Transformation Case Study – Video Interview

At Agile 2014, many people were inspired by this case study so Olaf Lewitz interviewed me. Here is what happened.

Slides and Highlights are here.

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Transformation Case Study Highlights

I was fortunate to act as  a catalyst for a transformation of a 100 person departments. Here is an early release of a presentation summarizing my learnings.


What I did (that made the difference)

  1. Uncover what’s really going on
  2. Share observations in a loving and caring way
  3. Help people choose their own reality and destiny

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Goodbye From the Bobs

(This is goodbye letter shared with the department Paul Heidema and I have been working with for the last few months).

Hi All,

This is a goodbye letter since we are at the end of the main part of project Cocoon.

Why the Bobs?
Someone identified us early on as kinda like The Bobs from Office Space. We like that and think this is really funny.

We hope by now that you see us differently.

We are not here for Agile
If this hasn’t been clear, we are to help you succeed with project Cocoon – which is about re-inventing your department. It’s not about being Agile or using Agile practices. Sure that helps support the goals of Cocoon, but Agile stopped being a goal in April. The goal is helping everyone here be fully engaged and unleashing talent.

Are we Done?
We all wish we had more time. But we don’t. We have made an explicit decision with your leadership team to balance work between tactical, strategic and cultural to best move the needle forward on the Cocoon Vision. We wish we had more time to work with teams, but that would have taken away from sustainable change.

Lasting Change Takes Time
Real and lasting change takes time. It takes everyone working daily to make healthier and more loving interactions.

So sorry, if you were expecting a big TA-DA celebration of success, you are not going to see one. There is a lot of hard work ahead and it takes time to turn the ship around. This is an all-hands type of change.

Keeping in Contact
If you want to stay in touch, you are welcome to connect with us via LinkedIn or email.

When will we be Back?
Paul and Michael will be back together in late August and Michael will be back in Sept/Oct to provide follow-up support.

Happy & Sad
We are so happy to have been able to work with all of you. We are proud of all that has been achieved together. And we are sad to go as we have enjoyed traveling on this road together with you.

You are in good hands
I am glad that you are in good hands. You have a very courageous management team – they are working on themselves first so they can lead by example. And starting to tackle difficult decisions. And of course Corey who has grown so much through this process and enabled all of this to unfold the way it has.


Michael & Paul

Photo: In our support center with Corey

The Bobs

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Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)

Here is how to run a one hour workshop turn your “Agile” initiative into something valuable, sustainable and open the door for real change (transformation).

This may be the most important hour in your whole change effort.

Setup: One Hour to Clarify Goals

Get the senior managers and stakeholders together for a one hour workshop to clarify the purpose of the Agile initiative you are leading or participating in or hope to undertake. Also consider including key influencers from the organization.

Remember that the higher up you go, the bigger the scope of possible change. See How to Build a Culture Bubble for why the choice participants is crucial.

Step 1: Ask Why?

Give everyone sticky notes and sharpies and ask them to brainstorm Why are we doing this Agile Initiative? Ask people to work on their own for three to five minutes before sharing as a group.

I find with senior management, I usually need to explain How to go Fast with Sticky Notes. If they will not use sticky notes, then real change has little hope and focus on adopting Agile practices or use stealth Agile.

Step 2: Data collect around What, Why, How

Once they have finished writing sticky notes, then setup three flipchart pages with labels What, Why and How. Ask them to put each sticky note on the spectrum made by these three words and cluster based on matching concepts. Circle each cluster. See diagram below.

Why Agile

Explain to people that we are using this model to help clarify thinking around why we are doing this.

As you can see from the photo, I sometimes add the label Outcome to help clarify meaning of “What”.

THE TRICK: It is really important to ask WHY when brainstorming and only during playback separate the reasons into What, Why, How.

Step 3: Explain What, Why, How

Here is my explanation:

  • What/Outcome –  This is about the result: what we want want to achieve. The outcome we are looking for as an organization.
  • Why – The motivation for this undertaking. You may also see here leading indicators of success.
  • How – This is about the mechanism or means that support getting to the outcome. How we actually do things.

Note: it doesn’t really matter where things go as long as it generally makes sense to participants.

Defend the What/Outcome. It is really important that the What or outcome only contains the end result that is sought after by this group. If it has means and intermediate elements, then expect unhelpful distortions in your initiative.

Step 4: Pick most important Elements

Quality ProductUse dot voting to have them select the most important elements for this initiative.

Important: Have them vote in reverse seniority order to avoid hierarch bias. See Highest Paid Person in the Room (HIPPO) bias problem for why this is very important.

Summarize  the results to check for understanding: “So it seems like the outcome for this initiative is X and we see Y and Z helping us get there?”

Step 5: “Agile” is Not the Goal

Let them notice that Agile is gone! The outcome that they seek has nothing to do with Agile! Agile is not the goal.

Help them notice how Agile will help with the What, Why and How (if that is true).

Step 6: Replace the “Agile” Initiative with something else

Suggest officially dropping Agile as a goal and instead re-brand the initiative to focus on whatever their desired outcome was.

This will help people focus on the outcome, and not on “doing Agile”.

In a recent transformation, this turned out to be a key element in our success. Do not underestimate the value of a name and the stories we tell about ourselves. 

Being Agile & Transformation

It probably seems scary to let go of Agile as an official goal.

It turns out that this is necessary to Stop Agile from being used as a Whip or a Shield.

My experience is that the only way we can really get to an Agile mindset is to let it arrive of it’s own free will. Coercing a system as an evangelist (I have done this) guarantees limited results.

If you love something, set them free.

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Don’t Weaponize Agile

(Title was: Stop Using Agile as a Whip and Shield)

I hate “Agile” Initiatives because of the damage they usually cause. The problem is that when people start thinking that “Agile” is the goal they start to weaponize “Agile” and use it as a Whip or a Shield.

The Whip

WhipWe use Agile as a Whip to criticize, accuse, attack and condemn other people. We do this when we don’t like what someone is doing or saying or when they ask us to do something. It sounds like this:

  • “You are not Agile”
  • “That’s not Agile”
  • “How dare you? You can’t ask for something in the middle of a Sprint”
  • “You are supposed to self-organize – why didn’t you do this”

The Shield

ShieldWe use the shield to deflect blame or justify our actions. Here are some examples:

  • “Don’t tell us what to do – We are self-organizing”
  • “You can’t ask us why we are doing something – we are autonomous”
  • “You have to wait for the next Sprint for us to work on that. It’s the rules. Suck it up.”
  • “We have to do it that way, we are Agile”

Whips and Shields are not part of Agile

Agile is about valuing the individuals and the interactions. It is about collaboration – let’s work on this together. It is talking about how to get to working software and get results.

A healthy option is to talk about goals and how to accomplish them together – not to attack and defend with whips and shields.

See Wholehearted Manifesto for what Agile is really about for me and many others.

Help people in your environment put away the whips and shields and start having conversations about what is important.

Agile is NOT the Goal

Read more about how to avoid this by ensuring that Agile is NOT the Goal.

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Self-Appreciation Game

At Play4Agile, Olaf Lewitz and I hosted an exploratory session on personal growth hacks. Everyone shared ideas and turned into the self-appreciation game.

Purpose of the Game

The purpose of the game is to give people practice at accepting praise and recognition so that we feel good about our accomplishments and successes. This cultivates our sense of self-worth so that we are more resourceful at work and in our personal lives.

Why Play the Game

In our society there’s rarely room to learn how to accept praise and recognition. We squirm and say “it was nothing” because it feels uncomfortable. We have a hard time seeing our own self-worth and feel this disconnect when we receive praise.

This is a great game to help people and teams become more resourceful so they are able to co-create a more positive environment.

It is very helpful if you are working to create a people-oriented organization.

Game Rules


Form a circle. If you have more than 10 people, consider the option of forming two smaller groups.
Explain the purpose of the game and it’s mechanics.


Self-Appreciation Game
Go around the circle with each person taking turns:

  1. Brag Protocol: Pick something that you are proud of and share it with the group.
  2. Applause: Everyone cheers and claps to celebrate your success.
  3. Soak it in: Let the appreciation soak in like maple syrup in a pancake. Connect deeply and fully with the feeling for 10 to 15 seconds. See Hardwiring Happiness for further explanation of letting in the good.

Go around the circle 2 to 4 times depending on how much time and energy you have.

Game Results

As we went around the circle the connection and trust increased. Everyone left this game feeling awesome.

Why This Game is Important to Me

I am on an epic quest for self-worth so that I can engage with the world from a centered and whole place. So that I carry my own weather around inside me. The game was invented to help me level up on my quest. And it worked. I hope you are interested in similar benefits.


We are deeply grateful to the participants of the workshop who helped co-create and test drive this game.

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WholeHearted Manifesto: We Value People

The WholeHearted Manifesto consists on one value statement:

We Value People. (Period)

People are the driving force behind getting results. This is the secret recipe for success.

We value all people. Our customers. Our peers. But most of all ourselves.

It would be a mistake to think this is fluffy bunny stuff. It’s not. It is the hard stuff that makes all the difference.

Wholehearted Principles

The principles of the Wholehearted Manifesto are:

  1. People happen. Not right, not wrong. They will amaze you.
  2. Awesome outcomes emerge from people who truly connect.
  3. Collaboration is our oxygen: we co-create environments for people to flourish and grow.
  4. We all are on a unique journey and help each other along the way.
  5. We love and celebrate people for who they are.
  6. We are open and honest.
  7. We ask for help before we need it.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or enhancements – please add them on the manifesto page.

Help make a difference

If this message resonates with you – please go sign the manifesto. And please share the message. Let’s move towards a better world.


The manifesto spontaneously emerged during an intense, emergent collaboration session I had with Olaf Lewitz & Christine Neidhardt. We were not seeking this, it just arrived. So I imagine that many other people must be thinking the same thing. So this is a shared idea – not ours. Not anyones.

A wonderful group of people came together to help build the Wholehearted Principles at Play4Agile in Ruchersbach, Germany. Many thanks to:

We would also like to thank Brene Brown who has greatly influenced with her wonderful books and TED talks. She introduced the term “wholehearted” to describe people who are able to fully love themselves and bring joy to those around them.

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Beyond Roles in Scrum

In this post we will explain how we can move to shared responsibility by focusing away from roles in Scrum.

(This is a joint post with Olaf Lewitz).

Build the Right thing. Build it Right. Build it Fast. ?

Henrik Kniberg produced a kick-ass intro video on Agile and Scrum that we use a lot in trainings. It’s titled “Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell”. It’s a great general introduction to Scrum, not just for Product Owners.

One amazing detail in this video is Henrik’s visualisation that helps understand three project goals and how the three Scrum Roles relate tend to focus on each:

Kniberg Roles
Kniberg Roles

He highlights how Scrum teams continually get better at finding and exploiting the sweet spot, of doing the right thing in the right way at the right point in time.

A Problem with Roles

We were using this model in a training and a participant in a training inspired us with a question: “What if these circles are closer together or further apart? There is no sweet spot any more if they don’t share these responsibilities…”

We noticed that the word “role” is actually not helpful in this context. A role is a “not my problem” rule. (cf Somebody Else’s Problem)

A team employing the traditional “role interpretation” to Scrum roles would look like this:

Somebody Else' s Problem
Somebody Else’ s Problem

They will have a hard time finding a sweet spot on their own, and they might choose doing what they are told: deliver on expectations. Such an environment has a low probability to continually improve.

Roles have been useful in the past, when organisations were structured based on one proven way to do things. In today’s ever-changing business contexts, following an established process, having clear roles and responsibilities, is limiting our options. One example is blame: “He is responsible for that, so it’s not my fault.” When we want to enable a group of people to discover a path to success, having shared responsibility for the outcome, it’s helpful to use a different language that focuses our awareness on the new game we’re playing.

Value Interests over Roles

We want to talk about interests instead of roles:

Interests, Not Roles
Interests, Not Roles
  1. Do the right thing.

  2. Do things right.

  3. Get better and better every day.

Positions not Roles

We may think about positions like on a team: forward, mid-field, defense where we all work together to win. This is a more useful and less limiting model than roles.

In soccer, we’ve seen goalkeepers score in the 92nd minute. When the goalkeeper falls other players help keeping the ball out of the goal. This is the behaviour we want to see in teams.

The Heart of Scrum: Shared Responsibility

When we focus as a group on these shared interests, we may end up as shown below.

Shared Responsibility
Shared Responsibility

As collaboration and shared responsibility increases, teams explore multiple beneficial sweet spots to have an abundance of options for success. We see this as a huge “sweet blob” in the middle where – we call this the Heart of Scrum. For us, this means the group fully works together as a team towards a common goal.


A big thanks for Henrik Kniberg for creating such an awesome and valuable video. We would like to thank Tobias Mayer for inspiring this concept with the People’s Scrum and Krishan Mathis for co-facilitating a session with the same name at OOP.

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How to Hard-Wire Happiness to Develop your Leadership Capacity

Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and ConfidenceWould it be useful to learn how to hard-wire you happiness so that you can be a more effective leader? Or just a happy person? Read on as we explore the key ideas in Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

Leadership is about Character

Effective leaders are emotionally aware and work hard and staying in a resourceful, positive, happy place. Character is rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work of dealing with you own shit. Leaders need to work on themselves before they can really help others.

All major conflicts at work are about Identity according to the Google book Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). Conflict arises when any of these three questions gets activated:

  1. Am I competent?
  2. Am I a good person?
  3. Am I worthy of love?

So as a leader it is critical that you take care of your own emotional well-being.

Good News! We can Change!

The good news from neuroscience is that are brains are plastic – we can change how they are wired to generate new behaviours and get rid of patterns that are no longer serving us.

Bad News! Negative Events Stick Like Velcro

Our wonderful brains are really, really good and remembering and acting on negative events.

Bad experiences stick like velcro.

Even worse the impact of negative events far outweighs positive events. By 3:1 or 5:1.

So how do we take enough good stuff in to be happy (and great leaders)?

A Recipe for Taking in the Good

Consider the visual note below.

On left, we have a visual summary of the above perspectives.

On the right we have a recipe for taking in the good so that we are resourceful and available when interacting with others.

Hard Wiring Happiness - Taking in the good

Let’s go through the five steps in the recipe for taking in the good.

  1. Identify Negative Experience. Notice your body’s sensations, feelings and thoughts. Get a sense of where the negative feeling is in your body and what it’s about. Don’t fight it – that makes it worse. Just accept it. Acknowledge that it exists. Simply be with it.
  2. Identify the Emotional Antidote. See Emotional Antidote Map for list of antidotes OR ask yourself “What is your heart longing for?” This is the antidote – the positive resource that will help you.
  3. Experience the Antidote. You can remember an experience of the antidote. Or imagine one. Or ask your higher power for help. After that, the next thing is to AMPLIFY the experience to make it more powerful and LET IT SOAK IN like maple syrup into a pancake. This may take practice as we are great at deflecting what we really need.
  4. Daily practice. Take in the positive every day. Focus on the areas where antidotes would be helpful. And then cultivate those antidote. Even small positive experiences add up up – especially when you savour them and let them sink in.
  5. Linking the negative to the positive (optional). This techniques uses strong positive antidote experiences to scramble negative ones so they don’t effect you any more. I learned about this first from NLP 10 years ago and the practice is tricky to get right so suggest you focus on the other parts of the recipe. In my personal and professional practice I don’t use it as I have more effective techniques for integrating negative emotions.

If you haven’t already done so, you will find more details in the related post on Emotional Antidote Map which goes into more details of that antidote part of the process.

Of course this fits in beautifully with anyone interested in the business benefits of an authentic workplace.

I have been using this method (except step 5) with myself, friends and clients. Enjoy.

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Emotional Antidote Map: Identify and Mitigate Negative Emotions

In my last post, The Business Case for an Authentic Workplace, I talked about the economic value in seeing the whole person – including their emotions. But what do we do when people actually have emotions?

In this post, I present a model that helps identify our emotions and provides guidance on working with that emotion to reduce it’s impact. A model like this is helpful navigating a workplace where emotions are no longer hidden.

The model comes from Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Rick has used these concepts extensively and the book contains guided activities to connect with emotional antidotes.

My novel invention is the creation of the inforgraphic below that make the process easier to understand and use.

The Emotional Antidote Map

The basic idea is that every negative emotion has a positive emotion that is it’s antidote and will mitigate it.

Emotional Antidote Map

We have three sub-systems in our neurology where emotions show up:

  1. Avoiding Harms
  2. Approaching Rewards
  3. Attaching to Others

For each sub-system, a negative emotion is listed on the left with it’s emotional antidote on the right. It’s called an antidote since it is the specific thing that will help with that negative emotion. For example, if one is feeling alarmed, then the antidotes would be feeling protected, safe and calm.

How to use this

Print out a copy of the map and post it somewhere nearby. Next time you are feeling unsettled:

  1. Use the map to identify the dominant negative emotion
  2. Acknowledge/accept the feeling
  3. Get a feeling of the antidote in your body (to mitigate the negative emotion)

Way to Feel an Antidote

There are several options for bringing the antidote into awareness and fully feeling it in your body (to mitigate the negative emotion):

  1. Remember a past experience.
  2. Imagine an experience.
  3. Ask your higher power or connect with your sense of spirituality.

Once you have practiced on yourself, you may wish to share this with others. Remember the caution from airplane safety procedures: “Take care of yourself first, before assisting another passenger.”

More Resources Don’t help – Only the Right Ones

Only specific antidotes help specific negative emotions. For example, if someone is experiencing failure (rewards subsystem), helping them connect with feelings of safety (avoiding harms subsystem) will not help.

Experience with this Method

I have been using this model for a couple of months and have found it very valuable for helping people identify what emotional challenge they are facing.

I have used it extensively on myself, with colleagues and in a meetup group on authentic connection.

One common observation is that a pervasive negative emotional is often linked to a pattern of ignoring the relevant antidotes. To illustrate with myself, a consistent pattern of dismissing recognition and appreciation fueled a sense of inadequacy and worthlessness. For sure I craved recognition and sought it, but when it showed up I would minimize or discount it. I would say things like “It wasn’t just me – I had help.” “Anyone could have done it.” With my new awareness around this, I now take a 5 to 10 seconds to let recognition be fully felt and registered in my body. It feels good.

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