Archives for the ‘Trust’ Category

Life or Death

Imagine. It’s 10.15 in the morning. The team’s just finished their daily standup. One of your team members seems to have gone missing.

The Office

(In an open plan office)
S.: Morning!
P.: Morning. (Pause) Everything all right?
S.: Sorry I’m late. I had to go to the vet.
P.: I didn’t know you had pets.
S.: I don’t.


It turns out Sruthi had found a sparrow lying injured on the road on her way to work. She immediately took the wounded bird to a local vet, but they refused to look after it, so Sruthi took it home and made it a comfortable little bed on her kitchen table. She then fed it some milk before setting off to work again.

Sruthi and I had had another of our 1-2-1 Agile Coaching sessions the week before. I learned that she loved animals and would like to be a vet if she could do anything else other than her current job as a Java developer.

On that fateful morning when Sruthi saved the sparrow, we both knew that her detour wouldn’t negatively impact the project. The project deliverable was being integration-tested and we had to wait until the US dev team came online in the afternoon (UK time) before she could do any more testing.

Just before Sruthi went back to her desk, I asked her what state the sparrow was in. She said she couldn’t see any external wounds, but that the bird seemed very weak. ‘It’s likely the bird won’t be alive when you get home tonight,’ I said. Sruthi looked surprised. It was the first time I had to deliver that kind of bad news on a client engagement.

The next morning, the sparrow was gone, but Sruthi and I both knew we did the right thing.

Folks who are genuinely agile, understand that people and trust are at the heart of Agile. Is there anyone on your team you don’t trust? Why don’t you trust them? What does what you think about them tell us about you?

Enduring Agile

‘The team remains agile after the coach is gone.’

This is my ultimate acceptance test for effective Agile coaching. True Agile Enablement endures.

Whose line is it anyway?

I come across a number of Agile coaches who talk a lot about Agile. Agile is hard because it’s the doing that accompanies the saying that makes a person agile. Nine out of ten coaches I meet are those who live by the mantra of Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do.

Most important of all, their kind of Agile doesn’t stick. Teams may think they’re agile for the duration of such a coach being onsite, but when the coach is gone, teams are left to make-do and make-believe a fuzzy, undisciplined and/or enforced form of Agile (originally adopted to appease a forceful coach) all on their own.

Give me an example

I recently met Rupert, a charming and personable Agile coach who prides himself on being a doer. He told me that because he was having difficulties with the testers in his client organisation, he had written a code of conduct for the testers so they can work with the rest of the team. A few weeks before that he’d been preoccupied with composing a code of conduct for the business analysts. ‘And these are the rules for developers to follow,’ says Rupert as he proudly points to a flipchart among the numerous flipcharts of commandments that now cover the team wallspace. Eat your heart out Laura Ashley. Forget floral, swallow those words.

Words, words, words

What about Rupert’s team, I found myself wondering with mild anxiety. In my experience, a team has to come up with its own guidelines or manifesto through a collaborative effort. It’s part of the initiation process towards becoming a team. What happens next is the enforcement of the manifesto which should come easily – so long as it originated from the team. Otherwise, the manifesto is yet another group of words with no more meaning than a company’s mission statement, created by a small clique in a galaxy far, far away from the people who deliver business value.

Sock Shop

When coaching, I compare Agile with a pair of socks. The notion of a good pair of socks is likely to vary from person to person. Some prefer pink and others blue while the chaussettes conoisseurs among us might wear Santa socks 365 days of the year. Nonetheless, one thing is certain: we all have a common understanding of what makes a good pair of socks. For instance, most of us would agree that a good pair of socks keeps both our feet warm and dry. Once we understand the purpose of something, it’s easy to distinguish genuine function from fancy form.

Genuine Agile has collaboration built-in to make it last. If you’re living the Agile Values, trust your instinct when it’s telling you your Agile coach is wrong.

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 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.