Archives for the ‘Trust’ Category


Self and Other

Are you an effective team?

I first discovered the power of teamwork as a child playing badminton. I realised early on that while singles was fun, I enjoyed doubles more.

In doubles, I was no longer the keyman dependency to winning or losing. Instead, in doubles, you share everything, the game strategy, the hardwork and, best of all, the celebrations when you win.

Obvious or Oblivious?

Teams can be as small as two and as big as you need to accomplish a common goal.

You are likely to be part of a team both at work and at home.

To be an effective team, you need to be able to trust, believe in and rely on those around you.

Are you an effective team?

Up in the Air

Vital Encounters

I am waiting for a flight in a busy airport lounge. I look up and notice an elderly  gentleman. I smile. He smiles back. I notice there are two glasses on the table in front of him. I decide to strike up a conversation.

“Where are you travelling to?” I ask. “We’re on a world tour,” he says. “My wife and I are retired,” he explains.

Being generally puzzled by humanity and our relationship with work, I ask, “What did you do before you retired?”

“I served as a judge,” he replies with a benevolent smile.

By now I realise I’m onto something vital and so I ask him another question that puzzles me further still.

“You must have encountered people from many different walks of life,” I say.

Then I decide to go ahead and ask the million dollar question.

“From all you have seen, do you think human beings are fundamentally good?” I ask.

“I have seen human beings capable of great kindness in very difficult circumstances,” he replies. I look him in the eye and there isn’t a hint of cynicism, only goodwill.

It turns out this elderly gentleman was a judge for 30 years. Our conversation reminds me of one I have with my teams.

In my role as Agile Coach, when teams fail, one of the most common explanations I hear from the team is this: “They don’t trust us enough. That’s why we haven’t delivered any working software for so long.”

My reply to such an explanation is filled with the same inquisitiveness in my conversation with the elderly judge and it is this: “How trustworthy are you and how much trust have you shown these people to whom you refer as ‘they’?”

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

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

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: 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.

Be Remarkable – Be a Purple Cow!

A crisis is too good an opportunity to waste
– Anon.

Meet the Purple Cow

‘Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. It’s a Purple Cow. Boring stuff is invisible. It’s a brown cow.’ (Seth)

Are you seeing purple?

When it comes to changing for the better, there’s no time like the present.  According to Seth Godin, the key to succeeding in an age with infinite choices, impossible-to-tell-before-you-buy quality and grossly limited time is to be remarkable. To be purple.

The 4-step guide to breeding Purple Cows

  1. Come up with a remarkable idea: Invent a Purple Cow!
  2. Milk the cow for everything it’s worth.
  3. Have a Purple Cow succession strategy: Create an environment conducive to nurturing Purple Calves.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Advertising alone is not enough

  • Be innovative – Stop advertising and start innovating!
  • Appeal to early adopters – They’re the sneezers who’ll propel your idea or product among the slower adoption groups in Moore’s idea diffusion curve.
  • Invest in talent and put in the hardwork – The Purple Cow requires talent and a lot of hardwork. A Purple Cow isn’t a quickfix.
  • Differentiate your customers – Target and reward the sneezers. Focus on the sneezers.
  • Measure, measure, measure – from your products to interactions. Respond to the feedback by adapting and changing for the better.

How now Purple Cow?

Here’s Seth’s takeaway in a nutshell. It’s got Agility built-in.

  • Trust: Be authentic in what you say and do.
  • Iterate: Iterate over the things you do.
  • Incremental Change: Develop new ideas and implement them incrementally.
  • Courage: Encourage new ideas and embrace change. Instead of saying, ‘That sounds like a good idea, but…’, try ‘Why not?’

Things to remember during your stay on Animal Farm

  • Boring is risky and, according to Seth, always leads to failure.
  • ‘The Purple Cow is so rare because people are afraid.’ (Seth)
  • Wake up and smell the cheese! What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Brand You

‘Make things new’ Ezra Pound

Shukurriya. Wakiwanee. Kihineh?*

What makes a great brand? And why should you care? According to Tom Peters, it’s all about Brand You. You are your own brand. You are your own product. It doesn’t matter that you consider yourself as just an employee. Think of yourself as You Inc. You Unlimited.

Brand You is made up of your values, your knowledge, your experience and your achievements. Brand You is also your word (or not – in any case, you may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of time). The success of your product depends on it.

Here are my top 5 acceptance criteria for building Brand You:

  • Know what you value
  • Know your target audience
  • Be credible in what you do
  • Have a proven track record of achievements
  • Say what you do and do what you say.

This is all just common sense, of course. The magic happens when you add in the secret ingredient: Insight. Take a good look at the familiar to gain a deeper understanding of who you are and what you stand for.

* Phonetic Maldivian for ‘Thank You’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘How are you?’

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.

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?

People are Magic

Change Happens

P.: I hear you’re an Agile Coach.
Agilista: You are correct.
P.: What do you do as a coach?
Agilista: I change people.
P.: In my experience, you can only change yourself.
Agilista: I change people. Like psychologists do.
P.: My mistake. I thought you said you were an Agile Coach.

With great power comes great responsibility

Agile Coaching is a people business. I’m an Agile Coach because I’m interested in people. Why? Because working with others helps me better understand myself and the world around me. Learning doesn’t just help me deliver business value. Learning helps me create things of worth. I’m an Agile Coach but that doesn’t make me a psychologist.

An effective Agile Coach inspires those around them to change for the better. They lead by example. They constantly strive to improve by seeking feedback and taking action arising from the feedback. They show that change happens by changing themselves.

An effective Agile Coach learns by making mistakes. They take calculated risks by trying out new or different ways of doing things. This means sometimes things might go wrong. Making mistakes is essential in the cycle of learning. You have to do something different to change the status quo. Doing the same thing you’ve always done and expecting a different result is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

An effective Agile Coach is trustworthy. They act as the guide for a team on their journey towards becoming more agile. ‘Integrity is the opposite of manipulation,’ Pollyanna Pixton once said during a JAOO session on leadership. I take this to mean you can help people change by providing and exploring real options, but the choice remains theirs. Believing you have the power to change others sounds a lot like meddling to me. So long as people have the choice to change, you cannot ‘change people’.

Making a living out of learning

Human beings can’t help but learn. As Jim Collins (of From Good to Great fame) says, there’s no OFF switch to people learning. We’re learning all the time, whether we want to or not. Start by taking responsibility for yourself instead of trying to change others to suit you.