Archives for posts with tag: Agile

Artful Agilists is a group multimedia exhibition intended to demonstrate one of the intrinsic rewards for working in an Agile way: bringing more of ourselves to work.  The success of this demonstration rests on the vulnerability of respected Agile practitioners sharing who they are as creative art makers and practitioners. It is scheduled for Saturday, February 21, 2015 in the Agile Leader Hall, a virtual space in Sococo .

Fractal Cylinder, Artist Dan Gries (middle)

Fractal Cylinder, Artist Dan Gries (middle)

The venue is the online home of Bill Krebs’ Distributed Agile Study Group.  Offering workshops to help Agilists gain fluency in virtual worlds, this is a global community of practice for what Fast Company columnist Scott Anthony calls “associational thinking.” Associational thinking is defined as the ability to make surprising connections. Members are co-present in the Agile Mindset across distance, methodologies and domains.

Here is the rationale behind the exhibition:

During the Industrial Revolution, people in the workplace distinctly separated what we think of now as “art” from “technology.” Though engineers held the well-oiled machine in high esteem, it was in a realm far from the bright ornaments with which the Victorians populated other spaces. Thus efficiency was divorced from beauty. Engineering was divorced from craftsmanship.

We suffer when we reinforce this false split while trying to accomplish knowledge work. The boundaries hurt because they no longer apply.

As Agilists, we want to hone our aesthetic senses and re-integrate art and technology. This is one path to healing the wounds of an inhuman workplace. We seek to apply artfulness to our roles as makers and users of technology. We also respect and promote art’s function as an embodiment of culture.

Artist Robert McDougal, Yale

Artist Robert McDougal, Yale

This is an online gallery where you can interact with the viewers in real time. If you’d like to participate, here’s how:

MANY THANKS to Lyssa AdkinsDoc List and Paul Sutton for their early commitment to participate,

to the members of New Haven Artful Agilists for their continuing on-the-ground inspiration,

and to Esther Derby for providing valuable insight and moral support.

Intrigued but not yet ready to contribute? LEARN MORE about the platform of Sococo and check out Elinor’s mentor Lee Devin, co-Author of Artful Making and The Soul of Design.

An interview with Jesse Fewell, author of “Can You Hear Me Now?: Working with Remote Virtual and Distributed Teams”

 

 

get-my-free-minibuk

ES: I found reference to your book at the end of Mark Kilby’s wikinotes from Agile Alliance 2014.  He led a session called “Remotely Agile?”  I’m really honored you have time to speak about this. What is the main pain point common to all teams working remotely across the agile space?

 

JF: Preparation.  When you assume you’re set up and can just “hop on the call,” it becomes painfully obvious when you’re not.  We’ve all been there and not followed our own advice. It happens.

 

ES: That’s for sure…my computer overheated once and I had to use frozen pizza as an emergency cooling pad!

 

JF: Hah!  And then of course preparation means much more than gear, although the gear is important.  It’s also more than simply setting an agenda and booking a meeting in Outlook.  Preparation means asking ahead of time: what information needs to flow out of this meeting?  What are the pieces to be unlocked by the exchange?  How are we going to create a collaborative environment?

 

ES: It can be difficult to get anyone to focus on these questions in advance.  How do you do it?

 

JF: I find it helps to have a framework.

 

There’s Innovation Games  “Ideas into Action” model that invites us to choose a format based on the conversation we’re going to have.  There might be a portion of time set aside for ideation where we use sticky notes.  Then we do some shaping of the material, this might be in a shared GoogleDoc which we type  in and look at together.  Then there might be some prioritization which could involve an online poll.  You can actually map a conversation through these different platforms.

 

Innovation Games has taken the effort to productize some useful things for online work, including the Budget Game. The idea here is how do you decide in a consensus in a collaborative environment?  Everyone has monopoly money to spend, and they form alliances.

 

And check this out if you haven’t already: “We’ve Got to START Meeting Like This” by Dana Wright.

She says whenever there’s an event or a meeting, or say for instance an Agile ceremony, you follow this model:

  • Beforehand, anticipate.
  • During, use engagement techniques.
  • Afterward, think about how to extend the dynamics, momentum, the energy.

 

ES: That makes a lot of sense.  How can we equalize the dynamics on teams that have some members co-located and some remote?

 

JF: I like to have everyone dial in.  Whether you’re thirty feet apart or thousands of miles, it’s a great equalizer so everyone can virtually collaborate.

 

When Verizon Wireless wanted to bring different silos together into the product requirements phase setup, not everyone could fly in but they still wanted to be involved.   We achieved a collaborative dynamic with these people through a simulcast – virtual teams were established with a facilitator in the main room.  They broke out then had a debrief at the end with representatives from each virtual team.  It worked!

 

ES: Is there a set of meta-skills needed to arrive at protocols for how teams will operate virtually?

 

JF: Interesting question, facilitation is one.  When you’re face to face, the speaker owns the room. The audience gives the facilitator a huge amount of authority to set up the collaborative energy.  If he or she says, “Stand up and talk to the person next to you,” we do it.

 

In a virtual environment it’s much harder to rely on one single person to facilitate.  Everyone’s distractions are a lot closer at hand, and so everyone has to bring a commitment that “we’re going to make this work.”  Remote facilitation is about connecting people to their sense of purpose and reminding them why it matters.

 

The book Remote by 37 signals talks about this. Working remote is how they recruit the best talent, so getting it right is a badge of honor and a source of pride. You have to reseed that original emotional investment.

 

ES: Okay, facilitation.  Any other meta-skills?

 

JF: Because the peripheral senses are missing in an online environment, we can’t read each other as well.  So introspection becomes important.  We rely on everyone to be a little bit more self aware than usual.  Checking in needs to happen more frequently, not just at the beginning of  a meeting.

 

I’m actually going to be speaking more about this at my keynote at the PMI conference in St. Louis in October.  There is definitely a personal skillnet that is needed for individuals to help bridge the distance on teams.

 

ES: Well, thank you.  Let’s speak again after you give that talk and before I go off and tell stories about remote teamwork at Agile Tour London!

 

There will be a follow up conversation in October 2014.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Jesse’s book is mentioned on this wiki from Agile Alliance 2014 http://www.agileorlando.com/wiki/doku.php?id=distributedrestrospectives

 

Jesse Fewell spoke with Big Visible about Learning and Engagement at Agile Alliance 2014

http://www.bigvisible.com/2014/07/jessie-fewell-breakthrough-learning-engagement-agile-2014/

 

You can download a free e-copy of Jesse’s book at his website here: http://jessefewell.com/

 

For more Stories of Remote Collaboration, see my article on InfoQ: http://www.infoq.com/articles/stories-collaboration-remote-teams


seaTea16

On December 16th Arts Interstices hosted a conversation via Google Hangouts among dance and theater improv artists and Agilists from various parts of the US.  The following is a briefing on some essential themes this cross-sector dialogue uncovered regarding the serious interest business is taking today in this art form.

“Yes, And…”

People feel threatened when choices are unduly restricted.  With a narrow set of options, positions become entrenched and even the simplest conversation become difficult.   Saying “Yes, And…” (rather than “Yes, but..”) is widely acknowledged to be the first guideline of improv.  Experienced practitioners emphasize building upon the contributions others have already made, creating an expanded sense of possibility.

“Make Your Partner Look Good”

Imagine going into a meeting with a bad set of nerves anticipating critical scrutiny.  Now imagine going in alongside a colleague, shifting your focus to a total dedication to making that person shine as the most brilliant mind on earth.    Sea Tea Improv recommends practicing this kind of mutual support as a way to instill trust quickly and powerfully.

“Suspend Disbelief”

Improvisational scenes progress iteratively.   Starting with mundane circumstances and then taking the audience along on a journey by adjusting their expectations step by step is conducive to fantastic results.

WP_000661

“Mirroring”

One of the steps towards relaxing in a group is seeing oneself in others. That spark of recognition can be induced through the act of mirroring, used as an icebreaker in Annie Sailer’s movement exercises.

“Spatial Collaboration”

Knowledge workers have few conscious opportunities to read each other and respond nonverbally.  Even though these exchanges happen all the time at work, improvisational movement renders them intentional, slowing down the sequence of sensing, perceiving and choosing how to engage.

Just+at+Work+008Scrum Teams That Harmonize

Robie Wood led this workshop at the Paris Scrum gathering in September 2013 with his brother Jody Wood, a deeply experienced improv actor.  The description in the program reads: How can we positively charge and orient Scrum Team members toward effective participation in the conversations, activities and innovation necessary to deliver business value? Let’s get team members to Harmonize. To maintain team Harmony, we can draw on examples from the Arts where Harmony is sustained by using improvisation to adapt to changing complexity. The “Scrum Team that Harmonizes” workshop employs improvisation exercises from the Acting world that are designed to work on the specific skills needed by team members to perform effectively in each of the four types of Scrum Meetings.

Robie will host the next Hangout scheduled for later this month, and we’ll include international participants.   Further exchange will advance the dialogue and lay groundwork for intelligence-gathering and sharing of effective practices for how improv is being used today in business settings.   Practitioners can plug into this conversation by emailing artsinterstices@gmail.com or rwood@willshowvalue.com.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT INFORMATION

Sea Tea Improv http://seateaimprov.com/

Annie Sailer Dance Company http://anniesailer.com/d-a-n-c-e/statement

ShowVALUE http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=15275730&locale=en_US&trk=tyah2&trkInfo=tas%3ARobie%20Woo%2Cidx%3A1-1-1

JW Actor’s Studio http://www.jwactorstudio.com/

This article is dedicated to my friends in the Agile community who have shown interest and curiosity in understanding the academic origins of the study of culture change.  The content is derived from my chosen field in college, Cultural Anthropology.  One of my favorite things is to help build cognitive maps across domains. – E. Slomba

The group of disciplines we know today as the social sciences emerged in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.  This increasing specialization was a response to the world’s increasing complexities.   Anthropology distinguished itself from the other branches of social science in two ways: first, by attempting to retain a comprehensive view of humankind and second, by an emphasis on empirical data.

Early Attempts at Explaining Cultural Differences

19th century scholars attempted to place the development of cultures within a set of evolutionary stages to tell “the” story of humankind.

“There is a psychic unity of mankind – a basic similarity of all human minds – in every land, in every culture,” Edward Burnett Tylor.

Tylor was the first to use statistical analysis in comparing cultures.  He initiated cross-cultural studies of commonly observed themes like marriage and inheritance.

“Technological inventions and discoveries alter society in a way so that new traits become necessary for survival,” Lewis Henry Morgan.

Morgan associated stages of evolution with particular technologies, and wrote about “successive arts.”  To him we owe a debt related to the concepts of disruption and innovation tracing back through generations of scholarship to his foundational work.

Data Gathering

Scholars during the early development of Cultural Anthropology focused on methodologies for ethnography and linguistics.

“Whenever we make judgements about good and bad cultures, we do so on the basis of certain overt or covert premises,” Franz Boas.

Boas was a staunch believer in the value of first-hand information.  He tore down previous contributions of “armchair anthropologists” and attacked viewpoints of certain races as being more or less evolved.

“Culture forms recognizable and persistent patterns,” Alfred Louis Kroeber.

Kroeber found examples of patterns in philosophy, music, literature and nationalism to suggest that genius tends to develop in cultural clusters.

“Borrowing is always easier than originating,” Robert H. Lowie.

For Lowie, cultural contact is an exchange of ideas.  He was interested in the ways different cultures mix and mingle, especially at their peripheries.

“I consider as my greatest accomplishment that I am an adopted member of the Comanche tribe, was accepted as a master carver by the Marquesan natives and executed commissions for them in their own art, am a member of the Native Church of North America (Peyote) according to Quapaw rite, became a properly accredited ambiasy nkazo (medicine man) in Madagascar and was even invited to join the Rotary Club of a middle western city.” Ralph Linton

Linton stressed that cultural factors were more important than biological ones in explaining differences among tribes.  He studied status and roles in class-based societies, with a main focus on the individual creating and reacting to cultural influences.

“Institutions are the vehicle through which specific influences are brought to bear on the growing individual.” Abram Kardiner

Kardiner emphasized the adaptations people choose in order to negotiate culture. His fieldwork gathered first-person biographies.

The next post will continue with Organizations & Reciprocity.  Meanwhile, THANKS for asking, Lisette.  I hope some of these points at least are helpful, and I’m glad we’re in the same tribe!

Lisette Sutherland is an expert on remote collaboration and community-building.  For more information about Lisette and her work, see happymelly.com & follow her on Twitter @lightling

RESOURCES

High Points in Anthropology

http://www.amazon.com/High-Points-Anthropology-Paul-Bohannan/dp/0075539772/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387076369&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=High+Ponts+in+Anthropology

Conformity and Conflict, Readings in Cultural Anthropology

http://www.amazon.com/Conformity-Conflict-Readings-Cultural-Anthropology/dp/0205234100

The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society

https://kindle.amazon.com/work/the-cultural-experience-ethnography-complex/B000AI6HCW/1577663640

The Anthropology Network, an open LinkedIn Group

Anthropology and Design, an openLinkedIn Group

This was a Talkback I prepared for Lisette Sutherland, who could not attend Agile Bill Kreb’s 3D Webinar aired September 18, 2013.  Video at: http://www.agiledimensions.com/blog/video.  Get in touch with me if you’d like a TalkBack prepared for your online event! – ES

wave surger

Speaker Tom Wessel – Davisbase Consulting http://www.davisbase.com/

Interactive Features: Spatial Environment.  Moderator gave lots of voice inflection, made listening engaging. Brought in other senses: made the sound of hands rubbing together, at the questions coming in.  This was a nice moment!

Tom Wessell is founder of Southern Fried Agile Conference…http://southernfriedagile.com/ Regional flavors of Agile can complement and strengthen each other.   Enjoy the chicken, celebrate our thought leaders.  Attendance has gone from 75 to north of 300.  Five different tracks total 20 sessions.  5 PDUs  are like PMP crack!  We do it on a Friday – this year it’s October 18, 2013.  Take the day off and hang out with geeks and freaks and have a good time.

Virtual world graphics used to express metaphors for Agile:

Surfing

It’s a pure sport – a simplistic framework in which you have just a few elements to work with and you must navigate a very complex system.  Execute on the wave, you have to adapt to the motions of that wave.  That’s Agile, applying simple tools to an ever-changing environment.  Otherwise, you end up in the drink!

Pile of Stones

The stones relate to release planning.  There’s a sequential flow of fulfilling requirements that have to be met by a specific date.  Iterations are fixed bucket sizes, requirements are different sized stones.  We arrange them into buckets based on needs of organizations.  Sustainable pace – small pebbles fill in the empty space around big rocks to even the flow.  Takes negotiation between teams and product owner.  There is a logical order to what takes place.

Fossil of Dinosaur Bones

Agile is more than software development and teams.  We as an organization need to evolve and adapt.  Challenges rise as you move up the food chain, it takes more energy to break down the silos and move toward an agile enterprise.  If you do not evolve to be competitive, you will end up extinct.  We are knowledge workers so learning is the bulk of what we do.  If you’re not upgrading skills every two years or so you’re probably falling behind.

Seed

Seeds sprouting in different stages relate to a paradigm shift we are experiencing from command and control structures to allowing for emergent design based on intrinsic strengths.  Project managers have many chances to grow in their development and understanding.  Agile is not a fad.  This is something that has value.  It is growing strong.

Watchmaking versus the Weather

Complicated system versus a complex system.  In the systems we work in, there is too much variability to mindlessly follow a fixed set of plans.  We must inspect and adapt and use whatever we’re learning.  Incorporate a replanning perspective.

Trends are Emerging Patterns.  Here are some:

Pairing a PM with an SM – team focused paired with externally focused.  Scrum Master job is full time, external requirements like compliance takes research and time that a partner can support, esp in a regulated environment.  PM will help navigate that.  Plus this helps agile transitions at enterprise scale by giving a legitimate role for the PM.  SM takes certain skills, empathetic/nanny/psychologist/motivator…not all PMs can make that transition.

SAFe structure -you’re addressing the things that we want to spend money on that fit into a business strategy – end to end system, whole organism – structure will help us evolve

Soft is the new hard.  People skills matter incredibly much.  We are imperfect creatures and hard to work with.  Servant leaders ask: how do I take this group of talented individuals and get them moving in a common direction and becoming high performing?  Then how do we take that to the next level, to the whole organization?

Focus on communication/negotiation/mutual respect – different parts of the organism flexibly say “sure – we’ll reconsider what we were going to do in light of what we are learning about how to make happy customers”  This can be internal or external…making the product owners happy is great.  Barbara Fredrickson’s books tell us that three to one positive to stressful events keep your brain operating at peak efficiency.  http://www.amazon.com/Love-2-0-Supreme-Emotion-Everything/dp/1594630992/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379555688&sr=8-1&keywords=Barbara+Fredrickson

Chief product owner with sub product owners   Complex systems have multiple subsystems.  The voice of the customer includes competing needs and priorities.

Managing your personal WIP so you’re more productive and less stressed.  Our work in progress as thought workers isn’t visible, then at the end of the day we wonder why we’re so tired…what are all the things that are work in progress – make them visible so you can visualize them and understand why you’re so tired. Limit our WIP because we think we want as much work going on at once as possible, but we as humans are not as good at multitasking as we think. Chunking and conquering can be applied to anything in life, that’s what’s great about Agile principles, not just software

Goldilocks Approach to Process: focus on “what is the right level of process to support the flow through the system?”  Not too much, not too little, has to be just right to avoid disconnect without overcommunicating.  This is sophisticated stuff – Agile is evolving, and so are organizations.

You can also see this piece on the Self Management Institute blogroll at http://self-managementinstitute.org/

Over Labor Day weekend an extraordinary event took place in the world of self organized groups.  Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, hosted the World Convention of one of the largest and most respected 12-Step recovery programs, known as Narcotics Anonymous.  Over 18,000 recovering addicts were in attendance, from over 100 countries.

journey

Twelve-step programs are a massive worldwide movement of various, self-organized groups  – each aligned to address a common, life-threatening problem (alcoholism, addiction, overeating, etc.).  Their power is based on face-to-face meetings in which people identify with one another and share openly and honestly on a regular basis.

This month, twenty years ago, I began studying Narcotics Anonymous as a participant observer for my senior thesis in Cultural Anthropology at the College of William and Mary.  Using Victor Turner’s ideas as a theoretical framework, I titled the thesis “Betwixt and Between: Communitas as Cure in the Lives of Recovering Addicts.”  I have been privileged to spend time sitting inside the circle at NA meetings, discovering how principles like “anonymity,” “humility,” and “surrender” make it possible for men and women whose lives had been controlled by drugs to live clean one day at a time, with each other’s help.

Organic openness is the essence of “Communitas” as outlined by Victor Turner (an underrated genius!  Please read his anthropology essays if you’re at all interested in contemporary organizational culture.  I have recommended them to many Agile coaches and colleagues working to improve the workplace.)

Examples of Communitas throughout history:

  • the monastic tradition established by St. Francis

  • women in Paris in the 1920s

  • performance artists in New York City in the 1970s (the scene fed by collaborations like Merce Cunningham/John Cage)

These groups stepped away from old forms and took for themselves the freedom to experiment with new ones.  Eventually, their ideas fed back into the mainstream where society as a whole could profit from them.  In the end, everyone had more creative options.

Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 in California.  NA describes iteslf as “a global, community-based organization with a multi-lingual and multicultural membership.”   Its message, often referred to as the Promise of Freedom is: that any addict can stop using, lose the desire to use and find a new way to live. http://www.na.org/?ID=bulletins-bull25

This message – shared spontaneously in every meeting by members and read aloud from NA literature – is clear, consistent and reliable.  There is not one single culture for which the message is designed or in which it can be heard and understood.  There is unlimited potential in its simplicity.

Since NA has been fully self-supporting and growing worldwide as a multicultural phenomenon of Self-Organization for sixty years, perhaps we should listen to the wisdom it espouses.

The following is a GAME OF ASSOCIATION.  I start with a principle of Self-Organization, and follow it with a 12-step slogan from Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Opting in.  “You are a member when you say you are.”

Collaboration.  “I can’t.  We can.”

Simplicity.  “KISS – keep it simple, stupid”

Continuous self-improvement: “Progress not perfection.”  “The journey continues.”

Incremental development. “It’s a process.”  “One step at a time.”

Faith in the emergent solution.  “Trust the process.”  “Act as if.”

Servant-leadership. “Our leaders are but trusted servants.  They do not govern.”

Persistence.  “Stay in the solution.” “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.”

In Narcotics Anonymous, the stakes are the highest possible: people’s lives.  In order to have credibility and be able to attract newcomers as well as retain experienced members, it is essential that the organization be able to deliver on its Promise of Freedom.

They cannot achieve this through coercion.  It is only through Self-Organization that recovering addicts have been able to adopt this program of change and incorporate its sustaining habits into their lives.

There is a joke in NA that goes “How many recovering addicts does it take to change a lightbulb?  None!  The lightbulb has to be willing to change itself.”

Therefore, based on everything I have learned in Cultural Anthropology and can offer the workplace improvement movement, culture is more like a liquid than a solid.   It cannot be effectively hacked.  Instead, it flows like a river, carrying various messages along in its fluidity.

Cultural change is driven by those considered to be outsiders or rebels, individuals driven by courage and/or desperation to admit that standard ways of doing things simply DO NOT WORK.   These individuals gravitate toward the margins of organized groups, the interstices, the spaces in-between.   There, they have a better chance of finding each other, learning from one another, and together, eventually, making creative contributions.

  • What is your Self-Organizing group’s primary purpose?  
  • How do its members gather and share this message?
  • Have they experienced enough pain to truly want to change?

For more background on Outsider Wisdom, Cultural Anthropology, Narrative Intelligence and finding the right creative metaphor to spirit forward your self-organizing transformations, please contact Elinor Slomba at artsinterstices@gmail.com.

I wanted to provide a quick way to reference “The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development”  By Ann Markusen and David King out of the University of Minnesota.  In section eight (Artists’ View of Themselves as Economic Actors), the researchers took an “occupational approach, centered on understanding the economic aspirations and experiences of individual artists through interviews, [which] uncovered a significant number of cases where artists are successfully generating a satisfactory income by working entrepreneurially, often aided by an extensive network of advice and contacts with others in the region. Many do so without sacrificing quality and creative integrity. ”

http://www.hhh.umn.edu/img/assets/6158/artistic_dividend.pdf

However, many artists, even successful grant-winning artists, still do not think of what they do as economic activity!  The report finds that they might do well to engage in entrepreneurial skill-building and overcome tendencies to think negatively about marketing their work.

Agile (which can be summed up as a team-based technology for approaching high-value business projects at high velocity in climates of dynamic uncertainty) is such an effective way to prioritize administrative tasks and achieve business objectives – I recommend it to any artist seeking to leverage time spent on “the business end of things.”   Training and coaching discourses around Agile are still very much grounded in the world of software development, now spreading to other, related domains – see http://www.scrumalliance.org.  I am working on translating the essence of Agile into an arts-friendly language…collaborators WELCOME!  I hope that this will unlock new partnerships between the arts and start-up worlds and re-interest / reinvest nonprofit arts supporters in  the core administrative operations of organizations, which can be creative and innovative in their own right.

Planning to visit Minneapolis/St. Paul in August.  Please contact me (artsinterstices@gmail.com) about other arts organizations and/or start-up companies I should visit on my northern trip cross-country.    Special thanks to arts reporter Judith H. Dobrzynski.

http://www.artsjournal.com/realcleararts/2012/05/enlightened-minnesota-stages-a-museums-month.html?goback=%2Egde_2487594_member_121293144

Devin Hedge is an Agile Coach with Big Visible Solutions, and is now coaching one of the largest financial management firms in Raleigh-Durham.  He agreed to be interviewed for “TGIF,” our Friday custom of seeking out choice bits of thought exchange.  MANY THANKS to Devin, who can be reached through his website (www.devinhedge.com) for feedback or inquiries.

AB:  So we’re speaking today about working environments  in which the impetus for adopting Agile does not come from the top down.   Have you witnessed this phenomenon of Stealth Agile?

DH:  I would say 99% of the impetus for adopting Agile is grassroots.  A small team within a software development or IT shop is fed up with bureaucracy and the typical way things get done, or rather don’t get done.  Agile compelled me in this way, that’s where I started.  Going back to 1997, all the Agile teams I worked on, they were all stealth.   We dumped the traditional project plans, we dumped the Gant charts.  We looked around for other models.

I was working in the European telecommunications industry, in which many countries were just starting to transition to free markets, it was scary for them, times were uncertain and we needed to be able to deliver value quickly.  [DBH] I started as a staff developer but quickly became a Team Lead once they realized that I had a leadership background as an Army Officer. I started looking around for all sorts of ways to turn a chaotic situation into delivering what our business partners wanted.

I had learned about doing stand-ups from an article in a pop-management magazine about lessons to be learned from a Navy boat commander.   He would have stand up briefings at the beginning of the day.  This got everyone focused on the same things.  The article pointed out that the Command and Information Center had big visible charts all over the place. It put all of the  work happening on the right out in front of the whole team.  The Navy has been that way for years, whether you’re on a destroyer or a frigate or an aircraft carrier, there are big glass walls where they would put everything.  That way the commander or captain could – at a glance – gain complete situational awareness. It was also a way for each of the officers to hold each other accountable for getting things done.

This really resonated with me because as an Army NCO and later as a young Officer, I spent time supporting a lot of elite forces. There was a team dynamic there that I was going for. I knew these kind of teams could exist and be highly productive because I had seen them in our government. These were self-contained teams, close knit and cross-functional. When I applied the same principles to software development teams, it all just clicked.

I started having standups, set up the big charts on the wall and then asked, “What we could show after one week?” By the end of one week we were able to turn a prototype back to the customer and ask for feedback.  We didn’t get much sleep, but we were wildly successful. If kinda snowballed from there once the customer was able to see and touch the software early on. After that,  I was asked to be a the project manager for 30 guys and gals on a one month sprint.  After that, it was a distributed team, spanning the UK, Australia and India.

As a Project Manager, I started to have a cult following.  This was not because I walk on water (obviously!) but because, when you put people at the center of the process, everything works.

AB: What is it about Agile that attracts workers on a stealth basis?

DH: Quality stays right out front the whole time.  Good quality assurance programs try to harmonize the fact that you can meet every specification, but if the market rejects it, the product isn’t good.  We know that having two truckloads of documentation at the end of a process is not actually proof that a product was good.

One thing about quality, it’s in the eye of the beholder, just like beauty.  Many quality implementation frameworks end up transforming something that was well-meaning into a check-the-box exercise instead of actually looking at the product.  It should be more like an art critique.  Agile just does that naturally, through tight feedback loops.

Most small teams like Agile because it fires up people’s creative juices.  We are not robots; we are not here to do the same repetitive task over and over.  We are here to do a unique task that is highly nuanced – singularly unique every time – based on human experience.  That’s why Agile is so appealing to knowledge workers who should have been hired for creativity, for situations in which what is required is kind of fuzzy.  It enables the human potential within them to come out, expressing the intrinsic value of work.

Agile has all sorts of built-in reward systems.  Computers give us interesting puzzles to figure out.  The problem is, if you’re the only person who plays with the puzzle it’s not that rewarding.   Someone else recognizing what you went through to produce that product is a self-reinforcing reward system.  Agile recognizes people’s mastery.

AB: What happens when a Stealth Agile team tries to scale up?

DH: A couple things.  When you first start adopting Agile outside the initial hive, we often see “teams” that aren’t acting like cross-functional, self-organized, empowered teams. Instead we find groups of individuals. Part of this is the Gulture Culture of celebrating being an Introvert. Nothing wrong with that. However, we need teams. So, the Introverts who aren’t used to collaborating very well might resist getting dragged into a team. Usually the objections aren’t real objections, they’re expressing insecurity about some facet of the process. Takes a little digging to figure out what’s really going on. A command-and-control culture might say that the person has “issues” or “lack of skills,” expressing a judgmental attitude.  That is rarely true. Often the situation is that the Leadership Style being employed just hasn’t found the right way to motivate the person. In Agile we take the time because people are more important than process.

Also, to scale out of being Stealth, you have to create an environment where it is safe to fail.  I’m not talking big failures, but lots of little ones that don’t cause any real harm, the kind people actually learn a lot from.  Christiansen in the Innovators’ DNA talks about how safe environments help workers connect their synapses by asking probing questions, personal networking with others, and taking time to observe in and out of the company.

In Stealth mode, it is easy to create this environment. You’re in an isolated bubble. At some point, Stealth Agile starts to gain what I call “viral velocity” and the team hits a wall when it can no longer be stealth. You have to explain why you’re not doing such and such documentation of where you have failed forward as a learning opportunity and someone just sees it as failure.  Generally there’s someone in middle or upper management who just doesn’t understand. This really isn’t because of process or policy. It is because the culture inside the Stealth Agile team is so different from the larger organization around it.

So you have to find your champion and your change agent.  We’ve found that having a group of at least four people, two supportive people at two different levels in the company, is a critical factor for getting past this culture shock to the organization. There is real Brain Science at play in the way people will resist the Stealth Agile team joining the rest of the organization.  The basal ganglia part of the brain is always searching for pattern recognition.  A response to the new and unfamiliar can override reason because it triggers flight or fight.  In situations where you’re trying to expand out of a Stealth Agile team, the rest of the organization doesn’t have a “pattern match”, so the champion and change agent have to create the experience, the pattern match, that helps click pieces into place horizontally and vertically through the organization in order for the new culture to stick.

The message from the Stealth Agile team to the rest of the company should be two-fold.  First, they should communicate the story of their pattern of responding and adapting to rapidly changing business needs.  The strength of the feedback loop created through close customer collaboration creates a narrative all by itself which then becomes compelling to the champion and change agent and gets retold.

The second part is management seeing the potential for what happens if the company embraces Agile outright.   At a very personal level, you have to activate the senses of management: desire gets triggered and then fulfilled just the way it does in a user story.

There is a hitch to all of this. There have to be structures for fulfillment around the Stealth Agile team or group or department otherwise there’s no survival at scale.  So you have to create a lot of buzz  around how much return on investment you’re going to get by being able to adapt and quickly respond to changing business needs, to ensure that the requisite structures are in place to be successful.

It’s management’s job to push, see how hard they can push people. That’s their job. It’s how they do that in the culture that matters.  There’s a directing style of leadership and a servant or motivating style of leadership.  The latter recognizes that people aren’t typically motivated by someone dictating policies.  Stealth Agile teams need to trigger a larger desire within the company for a different way of working and then fulfill that desire.

It appears that “getting to be human again”* tops the list of intrinsic rewards for working in an Agile way.  Putting people at the center instead of the usual – process at the center – enables the creation of platforms for visibility so experts can practice more of what Fast Company columnist Scott Anthony calls  “associational thinking,” that is, the ability to make surprising connections.  Inviting people to step up onto this platform so their work can be better seen and they can claim a more effective vantage point from which to see the work of others is key to the Agile mindset and workspace.  In fact, in the Agile framework the workspace reflects the mindset, and vice versa.

I’ve written before about the concept of unrepeatability, but yesterday in conversation something clicked.  Every task to which today’s knowledge workers apply themselves truly is, in essence, unrepeatable.  There will never be an exact set of problems like the one you’re facing today.  Documenting the story of how you define, approach and tackle this unique set of circumstances, not by checking boxes on a form but by setting up transparency so that the narrative is evident to all stakeholders creates a culture of shared meanings.

The freedom to follow an idea from concept to prototype and then improve upon it in a close-knit group is the natural high of innovation.  Access to a tribe of people who either contributed with you to solving commonly-identified problems and/or understands the effort that it took to study and innovate and make an attempt is the trade-off when you give up working in a silo.

The opportunity to create – and partake in – culture as we work is the opportunity to heal from the Industrial Revolution.   I see that Agile is, at its core and throughout its DNA, artfully human, and I am glad.

*More on this coming in an interview on Stealth Agile with Devin Hedge of Big Visible Solutions – stay tuned Friday for TGIF!

“Just over a decade ago, breakthroughs enabled software development teams to achieve both disciplined execution and continuous innovation, something that was impossible to accomplish with traditional management methods.”

The result?

The best-kept management secret on the planet: Agile

– Steve Denning, author of Radical Management

I currently seek ways to amplify what seems like a natural alliance between the agile sector of business, for which we can use the loose shorthand  “start-up world,” and the arts.   Both need management practices and principles in order to deliver and operate, yet report a predictable set of structural tensions and frustrations with traditional, water-fall style management.   I don’t advocate arts managers paying attention and learning about Agile because business has all the answers, but because the start-up world is so darn arts friendly, it hardly makes sense not to.

As Denning describes it, “Software developers were known to be antipathetic to both managers and management. Badly dressed, unkempt, even sometimes unwashed, speaking about issues that managers could hardly grasp, these employees were the most problematic of a big organization’s employees. ”   Yet they came up with a solution that management couldn’t, a framework for completing excellent work at high velocity in climates of extreme uncertainty.

It is a punk rock way to work, because it subverts command and control, top-down approaches.   It is a way that feels good to work with others, because it rivets everyone’s attention on being great and kicking obstacles out of the way.  It creates an environment that encourages workers to bring more of themselves  to work, to be people while they are working, and to play.

Four of us who attended the Agile Games in Cambridge last week discussed forming an Agile in the Arts user group as part of Agile New England.    Agile New England is an open membership group, by the way.  http://www.agilenewengland.org/

Letcha know what transpires…and please do the same.

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