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My Agile 2013 Experience - Day 4 of 6

Em Campbell-Pretty
Aug 22, 2013


When NOT to Have All the Answers: Stop Giving Advice and Start Asking Questions +Judith Mills  and +Christopher Avery

Judith started by telling us about her addiction to giving advice and her realisation:
"If I was going to be successful I couldn't be the expert I had to change the culture. Changing the culture isn't about imparting knowledge, its finding a way to tap into teams, have them take responsibility" and she immediately had my attention.
Agile experience day 4

Together with Christopher, Judith walked us through the responsibility process and how we respond to problems; moving from blame, to justify, to shame, to obligation. This is how we have been conditioned. If you are not familiar with the responsibility process, which I must admit I wasn't, here is the link to a one hour video overview.

The main premise of Judith's presentation was that questions empower. When you ask questions you are engaging someone, asking them to be creative, and honouring their intellect. When you give advice you take choice away from your teams so they don't feel responsibility.  Technical people are used to being the smartest people in the room, they can be a little socially awkward and not wanting to draw attention to themselves or ask questions. Christopher says,  "We need to create the culture where we are able to be vulnerable". This of course struck a cord with me given my last blog post before Agile 2013 was about "Leading Through Vulnerability".

"The cool thing about responsibility is you can't make anyone take it, all you can do is offer it and allow it" - Christopher Avery

In closing Christopher recommended reading. "Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter" by Liz Wiseman.
Scketchnotes by +Michele Ide-Smith 

Hiring (or Growing) the Right Agile Coach +Lyssa Adkins and +Michael Spayd

Lyssa and Michael's session focused on the Agile Coaching Competency Framework and how it can be used as a tool for self development, developing others or even deciding what sort of coach you need and assessing the competencies of potential coaches.

Lyssa showed a handful of videos of coaches she had worked with talking about how they had used the Agile Coaching Competency Framework which can be found here. I have posted my favourite of these by +Erin Beierwaltes below.

Enterprise Agility - A Practical De-Mystification  - Hendrik Esser, +Jean Tabaka and +Esther Derby

Hendrik, Jean and Esther's presentation was very different to the other sessions I attended. The three of them perched on stools at the front of the room, having a conversation, reminded me of a fishbowl (without the extra chair for someone else to join the conversation). They undertook to provide the audience with three perspectives on achieving Enterprise Agility. Given the presentation used a more conversational style, my notes are reflective of this and hopefully I have attributed the comments to the right speakers!

Jean Tabaka's recommended reading list for Enterprise Agility
Jean Tabaka's recommended reading list for Enterprise Agility

The first topic, Flow, was introduced by Jean Tabaka. Jean said, "I don't think agile is sufficient on its own to deliver value to the customer,... I don't think executives should be talking about story points or velocity,... Good executives pay attention to "intraprenuers". "The flow of value Agile" is the best way to learn quickly. We have to take a long view of the flow of value, start earlier than the team and look beyond effective deployment to the hands of the customer. In value stream flow we watch: customer, cadence, capacity, clogs, cost and collaboration.

Collaboration across all different parties is essential. You are not going to be enterprise level agile unless you are collaborating with upstream and downstream process.   Collaboration doesn't happen on its own, you have to help it. For Enterprise Agility we need to move from a language of cross functional to cross departmental.  Hendrik Esser commented that "you need to look at the whole product life cycle" and Esther Derby noted, "The way accounting works and the way people are rewarded is keeping things the way it is".   Esther also mentioned that the Agile Alliance is sponsoring an initiative to look at an agile accounting approach.

Hendrik covered the second topic, Collaboration and Decision Making.  Collaboration is about abandoning contract thinking between different parts of one enterprise. Esther echoed this, commenting that "We need to adjust our plans so we can satisfy our customer rather than "you missed the date you won't get your bonus". We need to visualise uncertainty if we want to embrace change for example provide a range of possibly delivery dates rather than specific milestone date. Jean gave the analogy of Neo choosing between the red pill and the blue pill in The Matrix.  "People willing to embrace a sense of uncertainty are taking the red pill". Enterprise agility requires us to have a new way of measuring success and failure, different metrics other than points and velocity. In Jean's view, the only useful metric is one the team asks for to help itself understand how it's doing.  Esther pointed out that this holds true not only for development teams. Hendrik added at Ericsson "We measure our performance not our people".

The third topic was Eco-system, lead by Esther. If you keep replacing the individuals and get the same results it is a clear indication there is a system problem. Trying to "idiot proof" through policy or procedure almost guarantees you will get "idiotic behaviour". "I find job descriptions often get in the way of people collaborating", said Esther. We have a legacy of thinking of organisations as machines. This is not the type of ecosystem that enables flow, adaptability and responding to change. Trust begets transparency and transparency begets trust. Without this, decision making and flow breaks down. Trust is contextual not binary, and to get trust at an ecosystem level you have to give trust. What people don't know they fill in with their own fears.

The subject of building trust, brought some of +Brene Brown's material from Daring Greatly to mind for Jean: "If you have shame and blame there is no possibility of innovation We are asking individuals to be vulnerable, to enable this the organisation needs to extend its vulnerability". Esther closed out this section with the following messages: "You need to start where you are. Trust grows incrementally. Once you start seeing systems, blame goes away. It's very powerful!"

KEYNOTE: Forty Years of Trying To Play Well With Others - Tim Lister

Tim's keynote was a journey through his 40 year career as told through nine stories. This one of the handful of sessions that were videoed and posted on the Agile Alliance website. So rather than try to summarise it, here is the link.

Music City Concert Tour

Music city concert tourI know you are thinking, wow, she made it to Nashville and saw some live music, sorry to disappoint but the Music City Concert Tour was the name of the conference event, held in the exhibit hall, Wednesday evening. While I didn't see or hear any country music stars, I did get a free flashing guitar pin - which made brilliant "gifts" for my leadership team when I got home.

As with all the conference social events, it was another great opportunity to meet people, such as Hendrik Esser, and catch up with people I had met in Boulder earlier this year, including +Ronica Roth+Drew Jemilo and +Jennifer Fawcett

After grabbing some dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, I headed to a gathering hosted by the guys from Leading Agile+Dennis Stevens and +Mike Cottmeyer, where I scored a great (free) t-shirt. Thanks guys!

Read the next blog post in this series: My Agile 2013 Experience - Day 5 of 6

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