Leadership-John Coleman: How to avoid agility being a team sport

John Coleman
John Coleman

“Let’s explore the unintended consequences of expecting teams to be agile when we haven’t cultivated the right environment. Instead of buying “agility in a box,” what can we do to foster the growth of authentic, sustainable organizational agility?

Part of the answer might be in improving executive agility.

Glacial evolution at the executive level often results in people giving up hope on the dream of organizational agility, even those initially enthusiastic about it. There are agility frameworks tailored for teams, teams of teams, managers, leaders, finance, and people operations.

This talk will focus on executives in tech and non-tech environments and the people supporting them. Let’s look at how deleting specific executive behaviors could avoid the feeling that agility is just about teams. Perhaps we can attain executive agility by deleting unhelpful behaviors one at a time. We don’t have a proven recipe, but maybe we can strive to have fewer “agile-gone-wrong stories” by better understanding the urgency required for these deletions?

In this discussion, we’ll explore:

  • The observable executive behaviors that might indicate what to address first.
  • Actionable steps towards deleting the above behaviors.
  • Being aware of side effects from starting elsewhere. Real-life examples about the impact deleting certain behaviors had on organizational agility.
  • Where you can begin to affect change.

On 11 November 2021, we hosted our first virtual conference with a great lineup of speakers, here is the fourth session “Hit delete” how simplifying your organization avoids agility being a team sport by John Coleman

About John Coleman

John Coleman is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, a top 10 thought leader for agility at Thinkers 360, a Scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainer, a Prokanban.org Professional Kanban Trainer, a LeSS Friendly Scrum Trainer, a podcaster (Xagility™ for curious executives, Daily Flow for agility practitioners), and prolific blogger.
John co-authored Kanban Guide and authored Kanplexity™. He coaches and consults in tech and non-tech.
John is Irish, living in the English countryside. John has four offspring and a dog. When John isn’t writing content, he’s either out and about walking or on dirt trails on his full-suspension mountain bike.

Watch on:

youtube

 

 

The transcript for “Hit delete” how simplifying your organization avoids agility being a team sport by John Coleman

Nader Talai: Coming up is John Coleman. Let me share my screen and show John's profile, his profile is very modest. John and I, we worked together two or three joint clients and we are keeping in touch. I learned a lot from John, John is also a very active practitioner, thinker, he is always discovering and learning new things and I will pick up his brains. He's got some of his credentials, you can see there, Agility Chef meaning he's not somebody that will just follow recipes, he understands the context, the organizational setup, and then work with the organization to create the right way forward for the organization. Without further ado, I'll hand over to you, John, and let you take over.

John Coleman: Welcome everyone. Thank you very much, Nader, for inviting me to this conference. I've been enjoying all your talks as well and I see a lot in common with the thinking as well, so we're either all on the wrong track or we're maybe onto something, I'm not sure. Hopefully we're onto something good. So I'm an Agility Chef, as Nader mentioned, I coach most of the time, I do some training as well. I find that my training is more effective if I practice more.

So I practice a lot and most of my practice is a combination of non-tech and tech, usually very large organizations, well over 10,000 employees, typically international global organizations. What I want to talk to you about today is "Do we need to simplify things?" and, if you can think of the Delete button on your keyboard and, in a sense, I'm talking about that but it's not as simple as that. If you're looking for some simple metaphor, there's a few things that progressively we might need to delete over time. That made things a bit easier for us.

You can see my Twitter tag there. I'm also on social media. Generally speaking, if you just search " John Coleman Agility Chef", you'll find loads of stuff and podcasts and all that kind of thing, which I'll show you later.

The first thing I want to mention is that there are lots of solutions in the market for teams or teams of teams, for example scaled Agile framework and the various roles, Lean Agile roles and so on. There's a whole school of thought and product management. You've got managers and leaders who are receiving this change of Agility in their organizations, and, hopefully, very active in part of it, you've got coaches and trainers and people are into scaling and, eventually, maybe people do a little bit of de-scaling as well.

For me, I was really struggling to find something that helped with executives. What I'm going to be talking about today is some of the aha moments, that I need to observe before I consider talking about more advanced topics with executives. Of course, when you're dealing with executives, the most important thing is to try and build a relationship and establish some trust.

If you can do that, you're off to a great start and you can ask about what problems are we trying to solve and what opportunities that we're trying to avail of and what were the pain points with the executive and so on. So I'm taking all that as a given, that you have a relationship, you're establishing trust and that you're not in a situation where you're not even getting Facetime with the executive, which happens sometimes and I'm not immune to that problem, it happens to me at times as well. What we're trying to zone in on today is the assumption that maybe if our executives aren't in the right place, in terms of the way they're behaving and the way they're acting, it could impede our ability to achieve Agility.

And I love what Klaus Leopold says in his book, "Rethinking Agile". He talks about Agility not being a team sport, that it's actually a company sport or, you could say, it's an organizational sport if you're not in a commercial organization. So that's what we're gonna zoom in on today. And, if you're brilliant and talented, like Nader, you don't need any of this, just ignore everything that I'm going to say to you.

People like John Seddon is brilliant, for example. He just goes in and he does what he does, that's all good, he doesn't need to wait for people to reach certain aha moments or to do things, he's absolutely brilliant at it. If you're like that, go for it and just ignore what I am about to say.

Maybe not ignore some of the thought leaders that I am acknowledging here and it's quite a few of them, including Nader. I'm not going to read them all out but I've been collaborating with these people for the last number of years and I've interviewed some of these people on my podcasts as well. And also, of course, the wonderful leaders and coaches that I've worked with and that I continue to work with.

In fact, only yesterday, I had a little inspiration from a few coaches I work with and they might recognize a little expression in here that I'm kind of borrowing or stealing. We should be saying" legally stealing" from them, giving them some acknowledgement.

So what am I talking about, when I talk about an executive, what does that mean? It means different things that different people, essentially, someone who's been appointed or given some responsibility in the organization to manage the affairs of the organization. They've got the authority to make decisions within their specified boundaries and they probably own the stategy, own the direction of travel and, rather than expecting other people to justify an investment for them, they're probably justifying investment themselves. They understand that, if you want to reduce cost, one great way to reduce costs is just to close on the business and we don't need to do any more. We reduce our costs. So sometimes we need to invest in when people are thinking about ROI, return on investment, a lot of people forget about the I and we do need to invest to continue to be a long-term proposition for our customers.

So some of the examples of executives, the context of this talk, could be someone who is a chief marketing officer, it could be chief R&D officer, chief financial officer, could be a CEO, could be a chairperson, a board member, could be a regional president in a really large organization. It could be like government minister or a secretary, a chairwoman of a global nonprofit organization, an executive leader for a trunk of an organization, really large one, could be a leader within a division or a firm, or even be a leader within a small or medium firm.

It could also be her minus ones. That's a crucial point actually, because a lot of the time when we work with executives, we need to be cognizant of the culture that we're operating within. So, for example, we know in different countries in the world, we've got different cultures and there's even subcultures and alignment while that might feel like an overall control. I think, for some people, alignment is important but sometimes the alignment at all levels is important depending on the culture. And you might've actually convinced her. Also I'm not really in the sales business, but you might've got someone to the place where themselves decided to do some change or to make some intervention, but their reports haven't been aligned and then it falters. So a decision is made, no sooner is the decision made but the decision is unpicked. And you might not even be told that the decision is unpicked. Also for coach as well, maybe if the coach working with this exec, is not quite on the page you want them to be on, that can be limiting in terms of what we can expect out of the executive and, ultimately maybe, what we can expect of the organization.

So I'm going be talking about the big lie, and I'd love you to add onto the chat window: in terms of Agility, what do you think the big lie is? If there was a big lie. Keeping an eye on the chat window here. Maybe there's a lot of big lies, but try to think of big, fat, juicy ones. Self-organization works easily. Just give me more stuff. We're agile now so we can do more stuff at the same time. That is a kind of a big lie, I agree, Andrey. There's another one and I guess it's an opinion, really. Who am I to be the judge of whether what's the big lie, but my own view is that you are empowered. I think that's the big lie. You are empowered until you're not empowered.

You're once told you can do this, you can do that. And, if there's any problems, manage them yourselves and, by the way, if you have a problem, when you push it up to me and you escalate it up to me, I just want to push back down because you're empowered. That's not really true.

So we're going to talk about that in terms of we hope we get to that place. I'm not saying that empowerment is the be all and end all, but it's a common misunderstanding and it can be quite disappointing for teams as well. There are some lovely techniques for figuring out how much delegation you have, delegation poker, for example from management 3.0

Andrey's coming back again saying "you have autonomy but, please, check all the decisions with the CEO". Exactly, spot on. Autonomy and there might be a lot of coordinating roles as well, preventing you from having that autonomy. Thank you so much for those answers.

I'm going to be talking about stuff that we need to delete. If we hit that DELETE button on our keyboard, what's the stuff that we need to delete so that we can achieve authentic, sustainable Agility.

So less of this kind of Agility wash, more kind of really going for it and trying to get the benefits from the change. But I've come to learn, actually, over the years that maybe deletion isn't really completely removing, and maybe, even me saying you should delete something, is that, in itself, also a recipe?

For example, me saying, you should never push, is not really true. Maybe sometimes we do need to push, but should we try to remove it, should it be rare? I would hope teams are pulling more than work being pushed into teams. So take it with a pinch of salt when you see me say I'd like things to be deleted progressively. I like the way Dave Snowden puts it: more of one thing and that, we're trying to be. So less of it to the extent that it's rare. That's where I'm going with this.

And I'm using a kind of a color scale, if you like. It's accidental if it ties in with anything you've seen before, it's not tied in with reinventing your organization or anything like that. It's nothing to do with Spiral Dynamics, is purely just nice colors.

I'm going to go through some level of progression during this presentation. The idea is that, before you get into really advanced topics in Agility, maybe you need to look at the basics first. Sometimes, by the way, it's not because the person in front of you, the executive, isn't brilliant, she might be the best executive ever, but it could be that, in terms of the culture that she's working with, it's difficult and she becomes pickled quite quickly by the environment.

Let's say we get pickled within six months, that works for me as well, by the way, coaches as well, I can help them. So I need a coach to work with, to train, hit my reset button and do that regularly. Let's go through this. The first set of things that I'd be looking for deleting would be: "can we stop demands?". Can we stop demanding that this work will be done by that particular day? The phone calls- already made, the teams haven't even been consulted, here's the date, just go do it. And remember, I'm not saying never do this, cause sometimes you need to do this, but I'm saying we were very careful about using this and is very restricted.

We can understand why you're in a low trust situation. You might want fixed price, fixed contracts with your vendors, but is that something you want to continue once trust has been established? My favourite one is when a meeting is held with executives and something is verbally agreed. Then, the minutes don't come when they're delayed. Maybe two weeks goes by, maybe three weeks goes by and the stuff that we thought was agreed in the meeting, isn't in the minutes. Because people have been plotting and scheming over the last two to three weeks to dilute as much as possible because, in order to avoid conflict, they agreed in front of each other but, then, conspired with each other to dilute whatever it was agreed, out of the minutes, it's almost like it was never discussed. The minutes become what was agreed as opposed to what was actually said. That can be something that we need to stop. Unpicking decisions is a close cousin of that, where a decision is made and, as soon as the decision made, that is actually unpicked, maybe because the coach hasn't actually consulted with the minus ones, the leader committing on behalf of the team.

My favorite one is lack of prioritization. And I robbed this expression from Jose Casal and JP Bailey, where they talk about causing a denial of service attack and other functions where you're working in a particular function and the executive in that function doesn't want to prioritize work. He says that he can't. For me, can and cannot is an opinion. They just don't have the courage, actually, to talk to their minus ones and have the conflict and have that healthy conflict to have the prioritization decisions. And by not having that conversation, their own people are suffering with high workload and, not only that, there's a massive amount of work being sent to other functions, the value streams. And akin to denial of service attack, that happens sometimes when hackers try to close down your digital business. Also waiting for perfect information before you make a decision. Has this been done somewhere else?

And, if you want to wait for it being done somewhere else, it will be done somewhere else. And complacency in relation to improvement and learning, we already know lots of things. Learning is more of a consumption thing, you send someone to a training course is not a serious thing that we expect. It's really all about results and, don't get me wrong, business results are very important and I think improvement of learning needs to be aligned to business results but, when it's done, almost to a fault, it can be problematic.

What happens if we don't delete these? Well, teams won't see the point of the Agility. I see this for teams who have Kanban boards, they send work off to other teams. We have all the flow analytics, we can see the work aging, the service level expectations, the Kanban people would be proud of what they see. But the team loses interest in updating the Kanban board because the work has been sent off to other functions or other teams and those teams or the functions have what the priorities, because not only do we not have priorities, but we don't have synced up priorities across functions in the organization.

So teams don't see the point. And then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy because then causes another problem where they don't have the discipline to do dailies or weeklies or whatever is they're doing because what's the point? Is just visualizing stuff and we can't think of anything is better because we're just starting too much work. What could you do about this? What will be good places to start? Maybe could we just start having a video minutes? That's the climate change conference can do it, surely your organization can do it, just as part of the meeting, make it a section of the meeting where the minutes are recorded.

Maybe start looking at the idea of probabilistic forecasting, maybe you have it available in your tool, maybe can look at some free tools that are available on the internet. There's some fantastic tools available already. You don't have to pay any money for them. Just need skilled application. Maybe we could be looking at the flow analytics. Is there a throughput, which is the measure of how much work we're getting done, it's not a measure of value, it's a measure of what we're getting done, but are we noticing that our delivery plumbing system is having problems? Are we even paying attention? Maybe there's loads of telemetry and nobody's looking, so can you look? Are you, maybe, curious about those and maybe trying things. I admire leaders when we try things, they're struggling, they're still not convinced about something, but they're willing to give something a try and that's a good step in the right direction.

I was inspired by some of my colleagues, at a client, and they talked about something similar to this, nine minutes at 9:00 AM learning. So it's not five at five, it's five minutes. If I block one, like learning happens after everything else is done, it's like the first thing you do at the start of a good day, and maybe even ask your organization to change outlook so that people can't book meetings until 9.15, so you get that nine minutes at nine every day. They'd be practical things that you could try.

Then, if we look at the next level, let's say you've managed to get rid of those other things, but now we've new issues. They've always been there, but the next things to look at. One of the patterns I noticed a lot, which really troubles me, is when I'm making progress with teams, they're doing really well and, when teams do well with Agility, they go through an element of stress actually, because they're bumping up against the rest of the organization that isn't there yet. So there's this kind of old world and new world thing. Then, when their fabulous, boss gets promoted to another part of the organization and they put a command and control boss in her place. That creates problems. Inflicting help on people, Tom Mellor, the famous certified scrum trainer from Scrum Alliance, he was driving around and he said: " John, don't ever give advice unless people ask for it". He was right actually. Being a bit too passive about risk management, putting the risks on the risk register. To broadcast, town halls and all that looked super fine, but as the leader talking to people, is she meeting the teams regularly, not just like a Royal Tour where people are putting up posters and they make the place look all beautiful before you turn up. No, regular, maybe even unannounced, actually, at times to get real and find out what's really going on.

And also getting rid of constraint blindness. Earlier, today we had a talk from Clarke on constraints and the bottleneck. So do we even have awareness that there's a bottleneck and that that's causing us issue. Getting rid of this focus on utilization of people, focusing more on managing the work rather than managing the people and utilizing the people. Stopping this focus on the star performers, if I have Nader on the team, is all going to be good and it will be good, by the way, that'll be brilliant, but sometimes, we can rely on teams. If you go to our experts all the time, maybe our experts aren't available for everyone and, maybe, delusions of predictability as well as something we need to deal with. All of these in a sense, and some of the previous things that we needed to delete, they can lead to a lack of discipline, on that team level. People started losing interest in retrospectives and daily-es and updating the board. When the boards become stale and out of date, it's the road to perdition, really. So we need to be very quick at dealing with these things.

If we don't deal with them, we're going to have one of lots of issues with the group, but where do you start? Where could you actually improve the situation?

Maybe you could think about, instead of letting us fall, one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas, like going neither here, nor there, maybe we could truth promote with Agility in mind. Maybe we could listen, really listen, before we get into mentoring, coaching teaching. Just listen and maybe getting comfortable with non-experts starting work. Getting more informed on complexity. I talk about non teams because there are some teams that actually aren't teams. They've been put together as a team, but, really, they're a group of people who have been told that they should be in a team and they do each other as friends and so on, but, actually, they don't really care about each other's work at all.

One thing that I've done is I've provided guidance. So, for example, at a daily, I put it into the first question as: what do we need to collaborate on, cooperate on today? And the second question: is there anything that needs a bit of love and attention, some item on our board we started but we haven't been paying attention to it and is there some work that's blocked on our boards?

I'm curious where you would start so, if you were in this situation where people were promoting the old guards and inflicting help on you, all blah, blah, blah and just telling you stuff and promoting the high performers, where would you start? I've given you some suggestions, but do you have any other suggestions? Keeping an eye on the chat window here. If you have suggestions. Listening and observing. Absolutely. There's a Japanese expression of Walking the Gemba isn't there or really see what's going on. That'd be a great place to start. Sometimes executives are so stuck in the whatever executive floor they're on, with the lovely furniture, it's like a rare thing that they actually meet teams. It's like a special thing that happens maybe once or twice a year but it needs to be a regular thing. Asking questions as well is a good thing. Measuring the impact, thank you, David. Measuring the impacts and making them visible. It's important to show that we're making progress, thank you for those suggestions.

So you can see that we're trying to make progress here. We're trying to say, okay, can we let teams be more influencing in terms of when the work would be done, but also can we not only encourage Agile to behavior, but also try to make sure that, when we're considering about who the new leaders are, that they're not going to unravel the change, the progress that we've already made, that the impacts in the progress that you've already made, that we don't get that unraveled.

You can see the colors are filling up as we go along. Then, if I go to the next level, this is where there's still not an appreciation that teams need to work together. They need to coordinate their work. Hopefully they do that autonomously and they might get some assistance and some coaching roles, but as such, they try to do that themselves.

If we're dealing with suppliers, hopefully they're like part of the family, they're getting 5-10 year contracts. We're not tendering the work out every six to nine months for some genius thinks it's a great idea to cut costs and the knowledge walks out the door in six to nine months. And maybe it's the time to stop push and stop or delete are not absolute. When teams talk to me and saying: "oh, we've got capacity." Okay, so you think you've got capacity, it's a subjective thing. For me, your capacity is your throughput, how much stuff are you getting done? If you're bringing in more stuff than you're finishing, it's not really a good way to operate. It can lead to teams that are overburdened, feeling tired and not calm. Another suggestion here from Jeeva. Thank you, Jeeva. Empathy, having a one-to-one connection to bridge the real gap and, genuinely, showing the progress that we're making. And the word "empathy", Jeeva, is interesting because can empathy lead to corruption in a way, because we look after the people that we like. A word I prefer to use, I think that probably what you meant is more about compassion, having compassion for people, understanding, and not necessarily people that we know are not necessarily our favorite people.

So can we try to reduce the idea of short-lived teams? So projects are great idea, projects are needed to get some stuff done. There are short term constructs to get some work done, unless you're going to Mars or something. Maybe after a while, teams get used to release trains and release trained engineers and all of these different things. Do we need to try to keep them together for a bit longer? Can we almost barcode the product backlog or their program backlog with different types of projects. Maybe we could do some 80-20, 80% of the outcomes or 20% of the outputs. A lack of goal orientation, as well, as something that needs to be dealt with and lots of organizations have focused on projects and programs, which is fine.

But it seems to be a lack of intent behind them. At this point, we need to say:" okay, we're dealing with our plumbing problems, but, as Yogi Berra said, if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else. So maybe we need to be thinking about goals. That also creates the space for teams to come up with alternative outputs to deliver those goals, deliver those outcomes.

Ruthlessness is fine, and it has a place, but should you be ruthless with people or should you be ruthless with value? In Scrum, for example, commitment is not a guarantee, commitment means we want to do our best. Quality is what's right at the top there. The definition of done is probably the most important commitment in Scrum. Do we have cognitive diversity, which can contribute to cognitive diversity by having diversity inclusion in terms of the people that we have in our teams. Are we avoiding group thinking? Even with diversity, you can still have a group think. So do we have people who are thinking differently? At this point as well, we probably need to stop this idea of imposing things on people. It gives teams choices and, the good thing about SAFe, for example,is teams can do Scrum, or they could do Kanban or XP, which gives people the choice of how they want to do their work. These are the things that we would like to reduce.

And I put it to you that if we don't try to get rid of these, we're going to have an environment that lacks humanity. So if you were to start somewhere and if you were to try to reduce some of these, where would you start? What would be some of the ideas? What would be some simple ideas that you could start with that, maybe, you don't need permission from anybody else, you could just start, you could just do something just to make some kind of improvement.

I keep an eye on the chat window here for some of your suggestions. So if you wanted to make a start about removing some of these things what would be the practical things that you might try? So we're focused on people and interaction, how about that? And Marcus was talking about that, as well, earlier today, in his talk, a fabulous talk. Thank you, Marcus. People in drive, absolutely. Processes and tools have a place, but thinking about our people as well. Some other suggestions, Andrey's point, can we let teams actually coordinate the value stream level? Can their representatives be supported by the various roles were there, of course, but can they work together? Can we focus on aging? Work, that's getting old in the system because of teams saying:" I've got capacity", but look at the work that's aging in your system. Just get it finished, get it out the door so that we can get some feedback and find out if we're going in the right direction or not.

The product teams is gonna be a big step but, talking to customers and users regularly, that's something, hopefully, you can do. I hear people saying we can't talk to customers. Again, I would say: can and cannot is an opinion? In the same organization, one of my clients, it's interesting that in different functions that is completely different opinions about what you can talk about to customers and users and, often, it's more of a political constraint within the function that you might involved in than not being allowed to do that. And you'd be compassionate with people but maybe ruthless with value. Maybe if you can invite people to the change and some people, by the way, aren't okay with it, maybe we need to be comfortable with that. Some people do need to see social proof that it's working elsewhere. Maybe we need to be open to that and, even if we're desperately depending on them, maybe it's better to leave them where they are and treat their workers as a dependency to our work.

We're moving on, we're moving halfway across the board. The next set is EFFICIENCY word. I have to confess a lot of my clients, that's what they really want. It's efficiency and I often wonder why they didn't just use Lean or theory of constraints and the job would have been done. But I don't know, I guess they wanted a new way of doing it or something. Like I've said, do you want the more right you're doing the wrong thing, the more wrong you become? So can we be more effective? If this is the point where we solved our plumbing problems, the place's feeling a bit more human.

And now maybe we can get serious. Like Sully said in the movie: "Sully, can we get serious now?" Can we talk about, instead of talking about the cow that we're milking, the metaphorical cow that we're milking, our current products, can we be looking for new potential, the products, cows that we haven't found yet. Do we need to find the next cow? Do we need to get rid of this whole idea of the big bet. Maybe there's not even an appreciation that's a big bet because there's a business case, there's the value associated with it but it's a bet at the end of the day. According to Marty Cagan, even brilliant product managers are wrong 70% of the time. I'm wrong probably 99% of the time. Getting rid of long-lived impediments. I came across a couple of teams three years ago and they, each, had an impediment. That was seven years old, seven years old. So can we get serious about looking at that? We don't just accept that things are bad around here. We can do things about this. Scaling is good and it gets you to a certain place, but what we need to think about is continuous scaling. Is that always the answer? Do we need to have a manageable size? For scaling, of course, it's not just the scale, you need to continuously scale to an extent where it gets a little bit unsustainable.

Do we need to move away from the idea of initiative budgets and think more about funding where the value is? Do we need to rethink about who's in what seat on the bus, Jim Collins' book " Good to Great". Do we have the wrong people on the bus? And then, if we have the right people, are they in the right seats of the bus.

Maybe we could get rid of this idea of it's about you being better as a Java developer, or tester, or marketeer or a lawyer, whatever it is that you do, there's still a place for that but can we allow a situation where people have the choice to grow horizontally. We have to be careful about this because if we create a situation like that, then if I get promoted to another part of the organization and that scheme isn't available, then why would I be part of that broken promotion path? And we need to stop thinking build it and they will come. We know from the chaos report from the standish group, several times over the two-thirds of features, were rarely or never used. I had a client a couple of years ago, they built a massive feature, nobody ever used it, ever. So we need to be careful about that and we need to be careful about the brown stuff in relation to: " oh, we're customer centric or consumer centric". In fact, the more people say that, the more I realize that they're not. It's like when people say to you in a room, Marcus talked about this earlier today, about psychological safety. When I hear a leader say we're all psychologically safe in this room, I know that those very words from the breath that we heard just after it, that we're not psychologically safe.

So I put it to you that without these deletions, we just have a feature factory. Marty Cagan uses that expression, John Cutler feature factory, like a sausage factory. We deliver stuff, we push it out the door and we give to the market, we check that made a difference or not, we might be making loads of money but do we know what's actually working, what's not working? Do you want to be number three or do you want to be number one? Do you want to be the best or the rest? It depends on what you want in your organization. I'd love to hear your suggestions. If you were to start somewhere about dealing with some of these things, where would you start? What are your suggestions, please? I'll watch the chat window to see what you think.

Here's some suggestions that I came up with and first one will be allowing descent, but not to the extent that it's unconstructive and unhelpful, like someone with Tourette's syndrome or something, I don't mean that in a bad way, that'd be a funny humor, so it will be taken that way. Compassionate dissent. If we really believe that [02:13:00] some things are dumb idea, maybe we call that out. Maybe there's a recognition that this big bet is a really bad bet and understanding that actually. Maybe we need to focus on fixing problems. Maybe we need to think about more regular funding cycles. Bjarte will be talking about that later today on Beyond Budgeting. Do we need to think about self designing teams? Do we need to experiment when the risk of actually getting the value is quite high, that we think the value is very high from these items, these product backlog items will be using Scrum, Kanban.

Maybe we need to take a leaf out of Ellen Gottesdeiner's book, maybe we need to discover to deliver. Or maybe is Giff Constable Joshua Seiden would hint at. Maybe we need to discover to not deliver, because if we discover that 70% of ideas are wrong ideas through experiments, through cheap prototyping, maybe if you discover the stuff not to build. And for me, when people go on Lean UX training, for example, or design thinking, I think it's actually a very good leadership training because we're asking people to limit work in progress all the time, we really struggle with that. When you run experiments, you actually find out that some idea should never be born. What a great way to limit work in progress. Maybe we need to get out of the building, maybe we need to actually do much more regular customer research .

I see a comment here from David. Thank you, David. Maybe validating some long term problems are really problems. Yeah, really digging on that. So sometimes we make lots of assumptions, maybe you can do some experiments in that, do some research in that, focusing on the important stuff and making progress. Thank you, David. So you see, we're trying to make progress here. We could have done this much earlier but, if we haven't sorted our plumbing problem, are we going to be limited in terms of how we can even experiment? Are we going to have too many experiments running at the same time? Are we not going to pick our battles?

Getting very Agile at this point, wouldn't it be lovely to be in this place where look, we still have problems, we still have people making decisions based on gut feeling, maybe we still have opinions without any evidence. There's no evidence to back up some of the decisions. So being empirical actually means we're using data, not just data but insights from data to help us make decisions, but you don't want to be doing data driven decision making either because maybe we need to, by talking to customers, users, and others, certain stakeholders, we understand about context. Often I find when I run a survey with people, going in to get them to do the survey or to do task completion on a prototype, for example, that's just an hour, it's almost like an excuse to talk to the customer and I discover other things by accident almost. So try to have those kinds of accidents as often as possible, would be good. Now we need to be thinking about and less of this oh, we need to know all this project or all that project. You need to know all this and all that. Maybe we need to go more 80-20. And, as Patrick Lencioni says, can this be a default question for the 80-20 of us. If we've got a fast moving consumer good, for example,we're not thinking, we have to do it on all SKUs. Can we just do this change at one of the SKUs actually, and just see how it goes and not boil the ocean kind of thing. Maybe we need to get rid of leaders pushing impediments back down to teams, and maybe it's time for executive leaders for rolling up their sleeves and being less back to back in meetings where they're unavailable to help people and actually really understanding if they want to deliver more results, if they want to be like a heat-seeking missile to help the teams with their discovery and other experiments they're doing. They want people to be faster, maybe there are some things beyond the control and influence of the teams and they need help. Should we be doing that all along? Absolutely, but for me, there's an element of progression in terms of people that even being ready to even see that there's these problems. Because, as we said earlier in this talk, you're empowered and all this kind of nonsense when, actually, maybe you're not.

We also need to be looking at some of these processes and workflows that are just killing us. It's teams struggling with compliance. Compliance systems that are written for the traditional approach, that are constraining on new ways of working. Can we get sensible? Can we get serious? As Sully said in that movie? Can we talk about what are the controls that need to be in place? What are the rules that we need to follow? And what's the spirit of the rule and what's the intent behind the rule so that we can be compliant. And does that necessarily mean that we need to fill out a particular spreadsheet in a particular way, even though we already have that information on our product backlog in JIRA or whichever system we're using. And maybe we need to strengthen up the road career path, that you have choices, you can stay specialist and get better at that, you can become a manager and go that route, or you can grow horizontally and that's a choice you could do quite well, actually. That way you don't have to, if you want to improve the life style of your family, you don't necessarily always have to go to the managerial route. Maybe at this point as well, hopefully, we can ditch this thing. It was kind of hinted at by one of the attendees that maybe this thing about better, faster, cheaper, what is it? What is all that? Maybe we need to realize at this point is about being more adaptive to what's going on the market. And, of course, we should've been doing technical excellence all along, shouldn't we? About the lack of it. It's really constraining people and upsetting people's ability to really sustain that agility. So this is something that we need to finally push that away, this is the way we do things around here. Jeff Bezos said at that famous event in 2002, about using microservices, and said that people get fired if they didn't use them. Maybe that's a bridge too far, but that's the kind of stuff that we're talking about, that we have really high bar in terms of how we do our work.

I put it to you that, if we don't do these, the potential is more limited than it could be and I'm hinting here on unrealized value, the cow that we haven't found yet, the innovation, not becoming another Nokia, Kodak, the usual stories. It's interesting that, even though we all know these stories, it's still happening. People are still motivated by whatever way they get their bonus and they're not reading history. It's really interesting.

I've got a request for you. If these are the things that you wanted to get rid of, or make more rare, let's put it that way, what do you suggest, where would you start? What would be a good starting point?

I can see there's another comment from Jeeva, thank you. Trying to retain the team, attrition needs to be managed well. Absolutely, I agree with that. Longterm, stable teams, Heidi Helfand is doing some good work as well with dynamic reteaming where, if you do have to change team, just get good at it. And I found it interesting that the EU field guide for managing complexity in a crisis is actually cited. Heidi Helfand's book on dynamic re-teaming, which I thought it was very interesting. In the Agile space, we're looking for teams that trust each other. You can also attain that trust through crews. So someone arrives who is very well-trained, someone else comes along to replace me, if they are trained at the same, another PST or PKT for example, from those communities that provide those trainings, people can be reasonably assured that they probably get something similar or less friendly training. Maybe they can go to Nader for training or someone who's striving to become an SPCT and someone else who was in a similar kind of kudos there as Nader, that there'd be trust there in the system that would happen.

Question from Andrey in terms of deleting. Do we have vision and mission to align everyone? Yeah, absolutely. Much earlier on, I think maybe two or three levels back, we talked about we needed to get rid of this idea that we need enough goals. And now, at this point, do we need to think about multiple time horizons? Are we there yet? Is it this step or is it the next step? Thank you, Andrey, for that.

And instead of maybe data less decisions would be data informed decision, maybe treating initiatives as bets. We talked earlier about non-expert starting work, but now maybe we're getting much more comfortable with non-experts learning and doing, that we can see that we do actually get better business results by, we actually get more scale, by people having more horizontal breath to do more things; it might even allow us later on to expand the definition of our product in our teams, because we actually are building more capabilities to learning. Maybe we can be thinking about de-scaling some of our processes and flows. Maybe we can ask some really good technical coaches to mob or swarm of teams. This would be some of my suggestions.

Then you could see how we're progressing along here, we're getting to the last two levels where the numbers are unlimited, they go to infinity, but in terms of how far I got it so far. Thinking about the past is a big thing. I really know when I've got an Agile leader when they're thinking about the future, they might even be thinking of multiple time horizons about the future, they might even be thinking about 2025, they're not thinking about '23. They are, but they have somebody else running for 2022. Maybe we're not having so much about creating new leadership positions, adding more to the hierarchy. You don't have to be in a position to be a leader, leadership at all levels.

And maybe we need to be less of a harmony there. I don't mean just the kind of cultural environment, but also in terms of carbon and plastic and all those United Nations sustainable development goals. Can we do less about that as well? And maybe it's a point in time that dependencies are the bane of our lives, aren't they, and when you've got layer cake teams, you can expect there to be dependencies and more than 90% of the teams in the world are later cake teams. How we got to a stage where there's so much learning going on, that we can consider slice of cake teams. You can consider that earlier too, but does it feel natural at this point in time? And instead of talking about targets, maybe it's about trends and targets can be damaging. You can argue this could've been at an earlier level because when people achieve the target, they don't really try to do anymore and it can lead to sandbagging and all sorts of problems.

I put it to you that if we don't delete these things, we can lose some really valuable customers because we're not really in tune, we've got a distance from the customer. You might be in a team and maybe you're 14 layers away from a customer. That must have an effect in how well you empathize with the customer.

I'd love to hear your suggestions on the chat window. What do you think? If these were things that we'd like to deemphasize, where would you start? What are your suggestions? Looking at the chat window, I don't see any suggestions on the chat window.

Where I might start is maybe goals in multiple time horizons. Andrey was hinting that earlier on. Maybe we've got a more congruent purpose, it's not just all about share price and profit and all that thing. And by the way, I think that will come from consumers. I think consumers will be demanding this more and getting much more cranky in the shower. Even when I see all the plastic around me, it makes me really sad. So I'm just getting shampoo bars and things like that and then, like an old bar of soap, but it's shampoo and that's the kind of extent that I'm going to, I'm finding myself getting irritated in supermarkets with stuff wrapped in plastic. That will eventually, I think it's already hitting organizations and the demand will come from the market and we need to be ready for it. And we already talked about trends and "slice of cake" teams and expanding the definition of our product. We have, for example, Microsoft Excel, we expand our deficient to Microsoft Office because we've been not only allowing non-experts to start work but we've been focusing already on being comfortable with people who don't do that work normally, actually picking it up, where we're allowing our experts to be more scalable. As Andy Carmichael says:" we're improving our labour liquidity".

It was quite a full chart note at this point. I guess the final phase at the moment that I've got to is appreciation of ego, that could still be quite damaging. There are lots of companies in the world, they're doing very well, but there's still very strong ego there. Is that necessarily a problem? Like I said earlier, it should be more rare, it doesn't mean that you should never have an ego.

Backlogs. This is a kind of a hat tip to John Seddon that maybe we don't need backlogs anymore. Maybe a backlog is just another queue. So can we just go and talk to the customer and find out what they want next?

Can we have this lack in sustainability, can we just push that aside, in terms of ways of working. We talked earlier about conduits of processes and workflows, but now it's a well-oiled machine. So we can get rid of these last things that are slung, continuous improvement, tenacity.

And, if there's any hint of a lack of diversity and inclusion, can we just eradicate that once and for all and go for that. It's even the whole idea of a 5-day week.

Transformations. Sometimes organizations need them to get them started, but can you get to a stage where change and learning is just part of what we do every day? It's a priority. It's not just about business results. We see that learning and change helps us to achieve business results, because it helps us to find that new cow that we needed after the last cow ran out of milk.

So I put the two that we don't get rid of these. We could actually lose some of our best employees.

And I'd love to hear your suggestions. If you were to start somewhere, where would you start? What would you do about this?

I've got some comments here: end of the day happiness. I think it was what you mean, Jeeva, is how happy people are. If we strive into the happiness to be the best possible extent, I believe this gets reflected at every level. Thank you, Jeeva, for that suggestion.

I came up with a few ones as well. Appreciation of compassion at this stage, not so much about ego. Maybe the focus on customer jobs. I had to pick customer jobs to be done in Clayton Christianson and so on. Maybe more authentic recruitment, thinking about the 4-day week.

It's quite a big picture, isn't it? There's a lot of things to delete and here's the nub or the rub, I should say. If you find that you're at the very start of the very first column and a lot of those things are still problems, they're still not deleted. What does it mean? We can be patient. We can say we're going to go inch by inch. How long do we have to wait? When we go into by inch and then it becomes micro inch by micro inch, are we continually trying to avoid change actually? I put it to you that if it's a sustaining situation where a few key executives in the organization are still locked, and we can be patient, but if we're still locked/blocked.

Do we actually need to think about deleting the executive? Cause I put it to you that, with the executives who basically create drag for change agents and real Agile leaders who report to them, they are damaging their organization. And we might not have to worry about deleting executives. We might be deleting the organization,

Open to questions now. If you want to find out more there's a link where you'll find lots of leads to my podcasts and so on. I want to thank you very much for your engagement.

I just see a couple of comments here. Backlog, maybe reduce the depth. Yeah, this is another way, another step. Thank you. Is this a linear flow from left to right? I wouldn't say it's linear, I don't think anything in life is linear. And I think it's far more complex than that. You can make progress, you can do things that are at a higher, if you like, is just be aware of some of the things that might still hurt you later, you could find yourself getting impeded.

And if you're really outstanding, you don't need any of this. If you're John Seddon, we just wanna do your thing and you don't need to go through any of these steps.

Nader Talai: Thank you. Please take a minute, provide the feedback, it is useful for us, and, more importantly, it's useful for presenters to just see how is the message landing and how to improve it for the next time.

 

Leave a Comment

Blog posts

Related Articles.

Clarke Ching
Clarke Ching

Leadership-Clarke Ching: Cash Cows make the Best Burgers

Profit is, for businesses, like oxygen is for humans – we need it to exit, but it’s not the reason...

Read more
Marcus Dimbleby
Marcus Dimbleby

Leadership-Marcus Dimbleby: Thinking differently - the essential capability of true leaders.

We hide behind comforting lies in so many aspects of our lives, fearful of facing the hard truths,...

Read more