Archives for the Month of January, 2009

Growing Agile

‘When you go into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.’

- Robert Fulghum

Let’s face it. Agile is no picnic. The problem with Agile is that it suffers from the same perception problem as Common Sense. Just because we call something Common Sense doesn’t make it Common Practice. Likewise, the Agile (XP) Values, Principles and Practices may sound simple, however, they’re anything but easy when it comes to applying them, both for the individual and for the team.

One of the most important lessons learnt I’m constantly reminded of is the effect of introducing Agile into an organisation, small, medium or large.

Agile demands we learn and improve. Many people approach learning about Agile as they would quadratic equations. Agile isn’t something you learn from a short presentation or a two day course. I think Agile takes a lifetime to master. Most important of all, saying we’re keen to learn isn’t enough. We have to be committted to changing ourselves for the better.

Words I wish I wrote

Learning to become agile is one of the greatest challenge any team or individual faces. That’s because it brings out the best in people and the worst in people. You don’t have to do it alone. You certainly shouldn’t tolerate bad behaviour. A little courage and a lot of solidarity goes a long way.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’ literally means ‘Wishing you health, wealth and prosperity’, so here’s wishing you Happy Chinese New Year!

One of the things I’ve always liked about Chinese New Year (and New Year celebrations from different cultures) is that it’s another chance to review and refine what Jim Collins‘ refers to as an organisation’s Hedgehog Concept. Since organisations are made up of individuals, following the principle of self-similarity, we can also apply this thinking to ourselves when it comes to defining personal success.

The Three Circles

In his book ‘From Good to Great’, Jim describes what the most successful companies in the world do as working within the boundaries of The Three Circles.

Circle 1 – Understand what you can be best at
Find out what you’re good at and, equally important, find out what you’re bad at. From this, you’ll be able to come up with two lists: a ToDo list and a STOP DOING List. According to Jim, you know you’re good at something when you think to yourself, ‘I feel I was born to do this!’

Circle 2 – Understand what drives your economic engine
Consider the economic returns on the time and effort you invest in the things you do. You know you’ve attained a deep insight and understanding into what drives your economic reality when you can identify what Jim calls your ‘single economic factor’, the single thing that increases what brings most value to you. You know your economic engine is running well when you find yourself thinking, ‘I get paid to do this?!?’

Circle 3 – Understand what you’re most passionate about
Passion cannot be manufactured. Passion is doing what makes your heart sing. Do you apply what you do at work outside of work because it’s so valuable, useful and fun to you? You know you’re passionate about something when you think to yourself, ‘I really believe in what I’m doing.’

The Hedgehog Concept

Jim describes the Hedgehog Concept as a ‘simple, crystalline idea’ based on a deep understanding of the Three Circles. Two of the hardest things to do is 1) to come up with a simple Hedgehog Concept and 2) to keep it simple. Jim also emphasises that you can only come up with a Hedgehog Concept through an iterative thought process.

Identifying your Hedgehog concept can help you gain a deeper understanding of what you want to achieve and why. How will you attain health, wealth and prosperity in 2009?

Good Coach, Bad Coach

 ‘To have great poets, there must be great audiences.’ - Walt Whitman

Whitman’s quote made me think. What if we were to re-write his quote in an Agile Coaching context? It would probably read something like this: ‘To have great coaches, there must be great teams.’ Where are these great teams? More importantly, where are these great coaches? As an Apprentice Agile Coach, I’m looking because I want to learn from them.

What does Agile mean to you?

Almost everyone I meet these days say they’re agile. Increasingly often, such folks also introduce themselves as Senior Agile Coaches or Agile Experts.

For me being agile is aspirational. That’s because Agile is all about Continuous Improvement. A true Agilista is always learning. And so while I try to be agile every day, I don’t always succeed. For me, the term ‘expert’ and ‘guru’ are the antitheses to being agile. That’s because those two words imply someone who knows everything there is to know about a topic.

In my experience, the danger with being an expert or guru in something is that this usually means you’ve stopped learning. If you have to have all the right answers, you can’t be wrong. If you can’t be wrong, you don’t make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you limit your learning.

Teams Beware!

Someone who is truly agile cares more about learning than they do about being right. Beware of coaches who claim they are agile, yet have to ‘win’ arguments by effectively saying ‘My way or the highway.’ That way lies a long and lonely road. Do you care enough to be a lifelong apprentice?

Lights! Camera! Action!

What better way to begin the new year than with a new team? I met my new team for the first time last week. And so we started our 6-week journey together with Iteration 0, jampacked with a flurry of team building activities and Agile training.

Agile: The Full Mind and Body Workout

Beginning with an Iteration 0 is always a strong way to start. Most important of all, it’s always a good idea to warm up if we’re serious about having fun.

We began with a team ice breaker exercise as folks introduced themselves to one another, first by sharing a pet love and pet hate and then by exchanging three interesting facts about themselves. Next we moved onto creating and laying down the foundation stones to any high-performance team: a team manifesto created by the team for the team.

And of course no Agile training is complete without an Agile Games Day, made up of the ubiquitous Agile Game (also known as The XP Game) and The Business Value Game. In my experience, the best way to learn Agile is by doing. The doing in turn triggers a lot of useful thinking and talking.

‘Agile makes you think. It questions everything you do,’ says one of the developers. ‘The best thing of all is, it makes you deliver value bit by bit over time instead of waiting until the last minute,’ quipped another wide-eyed team member.

What Agile means to me

One way I measure the progress of a team learning to be agile is by using the Agile Values. It’s also a great way of gauging my own agility.

  • Communication – Does the team question everything? Does the team flock?
  • Simplicity – Does the team do what’s needed to satisfy acceptance criteria, no more, no less?
  • Feedback – Am I learning from how different people respond to the way I work? Do I adapt myself to become more effective?
  • Courage – Can I accept that I’ve much to learn? Do I help create an environment where others can be courageous, too?
  • Respect – Do I believe that everyone brings value to the team?

Agile Values++

  • Trust – Do I have an open mind? Do I believe in the team’s wisdom?
  • Transparency – Do I share, share and share: from what I know to what I don’t know and the joy and growing pains of becoming a team?

One thing’s certain: we’re learning. Fast. Are you?

The Secret to Change

Question and Answer

(At a conference in Paris back in 2008)

G.: You understand that Agile is about people and change.
P.: Go on.
G.: There’s a film called ‘Clean‘ in which a character played by Nick Nolte says, “People change. When they don’t have a choice, they do change.” What do you think of that?

In my experience, there are two reasons why people change. One, because they want to. Two, because they have to. Think about the two kinds of reasons as an equation of sorts. Let’s imagine the Individual as the subject of change and Change as a force operating on the subject.

Type One Change: Because I want to

When you want to change, and I mean really want to change, you are committed to making it happen. That commitment is characterised by determination and perseverance.

You know there’ll be blood, sweat and tears, but it’ll be worth it. You are 100% aware of the benefits the change brings and then some. You actively look for ways to inject an element of fun into everything you do. You do this because you know having fun makes you want to do something more and doing something more makes you better and better at what you do which, in turn, accelerates the change process, taking you closer to your goal sooner.

And whenever the going gets tough, you don’t give up. Instead, you summon up the vision of what life would be like after the change and you double up your effort. You run at a steady pace. You feel empowered to determine your destiny. Change feels good.

Type Two Change: Because I have to

You are uncertain about the change happening around you. You’ve probably glimpsed your Wall and are dragging your feet. You wake up in the morning feeling glum about your work and life in general. And you’ve every right to feel the way you do. You find yourself always playing catchup and all you can think about is what happens when you get left behind. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Type Two Change is always the more stressful of the two precisely because it feeds on negative thinking.

Change your tune to make change happen

Here’s what I do when I find myself stuck in the Type Two Change frame of mind:

  • Hang out with folks who are into Type One Change: Quiz them about your concerns. Don’t worry about dampening their spirits, they’re committed to change and will appreciate your thoughts on how the change is going. Find out what keeps them going.
  • Listen with an open mind: Quieten down the little voice in your head that begins every sentence with “Yes but, No but”. Challenge everything you think. Take notes so that you can replay conversations and meetings. Take time to reflect and absorb your conversations and experiences.
  • Work at a sustainable pace: Going through the toughest change for me is like training for a half-marathon, it’s likely to be something entirely different for you. Find the hardest thing you can imagine doing and use that for comparison whenever the going gets tough to help put things into perspective. Remember to keep moving as well as take regular breaks. The best time to take a break is just before you need it. Avoid running on empty.

Committing to Change

It’s always better to lead yourself from the front rather than from behind. No one can make you change. Only you can change yourself. Once you think: ‘I do!’ you do.

The School of Bad Management

One of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read on management is ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There‘ by Marshall Goldsmith. This book has helped me make sense of my experience as a manager long after I stopped being one. Most importantly, it has helped me come to terms with what Continuous Improvement really means.

What got you here won’t get you there

Marshall is an executive coach who helps people change for the better. He helps people change by making visible the impact those people have on their colleagues. He believes that most of us can be cured of our bad habits by making small changes.

One of the key tools he uses is Feedback. First he points out our bad habits. Then he highlights the impact our bad habits have on our colleagues. Finally, he demonstrates how, with the slightest of ‘behavioural tweaks’, we could make everyone’s work lives so much more pleasant. 

The Success Delusion

According to Marshall, the more successful you believe you are, the harder it is for you to change. His recommendation is for us to put down our ToDo list and focus instead on our STOP DOING list. Look around you at work. Can you identify the top 3 bad habits of your most irksome colleague? And what about you? Can you recognise your top 3 bad habits?

Dead End or Opportunity?

Sticks and Stones

(During a peer coaching session)

P.: I would like some feedback. Do I come across as patronising?
Agile Coach: Not at all. Why’s that?
P.: Occasionally, certain individuals say they find my sessions patronising.
C.: (Pause) I don’t think it’s got anything to do with you.
P.: But there’s clearly an issue. I ask them for suggestions, but we seem to always be short of ideas.
C.: It’s up to me to decide whether or not you come across as patronising.
P.: (Silence)
C.: Another example is when people feel insulted. I can’t remember the last time I felt insulted. I always assume that people are trying to help me. If they give me information I already know, they’re just being helpful. People decide for themselves how and what they think.
P.: Thanks for your feedback.

Walking the Walk

For me, calling myself an Agile Coach is like painting a target on my back. It forces me to be better than I was yesterday, every day. And that can be exhausting. I push the question about patronising sessions onto the stack of Puzzles I carry around in my head for safekeeping.

I know that I’ll probably have to walk around for days, carrying the question in my head, in the hope of finding ways to improve the way I come across during sessions. I’m confident an answer will manifest itself so long as I’m open to changing myself for the better.

While You Were Sleeping

It’s 6 am. I leap out of bed and scurry down to the gym for a run on the treadmill. When I arrive, the gym is pitch black from the outside. I swing open the door thinking, ‘Great! I’ve got the gym all to myself!’ Instead, what do I find?

Surprise! There’s a large man huffing and puffing on the treadmill, listening to his MP3 player, in the chilly dark.

‘I looked all over the place for the light switch,’ he says by way of an explanation for what must be a serious breach of health and safety – his health, his safety. ‘The heating’s not working either’, he adds as a matter-of-fact.

I give the room a quick scan, find nothing, then remember there’s a house phone by the gym entrance. Within 5 minutes, the large man is gone, an engineer’s been and I’m running in the light and warmth.

Old Habits Die Hard

Many of us adapt quicky. Too quickly. The problem comes when accommodating inconveniences becomes a habitual way of being. The most insidious thing of all is when such habits crystallise into a de facto way of living. Just think.

Andon du Jour: Food for Thought

Chocolate anyone?

(Before the graffiti)

P.: What do you think of that poster?
Pascal: It’s reminds me of Alice in Wonderland.
P.: It doesn’t make me want to eat chocolate.
TJ: It’s just a bit of fun.

Laughter is better than medicine

I return a week later and what do I find? It appears the local youths have been busy exercising their right to free speech. Granted, I’ve never been a funny, Ha-Ha funny, kind of person. What I do instead is compensate with what I call Gentle Humour, humour that is at times amusing and always good-natured. How often do you laugh with your team?