I was approached to speak at a startup event for a local Business Agility Institute user group here in the Raleigh/Durham area. I was quite pleased to be approached and am more than willing to present an agile topic to the group.
But the request made me think…
I’ve been engaged in agile approaches for nearly twenty years. So, I have quite a lot of experience with the core methods, practices, scaling, agile leadership, cultures, etc. But what the heck is “Business Agility” and what sorts of topics would that group be interested in?
The answer escaped me and I realized I had to do some research.
Here’s what CA (Rally Software) had to say regarding a definition and 3 key aspects:
A company’s way to sense and respond to change proactively and with confidence to deliver business value—faster than the competition—as a matter of everyday business.
1. It’s making the customer the central focus of your organization
2. It’s driving value faster, better, and more efficiently
3. It’s transforming how your business operates to achieve successful outcomes
During the years 2009 – 2012, I worked at a small company called iContact here in the Raleigh/Durham area. iContact had developed an email marketing, SaaS application that competed (still does) with the likes of Constant Contact and MailChimp.
Ryan Allis was our CEO at the time and he was very innovative when it came to organizational change & evolution and leadership development. He happened to read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni at that time, and became enamored with the ideas contained within.
At the same time, we were adopting agile (Scrum, Kanban, and Scrum of Scrums for scaling) across the organization. Quite successfully, I might add. So, the two efforts naturally converged. And I was pleasantly surprised how well our Agile efforts and the 5 Dysfunctions blended together. That’s really what this article is all about.
5 Dysfunctions & Agile, like Peanut Butter and…
I received an email from Strategic CIO Journal entitled – Top CIOs Become Business Process Czars.
The key focus of the article was raising the bar on CIOs to become more broadly engaged in the overall business and the processes to deliver value.
Now, I’m not going to critique the article. Because it was the title alone that inspired this response. It made me think about senior technology leaders – CTOs, CIOs, and any senior technology leader in a larger organization.
It made me think of their Prime Directive. Is it:
Business Process Leadership?
Or is it, Culture Builder?
The article seemed to allude to role moving from a focus on #1 to #2. And that is a relevant and important shift given today’s Digital Transformation strategy focus.
But that being said, in some ways, I think the article set the bar too low or in the wrong direction.
I might be the first one to complain about bad managers. Heck, throughout my career, I’ve had more than my share of incompetent, self-centered, and poor-intentioned leaders. So, it would be easy for me to jump on the bandwagon in the agile community that lambastes managers on a daily basis.
No, you say. This doesn’t happen. We in the agile world embrace and respect all roles and all people.
Well here’s an example from the Larman & Bodde – Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) book. The reference is from Anton Zotin, an agile coach, and it was published on LinkedIn. And no, I’m not picking on Anton or the LeSS guys. I’m just using this as an example. There are countless others.
One of the larger challenges facing many agile teams is having the requisite skills to deliver the goods. And it’s an insidious problem because it’s hidden by the very nature of cross-functional teams.
When I coach agile teams, I usually emphasize a couple of things:
I often exaggerate the responsibility by saying – the team needs to “suck it up” and work together to deliver on their shared goals. Everyone chipping in and helping each other out. There are no lone wolfs in an agile team and folks often need to do work that may be beyond their skill comfort zone.
But that has a prerequisite supposition…
This is something I personally struggle with as a coach.
Quite often, my default style is to push my clients beyond their comfort zone. In so doing, I run the risk that it becomes MY vision over THEIR vision. Or that I may be pushing them too hard, far beyond their capacity to change.
But at the same time, meeting them entirely where they are strikes me as a wimpy approach. One that will, at best, succeed in their transformation taking many years. But it’s a common philosophy that I hear repeated by many agile coaching firms who seem to be looking more at long-term revenue flow over client adoption acceleration and ongoing success.
So, the question is – what is the right stance or posture when meeting a new client?
Should we meet them where they are and apply very little change pressure (where and when needed)? Or should we take a risk and push them out of their comfort zones?
And of course, the general answer is – it depends and context matters. But still, we need a general strategy. So which way do we lean? Let’s explore the extremes of that question…
I was having an email conversation with an agile coaching colleague the other day. In one of her replies, she said the following:
BTW I really like the way you articulate your concerns about the agile community at large. It’s helpful to share with my leadership and customers as we try to navigate a very messy space of certifications, frameworks, and competing agile voices
The final point she made really struck a chord with me. The notion of competing agile voices.
It made me realize that, YES, there are many, many agile voices today. And one of the real challenges is to figure out who to listen to. Where’s the value and the experience? And how to avoid the “noise” or how to separate the wheat from the chaff?
I want to share some ideas around this challenge. No, I’m not sharing any secret filter or the 1-person to listen to. They don’t exist.
But I do want to share some advice for handling the high voice count and how to become a more discerning listener when it comes to the noise.
And it’s getting worse…
Joshua Kerievsky recently wrote a post entitled Eliminating the Product Owner role. As of December 3, 2018, it had received 766 likes and 162 comments on LinkedIn.
The opening premise of Joshua’s article is here:
Before I get into who or what would replace the PO role, let me offer a bit of background on this group. Three coaches, including myself, had assessed this group prior to beginning work with them. Our findings were typical:
Too much technical debt was slowing development to a crawl
There was insufficient clarity on what needed to be built
The developers spent little time with their Product Owner
The team was scattered around a building, not co-located
When you perform numerous assessments of teams or departments in many industries, you tend to see patterns. The above issues are common. We've worked out solutions to these problems eons ago. The challenge is whether people want to embrace change and actually solve their problems. This group apparently was hungry enough to want change.
So, springing from this problem statement, Josh makes the point that if you: