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Agile Leadership

A Different Take on Agile Scaling

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A Different Take on Agile Scaling

Frankly, I’m tired of all of the scaling frameworks. They’re mostly driven by three needs: 

  1. Creating revenue for the firms creating them;

  2. From a company or organizational perspective, they’re indicative of lazy, buy agile in-a-box, thinking;

  3. And they feed the “certification happy” nature of our community.

And yes, I too am guilty of falling into the above traps.

I think the introduction of Scrum@Scale has ticked me over the edge and inspired me to write this post. That and reading this article by Neil Perkin, which takes a more reflective view to leveraging useful bits from the various scaling frameworks.

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The Art (and Responsibility) of Truth-Telling

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The Art (and Responsibility) of Truth-Telling

A ScrumMaster asked me the other day how they should handle the situation where half their team doesn’t seem to care about the work. They don’t seem to be motivated. They seem to be slacking…a lot. And where two individuals seem to be doing all the work. And they seem to be burning out.

A senior leader in an organization that I’m coaching asked me the following when he found out I would be meeting with his boss. He asked me to tell him that they have too much work to do. That they are being stretched over capacity and that it’s causing delivery, quality and morale problems. In fact, the house of cards is about to fall.

I was training a class at a client the other day and three individuals, not at the same time, asked me to escalate their impediments. One impediment was that their leaders were excessively interrupting the sprints. Creating chaos. Another was that the priorities changed constantly. And the final, small problem, was that the leadership team expected the team to exceed their capacity by 350%. They wanted me to address these (fix it) with their organizational leaders. And, believe it or not, they were all serious.

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100% PowerPoint Free

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100% PowerPoint Free

I see Scrum Alliance certification classes advertised this way all of the time. Declaring minimal to no, to 100% no PowerPoints in the classes. And it’s not only the Scrum Alliance classes, but many other organizations and trainers proudly declare it.

One of the trends that have influenced this is the work of Sharon Bowman and her Training from the Back of the Room approach to adult learning. I attended the training a few years ago and it definitely changed the way I approach constructing classes, the learning, and the medium/mechanisms I used to foster the learning.

That being said, I don’t have a class today that is 100% PowerPoint-free. I just don’t feel that PowerPoint is inherently bad in its use for training. I view it as simply a tool, one of many, that I leverage. But clearly, I’m a Dinosaur in my thinking, as not many others view things the same way.

Death by PowerPoint

I think one of the reactions driving these statements is the scar tissue that poorly constructed and delivered PowerPoint classes has done to people. You can see it in their eyes of countless students who have been forced to sit through such training.

The other part of the problem is we all learn in different ways. Some of us prefer PowerPoints done well and learn quite effectively that way. Others of us want a more experiential and collaborated approach, where the learning emerges instead of us being told it. Information density is also a challenge. Especially when we’re trying to convey complex information or problems.

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The Sounds of Silence

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The Sounds of Silence

I was never a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan but there are a few songs of theirs that really stood out for me as I was growing up.

One of them is The Sounds of Silence.

It’s a haunting vision of the future.

And it swirled in my head as I read an article by Chris Murman. Chris is a friend and colleague that I find incredibly thoughtful about his (and others) agile journeys. But the article I found was published in September 2017, so nearly a year ago. And unfortunately, I missed it.

The article is entitled – What Can You Do About Organizational Silence?

And it focuses on a common corporate cultural phenomenon where the following occurs:

  • Leaders drive most of the “thinking”

  • Alternate ideas are not brought up

  • Discussion and debate are not realized

  • Disagreement with the status quo is discouraged

  • Creative ideas aren’t even suggested

And where silence, connoting tacit agreement, is the norm.

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Stop Norming & Performing!

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Stop Norming & Performing!

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve been indoctrinated into the Tuckman Model as THE view or model when it comes to team maturation and overall health.

You all remember Tuckman, don’t you?

He presented the following stages:

  1. Forming,
  2. Storming,
  3. Norming,
  4. and Performing
  5. sometimes Adjourning

that teams go through in their evolution to a solidly performing state.

One of the things that it’s influenced in my coaching and leadership style is the predilection to honor the team. That is, once a team is formed and performing, I am loathed to break them up for whatever reason. Even good reasons like the business priorities have changed or there is a desperate need for the skills of one team member in another team. Or even, the team has some dysfunctional relationships brewing.

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Guidance for Soliciting (Receiving) Feedback

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Guidance for Soliciting (Receiving) Feedback

We’ve all been there. Someone walks up to you in the hallway, musters up their courage and gives the gift that keeps on giving – direct, thoughtful, feedback.

In this case, I’m presuming it’s constructive or otherwise challenging feedback to share with you. And if you’re a leader within the organization, you have to realize that it was probably hard for them to muster the courage to give you that feedback. Let’s say it’s critical.

Or conversely, you're walking down the hall and run into a colleague. And you ask them for feedback on how you're handling yourself in a critical agile project. As a leader. Again, they muster up their courage and share honest and open feedback with you.

So, what is the next thing you do?

Of course, you don’t:

  • Consider it a gift;
  • Thoughtfully digest it;
  • Look for the “truth” in it;
  • Thank the person for their candor;
  • Ask them for any other feedback;
  • Confirm an example that supports the feedback;
  • Ask clarifying questions to better understand the feedback.

Instead, you ask them for precise examples that support the feedback they just gave you. Probing, inquiring, and looking for direct evidence. Picture an episode of Law & Order. Clearly, putting them on the defensive and making the feedback their challenge versus your own.

If you’ve followed my writing, you know that I’m quite enamored with Kim Scott and her Radical Candor book. (check out another post here) I saw this blogs picture on a LinkedIn post and it inspired me to write this short reply.

The "Gift"

Whenever someone gives you constructive feedback, you want to consider it a gift. Don’t challenge them. And don't ask them for "supporting evidence".

Instead, simply accept it and consider it. Most of the time, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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Is Leadership a Lonely Place to Be?

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Is Leadership a Lonely Place to Be?

I came across a blog post by Tricia Broderick in January 2018. I often read Tricia’s thoughts and really enjoy her perspectives. This one was entitled Leadership Is Lonely and it largely lamented this aspect of leadership. To her credit, Tricia shared some activities that leaders could use to combat the effects of the inherent loneliness.

But I wanted to provide a different take or perspective.

I’ve been in leadership roles for over 25 years. In the early days of my leadership journey, I felt very much like Tricia. In fact, it was one of my early and shocking discoveries of leadership.

When I wasn’t leading, I was “friends” with most of my work colleagues.

But when I was promoted to a leadership role, things changed. I was no longer Bob. I suddenly became “the Boss”. And in today’s terms, that often meant being equated to the pointy-haired boss in the Dilbert cartoons. It also meant that it was suddenly a very lonely place to be.

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GO EAGLES!

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GO EAGLES!

I’m originally from central Pennsylvania, having grown up on a farm in Lancaster County. We were about an hour and a half from Philadelphia. And you couldn’t help but connect to the local Philly teams.

The Eagles are one of those teams that always seemed to struggle, yet the local fan base is incredibly loyal to them. Disgruntled, complaining, obnoxious, whiney, but still loyal. And I am one of those diehard Eagles fans.

Now I moved away from Pennsylvania in the 1980’s. But my heart is still with those sports teams. So, you can imagine how I felt when the Eagles won the 2017 Super Bowl.

Elated, surprised, justified, humbled, fulfilled are some of the feelings that came to me.

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The 4-KEYS to Effectively Working with Distributed Agile Teams

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The 4-KEYS to Effectively Working with Distributed Agile Teams

My first piece of advice is this:

DON’T DO IT!!!

Probably the worst possible setup for “team” is spreading them around the country or the world or the universe and expecting them to behave and deliver like a close, cohesive team.

My second bit of advice for those of you that blame it on “Management” and say you don’t have any say in the matter…is:

WRONG, YOU HAVE LOTS TO SAY IN SUSTAINING DISTRIBUTED TEAMS OR CREATING ANOTHER STRATEGY!!!

I hear this situation (excuse) all of the time. An organization has inherited distributed teams yet also wants to move to more agile approaches. They understand that these teams can be less than optimal, but are reluctant to do anything about it. That is but complain about it.

I recently read an article entitled Engineering Culture and Distributed Agile Teams that was published in InfoQ. In it, the editor called out the following strong themes or takeaways:

Key Takeaways

  • Team structure reflects in product architecture
  • Distributed teams can perform pair programming by using some remote pairing techniques and tools.
  • Microservices influence a good distributed team structure
  • Increase co-ordination within a team by encouraging T-shaped engineers
  • DevOps tools and practices are valuable for Distributed Agile Teams
  • Increase efficiency of Continuous Integration and automation testing in distributed teams by using cloud

While the article is titled and implies a focus on culture, it really focuses more on technical tactics or tooling as the key to distributed teams.

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