Archive for the ‘Stoos’ Category

earthAgile and Lean have come a long way for the last ten years, but I feel there is a barrier that we cannot break through without a dramatic disruptive force. For years I have been wondering what could drive this. I had hoped that Stoos could have been a means to this change, or that continued and persistent adoption of Agile and Lean would result in it, but I hold little hope for these being the avenues to it. I know they will, given enough time, but I hold a fear that the continued models that our government and teaching system uses will not result in a change in my lifetime. And my even greater fear is that by then it will be too late.

I met recently with one of the worlds leading climatologists and asked deep questions regarding our future as a race. There is clear evidence that within one hundred years it will be on average ten degrees hotter across the globe. If you thought that I was wrong writing ten and not five then make no mistake – they are telling the media five degrees so that it doesn’t cause massive panic and so that they don’t appear to be fear mongering, but the real expected figure given current global politics and policy is ten degrees.

With ten degrees there would be widespread drought. Half of the planet would be inhabitable. Ground level railway systems would fail. Heat stroke related deaths would be significant. Imagine how we would live, how much we would have to seek travel out of the sun, how much extra energy we will be burning to make ourselves cooler. I have children and I want them to be able to have a future where they can enjoy being outside.

I want a world where the politicians listen up and start to address this problem. I want a world where the people within it get to have a voice beyond an election every few years. I want a less apathetic world.

Where I have seen Agile transformations highly successful is ironically when they have been driven from the top – a desire at the upper levels of organisations to create a new culture.

So I want a massive disruptive change, something to address this problem. But how?

I have some ideas, but I am keen to hear yours – do you think a disruptive change is needed? If so, what do you think can be done from it, different to what we are doing now?

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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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Reviewers required!


I am currently in progress of writing my first Agile book. It is basically a beginners Agile book targeted outside of the software development industry with a major twist.


If you would like to participate as a reviewer can you please contact me via twitter with an @AgileRenee mention and then I will send you a direct message to get your email address (if I am not already following you, otherwise just DM me). Alternatively you can email me at renee@theagilerevolution.com




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When I mentioned to some community friends that I was going to be reading Steve Denning’s Radical Management book a number of them looked at me as if I had contracted some form of virus. “Why would you read a dumbed down book on Scrum?” they said.

The answer for me was simple -

  1. Agile, I feel, isn’t an easy concept for Managers to get. I wanted to check the three prominent books on the market that are there to help Managers become Agile in order to see which one I would recommend if I ever had a manager (which admittedly to date I haven’t) one of them asked me for a recommendation.
  2. Because I do feel that it is hard for Managers to get Agile I wanted to see if there were any hints to what I could do differently or on what practices are relevant for Managers.
  3. I really like Steve Denning’s HBR articles. He has a beautiful writing style which I can appreciate for its simplicity and purpose.

Within this book review I won’t be comparing this book to the other two (although I might do then when I review those), instead I want to focus on my thoughts as I read the book.

Firstly, focusing on my third point above I was not disappointed. For the most part I did continue to enjoy Steve’s writing style in this book. Most pages I felt engaged in and whilst the pages didn’t all fly by, certainly up to the end of Chapter 9 they did (from there it does drag on a little).

Secondly, for a manager that has absolutely zero understanding of Agile and has focused for most of their management tenure on traditional command and control methods, either intentionally or not, I feel that this is an excellent book… to start them on the mental journey.

Which brings me into my third point. It tries to give a practical angle of applying it but I couldn’t in all honesty give this book to a Manager and expect them to be able to do the practices effectively. In fact, in a number of instances there is no detail on how to do a practice. So what this book does really well is get Managers to begin to question what they do and how they do it, less so actually enact change. This could be perceived as quite a concern for many but I don’t think it is that big of a deal – the difficulty is in the mindset change and this book does address well why you would want to shift from being a traditional manager to a radical manager. Additionally the book is riddled with references so if you did read this book and wanted to find more than there are a huge number of useful references at the back.

Now for the negative bits (which I don’t feel outweigh the positive):

  1. Some of the examples are poor – they don’t get the message across or they are weak links to the lesson. Steve is a good storyteller, just a few of the stories are duds. The first one in Chapter 10 is an example of a dud, as is the communicating example further in the same chapter. The roles in Chapter 1 also felt disconnected.
  2. The focus is strongly on Scrum. There is little content on Lean and only a sentence or two on Kanban. It would have been nice to have a broader view of being radical aside from Jeff Sutherland’s perspective. I was aware of this prior to reading the book so maybe I was a little more conscious of it than most readers would be. That said, I actually find that non Iterative Agile is an easier concept for Managers to understand.
  3. Iterations. I’m left with a feeling that Steve doesn’t understand what an Iteration is. It seemed to hint more towards an increment rather than an iteration. The examples that he gives on iterations are poor and for a fundamental principle I think it could have been articulated further.
  4. There are some occasional inaccuracies in advice (in my humble opinion) – like the concept that Value Stream Maps would find the phantom traffic jam problem and what defines “divergence” when using Planning Poker.

So it might be early days to know what book to give to a Manager to learn Agile (even if this was not the intent of this book and it’s intent was to be wider in focus), but overall I would give it a 7/10.

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In April 2002 Rob Thomsett released his successful book Radical Project Management. Contained within was a little gem known as Project Success Sliders.

In normal Project Management there is a well known term called ‘the Iron Triangle’. This triangle represents the three key facets that a Project Manager needs to normally watch like a hawk – the scope, the cost and the time. In non-Agile Project Management these three elements are commonly fixed. In Agile Project Management these elements are defined at the start of the project, however as circumstances change we want a trade-off to occur. If we can’t meet our initial proposed scope, cost, time and quality then something has to give.

Generally I don’t allow team satisfaction to be traded off, it goes directly against sustainable pace and good leadership. Similarly I don’t normally have stakeholder satisfaction because ultimately that is a gauge of the four elements (scope, cost, time and quality) at play.

So what Project Success Sliders allows you to do is have an upfront frank discussion to acknowledge that it is hard to meet all four elements and that if something has to give what is it? Not all four can be possibly fixed. One will always be the most flexible, one will always be the most fixed. Two will be somewhere in the middle. This is about a conversation to understand critical needs.

So why do I raise the subject of Project Success Sliders?

In organisations I believe there is a similar model at play. I call them, for lack of anything incredibly imaginative, Organisational Success Sliders. Rather than the slider elements at play being time, cost, scope and quality we instead have Shareholder Value, Employee Engagement, Customer Delight, Supplier/Partner Symbiosis and lastly Environmental/Ethical Responsibility. The first three should be fairly obvious. The last two might require some explanations – supplier/partner symbiosis is about a mutually beneficial relationship. It isn’t healthy to screw your suppliers value down to nothing. It results in a loose/loose situation. Environment/Ethical Responsibility is about being corporately responsible with the world. How much is an organisation investing in being sustainable? In being carbon neutral? In ensuring that its suppliers aren’t using child labour in China?

Most organisations have Organisational Success Sliders set to Shareholder Value fixed at priority 1. Employee Engagement and Customer Delight are in the 2/3 slots, usually with customers winning over employee satisfaction. Supplier/Partner Symbiosis and Environmental/Ethical Responsibility are both vying for the last spot as the most flexible.

I want organisations to think of more than just Shareholder Value. I want them to consciously choose whether to put Shareholders above and beyond all other elements. Should these elements really be prioritized? Probably not, but they are, so call it for what it is and make is clear where the priorities lie. Only through firstly making this constraint transparent do we free ourselves to question it.

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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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Moneyball has been credited within the Lean Startup community as a classic example of some of their principles.

I thought for those who haven’t had an opportunity to watch it that I would note some of the more powerful statements made in the movie. Some are slightly modified to apply outside of baseball so that you can potentially better relate it to your own environment:

  • The first guy through the wall always gets bloody.
  • This is threatening not just their business, this is threatening their livelihood. It’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things.
    And every time that happens, whether it is a government, or the way they do their business, or whatever it is, the people that are holding the reigns – their hands on the switch, they go bat shit crazy.
  • Anyone that’s not changing – they’re dinosaurs.
  • There is an epidemic failure in the system to understand what is really happening. This leads people who run their teams to mis-manage their teams.
  • They are asking all the wrong questions. If I say it to someone I am ostracized. I’m a leper.

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I have been pondering since reading Steve Denning’s on Fighting the Kool-Aid of Stock Based Compensation  and Umair Haque’s Harvard Business Review’s The Economic Roots of your Life Crisis about perilous journey that we might be on. Take a step back for a moment and consider some cause and effect.

When my parents worked it was pretty much considered a job for life. Most of my friends around the same age had similar experiences for their parents.

When I entered the permanent workforce in 1997 this mentality was beginning to peter out. Big organisation after big organisations that I worked for all went through regular retrenchment periods. Some were as short as every six months, others in two yearly cycles.

They called them different names – offshoring, outsourcing, departmental restructure, voluntary reduced hours; but the intent was always the same – cut the bottom line.

Thankfully I have never been directly impacted by such acts but it has led me to a feeling of constant insecurity. I have never felt safe in a job.Our clock is ticking down

Does anyone else think that this is crazy? What is the point of ever being a permanent employee if you cannot feel safe (naturally excluding performance issues)? At least a contractor knows when their date is going to end. The rest of us that were after secure jobs to pay our mortgages and support our tribe of kids wanted something that we could depend upon. But we cannot depend upon it. We are like a character of “In Time“, our clock is ticking down, but we have no idea when the timer is going to reach zero.

Because of my parent’s experiences within companies I was raised with the belief “You look after your company because your company will look after you.” Extra hours was sometimes part of that deal. Towing the company line as well. But what I was experiencing was something considerably different. It didn’t appear like the organisations cared about its most long term employees (they were commonly the first ones to go). It shattered my illusions. It left a void in my belief system.

I am not the only Generation X person who has been left feeling like they are in the Matrix. Companies no longer care about their people, they care about the almighty shareholder seemingly above and beyond any other competing priorities.

So as anyone with a dysfunctional belief system does, they find a new belief to fulfill this empty hole. We believe that if the company doesn’t care about us then we need to care about ourselves. What behaviours and patterns emerge from this?

We appear selfish. It is all about what we can get right now. We want recognition right now. We don’t feel obliged to have to stay at an organisation for too long (especially if the organisation loves to retrench frequently). We see no problem with being headhunted. We see no problem with doing the work for the hours that we are meant to be paid and no more. This makes us look lazy.

Does this sound familiar? Take a look at the wikipedia definition of a Generation Y:

 Studies predict that Generation Y will switch jobs frequently, holding far more than Generation X due to their great expectations.[70] The UK’s Institute of Leadership & Management researched the gap in understanding between Generation Y recruits and their managers in collaboration with Ashridge Business School.[71] The findings included high expectations for advancement, salary and for a coaching relationship with their manager.

Is this singularly minded focus on shareholder value turning us all into Generation Y thinkers?

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