"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Monday, 23 July 2012

Do we need managers in Agile?

I think we do!
And I found very interesting what Portia Tung and Pascal Van Cauwenberghe wrote at the end of their session at Agile 2010 Conference:
In an Agile organization, where the managers are freed from the day-to-day project tasks and decisions, we need them more than ever as leaders doing strategic work, removing organizational obstacles, building trusting relationships with technical staff, coaching, providing feedback, assisting with career development and building the capacity of the organization.

Tough job, eh? Especially if you come from years where you were taught doing a totally different way.

In one of her blog post from last year, Esther Derby had an inspiring say about something to remember about managers (especially those in middle management roles), instead of being just easily critical of them.
I cannot agree more.

In the last 2 years, I had the chance to talk to a lot of managers and most time I could feel and sometimes concretely hear a sense of frustration for the many "don't's" they said they were subscribed and by the too few "do's" they were suggested so that they could perform their "new" job great.
BTW, Scrum is agnostic about managers (as it is about technology)!

"Don't tell the team how to do something!"
"Don't take decisions the team can take by their own!"
"Don't speak at Daily Standup!"
"Don't ..."

"What shall I do then?"

I think they got a great point: it looks like asking a person, who was used to nail, to tighten a screw instead by using his/her old hammer.

Agile and Lean transformation is probably the most challenging and difficult change for a company, no matter if big or small, because it affects both business and people – developers and managers…everybody! And just like before, managers must understand the business they’re dealing with very well.
But business is changed and new challenges are out there asking for being adaptable, innovative and engaging for people: therefore, in order to be successful in the new environment, a manager needs to learn a lot, as well as unlearn. So it is crucial to help these people having such a role in the organization find the proper behaviors, skills and tools to nurture successful teams and to help them improve.

On the other hand, the Annual State of Agile Survey 2011 by VersionOne, shows that 52% of respondents see the Inability to change organizational culture and 34% see Management support as top barriers to further Agile adoption, while 32% see Management opposition as greatest concern about adopting Agile.
It doesn’t look like a pointless concern, does it?

Last week I and a colleague of mine delivered 2-days Lean Management training with the goal to kick-off a group of 16 leaders' journey towards becoming effective Lean managers.
Moving from the reasons why a new type of management is needed and the principles of Lean Management, we explored some concrete tools and practices out of the 7 Lean Disciplines. But the basic message of the training was: if you're serious about changing your organization, you must be even more serious about changing yourself.

The problem is that we all know that most times telling and doing are well far away from each other; my philosophy professor used to repeat a quote from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.
The only feasible path I see to improve is to honestly assess where we are, get feedbacks, realize our flaws and take responsibility for concrete actions (baby steps) to move forward.

Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it. - David Starr Jordan

Scrum teaches us having meetings with concrete outcomes and that's what we aimed for during this training as well: each manager left the class with a personal improvement plan of 3 SMART actions to start right the day after. Awesome, isn't it?

And it was even greater to see motivated faces leaving the room, with a sense of urgency for sharing with other colleagues the insights they got during the 2 days!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Improvement takes time

And commitment indeed!
You might ask: "Commitment to whom?". My experience says: "Commitment to yourself!".
I've seen several times many teams striving with practically implementing the agile key concept of Continuous Improvement. That’s why I decided to talk about this subject in my first post: no (r)evolution exists without improving and adapting.
The fact is that Continuous Improvement, as many things, does not happen naturally, but requires some steps.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” -  John C. Maxwell
The first step is to "stop the line" and take the time to reflect on hot things are going and find ways to improve.
A Scrum team could say: "Great! We have this. We do Sprint Retrospectives!"
The second step is to have effective retrospectives. It means finding SMART actions the team can concretely try and measure results.
A good Scrum Team can reply: "Our Scrum Master is good. We always manage to find SMART actions to implement".
That's still not enough. You need to plan for them to make that happen. And Scrum helps us again here: thumb rule should be that a team plans at least 10% of the Sprint time to dedicate to improvement actions, so that it has the necessary fuel to boost innovation.
The bad news is that this is still not enough. A lot of teams plan time to implement their retrospective actions (even though a lot do not indeed) and still strive to innovate. That's where commitment to yourselves comes into play. If you want to improve, you should take it very seriously and be disciplined in making it happen. Nothing normally happens in agile without discipline.
But discipline could be funny as well. Below is a picture which shows the agreement found by one of the teams I coached: every day one person must work on an improvement action. He/she takes the role of "Innovator of the Day" and deserves a prize: the jacket you see in the picture around his/her chair.

Do you think it is enough now? No, it's not.
Have you ever heard about Active Learning Cycle? The point is that applying an empirical process to improvement as well. It's not sufficient to try things, you have to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions you tried and consciously decide whether to keep or drop them.
Looks difficult? Might be. I'm not saying it is easy, but it is not impossible.