Archives for the ‘Kaizen’ Category

A Gift from Me to You

 Where are you?

As I turn a year older, I feel compelled to question if I’m really a year wiser. What better way to do this than a personal retrospective?

What have I (re-)learnt?

Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfect doesn’t exist. Perfect is something we aspire to, it’s elusive by design.

Immer besser. It’s OK to make mistakes so long as you learn from them and don’t make the same mistakes. Being better matters more than merely being right.

Courage! Fear is what our lizard brain tells us to be. Courage is what sets us free.

What do I need to (re-)learn?

Drink my own champagne. I was disrespectful to a colleague yesterday. And last Wednesday. Twice in one day. It’s all well and good espousing the Agile Values and Principles. What really matters is that I apply them myself.

Work a Sustainable Pace. The problem with loving the work I do is that it can consume not only me but all those around me. Pretty soon I lose not only my perspective, but compromise my effectiveness.

Admit when you don’t know. This lesson consists of all the lessons I’ve (re-)learnt and need to (re-)learn. It’s not so much about what I know as recognising and then admitting I don’t know. The faster I acknowledge my not-knowing (or forgetting), the faster everyone can move towards creating value together.

On the Eve of Mini XP Days Benelux 2010

Welcome to dinner on Mini XP Days Benelux Eve!

‘Tis the eve before the second Mini XP Days conference and I find myself thinking back to the first time I came across the XP Days Benelux conference. It was around 2 years ago. Pascal and I had just begun pairing on conference sessions and he happened to mention that XP Days Benelux as something he was involved in.

Needless to say, I had lots of questions such as ‘What makes the conference different from other conferences? What value could I add? How could I contribute?’ To which Pascal replied in his usual matter-of-fact way, ‘Vera and I started the conference because we needed a conference we wanted to go to near where we lived. You could help by making it a conference you want to go to, too.’

I accepted the invitation and began to contribute with baby steps, first by reviewing conference sessions, then by submitting my own and by helping out on the days of the conference. I’ve learnt so many things through helping out over the years.

What makes a high value conference?

1. A conference tells you a lot about the people who organise it. It’s difficult to distinguish between the organisers and the participants at XP Days Benelux. This is intentional. It highlights the fact that we all have something to learn from each other. Some presenters say that the feedback they get from the participants go a long way to amplify and accelerate their own learning.

2. Effective learning begins in an environment where everyone can be courageous. Many of the participants are equally as helpful and enthusiastic as those who organise the conference. It’s this sense of camaraderie, willingness to muck in and courage to expand one’s comfort zone, that has made this conference the kind of conference I thrive on participating in.

3. Self-organisation is a key characteristic of a successful team. I was able to witness self-organisation firsthand by working as part of the group of diverse volunteers. I noticed there was no one telling the others what to do. When I mentioned this to Pascal, he said, ‘It’s up to all of us to decide and agree on what we want to get out of the conference. Then we can decide how much and what we put in.’  That’s when I realised that there isn’t just one leader in a group. Everyone’s a leader. To be a good leader, you have to lead yourself first. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

Nicole and Vera know to take a look from the other side

A Gathering of Adventurers

Participants of XP Days Benelux share a few common traits:

  • Open-minded – ‘Aikido breathing exercises to start off the day? Go on then, I’m willing to give anything a go!’
  • Good listeners who question everything – ‘Will you qualify your approach? What makes you describe people as “blockers”? What can you do to help?’
  • Continuously Learning – ‘What works well? What’s going wrong? Lessons Learnt? And puzzles?’
  • Continuously Improving – ‘Thanks to our conversation at the last conference, I’ve helped introduce pairing to my team. What else can I do to improve? How can I add more value?’

If you’re ready for this kind of learning, we hope to see you on Monday and, of course, at the 2-day XP Days Benelux conference on 25 – 26 November!

Webinar: Enterprise Agility

Learning London

emergn will be hosting a free one-hour webinar titled “Enterprise Agility” on Tuesday, 20 April at 10 a.m. EST US (3 p.m. BST).
It’s going to be an exciting webinar featuring Mike Croucher, British Airway’s Head of Software Engineering, and Alex Adamopoulos, emergn CEO. Mike and Alex will be sharing with you their experiences and lessons learnt on scaling Agile and Lean to meet enterprise requirements and overcome pervasive challenges.

You’ll learn how to apply some of the techniques used by British Airways and those employed by emergn within your own organisation. Join us to learn how to:

  • Overcome inefficiencies due to traditional ad-hoc agile approaches
  • Attach tangible value to your efforts
  • Align business units and set enterprise-wide goals
  • Develop an enterprise-wide Agile adoption framework.

Register quick!

April Smarts

 Be an artist today!

Ahead of Marketing

It was great to have celebrated this April Fool’s Day by seeing Seth Godin present ‘Ahead of Marketing’ live in Antwerp, Belgium. The event was organised by Flanders DC (District of Creativity) with around 1000 attendees awaiting with bated breath to hear words of inspiration from one of the most famous marketers around.

Seth Godin in Short

Seth shared 7 core messages with the audience:

1. Abandon instructions. According to Seth, we’re all conditioned to strive for mediocrity from school age. It’s this conditioning that stops many of us from daring to be remarkable. We set our own limits.

2. Do work that matters. Seth urged us to make a difference regardless of our job title. Make solving interesting problems a key part of our job.

3. Become an artist. Make a splash of genius by solving a problem like no one ever has before. Make people think. Instead of treating our jobs as a mere means to an end, we should use it as a platform for our ‘art’.

4. Real art demands courage. ‘Art that matters always involves going the other way,’ said Seth.

5. Ship! Ship! Ship! Real artists ship their creations. Ship early and often.

6. Give gifts. Paint pictures. Make the world better.  Give away your art often. Giving makes you create more.

7. Teach people to lead. Seth invited us to begin by leading ourselves. And to encourage others to do the same.

My Takeaway in Market Speak

Practice the gift of giving. Be generous to be better.

Turku Agile Day Conference 2010

Let the Conference Season Begin!

2010 looks set to be another year of learning and fun! I’ll be in beautiful Turku, Finland on 17 – 18 March to present at the academic conference of Turku Agile Day.

A Series of Firsts

Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and I will be presenting our first ever Agile Fairytale keynote. It’s significant because 1) it’ll be my first ever keynote; 2) it’ll be our first ever keynote together; and 3) it’ll be the first ever Agile Fairytale to be presented as a keynote; 4) we’ll be presenting a brand new Agile Fairytale – “Pinocchio: On Becoming a Leader“. Exciting times indeed.

Warning: Too much candy turns toy boys into donkeys!

And There’s More!

Another first is that Staffan Nöteberg and I will be pair presenting for the first time on a brand session based on a topic close to my heart: “Timeboxed Thinking – How to Make More of Your Time“.

Timeboxed Thinking to make more of your thinking!

We’ve taken special care to make both the keynote and session highly interactive and full of fun. We hope you can join us. See you then!

Love What You Do

Mirror, mirror on the wall... Do you love what you do?

‘Real love stories never have endings’ – Richard Bach

A Classic Tale of Love and Hate

On 13 January 2010 at 12.10 precisely, my friend Jack calls me to announce he’s resigned with a new job ready to start in March. Jack has been unhappy in his old job for over a decade. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘That’s your typical Man-Gets-Paid-To-Do-A-Job-He-Hates story. So what?’ and you’d be right. Except that’s not where the story ends.

Ever since Jack handed in his resignation, he’s taken on more responsibility and become more assertive. His colleagues tell me how he’s been helping to deliver more value to the organisation in the last 20 days than he has ever done in the past 10 years. Intrigued by this mysterious twist in the plot, I call Jack.

‘I’m not sure what’s happened really,’ says Jack. ‘The day after I handed in my resignation, I had an epiphany. You know I’m not a religious bloke. I just figured out that, instead of ekeing out my existence during my notice period, I would do what I’ve been meaning to do for a decade. A good job. By that I mean, make my voice heard. Share my ideas with people even if they’re a bit out there. After all, my boss can’t sack me anymore.’

Know Yourself

Stephen King says, ‘If you love what you do, you can do it forever.’ First you need to know what it is you love doing. Then find out what makes it so lovable. Richard Bolles, author of ‘What Colour is Your Parachute’, outlines an exercise in his book for coming up with your ideal job profile (aka job description). They are:

  1. Your favourite interests
  2. Geography – where you like to work (venue and location)
  3. Your favourite people and environments
  4. Your favourite values and goals
  5. Your favourite working conditions
  6. Salary and level of responsibility
  7. Your top 6 favourite skills.

It’s up to you how much time you invest on completing the job description. I remember it took me a total of 5 hours one fateful weekend all that time ago. Once you’ve got your ideal job description, you’re ready to go job shopping.

Remember how much you enjoyed shopping for that gadget or picnic basket? And how was that possible? Because you’d somehow distilled (implicitly or explicitly) the key attributes of what it was you needed to achieve your goals. As Paul Arden said, ‘Without having a goal, it’s hard to score.’

Love the Job You’re In

Now imagine this. You’ve identified your goal. And you’ve got your dream job description. Ask yourself these 4 questions:

  • What would happen if you got what you wanted?
  • What wouldn’t happen if you got what you wanted?
  • What would happen if you didn’t get what you wanted?
  • What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t get what you wanted?

Answering these questions might be a challenge, but they really make you think. The questions force you to question why you want what you want and this, in turn, helps you refine your goal and your strategy to do what you need to achieve that goal.

The Neverending Story

On 11 February 2010 at 12.15 precisely, Jack calls me with some news. It turns out that, having seen his remarkable contribution in the past 4 weeks, Jack’s boss has asked him to stay and offered him a package that exceeds his other job offer. And that, dear Reader, is where our story ends. But not Jack’s. And what of your story?

2009: A Personal Retrospective

The Giving Tree

Highlights of 2009

It’s been a tremendous year! Here’s my whirlwind tour down Memory Lane 2009:

Friendly XPDays Switzerland organisers 

Followup on My Wishes from 2009

To DoSpeed networking with friends

  • ‘I wish to meet Seth Godin, Tom De Marco and Dale Chihuly. I also wish to meet Eli Goldratt again.’ I look forward to hearing Seth Godin speak live in April 2010!
  • ‘I wish to try out Agile Fairytales beyond the IT industry.’ I look forward to introducing the Agile Fairytales to people and places such as teachers and students in schools!

In Progress

  • ‘I wish to create a third Agile Fairytale.’ Two new Agile Fairytales are being developed as you read this: Pinocchio – On Becoming a Lean Leader (for SPA 2010) and The Emperor’s New Clothes – Meaningful Interactions in Stressful Situations (submitted to XP 2010).


  • Team at Play‘I wish to learn more in 2009 than I did 2008.’ I learnt that the best way to keep learning is with a little help from my friends! I also re-learnt that I need to be more patient and respectful to others and with myself.
  • ‘I wish to present the Snow White and Seven Dwarves Agile Fairytale in French in Paris.’ We ran the session partly al fresco at XPDay France on a fine Spring day in Paris!
  • ‘I wish to collaborate with Agilistas such as Pascal and Vera to create A-W-E-S-O-M-E Agile games that help us all become a bit more agile every day.’ Pascal was one of the many people who helped to make the new release of The Yellow Brick Road – Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching possible!


  • ‘I wish to learn more about Lean and use it more explicitly as part of my Agile Coach Toolkit.’ I’ll continue to consult and coach using Lean as the basis of enduring change. Presenting The Toyota Way with Pascal has helped us to explain how we apply Lean when we work with teams.
  • ‘I wish to create more Agile teams that endure long after the coach is gone.’ I’ve helped to coach a number of teams and seen them flourish and learnt a lot along the way.
  • ‘I wish to receive requests from you, the Reader, on questions you want answers to and the reasons why you need an answer. Think Selfish Programming: The Radio Request Blog.’ Thank You! for all your candid feedback on this blog. I look forward to more feedback in 2010!

Pairing rocks!

Agile Winter School


A Week in the Life of an Agile Coach Who Keeps Learning

With Agile, the learning never stops. A good example of this is the marathon of new training courses we launched at emergn last week:

Monday: Agile Overview – a 1-day course that provides participants with enough knowledge to begAgile-Overview-Team-Ain applying Agile at work (including emergn’s version of the ubiquitous XP Game by Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and Vera Peeters). We strongly recommend participants of other courses to attend the Agile overview first to establish a common understanding among all participants of what Agile is and what being agile really means. Judging by the feedback from the participants, this is an effective way of developing a meaningful understanding of Agile.

Customer-Value-AnalysisTuesday and Wednesday: Customer Value Analysis – a 2-day course that combines Business and Systems Analysis techniques to consistently translate business goals into a steady and valuable stream of detailed User Stories and Acceptance Criteria. Instead of retrospectively mining value from what I call a ‘vomit of user stories’ (which inevitably results in perpetual backlog grooming), we pull stories from value to achieve Value-Driven Delivery.

Thursday and Friday: Agile Project Management – a 2-day course that provides an interactive experience of tools and techniques for tracking project progress (such as Real Options Thinking) and enabling personal and team growth (such as the Theory of Constraints).


Training Delight

The truth is, we have lots of fun creating and delivering the courses and judging by the feedback from many of the participants, they not only have fun but learn a great deal about Agile and personal development in the process. You only have to look at their faces to see that everyone is doing the best they can to improve.

The best thing of all is what goes into the training courses we create. We’ve taken our collective experience from working as Agile Consultant-Coaches in a myriad of organisations plus our experience as conference presenters, sprinkled in a dash of innovation and creativity and voilà, emergn training courses based on experiential learning to amplify each participant’s learning experience.

My Takeaway

As an emergn coach and trainer, I strive to apply the following 3 principles:

  • Everyone adds value.
  • You can only change yourself.
  • Invest in people, invest in yourself.


One of the participants quoted golf player Arnold Palmer as saying, ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get.’ If that’s true, then I’m in luck. My acceptance criteria as a trainer for each course I deliver is that I learn at least as much as the participants. True learning demands an equal exchange of knowledge and experience.


Many thanks to the participants for their enthusiasm and pursuit for Continuous Improvement – for themselves and for their teams. We wish everyone  Happy Continuous Learning!

More Learning in the New Year

We’re in the process of drawing up the emergn training schedule for 2010. If you want to make work fun and worthwhile, we look forward to meeting you at one of our courses in 2010!


XP Days Benelux 2009: The Toyota Way Management Principles

How have you improved lately?

Pascal and I will be presenting The Toyota Way Management Principles for Sustained Lean and Agile at XP Days Benelux this Monday. We’ve presented this session twice this year, once at Integrating Agile and once at Scan Agile. The presentation has received great feedback – including feedback from Tom Poppendieck at Scan Agile.

We’ll be sharing insights and lots of stories based on our experiences with real teams. We’ll show you how we apply our interpretation of the Toyota Way to achieve Respect for People and Continuous Improvement. Come to this session if you’re interested in learning how to create happy teams who do inspired work!

The Adventure of Work

Greetings from Norwegian Trolls!

I like to think of work as an adventure. This makes me an intrepid adventurer who:

  • Goes about with an open mind – always striving to listen without judgment to discover the facts
  • Seeks to deeply understand – always listening first and asking questions
  • Is ready for anything – constantly refinining my existing skills and acquiring new ones
  • Strives to create a happy ending for everyone involved – helping to make WIN-WIN situations possible for everyone.

Postcard from Norway

I was invited to Haugesund in Norway last week to meet an Agile team keen to do what they do even better.

It was my first visit to Norway and, as usual, I ask many questions and get many answers. For me, this is the best way to learn about a new culture and help me develop a better understanding of those with whom I work.

For instance, on arrival, I ask my taxi driver to describe the Haugesundians in 3 words. After a brief moment of consideration, he replies, ‘Happy. Friendly.’ And last but not least, ‘We’re full of guts!’ he says as he strikes his chest with a closed fist and beams a smile. We both laugh out loud in appreciation of his answer.

I learn that the Norwegian working day is from 8 am – 4 pm with lunch at 11 am and dinner from as early at 5 pm. An earlier lunchtime demands a slight physical adjustment for me since I’m a Brit used to having lunch at midday. It leads me to wonder if the concept of ‘brunch’ exists and, if so, what its definition would be and when it would be scheduled.

While we’re on the subject of food, I experience firsthand that fish features a great deal in the Norwegian diet, including what’s best described as edible white discs made of fish. It’s known as fishcake which can be served cold or hot (lightly fried until it’s brown on both sides). They taste fairly bland, but since it’s fish, I figure out they’re probably an important part of a healthy diet.

I notice that monkfish is a popular fish and discover a curious story about how the monkfish reached the dining table of the Norwegians. The monkfish is considered to be an ugly fish by many. And so, for a long time, the fishermen would discard the monkfish from their catch because it was too ugly to eat. Then one day,  a fisherman set aside this deep-rooted prejudice and served monkfish to his family for dinner. Lo and behold – he discovered what a tasty fillet the monkfish made! Ever since then, monkfish has become a special dish featured on many restaurant menus. Now’s that food for thought.

Since I remain intrigued by the Finnish fascination with saunas, I share my encounter with the concept of the Finnish sauna with some of the team. The result? 4 out of Scandinavians polled (3 Norwegians and 1 Dane) clearly identified the passion for sauna as predominantly a Finnish pastime.

Last but not least, I come across a troll with three heads at the airport. I wish I knew why the troll had three heads and why he needed so many. I wonder if having three gives him a real headache. I look forward to asking the questions the next time I meet up with the team!