Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

Welcome to the third blog in the Scaling Agile Tricks Series.

So far we have covered the Leadership Cell pattern and the Mitosis pattern.

In this blog I will cover my personal sentiments on managing, refining and decomposing pipelines when delivering using Agile across multiple teams.

Generally I use the word pipeline management instead of terms like Program or Portfolio Kanban, mostly because the term is simpler to understand and the usage of Kanban implies a solution that there may not be a problem for.

I have seen three patterns used for pipeline management at scale:

  1. Dual Track with separate ownership
  2. Dual Track with team ownership
  3. Just in time team flow pull

Let’s take a look at the pro’s and cons of these in some more detail.

To Dual Track or Not, that is the question

Dual Tracking is a concept that originated as part of Dual Track Scrum – where teams were often seen doing some backlog preparation or actual initial thinking of work one Sprint in advance:

Image result for dual track scrum

When doing this technique the reality is that it creates context switching for individuals across two sprints – the current and the next planned Sprint.

Image result for dual track scrum

My main issue with Dual Track Scrum has always been that it has been dressing Agile up in Waterfall clothing. It creates and encourages the idea that Discovery occurs in one Sprint, Delivery in the next Sprint and, dare I say it, scarily some people end up doing testing in the following Sprint.

Well, imagine that at an even bigger scale. This is what it tends to look like:















From top to bottom this is the context switching breakdown (worst case scenario). Firstly, delivery teams may be supporting any production issues that arise from the previous increment that they have delivered (note I use the term increment to indicate a number of Sprints that has resulted in a release).

Secondly the team is working on the current increment, delivering user stories. If they are unlucky they are dual tracking here too – ie working across two Sprints (2nd and third rows).

Thirdly they may be involved in the shaping of the work coming up for the next Program Increment. In the three pipeline management options I gave at the start of this blog this equates to the second pattern “Dual Track with team ownership” as the initial discovery isn’t done by a different team or subset of non team individuals.

In the advent of a really massive piece of work then there may be even further upstream work, breaking massive boulders of work down to feature like rocks. Think of this as a rock crushing machine. In my experience, at scale teams rarely get involved in this activity.

And lastly we have all the other stuff that teams end up having to do – <insert bureaucracy activity here>. If they are super lucky they get to have time to think and reflect on themselves as individuals and seek opportunities to improve their own capabilities.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that teams barely deliver when put under these constraints and expectations, and yet I do find that often it is very unclear to leaders of such teams that such extensive context switching is occurring.

The first pipeline management option, “Dual Track with separate ownership” reduces the amount of context switching down by having either a different team or key individuals like a designer and an architect look at bigger work coming down the pipeline in order to assess its customer and business desirability and viability and whether it is feasible given constraints, value earned over cost, etc. More commonly than not, these people aren’t or haven’t for quite some time been involved in actual feature delivery. Whilst they can provide a buffer to the team having to do some of this activity, it is at a high risk that the solutions that they are coming up with are unimplementable, over designed, or are based on poor assumptions. Additionally they create a need for a handover, which is often poorly executed.

Whilst you could certainly put in process to reduce these risks, why over engineer the process?

As a core principle for Scaling Agile, my number one rule is “Remove handovers and dependencies”. Which brings us to…

Just in time team flow pull

Each option has it’s pros and cons. The Just in time pattern means that the backlog for the set of teams is very lightweight in fidelity and knowledge. Think of these backlog items as initiatives (I am trying deliberately to avoid words like Epic, Capability and Feature as the hierarchy varies based on which scaling model you use). In my mind, an initiative is the sort of thing you might put on the release notes to customers when you do a new app store release, or something big enough to do a sequence for customer onboarding. Initiatives can take as little as three weeks or be as big as six months of work for a single team.

Initiatives are de-coupled from the other teams delivering in the same product through good shaping of scope and good team design (which we will cover in a future blog post). As a team finishes delivering an initiative they will pick up (pull) a new one and begin the discovery process on it. It tends to look like this:








At the tail of this approach the team is likely to prioritise first and foremost the release and support activities. Their next priority is doing Discovery/Inception on the next initiative. In the learning period where they may be waiting for customer feedback they can fill the gaps with technical debt.

You can see visually the difference between the reduced context switching of this picture and the previous one is quite significant. It does come at a cost – the cost of ensuring that the team is as independent as it can possibly be from the other teams delivering on the same platform. It requires not only good work prioritisation from a backlog perspective to limit two teams working in the same area, but also great technical practices to limit integration risks and be able to release at any point in time.

I really love this approach because it empowers the team to release when they are ready and empowers them to know when they are ready to begin coding. One risk is that they may spend too much time in Discovery, but even Dual Track has this risk. Another risk is that they may begin Discovery and then determine that the initiative isn’t viable. This could also occur in the Dual Track scenario, but a new backlog item would then need to be picked up and potentially those stakeholders may not be prepared to spend time in Discovery. The core of the issue is that there is no buffer time if the stakeholder(s) are unavailable, whereas buffer time exists in the Dual Track approach.

The reality? Out of about forty-five initiatives I have seen an initiative be cancelled once, so why design a process solution for such a small occurrence rate? Where you work may be different and more work may be cancelled in Discovery, so choosing which approach to take may be dependent on the failure rate of Discovery.

As a coach I try to move organisations towards Just in Time team pull but it takes time to remove the dependencies and handoffs first.






Welcome to the second post in the Scaling Agile Tricks Series.

In the first blog I talked about my favorite scaling pattern – the Leadership Cell. In the second blog post I have a really simple pattern called Mitosis.

Image result for mitosis definition

Mitosis is a very easy solution to a common problem – how do you scale the number of teams? This is a common question for organisations undergoing a significant expansion and commonly occurs in the digital and lean start-up space.

The challenge is, there are very strong beliefs held by the agile community and coaches that teams should remain stable, that is, adding or removing team members is often frowned upon as each time it occurs the team has to begin again traversing through Tuckman’s stages of group development.

One recommendation I have is to grow and divide teams in a similar way that cells divide through Mitosis. Whilst great Agile teams are most effective when sized at seven plus or minus two, to use this pattern effectively you will unfortunately need to grow the team slightly above what is an acceptable norm. Ten to fourteen would be in the ballpark of the maximum size. Once the maximum size is reached you split the team into two. If you need more teams you rinse and repeat, incrementally adding great quality people as you find them until the threshold is reached.

The pro’s of such an approach:

  • Cultural norms are persisted. The alternative approach of just adding or building a whole new team means that they become culturally ignorant of ‘the way we do things around here’.
  • Standards and expectations are more effectively understood through team stories instead of reading documents and finding out the documentation is wrong.
  • People who get on well together can be kept together as the team splits. Conversely tense relationships can be split.

The con’s of such an approach:

  • Teams are constantly going through Tuckmans stages which is a huge dent on productivity. You will have a productivity issue even if you create a new team from scratch but this will significantly extend that affect.
  • Whilst teams are expanding beyond ten people the communication costs increase.

Is this a suitable approach for you? Well that depends on whether you are trying to optimise on productivity or optimise on culture and consistency.

With so many frameworks out there that tell you how to scale Agile (LeSS, DAD, Nexus, Enterprise Scrum, SAFe, etc) I have for a long time held off adding fuel to the fire by having a blog series dedicated to Scaling Agile. Why? Well because, just like in the early days of foundational Agile (Scrum, FDD, XP, DSDM), it took time for patterns to emerge of what works and what doesn’t.

In this series I plan to not re-iterate the scaling frameworks, but instead highlight the tips and tricks of patterns that aren’t in those frameworks that I have experienced actually works. These are tricks that have worked not once, but multiple times. These are also tricks that I have validated with other organisations, the sorts of things that people have struggled with when implementing agile at scale but amazingly have come up with similar ideas on how to tackle the problem. It is probably worthwhile to note that the sort of work I do is in really big corporations with heavily bureaucratic environments. These patterns have all been discovered and validated at this level for organisations a few years into their Agile journey.

So what is the first pattern? Well, I will start with my biggest one and probably conceptually a complicated one. It starts pretty simple – when you do Agile at scale, yes you have multiple teams, but what supporting mechanisms to you need around the teams? Whilst a few frameworks prescribe the roles needed to support teams I find that they are somewhat lacking. The term I use is a “Leadership Cell”, not because I see this group of people lording over the teams, but because they are likely to be each leading a backlog.

The Leadership Cell are backlog and decision authority functions of six key areas: Customer Experience, Product Ownership, Adoption, Technology, Delivery and Coach.

These areas each own their own backlog. The Customer Experience area, is focused on customer facing (internal or external) experience, needs, problems, consistency, journey and simplicity. The Product Ownership area is focused on the business needs, problems and worthiness of potential business solutions. The Adoption area is focused on ensuring benefits get realised, change is effectively managed and adoption (internal or external) is successful. In a number of organisations the Product Ownership and Adoption areas are owned by the same person. In smaller scaled environments all three roles may be owned by the one person.

The Technology area is focused on technical problems, needs, solutions. Concerns like increasing technical debt, keeping on top of patch upgrades, sustainability of long term operability of the codebase, etc are great examples of backlog categories of work they may have. Enablers could also be considered technology backlog items, but I prefer enablers to be driven from business need and should be part of Product Ownership.

The Delivery area is potentially more amorphous. In larger enterprises there is a considerable amount of work related to governance, policy and procedures. The Delivery area is focused on getting through these activities. In a great Agile enterprise these activities should be small in number and automated as much as possible, but as most organisations are on a journey this area needs to be the conduit between the old and new worlds, until at least, the enterprise has undergone governance simplification. In addition the Delivery area should be focused on sustainability of pace – are team empowered to pull, is the pipeline realistic given the number of teams, is quality being traded off, is flow consistent? Importantly, the Delivery area is the glue that helps to bind the other areas together if they are not – they are the champion of collaboration across all of the areas and are asking the important questions when a trade-off needs to occur between the areas. They will manage escalations up and shelter the teams, just like a Scrum of Scrums Master.

These areas do not have to be filled by six different people, individuals may fulfill one of more of the key areas – but be wary as it will be challenge to balance decision making.

Note that the Coach role is a little less formal, they may hold continuous improvement and capability (I’m talking about people capability and not product capability here) improvement backlog items, but it is better practice for capability and continuous improvement backlog items to be collectively owned long term by the Leadership Cell itself. In the early days of a transformation it may be useful for someone to be the voice of improvement and hence you could say that rather than “Coach” have the area as “Continuous improvement”, but I believe that continuous improvement should be embedded throughout the other areas, like Customer Experience and Technology and thus wouldn’t separate it out. The argument is then about continuous improvement that impacts across these functions, which might, over time, be enough of an excuse to change the name of the area but I would rather have clarity around the originating tension – ie where the pain is being felt that is driving the continuous improvement and use that area to drive the change. Additionally, the Coach role isn’t a role that I see existing longer term in the leadership cell, it is there to bootstrap the change, but shouldn’t be there indefinitely unlike the other areas.

The more complicated aspect of the Leadership Cell is how these areas interact. Certainly the Leadership Cell should be part of the Scrum of Scrums along with the Scrum Masters. One or more people in the Leadership Cell may also represent impediments as they get raised up above the Scrum of Scrums.

At a more strategic perspective the Leadership Cell starts to veer away from some of the scaling framework guidance. At a regular interval the Leadership Cell should have a prioritisation meeting to balance strategic direction and create a unified backlog for the teams. The frequency of this will depend on the frequency of pull from teams. I generally find that either every four or six weeks with a consolidated backlog of ten items is enough. This meeting is held like a multi Product Owner prioritisation meeting with each person bringing their top five items. As a collective they agree to which items should be pulled next. Like multi Product Owner prioritisation meetings, it does tend to take a few goes at this meeting before it becomes more fair and normalised.

The trade-off discussions can be quite heated, but it should be like a see-saw – sometimes it will be weighted to one perspective and then next time another area may be more heavily weighted. Normally, at scale the Product Owner tends to dominate the work. Using this approach more continuous improvement and operational stability tends to be added as a priority of focus. This is not to say that it will be realistic to have 50% Product Owner work and 50% other focus areas, but more like 80% Product Owner and 20% other focus areas (which would be an improvement from the 95% Product Owner weighting).

The Leadership Cell is also accountable for a lightweight process for agreeing to how to prioritise. I personally like the  DVF approach over WSJF, but each has its merits.

The DVF approach focuses on Desirability, Viability and Feasibility. It can be mathematically weighted and divided by time just like WSJF. The Leadership Cell balances the DVF where the Customer Experience area focuses on desirability, Product Ownership and Adoption focuses on Viability, and Delivery and Technology look at Feasibility. This is not to say that each Leadership Cell function cannot participate and consider all of the DVF elements as they assess and prioritise the work.

I like DVF because it isn’t just a prioritisation process but is importantly a set of considerations to test the work against. I’ll give a few examples of considerations for each.

Desirability consideration examples – Identify the alignment and contribution to the customer end to end journey; quantify the staff problem or opportunity.

Viability consideration examples – Business ability to absorb the change among other initiatives being rolled out and operating workload; identify and quantify the risk reduction and compliance obligations.

Feasibility consideration examples – Quantify business continuity and information risks; identify alignment and contribution to target architecture.

Along with attending the Scrum of Scrums and managing the pipeline for teams to pull from the Leadership Cell should also be part of a regular cross team retrospection. In essence, they act as if they are in a Sprint themselves but the likely timebox is going to be larger than that of the teams. To be clear, this timebox isn’t necessarily a Product or Program Increment, it should be decoupled from the release of a product (we will get into dependency management and PIs in a future blog).

So in summary, the sort of problems that having a Leadership Cell helps to solves includes:

  • Having a mechanism to give equal authority of needs so that the team of teams backlog isn’t driven just by business need.
  • No one person in the Leadership with higher power or authority over another, it is a peer structure where the coach is also considered a peer.
  • Ownership point for work coming into the team of teams
  • Considerations that should be applied to work as it comes into teams (DVF like elements).

Stay tuned for my next blog post on the Scaling Agile Tricks Series – Scaling number of teams.



Is Agile dependent on culture or leadership support for success?

I recently read Silence by Shusaku Endo. It is a book about the early missionaries to Japan in a turbulent time when they were not wanted (to an extent that they were actively sought out and tortured).

As I read the book I was reminded of the analogies that Agile often has from its critics that it is a cult or similar to a religion, and as I read the book I changed the language and words in my head to see to what extent it fit against the criticism.

One page in particular stood out for both its beauty and applicability. I would like to share it with you with the words changed to Agile to see your thoughts on it. Think of it with a lens on the success or failure of transformations:

(Page 117)

“A tree which flourishes in one kind of soil may wither if the soil is changed. As for the tree to Agile, in a another company its leaves may grow thick and the buds may be rich, while in this company the leaves wither and no bud appears. Coach, have you never thought of the difference in the soil, the difference in the water?”

“The leaves should not wither; the buds should appear,” said the coach raising their voice. “Do you think I know nothing? People are familiar with the work of the Agile community; and it is well known that when many projects gave permission for evangelization the number of Agilists reached three hundred thousand.”

The old man constantly kept nodding, all the time rubbing his hands together. Whilst the other managers with tense expression were listening to the words, only the old man seemed completely on the side of the coach. 

“If the leaves do not grow and the flowers do not blossom, that is only when no fertilizer is applied,” the Coach said.

The analogy here that management support is the fertilizer, that culture is not the differentiator to success or not.

Do you feel that the tree would flourish regardless of the soil and water?

This is an interim blog post defining my thoughts whilst attending the five day Holacracy Practitioner Training in Philadelphia. I will probably repost my final thoughts or add some comments when I return back to Australia.

So why do Holacracy Practitioner Training in the first place? It certainly wasn’t because I had client that had an appetite. It was because I wanted more depth on the logistics of how it worked after reading the book a few years ago and after hearing a few people from zappos and other institutions talk about their implementations. I wanted to hear the tips and tricks from the expert and creator, Brian Robertson. I also wanted to do it because I felt that it would be the logical next step for organisations after or mid Agile transformation, especially those that had tried self selection, so I wanted to prepare myself for the future.

What I got was all my desires and more. For the logistics of how it works, the five day practitioner course really is practice focused, with a complex simulation that enables multiple opportunities for everyone to fulfill the facilitator and secretary roles in a very safe to fail environment. As for hearing about zappos and other institutions, well I haven’t heard much about Zappos yet, but I have heard from a lot of people on the course about how it is going in their organisations. The number of attendees already doing Holacracy somewhat surprised me and some of them already had a few months experience up as facilitators (and it showed). I have found that I have gotten as much value out of the people attending the course as those running it. I have enjoyed watching some of these people who have had honest concerns that they are still on the fence about the value of Holacracy change over the course of a few days – often because they didn’t understand the purpose of a particular activity, but more commonly because it was being implemented incorrectly (because this never also happens in Agile transformations right?).

As for Holacracy being the next logical step past Agile, well I am really not sure about that now and probably need more processing time on that one. It certainly isn’t a pre-requisite (though I never thought it was), but I don’t think people early in the Agile journey have to rule it out either (where I once thought maybe mindsets may not have been progressed enough for this leap).

So for some more detailed thoughts on the course, in a somewhat time based progression format feel free to read on:

Day 1

  • Introduction of theory was expected but felt long taking up most of the first morning.
  • Brian really is as engaging in person over a long duration as he is talking in videos. His energy is quite infectious.
  • Afternoon session – simulation. Now I build games for my training so I know the value of a good simulation and this simulation is the second most complicated one I have ever experienced (Lean car factory being the most complicated one I have). As we went through the simulation I guess I had the unique perspective of not just doing the activity but also analyzing at the same time the simulation itself for the outcomes expected, the constraints and the rules. Now when I build games I build them so they fail first, which this does. But I don’t build them with so much failure that the goal  is 100% unachievable – that is, if you are a master, you might still succeed. The Hygean game – well it was built with a 100% failure rate. I could tell very early on what the constraints were, I also had a good background in the simulated value chain so I knew that well. From minute zero of the game I began working to the roadblock of the delays in the value chain. But when the constraint never responded in the first round at all it meant that value was never a possibility. Now I realised in the evening of Day 1 that I had made two incorrect assumptions about the simulation – that value was important (ie the business not running out of money). Lean thinkers will see very quickly that the business is about to run out of money, but it is a bit of a red herring, in some ways the simulation doesn’t reflect reality because people would care a lot about this information. The second assumption was that it mattered to win (ie successfully deliver value). It doesn’t, the point of simulation is to arm yourself with enough ammunition to run through the governance and tactical meetings, nothing more.
  • Checkins. They feel really clunky. I’ve never been a huge fan of them because I have seen them abused in the past but they did feel authentic in the meetings we had.
  • Building agenda items – the usage of only one or two words for an agenda frustrated me. I can see the similarities of the activity to lean coffee, but unlike lean coffee, where you spend fifteen to thirty seconds talking about your agenda item, in holacracy there is zero time spent on what the agenda item means. The consequence is that no one actually understands the agenda. This felt incredibly uncomfortable, mainly because I wasn’t quite sure if someone else’s agenda item was similar to my own as the two words were the same and so I didn’t know whether I should raise my agenda item. What I subsequently resolved that evening was that it didn’t matter. It was my responsibility to put my agenda item up regardless. The agenda item is only a refresher for the single individual that created it and nothing more.
  • Reaction round – the process in a lot of respects feels like the Cynefin Ritual Dissent activity – in that it creates space for a proposer talk without interruption, that respondees can ask questions, respond emotionally without interruption (with a small element on Non Violent Communication) and with dissent. After that it is more like a facilitated processing activity with similar restrictions on who can talk when. In the scenarios that we went through I found this activity at first incredibly frustrating, not because of the process, but because it felt that there were gaps in the structure of the process. As an example, in our simulation with the financials running out a proposal was put forward to make the financial runway visible to the organisation so that we didn’t go out of business. The proposal was opposed because of a concern that people would leave the organisation if they thought it was about to be bankrupt. This was based upon an assumption that was perceived, but was not rooted in metrics and because the objector felt that the information wasn’t safe to test, it was considered a valid objection. My main concern with this outcome was that the assumption was statistically invalid, just that the objector was not aware of it, but importantly that I had no ability to even say this, that the falsehood of information was allowed to continue unabated. Now in fairness, I now know that if we had time it would have gone to integration and that hopefully that information would have come out then, but it felt like time was being wasted.

Day 2

  • The feeling of a lot of time wasting in these governance meetings continued as I pondered time and again where lean elements of root cause analysis and value stream analysis fit in. People changing roles and accountabilities without any understanding of the value chain seemed inane. But what I realised by the evening of Day 2 was that it didn’t matter – because the value chain would be discovered over time through continual incremental refinement. In essence, getting roles, accountabilities and the value chain right occurs over time (and isn’t ever right). It is like Agile, the software will never be right by the first sprint, but through continual build, reflect and adaption it will get good enough in the end.
  • Proposal tension analysis takes a lot of time when the change is a large merge/refactor. It felt slow waiting for everything to be typed in, but then I found out afterwards that you can propose items in advance and write up all the proposed changes beforehand. This made me feel comfortable that corporates would balk less at the time waste if they knew information could be processed asynchronously (which was demonstrated to me afterwards by someone doing holacracy already).
  • It really hit home to me by the end of this day that tensions are best when they are micro and are frequently worked on. Weekly governance over monthly would be the best way to start, much like short Sprints allow more frequent adaptation. My favorite quote of the day – “Design the org, just in time, for what you need not what you might need.”
  • Not a huge fan of the ’cause harm’ language, prefer the longer language of ‘can impact delivery of the circle’s purpose’.
  • The term ‘project’ also feels like the wrong language to use. Many corporates have a deep tie to this word and I feel it would be better changed.
  • A comment was made (either this day or day 1) that an example of an outcome for a project would be ‘Product page redesigned’ – I would argue that that is not an outcome, an outcome would be the why – ie “Provide a more user friendly experience to increase customer clickthroughs”
  • How to prioritise tensions – strength of tension, first in first out, shared tension or time criticality. The answer is it depends on your needs and almost all options can be used at the discretion of the facilitator.
  • Can the facilitator and secretary be the same person? Yes, but it is not generally recommended. I can see through the simulation why for beginning teams this is not recommended.
  • How do you balance workload if you are working in multiple roles? The answer is holacracy doesn’t specify a solution for this.

Day 3

  • Root cause analysis can happen, but only if the proposer asks for help/it. So if, as a respondee, I am needing root cause analysis to get onboard with the change then it isn’t the proposers problem, it is mine. Consequently the proposers change should go through without objection and if I care about root cause analysis then I need to raise the tension (proposal). Processing tensions is all about processing the tension for the proposer, not for opinionated people.
  • Back to the earlier quote – ‘what might happen’ objections which are invalidated result in only a 10% new proposal rate. This isn’t due to people feeling petulant that their objection was invalidated, but that when it comes down to it, the concerns aren’t really that big of a deal, we are just so used to providing opinions that we can’t help ourselves.
  • Feeling very comfortable with the process and its micro adaptation of the organisation.

Day 4

  • If you are the sort of person (like me) that likes to help someone refine their need (ie paraphrase) then you would feel frustrated with the experience of the governance meeting as you cannot help the person get there. You have to be more patient and accept it will take more time.
  • Tactical meetings – not a lot of new content or concepts in here for Agile folk.
  • Use lead in narratives about the current step so that people understand what they are allowed to do (or not). If people get off track (out of process) guide via “We have space for that comment in the next step,” and then return to the current step.
  • “It is not a valid objection, but it sounds like you have an item that you may want to add to the agenda.”
  •  Today reminded me a lot of Kanban’s rules – start with what you do now, know your constraints, your policies, respect.
  • Tactical tipsheet – if the action is volunteered by a person and there is no role accountable then the action is classified as “individual action”
  • Domain – full ownership for that thing, it no other roles can meddle with it without the express authorization of the domain role owner.

Governance Tipsheet

Present Proposal – proposer can ask for help or root cause, but normally will just be proposer.

Clarifying Questions – NOT a round robin, only people who have questions. Can have multiple questions. Ensure questions aren’t leading or an alternative solution is being presented. Stop people quickly if the question doesn’t start with a “what, how, why, when, or who…” Does not include proposer.  Facilitator can ask questions.

Reaction Round – Does not include proposer (even responding). One by one go around, including facilitator.

Amend & clarify – Proposer only. They can choose to change things based on the reactions and clarifying questions. They can also choose to not change.

Objection round – Have proposer last, includes facilitator. Ask “Do you see any reason why adopting this proposal causes harm or moves us backward. As a facilitator you can jump around the objection questions if you feel there is a hint in what is said as to which objection it may fail on. The goal is to facilitate the process, not have emotions. Ask both sides of the question sheet. Anyone can ask in the integration round for an objection to be re-tested if they felt it wasn’t done.

Integration round – In integration, anyone can contribute as long as the facilitator has no objections and as long as the proposer and objector have opened it up. Ask the objector if they have an alternative proposal that will meet the need of the tension. Once done, confirm with objector if this meets their needs. If both are happy then it is integrated, otherwise it goes back for resolution. Another round of objections occurs after accepted integration.

Day 5

  • Just because you have a need from someone doesn’t mean you can’t talk to someone and ask them to do it. Use the governance process for tensions were expectations are NOT being met…. otherwise you will have dozens of accountabilities.
  • We seem to try to get agreement on the tension before we process it (consensus build). Holacracy accepts the tension regardless in order to process it. In this respect, you transition the time in an organisation spent consensus building outside of meetings to tension processing in governance. The time is likely to be less in the later.
  • Can use ‘curator’ rather than ‘secretary’
  • For Agile areas – keep your retros, have them feed straight into governance. Sprint Planning is often combined with tactical meetings, especially if the circle is the Scrum Team. If the circle has a few extra people outside of the Scrum Team then you may want to split the two.
  • Have governance straight after a tactical meeting as tactical meetings are likely to drive desire for change.
  • Address what happens with compensation early in the selling of holacracy discussions.
  • Existing policies get moved across into the appropriate circle.
  • Use the habit support program in Glassfrog
  • Don’t over do the setup at the start. Don’t be tempted to fix tensions as you breakdown job titles into roles.
  • Don’t give roles very status titles
  • Don’t try both (ie management and holacracy) at the same time
  • Developer role with a focus on product X is better when multiple products need to be supported in an area.
  • Have a role for guild lead, otherwise don’t have circles for tribes.
  • Be clear on how meetings relate to holacracy – stop doing or cut out the parts that are covered by tactical and governance meetings.
  • And for meetings that you keep, be clear on holacracy links – ie what roles are invited, tracking, actions, projects, tensions etc.

Outstanding questions:

  • How is this going in Zappos?
  • Why aren’t there any values/principles in holacracy?
  • How does the constitution change over time?

There is a world of misinformation out there about Agile. Even I have probably created some misinformation once or twice (not deliberately).

There is probably too much wrong to fix, but I saw a tweet recently that I wanted to tackle. It was originally linking to the Segue Technologies blog:

Naturally some people in the Agile community responded and it is fair to say their response was one of confusion and disbelief. Many thought it was a joke, but I suspected that the creators of the information felt it was a reflection of what they believed to be true and not intended as a joke. I tried to seek clarification to which I got a response:

We develop for a wide range of customers. This is a high level info on 2 different methodologies to show non-developers that there are different approaches.

So it was an honest attempt to educate and provide value. Okay. So let me try to give an honest attempt to re-educate on what I perceive to be some of the errors in this infographic:


Agile Pros:

  • Customer approval during all stages:
    Probably just a minor clarification, but approval is a little strong for me. They are involved throughout – what that means is that they agree to the work to be done just in time prior to starting it, then they get to see it when it is nearing completion. In essence, there is a greater focus on building the right product.
  • Great for quick launches:
    Okay, but maybe more importantly, Agile is great for getting a product out quickly and getting feedback immediately from customers to know whether you are on the right track. You can continue to build on this product through subsequent iterations.
    I want to take a moment and comment on the usage of the term “customer” through the infographic – I am concerned that it is referring to a customer in the business as opposed to a real customer who uses the product. Also there is a lack of distinction on project and product throughout.
  • Prioritised by business value:
    Business value is important and should definitely be used as one means of prioritisation, but there are often other considerations used in Agile – Weighted Shortest Job First is a classic example of this. For me, in Agile, prioritisation should include consideration of business value, risk (either technical or implementation), cost, cost of delay and learning value.
  • Customer involvement makes project user focused:
    So customer is now distinguished from users (who are the real customers). It may be a little concern of mine, but I do feel the strong focus in Scrum on the Product Owner role detracts us from making greater efforts to get to know the real customers. Yes teams can work hard to ensure they hear the voice of the real customer, but there is nothing like using only customer data to drive your decisions.

Waterfall Pros:

  • Early agreement on deliverables:
    The natural risk here on early agreement on deliverables (and I think they mean scope rather than deliverables) is that as you learn things through development, the agreement is moot. Build the right product, don’t just build the product that you agreed to that meets no ones needs.
    If the interpretation truly was deliverables and not scope, there is nothing stopping you from having a great understanding of what needs to be done upfront with Agile. Many teams that I have worked with do an activity prior to going into iterations called “Inception”. The purpose of this activity is to have a common understanding about everything that needs to be done (as best could be understood with so much uncertainty in the complex world of software development).
  • No need for customer involvement during development:
    I read this like ‘In software development there is never a need to clarify anything or to get feedback on anything’. Yeah, like that happens, or like that works out to be a great solution. In the early days of Agile when I heard this twelve years ago my response to the business when they said they couldn’t afford to have an ‘onsite customer’ was “okay, then if this project isn’t one of the most important ones for us to focus on as an organisation, that it isn’t critical to invest business experts in for, then it sounds like it isn’t critical enough to invest IT experts in.” The response was always swiftly met with the provision of a good SME.
  • Full scope known in advance:
    Never in the world of software development has scope always been fully known in advance. This is just a fallacy and it should be stopped being used by Waterfall appreciators.
    We never build the same thing twice. As a consequence, software development is not a production line, it is a process of discovery.
  • Known deliverables reduce chance of “piecemeal” effect:
    There are so many great tools out there for dampening the “piecemeal” effect of Agile – let me name just a few: Inception, Story Mapping, Impact Mapping and Feature Parking Lots.

Agile Cons:

  • Disadvantages when team is dedicated full-time on the project:
    Firstly, I am pretty sure there is no rulebook that says teams should be dedicated full-time in Agile. I won’t disagree that it is common practice, nor will I disagree that in almost all instance it is a good thing.
    Secondly, I have done some waterfall projects. People were full time in those too, so it isn’t an Agile thing.
    Thirdly, we have lots of great scientific evidence around the benefits of having team members full-time on work – it reduces context switching, it focuses on getting the work done sooner, thereby delivering value to customers sooner, thereby earning money for the business sooner. If you are interested in learning more about the science take a look at “Product Development Flow” by Don Reinersten. Another good book is “Slack” which talks about the misconception around being 100% utilised.
  • Customer may not have time to be involved:
    I guess the project isn’t very important then.
  • Customer may redefine scope:
    That sounds like a pro rather than a con. Especially if it means we deliver the right thing rather than waste money on building the wrong thing. The biggest waste as described by Lean is building the wrong thing – in software development this accounts for 64% of features developed.
    Edit: in trying to be accurate on this statistic I discovered it was based on a sample of 4 projects. Those sample numbers are definitely not enough to prove anything. Well at least I learnt something new.
  • Quick launches can cause incomplete tasks:
    I don’t know about ‘quick launches’. If this means getting a product to a customer can cause unimplemented scope to occur, then yes I agree it can, and that is a good thing – because we can get value and learn from it. It doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to work on the product, just that when the cost of implementing new features exceeds the benefit then we are probably going to stop. That sounds pretty sensible to me.
    Often in Agile environments we try to automate “launching”. The process of automation inevitably should result in better quality of deployment over time (due to the removal of manual errors) rather than creating more incomplete tasks.

Waterfall Cons:

  • Customer only sees final product and could be unhappy:
    In the waterfall projects I have been on with limited customer involvement the ‘could’ has occurred in 100% of instances.
  • Customer has trouble visualising project in early stage:
    This happens with either approach. We don’t know what we just don’t know.
  • Late changes cause going over project budget:
    Again could happen with either approach. Agile projects should reduce or dampen this effect by delivering the higher value work sooner. But I have to be fair, in my experience most projects I have seen (be them Agile or Waterfall) have had overruns of time (not in production delivery necessarily, but overall effort expenditure). Going over project time often means going over project budget. I feel however our focus on budget/time as indicators to success are sub-optimal, but maybe that is a blog post of the future.
  • Late changes extend project timeline:
    As above.

What should factor in your decision – customer preference, project size, customer budget, time to market, customer availability:

  • No, you should just always use Agile. I know this sounds dogmatic and like I am a cool-aid person, but when it comes to mitigating delivery risk there really is no alternative to Agile. If you want to deliver with greater success, less risk and with the greatest chance of getting the outcome you want you need to use Agile, it just really is that simple.



When I was in Washington for the Agile Alliance 2015 conference I met up with Craig Smith and Christopher Avery for a podcast (unfortunately for me half way through). It was my first real introduction to the Leadership Gift and Responsibility Model. I had heard Craig talk to about the Leadership Gift a few times but the conversation intrigued me.

Recently I have started to have a look in depth about what a fully comprehensive leadership training program would look like and remembering the conversation in Washington I set aside some time to watch the youtube video on The Leadership Gift.

The following are my random notes that I took as I watched the video. They will likely seem contextually disconnected and out off place but I write the notes in the spirit of Non Violent Communications appreciation – to give clarity of what I give thanks for.

So the basic model is as such:











  • The importance of moving the “inversion layer” eg the layer of management that deals with where teams transcend across coloured layers (as described in Fredrick Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations Book). Eg a green Agile team and amber management – the Scrum Master is the person who is often affected by the inversion layer. The goal should be to NOT have an inversion layer.
  • A reference to complexity and uncertainty (making me think of Cynefin)
  • Accountability does not mean responsibility (resonated)
  • Do we make commitments visible?
  • The responsibility process demonstrates how we use language when things go through (key message)
  • Justify = “that’s just the way it is around here”, “there’s nothing I can do about it” (important classification)
  • Impediments = a conception of elements beyond our control (but are they really???)
  • Responsibility is the place of freedom – of control and power in ones mind (key message).
  • Shame is socially considered a level of responsibility, but it is not (aha moment for me).
  • When we are truly responsible when something goes wrong we acknowledge it but more importantly we focus on what we have done to fix it, to stop it from occurring again and what still needs to be done, or what is outstanding (key message)
  • High performing teams – go beyond their accountabilities, have highly successful outcomes & have a great time doing it
  • Reference to Chris Argyris & Double loop learning (re-hearing what I learnt a few years ago)
  • We weren’t born with perfect knowledge and we won’t die with it either (loved this quote)
  • … but we can learn through experimentation, trial and error (again reinforcing lean startup to process belief)
  • Get off shame by forgiving yourself
  • There is no personal growth when you are living below the line, ie doing obligation, shame, justification, blame or denial
  • What to do? Firstly intention – create a desire to get above the line with free will. Secondly have awareness – a life long pursuit. Thirdly confront yourself – what change is needed based on awareness. (key message)
  • Winning is about meeting an achievement not beating others (similar messaging as Non Violent Communication)
What is a Minimal Viable Agilist?

What is a Minimal Viable Agilist?

I have been doing some hiring lately. The two roles I have been hiring for are a Scrum Master and a Business Analyst. I used the opportunity to test my recruitment questionaire – questions that I am expecting the organisation to ask in the future when I am no longer there in order to ensure that they are getting quality candidates into the roles.

The questions had some basic Agile bits, the sort to ensure that we were getting people who culturally understood T-shaping, the values and principles of Agile – not that they had to ring them off by rote, but they knew and understood what it felt like to experience them.

And then there were the role specific questions. For the Scrum Masters the test predominantly comprised a series of pictures with a question per picture. An example (without showing the picture) was “Take a moment to orient yourself to this wall – what issues do you see with the team/the work?”

If the Scrum Master applicant passed the basic Agile questions and the wall picture questions, stage three was getting them to demonstrate facilitating in a mock scenario.

Somewhat thankfully our search for a Scrum Master didn’t last too long – candidates that recruiters passed through to us all failed abismally. All of them didn’t even pass through the first stage to begin asking the picture based questions. Feeling despondent we did the whole ‘Who do we know who can do the job and are actively looking?’ thing. Interestingly they passed all three components of the test quickly.

So then the challenge was finding a Business Analyst, and that was indeed difficult. We had resumes without even a reference to the word ‘stories’, ‘Agile’ or ‘Scrum’ being put forward by recruiters despite being exceptionally clear that we were looking for Business Analysts who had strong experience in an Agile environment.

There were a couple that got through to stage two testing – but they were few and far between, many of our interviews got cut at 10 or 15 minutes.

It was very frustrating; we weren’t asking questions that were hard – we were asking questions that anyone who cares about being good at their job should be able to know the answers to.

So let me put this as simple as I can – if you aspire to be an Agile Business Analyst, or you think you are worthy of being an Agile Business Analyst and selling yourself as one, then these are the things I feel you should be able to answer (naturally these questions are more fluidic and are asked when a conversational element exposes their relevancy):

  1. How do you decompose something down from a big idea to something that can be delivered by the team?
  2. What qualities does a good user story have?
  3. How do you know when a user story is small enough?
  4. If you had a user story that was too big, what are the different strategies you would think of/use to try and break it down further?
  5. What is the difference between Acceptance Criteria and Definition of Done?
  6. On average how many Acceptance Criteria do you have per user story?

If the answers to the above questions are correct then the interview goes onto stage two – scenario testing. Similar to the Scrum Master test we provide a simple User Story and ask the person to define some Acceptance Criteria. Then we ask them to look at a number of poorly formed User Stories and tell us what is wrong with them.

Stage three, like the Scrum Master is practical, asks for a demonstration of analytical and breakdown skills through a scenario, ultimately to test facilitation skills and on the spot thinking.

Now I won’t reveal the answers to the questions above, but if you feel like giving a try and responding in the comments you are welcome to. Additionally I have left out some of the thinking processes that we have been looking for but I can reveal that answers like “I just do what I did back in waterfall – I talk to people and write the requirements. Business Analysis is no different in Agile than in a Waterfall environment,” is probably not going to get you the job.

But through all these interviews what I was most surprised with was how little people cared about the quality of their skills in their chosen profession. I am often frustrated and don’t know the answer as to why people know so little about their profession. Here are some possible root causes I have conceived of but I don’t know which is the right answer (I suspect it varies based on the person):

  1. I am too busy doing my job to learn how to be more effective in it (too much work)
  2. I work hard when at work, in my down time I don’t want to think about work or read about things related to my job, I just want to relax
  3. I studied at school and for my degree, I was so glad when that was over I didn’t really want to study anymore
  4. I am awesome and don’t need to know any more/get better
  5. I am sick of people telling me what to do and how to do it, I am just going to do the smallest thing I have to in order to get my paycheck.
  6. Understanding this change threatens my job in some way
  7. I get by, no one else has commented on how I do my job

And so the ultimate question that it came down to in the interviews were “What is a Minimum Viable Agilist?” To me it is a person that cares about their craft, that understands the value of spending time to make themselves better and in doing so making the product better.

Firstly I apologise for getting a little slack with my blog. When I do presentations I tend to invest a lot of time in them and consequently a lot of other items get de-prioritised. Since my last blog I have presenting at the Agile Games Conference in Boston, at the HR Game Changer conference in Melbourne and at Agile Alliance 2015 Conferencein Washington. If you would like to take a look at any of my presentations feel free to visit my slideshare page.

I am hoping I will have a quieter six months in order to focus on a few projects such as finishing my Agile Forest Book, finishing a Visual Management book I am co-authoring with Craig Smith and getting a production quality Agile Bootstrap kit together which has Agile posters, cards for the usual ceremonies and cards for a training wall. If you are interested in being involved in any of these projects (ie reviewing or just want to know when they are done) then feel free to contact me at:

Speaker_Badge_200pxAnyway, this blog post is to endeavoring to talk about my high level observations of attending the Agile Alliance 2015 in Washington, so lets kick it off:

  • It was my first foray to this conference. Comparing it in size to Agile Australia which has over 1000 attendees, Washington has near the 2500 attendee mark. Despite this, it didn’t feel like an impersonal event. With sit down lunches, dinners and breakfasts, round tables and activity filled sessions galore and lots of open space to have conversations, I felt that there were plenty of opportunities to get to know people that I have connected with on twitter, but also new people that I have never met before.
  • Conference venue was great, I loved the natural light in the corridors. Hotel and hotel staff were great. Food was considerably below standard of Agile Australia but that could be my expectations on freshness and I do appreciate that all meals were provided with no requirement for me to source food elsewhere.
  • The cost of the conference is quite extreme when coming from Australia, especially when you consider lost contract time and the two day travel time. I have submitted for three years in the hopes to have my ticket and accommodation covered before I finally got accepted. Without these perks I am not sure if I would make the trip. That said, I do believe attending the conference in the US  is something every enterprise agile coach in Australia should do sometime in their life – the experience is definitely worth it.
  • I had for a while thought that with the US crossing the chasm before Australia that the level of knowledge, expertise and experience would be significantly noticeable. The reality was it was very similar. Partly this could be because 40% of participants are new to the conference, but for the most part the problems and potential solutions we are dealing with in Australia is very similar to the US. In some ways it is reassuring that the divide is not so significant.
  • Some of the key themes coming out of the conference include:
    1) lots on scaling. It seemed like every second person had their own scaling method. What I appreciate about this is that the creation of such frameworks and methods suggests we still have problems that need solving so I don’t expect to see this explosion of frameworks slowing down. That said, the attempt to make money through certifications is a concern for me. I am supportive of open source frameworks, but the personal expense of having to be certified in so many methods is ridiculous.
    2) lots on collaborative learning – there are many people other than myself experimenting with different approaches to a few days of training in order to get better outcomes for organisations.
    3) lots on improv – safe, quick games to get learning outcomes of value
    4) lots on leadership and enterprise agility (as you would expect) with quite a few references to Fredrick Laloux’s work on reinventing organisations
  • I liked the longer sessions at the US conference but think the split would be better if it was 60 mins for a talk and 90 mins for an interactive session. I did really enjoy the number of interactive sessions, but on the downside, I went to a few where the learnings coming out of them were inhibited by the low knowledge and capability level of people at the table I was sitting at. I feel if you go to a session with someone who is an expert in that domain it would be worthwhile to actually hear what their solutions are to problem rather than hearing guesses of potential solutions from participants.
  • I was surprised by the number of organisations in the US doing Agile ‘in the dark’. Their committment to growing an Agile organisation was to send it’s people to the conference (which don’t get me wrong, is great), but that is where it stopped. They wouldn’t pay for coaches, nor even pay for training, so basically it is like doing Agile when blind. I’m not saying this won’t work, however I believe that it will take longer and the road will be much bumpier. If they make these choices knowingly then so be it (but I suspect they don’t understand the impact and risk of their decisions).
  • I understand there was a coach open space on the weekend before. I would have preferred a 4 day conference with the fifth day for coach open space.
  • I am not quite sure about the 13 streams in a row format – sessions seemed to be very unbalanced with a handful of people to full. I can appreciate that sizing rooms in advance is tricky if not impossible. I guess it gave enough flexibility to have a few choices in case your first preference was full or didn’t meet what you were looking for. Part of the problem was with sessions being so long it often took quite a  while to see if the session was going where you would hope it would. Maybe my lesson learnt out of this is to do some pre-reading of the presentations beforehand and picking from a shortlist of three based on that.

So if you attended Agile 2015 and feel like I have missed the point or you simply want to comment then feel free to reply in the comments below.


The world of Agile training and mentoring is intriguing me at the moment.  This is how most of us have done it in large organisations for a long while –

  • We build in powerpoint or prezi these gorgeous training decks and train up people new to Agile
  • We outsource our training to groups who do the same as the above
  • We build intranets, wikis or documents worth of content on “how to do <insert Agile activity here>”
  • We teach the “Shu” rulebook without constantly re-enforcing the need to progress to “Ha”
  • We have embed games to re-enforce and experience learnings from training sessions
  • We mentor through SODOTO (See One, Do One, Teach One), but often never get to the TO bit

We talk a lot about innovation and radicalizing the business and yet some of the training techniques we still use are from 1990s. How many Scrum Masters open up this content and use it? How many Scrum Masters experiment and adapt how they work? How transparent, engaging and interactive is this content? Playing games and implementing SODOTO is a great start to interactivity and real-time knowledge sharing, but can we do more?

Recently I have had an awesome opportunity at Charter Hall innovate, experiment and enhance the experience of learning differently. Rather than build decks I have spent many hours building an interactive wall to people new to Agile. It is more an experience than a training session. It is one massive wall that flows a conversation about Agile quite naturally before the tour moves further into the working space.

The “basics” tour has the following elements:

  1. The background of Agile
  2. The Agile Values
  3. The Agile Principles
  4. The Agile Process
  5. The Agile Roles
  6. The Portfolio Wall
  7. The Pipeline Activities Wall
  8. One of the Project Walls

The principles behind the learning wall are quite simple:

  • Create a natural flowing experience
  • Introduce concepts with visual drawings to enable better retention
  • Make the process introduction really simple, bare bones, but…
  • Have the ability to drill through into detail without it overloading the audience. This would help when having more detailed role training.
  • Make everything transparent, no content is hidden in a tool
  • Break up content so that as things change it is a simple matter of changing one small picture

Now before I show you the pictures of what I have created I do want to highlight some intended future changes:

  • Extend the values section to include the Scrum values and the company values
  • Make pictures for the Agile Principles
  • Add in Lean Principles
  • Add in an “other section at the tail end”
  • Maybe add in a visual around all the different Agile methods, edgy and support methods
  • In addition to the wall I am also building a series of agenda cards – these are re-usable packs for Scrum Masters and coaches to use for workshops and key Agile activities (eg Iteration Planning, Retrospective, etc). These cards have some spares so that facilitators can adapt away from the standard set of agenda ideas. On the back of the cards are tips of the purpose of agenda activity and how it could be facilitated.
    What does this mean for a new facilitator? Well they have the clear activities they need to do with how to do it without having to open up a tool (which they don’t ever do), but most importantly this is real time – exactly when they need it. It also provides great clarity to everyone else in the room around what is happening and what still needs to happen when it is utilised as a backlog against a simple wall of “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done”.

Anyway, now for the pictures of the Learning Wall (it runs right to left due to the entrance point, but normally I would have preferred a left to right run). Taken from the right:



Taken from the left:


The Agile Values (some references taken from Rally’s awesome values picture):


The Agile Principles:


The Agile Process (note this is naturally a very specific organisational tailoring, I am by no means saying this is the one and only process for Agile). Specifically, this is the bare bones view. The number of iterations is just for an example.


And now the interactive version (note how the interaction points line up with the number of iterations).


With a detailed closeup on the iteration portion:


A high level overview of the Agile Roles. The three key Scrum Roles are here – Scrum Master, Product Owner and the Team. In addition I have added in our organisational specific governance roles which includes a high level organisational wide steering group, a Business Scrum and the PMO. Again I would like to highlight that some changes have been made to normal roles to suit the specific culture and needs of the organisation.


Detail on the Scrum Master role (interactive side showing):


Detailed view on the Product Owner role (bare bones side):


Detailed view on the Product Owner role (interactive side):


Detailed view on the Team role (bare bones side):


The Business Scrum role:


The Steering Group role:


The PMO role:


And that is the Agile Learning Wall! Please feel free to comment on any thoughts and suggestions to enhance the route of complete transparency and no tools that I am on.

I would like to thank both Nicki Doble and James Doust from Charter Hall who gave their support for my experimentation and for their willingness to expose to the world what we are doing.