Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

For those that have been on the Agile journey for a while this post will hopefully come as no surprise, but if you are fairly new on the journey I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify what I feel is a common misconception about Agile.

In the early days of Agile we made it a Waterfall versus Agile war. It was one or the other. One over the other. This when ‘x’, that when ‘y’. We spent time explaining the pitfalls of Waterfall and why Agile was better. Maybe that was right at the time. Maybe we did it because we didn’t know better. Whatever the reason the concept of an Agile transformation being replace old process with Agile has stuck around.

But I don’t think that the point of an Agile transformation is a process shift.

I have a suspicion that where Agile has succeeded, it did so not because of the process shift but because of something else – a thinking model shift.

What was the problem that we were trying to fix with Agile? Was it really the process or the mindsets that people had? The manifesto articulates it somewhat – “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. It isn’t that process isn’t important it is that the thinking model that process should always trump was broken and that some slack should be given to humans who may have felt that the process didn’t make sense given the complexity of the situation.

Somehow, despite the manifesto, when we began Agile transformations we ignored the “over processes and tools” somewhere along the line. Frameworks and certifications are springing up everywhere – SAFe, Kanban certification, Disciplined Agile Certification, ICAgile, Scrum, etc. How many of these are focused on process and technique over the ability to shift thinking models?

What I feel Agile should be is different now than it once was. What I feel the manifesto should be now, is more along the lines of:

We are uncovering better ways of working together as human beings to deliver value  to shareholders and delight to customers whilst at the same time improving the engagement of employees. Through this we have come to value:

  1. Synergistic thinking over mechanistic/analytic thinking
  2. Servant and situational leadership over command and control management (alt: unleashed human potential over apathetic or toxic environments)
  3. Full value stream optimization over sub process optimization
  4. Process experimentation over defined process
  5. Aggressive feedback controls over prolonged feedback controls
  6. Stimulated neurological pathways over stagnant neurological pathways (alt: learning culture over sole focus on delivery culture)
  7. Breathing space to enable creativity and innovation over 100%(+) utilization

That is to say whilst the things on the right are our current behaviours, we want to shift to the items on the left


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shortcutRecently reading Dan Pink’s Drive, I was mesmerised by a statement of leadership type classifications. I wondered whilst reading it if there was a way to short cut the interview process to get the right type of leader by asking the following question:

We believe here at <Company X> that people fundamentally dislike work and would avoid it if they could. They don’t take responsibility for their actions and badly need direction. We want managers at <Company X> to co-erce, control and direct their staff to put adequate effort to the achievement of the organisations objectives – are you the sort of person that relates to this and can help us with this?

Now what you are actually seeking here is not a positive affirmation. What you are seeking is the look of shock and horror. The right person is the one that says “I’m sorry but this is definitely not the place for me; thank-you for your time,” and walks away. Most people wouldn’t do this, they would dance around the question, but a real leader is the type of person that will stick up for their beliefs and despite the negative impacts to them will stand firm. It takes juts to say no to this sort of question, especially this early in the process of understanding the organisations culture. It takes honesty to speak true to your beliefs. It takes a leader and not a manager to negatively respond to this question.

What do you think? Would this short-cut work if you were trying to hire an Agile leader?

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It is highly regarded among many in the Agile community that:

  1. One of the most common causes of Agile transformational failure is due to either the lack of focus on or lack of effective change of the middle management layer.
  2. One of the more common successes of Agile transformations is when small, incremental or evolutionary change is encouraged (rather than what I have termed “legion” style transformation which includes massive roll-outs of training and sparse support).

But I wonder if there is a better way, a way that combines these two points together for more successful, albeit slower and less Agile Coaching consultative heavy model -

Rather than trying to teach Agile inside of an organisation day 1, instead work with the middle management layer to re-introduce learning as one of their key practices.


If middle managers spent one to two days a week learning what do you think that would do to the organisation? I think it might kick start the organisation in all sorts of unbelievable ways. I think middle managers, rather than being forced to have these new approaches thrust upon them, would instead be the most passionate advocates for them. They might not choose to try Agile, they may want to try something else, but at least they are experimenting and thinking wider than just the day to day firefighting.

I know some managers already do this, but it is the exception and not the rule. But why is this? Do managers stop learning because they think it ends at university? Do they stop learning because they think it ends when they finally get into a leadership position? Or is it because they no longer have time anymore? Always in meetings or always fighting a fire?

Maybe the only way that managers will have the time to create a learning culture is if they limit their work in progress and begin to trust and empower their staff more? Now if managers start to trust and empower their staff more because they have to limit their work in order to learn, it is sounding like a win-win to me.

What do you think?

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I have been pondering lately what the purpose of a Scrum Master or Iteration Manager is.

Many believe that it is a 100% full time role. Some are even concerned that there are formal positions springing up for this role.

Here is my stance (and work in progress model) on the role:

The purpose of the Scrum Master role is to create a self autonomous team through the usage of Agile.

  1. It should never be considered a 100% full time role.
  2. It is a transitory role – there to enable a change in the team.
  3. The change is a change from an environment of Command and Control to an environment of autonomy and empowerment.
  4. The goal is to deliver value to customers frequently and regularly through creation of this environment. The goal is not to have a Scrum Master job for life.
  5. They do this through a series of steps.
  6. These steps are based on Situation Leadership with some tweaking:
    • Directive – The Scrum Master is telling the team what to do and how to do it. This is sometimes common when the team is new to Scrum/Agile and are still learning the rulebook.
    • Facilitative and Advisory – The Scrum Master facilitates cadence activities and advises the team on possible options but is not the final say.
    • Cross Facilitative – The Scrum Master engenders an environment where other team members are starting to facilitate the cadence activities. At this stage the Scrum Master is no longer rounding up everyone for the Daily Standups, instead the team self form and remind each other.
    • Coaching and support – The Scrum Master is only there to course correct and even then only does it through team reflection. They don’t advise on options, instead they engender an atmosphere where the team can come up with their own solutions.
    • Double loop learning – The Scrum Master is ready to hand over the team to itself. The team reflect not only on how they are working together but why they are doing practices in a particular way. It is creating an atmosphere of learning transcendence.

So what, you may ask, does a Scrum Master do as their time with the team whittles down? They do what any good team member in a Scrum team should do – they deliver User Stories!

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Conversations are HardWhen my team gets together as a group of coaches it is always an interesting few days. I say this in complete honesty. I find the conversations stimulating. I find the group passion contagious.

But I know that some don’t find it that way. Sensing the frustration I asked a colleague what in particular they disliked. I was expecting them to say that they found the conversations were too much an argument and less a constructive debate. What I did find instead is that they were frustrated by the lack of actions after large blocks of conversations.

I likened the scenario to facilitating a Daily Standup. Sometimes in Daily Standups the conversation will get off the standard three questions. Often this will end quickly, but occasionally the conversation extends. I find that the balancing act that a Scrum Master or Iteration Manager has to perform one of the most intriguing and difficult aspects of the role. You want to get the value out of the discussion but you don’t want the majority to be bored. Some Scrum Masters offline the conversation too quickly and don’t consequently get the value out of the activity because the real problems and solutions aren’t coming out. Some take too long to offline the conversation and the standup consequently fails to meet expectations which either leads to thirty minute standups or the practise getting dropped because it isn’t perceived as valuable.

For me, if the conversation in the Daily Standup moves slightly away I will let it go for a little while but keep a close eye on the body language of those not involved in the discussion. I will also be constantly assessing in my head whether the conversation is progressing or is stalled. If it is stalled I will re-direct, but if it is moving forward and language indicates an acceptance of the discussion then I won’t halt it. I will be conscious of time. I will be conscious of relevance. Do all conversations have actions? No. Should they? I don’t believe so.

Sometimes conversations are about understanding and not actions. But they need to be valuable. A valuable conversation may result in actions or decisions. But a valuable conversation can be about a common understanding. Take a look at the ladder of inference. These discussions are about aligning beliefs. Unless we align beliefs then we cannot progress into the actionable state. Conversations may align beliefs and create actions, but action doesn’t have to be an immediate outcome for the conversation to be valuable. An action can be a long term change in behaviour as a result of a belief change.

To have changed beliefs is the harder activity to do. It takes longer and can appear to be going nowhere. It is like the tightrope you walk when you facilitate a Daily Standup. But investing in it is the only way that a team will align with a common purpose and truly own the change.

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Over the weeks we have had considerable deep dives into Scrum and how it has evolved over the last ten years. The first week we looked it at a high level, then we had a look at the roles, ceremonies and artifacts.

Now we have the opportunity to see how it has not evolved. It is important to note that Scrum is a Project Management Method (purists might argue it is a framework). It is not, nor has it ever said it was a methodology. Nor has never said it was a method for improving the capabilities of software developers.

It was created and in use prior to the name “Agile” ever being associated with it. It was one of the many “light-weight” methods that were contending for attention away from Waterfall. When Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle joined fourteen other signatories in Salt Lake City there was little that they could agree with other than the manifesto. Despite this, the manifesto propelled the light-weight methods into the limelight and was a vocal enabler for a new future.

Some IT people have never experienced Waterfall or even RUP. They don’t know what it was like in the old days. Maybe the problems were due to commercial issues rather than method issues, but even with all the hoopla over Agile or Scrum not working or dead I remember what it was like in those days and we are certainly better off for those signatories creating the manifesto and propelling our focus.

But like Waterfall not being a comprehensive methodology Scrum certainly is not. This means that when people are trying to apply Scrum they are only applying a single piece of the puzzle. Many believe that Scrum = Agile. Those that know better are left in a minefield of information overload having to gleam which other methods they need to apply and how it will correlate with their existing process. In essence, Agile is like a toolbox. There are many tools that you need to use to fix the problems you have. Some tools won’t be the right tools for your problem. Arguably if you have no problems then don’t use any tools… as long as you aren’t fighting Ostrich syndrome.

Scrum has just a few of these tools. Over the last ten years it is evolved minutely to the problems and the new tools that are required in our box. Evolution did include the addition of retrospectives, intellectual property that was owned elsewhere. Even the origin of Daily Stand-ups was IP from elsewhere. Nothing is new, concepts are just re-played and re-packaged. Some might argue that the reason Scrum did not evolve was primarily due to IP concerns. But maybe, if the upper echalon of Scrum had listened to the voices of the community they would have had the opportunity to incorporate these new ideas and thoughts.

So what has evolved in the Agile community over the last ten years that Scrum has ignored:

  • How to apply Scrum to teams that have multiple customers that additionally have to support (ie potentially hotfix) production environments
  • How to identify constraints in the flow of the system
  • How to ensure that the work the Product Owner comes up with is the right work
  • How to incorporate feedback loops in order to verify benefits realisation
  • Stories, Epics, MMFs, MVPs, Themes, Parking Lots/Feature Progress Charts, BDD
  • How to estimate (eg planning poker)
  • How to understand what is more important – scope, cost, time or quality? eg Rob Thomsett’s Success Sliders
  • How to create a backlog in the first place
  • Who has the money and what visibility should they have?
  • Mastery practices, arguably owned by XP, eg pair programming, TDD, Continuous Integration; or even simply where design and architecture fits in
  • Where management, leaders, Project Managers and Business Analysts fit in
  • Where business cases, governance, procurement and commercial reality fits in
  • What tools to use to support the cultural change that goes along with implementing Scrum
  • How to create effective walls and other visualisation techniques
  • How to deal with the distribution problem (this is huge and only going to get worse)
  • How to apply it to anything other than software development
  • How to scale it to large organisations where team members are working on multiple projects at once or significant dependencies exist
  • How to get any form of metrics on effectiveness of the change including temperature checks of people’s comfort levels of the change
  • Incorporating all elements of the project and not just thinking of software development only – ie communications, training, process re-engineering

Maybe I am just asking too much. Methodologies seem to be dead, disparate ideas spread everywhere seem to be the norm. If complex systems are so hard why are we making it harder as a community to find the answers?

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The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex with hundreds of affiliated museums.

The Stoosonian is much the same but switch up museum with people and thought leaders. It could be the collective noun for people focussed on building such a network focussed on leadership in the same guise that the Agile Alliance crowd marketed the Agile Manifesto.

If you haven’t heard of Stoos then you might have been on holidays and not reading or following the twitter streams in the Agile community. In just one week I heard about it from three separate sources so the community is certainly abuzz. And I hope rightly so.

So what is Stoos? Take a look at their opening statement at http://www.stoosnetwork.org

Reflecting on leadership in organizations today, we find ourselves in a bit of a mess. We see reliance on linear, mechanistic thinking, companies focusing more on stock price than delighting customers, and knowledge workers whose voices are ignored by the bosses who direct them. All these factors are reflected in the current economic crisis, increased inequity, bankruptcies and widespread disillusionment.

There has to be a better way.

In January 2012, a diverse group of twenty one people including senior executives, business strategists, managers, academics, and lean/agile development practitioners from four continents, met in Stoos, Switzerland. We believe that we uncovered some of the common characteristics of that better way.

Stoos SwitzerlandFrom the stoos network page there is a myriad of information that can be found from the closed sessions that were held. A good portion of content has started being posted on LinkedIn and on a variety of blogs and other mediums including #stoos on twitter. In fact, the wide variety of mediums does mean you have the traverse around a bit to gleam everything that is being talked about but without a doubt the social stream is incredibly active.

I spent a few nights taking everything in and having a look around. The hype from colleagues lived up to my initial delve and then I began to test the waters on a few questions that I had. My first concern had been the target Stakeholder list. Now let me start that I am highly impressed that the group took the effort to do this list, debate it and then re-evaluate it. But two things jumped out on that list (and a third now that I have received some responses):

  • The C-section (eg CIOs, CEOs, etc) are rated so low (before and after),
  • First line management is non existent (but maybe that is due to deviations in definition of middle management)
  • Shareholders are rated at 0

The reason why I was concerned in particular about the C-section being so low is that every time I have done an Agile transformation within an organisation it absolutely had to have C-section level buy-in. This wasn’t an optional element. It was critical to success. Without C-section level buy-in teams were left to do Agile in stealth. Sure they worked better than before but there was a upper bound of roadblocks that endlessly re-0ccured and never got addressed because there was no organisational focus on being Agile. Culture of the team subtly changed but without C-section buy-in the culture of the organisation would never change.

This is critical to not miss. Agile, to get the benefit, requires cultural transformation. The Leadership problem is no different – in fact it is more often then not Leadership that drives culture. I’m not just talking about first line managers but also middle managers, CIOs and CEOs.

I then did a deep dive at the problem analysis done. The Stoos problem mind mapAgain I want to take a moment and congratulate the Stoos team on the job they did on generating this starting diagram. I would imagine they spent a few hours on this and as a starting map I think it covers most of the key points. To get it past 80/20 right it would have likely taken the whole two days.

If you take a look at the top two (not necessarily by priority) root causes you see shareholders and C-section management as the cause.

So my concern is that without doing something to address those two root causes that all this effort might be in vain.

Side note: would love to see the 5 whys applied to the root causes because they aren’t base root – eg Why are leadership skills missing in today’s managers?

Now I posed the question of C-section being non targeted in the twitter stream and was given a couple of nice links which is great information and a step in the right direction but again isn’t the root cause. The root cause as in the article is lack of education – and who do we need to educate? – the C-section, shareholders, and future to-be C-managers. Which is why I am happy that educators are high on the target audience. So there is hope, but maybe not in my lifetime.

What I love about the Stoos community thus far:

  • They are responsive, they are listening and they have some beautifully deep thinkers in there. A few of the questions that popped up in my mind today whilst I was a road-trip I was amazed to have found others ask and have had answers/responses to.
  • There is an appreciation that the command and control culture is thousands of years old – this is a very deeply embedded behavioural human trait. I am curious if it is neurologically driven somehow.
  • There is an appreciation that we actually have the answers on how to lead – it is just that for some reason it is not disseminating as expected. This is where I think some deep thinking root cause analysis needs to be directed towards.

As a test I asked a friend of mine who leads a team of ten about their leadership.

Do you think you are a leader or a manager?
A little of both. More detail then given.

How do you think your team perceives you – more as a leader or a manager?
Probably a manager.

Why did you go into management as a field?
For the money.

Not because you enjoy working with people?
No. I was smart, it was expected of me to progress that way.

How much time do you spend learning of new leadership and management techniques?
None. I have no time for that sort of stuff. I am too busy. 

So if you weren’t so busy you would spend some time learning how to be a better leader/manager?
Probably not. 

I could have continued going on to find the root cause but at that time my friend was starting to get the picture that I wasn’t playing nicely. Getting honest answers on this is going to be hard but we need to get some broad understanding (ie real metrics lean start-up style) to make sure we are going to make a dent in this massive global problem.

So lastly I want to say thank-you to the Stoos group for having the guts to tackle this and to make a great start on it. I am pleased that the group has such a diverse set of thinkers but would love to see a few other thoughtleaders included in the list – my pick would be someone who represents motivation (eg Dan Pink), someone for crowdscourcing (eg Dan Tapscott) and someone from the field of Neuroscience (to be honest Peter Burrows wouldn’t be so bad as he conceptually understands Agile and more importantly has some interesting team dynamic theories).

Keep it up and don’t take this blog as a big rant of criticism – the good certainly way outweighs the bad.

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Ideagoras. A beautiful word, but even more beautiful when you get to the substance of it. In Greece, 600BC an agora  was an open place of assembly where trade occurred. In today’s world trade is big business and the growing trend of this business is shifting to the Internet at break-neck speeds. The agora was the political heart of Athens. We cannot wholeheartedly say the same of the Internet today but opinion is debated and freely open for anyone on the internet with a decent download speed. 

Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams first created the term ideagoras in Wikinomics to refer to the online idea marketplaces (amongst other terms such as Marketocracy and Prosumers) but don’t limit yourself to the internet on this and certainly don’t limit yourself to ideas. Think of it more in terms of crowd sourcing. When you consider Seth Godin’s work there are strong links.

Using ideagoras we can create better models of climate change or with the addition of gaming elements discover breakthroughs in genetics.  But what does this mean for the world of Agile?

For me ideagoras and crowdsourcing goes so much wider than the tantalising treats that Don gives us. Tied to Agile it is a beautiful model for decision making, swarming and must make us re-evaluate how we motivate, listen to and lead people in the business world. Let us take a quick look at how ideagoras can revolutionise an organisation.

Decision Making

Large organisations don’t just have a few or a dozen projects on the go. Commonly they have hundreds of projects on the go. Many are undercover and hidden from upper levels of magic, pet projects of their creators with little return on investment when you look under the covers. Lean Startups have sparked a resurgence in the importance of working on the right work not just doing the work right. They promote the concept of taking the idea and then testing the market with a mockup or prototype solution to first confirm that you are on the right track to get the most bang for your buck (my words not theirs). Using ideagoras we can take this to the next plateau. Rather than go out to the market with a mock-up or prototype first get the idea list filtered out through crowdscourcing. The idea in the first place should come through this mechanism. Have a feature on your website to be able to have your own customers add requests for improvements on the systems that you provide to them. Enable them to vote up (“like” or “+1″) the ideas that they would want to see implemented. Let your employees do the same using the same website. In this respect employee innovation can be recognised and encouraged by your own customers.

Now there are obviously down sides to this approach. Firstly, like most things in life it can be ‘gamed’ and there would need to be care taken to limit this, but there are a number of technological solutions to reduce this risk. Secondly, and probably most importantly these brilliant ideas are now exposed to your competition. The fastest implementor will be the one that wins the business. But this is not a bad thing – it is a great encouragement to ensure that we do follow through using Lean Startup principles to make sure we are on the right path and then Agile to rapidly develop the solution. A truly nimble and versatile organisation that focusses on rapid delivery, feedback and excellent customer relationships will be the winner in this future business war.

Think of the Fortune 500 companies – how many of them would stand up to the agility required to pull this off? Ten percent? Bureaucracy and red tape will drag them down and the small and medium businesses that can move quicker will continue to draw in the dissatisfied consumers.

Swarming and Motivation

If you have taken the first step to including your customer in your decision and idea generation process then you need to make sure you have the right team to follow through on the job. This is where swarming comes in. Most organisations throw their ‘resources’ about from project to project with little thought as to whether the person is actually interested and passionate about that type or project. Additionally they do it with little thought  of true speed and its relationship to return of investment.

In the future of speed to deliver innovation is going to the be determining winner for customers then swarming will become a natural reaction. You need to make that baby in one month. Governance processes will need to dramatically change to allow for this to occur. Estimation processes as well. We will need to be able to trust gut instincts on how hard it would be to fully deliver the idea and accept some failures of poor estimations. We will need have governance processes that kick off projects solely based upon votes received and the gut estimate. A safe to fail culture is critical here.

To resource the work we need passionate people who will focus on this idea like it truly is their newborn baby. To do this we can leverage ideagoras again. Employees interested in being part of this work should be able to sign up for it and be able to be immediately released to follow through on it. Potentially they could also be ‘socially approved’ as suitable for this role by their peers within the organisation. Again gaming of this would need to be careful.

Swarm the motivated people quickly onto the project to realise the benefit into the marketplace sooner.

Leadership and Customer Satisfaction Rating

What if the business world we lived in was like Survivor and you were able to vote someone off the island? 360 degree reviews  and anonymous employee satisfaction surveys are a very poor form of this. The better solution is to use ideagoras again to rate leaders. Let anyone rank or ‘rate’ anyone else in the organisation (again watch out for gaming the system). Do you think this would change Leader’s behaviour? Hell yes. Do you think they would be scared by this? Hell yes. There would be nowhere to hide. It would force many to leave. But think about it. Would the sort of person that you want to retain be threatened by this? No. Would the sort of person that won’t make it in this new age world be threatened by this? Yes. This is an amazing filtering system for getting the right culture.

Think of the scenario to yourself right now – think of all the bosses you have had over the years. If you pretended for a moment to be a CEO and have their resume’s on your desk how many of them would you hire? Which ones wouldn’t you hire?

No one knows better than the employees underneath a manager as to whether they are a good leader or not. Why not ask them to rate your leadership team?

Take it further. Take it to your customers. eBay has for an incredibly long time had the concept of rating the seller. A transparent feedback mechanism of trust from the consumer to the supplier. Sound familiar? Organisations that feel that they want to be leaders in customer service need to be able to demonstrate in a transparent, easy to access way their customer’s feedback. Social networking is improving this but organisations can help this along even further by enabling transparent feedback and visualising the comments (the good, the bad and the nasty) to everyone. Nothing will drive customer service better than knowing every single customer is freely given the right to publicly chastise or support you on your own website. I would love to see a feature added to Facebook that allowed you to rate an organisation’s service, ultimately providing a repository of this information outside of the organisation itself (for all those not courageous enough to do it themselves).


This is a wake up call. Large bureaucratic organisations I am talking to you. Without Agile, Lean, Lean Startups, Crowd Sourcing and other emerging frameworks you will fail. Now is the time to invest in yourself for the future. Inspect and Adapt. Listen to your customers and your employees not just your shareholders. Trust, respect and respond to your customers and your employees first and foremost. Your shareholders will as a consequence be happy because your organisation will be succeeding in a world when many are not.

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Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideasattitudescognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine). It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.


Do we teach through repeated instructions? Yes, I see this often. Inculcating check.

Do we present a vision of a practice or approach being positive or negative? Agile manifesto – yes, Waterfall negatively viewed. Attitudes check.

Metacognition is defined as “cognition about cognition”, or “knowing about knowing.” It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving.

Do we use cognitive strategies? Yes. Are we cognizant of them? Yes.

Do we often treat ourselves as a professional methodology? Yes.

The term indoctrination came to have awkward connotations during the 20th century, but it is necessary to retain it, in order to distinguish it from education. In education one is asked to stand as much as possible outside the body of accumulated knowledge and analyze it oneself. In indoctrination on the other hand, one stands within the body of knowledge and absorbs its teachings without critical thought.

Are we educating or teaching and allowing critical thought? This is the big question and the key differentiator.

Firstly it depends on the trainer and the coach. I would say most professional Agile training I have seen (and yes I would include CSM in this) don’t allow critical thought. The exception to this rule is what I have heard of Alistair Cockburn’s advanced training which begins with a critical look of Agile and positive look on Waterfall.

So what about the coaches? Most coaches I know would respond positively to critical thought. But do we actively enable it? I am not so sure we do a good job of this.

Which practices have empirical proof that they are beneficial? Ten years and how much data do we have about whether pair programming is really better? Yes I know the point is always made ‘but no one will pay for the same software to be created twice’ – but have we tried to get a real answer on this? Scientists study all sorts of things – why is it that Agile practices and techniques have such little data behind them? No one is willing to pay for it (except maybe Scott Ambler). Maybe as a community we should start working together and get some real information behind us so that we can respond strongly against critical thought.

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It was with some trepidation that I took at look at Seth Godin’s Tribes book. This was primarily due to mixed reports from friends whom had read it. It was so mixed that it  was pretty evenly split down the middle 50% loved it, 50% hated it. Those that didn’t rate it felt that it was overly repetitive.

My immediate thoughts – I LOVED IT! This is probably saying something seeming how cynical or pessimistic I can be about books, blogs, presentations, etc. Without a doubt I would recommend this to others for a read; it is nice and short, about 150 pages and half the size of a normal book. I wouldn’t say it’s insights are anything new for me, but there was a lot of strong re-affirmations to how I feel on a number of subjects. The biggest thing for me about this book was that I felt motivated as a result of it, although my passions are already quite strong, after this book they felt on fire.

Here is my key summary of the book:

  1. Heretics, innovators, revolutionists. Whatever you want to call them it is about not settling for mediocrity and instead striving forward towards an area that you are passionate about.
  2. Those that inspire others with their passion become leaders.
  3. Do something! Take control of your life and join or lead a tribe now.
  4. Sheepwalking is a beautiful term for those who are just following the pack and not asking questions. It’s almost as bad as sleepwalking through our working lives.
  5. Seth Godin’s movement is to make movements. Eat more prunes.
After reading this book and talking to colleagues about it I remarked how I had always felt comfortable with the revolutionist tag but was now on my way being comfortable with the heretic tag. My colleague’s response – ‘You aren’t a heretic, you are a heresiarch.’ I would probably rank the likes of Alistair Cockburn, Jeff Sutherland, Martin Fowler, etc with that tag rather than myself as they started the revolution. For me, it is about evolving the revolution to the next phase.
Some key quotes and thoughts on them:
Some tribes are stuck. They embrace the status quo and drown out any tribe member who dares to question authority and the accepted order.

Is Agile stuck? Are the heresiarch’s beyond reproach and questioning?

Everyone’s a leader.

Hmm we aren’t there yet – but everyone should be a leader of themselves. Do something you are passionate about!

Leadership is about creating change that you believe in. Leaders have followers, managers have employees.


Organisations don’t have to be factories, not anymore. Factories are easy to outsource.

This is where our real value add is. As work gets continually outsourced we need to be innovative as thought leaders to continue to preserve our way of life.

When a CEO takes the spoils of royalty and starts acting like a selfish monarch, he’s no longer leading. He’s taking.

Don’t get me started on this one. I just want to re-affirm that I believe this strongly.

It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is for someone to become curious. For seven, ten, or even fifteen years of school, you are required to not be curious. Over and over and over again, the curious are punished.

Wow. I say this regularly and it always felt like no one understood this. Maybe Seth is a secret twin? It’s not just the curious, we are molded to do exactly as we are told by parents and teachers, to comply. Why is it so hard to say ‘no’ to your boss for that new piece of work when you are already 150% overloaded – it is because of many years of conditioning as a child to not say no to a perceived position of power?

Heretics don’t settle. Managers who are stuck, who compromise to keep things quiet, who battle the bureaucracy every day – they’re the ones who settle.

Around about this time in the book I began to wonder – Do you have time to be a heretic? It felt like the book was pushing everyone in the direction of getting their word out. That could be internally within the organisation or wider on the internet. The internet approach would take time out of your busy personal life. If it is something you can spare and have the passion for it will be an easy choice. For those focussed on many things, juggling many activities including a family this will be harder. You might have to drop a hobby, but then again, your hobby should be an area of your key passion.

The new leverage available to everyone means that the status quo is more threatened than ever, and each employee now has the responsibility to change the rules before someone else does.

Innovate quickly, fail quickly, adapt quickly.

Faith is the unstated component in the work of a leader and is underrated.

The book makes a point that religion = rules and  faith = culture. Your tribe is your religion. Your faith is in your tribe’s values. I have heard Agile evangelists often called ‘The Agile Jihad”. It made me think about the training we provide and how from an outsider’s perspective it does look like an attempt to ‘convert’ others to our religion. For my two cents my religion isn’t necessarily Agile, it is a religion of embracing new ideas and change, of keeping people first.

It’s okay to abandon the big, established, stuck tribe. It’s okay to say to them, “You’re not going where I need to go, and there’s no way I’m going to persuade all of you to follow me.”

And lastly,

If you hear my idea but don’t believe it, that’s not your fault; its mine.

If you see my new product but don’t buy it, that’s my failure, not yours.

If you attend my presentation and you’re bored, that’s my fault too.

If no one cares, then you have no tribe. If you don’t care – really and deeply care – then you can’t possibly lead.

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