Archive for the ‘Motivation’ 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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For a while now I have been discombombulated. The cause of my confusion and desperation has been around the issue of management. 

I am not talking about Leadership. Leaders are people (whether in a position of hierarchy or not) that naturally foster an environment of collaboration, understanding and consensus. No, what I am talking about is the ability to influence creatively or constructively criticise the status quo to a person considered your “superior”. I want to use the term superior loosely knowing how much people will hate it, to represent an authority figure in a command and control environment. After all, Managers who aren’t getting the message about Leadership really do think they are superior (how many sweeping generalisations can I put in one post?).

I have come to the conclusion that a good number of employee frustrations are systemic from the culture; a culture which is powered by management. It is incredibly difficult to change culture from the bottom up. It can be influenced from the bottom up but there is a point where it cannot stretch anymore without management buy-in to the culture change. Failing senior management or C-suite buy-in to seriously throw money into changing a culture (yes culture change costs currency) I have been pondering how it may ever be possible for this problem to fixed in any way.

The C-suite don’t get it. Either they weren’t educated in it, don’t want to be educated in it or are too busy improving shareholder value. They are the Lords of this day and age, and how much did the Lords ever care about their serfs? Middle management are the Courtiers. Lower management are the cooks. Everyone else is working in the field.

Groups like STOOS believe that they can solve this problem through conferences targeted to the C-suite.  It is an interesting approach, but the sort of C-suite executives that will attend are the ones that I think for the most part are already on the journey or starting to question their belief system. It will make some in roads but I fear it won’t cross the chasm and I desperately ache for this chasm to be crossed. More needs to be done.

Others believe that they need to be right-shifted. I am admittedly still looking into this but have yet to get into significant enough depth to see if there is a mechanism to induce the chasm crossing.

I have been relaying this story a lot recently -

When a new person joins your team watch them closely. Watch how they learn and what they say. Watch how people react to what they say. Start to gather a pattern. What you will find is that when people join an organisation they are highly motivated. This is called the “Honeymoon phase”. The organisation is a veritible field of endless possibilities. They have been sold a dream by a HR department and manager.

The new person will listen for a while, enveloping themselves in the culture, trying to best see where they fit. They will start critically thinking early. They will ask questions like “Why do you do <insert task> that way?” They are trying to frame the task around their mind-map of how they have done it before and are judging it for efficiency and common sense. Failing a suitable answer they will delve further. Naturally they will gravitate towards the 5-whys, despite never hearing of Lean.

Eventually their critical thinking will be blocked by the “Monkey and the Banana syndrome” response. A root cause is not met and the first brick on the wall of critical thinking resistance is placed. As their first few weeks progress the same scenarios occur. Their brick wall begins to get higher.

When the wall reaches their knees self doubt sets in. Naturally they try to fight it, but in a different way. Rather than taking a critical thinking approach they will try a different tact. They will try the innovation path – providing suggestions of how they have seen it done elsewhere and the benefits that they had in doing it that way. They will get more Monkey and Banana syndrome responses or “We have tried that before, it didn’t work because <x> and <y>”, then the new person is back to the same lack of response to critical thinking. Innovation bricks now get added to the pile that is up to their knees.

After a few months their wall is up to their eyes and they can no longer see over the wall. There is no vision. No hope. The organisations culture is now embedded in them.

Sometimes I am asked what the Monkey and Banana syndrome is (usually younger people who haven’t heard it before). For those unfamiliar with it this is how it was told to me about fifteen years ago. I haven’t ever read the internet version so it may be a little different for those that have read it:

This is a story based upon a scientific experiment. A scientist puts into a large white room a metal ladder with a finger of bananas hanging from the ceiling. The middle step of the ladder is rigged to set an electric shock through the metal floor of the room. The scientist then lets in five monkeys. The monkeys excitedly see the bananas. One scrambles up the ladder and gets to the middle step. An electric shock is sent through the floor and ladder with all monkeys get shocked. The second time the monkey hits the middle step the other monkeys begin to get the picture. On the third attempt the monkeys pull the hopeful monkey on the ladder down and beat him up.

Subsequent attempts to climb the ladder result in beatings. The scientist then takes out one monkey and replaces them with a brand new monkey. This monkey sees the bananas and proceeds towards the ladder. He only gets two steps up before he is pulled down and beaten. He never knows why but after the second attempt he knows that if he tries to get up the ladder his peers will exert physical pressure.

The scientist continues to rotate the original set of monkeys out one by one and replace them with new monkeys. Eventually the room is filled of monkeys that have no understanding about why they are not allowed up the ladder but that if someone ever tries they should be beaten up.

“That’s just the way we have always done it around here.”

So you can see by my thought process that unlike some other thought leaders, I actually don’t think the ability to critically think is a lost art despite many years of behavioural conditioning supposedly beating this out of us. I believe critical thinking is a subconscious ability that we all have and continue to have despite command and control overriding it almost every single day. It is there. We have just given up trying to use it because no one is listening.

To get out of this endless rut I see a few possible solutions:

  1. Managers get better listening skills. Right now that you are done laughing, what are the other options.
  2. People get better persuasion and communication skills. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being highly unlikely to work and 10 being certain to work I probably rate this a 3.
  3. Have scientific metrics that prove empowerment, innovation and critical thinking are advantagous to the bottom line of an organisation. I am pretty sure the information is out there, but this depends on solution 1, and well, there goes that idea.
  4. Revolt. This is essentially option 2 but done on a less individualistic scale and more ganging up. This does happen naturally in teams but this method seeks pre-emptive goal setting. Despite being able to do this it will only work for one level above the team and from there will fizzle to get any traction, unless you get many teams to revolt at once and that is getting beyond the realm of possibility. Someone suggested to me that as an analogy it is like the monkeys ignoring the ladder and hopping on top of each other to form a monkey pyramid to get to the bananas.
  5. Teams get better facilitation skills and all team sessions have a pre-set, well skilled facilitator. In a team environment I give this a 5 to work, but outside of a team environment we are back to the original problem. That said you could encourage an environment where all suggestions of process change and innovation are raised through a facilitated team environment (sounds very Agile doesn’t it?)
  6. Enable a way to give a singular voice a pedastal. I am toying with an approach for this. I don’t think this will realistically happen inside of an organisation but I wonder if there is a means to force more social pressure for the C-suite to change their belief system.

What do you think? Are there other options to open up the eyes and ears of management?

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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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All my blogs are highly self-opinionated. This one is going to be even further out there.

We have all hopefully had a good look at Daniel Pink’s amazing work on motivation. But despite this knowledge how do most organisations still currently manage motivation and performance?

They almost always still have yearly bonuses. Maybe this is because CEOs are motivated to get their yearly bonus and hence they think everyone else will be equally motivated for theirs. If all of our bonuses were several million dollars I am sure we would all be willing to conduct deplorable activities such as offshoring half of our work to third world nations… oh wait… no I have morals (well enough not to do this), that and I know it actually won’t work.

Most organisations still do the whole ‘you aren’t cutting it so I need to have a serious talk to you’ discussion.

Have you ever worked in an organisation where you haven’t felt motivated? Did you enter that organisation with such a low level of motivation? Of course not. People don’t enter organisations unmotivated – organisations make them unmotivated. Who do the organisations blame for this? The person of course!

I think there is something seriously wrong in this world if it is a CEO’s attitude that unmotivated people should quit, as if they are dead weight that the organisation cannot learn anything from. They performance manage these people in the hope of making them even further uncomfortable that they will leave. I say this as if it is an intentional plan, because it is in some organisations. To be honest it sickens me.

I have had the privilege to speak to some people who this has happened to. They haven’t explained their lack of motivational issues to the HR bodies of the organisation because they feel strongly that the HR bodies do not care or refuse to do anything about it. Their common causes of motivational derailment:

  • Bullying
  • Sexual harassment
  • Doing endlessly monotonous work
  • Not having the opportunity to do what they do best
  • Not being listened to (talking to the wind)
  • A long-term physiological or psychological illness (manifesting into stress of lack of performance)

In all these instances these people were labelled as being ‘at fault’ by their management and forced into a performance review process. Does the above items really seem like the employee’s fault? And yet when they leave senior management have the attitude “Well done! We got rid of that highly unengaged person.”

What have they done ? They have basically not fixed a really bad problem and instead will introduce someone else into the loop of misery, all the while leaving a permanent dent on someone’s mental health. I am so incredibly angry about this.

What needs to be done:

  1. Stop having the attitude that “we need to get rid of the poor or unengaged performers” and replace it with “we need to listen and start changing the culture around here”
  2. Start asking who your HR group is meant to be supporting – the managers or the people? Let me give you a hint, if is just the managers then you are wrong.
  3. Stop telling poor performers that they suck, start listening to them. Start asking questions like “When you joined this organisation what sort of environment were you hoping for?”, “How can we change the work that you do or the way that you do it so it can be more fun?” and “How can we make you more in control of what you do on a day-to-day basis?”
  4. Don’t jump to the conclusion that a poor organisational score on managing performance means you have to get rid of people. Find out why people rated the organisation that way and rather than manage them out work with them to improve their motivation and performance.
  5. Be aware that people are smart. If you tell someone ‘stop doing x’ they will game it, they will do it, but the underlying discontent and unhappiness will remain; it will likely manifest elsewhere or result in other actions. It is better to get a positive outcome for the employee and the organisation then just the organisation.

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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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I posted recently about my fascination with online role playing games and how some of what intrigues me is around the area of incentives.

This has had a bit of attention in the Agile space with Daniel Pink covering off motivation in his book ‘Drive’ but for the quick versions you can see his TED talk or checkout an animated version.

The general gist of motivation as explained by Daniel is that if you reward people based upon speed of task completion, the stronger the reward the more likely to have an inverse productivity effect. The reason? Work where any element of innovation is required, ie the solution path is unknown, is stifled by rewards.

Now Daniel says that this is due to the fact that a reward or incentive is promised. I wonder what the impact would be if there was just a push from a time perspective – ie rather than encourage a reward, try and get it done faster by saying the last team got the candle test done in ‘x’ seconds and put a big huge clock in the room counting it down.  I think that the same problem would occur, but would this be because the time pressure is stifling innovation or because the challenge itself is creating a human instinctual reward – “If I do it faster than that last group then it shows that I am smarter and if I prove I am smarter than I feel better.”

Daniel says that you are better to remove reward systems and replace them with innovation systems eg FedEx days to create motivated employees.

So how does this fit into online games? What motivates millions of gamers to play? Well naturally it is fun. FedEx days appeal to many because they are fun. Is it purely that simple? Make work fun and you have fully motivated and engaged employees? I’d say fun goes a long way to motivated employees but it isn’t the whole story.

There are many different elements of gaming that is not fun. ‘Levelling up’ being the one that comes foremost to mind. When you start playing the game, as with real life, you are an inexperienced virtual person. Through learning and using your skills you become better. Completing missions or ‘quests’ would earn you experience. Defeating creatures would also earn you experience. Each time you levelled up the experience required to complete the next level would increase.

Back in the ‘ol days of online gaming levelling up pretty much was a majority of the game, taking half a year to get one virtual player to the maximum level possible. There was a lot of push back from players and consequently this has been slimmed down over time to a few weeks to under a month assuming a player focussing 25 hours per week. (Sounds familiar – waterfall to iterative anyone?)

Individual’s rarely cheered or got a thrill when they completed a quest or defeated a creature. But levelling up was a big reward. Other players in the area would congratulate you, your virtual family (guild) would congratulate you, you would also receive a new skill or an improvement on an existing skill. This is likened to getting a very small promotion frequently. In Agile, quests would be like ‘done’ stories, where as levelling up would be more like a release or maybe an iteration showcase.

The second ‘grinding’ element of online games occurs once you reach the maximum level and begin having to save money to buy clothes or other virtual related items, for example, vehicles or mounts. This element reflects a capitalist life all too much where you must complete the same monotonous quest every single night in order to receive money. This sort of re-occurring capitalist related behaviour is already starting to be phased out of online gaming and replaced with ‘weekly quests’ or slightly random regular quests in order to be more engaging.

The last of the less motivating elements of online games is around a concept of ‘raiding’ and ‘downing bosses’. ‘Raiding’ involves getting together with a bunch of other people, usually from your virtual family, and working as a single unit to defeat a complex non player character (boss) that is a few levels above you. This often involves working in teams of 5,10, 20, 25 or 40. Like software development, the larger the team, the greater the complexity required to herd cats. Conceptually you can think of ‘downing bosses’ as a large point Story and completing all bosses in the dungeon as an epic or release. Bosses can take anywhere from a few hours up to sixty hours for the whole team to complete. Whole dungeons of bosses can take a few to several months of work to complete.

I remember fondly one particular boss that required utmost perfection. Not just of defeating him, but defeating those that came before him. The less you failed, the higher the rewards. It was an interesting concept and probably is the key tie to quality. But for this boss we spent around forty hours before he was finally defeated. The way that he was coded meant that each person had a role they had to fulfill and in order to defeat him it required everyone to fulfill their role at the right point in time with 100% perfection. Because getting together as a huge team took quite a lot of logistical effort we probably only spent eight hours a week on this fight and consequently it took five weeks to progress. A five week epic. And what happened when he was defeated? Riotous cheering amongst every team member. It went on for minutes. The high lasted for days. When was the last time you cheered at the end of completing an epic? When was the last time you were on a high for days for doing an iteration?

The complexities are the same. Working together as a whole team to get a particular outcome. So why is the engagement so different between the two? What is the reward in online games for such an effort? It often isn’t about the gear or financial rewards you get, it is about the bragging rights, it is about the sense of achievement. We can’t compare apples with apples here when we deliver a Story. No one else in the world is delivering the same Story to be able to say ‘Hey we delivered As a Call Centre Operator I want to see the all the products that my customer has in a single view, have you done yours yet?’ or even ‘We did it in 8 days, how long did it take you?’. We need to make sure Story completion is regarded as an achievement.

So how can we make work more fun and more rewarding looking at online games:

  1. On demonstrated skill improvements make a big deal. Go out of your way to congratulate those that made it.
  2. Go out of your way to celebrate a release to production and epics being completed. I’ve seen release parties for Waterfall. I don’t think I have ever seen this for Agile, we need to do it more.
  3. Regular, repeatable activities that require no level of innovation are not fun. Effort needs to be expended to switch it up more or vary the activity somewhat to keep an employee engaged and motivated.
  4. In a Kanban like system where we aren’t celebrating at regular timed intervals. This means we need to concentrate harder at celebrating success when an epic is completed.
  5. Challenge has to exist but not so much that a person feels overly stressed. Getting this balance is important, challenge encourages the need for innovation; innovation makes the mental part of ourselves feel rewarded.

Lastly let me leave you with this one thought. What if we weren’t paid an annual or fixed salary. What if we were paid on the Stories that we delivered as a team as a percentage of the Story’s actual returned value? What behaviour would it drive? There would be potentially lots of really bad behaviour out of this, but the one thing I can’t take my mind off thinking is that finally we would focus on real value. The metrics we would have to predict value would be a lot more thorough. Daniel’s findings suggest this would be a dreadful thing as tying a financial element to the work will have a negative effect, but if you have a fixed definition of quality and no time restrictions would it really not empower innovation? To me it would still drive innovation because we would be directly tied to ensuring that our delivery will result in optimal outcome of value for the organisation.

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