Scaling Agile and Scaling Excellence

Photo by Deana

Photo by Deana

There are a number of challenges when it comes to scaling agile, and after watching a TED talk by Huggy Rao on Scaling Up Excellence, I found some of the ideas to be similar to what I’ve seen as a coach.

(1) Successful scaling isn’t about running-up the numbers as fast and far as you can.  When working in an organization, agile coaches often struggle to define success metrics for their work.  We might talk about number of agile teams or even go as far as evaluating teams’ maturity to provide more information to stakeholders about how the coaching engagement is going.  I’ve created such reports, and they might be a starting point for conversations with leaders to talk about the state of their organization, but I haven’t found the report to show success in scaling the agile mindset.  According to Huggy’s presentation, scaling excellence is about spreading and sustaining a mindset, not just a footprint.  Excellence comes from the feeling that “you own the place and it owns you.”  That sense of responsibility leads to long-term success.  And that’s largely why I think the most powerful thing I can coach people in an organization to do is to adopt a more agile mindset.

(2) Navigating the Buddhism – Catholicism continuum: do you want to outline principles that lead to a mindset, or do you want the rituals and recipe for replication?  Agile adoptions often end up in the latter, and it’s easy to understand why.  Teaching a team to adopt scrum is easier than teaching a team to be agile.  By putting certain practices in place, we are often able to increase predictability of delivery and visibility so it is easier for people to make better decisions.  And if that’s all that the organization wants, that’s fine.  For organizations that want to go beyond so every team member and leader produces excellence, then a more Buddhist approach should be considered.  I’ve found it helpful to do agile walkabouts or have people shadow me to explore what agile looks like and feels like in an organization.  When an organization wants the mindset, as coaches, we must pay significant attention to the individual emotional and organizational culture aspects in addition to individual and team practices.

(3) Successful scaling depends as much on eliminating the negative as it does on accentuating the positive.  I am familiar with the positive/negative ratio and its effects on individuals and teams, but I hadn’t given as much thought to the effects of cognitive load and negativity.  If a person is overwhelmed with trying to remember a lot of stuff, working on multiple projects or tasks, or stressed out, his/her feeling of accountability is decreased.  A person in those situations is more like to do something bad rather than something excellent--YIKES!  I’ve noticed that since I added more slack time to my schedule, I smile more in the office; I also feel like other people are smiling more in the office, although it’s possible I didn’t notice it when I was overloaded.  And it’s easier to know where I am and where I want to go in the coaching stance when I’m not overloaded.  I think that’s incredibly powerful because it means I’m more likely to see and celebrate what’s going right in addition to noticing what needs to be improved.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.