Exploring Agility

Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique

Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique

Have you noticed that “agile” and “agility” seem to be everywhere?

First I saw articles about “agile teams”—teams that could be assembled and disbanded quickly. A different perspective than the long-lived, stable teams commonly promoted in agile software development. I heard Heidi Helfand’s case report on Dynamic Reteaming, and it made sense to me. Now I’m reading Amy Edmondson’s Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy to explore it further.

Beyond that, I’ve been learning about relationships as systems. Noticing roles that are occupied and not occupied within relationship. Recognizing when there is clear alignment and when there is not. Increasing the amount of positivity in order to strengthen a relationship. Relationships can enable, hinder, withstand, and resist change; they can be seen as a building block of agility.

Then there’s emotional agility. Acknowledging your emotions and working with them rather than against them. Our emotions shape our lives.

Psychologist Susan David shares how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. In this deeply moving, humorous and potentially life-changing talk, she challenges a culture that prizes positivity over emotional truth and discusses the powerful strategies of emotional agility.

Similarly, I’ve been reading Anese Cavanaugh’s Contagious Culture, which delves into your personal presence and how to reboot yourself. It’s energetic agility to better achieve your intentions.

Also in the realm of personal agility is the application of design thinking to your future. Creating a meaningful and joyful life through brainstorming and prototypes. Check out Designing Your Life to figure out how.

Of course, as an agile coach, I can’t help but continue to learn about agile in software development too. The Agile Fluency project is deepening my understanding of agility. I’m paying more attention to practices and putting a softer focus on frameworks. How much agility is needed by an organization, and what’s the investment to achieve it?

With “agile” appearing everywhere, it would be easy to say that it has lost its meaning. I’m hoping to discover its core instead.

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.

What is the Future of Agile Coaching?

Photo by Vox Efx

Photo by Vox Efx

When I was growing up, I never imagined that I would become an agile coach.  I had no idea what that meant--it didn't exist.  I wanted to be an artist, a music teacher, a programmer, an interior decorator... I wanted to be a lot of different things over the years.  And now that I am an agile coach, I sometimes wonder what I'll be doing years from now.  Where is our industry headed?  Will agile coaching still exist?

If you look at the Agile Manifesto, it seems like agile will likely still be around in 10+ years.  I don't know if agile will be a "thing" or just the way that software is developed, without need for the label.  If that's the case, then agile coaching may move into regular consulting, mentoring, or coaching.  The coaching industry is also evolving as a profession:

What do you think we'll be doing 10 years from now?

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.

Being an Agile Leader in the Process of Change

Photo by rick

Photo by rick

In the process of change, have you ever felt like you’ve taken a step backwards?  Seen someone go back to old habits?  Watched teams lose their courage to change and stick with the status quo?

Change is hard.  It’s a process of growth that can be positive or negative. Watching a video of Virginia Satir talk about the process of change, I am reminded that the introduction of a foreign element can bring resistance.  And then the period of chaos.  Limbo.  The opportunity for catastrophic expectations.  That is when we need to breathe and find our place of centeredness.  Find a state of strength.  The old is not reliable, and our anxiety increases—this is essential for change.  If we breathe in this place, then we can find openness and experiment.  Practice and change.

My job is to help people develop their agile instincts.  To help them breathe and find their place of centeredness amidst the chaos of change.  To help them discover their motivation.  From Characteristics of Agile Organizations:

It takes a lot of strength to practice Agile at the individual level during a period in which it is not practiced, and might not even be recognized, at other levels. This kind of strength is the acid test for the Agile leader. Having the courage of their conviction is what ultimately leads to successful organizational transformation. Such success is not guaranteed, more often than not it takes a lot of time, and it might wear down an Agile leader who is forced to struggle for a prolonged time without witnessing immediate results. It is, however, this kind of strength that differentiates the Agile leader from the follower.

As Satir said, “Using my power to help people grow is different than bossing them.” 

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.

Learning and Change Go Hand-in-Hand

Photo by *Psycho Delia*

Photo by *Psycho Delia*

Agile starts with and thrives on learning.  Teams are often introduced to agile frameworks like scrum in training classes, and they adopt practices over time.  The team is learning as a group, and we want to ignite a passion for learning in the individual team members.  Each team member will be going through change at some point in the agile journey—they will probably experience change multiple times rather than as a single occurrence—and a self-motivated interest in learning can facilitate change.  A person going through change is like a trapeze artist: you have to risk letting go of the bar and allow yourself to be suspended in space as you try something new.  And then, with relief and excitement, you find yourself able to grab onto a new bar—you have made the change!  It can be scary to take the leap for change, and a safety net might not always be visible. 

Getting comfortable with change is hard, and as I see it, change and learning go hand in hand.  Change might sound scary while learning seems safer.  An agile team “reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjustsits behavior accordingly.”  The team identifies changes that can be made and tries them; it learns new ways of working, new technologies, new techniques to deliver high quality products… change and learning are continuous.  The team culture includes learning.  When learning ceases, the ability to adapt to change decreases.  Teams become stuck in their ways, conflict increases, and complacency settles in.  Don't let your rituals become ruts.  Agile teams do not arrive at a destination; the goal is not to improve to a point of maturity or high performance and then maintain the status quo.  In the words of Flannery O’Connor:

Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.

As an agile coach and consultant, I am often brought in to organizations to jump-start and facilitate change.  I look for signs of learning in the organization to design the engagement and evaluate success.  If people in the organization are open to learning, then anything is possible.  I can provide training, mentoring, and coaching to incite positive change.  In the end, I hope people realize that success is not in what they know, but in their capacity to learn.

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.

Should you always hold teams sacred?

Photo by sophiadphotography

Photo by sophiadphotography

When an organization adopts agile, there is typically a shift to forming cross-functional and self-organizing teams.  Create persistent teams.  Bring the work the team.  It takes time to reach high performance, so don’t disrupt the team.  Hold the team sacred because team members will learn, grow, and challenge one another in the safety that the team provides.

But what about teams that have been together for a long time and are not actively learning, growing, or challenging one another?  That are not striving for high performance?  The ones that are mired in destructive conflict?  What do you do when complacency has set in?

I vote for disruption.

Change the work and what success looks like.  Change the people.  Change the environment.  Change processes or communication to the team.  Don’t change everything, but please change something!

Agile is about teams that are striving for high performance. For excellence.  What does that look like?  I like Lyssa Adkins’s high performance tree metaphor:

How do your teams rate?  Are they striving for high performance or ripe for disruption?

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.

Getting to Agile and the Coach’s Role

Photo by Teddy Lambec

Photo by Teddy Lambec

After attending the Scrum Gathering in New Orleans, I've been pondering: What does it mean to be an agile coach?  I heard a few things that reminded me of a presentation my client created a few months ago; the presentation outlined the agile roadmap for the organization, and one of the slides was about the agile coach role up to that point.  It showed cars in gridlock traffic, and one vehicle was labeled “agile coach.”  I’ll give you a hint what that vehicle looked like:

Photo by steeleman204

Photo by steeleman204

What does it mean for an agile coach to be an ambulance?  To me, it implies that there’s something critical going on and that the agile coach is urgently needed.  The team has injured themselves, and the coach is to come in and fix it.  There’s a sense of a right way and a wrong way, and the coach must apply the right techniques before running off to the next emergency.  And the agile coach is reactive rather than proactive.

The constant sirens and speeding through traffic and performing CPR on the scene…. being an ambulance is exhausting.

Let's explore another perspective.  What if we think of the agile coach as a muscle car?

Photo by Al Bargan

Photo by Al Bargan

Yeah… the coach has deep knowledge of agile and lean, so his engine is pretty powerful.  Some folks ooh and ahh at the agile coach for his expertise confidence.  They want to go for a ride with the coach and experience the power; others are afraid.  They scoff and stick to their sensible cars.  The muscle car could beat those cars in a race, but you’d have to get their interest first.  The muscle car coach is more proactive than an ambulance coach.  He can win over more people by dazzling them with agile knowledge and taking people for joy rides rather than emergency trips.  But if the coach is a muscle car, what does that make everyone else?

With that thought, I’ve been exploring a different perspective: agile coach as bumper car.

Photo by Glenn Beltz

Photo by Glenn Beltz

If you’re on the track—coach, manager, team member, whoever—you’re in a bumper car. There’s movement and fun and spontaneity and safety on the track.  And it’s pretty much guaranteed: you will be bumped.  Everyone will be bumped—even the coach!  Every car is equal, and we are on the track together.  Everyone is safe and yet everyone will be pushed out of their comfort zone.  Most of all, there is laughter.

I am the bumper car that provokes movement.

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.

Agile Coaching without Poking, Prodding, or Nagging

Photo by Drew Somervell

Photo by Drew Somervell

While co-presenting on the topic of Scrum Master as Team Coach, I realized that there is a misconception that an agile coach is someone who forces the team to follow agile methods. As an agile coach, I would like teams to become agile and ultimately successful in learning, improving, and delivering, but I’ve learned something very important: I can’t want it for them. A big part of my job is helping others to see possibilities that they didn’t previously and take action to achieve the next level.

So here’s the truth: coaching isn’t about pulling people to join your thinking, and it’s not about pushing them to do what you would like them to do. It’s not teaching classes and then telling people the mistakes they’re making afterwards.

Agile teams are self-organizing. Stand with them and invite them to see what the future may hold. Listen to them and help them find clarity. Inspire them. Encourage them to take action and provide accountability—judgment-free accountability that allows them to account for their action and use it as feedback.  Not blaming or nagging or beating them up.

Lyssa Adkins explained it well in her book Coaching Agile Teams:

Set your coaching tone to these frequencies: loving, compassionate, and uncompromising.

There’s a trite, but true, saying in coaching: A friend loves you just the way you are. A coach loves you too much to let you stay that way.

Love them too much to let them stay as they are, and let this be the seed of your uncompromising stance.  Loving, yes.  Compassionate, yes.  And 100% uncompromising.

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.

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.

The Real Problem with Distributed Teams

Photo by tamahaji

Photo by tamahaji

One of my Scrum Masters was inspired by Adam Weisbart's Agile Anti-Patterns presentation at the Scrum Gathering Paris and has shared many of the ideas in a workshop at his own organization.  Knowing that the topic can be sensitive, my Scrum Master explains that an anti-pattern does not mean that we are doing something completely wrong and against the agile principles because we are bad people--the truth is, we have good intentions and want to be successful in our work.  There is something about the anti-pattern that is appealing and may seem agile at a first glance.  But in the long-term, something about the anti-pattern is preventing us from becoming more agile, hence its name.

In the last workshop he gave, someone brought up that they are on a distributed team across timezones, which means they do not follow the below agile principle:

The most efficient and effective method of 
conveying information to and within a development 
team is face-to-face conversation.

Should we point our fingers and shame management for creating a distributed team that cannot possibly follow this agile principle?  I don't think so.  I feel empathy for the team because I know it can be incredibly hard to be successful with that kind of arrangement, but shaming someone and blaming them for an anti-pattern does not seem productive.  Especially because this person said they've found a way to work well together as a team--to create human connections across distance.

Last week one of my peers, Josh, gave a presentation on Distributed Agile Teams based on his recent experience as a Scrum Master for a fully distributed team (and I'm happy to say he'll be presenting on the same topic at DFW Scrum this month).  Another team has found a way to work well even though they are in different locations.  Should we tell them that it is an agile anti-pattern to have a distributed team and have management do something about that?  I don't think so.

The problem with most distributed teams isn't that they are unable to talk face-to-face; it's that something (or many somethings) is preventing them from following the below principle:

Build projects around motivated individuals. 
Give them the environment and support they need, 
and trust them to get the job done.

If the individuals are not motivated, if they don't feel like a real team, if they don't have the environment and tools and support they need, then they will not be successful.  Making a distributed team successful takes effort.  A motivated team with the right support will find a way to deliver results.

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.

AgileDotNet Dallas - Eliminating Barriers

Photo by Sasan

Photo by Sasan

A coworker shared a link a month ago with a group of us coaches, and her timing in doing so was fantastic--the article helped provide grounding to the presentation that Ty and I are co-presenting at AgileDotNet Dallas today.  

The article is "Your Path through Agile Fluency," by Diana Larsen and James Shore.  Our presentation gives a high-level overview of the agile journey that development teams take, and the article provides a more vivid image of what each level of agile fluency looks like.  The highest level--level four--is the bleeding edge of agile, and it's what we as coaches strive for each day.  Radical self-organization and alignment with the rest of the organization.  Transparency and innovation.  Rainbows and unicorns.  Ok, maybe not rainbows and unicorns, but certainly amazing results.  The best example that I can think of for this type of team and organization is Valve--their employee handbook paints a dramatic picture of level four concepts that I find challenges conventional thinking about how organizations are structured and function.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on agile fluency and examples of the highest level teams!

Update

on 2013-03-02 03:19 by Allison Pollard

I neglected to mention that our presentation was originally inspired by Jeff Patton and Mary Poppendieck; both spoke at DFW Scrum meetings last year, and their ideas really resonated with me.  Mary talked about the Product Owner Problem that relates to the need for team learning from actual results delivered and how teams are not order-takers.  Jeff has coined the term 'comaking' to describe how products should be developed, and it feels like getting back to the original purpose of software development.  

This evening I found this awesome quote that I wish was in our presentation:

"There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer." --Peter Drucker

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.