Archives for the ‘Transparency’ Category

Who is Agile?

Yves Hanoulle, a fellow Agilista, started an intriguing book called “Who is Agile” to coincide with the celebration of Agile turning 10 years old in 2011. The latest version of the book features the profiles of 56 Agilists who answer a common set of questions. You can buy the book here and decide the price you pay!

To give you a flavour of what the book’s like, here’s the piece I wrote about myself submitted to Yves and his team. A big “Thank You” to Yves for making me think!

Portia in Wonderland

Who is Agile? Featuring Portia Tung

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

I didn’t always study and work in the field of IT. My first degree was in English and French during which I spent a year out in Paris, France as an English language assistant.

My most memorable moment was during my first lesson when an African young man asked me, in French, “Will you give me a lower grade because of the colour of my skin?”

My brief language assistant training hadn’t prepared me for this. I was so surprised by the question that I had to re-parse his question several times in my head to be certain I’d heard correctly. I’d grown up with prejudice in many different guises, so his question struck a chord.

And so I drew on my limited life lessons up to the tender age of 19 and replied gently, yet firmly, “When you are in my class, the only thing that matters is how much you want to learn. I will help you if you are willing and your grade will reflect your endeavour.”

Looking back, that year abroad marks the starting point of my passion for the love and science of lifelong learning. That’s when I began my lifelong pursuit of realising human potential, that in others as well as in myself.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

Most probably a teacher and a writer related to social enterprise. In practice, I have similar roles in IT: as a trainer, coach and international conference speaker (presenting in English and sometimes even in French!) as well as being a blogger and storyteller.

As for the social enterprise element, I collaborate through giving and sharing what I have whenever I can by making my games available under the Creative Commons licence. It’s my small way of “doing good”. Great things can come from humble beginnings I’m told. My projects include: Agile FairytalesPlaymaking andAgileCoach.net.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

It’s tough to admit this, but my biggest challenge is myself. I’ve come to realise that the only thing standing between us and our dreams is ourselves. It’s easy to make excuses about why we don’t have the things we feel we deserve.

Using the concepts from Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, I’ve come to realise that both our span of control and sphere of influence are much bigger than we think. If we put our heart, mind and body into our endeavours, we can achieve what we need to be happy.

I’ve also come to realise that the value of our life’s journey can be amplified with love, patience and understanding of others and, most importantly, of ourselves. After all, only you can change yourself for the better.

What drives you?

The thought of succumbing to the fate of an adult sea squirt. Did you know that once an adult sea squirt finds a rock or some place to live out the rest of its life, it ends up devouring its own brain and nervous system since it no longer has need to think and learn?

To avoid becoming a human zombie, you have to “use it or lose it”. This can be hard work at times and that’s why I invest so much effort in making learning fun. It keeps me growing regardless of which way the tide is flowing.

What is your biggest achievement?

To love what I do AND be doing what I love.

It’s taken me years to realise that I’d always had the power to create my dream job. Bit by bit, with each day that passes, I’m realising that dream to a greater degree. Work is the means by which I become more competent, develop my creativity and my ability to innovate. Most importantly, it’s the main vehicle by which I achieve my life’s purpose of serving others.

My work requires me to be many things, such as trainer, coach, speaker. It’s also a source of great inspiration for my blogging and storytelling.

I have a theory that for a human being to make the most of their human potential, they have to love what they do and do what they love. For most of us, one eventually leads to the other. In my opinion, these are the two pre-requisites for achieving “flow”. Flow, in turn, leads to achievement, excellence and fulfilment.

What is the last book you have read?

“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about the journey and adventure of a woman experiencing a thrisis (a midlife crisis in one’s thirties). Elizabeth is a funny, quirky and talented storyteller. She tells it like it is, warts and all. Although I’m not a religious person, Elizabeth’s story has helped me better see the interconnections between spirituality and Systems Thinking, how we are all part of a greater whole. It has shown me how we can apply the principle of Global Optima, not just to our decisions and processes at work, but to our daily lives at at large.

I strongly recommend seeing and hearing Elizabeth Gilbert in action on ted.com.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

Q: What is your worldview?

A: “Enough is enough” by which I mean I think there is enough of what we need to go around. And if we choose to share, then we will discover there is actually plenty. That’s how I strive to operate at work and at home. Instead of hoarding resources, information and opportunities, I choose to share. I call it “sustainable philanthropy”.

What question of one of the co-authors do you also want to answer?

Q: Where do you go to learn? (From Jenni Jepsen)

A: Ted.com. It’s my modern day oracle. I type in the keyword/topic I’m most interested in at a given moment in time and end up on many adventures that span cultures, disciplines and experiences. My latest favourite Ted talk is one by Alain de Botton about “a gentler philosophy of success”.

Who should be the next person to answer these questions?

Martin Heider: A larger than life fun-seeking and appreciative coach who constantly challenges people to be the best they can be.

Katrin Elster: A fun-meister who’s crazy about creativity, people and play

Vera Peeters: For co-creating The XP Game, the first Agile game I ever played and marked the start of my personal and professional Agile adventure!

Pascal Van Cauwenberghe: For co-creating The XP Game and showing me that doing what you love is a reality we can all make happen if we choose to!

Plain as the Nose on Your Face

What do you smell?
Two snowmen are standing in a field.
One says to the other, ‘Can you smell carrots?’

Out in the Field

Imagine. You wake up. It’s Friday. It’s almost the weekend. The first thing you see is a blanket of bright white snow. With a deep breath, you take in the tranquil setting. You feel quietly envigorated. A thought light as a snowflake forms in the snowdome of your mind. Yes. Today’s the day. Today marks a fresh start. A new beginning.

And the thought? It is this: ‘I can be better than I was yesterday.’ This thought always takes me back to the Agile Values. Seven simple words. Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage, Respect, Trust and Transparency. How many of us know these words by heart? Words that trip off the tongue so smoothly when times are good? Those same seven words that become a thorn in our side when we come under pressure, leaving us deflated?

Thinking, Being and Doing

In Agile, Retrospectives are a good way to take time out and reflect. To have a good root around our minds to make sense of what we have done, what has come to pass and what we intend to do going forward. It’s a chance for others to show you what you cannot see for yourself. It’s an opportunity for putting those seven values into practice.

And what about the actions we can take to improve? We don’t have to wait for snow. We don’t even have to wait for a new day or  a new year. The moment is Now.

Are you ready for Ultimate Agile?

Congratulations! THE BIG DAY you’ve been training for for the past 364 days will soon by upon us. It’s time to cash in on the benefit of the thousands of Agility exercises you’ve been putting into practice at work. Let’s hope all the agile flexing of both brain and brawn pays off. 

Ho! Ho! Ho! Contenders ready?

If you think Christmas Day is a day off, you’re wrong. The 25th of December is the single day of the year when most of us will be trying our hardest to be true to who we are and what we believe in. If that’s not hard work, I don’t know what is. Welcome to Ultimate Agile (also known as Christmas Day with all the family). Are you ready for Ultimate Agile?

Why not have black swan instead of turkey this year?

The problem with Christmas with the family is this: If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always got. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future comes in the form of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, who offers us a chance to understand how we can change our fate.

‘History is opaque,’ writes Taleb, ‘You see what comes out, not the script that produces the events, the generator of history.’ Taleb identifies three ailments of the human mind whenever it comes in contact with history. He calls them the Triplet of Opacity.

The Triplet of Opacity

The Illusion of Understanding, where everyone thinks they know everything there is to know about everything when in fact they don’t

The Retrospective Distortion, how we use hindsight to explain strange and mysterious things to make-believe that we are in control

The Overvaluation of Factual Information and the Handicap of Authoritative and Learned People, how we listen to and believe in those who appear to be experts but fail to give practical answers that work beyond textbooks

Wise is she who knows she does not know

In my experience, destructive human behaviour arises out of what Taleb calls ‘agressive ignorance’, or a fear of looking stupid that is greater than the fear of being wrong. For example, being asked something to which you don’t know the right answer is the event. Agressive ignorance is the emotional response. The script invisible to the naked eye reads:

  1. I know deep down that if I’m wrong, I may have to change.
  2. Change requires effort which I’m not sure I can be bothered to invest.
  3. The effort might go wasted if I fail.
  4. If I fail to change, that makes me a failure.

So what’s the antidote?

Whenever I’m in a spot of bother, I remind myself of the Agile Values: Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect. When I feel comfortable living and breathing the first five in a given situation (Think: ‘Baby Steps’ or ‘Incremental development’), I throw in an extra two: Trust and Transparency.

For instance, before a discussion becomes a deafening shouting match, I ask myself: ‘How can I be a better communicator?’ to which my brain resourcefully volunteers a myriad of options such as ‘Listen more! Talk less. The two of you have reached an impasse, ask for help or clarification.’

The only thing most people seek at family gatherings is understanding. It’s the same at work. Why not treat your work self at home to a Christmas helping of black swan?

Merry Christmas one and all!

The Devil’s in the Detail

The first and most important thing I share with any team I work with are the Agile Values, also known the XP Values from Kent Beck and Cynthia Andres.

The Five Agile Values

1. Communication is a two way thing. It’s about talking and listening.

2. Simplicity is about simple solutions that do what’s required, no more, no less. Simplicity is synonymous with elegance.

3. Feedback has three axes: Giving feedback, receiving feedback and taking action as a result of the feedback.

4. Courage is about taking calculated risks. It’s about facing and voicing the brutal facts. It’s also about creating an environment where people can be courageous.

5. Respect is an appreciation that everyone can add value. It’s also about valuing diversity.

Agile Values++

During our peer coaching, Pascal and I identified two more vital values to add to the set:

6. Trust is about giving people a chance to do the right thing and to do things right.

7. Transparency means sharing information as much as possible to help create more Real Options for all parties involved.

What the Agile Values mean in practice

Newcomers to Agile often ask me: ‘How do you know if someone is really agile?‘ To which I reply, ‘They follow the Agile Values even at times of great stress.’ Those who compromise on the Values can never be truly agile, especially if they get stuck in Denial.

In my experience, Respect is the toughest and most important value because it forms the foundation for the rest. You have to respect others and yourself to really make the other values count.

The Telltale Heart

I regularly meet Agilistas who appear to respect others and themselves, yet they are incapable of accepting feedback and taking action. According to Marshall Goldsmith, the only correct response to any feedback is: ‘Thank You’. What do you say when someone gives you feedback?

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Question: What do Tom Peters and Steven Levitt have in common?
Answer: They make a living out of having and using a rare and precious thing that has made them kings. Their magic is no secret: it’s common sense.


Tom Peters Says

Tom Peters is a classic great speaker. He’s charming, inspirational and a brilliant performer. It was interesting to hear him speak about excellence in the enterprise 25 years on from when ‘In Search of Excellence’ was first published. According to the title of his talk, he’s ‘Still in Search of Excellence’ – an observation that’s at once disconcerting as well as hopeful. Disconcerting because, from experience, we haven’t solved the problem yet (in spite of the number of man years spent in this pursuit); hopeful because it gives us something to do. Problems are good. It’s often the solutions that make things go from bad to worse. I’m constantly reminded that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’

Tom began by assuring the audience that we were all leaders – weren’t we? He then went on to say: ‘We all know we’re phonies and because we’re afraid to expose our weaknesses we don’t ask the interesting questions. It’s our job as leaders to ask interesting questions.’

Tom described the essence of enterprise as:

  • Cause – worthy of commitment
  • Space – for encouragement and initiative
  • Decency – respect and humane
  • Service
  • Excellence
  • Servant Leadership

He then hollered a typical management mantra to the crowd like some punk rock star: ‘Park your brain at the door dude and row the slave ship!’ then lowering his voice, he continued: ‘But we have computers to row the slave ship.’

According to Tom, our only chance to succeed in globalisation is to leverage the creative and intellectual skills of our teams. Starbucks is a good example of a human function being replaced by a machine. Since coffee making is done by a machine, what Starbucks buys is individuality in their staff. When asked why Starbucks staff are constantly smiling, one manager said as a matter-of-fact: ‘We hire people who smile.’

Tom, like Levitt, fully acknowledges that he has nothing profound to say. Instead, what he does has been described as ‘blinding flashes of the obvious’. So here’s the latest newsflash: ‘Put your people before your customers,’ says Tom Peters. What will you do?

Knowing Me, Knowing You

‘Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to.’

- The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

Dawkins’s examination of the biology of selfishness and altruism has led him to assert that “we are born selfish”. The manifestations and consequences of his assertion in terms of people and software development are what I have coined (the art of) Selfish Programming.

Together we can thwart it and may be even turn it into ‘environmentally-friendly’ energy. Welcome.