Archives for the ‘Respect’ Category

Challenge Your Personal Agility

‘To some, responsibility is a burden. To others, responsibility is a reward. For many, responsibility means having someone to point to.’

– Christopher Avery

It was great to finally meet Christopher Avery at the Agile Business Conference this Wednesday. His presentation on the Responsibility Model, delivered in person, was every bit as insightful and entertaining as I hoped it would be.

‘Humans are born to learn’

According to Christopher, Responsibility has long been considered as a character trait. Or, depending on your view of the world, a character flaw.

Newsflash: Responsibility is neither a character trait nor flaw. Christopher describes Responsibility as the way you respond to a problem. Responsibility is completely subjective. It’s also a feeling. This is why Responsibility is so difficult to talk about.

For me, the most effective way of thinking about Responsibility is to compare it with Accountability. According to Christopher, delegating Accountability is the first tool of management. It’s a one-sided agreement-making process in which one individual beholdens another regardless of whether or not that individual accepts the responsibility that has been thrust upon them.

Responsibility, on the other hand, empowers an individual by giving each of us the choice to acknowledge then embrace the uncertainty surrounding our lives and to do something about it.

Redefining Responsibility

There are six progressive phases in the Responsibility Model:

  1. Denial – ‘Problem? What problem? There’s no problem.’
  2. Blame – ‘I don’t have a problem working with you. You seem to have a problem with me. That makes it your problem. ‘
  3. Justify – ‘I guess it’s possible that I’ve become insensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. I can’t help it though. After all, I’ve been doing this job for a long time. It’s who I am.’
  4. Shame – ‘What have I done? I’m going to look such an idiot in front of the people at work. How am I going to live it down? Why should they help me after the way I’ve behaved?’
  5. Obligation – ‘Tell me what you think I should do. I have no choice but to do it (even though I don’t want to). I’ll do whatever you say. It’s only a job after all (no one can expect to do a job they love).’
  6. Responsibility – ‘I can wait for them to change but that could take forever. No, it’s up to me. I want to fix the problem. So how am I going to be a better colleague? I know! I’ll listen more. And be more considerate towards others. It’s a start.’

Taboo Who?

Embrace responsibility. Instead of skirting around it, talk about it. Practice moving through the 6 phases of the Responsibility Model. Help each other spot when one of you become stuck in a particular phase. The key to continuous improvement are what Christopher has identified as the Keys of Responsibility.

The Keys of Responsibility

1. Intention – Commit to doing or stop doing something.
2. Awareness – Learn to recognise when you are in each of the 6 phases. Look out for how you feel in each of those phases. Use the feeling to help you recognise which phase you’re in and evaluate why you feel that way you so that you can move onto the next phase towards Responsibility.
3. Confront – Face the truth head on. It’s sounds simple, but it’s not easy. How honest are you with yourself?

Teams Lost and Found

One Agile coach says to another, ‘How do you find the strength to carry on?’

The other coach replies, ‘I believe in “happily ever after“‘.

Going Off the Rails

In my experience, the toughest period on any Agile Enablement gig is the first two iterations. Some have described it as a rollercoaster ride – the corkscrew-space-mountain type where you can’t see where you’re headed because everything’s pitch black, your stomach’s one big writhing ball of worms and you have begun to doubt you’ll survive.

It’s also the roughest of rides because just when you think you’re getting it, you discover there’s more to learn. And then some. It’s harder to go on precisely because you remember the difficult road upon which you’ve just travelled. And your gut tells you that it’s going to get harder before it gets easier.

The Road Less Travelled

Agile is about Continuous Improvement. If you’re truly dedicated to improving, you will demonstrate your commitment by learning new stuff and brushing up on the old stuff. Eventually, the old stuff gets displaced by a re-combination of the old and new and you come up with better ways of working.

‘H’ for Helping Yourself

People new to Agile almost always believe they’re already agile. This is rarely the case. The penny only drops when the first person in the group openly acknowledges that, ‘Hey, it’s not a process problem we face, it’s a matter of mental attitude’. The greatest impediment to Agile adoption is people. It’s you. And me.

‘H’ for Hope

If you’re genuinely agile, you don’t just give up. Why? Because you know there’s always hope. You know being agile demands continuous improvement, so as long as you’re changing yourself for the better, you’re one small step closer to a better and happier work life. You can help make change happen at your organisation. What’s the one small change you can make to yourself today to change things for the better?

Ask for Help

Fear of the Unknown

One interesting similarity between being a coach on an Agile Enablement gig and presenting at a conference is this: dealing with an audience who secretly fears the Unknown.

In my experience, there are 3 main groups:

a) Those who ask for help
b) Some too afraid to ask for help
c) Others who think they know it all

Which group do you most identify with? For most people, in an ideal world, change would happen with minimal pain and even less hard work. In fact, many people don’t feel they need to change: ‘Help? Why would I need help? Of course I support Continuous Improvement! Change is for other people though. I don’t need to change.’

These folks make-believe that others need to change, but not them. These folks are usually the ones most resistant to change and this resistance manifests itself, at best, as self-deprecating humour or cynicism and, at worst, as silent sabotage.

The major casualties of such silent sabotages are the individuals themselves. I know this because whenever I resist change I miss out on learning new things and re-learning lessons I’ve forgotten. I end up losing out. I become the largest impediment I have to deal with. But I have a choice. I have the power to remove this seemingly insurmountable impediment by confronting it face-to-face.

Should I stay or should I go?

Occasionally a coachee asks me outright if they’re cut out for Agile projects. They’ve usually taken a bold leap of faith by daring to try to do something different while their colleagues and mates at work look on in wonderment / disbelief / morbid fascination*.

It’s a tough question to answer. As a coach, I’ve learnt the importance of providing feedback that helps people improve instead of criticising or passing judgment. After all, who am I to cast the first stone if I’m not prepared to offer suggestions when asked to help others change for the better? I’ve also learnt that anything that doesn’t increase value leads to more waste. A waste of breath, a waste of time, a waste of human life.

What is potential?

Agile has taught me that everyone has value. Before Agile, I remained sceptical of such a notion. Before Agile, the notion that everyone has value was merely a hollow incantation that, as a manager, I recited and barely believed.

As an Agile Coach I’ve learnt to spot potential. First I had to define potential. Potential for me means a willingness to learn which really means a willingness to change. Most important of all, potential is the willingness to change oneself instead of expecting others to change. After all, we can only change ourselves and lead by example.

Survival of the Fittest

I often hear folks say, ‘This organisation will never be agile’ or ‘Agile only works on certain types of projects – it won’t work on mine’. The reality is this: processes don’t fail, people do. If a process doesn’t work, people can change it. Believing change for the better is impossible is like clinging onto the belief that the world is flat. For as long as a team or organisation can improve, Agile can help you deliver value. So the question we all have to ask ourselves is: what’s my time worth to me? Don’t let it be a waste of breath, a waste of time, a waste of human life.

* Delete as appropriate

The Best of British

I’m in Toronto for Agile 2008 with Pascal Van Cauwenberghe to present two sessions: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Why Me? and Les Neuf Cases (known as ‘The Nine Boxes‘). Being away from home is great because it gives me time and distance to reflect on my Agile Enablement gigs both past and present.

Nothing is Impossible

Imagine. You’re a new recruit for the first Agile team in your global organisation. It’s Day 6 of your first ever iteration. The team has been working late for the past couple of evenings. The team believes things can change. The team’s doing their best to deliver.

Team in Action

(The open plan office is empty but for the one team still busy at work.)

Coach: A core Agile principle is sustainable pace.
Team: (Silence)
Coach: Deathmarching isn’t agile.
Developer: (Silence. Then) Everyone outside the team is watching. (Long pause) They want us to fail.
Team: (Stoic silence)

One Ring to Rule Them All

The next day, I speak to the project manager on the team and raise the issue of the pressure the team feels they’re under. ‘There are others in the organisation who want us to fail,’ I say. He remains silent but for a moment then replies with a bold smile, ‘That’s because they’re afraid of what will happen when we succeed.’ We both knew then that success was by no means certain. What we were certain of, however, was that the team would try their hardest to make it a success.

That was a defining moment for everyone on the team. Their stoicism was something so much stronger than an individual’s desire to prove others wrong. This was camaraderie in action, each member united with one another by the weightiest of burdens they were helping to carry. Hope. The hope that things can change for the better.

Hate Something, Change Something, Make Something Better

Over the next few days after my conversation with the team on that fateful summer evening, the team started leaving work on time. They understood that working late was merely hiding problems due to the way teams have always worked in their organisation. They knew that becoming agile meant maintaining a sustainable pace and addressing difficult problems head on instead of working longer hours.

Never Say Never

Fast foward to the end of the three-iteration-long release. The technical lead who reviewed the code delivered described the quality as ‘some of the highest quality code’ he’d ever seen. After four weeks in end-to-end testing, only one defect was found.

It’s a humbling experience to work alongside folks determined to learn and change in spite of being surrounded by a sea of cynicism and resistance. That’s what makes my heart sing as an Agile coach. Do something that makes your heart sing. Today.

Postcard from Galway

Why Exoftware?

So that on a beautiful summer’s day I find myself cycling along the low road on one of the Aran Islands to spend time with the most diverse, smart, nice and fun bunch of Agilistas I know.

The Flawed Social Contract

Imagine: You nip to the loo in an office building you’re visiting for the first time. After washing your hands, you look into the mirror and what do you see? A see-through sticker with white writing.

‘Bullying. Let’s Cut It Out’

Five simple words. Words that send so many alarm bells ringing. Who let the bullies in? Are they still here? Which teams do they work in? Do people take notice of the message? What difference does that one sticker make?

That’s when I notice there are more stickers running along the wall of mirrors, each aligned above a corresponding sink so you can’t ignore the problem. Or so you would think.

Cultural or Cuisine Differences?

It’s lunchtime. I ask about the stickers as I tuck into the tasty weekly Indian meal. It turns out most people around the table don’t really know what bullying means. So I change my question to one of the developers.

‘Does Candy respect you?’ I venture, bold and plain as the nose on my face.
She’s nice. She answers my questions about requirements,’ he replies with a tired but sincere smile.

I meet Candy for the first time that afternoon. Candy’s friendly enough. She smiles back, teeth clenched.

Communication without respect is worse than not communicating at all

In my experience, respect is the hardest value of all to live by, partly because you have to dig extra deep as it forms the foundation for the other four values. The main reason it’s the toughest to live by is because it’s usually the first thing that most people abandon when the going gets tough.

What does respect mean to you? How would you rate yourself in terms of respect on a scale of 0 – 5 from lowest to highest? Respect begins by recognising, appreciating then leveraging the value each individual brings to a team. How would your team rate you on the scale of respect?

Paris, je t’aime

Once upon a time

My manager said to me, ‘The team thinks you’re doing a good job.’ After a short pause he declared, ‘And I agree with them.’ Then a longer pause. I suspected I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure what for. He continued. ‘The thing is, I’m just not sure what it is you actually do.’

From Dawn to Dusk to Present Day

I’m reading a book described as an ‘intimate portrait’ of the current President of France called L’Aube, le Soir ou la Nuit (Dawn, Evening or the Night) by Yasmina Reza. I was surprised to learn that Sarkozy and I have something in common.

In a conversation with Yasmina about young people today, Sarkozy says, ‘Ce qui est un problème c’est quand ils deviennent indépendants et pas gentils, gentils c’est le plus important.’ (‘The problem with young people is that when they grow up they forget about kindness. Being kind is what matters most.’)

‘It’s nice to be nice’

That was the gist of the answer I gave my manager all those years ago when he quizzed me about why the team was convinced I was doing a good job. I remember glossing over how I did what I did because my manager graduated from the school of stick-and-carrot management (using the Command and Control Management method). He wouldn’t have understood about consideration for others. I knew this because he had previously expressed concerns about my apparently ‘weaker’ style of management.

Although I couldn’t openly admit to my manager that I worked on the principle of Putting People First back then, the team knew and that was plenty good enough for me.

Agile is all about values

Putting People First is also about Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect. Most people I talk to about becoming agile almost always identify respect as the key value from which the others spring.

What’s less well-known is that respect wasn’t in the first version of the published Agile Values. Some say that respect was omitted because it was a given. Surely people know the importance of being respectful towards one another? But even assuming they know about respect, can we trust that they will always behave in a respectful way? Do you? Towards everyone? After all, everyone is valuable.

In a conversation with Pascal about the values at the SPA conference last month, we both agreed that there is a sixth value: Trust. I’ve seen trust, when combined with respect, empowers teams to grow beyond all previous prejudices and perceived limitations. Trust from a manager or team lead is crucial. Trust among team members is equally vital.

What did you do this week to improve the way you work? How can you show you trust your team more?

The Importance of Christmas

I like Christmas. A lot. I’ve come to appreciate Christmas like I do weddings. I feel the same way towards Agile. All three operate on a manifesto of sorts that people can choose to either respect and adhere to or flout and play-pretend.

Everyone just wants to have a good time. And why not? In my experience, practicing Agile is a bit like driving. When you tell people you use Agile to deliver projects, you’re signalling intent, one of collaboration instead of conflict. After signalling comes fulfilment, made real through behaviour and action.

It’s like driving to the shops and indicating you want to turn left and then actually turning left. Unfortunately, many of the Agile drivers I meet signal left and then turn right. These are the same people who wonder why their passenger-team doesn’t believe or trust them to drive safely. Unskilled drivers are a menace to themselves and everyone else on the road.

Agile, like Christmas, creates a culture of shared reality. By having a common and worthwhile goal, one that produces genuine value for instance, people will figure out difficult (impossible) problems like they’ve always done: through co-ordination, cooperation and convergence.

Agile is the ultimate endurance test because it demands openness, stamina, consistency and constancy. What would your project be like if everyone tried their best to get along with one another, do the right thing and do things right? It would be like Christmas. Everyday. For Everyman. How civilised.

Make 2008 matter. Instead of letting others make mincemeat out of you. Thanks for reading. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Next Killer App: MBPPF!

It began with MBWA…

I first came across the acronym MBWA (Managing By Wandering Around a concept revived by Tom Peters) during the DOTCOM boom. I’d just started working as a Java developer. Managing By Walking Around is about wandering the ‘shop’ floor and observing how your workers do their job. It’s about getting and staying in touch with the people doing ‘work-that-matters‘* (also from Tom Peters). It’s about learning about impediments so that, as a manager, you can help remove them. It all makes sense.

As far as I can tell, it’s equivalent to Toyota’s Genchi Genbutsu (Go and see for yourself). Unfortunately, the particular implementation of MBWA I was exposed to seemed more like a constitutional, post-lunch walkabout by a manager who didn’t care much about talking to all the people, let alone hear about our progress or concerns.

I suppose that experience made me begin to doubt management. That and the fact that pay increases seemed to be negotiated down the pub instead of being based on performance during work hours.

Call me old-fashioned – it’s simply not right.

Then one day, the time came for me to transition from developer to management. I’d read a lot about Agile and recognised the importance of delivering business value. Like all managers, I was faced with two thorny problems: 1) business value was difficult to quantify, so the movers and shakers sent out an edict of: ‘Do as I say’ using MosCoW rules; 2) developers weren’t enamoured with poorly defined requirements – it’s hard to derive satisfaction from delivering a never-ending ‘something’.

Still, I beat the ‘Deliver-Maximum-Business-Value’ drum, because that’s what leaders do, right?

Business Value = Job + Salary -> Survival + Nice Holidays. For the department. For the developers. And for me.

The Next Killer App: MBPPF!

Delivering business value alone is not enough. Not for me. Doing work-that-matters on its own isn’t enough either. Success means making the most of your options. Maximise your people’s potential and watch your options grow.**

What motivates me most is what I call MBPPF*** (Managing By Putting People First). The MBPPF model is simple, but not easy. It looks familiar because all of its constituent parts are taken from existing models. Good ideas are, more often than not, composites of existing ideas refreshed. If you have to have wheels, round ones work best in my experience.

What does Putting People First mean?

  1. Start with a main goal – To deliver value to your customers: Identify what people want (preferably things that would enhance their lives in some way). Something for which there is a demand is easier to sell. This means you can focus 100% on differentiation and quality.
  2. Do enough upfront business analysis: Brainstorm how best to fulfil this want (taking into consideration the product’s context such as time and place). Know why people need it, when they need it by, how long they need it for and what else they can use it for.
  3. Build a team that cares: Put together a bunch of competent people who want to fulfil this want, as a team of creative, thinking individuals. Show you care by consulting, involving, informing and empowering your team.
  4. Everyone does work-that-matters: This is a great motivation for many people. It leads to the elimination of waste and can be leveraged to put best practices in place. When you do something that matters, most people naturally want to get better at it. Now that’s a real bonus.

Sample practices of MBPPF!

  • Put people-interest ahead of everything else (and watch the decision-making machine produce the optimal solution).
  • Spend time with people because they matter most.
  • Hire people better than yourself.
  • Know when you need help then ask for it. I’m constantly amazed by what I get back in return.

The rest is based on what works best when you apply the principle of Putting People First. Try it. You might like it.

Useful Footnotes

*Work-that-matters: Have you noticed how many organisations are encouraging their staff to get involved with planting trees and painting classrooms these days.

**I like to maximise mine with Real Options.

***MBPPF: The Disclaimer: Just as any successful diet/fitness regime requires willpower, MBPPF requires people willing to get involved, people who will muck in as pigs instead of play chicken.

Andon du Jour – The Tell-Tale Tannenbaum

It’s that time of the year again: gratuitous displays of a jovial fat man in a red suit scaling miniature gingerbread houses and base jumping off slippery rooftops. If the advertisement boards are correct, it’s also time for seasonal teeth whitening. O! And, of course, the hordes of plastic trees in the shopping arcades. (Better a plastic tree than a tree on death row in the living room.)

Ho! Ho! Ho! Spot the problem

UK tradition has it that shopkeepers save up to pay for decorations to attract more custom during the Christmas period. In return, they get to worry about not only having their in-store goods stolen, but their pricey Christmas baubles being taken too. The plastic card boasting of CCTV monitoring is an example of trust broken. It tells us, loud and clear, that we are a thievery nation.

Where did all the trust go?

It reminds me of when managers give their teams approximate (fictitious) deadlines to work towards instead of actual ones. One date for the development team, another for the customer. Presumably it’s because they think that developers are lazy and won’t work hard without unrealistic deadlines. Such behaviour helps us identify the chicken managers from the pig managers. By keeping the actual deadline to themselves, such managers are witholding information. By withholding information, they are limiting the team’s options to work optimally towards successful delivery. By putting in a false constraint, a manager is actively guaranteeing their project will fail. By doing so, they’re also limiting their chances of personal success. If you are committed to a team, witholding information is illogical.

Teams know when they’re being controlled. Unlike collaboration, the command-and-control style of management can reduce or even eliminate trust. Without trust, there can be no loyalty and commitment. Without loyalty and commitment, you can forget about performance. Chicken managers often confuse collaboration with coercion. You have to put trust in to get trust out.