Agile 2011 Preview – Innovation Games and Strategic Play with Lego

I am heading off to Agile 2011 and I wanted to share why I am really excited to be attending.  It’s really all about the power of play.

Understanding Flow through Games

I was fortunate to be accepted to the Agile Bootcamp track to present Lean Fundementals: Understanding Flow through games. I am thrilled since this touches on two passions of mine – Lean/Flow thinking and using games for learning.

Strategic Play® with Lego® for Solving Serious Problems

I am going to run two open jam sessions (each with a maximum of 14 participants) to use  Strategic Play® with Lego®  to solve some serious problems or build a shared vision. I will announce the times via twitter (follow-me) and also using the open jam board.

One of these will be focussed on generating leadership ideas for the Scrum Alliance. Some example acceptance tests for leadership are:

  • There is a clear compelling vision of the Scrum Alliance that is supported by 70% of the membership.
  • Satisfaction with leadership in Scrum Alliance is high. (e..g more than 4 out of 5 on survey).
  • Public perception of the Scrum Alliance is positive.
  • Members feel like their voice is heard regarding key decisions.


Innovation Games® T-Shirt Contest

You probably already know that Innovation Games® are amazingly powerful for supporting Product Owner/Manager communication and discovery with customers and stakeholders.

What you may not know is that there is a game at Agile 2011 for promoting awareness about Innovation Games® using a photo contest. Get your picture with me and other trained facilitators to win cold hard cash. I am very excited to participate and am bringing my two t-shirts. See front and back below. Sadly, my new tshirt did not get here in time…

Tasty Cupcakes – Game on!

I have been working with Mike McCollough and Don McGreal to accelerate as the destination site to find and share games for learning about Agile and for games that do valuable work.

Games provide a way for people to play to get outstanding business results or accelerated learning.  Spot me wearing a TastyCupcakes tshirt and I’ll help you find the game for you!

Coach’s Corner

As a Certified Scrum Coach I thought I would pay it forward by participating in the Coach’s Corner to help coaches.

If you were thinking that this is not about play or games, well either you are right or life itself is a game. A collaborative one.

My office hours are:

  • Monday 8am-9am
  • Thursday 5pm to 7pm
  • Friday 8am-9am




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Benjamin Zander on the Art of Possibility

I wanted to share this inspiring video on the art of possibility and how our stance in the world can change everything. Stance is very important for coaching.

This video is pretty long, but the best bits for me were in the first 12 minutes. Some great parts:

  • Letter using Remember the Future for remembering why the student will have been wildly successful (3:43)
  • You can give an “A” grade to anyone – to transform the relationship (4:25)
  • “How Fascinating!” as a celebration of errors to maintain an available state (10:53)

Also, Benjamin Zander has a book with this title (haven’t read it yet).

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Exploring Agile Community Challenges through StrategicPlay® with Lego®


Last weekend, a group of local Agilistas got together for BBQ, drink, and to play with Lego. Well, not just play, but StrategicPlay® – with a purpose. And wow, what a result! The outcome was some deep insights into the Agile community that we’d like to share with you.

Setting the Stage

After a brief introduction and practice with StrategicPlay® model building and sharing, everyone proposed a topic for the session by building a model and explaining it. After voting (with little wee Lego coins), the group decided on the model/topic show to the left: it contrasts the low level of connection within the Agile community and outside with other communities with the ideal/future state where there is a very powerful coherent tower of strength in the community.

Individual Visions of Agile Community Challenges

Now that the topic was establish, everyone built their own model of it and took turns explaining them. Below, for example, is an individual model. Even though it was by the same participant who created the topic, the process of listening and sharing resulted in a dramatically different model. It tells the story of seemingly growing success of Agile as a movement, but coupled with a disconnect in making a difference with much of the corporate world. The possible elephant in the room is that perhaps Agile is and always has been about innovators and early adopters.

Here is another one – showing factions arguing with each other in order to produce commercial success while the great challenge of waterfall waste is left largely unchallenged.

 A Shared Vision of Agile Community Challenges

The next challenge was for the group to work together to create a shared model that:

  • Represented the most important concept from each person’s individual model, AND
  • Everyone felt comfortable will all parts of the shared model
After a period of intense collaboration and negotiation, they created the shared model:
Some of the key take-away messages are:
  • The community consists of factions and talking heads with increasing importance on commercial success. (photo left)
  • Many customer are still trapped with bad IT.  (White man under cargo net in the middle)
  • Within the community, there is a common sense of purpose to help people reach a meaningful improvement (Green on right)
  • But there is a difficult bridge or chasm to cross to get there. Interestingly, the bridge in this model was unstable.
  • By creating rich connections and communication including transparency it is possible to illuminate the way forward (top, middle)
Watch the video. It really tells the story.

Although I only facilitated the process, I felt a strong connection with the model and ideas in it.


Credit for the model goes to : Alistair McKinnell, Jason Cheong-Kee-You, Jeff Anderson, Siraj Berhen, Todd Charron, and Sam DeBoni. Great work!

StrategicPlay® looks powerful – What can I use it for?

StrategicPlay® is great for working out solutions to complex problems. The more complex, the better.

It has a wide variety of applications from: team building and organizational change to product innovation to developing company strategy.

If you are curious to learn more about applications or the science behind why this stuff works so well, please read a more detailed description.

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Agile – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This is your chance to hear about the Ugly harsh realities, the Bad news and the Good opportunities for Agile. In many ways this concludes the past months series on Agile Culture.

Stop reading now if you want to take the blue pill and ignore the harsh realities of the Agile industry.
Along with a menagerie of problems, the vast majority of so-called “Agile Coaches” are unconsciously incompetent with respect to adopting and transitioning to Agile and a wider toolkit is called for in many situations. But there’s hope for us all: we can stop the madness by changing our outlook and learn the tools at hand to turn this industry around.

The Ugly: Harsh Reality

Failure is now commonplace

There is a lot of failure and no shortage of lesson’s learned. Check out Google for top 10 lists on failure.  And then of course there is Ken Schwaber’s infamous quote: “75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it.” (I am in fact misquoting him but will do so anyway since he understates the problem). Of course there is my own informal study.
Agile is an idea, not a product
Many of us in the community have misunderstood that Agile is largely an idea disguised as a process (See Doing Agile isn’t the same as being Agile). Transforming companies to a new mindset is much much harder than adopting a process. Real success requires more than an accidental approach to adoption.
Post-Chasm Most Companies want a quick fix
Agile is post chasm and it’s painful (See Post-Chasm Agile Blues). Rare and far-between are the companies that have a strategic focus in adoption Agile where top company priorities are tied Agile delivery success. Often there is little buy-in to make undertake changes to really make Agile work.
Agile only fits in some company cultures
The sad truth is that Agile doesn’t fit all company cultures. Agile is about collaboration and cultivation while many companies are dominated by control culture. So, many Agile adoptions in progress right now are going to fail for this reason.

The Bad: Wake-up call for Coaches

Unconscious Ingnorance – where the majority of coaches are right now

As the ranks for so called Agile coaches has grown, I would argue that many do not really understand Agile very well (due in part to Semantic Diffusion). This is sad, but there is something worse: Among those who understand it reasonably well, the vast majority are in what I consider to be unconscious incompetence with regard to helping organizations with Agile. This is not a random insult, but a wake-up call.
If we consider “helping organizations with Agile” as a skill, then we can apply the Conscious Competence Learning Model to understand this. See levels in diagram below.

It could be argued that many are just at the Su level of Shu-Ha-Ri, and there is no need to be so negative. However, there is a step before Shu where someone does not know about or have interest in a particular skill – accidental is perhaps a more gentle word than unconscious incompetence.
I thought a lot about where to draw the red line. I think that mostly the community is is at the unconscious incompetence level with only a small number beyond this. Although there are some thought leaders sharing valuable insights, there is no coherent message that people agree on. We need to shift the curve to the right perhaps through a shaping meme in the Agile community. My hope is that this post will help with this.
Looking from a perspective of culture and the levels of failure, I think strong language is required for a wake-up-call and call to action.
The days where we pretend that Agile is the greatest things since sliced bread and we can just drop it in to any company are over.
Sorry, you need more tools
The skills required to be a good Agile Coach are immense. The best coaches are constantly learning and know that they have to be very selective in what knowledge to pursue. For example, see Agile Skills Project for skills just needed to use Agile, not to coach organizations. Mike Cottmeyer has a very broad list of tools that go waaaaay beyond Agile in 12 Key Knowledge Areas. What’s missing in all this?
Although there is a lot of talk about coaching, there is not much discussion of consulting effectively with Agile or no coherent story around organizational change. Interestingly the Certified Scrum Coach designation (which I have and think is valuable) has among other things clear requirements around Advisory and Consultation skills as well as Organizational Development. So, it’s time to read books like: Leading Change, Facilitating Organizational Change, Secrets of Consulting, and Flawless Consulting. To ease the load of learning everything, my recommendation is to work in teams.

The Good: Tools for success

First step is understanding

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao-tzu. And that first step is to honestly reflect on what is happening in your world. For many, this will be a red pill, blue pill moment – except that this time its about you and not your client.

Look at the big picture

Understanding the company culture using the Schneider Culture Model or other model is critical. This can be used to inform whether to use an adoption approach or a transformation approach. Israel Gat argues that “Long-term Agile sustainability requires all four dimensions — benefits, risk mitigation, strategic business value, and culture — to be addressed.” (Concise Executive Guide To Agile). Work towards making Agile one of the top 3 company priorities or stop. Agile readiness assessments play a big part but this body of knowledge still needs development.
Use an Explicit Transition Model
In an earlier post, I outlined different adoption and transition models. It is critcal, that everyone know and understand the approach that is used and what the goals are.
Consider Kanban and Craftsmanship
Kanban is a great way to start chipping away at years of process atrophy and dysfunction. It fits well with control cultures that dominate the IT scene. This is a good thing and meant in a positive sense – Kanban is like an Oreo Cookie: Dark Crunchy Control on the outside, but Sweet White Goodness (collaboration, cultivation and craftsmanship) on the inside!  So for those hard-core Scrum-heads or Agile zealots – let it go – Kanban is the only way to help many companies. And attempting Agile in those places will just bring harm to all involved.
Competence culture has always been part of eXtreme Programming (XP), but has been washed out of Agile culture by the success of Scrum. Much of the technical emphasis has subsequently been developed into the Craftsmanship movement. Many companies are well suited to improving technical practices, so why not start there? Yup. That’s the opposite of Scrum.

Just Say “no”

With the understanding above about what successsful Agile is and the conditions for success, it is clear that many Agile adoptions may be better off halted and others not even started.
For people who work professionally as coaches and whose livelihood depend on maladapted Agile, the way to help themselves and to help their clients is to do something different that will work or stop.

Quo Vadis?

Agile makes the world a better place

Agile is an important way to bring joy to work and make software creation a humane activity. There is a revolution happening in the world of work where people are beginning to realize the economic value of play. For example, Stuart Brown: Why play is vital — no matter your age and Jane McGonigal on why gaming can make the world better. And this is part of an even bigger movement of creating a democratic workplace – checkout WorldBlu – this is a must see.

What’s your play book?

For a change agent or coach, where are you right now? Where do you want to be in 3 months? What are you going to do to get there?
School me!
For sure some readers will be thinking “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m in the consciously competent category!”. In this case, please share your stories of success and how you get there.
Thanks for taking the red pill …

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Agile Culture, Adoption, & Transformation Reading Guide

NEW. For updated information on this post, please see An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide.

This is a reading guide to the series that explores corporate culture and how that has a direct impact (sometimes very negative) on efforts towards Agile adoption and transformation. It is a must-read for every Agile Change Agent. The role of Kanban is quite distinct and is discussed throughout.

Below is a quick synopsis of each post in the series on Organizational Culture, Adoption and Transformation so you it’s easy to find the most relevant content for you and start with what interests you most.

Best Summary

Juicy Conclusions

Read about why it matters to you:

Change Agent’s Toolkit

Read this to expand your toolkit:

Reading Order from Beginning to End

If you want to understand the logic in linear order, start here:

  1. How to Make Your Culture Work (Schneider) – Explanation of Schneider culture model that is used as a base for the analysis and provides a framework for discourse.
  2. Agile is about Collaboration and Cultivation Culture – Analysis of Agile/Scrum core values and associated culture.
  3. Kanban aligns with Control Culture – Analysis of Kanban cultural bias.
  4. Software Craftsmanship promotes Competence Culture – Analysis of Craftsmanship cultural bias.
  5. Agile Fits Better in Some Company Cultures than Others – Juicy conclusions that points to a different way for coaches to approach and engage with clients.
  6. A Tour of Agile Adoption and Transformation Models – Review of Agile Adoption and Transformation models. What tools people in the community are using and where they are effective.
  7. Ways to Make Progress with Culture Gaps – Different ways for coaches to make progress with Agile when it doesn’t fit with the culture.
  8. Agile – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Links cultural issues central to challenges faced with Agile Adoption and Transition. See also slides.


Here are some more bits and pieces around culture:

Video/Screencasts (older)

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Ways to Make Progress with Culture Gaps

In an earlier post, I talked about how Agile Fits Better in Some Company Cultures than Others.

In this post, we’ll review some common strategies for handling cultural mismatches.

The Big Pitcure

I almost posted this blog without a summary picture and I am glad I stopped myself. Once I made the drawing below, I saw there are two main strategies (adoption and transformation) and sub-strategies within them. This post will walk you through the options and when to use them.

Work with your Culture

This is the recommendation from Schneider’s book – How to make your Culture work: work with your culture; don’t fight it. I’ll outline some ways below.

#1 Build on Your Current Culture

The idea here is pick an approach that is compatible with the current culture of the organization.

One way I interpret the diagram on the right (see related article) is a prescription of what aspects of Agile/Lean to focus on based on company culture:

  • Control Culture? –> Lead with Kanban
  • Competence Culture –> Lead with Craftsmanship
  • Collaboration or Cultivation Culture –> Lead with aspects of Agile that align with the organizations culture. e.g. Vision and Retrospectives for Cultivation Culture.

Kanban? But it’s not Agile!

Some really smart Agile folks think than Kanban is a sell-out: That it is a watered down, inferior form of Agile that doesn’t measure up. (I mostly disagree with this sentiment).

This reminds me of a story Craig Larman shared at a local user group meeting: “My favourite process is Unified Process. I do it in a very Agile way. But, I never recommend it to my clients since it is too easily interpreted as Waterfall and they won’t get the benefits. Instead I use an explicit Agile method. It’s not my preference, but I use it and it is better for my clients.” So, even if you like Scrum better, your client may thank you for helping them with Kanban.

So my view on the topic is that it doesn’t really matter which is better in some abstract sense. All that matters is what will help this client the most and make peoples lives better. See Kanban is a Gateway Drug for more thoughts on this topic.

#2 Work with Compatible Cultures

Consider the diagram to the right. It shows that although the easiest option is to work with the existing dominant culture (in this case Control) it is possible to explore adjacent cultures since these are more aligned. Choice of direction may be guided by what the secondary non-dominant culture of the organization is. The idea here is to work with the culture, and not go against  the grain.

#3 Create Adapters between Different Cultures

Another way to handle this problem of cultural mismatch is to create barriers between different cultures. The idea here is to create a firewall or facade that lets the different cultural groups function with little friction.

Israel Gat talks about creating a boundary object such as automated tests and technical debt measurements to avoid conflict between development (collaboration) and operations (control). For this, and more on ways that you can make your culture work see Israel Gat’s presentation and conference session.

Joseph Pelrine has a great video on InfoQ – Dealing with the Organizational Challenges of Agile where he talks through some models including using people as buffers (Scrum Master) to translate between internal team culture and the external culture of the team. This is an amazing video that goes into much more theoretical arguments well beyond culture, so consider watching the full one hour.

One successful pattern I have seen is for Agile teams to create Gantt charts to keep the PMO happy. In some companies, this is necessary waste. It brings no value to the organization, but it is currently required for the organization to function. Of course you could stick to your principles and refuse, however, you may find that when the organizational antibodies that attack, they are stronger than your management support. Or it’s not worth the fight at this time.

Change your Culture

OK, this is hard. Really hard. Culture is singularly persistent in organizations.

What about Visionary Leadership?

Conventional wisdom is that innovative companies with visionary leadership can also transform to Agile. This is why you will often hear Agile coaches say that you need strong management support. But is this true?

Some people might point to the success of a company like as an example of how they were able to change their culture. On the other hand, in the article Six Common Mistakes that Salesforce didn’t make, it is stated that “The leadership saw the transformation not so much as a wholly new approach, but rather a return to the firm’s core values.” So, this would then not be an example.

I vaguely recall a similar story about getting back to the original culture with Yahoo, who also did and enterprise transition to Scrum.

If you have any case studies, please feel free to share via email or comments.

Welcome back, Kotter

No, I’m not talking about the TV show. I’m talking about the Kotter model of organizational change. It recognizes the eight stages that are seen in successful organizational change efforts.

Some coaches in the Agile community are aware of the Kotter model and a few are actively using it to help companies achieve an Agile mindset. I am not aware of any case studies where a company has undergone transformation to Agile using this model (but we don’t do a good job as a community collecting case studies so it is unclear how heavily to weight this).

So, if you are thinking about changing company culture, this is pretty much the only clear transition model available. And yes, if you are a coach, you do need to understand organizational development to do your job well. Sad, but true.

So what?

As a coach, you need to know what game you are playing. Are you helping management transform their organization or are you helping them adopt a culturally-fit approach? Hopefully, you are not rolling the dice with inspect and adapt.

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Coaching Skills Dojo

Although Agile coaching requires many skills, we get back to basics by revisiting three fundamental coaching skills: observing, listening and questioning.

As you put these three key skills into practice, you will get feedback on your performance and have the opportunity to try out improvement ideas in a safe, open and friendly environment.

Learning Objectives

  • Practice listening without judgment
  • Gather information more effectively
  • Ask different kinds of questions to understand the real problem
  • Gain fresh insights into a problem you face at work


  • Number of participants: 6 to 20 (could go to 30 with a bit of deterioration)
  • Team size: work in groups of 3.
  • Duration: 90 minutes (can be made shorter or longer)
  • Materials: Flip chart paper and marker for each group.
  • Setup: Chairs for sitting, walls for flipchart paper.
  • Credits: This game was created by Michael Sahota and Portia Tung. It can be considered a variant of The Yellow Brick Road – Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching (see below).


Below is the core part of the Dojo – practicing skills.

We will use flipcharts and posters to support a highly interactive workshop where most of the work will be done in small groups.

(2 min ) Introduction – session objectives, activities
(2 min) Three key coaching skills (…) – tell participants that we will only focus on these three.
(5 min) Human bubblesort: participants order themselves by listening, observing and questioning skills (low to high)
(1 min) Form Triads (groups of three) with neighbours

(9 min) Build Skills poster for listening, observing and questioning

  • (5 min) Each triad creates a poster to define the three skills. (Need poster, markers)
  • (4 min) Triads share posters with large group; only some groups will share, not all. We will ask if anyone has something important that was missed.

(6 min) Launch triad

  • Re-iterate session goals: 1) Identify Action Points 2) Practice Skills
  • Individuals brainstorm up to three problems and pick one
  • Explain Roles: Client, Coach, Observer
  • Explain timing and structure of the practice rounds

(27 min) First Round of Practice

  • 5 mins x 3 mini rounds (everyone rotates through roles)
  • 5 mins sharing within triad
  • 7 mins sharing with group

(27 min) Second Round of Practice

(2 min) Wrap-up

  • Action point takeaways – close eyes for one minute and think of how you will use these skills in the next week.

(6 min) Slack/Buffer – for possible late start or time overrun

Facilitator Tips

  • Prepare in advance flipcharts with:
    • The 3 roles
    • Timing of each mini-round
  • Bring a gong or bell to let people know when to change roles. Why? People get so far down the tunnel it is hard to get them to shift gears.
  • (Optional) Prepare a handout with a summary of the three skills.
  • (Optional) Prepare your own poster explaining the three skills.

Sources of Inspiration

Michael attended Rachel Davies Coaching Dojo at Agile 2010 and was curious about how to build upon its subject using aspects of the Yellow Brick Road game.

Coaching Skills Dojo can be considered a variant of The Yellow Brick Road – Agile Adoption Through Peer Coaching created by Portia Tung, Pascal Van Cauwenberghe and Duncan Pierce. The inspiration for this new game is to streamline it and create a more relaxed pace than the original Yellow Brick Road game. For example, the mini-rounds are extended by five minutes and there are only two mini-rounds rather than three in the original game. As well, we have introduced a learner-led mini-workshop at the start to remind and grow peoples understanding of the three skills.

This was submitted (but not accepted) to Agile 2011 as “Over the Rainbow: Coaching success through observing, listening and questioning” and has been subsequently renamed.

Feedback from First Run at Agile Games 2011

  • “It was great to bring specific focus on the skills involved in coaching: observing, listening and questioning. It is too easy to take this for granted.” – M.C.
  • “Made 2 really great contacts.” – L.L.
  • Rated 9.2/10 for usefulness at work.
  • As facilitator, it was very moving to see participants improve their skills in such a short time.

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A Tour of Agile Adoption and Transformation Models

In light of Agile adoption failures and awareness of cultural challenges, the purpose of this post is to review current models that are applied to adopting Agile and transforming with Agile at organizations. Worthy background reading is Mike Cottmeyer’s post on Untangling Adoption and Transformation.

It is worth noting that there is no widespread agreement about how to undertake agile adoption.

A Tour of Adoption and Transformation Models

Below a number of models for Agile adoption and organizational transformation are shown.

The horizontal scale shows on the one hand techniques aimed at adopting practices while at the other we have wholesale organizational change or transformation. I am increasingly thinking that for many situations, adoption is not sufficient and transformation is required but not wanted.

Models above the line are not specific to Agile, while those below the line come from an Agile context.

What follows is a short overview of each model or approach.

Becoming Agile in an Imperfect World

Smith and Sidky’s book – Becoming Agile in an Imperfect World – provides a lot of practical advice on adopting Agile. They begin with the premise that many companies are not ready for Agile along a variety of dimensions: Tools, Culture, Project Management, Software Process and Physical Environment. They advocate becoming as Agile as possible given the current environmental limitations and most important needs. Although they recognize that Agile represents a shift in thinking, they support an incremental practices-oriented adoption. Some might characterize this as Doing Agile rather than Being Agile.

Containers, Differences and Exchanges

The CDE (Containers, Differences, Exchanges) model provides a way to understand the context of a team or group and highlights ways of effecting change. For example, a team is a very powerful container for organizing staff. So is the physical environment. Esther Derby has a good post and presentation/video on Shifting Organizational Patterns. CDE is also discussed in Succeeding with Agile (p. 221-227).

Fearless Change

Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising provides lots of great techniques and tips for adopting new ideas within an organization. The image at the right shows the different patterns (click for hi-res version). I have used these patterns and they are very helpful for adopting new ideas. I have included them on the adoption end of the scale as they are not about organizational transformation although they can support it.

Inspect and Adapt with Enterprise Transition Team

In The Enterprise and Scrum Ken Schwaber outlines his view of how to transition an organization to Scrum:

  1. Create an Enterprise Transition Team – a Scrum team responsible for the transition of the organization to Scrum.
  2. Apply Scrum to an enterprise backlog of transition items.
  3. Inspect and adapt to success.

Although there are a number of caveats – Scrum requires a new Enterprise Culture and huge effort to execute – the book is light on specifics.

Another example of this approach is written by Schwaber, Leffingwell and Smits: A CIO’s Playbook for Adopting the Scrum Method of Achieving Software Agility.

To my knowledge, this is the most commonly applied pattern within the community.


ADAPT is Mike Cohn’s model for adoption of Scrum:

  • Awareness that the current process is not delivering acceptable results.
  • Desire to adopt Scrum as a way to address current problems.
  • Ability to succeed with Scrum.
  • Promotion of Scrum through sharing experiences so that we remember and others can see our successes.
  • Transfer of the implications of using Scrum throughout the company.

This feels like a light-weight version of the Kotter Model (below) for organizational change so I have placed it further along the scale towards transformation. See Chapter 2 of Mike Cohn’s Succeeding with Agile or presentation for further details.

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin is a decision-making framework that recognizes the causal differences that exist between system types and proposes new approaches to decision-making in complex social environments. Some argue that the Cynefin model (Snowden) can be used for Agile adoption. Others use it as an analysis model to create a shared understanding of the type of environment so that the most appropriate approach can be selected. For example, for complex environments, cause and effect are so closely linked that an adaptive approach to change is appropriate.

Here is a short video explanation of the Cynefin model as well as a presentation on why it matters. i.e. the case for Complex Adaptive Systems.

The implications for Agile adoption/transformation is clear – many organizational environments are complex and adoption approach needs to reflect this. In this case, we will not know what actions will lead to the desired result. We can only take one and sense the result. This state implies less clarity than one would have with an Enterprise transition backlog.

Kotter Model for Organizational Change

Truly transforming an organization requires consistent sustained energy over a long period of time. Kotter outlines the 8 steps that need to happen in sequence to establish real and lasting change. These have been observed in a variety of companies over the last 20 years:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency
  2. Forming a powerful Guiding Coalition
  3. Creating a Vision
  4. Communicating the Vision
  5. Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
  6. Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
  7. Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
  8. Institutionalizing New Approaches

The model is simple, yet powerful and challenging. For example, the criteria put forth for a sense of urgency is that “75% of management genuinely believe that the status quo is unacceptable”. Another key aspect is that it is not possible to make real progress unless each step is completed in order.

To learn more please see: short article or Leading Change book. Also, Olivier Lafontan has Card Decks for Implementing Kotter (very cool) if you are interested in using this model.

Marshall Model of Organisational Evolution

At the very extreme edge of transformation, the Marshall Model defines a paradigm for organization evolution and growth. It can be viewed as an organizational maturity model where effectiveness increases with maturity. It reminds me of Spiral Dynamics Model that posits a theory of human development.


There are a lot of different ideas floating around of how to adopt and transform to Agile. The models presented here, together with your client’s situation, puts you in a better place to choose a suitable model to help them find success. Perhaps even asking yourself the question “Am I adopting Agile or transforming to Agile?” may help you find a happier path or terminate a painful one.

What’s Missing?

I am sure that you (the reader) have a story to tell about an approach to Agile Adoption or Organizational Transformation through Agile. Please comment and share.

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Kanban aligns with Control Culture

In my last post, I looked at how Agile Culture is about Collaboration and Cultivation.

Today, I am likely to ruffle a lot of feathers by observing that Kanban aligns well with control culture. So, if you are a consultant or coach, this is good news since Agile plays badly to companies that have a control culture. I view todays post as a refinement of my earlier post – Scrum or Kanban? Yes! – where I argued that some situations are a better fit for Kanban vs. Scrum.

What is Kanban?

I am choosing a recent and very insightful post by David Anderson – The Principles of the Kanban Method as the basis for my analysis. David is arguable the leader of the Kanban/Software school with his book, very active mailing list and Lean Software and Systems Consortium.

Kanban is mostly aligned with Control Culture

The cultural model used in the analysis below is based on the work of William Schneider. If you are not familiar with it, I suggest you check out my summary of his book. The terms I am using have a very precise meaning, so please refer to this for additional context.

As you can see the main focus is about Control. Control cultures live and breathe policies and process. Kanban has this in spades. Control culture is also about creating a clear and orderly structure for managing the company which is exactly what Kanban is about.

Control cultures focus on the company/system (vs. people) and current state (vs. future state). This is a good description for the starting place for Kanban.

What is really interesting from a cultural analysis perspective is the principle: Improve collaboratively using models and scientific method. These two concepts really don’t mix, so how can this work? According to Schneider, other cultural elements can be present as long as they support the core culture. So having some people focus is fine as long as it supports controlling the work.

The notion of evolutionary or controlled change can also be compatible with a control culture if it is used to maintain the existing organizational structure and hierarchy.

Wait a minute, Kanban is Agile, isn’t it?

Mike Burrow’s made a very influential post: Learning together: Kanban and the Twelve Principles of Agile Software. In it he argues that Kanban satisfies each of the Agile Principles. Now that I am studying this from the perspective of culture, I see that this is in fact not the case or perhaps only weakly the case.

Agile and Kanban for sure share a common community, and many practices may be cross-adopted, however, they are fundamentally promoting different perspectives. Agile is first about people and Kanban is first about the system. Yes, people are important in Kanban too, but this is secondary to the system.

So is Kanban Agile? I used to think so. I don’t any more.


This is an update to this post where I need to clarify a few things:

  1. I love Kanban and think it is great. We need more of it in the world.
  2. I am not saying people who use Kanban are control freaks or prefer command and control. What I am saying is that if your client has a control culture, then Kanban is a good thing to talk to them about (vs. Scrum).
  3. I am not saying Kanban is incompatible with Agile. I am saying that they are complementary perspectives.

So What?

You may be burning with curiosity about what the implications of this are. Stay tuned for upcoming posts.

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How to Make Your Culture Work (Schneider)

NEW. For updated information on this post, please see An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide.


I finally had time to read The Reengineering Alternative: A plan for making your current culture work by William Schneider. If you are at all concerned about successful Agile adoption, then this is a must-read.

Before reading the book, I already had a pretty good idea about it thanks to a private seminar with Michael Spayd and a conference session by Israel Gat – How we do things around here in order to succeed. But when reading the book, I crystallized my thinking about a whole number of disparate experiences and open questions.

In this post, I will cover the key concepts of the book. Analysis and connections to Agile will follow in subsequent posts.

Schneider Culture Model

In the diagram below, there are four cultures depicted – one in each quadrant. Each has a NAME, a “short quote”, a picture, and some words the characterize that quadrant. As you read through this, you may will get a sense of where your company is.

There are also two axis that indicate where the focus or an organization is:

  1. Horizontal: People Oriented (Personal) vs. Company Oriented (Impersonal)
  2. Vertical: Reality Oriented (Actuality) vs. Possibility Oriented

This provides an a way to see relationships between the cultures. For example, Control culture is more compatible with Collaboration or Competence cultures than with Cultivation culture.

Key points about culture

  • Management guru Peter Drucker says “Culture … is singularly persistent … In fact, changing behaviour works only if it is based on the existing ‘culture'”
  • No one culture type is better than another. The book details the strengths and weaknesses of each so check it out if you are curious to learn more.
  • Depending on the type of work, one type of culture may be a better fit.
  • Companies typically have a dominant culture with aspects from other cultures. This is fine as long as those aspects serve the dominant culture.
  • Different departments or groups may have different cultures. (e.g. development vs. operations)
  • Differences can lead to conflict.

How to make Culture work

The starting point for making culture work is understanding it. The book describes a survey you can give to staff (Example Survey from Book in Survey Monkey – N.B. You can’t see the results). The book suggests using this as a starting point for culture workshops with a diverse group of staff.

There are several suggestions for using cultural information to guide decision-making:

  1. Evaluate key problems in the context of culture. Sometimes changes are needed to bring the culture into alignment with the core culture.
  2. Sometimes the culture is too extreme (e.g. too much cultivation without any controls – or vice versa!), and elements from other cultures are needed to bring it back into balance.
  3. Consider the possibility of creating creating interfaces/adapters/facades to support mismatches between departments or groups.

Well, that’s the book in a nutshell. More to follow on how this relates to Agile.

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