Addressing the Agile Elephants in the Room

On October 21, 2020, I led a Toronto Agile Meetup “Quicktalk.” Here’s the promotional blurb.

“What is there about Agile that hasn’t already been said? Lots, actually, but much of it is “elephant in the room” stuff. We know it’s there, and it’s probably big, but we pretend not to see it. Maybe it’s time to start talking about it.”

One of the issues I’ve observed is that we don’t recognize our own dogmatism. A lot of people have a preference for one of the Agile frameworks. This can be for any or many reasons. Maybe it’s the one we learned first, the one for which we have our most recent (or only) certification, the one the “cool kids” are talking about, the one we know the most activities for, the one that “just feels right.” Maybe it’s something else. But we just know our framework, activity, method, process or other solution is the right one. We risk becoming a bit, well, fanatical.

 

There’s an old saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Are Scrum, kanban, SAFe, unSAFe, etc. our hammers?

What if our favoured flavour of Agile isn’t right for the context? What if Agile’s not the answer? What if we open our mind to the possibility that some other solution will work?

Do we talk about this? With our employers and clients? Amongst ourselves? Do we even think about this? Or do we introduce our preferred frameworks, structures, tools and processes and make everyone does them correctly.

Perhaps it’s time to think about how we understand the first value of the Agile Manifesto.

Which leads to another conversation. Agile practices were designed to replace current processes, not pile on. They are instead of, not in addition to.

In my long-ago Scrum training, people from a large financial institution, objected to almost everything our instructor told us. “We can’t do that,” they whined. “Audit won’t let us.” Maybe I called out, “How do you know? Have you asked them?”

As Agilists, our role is to improve the way people work, not add to their burden. Certain reporting requirements and other practices become redundant when teams work this way. Does the corner office really need that status report when they can see the work board? Is this security practice still relevant?

Conversations with our bosses, partners and clients can create realistic expectations. Can we have them? Do we have them?

 

The same sort of conversation can help us –  and our
bosses, partners and  clients – understand whether agile practices and actually address the business problem. Or which practices address it and which add no value.

They may have hired us to teach teams to use Scrum properly and get all those user stories lined up in Jira with the right amount of story points to the appropriate decimal place. How is that going to help our clients, our customers or our organization? Perhaps it does that. But do we know? Do they know?

When we have a constructive, two-way conversation about the practices they and we are introducing, we contribute.

 

 

 

Do we wait for the all-singing, all-dancing, all-ducks-in-a-row. super-technicolour Agile solution to come along, all signed-off and budgeted and staffed up with seals of approval all over it? Change does not have to be a big, hairy deal.

We can make change non-threatening – for everyone – by framing change as an experiment. Let’s try this small thing for a short time and see if it works. We’ll learn something. We’ll use the people and budget we already have. And, if it doesn’t help, we’ll stop it.

Nothing will convince people you are serious about experiments and empiricism like cancelling a change that didn’t work out.

 

 

A few days ago, a colleague asked me what I would recommend new Agilists do to build their knowledge and credibility. I suggested they learn about business – not just business, in general, but their business. We need to understand what are the business results organizations are hoping to achieve through Agile practices. Are we getting them? Is what we’re doing helping?

The software industry has done well to move from a process focus, to a program focus, to a product focus. The next focus must be an outcome focus. What is the point? What are we getting? How is it working?

 

 

One of the most disturbing things I have observed is a sort of “Agile Arrogance.” I see Tweets about, “these guys just don’t get it,” and comments about “management morons.” Why are some people so dismissive about people who don’t buy the ideas they’re selling? (Recall the dogma section.)

I suspect they define success in their as “people do what I tell them.” Is that really the deal?

We are hired and paid for our expertise and experience. We offer our best support in the best way we can. People, including those who hired us, won’t always take it.  Recall Jerry Weinberg’s Third Law of Consulting: “Never forget they’re paying you by the hour, not by the solution.” Our job is to make the offer.

We offer our mad programming, facilitating, coaching, change management and people skills and experience.  They are more likely to be appreciated, and our support accepted, if two other traits are in place. You can’t be certified in them and they may not show on your resume. But people know when they are present. They’re worth discussing – and practising – if we are to improve our profession and our own chances of success as practitioners. We need to develop humility and curiosity in ourselves and nurture these traits in others.

We need conversations about all these things, where we use empathy and confidence, in equal measure.

What I’ve seen, in over 50 years in the workplace, is that real confidence comes from knowing you don’t have all the answers and being OK with that because you’re going to find them – or you’ll find something better on the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Draw people into the conversation – with visual facilitation

There’s an old saying, rooted in journalism, that a picture is worth 1,000 words. While we might ask for scientific evidence or challenge the math, most people agree that visuals add enormously to our understanding of things. Humans drew pictures before they developed written language.

And graphics still convey much important information in our physical world.The visual cortex is the largest system in the human brain – and half the brain is devoted to processing visual information. So it makes sense to supplement our messages with visual information. There are communicators, myself included, who believe we should adapt the Media Richness Theory, which puts face-to-face communication at the top of the scale for conveying information, to add a higher level, face-to-face with a whiteboard.

All this has led to the evolution and growing popularity of visual facilitation, in which we create images, in real time, to stimulate, focus, enhance and record a discussion. You don’t need to be particularly good at drawing to do this well. The key skill, according to experts, is listening. Sound familiar? That’s the key skill for coaches, facilitators, communicators, product owners, user experience experts and, well, pretty much anyone in a leadership role.

How does visual facilitation help meeting participants?

  • Visuals add to their understanding. With more neural tissue devoted to vision than anything else, you stimulate more of people’s brains with images. They also understand faster. We read images faster than we read text. We “get the picture” with just a glance.
  • They’ll remember more of what was discussed. Not only will visual stimulation enhance understanding, it will improve retention and recall. People remember what they see.
  • They stay on track. Drawing the discussion encourages focus and prevents people from getting lost in the weeds. If the meeting is about the weeds, that’s a different drawing.
  • They may see patterns. As you capture the flow of the discussion, you or the participants may see patterns emerge that might not be noticed with traditional note taking. The picture can depict the flow of ideas, process or products as well as connections between them and their impact on people and things.
  • They can see what has been covered in the discussion. Better still, they can clearly see their input has been captured.
  • They stay interested longer. Images are just more fun than lists on flip charts. So people will pay attention for longer.

How does visual facilitation help me, as a meeting facilitator?

  • You get people’s attention. It’s a big shift from powerpoint, note taking or capturing ideas in an online tool.
  • You can capture emotion. Your illustrations can move beyond cold facts and depict the concerns, feelings and reactions of people involved in the discussion.
  • You can help people focus on the key elements. What you draw is what they will pay attention to.You don’t have to cover old territory. People can see what has been discussed.
  • You can use the finished drawings to share the story with people who were not at the meeting.

You don’t need to be able to draw!

There’s a “visual vocabulary” that anyone can learn. One of this is “bikablo,” a method that emerged in Europe and has caught on worldwide. You master basic techniques for simple illustrations that you can mix. match, adapt and use to tell the story of your meeting. (Leanintuit is bringing bikablo training to Canada – November 27-28. See below for registration details!)


Other ideas to explore:

  • Teach your team members to express themselves visually. It encourages collaboration when you all draw together. It’s also a way to engage quiet people and those whose first language is not the team’s working language.
  • Attract people to your booth at conferences or trade shows. It will immediately make you stand out from the crowd because something is happening live and in person.

  • Capture the proceedings from conference sessions. That way people can see what happened in the concurrent sessions they missed. Or they can gather at the recording of the keynote talk and discuss particular elements. (This graphic, by Sam Bradd, depicts a keynote session I attended at a Communitech conference. A great reminder of Susan Cain’s excellent talk.)

 

  • Create your own illustrations for your presentation slides. This can save you hours of searching through stock image sites. When you create it yourself, you get exactly what you want.

  • Draw your presentation. Jeff Patton (see image) and Dave Gray,  leaders the agile and user experience communities, respectively, use overhead projectors and sketch out their presentations while they talk. Super engaging!

 

 

 

Training in Toronto – November 27-28

If you can get to Toronto for a couple of days at the end of November, you have a unique opportunity to learn visual facilitation from the best. We’ve invited Andrea Rawanschad, of the bikablo academie , in Cologne, Germany, to return to Canada and run a second two-day workshop. The first Canadian session, earlier this fall, sold out quickly and was a hit with participants. For those who couldn’t attend the first session – or didn’t know about it – we’ll be gathering in downtown Toronto on November 27 and 28. With a maximum of 12 people in the class, there are just a few spots left, so don’t delay. To learn more and register for this unique experience, follow this link

If you have questions – contact me.
Eventbrite - Visual facilitation workshop with bikablo®

The Things We Do For Love – Like Work Too Much

Airplane Oxygen 11848773_sYesterday, at Agile Coach Camp Canada, I had the privilege of leading a group conversation about taking care of yourself as a coach.

The Big Idea is like the instruction flight attendants give us, “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” As coaches – or as anyone – we don’t have much to give others if we don’t take care of ourselves.

The coaches who gathered for the session agreed that people attracted to the work of helping others often put our own needs behind those of our teams and our organizations. That habit can result in fatigue, stress, and burnout. It impacts relationships both at work and at home.

Here’s the list we built in the conversation:

What can we do to take care of ourselves?
Notice when you’re feeling depleted.
Show yourself some compassion.
Give yourself some space.
– Close the door
– Go for a walk – preferably outside, in a pleasant place
– Physical activity – “I bike to work.”
– Announce it, in a light way. “I let the team know I may be a bit of a Grumpus today.”
Do something you enjoy and are good at
– “I do some real, individual coaching. That lets me see I’m making a difference. It’s almost like a gift to myself.”
Use your network
– “I call another coach and I know I’m not in this alone.”
– “I get coached myself. It’s time I have to focus on me.”
Make your work and success visible
– Personal kanban
– Read your fan mail
– List your successes
– Find a win, however small
Spend some time in reflection
– Journalling
– Mindfulness practice
Let people know what’s fun for you
Manage expectations
– yours and others
– “Accept that our work is messy and it’s a journey.”
Say “no” to more work
– “If you can’t say “No” then your “Yes” can turn into a “Maybe” ”
– “I’d rather disappoint you now, with a “No,” than disappoint you later by being unreliable.”
Gratitude
– Think of things you’re grateful for
– Practise thanking – and accepting thanks
– Appreciate it when others thank you – and show it
– Savour the kudos
Know your purpose and only do what’s aligned with that
Spend some time just doing nothing
– “The brain needs to rest just like any muscle.”
Hugs
– More hugs

One in our group, Gitte Klitgaard, was on her way to a tech conference in New York where her talk was “Stress and Depression – The Taboo and What We Can Do About It.” A link to an earlier version of that talk is at vimeo.com/106927863

Our conversation reminded us that we need to recognize we’re human and show ourselves the empathy and compassion we show our teams and coaching clients.

Note: If you are an agile coach and have never been to an Agile Coach Camp, plan on attending one when you can. They are impossible to describe and they are amazing. There’s one, this weekend, in Calgary, Alberta and one coming up in Washington, DC, August 1st.

And peace to men of goodwill

Goodwill 123When I first studied accounting I was astonished that “goodwill” is something you can quantify and express with a financial value. I’d always thought of it as kind thoughts towards my fellow humans. Those are valuable, for sure, but not exactly something you can put a dollar sign on.

Along come generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to tell us that goodwill isn’t just about benevolent feelings towards others. It’s also the amount one company pays to buy another that’s over and above the tangible value of the assets being acquired. How could a company be worth more than its tangible assets? A strong brand, customer relationships, intellectual property and existing contracts might qualify as goodwill. It sits on the balance sheet as an intangible asset.

It’s interesting to ponder the value of goodwill during this season of “Gloria. Peace on Earth to men of goodwill.”

Goodwill, the kind thoughts variety, makes us worth much more than our tangible assets. It connects us to others, something we need to keep us human. There’s ample evidence of a link between the mind and the body that suggests positive thoughts and acts of generosity lead to more than just good feelings – they promote physical health. The explanation is that reciprocal benevolence kept our ancestors alive back in the days of “kill or be killed.” So we’re wired to be kind to each other.

You might argue that we don’t have to look far to find people whose learning or circumstances and choices override that basic human inclination towards goodwill. We see the impact of extremism and zealotry on the nightly news.

As I write that, I’m reminded of a quote from Anne Frank, who wrote, as she was hiding from the Nazis, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

We can choose goodwill. Each of us can do our own bit to look for the best in others. As coaches, it’s our job to not only see their best but also to help them see it – and do something with it. Anne Frank said it best, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no pipers piping required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com

Keeping things safe with Elmer

Elmer“Safe travels!” We hear that a lot, this time of year, when folks head off for the holidays. What does it mean to be safe?

My first official memory of safety involves Elmer the Safety Elephant. We met him in kindergarten and he was a fixture in our primary and elementary school lives. Since “an elephant never forgets,” Elmer’s job was to remind us to be careful. He had his own flag and it was a big deal to help put up the Elmer flag every day, signalling that the school had been accident free. He had five safety rules:

  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • Don’t go between parked cars.
  • Ride your bicycle safely and obey signs and signals.
  • Play games in safe places, away from traffic.
  • Walk, don’t run, when you leave the curb.

Elmer was born in Toronto in 1947, through a collaboration of the mayor, the police department and one of the daily newspapers. This vintage CBC video tells the story. (It’s worth a peek just to see the cars.)  Child accidents declined and word spread across the nation. A national program followed and children in the hinterland, like me, got to meet him and learn and practise his five rules.

“Whatever happened to Elmer?” I wondered, this morning. Well, boys and girls, he’s still around. Like so many other celebrities, he’s had a facelift to counteract the effects of aging. And today, in addition to traffic safety, he now dispenses wisdom about fire safety, railway safety and Internet safety.

As adults, how do we channel our “inner Elmer?” Safe driving, snow tires, shovelled sidewaks, fresh batteries in the smoke detectors, holding the handrail and, yes, looking both ways – all these promote physical safety for ourselves and others.

I also think about another sort of safety.

  • How do we make it safe for people to express themselves?
  • How do we encourage people to listen to ideas with open minds?
  • How do we encourage people to speak up about things that matter and ask questions about things that puzzle us without fear of being judged, labelled and dismissed?

One way to do that is to be conscious about our communication. We can assess the impact of our words before we speak them. We can share the intention that lies behind them. We can listen to understand, rather than simply to respond.

We create a climate of safety. Just like Elmer.

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no geese-a-laying required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com

What are you nourishing?

Clipboard01I am about to wander downstairs and make shortbread, as generations of women in my family have done and will continue to do long after I am gone. Shortbread, fruitcake, mince tarts, pfeffernüsse, stollen, bûche de noël and tourtière are baked into our Christmas traditions with varying amounts of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, almonds and way too much butter.

Acknowledging that there are people in my family (and, perhaps, yours) who question whether fruitcake is food, or even edible, it’s safe to say that Christmas baking is about more than nourishing our bodies. We nourish traditions. We feed memories. We satisfy a craving for a time – real or imagined – when Christmas wasn’t about spending money but about spending time together.

When we nourish someone or something, we provide them with food and other things needed for health. We help them develop or grow stronger. Providing food is the most obvious form of nourishment. Today our local food bank put out a call for the most useful donations:

  • Peanut Butter
  • Beans in Sauce
  • Canned Fish
  • Canned Fruit
  • Cold Cereal

We also nourish spirits, our own and others.

Music nourishes my spirit, especially this time of year when some really excellent music can be found. We learn to tune out the ubiquitous drone of ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and track down the carols and anthems that have been treasured through decades, if not centuries. (Speaking of which, I cannot resist the opportunity to promote our concert, tomorrow evening.)

What nourishes your spirit? Meditation? Prayer? A walk in nature? A call from a friend?A call to a friend? I’m betting it’s not fruitcake.

It’s easy to lose track of that side of ourselves in the pre-holiday rush at work, the gifts, the greetings, the tree, the travel and, yes, even the baking.

What are you nourishing?
Who are you nourishing?
How can you nourish yourself?

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no golden rings required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com