One of the advantages of having a company that spans three continents is that you get a diverse array of opinions and approaches. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of having a company that large is that you get a diverse array of opinions and approaches. Sometimes it can feel like you have no idea what other people in the same organization are doing.
This is a problem that many of our clients face and we are no different. After a few conversations with our European coaches about how they operate that left me more confused than when I started, I decided to do exactly what we tell our clients to do: Go and See.
When we tell our clients to do this, we are used to hearing these normal excuses: That is too hard; It is too far away; I am too busy; I don’t speak the language. Well I can tell you, these are all real challenges, but they are far less insurmountable than you may think.
So how did we make it happen?
Well, it started with a simple, important (and often overlooked) step: we decided to. Specifically, I said, “I would like to work in Europe to see how you do things.” and Marion, our CEO, said “Sure.” Of course, we both understood that we were far from making it happen, but from there, the ball was rolling. We both made a commitment and we were going to see it through.
This was followed by a conversation with others in the company that would have to support this trip - the people who would cover for me in North America and those who would partner with me in Germany. Our sales team started looking for clients who were comfortable working with an English-speaking coach (we were lucky enough to find two!).
Finally, I made the necessary family arrangements. It is often easy to forget that everyone has his or her own schedule, and it takes time to coordinate. I was going for 4 months, and that meant I had to make plans with my family and my home. This wasn’t just my problem though. Both the North American and German offices helped line up the trip close to my children’s summer break from school so that my family could move with me.
All-in-all, the effort wasn’t herculean, but it was far from trivial. However, it was worth the effort.
So, what did I learn from all this effort?
1. Tools and Techniques
First, I learned how a lot of the tools and practices that originated from Germany were meant to be leveraged in coaching. Sure, I had read the instructions and talked to people at meetings, but seeing them in action was completely different. Additionally, I was able to share how we had been adapting these tools to our circumstance, which opened up possibilities they had not considered themselves.
2. Culture and Temperament
I expected to learn about the difference in tools that were applied, but what I did not expect was to learn about the difference in problems. The circumstances, culture, and temperament of the clients we worked with meant that while they faced many of the same problems and struggles as our clients in the US and Canada, the right approach to solving the problem was completely different. This led to a better understanding of the problem thanks to seeing it from different angles. I also got to learn some things about pace and company cultures that challenged many norms I once thought were immutable. Ultimately, this changed my views on how we approach our coaching back in the US.
3. Company Connectivity
agile42 invests a lot in keeping employees connected. We visit other countries regularly, we collaborate remotely, and we all get together annually in one location. However, working together for an extended period of time adds a personal connection that you cannot get in short stints.You become part of the team, and not just a visitor.
4. Personal Growth
We grow when we are challenged, and nothing is quite as challenging as being thrown into a new context with a new team (in a language you don’t speak) and being expected to deliver excellence from day one. This trip tested my skills and forced me to adapt. The most notable challenge was when one of the clients decided that they didn’t want to speak English but wanted to converse in German instead. It was their prerogative - we were in Germany after all - and I was the outsider. But how could I help and contribute? It turns out that you can get a lot from tone, body language, and pulling just enough from the conversation to follow the thread. Matching this with the understanding of conversations between other coaches, I was surprisingly able to add value.
5. Employee Loyalty
When you make your employees an instrumental part in how you bring your company together like this, it goes a long way. Not only did I learn and grow from this experience, but my family did as well. What could have been a difficult long trip became a shared, meaningful experience. Many companies talk about investing in their employees, but they only consider tangible benefits such as continuing education and compensation packages. However, what makes people stick around are investments that develop the person as a whole.
So the next time you feel disconnected from another part of your organization and you’re not quite sure what’s happening at the office in Beijing or London, don’t set up another conference call. Don’t ask for better documentation. Instead, plan a trip. Go and See!
In its sixth edition, Incontro DevOps Italia 2018 is the leading conference in Italy devoted to DevOps and all the infrastructure topics that create a modern IT environment, with the presence of national and international speakers.
Agile has a special part in this community and in fact, three-fourths of the companies surveyed in the 2017 State of Agile Report are either engaged in or planning a DevOps initiative.
We are very happy to be a sponsor of the event, which will take place in Bologna on March 9th, with a set of workshops offered on the previous day. At the conference, we will discuss our point of view about the relationship between Agile and the most modern IT topics, and present our offering for technical coaching including a brand new edition of the Certified Scrum Developer training later this year.
The term anti pattern as used in the software world is an expression of what are initially attractive, easy to implement solutions. But actually, far from solving the problem, they end up causing bigger ones.
Scrum as stated in the Scrum Guide “is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. Scrum is
simple to understand,
difficult to master.”
In less than an hour, you can explain all the elements of Scrum to someone.
Since it is easy to understand beginners can take it easy and misuse the framework. They may use some of the practices out of the whole and repeat them in a mechanistic way without understanding the principles underlying them. Without changing anything and challenging yourself can you expect an increase in your productivity?
Let us keep in mind that Scrum will not turn everything into a miracle overnight. When people are accustomed to new forms of work that time is needed, especially for cultural transformation. Be patient, do not hurry to show up too early, just start by applying it as it is coached by an Agile Coach, challenge yourself, change your way of working and understand the principles.
I will now talk about the most common "anti patterns" to give you an idea. This may help you to inspect yourself and your team. I have observed some of these during agile team assessments to companies who were struggling to find out why they are not improving although they started to apply Scrum.
The team waits for a task to be assigned to it or asks for the Product Owner to assign the tasks, thus destroying its development of self-organizing and decision-making capabilities.
The "Master" part of the ScrumMaster's name is perceived as technical or domain expertise, and as such, this person is identified as being the most experienced software developer on the team. This negatively affects the team’s development capacity.
The Product Owner and team meet only at sprint planning and review. This usually means that the Product Owner is not spending time with the team and the customer during a sprint, so the decision-making and learning process is slow.
At the sprint planning meeting, all tasks are assigned from person to person, and everyone is solely responsible for their own task, so they are not functioning as a team by, working individually, without collaborating with each other throughout the sprint.
If they work in the manner which is described in the upper item it is not surprising to hear that the Daily Scrum, which allows collaboration and the ability to make daily decisions as a team give up doing Daily Stand up.
The team and the Product Owner are focusing on completing tasks rather than delivering value.
They don’t do retrospectives and they don’t actually challenge themselves to change for better.
There is no sprint review, or when there is the team shows what was completed in the sprint rather than inspecting on the value that was delivered and reflecting on the sprint goal.
Meetings do not respect the ‘timeboxes’.
As the sprint continues, the sprint backlog changes a great deal.
The team carries the user stories from Sprint to sprint and works on the same story for several Sprints showing the indication that there is a problem with splitting them or they don’t understand the iterative and incremental way of working.
In the sprint planning the team only discusses the 'what' part and forgets to discuss how the pulled items are going to be developed.
The sprint planning meetings are long (i.e. they exceed the timebox) because of lack of backlog refinement meetings.
Team performance is compared on ‘velocity’.
If you see your team as having these anti-patterns all is not lost. There are ways of recovering from them such as helping the structured coaching approach and ask help from an experienced Agile Coach.
I tried to mention some anti patterns in this post. Please let us know if you have seen others in the comments below.
As an international company with plenty of internal get-togethers and trainings for our clients, we were always in need of meeting space, and we were no longer satisfied by generic hotel environments. We wanted to build our own Event Space that would truly combine our Agile work principles, mindset, and culture with the requirements of training, where we could meet and work ourselves as well as welcome training attendees and guest leadership teams. And we did just that, next to our global headquarters in Berlin.
We started off with an open space full of natural light. It had to be warm, open, and friendly to encourage communication, comfort, and a sense of home. An inviting space relaxes people, and relaxed people have an easier time talking, working, and learning together, which has a massive impact on both creativity and productivity. We chose to set up team tables that could combine in flexible ways, so that participants could arrange themselves in space, interact, and collaborate. We then filled the area with the tools of our work, making sure that plenty of whiteboards, flipcharts, pinboards, and individual writing material were available. This enables creativity and effective visualization. We, of course, made sure to provide sufficient WiFi and air conditioning for hot summer days. In addition to the main space, we created a more intimate extra room to be used for meeting and networking in different team configurations. Finally, we have a balcony and a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a 360-degree view on Berlin.
We fuel our meetings with pastries, snacks, and caffeine. These don’t just feed people’s brains but allow them to take breaks, socialize, and form relationships around the coffee machine. We also made the decision to act in as sustainable and environmentally-friendly a way as possible, so we exchanged disposable glasses and plastic bottles for actual glasses (with friendly individual tags!) and filtered water in glass jars.
So far, we have had the opportunity to test drive our new space with three events, two training courses (Advanced Agile Team Coaching Course, directed at those with some experience who want to take their coaching to a professional level, and the Certified Agile Leadership Program, which is designed to clarify the Agile values and Principles to any team leader) and our own internal Coach Camp. Until now we have received great feedback, even from our own hard-to-please coaches. As I write these words, the Certified ScrumMaster course is taking place, giving our space its final test in working for larger groups of people.
All in all, we don’t just provide a room with chairs, but we created an entire experience that matches our culture and methods, and we are happy and proud to share it. Our visitors can work in a new space and clear their head from old ideas, see things in new ways and become part of new networks, as well as take advantage of everything Berlin has to offer. We also hope that they can take some of the flexible innovative characteristics of the space back to their work environment and use them to support their internal Agile initiatives. It is not just open to our training participants, but to anyone who wants to use it, and hopefully be inspired by it. Just reach out to our friendly Office for any questions!
The ultimate goal is to get better results faster. However, the biggest challenge lies in having a sustainable Agile transformation to obtain these results. Therefore, the question to consider is “Why Agile Transformations Fail?”.
Gil Broza, author of “The Agile Mindset” and “The Human Side of Agile”, introduced the concept of fostering an Agile mindset and revealed the common impediments hindering its adoption. Here, I have rounded up the three most common pitfalls:
1. We try to get it right the first time. Many people hold onto the belief that building an elaborate plan, outlining all the details to make a decision upfront, is the right approach. In other words, you have one shot in making that goal; otherwise, the game is over. Consequently, the Product Backlog is filling up, but only one or two items are turned into running tested features.
2. We standardize. Teams fall back into a standardized Agile routine – doing things for the sake of doing them. For instance, teams turn the daily Scrum event into a status report meeting. Members list out what is on their plate for the day; thus, ignoring that the purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect and adapt.
3. We prioritize efficiency. Agile is being sold as having teams churn out work faster with progress being shown regularly. Thus, organizations would put together cross-functional teams, remove certain process requirements, and set a fixed deadline. Then, they would expect to see immediate results because they have increased their speed to completion. Contrary to their belief, the product still fails because they didn’t deliver what matters to the customer.
So does your team and company fall into the same pitfalls? Even if this is the case, we need to understand that mastering agile requires a lot of time. Many things need to be unlearned, and much effort has to be invested in accepting to start anew. Additionally, we have to fight off the influence of existing constraints and habits ingrained in our organization’s culture.
This means that taking a prescribed path to attain Agile transformation does not work. Instead, agile42 takes on the approach of looking at the organizational context first, before selecting the right agile practices and tools.
Tell us your greatest agile challenge here, so that we can equip you with the necessary tools for a successful Agile transition.
We are happy to announce that Niels Verdonk has been accredited as a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) from the Scrum Alliance during the latest round of expansion. agile42 currently employs 8 CSTs in Europe, North America, and South Africa, in addition to 7 Certified Enterprise Coaches (CEC). This allows us to tailor training and coaching solutions to the specific needs of our clients worldwide.
Niels started working as a Software Engineer in 1995, and after working for leading brand names as Nintendo, Nike and Novell as Software Architect before he started managing a team of developers at a startup. Inspired by XP since 1999, Niels started working with the small team using these practices and principles until the team grew too big and needed more structure. In 2006 they started using Scrum and scaled up to 9 teams, mostly scrum feature teams, some distributed, some component teams, some using kanban. Since 2011 Niels started working as an agile trainer and coach. In 2013 he founded the Dutch subsidiary of agile42 and has been working for large and small customers in the Netherlands, both for software as well as non-IT companies.
“Agile, Entropy and Human Systems” is the title of the keynote that will be presented by Joanne Perold for the Regional Scrum Gathering South Africa 2017 organised by SUGSA, taking place on November 8-9 in Cape Town.
Joanne has been thinking a great deal about human systems, what makes them tick, what helps them be better and what gets in their way. In this talk, she will dig into human systems, entropy and agile. She will explore the things that she believes can help human systems to be better and share the things that she has seen yield results during her experience coaching.
We will soon report on this exciting event in Cape Town!
Last week I presented a talk at Tampere Goes Agile 2017, a free, fun and friendly agile conference by Agile Finland. It was titled Don't be random! Tools for structured team development.
The Coaching Card is a simple but powerful template for ScrumMasters, line managers and Agile Coaches who are interested in coaching their teams to become more mature. (If you're not interested in that, you're probably in the wrong job.)
The Coaching Card is both a thinking model and a template. It gives some backbone to the coaching work, helps people choose the right interventions and gives a degree of measurability to the work. It also lets several people collaborate around one team and helps junior coaches get mentoring and advice from more experienced coaches. It's one of those simple things that people don't know they are missing, but look so obvious in hindsight.
Coaching Cards are based on the OODA loop (inspect and adapt) and on Karl Tomm's coaching model. It very specifically uses observations, hypotheses, goals, metrics and interventions. The Coaching Card concept has been developed over the last 5-6 years by agile42, by doing it and helping others do it. It's our own solution to a common practical problem, and it is unique because there are literally no other solutions to this problem out there.
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