Letting Go of Agile (Culture)

Letting go of Agile Culture“If you want something very, very badly, let it go free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.  If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” - Harry Kronman

I have discovered the truth of this with Agile. The one time in my whole life I truly surrendered my attachment to Agile, it resulted in a beautiful transformation starting. But most of the time I was too attached to Agile to let it go.

This post is about how we may accidentally harm organizations with Agile and how we can let go so that we may succeed.

Accidentally Harming Organizations

Here is the basic thinking:

  1. Agile is a good thing.
  2. We can help companies if they use Agile.
  3. Let’s do it!

Trap #1: Accidentally introduce cultural conflict

Agile for me is basic common sense – this is how to get stuff done. BUT Agile does not work in most organizations due to culture. Sure there are some small pockets where Agile just works but this seems to be relatively rare – especially now that Agile has crossed the chasm.

Agile is a different culture from most companies, so the first trap is to accidentally introduce organizational conflict. That’s why I wrote “An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Organizational Culture” – to help people notice this trap and avoid it.

My suggestion was to look at two options:

  1. Adopt elements of Agile that fit with the culture.
  2. Transform the organizational culture.

For many, option 1 is like giving up on Agile since they key part of it is missing so many Agile folks don’t like that option.

Increasingly Agile experts go for option #2 instead: Transform the Organizational Culture. I sure did. I set out to learn how to change organizational culture. And I figured it out. But there was a problem. A big one.

Trap #2 Attempt to Transform to Agile Culture

The core of the problem is that Agile is not an end in itself. It is means to an end. Some common goals (ends) are: a quality product, time to market or engaged staff. The problem is not that Agile doesn’t help with these goals (it certainly does), the problem is that people confuse Agile as the goal and often act in ways that undermine the real goal. We see Agile being used as a Whip or a Shield. That is why it’s a good idea to Stop Agile Initiatives. A better alternative to an Agile initiative is to have an initiative around the real goals. One way to get at the real goals is to run a workshop to clarify why people want Agile.

It is a good thing to change culture in service to what organizations really want for themselves. A specific culture is not a goal in itself, but a means to accomplishing something. We may seek a culture of engagement and innovation not for itself, but because we want our organization to thrive in a competitive landscape.

There are many many beautiful, productive organization cultures all over the world that have nothing to do with Agile. The implication is that there are many ways to get to a place where people love what they do. If we really want to help people, then the best move is to work with them to evolve a wonderful culture that is right for them. And for sure it will not be exactly “Agile Culture” (especially since this is not completely precise). If it is a progressive culture, it will likely be Agile-compatible and using Agile to get benefits will be very natural. It’s a win – win.

Agile Culture should never be a goal. If it is, we will likely just cause harm.

Let Go of the Outcome to Find Success

Here is my secret to success: Let go of the outcome.

I wrote a couple of years about about how leaders have a choice between the red pill (deeper reality) and the blue pill (surface reality). I stated it like I gave people a choice. But I didn’t. The only choice I wanted was the red pill. I wanted so much to help the people in organizations I pushed for the red pill. The truth is I cared so much for the outcome which I assumed was best that I didn’t really give a open choice. In subtle and more obvious ways I was attempting to coerce leaders into taking the red pill. Ooops! Coercion is not any part of Agile, but here I was wanting my outcome for others. And it is not just me. I have talked to dozens of professional coaches and this is pandemic in the Agile community.

The solution is obvious. If we really want to stay true to Agile values, we can’t coerce. We have to let the people (especially management teams) make their own decisions and their own mistakes. We have to help them find and walk the path that they choose. This means letting go of the outcome. This means letting go of Agile.

This business of learning to let go is not new. In fact, letting go of attachment is a central message of Buddhism.

To close, the one time I fully let go of Agile it came back in such a beautiful sustainable and lasting way. Time to rinse and repeat.

“If you want Agile very, very badly, let it go free.  If it comes back to you, it’s there forever.  If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.”

(Stay tuned for a follow-up post on Agile as a means of creating freedom by Olaf Lewitz.)

My Apology

I helped a lot of people see Agile as a culture system and learn how to stop causing accidental conflict.

Unfortunately, I also energized a lot of people to seek culture change with the goal of growing Agile. As clarified in this blog post, this was a mistake. I am sorry.

What’s the alternative? For those who want real change, let’s help them meet their organizational goals with culture transformation and let Agile come willingly.

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Stop Agile Initiatives!

Stop Agile HeadlineI am sick to death of Agile Initiatives because they usually fail. Sure there are some companies where Agile just fits, but the most common case is a culture conflict. Best fix I know is: Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)

The core problem is that the typical approach used to initiate Agile is inconsistent with Agile goals of empowerment and engagement.

Paul Heidema and I ran a session to explore this at Agile Open Toronto this Spring and this post is a way to share the key learnings.

This is a great workshop to run with people to help them understand different options for engaging with change.

I Caused Damage By Agile …

My mom used to say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Here is how I and others have caused damage with Agile:

 I caused damage with Agile by...

Of course you can replace the word “Agile” with any other word such as “Lean”, or “Total Quality Management” or <Fill-in-the-blank>.

 Real Change Happens When…

We then reflected on the times when we participated and witnessed real change and found that it emerges – it’s not forced:

Real-change-happened-when

How Change Your Agile Initiative into Something Better

Real success comes from digging in deep on what is important and really valued in the organization – not just jumping on the Agile bandwagon.

Here is are practical exercise you can use to transform your Agile Initiative into something more resilient and lasting: Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)

Acknowledgements

We really appreciate all the folks who showed up and participated in this session. It was awesome.

Stop-Agile-Initiatives-Contributors

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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.

Hugs.

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

Setup

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.

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.

Acknowledgements

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.

Acknowledgements

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.

Acknowledgements

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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