratively manage changing priorities. Business and solutions delivery organizations are always busy in fire fighting the much required accelerated time to market and don’t get the opportunity to synch up.

    During the talk, we explored some initiatives for getting the team together at multiple levels iteratively, incrementally and best of all – collaboratively. It is a culture change for better flow - a paradigm shift from traditional practices to the new continuous innovation and disciplined execution mind-set.
    Slides are available at:

    We explored cutting edge methods for high performing teams with case studies from recent agile and lean transformation engagements with fortune 100 organizations and startups. Some of the benefits of this technique are enhanced ability to manage changing priorities, collaborative portfolio and programme definition and reduced risk.

    Morphing the Innovation & Collaboration Paradigm

    Iterative and incremental mind-set has proven to be the critical ingredient in any successful venture even in recent times. e.g. Richard Branson, Albert Einstein,  Thomas Edison learnt from numerous mistakes from the past. The difference was their incremental progression by learning from their failures and making new mistakes. 
    Sometimes it’s more important to understand 'WHAT NOT' to do than to agree on ‘WHAT’ to do.

    Radical change has been experienced by the software industry over the past decade. Unless the industry adapts and brings customers nearer to the delivery team in regular discussions on real progress – the crisis will continue, For any new methodology to work - the principles should be well understood before becoming flexible on practice evolution. Big picture has to be clear in the stakeholders' mind as it is a culture change - a paradigm shift from traditional practices to the new continuous innovation and disciplined execution mind-set.

    In theory - these make sense but is it practical? 

    A common question is what does continuous improvement culture actually mean from practical implementation in the organizations?

    "Our life boils down to the infinite choices we make every day". 

    The more we think about it and try to manage priorities - the higher the visibility of capacity control measures. Every day, we are challenged by the ever growing demands of economic pressures of our time. Business and solutions delivery organizations are always busy in fire fighting. There is a continuous need for accelerated time to market and with the ability to manage changing priorities. In addition to this competitive dilemma, organizational growth has a continuous risk of unmanageable succession planning and team morale.

    Let us explore some of the ideas on how to define, create and sustain high performing teams in an agile world with innovation and collaboration. 

    Some of the benefits of this technique are:
    • Accelerated time to market
    • Enhanced ability to manage changing priorities
    • Increased productivity
    • Reduced risk
    The video recording of the webinar is now available.


    Refer to the video for further information. 

    Do whiteboards make us more innovative?

    While attending a monotonous and mundane meeting one day - I couldn't help but notice one of my highly intellectual and visual thinking, team member who was engaged in a serious drawing activity. At first glance - it appeared to be a visual note-taking exercise! (more on this at the end...)

    When senior management tries to improve innovation within the teams - it is sometimes a sign of peer pressure or tough competition. Human beings, by nature are resistant to change and being asked for more innovation doesn't produce easy results.

    Typical organizations have numerous meetings and yet very few people draw stuff while staying engaged within the conversation.

    Research shows that warm and balanced communication has proven effectiveness.
    When embarking on a journey towards a culture of innovation - try some of the following basics:


    • Convert all office walls (especially meeting rooms) into white boards.
    • Have plenty of markers available.
    • Conduct meetings next to these boards.
    • Make it a habit to draw pictures, add annotation & ask others to contribute.
    Coming back to the story we started with:
    (...) upon closer look - the visual thinking intellectual was actually trying to draw a cartoon character from the memory. Without drawings and bullet points - the meeting was a complete waste of time for her.

    The richness in communication channel is marked highest with face-to-face whiteboard communication, however - it does not ensure that the audience will be more innovative.

    New Book - Agile Laments (Continuous Innovation & Disciplined Execution) - GCC Edition

    Before embarking on this highly demanding life-long journey, it is an unfair expectation from a short two-day agile training to address all the cultural and process challenges. A careful and overarching need for disciplined execution and continuous innovation and related expert coaching is mandatory for a positive impact change.

    Rest assured that going on two-day ‘sheep dip training’does not positively change culture by any stretch of imagination.

    Being trained as a ‘Certified Scrum Master’ is like saying,
    “I will be able to fly commercial aircraft with a two day extensive training’.

    Yes - you might be able to grasp the theoretical concepts. However, handling real-time challenging situations has numerous prerequisites. Good simulated knowledge, tremendous practice, regular training, and well managed coaching are some of the critical attributes for a successful agile and lean transformation.

    Organizations in the GCC region typically have a cosy carpet culture where change equates threat

    A standard response to productivity, innovation and motivation improvement initiative is:

    “Why fix it when it is not broken!”



    When such organization embark on a transformation journey with the introduction of various standard and proven techniques, numerous unique challenges show up. Real-life economic pressures play a vital role in bringing practices on-board. This ‘Libra’ varies dramatically across verticals and regions. Initially, the practices are tailored in good faith and this evolution is aligned with the principles. However, unless we are careful - the essence of agile values is lost over time in this adaptation process
    Available on amazon -  follow the link: bookpge.agilelaments.com

    Have a read through this GCC Edition for the book "Agile Laments" and your suggestions or comments are most welcome at more@agilelaments.com


    What silky milk has to do with truly agile team formation?

    The art of intersecting science, technology and nature has resulted in amazing discoveries.
    In addition to products, services and projects - numerous combinations have been experimented with team formation accordingly.

    Let us explore the idea to amalgamate golden orb weaver spider and a herd of goats with the insights into team dynamics.

    In one such quest for finding a potential intersection, bio-technicians had inserted a silk-producing gene from a golden orb weaver spider into a herd of goats. Why? Any guesses?

    A careful selection of team members with varying backgrounds, cultures, strengths and idiosyncrasies can play a vital role in the organization wide success of the team. As proven over and over again - having the right contrasting combination of a loosely held team can result in extreme synergy.

    Some of the key facets to consider for effective team formation are listed below:



    Forming agile teams and incubating innovative ideas is a similar quest for the next big thing.


    The bio-technicians envisaged the goats to produce milk that contained the essence of spider webs, a material with amazing strength. The researchers, in turn, could use the milk to "spin" threads with silk-like qualities. Amazing but true.

    What attributes do you consider before bringing a team together?

    References:
    Smithsonian Magazine

    Passive powerless scrum mastery lament

    The two extremes of management styles include traditional autocratic project management on one end and a passive powerless scrum master on the other.
    With the first hand experience of both sides of the spectrum in coaching and scrum mastery over the last few years - here are some of most painful realities of this ill conceived role:

    Some common misconceptions about Scrum Masters are listed below: 




    • They should Manage teams instead of Leading them
    • They should only Assign Work 'Push Mode' instead of promoting ‘Pull Mode'
    • They should act as a SPRINT MASTERs instead of Process Owners
    • They should Try to Maintain productivity instead of trying to increase it
    • They should only maintain a Project Plan instead of making Burndown charts visible
    • They should only look forward instead of carry out Retrospectives at iteration boundaries
    • They should ask for daily status from the team instead of facilitating a daily stand-up meeting
    • ....


    There are many more - what is your experience?

    #agilelaments

    pseudomorph - belle and rock

    Warren Buffet once inferred this interesting recommendation (paraphrased).

    If you intend to run a belle - run a belle.
    If you intend to run a rock concert - run a rock concert.
    Don't market your belle as a rock concert.


    Trying to transform into being more agile in isolation (at team level) without getting  top down support from rest of the organization is like belle and rock respectively.
    Agile component within a big waterfall is a phenomenon that I call pseudo-morph.

    pseu·do·morph
    [soo-duh-mawrf] 
    noun
    1.
    an irregular or unclassifiable form.


    Scope, Cost and Time have long been known as key constraints for managing projects. In the quest for responding to change over following a plan - an alien set of practices evolve over time. Unless the transition stays within the principle guidelines, the resultant is a pseudo-morph. 

    The next time you see an evolving practice in your context - try it with a long term principle based view and keep re-evaluating the value. Sometimes - it is better to pivot, take a step towards a new practice with an open mind to accommodate evolutionary change. 


    Growth brings inherent challenges to the speed of change. 



    Organizations tend to box themselves into a virtual constraint that forces them into big ship mode.

    A clear demarcation of belle and rock concert is inevitable to meet the audience's expectations. However, a combination could result in a new genre some day.

    No harm in trying. Who knows, we might invent a synergy (belrock). 

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