the mindset makes it

One of the most riveting Agile reads I have been engrossed in recently is

“The Agile Mindset” by Gil Broza.

Wanting to make the most of my time invested (with a great return by the way) and to increase the chance of making it stick, I decided to tweet something from each chapter as an impulse for my own future thinking and behaviour.

Included in this blog post are some of my favourites and by reviewing my twitter feed and including them here provides another opportunity to increase the return on time invested!

establishing the Agile mindset

What I see as the biggest challenge to a successful transformation to an Agile way of working is shift from a “do Agile” to “be Agile” thinking. So often I hear comments like “sure, we have started using agile methods” without any sign that people have changed their way of actually thinking about their work.

One way to achieve this is actually to start to apply different approaches to how you get things done in your private life. For example I threw out my previous plan creation when it comes to taking a holiday. We tour a lot moving from one location to another in a given holiday period. Now each tour is not fully formulated at the beginning of the trip, it emerges gradually as we discover new places and decide at the right time how much time to invest there.

practicing the Agile mindset

One significant reason I am so passionate about an Agile way of working is, when done properly, Agile puts people first. It creates an environment in which everyone is enabled to bring their personality, strengths and skills into play. This places a lot of responsibility on the team to make sure everyone is given the opportunity to join in. A team can greatly benefit when one team member takes a neutral stance in each team interaction to ensure this is achieved.

An Agile way of working is far from uncoordinated and adhoc. It introduces a disciplined, goal oriented approach that applies specific proven principles to getting valuable work done. All this needs to happen in an enviromment in which people feel free to experiment and discover new options.

improving through an Agile mindset

If we can get to the point in which we are all interacting openly, enabled through surrounding leadership styles that focus on improvement and not blame, then we have achieved a lot. Getting there is far from easy based on previous ingrained cultures and behaviors. It is a must to pursue however, as without it Agility can not grow.

Our interactions are regularly focused in an Agile environment – focused on what we have achieved, and focused on how we achieved it. These reflection moments are critical and generate the opportunities for us to consciously make our progress transparent, inspect where we are right now, and determine appropriate adaptations for the near future.

Interactions: “Review and Retro as deliberate pauses from development – creative slack time to focus on improving” #agilemindset @gilbroza

partnerships with an Agile mindset

A great benefit of Agility is the importance of common goal creation. So often this step is missed and all parties have no clear direction in which they can jointly move towards. Determine what is valuable from all viewpoints in your product development and work towards creating this value in everything you do.

Agility is about breaking down silos, creating useful relationships and partnerships. So often I still see protectionism in place, and observe behaviors that aim to benefit one side over the other. We need to think holistically about our customer engagements and consider them as growing partnerships with give and take on both sides.

Agile customer collaboration? “a spirit of partnership, not of vendor-buyer or winner-loser” @gilbroza #agilemindset

teaming with an Agile mindset

When the team does not achieve what they set out as the goal then no one has been successful. We look at the world through multiple windows, two of which are “I” and “we”. I need to be looking through the “we” window for most of the time in order to achieve common team goals, and not be distracted by what I see when I only look though my “I” window.

As a team our focus is on collaboration in order to get the right things done. We recognize that our work is complex, and complexity is best dealt with via multiple perspectives. We need to develop ideas of how we can achieve a goal, at the same time as being prepared to adjust these as needed. We work in pre-determined timeboxes, so we are sure that we bring regular reflection moments on what and how we are doing. This reduces the risk of investing too much time on one thing and potentially drifting in the wrong direction.

Planning “effective and collaborative, realistic commits, evolve complexity don’t plan 4 it, timeboxes 2 constrain” #agilemindset @gilbroza

developing a product with an Agile mindset

Agile was born in a software development context, and most of my work continues to be in this realm. This realm is complex and people’s behaviors, stakeholder needs and applied technology can not be predetermined. This increases the need for short feedback loops to accelerate our ability to learn. These learnings can then be applied to iteratively and incrementally bring us closer to our joint goals.

When developing software it is essential that this is done in a manner that focuses on quality. One way of maintaining this level of quality is to ensure that the result of our work requires a minimum of interpretation. Making code understandable, and making code easily adaptable is key. It is very likely that a particular part of the code will be re-visited on multiple occasions as part of a product development. The metaphor of leaving the campsite a little bit tidier than you found it is a good reminder here.

“Code is for People: traditional dev optimizes for writing code, while Agile optimizes for reading and changing it” #agilemindset @gilbroza

creating value and quality with an Agile mindset

One of the most neglected parts, primarily as it is one of the toughest to grasp, is the application of a value driven approach to product development. Customer value is our ultimate aim, as this then leads to business value for ourselves. Don’t let business value limit itself to just the current financial view. What about team satisfaction and the ability for the team to learn as important aspects of business value? Establishing these will increase the likelihood of the future financial success we are seeking.

Quality code is a Development Team responsibility. A Development Team also aims to achieve a certain amount of work in a given time period. Often I see a rush to get the work done to the detriment of the quality of the work. This is a behavior deeply entrenched from our pre-Agile way of working. Just remember having something done quickly might satisfy someone today, having something done with quality will continue to please well into the future.

Thanks again to @gilbroza for his inspiring and educational book.

discovering agile

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Sharing our experiences nurtures our learning

Having benefited greatly from exchanges with other Agilists since my first steps into the agile community in 2013 gives me the incentive for this blog article. That incentive is simply to give something back.

I hope through sharing some of my own experiences, gathered during the early stages of truly “discovering Agile”, and in particular Scrum, that others may also benefit. There is certainly a win-win in here too though. It is pretty much guaranteed that this opportunity for reflection will be an invaluable personal retrospective. One which provides insights and ideas to support the next stage of the journey.

Previous experience – does it help or hinder?

Previous methods and project experiences may well hinder at first if, like me, you have a longer traditional project management background. It has become clearer that no model can be a perfect fit, but some can be useful if applied appropriately. Gain an understanding of what works best for your own team and business context and keep the process as light weight as possible. Lose any obsession for perfection and rather perfect your path as you go – practice perfects, it doesn’t make perfect. Fail fast, learn fast. Experiment, fail, learn and then repeat. Go from lessons learned to lessons learning.

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I gained a lot from reading Lyssa Adkins’ “Coaching Agile Teams” and regularly use it as a reference book for coaching engagements. The term “project managers in transition” really hit home and reinforced the need to take things one step at a time – learning in increments in an iterative fashion. Lose the misconception that having a plan removes uncertainty – uncertainty will always remain. The plan just gives a false sense of security. Don’t stop re-planning, but make sure you do not rely solely on “The Plan”.

Acknowledge the value in what you have already learned in earlier challenges and periods in your career, but don’t let it impede you. Over preparing will stifle your creativity. Sticking to a pre-baked agenda can cause you to miss some great inspect and adapt opportunities. Move from pre-defined polished slides to emerging sketches. Let pictures and stories help build a common understanding and take the conversation from there. Help the team decide where your product development needs to go next and find a flow that everyone can swim with.

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Be active in your networks.

Agility promotes face to face interaction as the most effective form of communication. The local networks that have become more important for me in the past two years include those developed with agile colleagues and coaches, local after work Scrum get togethers and communities like Scrum.org. Business networks like LinkedIn and Xing have always been a focus. This focus has now extended to other platforms like google+, twitter or this very blog you are reading now. The opportunity to work with trainers within Scrum.org has added a great new dimension to learning and sharing.

Collaboration within team communities is central to the agile way of working. The whole team when fully collaborating will always be greater than the sum of the individuals. It does not mean working in total harmony though. Seek constructive disagreement – a condition in which differing ideas and opinions can be freely exchanged in an environment in which everyone feels free to challenge and be challenged.

Grasp every opportunity to learn from those who have progressed along the path before you. Be humble and accept guidance when it is offered and stay close when you discover networks that strongly resonate with your own thinking. Always be tuned into the advice you receive from others, even if it is not immediately actionable for you. Look for support in all possible places. At some point soon you will be able to give something back too and enhance the collaboration further yourself.

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Climb “Knowledge Mountain” one step at a time.

There is a never ending treasure trove of knowledge to learn from out there. Focus on those parts that are right for you at the right moment in time. Some of the books that have helped and inspired me personally are listed on the page “sources for all things agile” in this blog. These split into three categories – ones that you can not put down until you are all the way through, others that remain as reference books always close at hand and others that provided targeted practical information at key points in time.

One of the cover to cover reads for me was the case with Mike Cohn’s “Succeeding with Agile”. Also look for books with practical approaches, that allow you to put the learning into practice the very same day. Jeff Patton’s “User Story Mapping” comes immediately to mind here. Find new ways to consolidate your learning – write book reviews or blog articles, draw visual sketches as a reminder of your reading (there are some great “children’s books” to show you how to draw!). Have the courage to test yourself by setting targets for your own learning. Here make sure you treat certificates as personal learning assessments to help you focus on your own individual goals and not as some kind of professional status.

Work out a broad learning goal for yourself, keep it in mind as you make decisions for your own personal development. Discover what motivates you and discard what doesn’t. Be prepared to adapt your path as your goal develops and becomes clearer to you.

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Lifelong learning in loops

Keep seeking new learning opportunities to invigorate your own desire for the transition and improve your chance of success on your agile journey. You know you have the right attitude when there is a desire for lifelong learning. Lifelong learning requires effort though. If you are doing what you love then this should come more easily. The important thing is to keep checking in with yourself to ask if you still have this right mindset in place, if not work on why and then adapt your path.

Think in learning loops. A personal favourite which I came up with to help me work through new, unknown situations is “Understand It, Practice It, Share It, Live It”. 

When I found myself in a flow it was because I was working in a situation of personal learning – stretching myself in a way that was positive. I had for example understood Scrum, had the opportunity to practice it and was now sharing the framework with others in a training session for the first time. I was in my own learning zone as I “Shared It” with others – extending myself in a positive way.

I could also better understand why I was not able to find a rhythm in other situations. These were occasions that either left me in my comfort zone and did not challenge me, or worse those that overstretched me into the panic zone. Either way the learning loop helped me understand what action was appropriate for me to get back to a positive flow thinking.

Ask yourself how you can apply a learning loop at any point in time to help you take the right next step. We are doing it everyday afterall when we work with the Scrum framework.

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“Discovering Agile” – a possible definition

There are multiple facets to consider – you personally, your team, your department, your company, and your marketplace. Think about your agile journey holistically from “me to market”. What do you need to work through in making that transition in your organisation? If the steps are tough at an individual level, then make sure that your scaling has a real chance of success by building teams with the right mindset to “discovering agile” from the beginning.

[ discovering agile ] – the desire for lifelong humble learning; the ability to inspect where you are and adapt continually; knowing what value means in your context; understanding how to create value; assessing your real progress based on value creation; continually measuring your progress and adapting to changing circumstances; the recognition that everyone brings value; ensuring that everyone is enabled to make their voice heard; being transparent at all times; using transparency to create an environment of trust, openness and honesty.

Last but not least make sure you live the Agile values, combine them with your own and most of all enjoy your own agile discovery!

time for reflection

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Reflections of the ferry in the harbour water at Lindau. The boat is recognisable but looks different from every angle and is constantly changing with the rippling surface. Context was also unusual – the day was very warm despite the November month, the blue sky reflected clearly in the water while the coloured highlights on the boat brighten the upper and lower decks.

Stopping to take in the view, considering how to frame the photograph, working the digital photo editing and finally deciding how to publish the image all required reflection time. This time, if not taken, would not have resulted in the existence of something new, something different, may I say something worthwhile.

It is with this “time for reflection” mindset, normally referred to as retrospective in an agile context, that improvements to the current process are enabled. Time is taken by the Scrum Team to determine what worked well in the last interation, what they should continue doing and what needs to stop. This is facilitated by the Scrum Master with the focus on process improvement in an environment that encourages open exchange of ideas and facts as perceived by the individual team members. Everyone is encouraged to participate fully and to provide feedback in a direct, although constructive manner.

You will also come across the idea of retrospective in a Kanban environment as additional time set aside to extend the effectiveness of the integral continuous improvement philosophy Kanban already brings. Why do an additional retrospective then you may ask? An additional timebox focused specifically on process improvement provides further discipline and brings the team together at the same time into a continuous improvement mindset. This has benefits as the whole team is then engaged in viewing the whole process at the same time.

I recently started using a personal kanban for managing my out of work backlog. Here the idea in my case as a “team of one” is to run an introspective each week on the activities completed to look for ways to improve productivity, effectiveness and efficiency when considering the completed tasks that have arrived at “done” in my personal kanban board.

progress – the story so far

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An infographic capturing the progress to date of my own product – this “photographic image inspired agile story telling blog”.

The tag cloud app on the iPad scans the page and creates an image of words.

Another infographic in a few months will show as a snapshot in time what progress has been made with this personal product of mine.

Similarly, in any Sprint operating within a Scrum development framework, it is vital to understand the progress being made with the product development against the goal for the iteration. Progress is assessed on a daily basis, against the Sprint Goal which is agreed between the Product Owner and Development Team during Sprint Planning at the start of each iteration.

As the iteration progresses, the plan is adjusted on a daily basis to ensure the team as a whole is aligned and understands what is needed to meet the Sprint Goal at all times. The plan is inspected on a daily basis by reviewing the Sprint Backlog to assess the progress towards the Sprint Goal. This continues throughout the iteration with the Development Team working closely with the Product Owner to adapt the Sprint Backlog to continually  meet the Sprint Goal.

The actual product or software Increment produced in any Sprint is reviewed at the end of iteration in the Sprint Review to understand what has actually been completed in the Sprint. Completed means that all work needed to meet the expectations of the Product Owner are “done” as specified in the Definition of Done including the acceptance criteria describing the functional aspects for each Product Backlog Item.

The Increment is inspected in the Sprint Review which provides an opportunity to gather feedback from the broader internal or external stakeholder community. Adaptation is then made to adjust to the overall Product Backlog which documents all the ambitions for the product in the future. The adjusted Product Backlog is adapted based on changed market or customer input, or simply to keep the product on track with product release plans or overall product vision.

new ways to cluster

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Shot in the local woods in autumn – a warm and wet period perfect for mushrooms to grow in fascinating new clusters everywhere. The photo was then run through topaz adjust for a lomo effect – see more on Flickr

In business it is also essential to enable an environment to allow teams to form and develop.

Look for new ways to organise, that promote communication.

Move away from rigid hierarchies, seek out new ways to cluster teams making sure all the skills necessary for the current and future tasks are available.

Look at the organisational hierarchy from different angles – this will open up new synergies between individuals and provide new ways of composing your teams.

help agility grow

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Playing around with a new f1.4 lens in corn fields somewhere near Heidelberg led to this shot.

The depth of field that the lens achieves is amazing with a very fine line of focused ears of corn and a sea of unfocused harvest in the background reaching as far as the horizon.

The fields were actually still quite young and a pale green shade.

Then, thanks to a touch of editing on an iPhone, the fields quickly grew to a mature golden yellow and the image became the new reality of the farmland scene.

Talking of growth, the question will always arise on management’s role in an agile transformation.

The answer is simple, while getting there is not.

It’s all about helping agile grow, and enabling an environment in which all agile teams can flourish.

That will mean amongst other things ensuring the values of commitment, trust, transparency and courage, to name just a few, are lived every single day.

Management’s role also extends to mentoring and coaching, and helping the team to help themselves.

This is certainly true for the role of scrum master, but also for senior management as they nurture and grow a truly agile company environment.

better than cup cakes

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Good ol’ fashion home baking back at my brother’s place, captured on the iPad, edited in Instagram, and shared via WordPress for iPad.

With tools like these for online work it makes the whole process a pleasure and the creative process feels more like playing entertaining games.

So how do you create that same feeling at work when the creativity of the team is key to success?

When looking for ways to keep up the motivation move from the typical extrinsic reward approach – the cup cake – to an approach that addresses the individual, intrinsic needs of your team.

This means knowing your team on a deeper level, understanding what makes them tick, understanding what part of the big picture you are jointly working towards they feel best about.

We spend so much time at work we need to make sure we offer everyone the chance to do what they love doing for as much of the time as possible.

That way motivation takes care of itself, as the work itself becomes the motivation.

sustainable pace

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A week on a boat around Brandenburg.

Life at 6km/h had it’s benefits as you watched life go by at a pace where the camera can catch it all.

It was a pace that took some adjusting to, but once you were there it allowed you to view things with a whole new perspective.

It felt like a pace that could be maintained indefinitely.

Creativity comes from a relaxed state of mind when thoughts are allowed to flow freely.

Think about the times and places when you have your best ideas.

It is not likely to be directly behind a desk.

It is also not likely to be towards the end of a ten hour day.

Finding a sustainable pace and then maintaining it is key to keeping creativity and motivation high.

The chances that your team creatively discovers solutions are higher if they are operating at a sustainable pace – a pace that can be continued indefinitely.

individuals with one goal

20130522-223042.jpgWordPress app on the iPad makes the spontaneous blog update a cinch. Digging up older shots and came across this one.

Guitar shop heaven with a camera in my hand. What more does a wannabe guitarist photographer need?

Like a set of musical instruments a team operates at its best when all players engage together to achieve a common goal.

That goal needs to be made visible and progress towards the goal needs to be constantly communicated.

The more a team is capable of interacting on each task they are engaged in, the greater the chance of success. Especially in an IT environment it is key to have individuals who can play generalist roles.

The generalist is capable of switching between different tasks and does not focus on one specific type of work.

A generalist developer is certain to have depth in some areas (T-shaped) – these areas are likely to be personal preferences based on previous focus on a specific technical role.

The success of the team though, depends on each individual’s ability to engage on all tasks, thereby increasing the flexibility of the team as a whole.

That way it is possible to ensure that the sum of the achievements of a team working together will always be greater than the sum of achievements for all individuals.

beyond the impediments

The 50mm f1.4 lens from Sigma, my first fixed focus DSLR lens, allows details in shots I had never achieved beforehand.

Sure, zooming with your feet gets some getting used to but once you are over that photo taking is an absolute enjoyment.

The focus here was on the barbed wire, with a meadow of poppies beyond it.

More f1.4 50mm shots on Flickr

As a Scrum Team develops and increases it’s self organisation it will encounter impediments on the way. These impediments will appear as the Development Team and Product Owners engage closely to develop valuable releasable software Increment within the cadence provided by each Sprint.

The Development Team and Product Owner must be given the opportunity to solve these issues themselves. Each issue is an opportunity to learn and to increase the team’s level of self organisation.

There will be times however, when the team is not able to solve issues without further support from outside the immediate Product Owner-Development Team combination. It is important that the team recognises this need themselves and seeks help. This needs to happen quickly so little time is wasted, time which can otherwise be focused on developing high quality software.

This is when the Scrum Master will engage closely with the team through facilitation or engaging with the broader organisation to resolve the impediment. The Scrum Master will do this in such a way that provides as much opportunity as possible for the Development Team to further it’s self organisation.

The Scrum Master needs to see each interaction with the Development Team as a chance for the team to learn. Through this learning the team will be able to stretch the boundaries within which they can self organisation and thereby become more and more self sufficient.