What Does This Retweet Tell Us About Agile and Scrum?

I must confess that my Twitter knowledge and expertise is limited. I’m even skeptical of its value. But after July’s Agile2016 conference in Atlanta, GA, I found that engaging via Twitter enriched my overall event experience throughout the week. I learned quite a bit from the real-time chatter and continue to draw new learning moments from the pile of #Agile2016 tweets that amassed throughout the week. There is an overwhelming amount of content, so I sorted by the “top” tweets to see which moment might have resonated the most. What do you think it was?

Credit: Shane Hastie (tweet) and Joshua Kerievsky (speaker)

Most of the retweets happened within a few days of the keynote, but the message continues to strengthen. To put into context, the keynote focused on the proposed 4 principles of Modern Agile, one of which is Make Safety a Prerequisite. The website offers some clarity within this principle:

Safety is both a basic human need and a key to unlocking high performance. We actively make safety a prerequisite by establishing safety before engaging in any hazardous work. We protect people’s time, information, reputation, money, health and relationships. And we endeavor to make our collaborations, products and services resilient and safe.

Why is this?

A reasonable level of engagement was fueled by this moment. Why might this be? Do many of our talented knowledge-working professionals still work in a toxic culture of fear in their organizations? Are people just embracing the obvious? Was it just ‘conference crowd bias’ kicking in?

What do you think?

The impact of a fearful company culture is nothing new.

In the world of Agile and Lean Thinking, the impact of a ‘culture of fear’ is well understood in practice, and a quick Amazon search turns up thousands of books on this very subject. A common use case is when a company attempts to enact and grow Scrum within a software Product Delivery organization. Since Scrum is an expression of empirical process control, it requires transparency so that inspect & adapt interactions will result in informed decisions based on reality rather than fantasy. In a company culture that promotes transparency through courageous communication, I’ve often seen it lead to some amazing business outcomes.

Is your organization attempting to scale using SPS/Nexus, SAFe, LeSS, etc.? If so, all of those frameworks are empirical as well, so to maximize the business and economic benefits, all arguably require that the organization Make Safety a Prerequisite.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

Each of us has a professional story that is emerging each day we enter our workplaces. I’ve been fortunate that, in my 23+ year career, I’ve only lived in a couple of organizations that promoted an aggressive culture of fear. In both cases, the outcomes of the work were a mess, the people were miserable, the environment drained my soul, and success was defined by something radically different than a shared team goal.

I’m hopeful that these toxic situations are a rare exception, but I imagine that they will always exist to some extent.

What does the future hold?

The tweet is chock full of insight. Without an open, honest and respectful company culture, people struggle to tell the truth and create a shared understanding of tough problems and solutions. That said, I’ve seen situations where some implementation of Agile & Lean practices garners a small benefit, even in companies that have a culture of fear. And lastly, I’ve also seen situations in transparent and healthy cultures where people made incorrect assumptions and placed the fear on themselves. So although the tweet sounds simple…it’s actually more complex than we might realize.

In my mind, the real benefit is when Agile & Lean shine a light on the issue, so that an organization can acknowledge a culture misalignment and choose to solve for it.

In Closing

To tie this back to empirical scaling frameworks like SPS / SAFe / LeSS, the following is another popular retweet from the conference. Is your “Agile” operating model helping illuminate the culture of fear in your organization? What are you doing to solve for it?

 

Credit: Paul Wynia (tweet) and Ryan Ripley (speaker)

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What do you make of this? Have we largely solved this problem in the Agile space, or is it a widespread issue that needs to be addressed at global scale? I hope you’ll consider engaging with this post by sharing your views in the comments section below.

 

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What Does it Mean to be Authentic?

Brené Brown’s latest post on authenticity captivated me early this morning. In this short read, she responded courageously to Adam Grant’s recent New York Times piece entitled: Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.

So, what does it mean to be authentic? And is it acceptable to bring authenticity into the workplace? Rather than having an opinion, I instead draw directly from Brené Brown’s research and conclusions – after all, she studies authenticity for a living.

In my research I found that the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.

As noted in her post, her research and books, authenticity doesn’t mean that we just say what we feel to anyone and everyone at any moment. It requires a fine-tuned sense of self-awareness and a keen eye to the situation at hand.

I strive to be fully courageous and authentic in the workplace – each and every day. That said, I have much room for improvement. For example, I sometimes struggle to recognize and throttle my high-energy native wiring within context. Courageous moments evoke strong internal emotions – however, I feel that expressing one’s emotions with compassion is key to authentic workplace interactions.

That said, my working assumption is that compassion is best shown once a bond has been formed (which takes time). This is another area of growth for me, since I have a strong desire to help others — perhaps a bit too soon though. There is much nuance behind empathy, compassion, authenticity and sincerity.

This is part of what Brown means by ‘setting boundaries’. Know your audience, know your imperfections, set boundaries — and then just “be yourself”.

Why is this so important? This is how Brown sees it:

“Vulnerability is courage and also the birthplace of trust, innovation, learning, risk-taking, and having tough conversations.”

To enrich this further, tough & authentic conversations promote transparency, and I have found that responsible transparency leads to better workplace decisions in the face of complexity – think Lean, Agile, Scrum, Large Scrum, SAFe, etc. Without transparency, all of these scaling approaches tend to lead to sub-optimal business outcomes.

I see much depth in her words and conclusions.

What does it mean to be authentic? Is is okay to bring your whole self into the workplace? Consider sharing your experience and views in the comments section below.

 

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How To Turn Failure Into A Competitive Advantage

Have you ever worked for a manager who made these statements to your Teams?

Failure is not an option.

We cannot fail.

To deepen this scenario — have you ever worked in an organization that rated you as a poor performer for making responsible mistakes? Shockingly, this is still happening in many companies – even the ones that are trying to become more nimble and innovative. For a company to maximize its ability to innovate (which is one measure of an Organization’s Agility), it requires everyone to learn how to fail in a responsible way.

High performing Agile organizations embrace failure as a competitive advantage that leads to sustainable business success. For those of you who work within these remarkable workplaces, I celebrate your success and the courage it takes to embrace this attitude within your company’s culture.

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill

An example of failure and how the company handled it

I once served within a company where a complex software Product was under constant pressure to deliver new features to a mission critical customer segment. As I got to know these Teams from the periphery, I could see how much they cared about their work and how passionate they were for delivering really cool stuff to their customers. To be honest, I was envious of their situation because people were having a lot of fun in that part of the organization. What’s not to love about that?

So, as these Teams prepared to ship a new set of features (on a weekend), I was off work — actually, I was nestled comfortably in a movie theater with my kids when the “buzzzzzzzz” of my pager kicked in (yes, we used to have pagers!). As I quietly scanned the dimly-lit pager screen, it didn’t take long to realize that something went terribly wrong with their latest Product update. As I started following the threads of communication, I could see some panic playing out in that Product organization – the latest update had failed and unfortunately, there was a major loss of customer data that the Teams were unable to recover.

After the shock & awe phase settled down, I had a chance to facilitate a root cause analysis session with the Teams and senior leadership. What they jointly discovered was a lapse in judgment by one (passionate, skillful and caring) Team Member who bypassed company red tape in an effort to ship the Product update quickly – but as a result, this individual made one small mistake that permanently deleted a large portion of customer data.

What happened in this situation? Would you characterize it as a failure? What would you have done to that Team Member?

Every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve.

As you might imagine, the customers were quite unhappy. This was a clear failure, and (as characterized by many) an irresponsible choice in the heat of delivery. Technology executives had to scramble to provide an explanation to customers, how they were going to fix the problem, and how they would avoid it in the future.

How did the senior leaders handle the situation?

1. They pointed the finger at the issue, not the Teams – Through a powerful root cause analysis session, the Teams (including leadership representatives) focused on the issue, not the people. This allowed for open dialogue which surfaced a deeper problem that went well beyond that one Team Member’s mistake. If they had played the blame game, then the underlying organizational root causes would have never emerged.

2. They never used the word FAILURE – In this Product organization’s culture, they called these situations “learning moments”. In this particular situation, it happened to be an enormous learning moment that had an obvious sense of urgency for immediate remediation. Within this culture, it allowed the Teams to analyze the situation swiftly, objectively, and without judgment. What did this teach us? What insights do we have? And … what experiments can we run to prevent this from ever happening again?

3. The person was not fired – Yes, it was a terrible lapse in judgment. Many companies might have fired the employee on the spot – and in some situations (e.g., where people’s lives are at stake), that might have been the best course of action. But in this particular situation, the organization leveraged an environment of professional safety to allow this person to speak freely about his actions and what he had learned from it. The person was not fired, his pay was not docked, and he continued forth as a thriving Team Member within the Product organization. In fact, he led the charge on a series of significant organizational improvements that strengthened the operational capabilities for the company as a whole.

How can your company transform failure into learning moments?

An organization’s attitude toward “failure” will directly influence the actions that it takes in response to these situations. In real Agile organizations, resilience to failure is an advantage that sets these inspiring companies apart from their lagging competitors. They do this by being:

  • Optimistic – “Learning Moments” keep a feeling of optimism in the face of these difficult situations. Failure can be perceived as a permanent state, but learning moments serve as the stepping stone for meaningful improvement within the organization. What happened? What did we learn from it? What do we need to do to prevent it in the future?
  • Compassionate – The senior leaders were able to empathize with the Teams by connecting to their passion for delivering exciting Product features to their customers. In addition, they capitalized on that passion by acting with positive intent (i.e., our goal is to improve how we ship new Product features, not to seek out and fire employees). Compassionate leadership allows the organization to tap into the energy and skills of the Teams to continuously out-improve their competitors.
  • Focused – An Agile organization operates with a high degree of focus. When learning moments emerge, the organization behaves with a “stop and fix” mentality. Agile organizations don’t waste time blaming people, and senior leaders don’t worry about protecting their power in a corporate hierarchy. The focus is on learning and swift improvement; all in the interest of serving the paying customer with high quality and innovative Product.

 

Your Call to Action

Does your organization treat failure as optimistic, compassionate and focused learning moments? If not, why? What can you do to influence a change in your organization to start thinking and acting this way?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

The 1 Belief That Will Improve Your Workplace Forever

 

I believe in the value of RESPECT, so when the opportunity is right, I strive to exchange valuable feedback with an uplifting tone that fosters continuous learning and growth in myself and others.

As an organizational coach, how I lead and develop others is deeply grounded in a number of beliefs that guide my actions every day. For example, I carry a strong belief that all workplace professionals deserve to be treated with respect. Experience has shown that a respectful workplace cultivates collaboration and continuous improvement, which leads to the high performance teamwork needed to thrive in a complex and competitive marketplace.

Besides … in a professional workplace, who wants to be treated disrespectfully anyway? Not you. Not me. Not anyone. Right?

Do you Work in a Disrespectful Workplace?

To make a point, I enter this post with a darker slant on respect. My journey has allowed me to witness organizations that are shockingly-disrespectful environments. I’ve encountered them a number of times during my travels. I hope you aren’t working in one of these organizations – but if you are, my goal is to inspire you to influence your organization to change.

To set the tone, here are a couple of real cases of disrespect (beyond being rude and mean to others):

Showing up late for a meeting without explaining “why”:

Hey everyone, I’m here now. What did I miss?

Committing time to a meeting and changing that commitment during the meeting; once again, without explaining “why”:

Hey everyone, I can only give an hour of my time for this 1/2 day session, so I will be stepping out at X.

Why are these situations considered disrespectful? Imagine that you’ve committed your time to a 1/2 day brainstorming session and your skill and knowledge are expected to be an essential part of that meeting. Everyone has prepared extensively in advance to make sure the meeting will achieve its outcomes and the entire Team is in the room, prepared, energized and ready to jump into the meeting’s purpose.

If I announce to the rest of the Team that I can only give an hour of my time (after committing to the entire 1/2-day), it shows a lack of respect for everyone else’s time, energy and dedication. In addition, if I don’t explain “why”, then it implies that the other people in the meeting are not valued and/or are not considered important enough in the organization.

Does this happen in your organization? To deepen the question further, do these cases mean that the person is disrespectful or the organization is disrespectful…or both? How do you see it?

An Example of Respect on Display

Work travel recently carried me into a big company – where, on a dreary Monday morning – I visited one of the break rooms and started navigating around a worker who was cleaning the room and emptying the trash. As we exchanged glances, I could sense that person’s struggles – a tough, thankless, low-paying job indeed. I also saw this hard-working soul briefly gaze at the window as it clouded up from the rainy conditions – a discouraging frown forming on his face.

In that moment, I gently introduced myself and thanked this person for his hard work, relating to him my self-proclaimed job as the “kitchen cleaner” at home. We jointly discovered light humor in the mundane aspects of this work, and how it often goes without any appreciation — at work and home alike. As our conversation continued, I witnessed a remarkable transformation as this person’s discouraging frown dissolved, and a radiant smile emerged.

What happened? Through a brief and empathetic exchange, I helped him discover that his work makes a positive impact in a lot of people’s lives, and simply showed him some genuine appreciation for his service. I was humbled by his smile and the high-five he offered me on the way out.

As you digest that real-world situation, I invite you to reflect on the following questions for your own learning & growth:

What does it mean to believe something?

How do your beliefs direct your actions?

The manner in which you and others interact in your company is a direct reflection of your organization’s core beliefs and behaviors; i.e., your company culture.

An organization’s culture is often described as “the way we do things around here”. It’s how we treat each other, how we share our opinions & feedback, and other manifested behaviors that are based on a set of beliefs. For example, great leaders are wired with a set of core values that have positive intent, and these very leaders strive to politely and respectfully challenge workplace situations that are in direct conflict with those beliefs.

Before reading on, consider revisiting the two questions above and answer them from a different perspective. What are you learning about your own beliefs, and how might that be changing as you absorb this message?

Do your senior leaders believe in respect for people?

I have found that a corporate culture is directly influenced by executive leaders and how they behave in front of others. What is this like in your organization? Over the years, I have witnessed value-grounded and inspiring leaders on display at many levels in a company (executives, managers and workers alike). I find these situations fulfilling and uplifting. Perhaps this aligns with your own leadership style?

People choose to follow leaders not because of job title, but because of their calm presence and respectful nature.

For every one of those uplifting souls, I’ve also felt the wrath from powerful, big-company executives who believe that their job title makes them more important than everyone else, and so they will do whatever it takes to protect their turf. It’s disheartening, and even worse, it influences good-natured employees to behave in destructive ways that hurt others. I’ve been put in that conflicting position more than once in my earlier career — it was painful. Why? Because these toxic, disrespectful company cultures were in direct conflict with my own belief, which is ………………

Everyone in the professional workplace deserves to be treated with respect.

What kind of leader are you? What are the core beliefs that guide your interactions with others in your workplace?

Even the most grounded leaders will sometimes make a mistake that disrespects others … they’re human … we all make mistakes. But, if they truly believe in respect for people, they will work very hard to catch themselves in the moment and show the courage to authentically apologize for their lapse in judgment.

How can you anchor this belief in your Organization?

I encourage you to take a short break at work and absorb your company’s “Our Core Values” poster that’s plastered around the building and your company’s public website. If respect is not listed, then this is your chance to show great leadership by influencing the organization to add this core belief. Even if it isn’t on display, go forth and live it every single day – from the C-suite to the break room. It starts with you….the next great, respectful leader of today.

What is this like in your organization? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Leading in Turbulent Times Requires Courage

 

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – J.K. Rowling

What does it mean to be a courageous leader in today’s professional workplace? Why is it so important? Exemplifying workplace courage promotes responsible transparency, which leads to the open and honest communication that is essential when an organization needs the truth to make informed business decisions – especially in a complex, turbulent business environment.

If you embody the value of courage within your organization, then you will create an environment of professional safety where colleagues can be open and honest when it matters most. Are you living in a courageous organization? Do *your* leaders promote courageous communication?

Without courage, the information that is presented to senior leaders is not real or honest, and in today’s dynamic marketplace, this could prove disastrous to an organization.

 

Courage on Display

I once saw workplace courage on display by a senior leader who was truly scared for the future of his organization, the 400+ employees, and for his own job! With market share and revenues starting to decline, he knew that something had to change in the organization to start moving the needle back in the right direction. After making a significant investment to fly all of the product development teams (from across the globe) to a single office, he kicked off the first day with a courageous, unrehearsed message that sounded something like…

 

I know we’ve come here to work together for a couple of weeks, but I fear that your efforts will be wasted unless I’m completely honest with you all right now. We are here because we are in a real crisis, and if we don’t find a better way to work with each other, we are going to go out of business.

At the moment, I have no answers for why we aren’t working effectively as a product development team….

Yes, the senior leader made mistakes … we all make mistakes … but in a moment of authentic courage, he was completely honest in sharing how lost he was at that moment. I still remember hearing his voice crack when he said the word “crisis” – it felt real and had a powerful impact on everyone. In that same conversation, he also chose to fully EMPOWER the teams with decision-making authority…which wasn’t easy, because the product development teams had been led astray in a toxic, fear-laden culture that squashed innovative thinking and poisoned the soil needed for trusted relationships to grow. His moment of courage sparked courageous moments from others throughout that two weeks (and beyond) … which led to meaningful and significant improvements in the product teams’ effectiveness.

 

*Vulnerability* is the birthplace of joy and creativity.

– Brené Brown

The courage exemplified by inspirational researcher Brené Brown in her TED Talks is practically surreal, especially on the TED Talk stage. If you haven’t watched them yet, then consider experiencing them the way I did recently – but please note that she makes some points using personally sensitive subject matter. First watch: The Power of Vulnerability (2010), then follow with Listening to Shame (2012). If you watch them in order, you will experience some amazing vulnerable moments in the 2nd talk as she reflects on the days after she delivered the 1st talk. For me, this cemented the inseparable connection between courage, vulnerability and trust.

 

Bringing It Together

To lead with courage requires genuine vulnerability in front of others. Learn to see vulnerability as a strength, then you can confront fearful workplace moments with a calm, genuine leadership signal that sets the example for others to follow. In turbulent times, the future of your business might depend on it.

 

What is this like in your organization? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Is the “Growth Mindset” an Agile Mindset?

In Jeff Haden’s recent post entitled “The One Attitude Every Successful Person Has”, I was struck at how aligned this attitude is with the “Agile Mindset”. What do you think? An Agile Mindset is not reserved for specific people – rather, this is the attitude that anyone can have, but it might require significant changes in what a person believes…which in turn influences how a person behaves in an organization.

I invite you to share in my journey through Jeff’s post as I surface a few themes that resonated with me. I am a relentless and continuous learner, so consider enriching my thoughts in the comments section below, add more themes, or even challenge my thinking:

 

1. The reality is that small accomplishments lead to confidence — and that talent is often overrated.

With an Agile Mindset, we no longer believe that the success of complex endeavors is measured by ‘all requirements on time and within budget’. Instead, the outcomes of success are measured frequently and incrementally in terms of value. Teams that are able to accomplish these small wins along the way (vs. trying to deliver everything at the end) have much higher morale and CONFIDENCE.

Talent could be a competitive advantage, but without this regular feeling of accomplishment, talent is often wasted – sadly, I’ve witnessed situations like these play out as well.

 

2. Those with a “growth mindset” have a much more malleable view on success. They do not view failure as a reflection of their ability, but rather as a starting point for experimentation and testing of ideas.

Add a checkmark to the Agile Mindset. Responsible failure invites learning moments in People, Teams and Organizations. In fact, The Scrum Frameworkuses the pillars of empiricism to encourage fast failure as a way of managing complexity and risk.

 

3. Talent is essentially a head start in the race to mastery — the good news is that any goal worth achieving is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

This aligns with my experience as well. But when this talent is assembled to tackle complex initiatives in a ‘Fixed Mindset’ organizational culture, then it often ends with challenging (or even disastrous) outcomes. Have you ever worked on a long, drawn-out waterfall software development effort with extremely talented people? What was it like? If those same people had formed into Teams in a ‘Growth Mindset’ culture, how might the outcomes have been different? Examining this scenario further, what if a ‘Growth Mindset’ culture had brought less-talented people to the table? Would they have achieved better outcomes than a talent-laden Team in waterfall?

Success is less dependent on the hand you are dealt and more dependent on how you play the hand.

 

4. Focus on creating small wins through changing your habits…nail it, then scale it.

For those who live and breathe the Agile Mindset, this will resonate clearly. I see changing habits as a form of organizational change. For example, those who are new to (or struggling to try and understand) Scrum have to undergo a change in how they think and act. Scrum promotes this continuous learning and improvement opportunity, which leads to the small wins that open the door for healthy scaling of Scrum in an organization. How do you see it?

 

5. A key trait in the growth mindset: a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.

A long time ago (before my own transition away from a ‘Fixed Mindset’), I had an organizational leader once tell me:  ‘Developers are not allowed to bring any technical books to their desks…we are hiring you all because you’re smart and know this stuff, so you shouldn’t need the books.’

As I reflect on that challenged statement, clearly that leader was lost in the ‘Fixed Mindset’. I find that healthy Agile environments are those where everyone in that situation embodies a passion for learning — delivery teams, product stakeholders, managers and senior leaders. But not just in the interest of learning! Couple this with the hunger for incremental and iterative accomplishments (i.e., achieving short, frequent and valuable goals) and I believe you have a good portion of the Agile Mindset in action.

 

6. If you want to improve in anything, start seeing mistakes and failures for what they are — the way you learn, and improve, and eventually succeed.

Reflecting on this statement, try asking yourself these questions:

How healthy is the ‘Growth Mindset’ in your organization?

How about in yourself?

What can you do to influence your organization to fully embrace this attitude?

 

What insights do you have to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.