A map of ideas, concepts and skills that help when guiding Agile teams

May 14, 2018 9:28 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn]

What does it take to become a guide for Agile teams? My own experience leads me to believe that exposure to a lot of different thinking helps, as well as learning some specific skills. This is an attempt at starting a kind of map or atlas to the world of useful skills for Agile guides. If you’ve seen other guides similar to this, I’d appreciate a comment on this post with pointers to your source.

Tactical

Teams and people

  • “Hands-on” experience with teams
  • Team formation and dynamics (Tuckman model, Satir change curve)
  • People management and engagement (Weinberg, Lichty/Mantle)
  • What motivates people (Pink)
  • Personality type models (Myers-Briggs, DISC)
  • How to launch teams well (Larsen/Nies, III)
  • Participatory decision making theory and skills (Kaner)
  • Collaboration theory and skills, meeting management (Tabaka)
  • Facilitation techniques and skills (Kerth)
  • Congruence in interactions (Weinberg)
  • Open Space Technology (Owen)

Leadership

  • Coaching skills (Adkins)
  • Teaching methods and skills (Presentation, workshops, games, simulations)
  • Learning modes (Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic, etc.)
  • “Sales” skills (Pink)
  • Communication models and skills (Rianoshek/Connelly)
  • Non-violent communication theory and skills (Rosenberg)

Thinking and problem solving

  • Systems thinking (Deming, Meadows)
  • Complexity theory and models (Snowden)
  • Human Systems Dynamics (Holladay/Eoyang)

Integration

  • Innovation context conditions (Denning)
  • Organization models and theory
  • Psychology and process of change knowledge (Satir)

Each of the above is of course a deep and wide subject. No one person can ever cover all of them at any significant depth. But maybe that’s not necessary. Maybe just having been exposed to all of the above ideas, if even by reading a single book on each will expand your appreciation for how miraculous it is that people can accomplish work together in difficult situations, under pressure, uncertainty, changing circumstances and unclear focus. Just being aware of all this should help in becoming a good guide for the team you serve.

Agile may be the single idea (perhaps exemplifying “when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail” or “an idea is a most dangerous thing, if you only have one”) that you start with, but it will quickly lead you to discover a rich ocean of other “stuff” you can immerse yourself in.

One hard part in this is finding time to dip your toes in. A little weekend reading will do wonders. So will attending free webinars, if you can find them. Also, following the right people on Twitter to point you to summary blog posts, YouTube videos or book reviews. Taking good notes along the way is important. Or re-reading / re-watching to cement what you learned.

The hardest part is to keep all of the above in mind when you’re in the “heat of the moment”. How do you arrive at some “simple rules” for yourself in light of all this complex and rich material? How do you “integrate” all this information into your mode of being and operating?

Optimistic Agile

March 28, 2018 8:40 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn]

Are you seeing pessimism and seeming division in the Agile community? I’m seeing some of that lately, expressed on LinkedIn.

I get that it can be hard to keep a positive attitude in the face of reports that tell us that a lot of Agile journeys seem to not bring the desired results. And I also firmly believe that Agile CAN bring about positive change. I’ve seen it first-hand in the work I’ve done. Of course, there have been times when the prevailing currents have made it difficult, but on the whole, I’ve seen that change IS possible.

I wonder what a sort of declaration of Agile optimism might look like? Maybe something like this:

  • I believe that people have the capacity to change – when supported with caring, courage and openness.
  • I believe that organizations have the capacity to change – when the people in it spend enough time listening well to each other.
  • I believe that Agile values and principles can help with change – when really internalized and lived out.
  • I believe that learning from others’ experience is possible – when keeping an open mind and taking a good look at context.

That is, change is possible – and we realize that we need to help each other in making it happen. Do you think about Agile optimistically?

P.S.: If you are interested in reading about what might help and hinder Agile journeys, check out the book Susan DiFabio, George Dinwiddie, Rich Valde, Dan Neumann and I wrote together on that very topic: http://leanpub.com/agilejourneys

Classical music and the job search

March 18, 2018 8:37 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn]

Picture this: You’re listening to a piece of classical music on the radio, and it really resonates with you. You want to listen to it again and again, so you want your own copy of it. But your radio doesn’t have RDS, and before you can find out from the radio host what it is, the signal dies, and all you hear is static. How would you know which LP/CD/MP3 you need to go look for? Chances are, you have no idea. All you know is that you heard some beautiful music, and you want to hear it again. You probably can’t tell which orchestra played it – was it the Vienna Philharmonic or the Boston Pops? So when you get to the record store/music download site, what will you do? Look for an enticing “cover” image/album art? Even if you find one that speaks to you and buy it, it may be that when you listen to the recording, it’s not the same. So now you’re out of money and disappointed. And the orchestra you really wanted to support has missed out on a small contribution to their financial well-being.

Now picture this: You’re at work, and you’ve convinced yourself that you need to hire someone to help you solve a problem. The people already on your team can’t solve it, or there is more work than they can take on. You’ve figured out the particular mix of skills a person needs to have to help you. How do you go and find that person? If you have a good network that might be able to connect you to someone with those skills, you probably start there. What happens if you don’t have that (or you come up empty-handed)? You probably talk to your HR people and tell them what you’re looking for, and since the people there are busy and don’t have the time to actually talk to the potentially hundreds of applicants that will be coming, they either call a recruiting firm or post an ad on a job-seeker website. Then applicants (who have been taught the rules of the job hunting game) craft a resume that matches 80% (or slightly more) of the skills you’re looking for (using an Internet service that promises to mimic very closely the applicant tracking system that will be used by the company to filter out “unqualified” applicants). They submit that resume, and the recruiter’s system (or the HR ATS) matches the resume and triggers an email. Then the recruiter (who most likely doesn’t really know anything about the mix of skills you’re looking for – they get paid for fast placement of people) may interview the person to make sure they didn’t exaggerate their skills. They send them on to the HR person, who probably also doesn’t know much about the skills you’re looking for (and that’s quite understandable – after all, HR has to deal with everything from custodial employees to CEOs). You get maybe ten or twenty resumes to look over, and you decide to bring five people in for in-person interviews. None of them turn out to have exactly the right mix of skills you need. So now you’ve lost time and you’re disappointed. And a person out there is missing out on a major contribution to their financial well-being.

What do you see in these two vignettes? What is broken? What is working? How would you change things? What advice would you give and to whom?

Where to look?

February 14, 2018 8:26 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn, just in case LinkedIn goes away some day… ;)]

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give an encore of my Agile 2017 workshop, provocatively titled “The Introverted Facilitator’s Survival Guide”. I presented it at ProMatch, and organization of volunteers partially funded by tax money. ProMatch helps people who are looking for work with learning about the current landscape of job hunting, presenting accomplishments, resume writing, interview skills, and networking. I find it a really valuable support system while I’m looking for my next opportunity.

I think about 16 people attended, which was a nice number considering the target audience: introverts. I won’t dive into the details of the workshop here (check my SlideShare for the digest version with most of the takeaways). It seemed to land well with everyone who participated, and at some point, I think we achieved what I half-jokingly called “quantum entanglement” 🙂

After the workshop I was pretty exhausted, but I chose to attend a meetup with the Silicon Valley ALN (Agile Leadership Network) anyway, and there I got to see a bunch of fellow (current and former) ProMatch folks (hi Andrew, Liz, Roberto and Jennie!) We learned from Bernie Maloney about harnessing the power of collaboration, and while I had done the activity from that session with one of my teams at work in the past, we ran through a variant that illustrated different aspects of what typically happens in real life.

After both of those experiences, I reflected on the day a bit, and posted a short blurb on Twitter about my satisfaction with the workshop I had facilitated, and how it seemed to have made a small difference in a few people’s lives. One person shared with me that they had a bit more appreciation for the strengths that their characteristics offer them. I interpret that as having been able to provide a small boost in self-confidence for someone else. And that felt very satisfying.

It got me to thinking about where we look to find confidence in our skills and capabilities. I think I tend to look at the people who are much further down the path of their personal agile journey than me, and I keep thinking “if only”. But yesterday I thought about whether that’s the right place to look. Maybe it would be better to look at where I am a half-step ahead of someone else and can bring them along with me a little bit. I wonder if in my quest for increasing my own skills and capabilities, I’m too focused on looking in the wrong direction.

Which direction do you tend to look?