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Agile Leadership Assessment Questionnaire

A few weeks ago, I wrote about The Nine Dimensions of Agile Leadership. As a follow up to that post, I came up with a preliminary Agile Leadership Assessment Questionnaire. Without being scientific and statistically representative, this assessment highlights the strengths (and weaknesses) of the leadership supporting the agile initiatives.

Simply download the questionnaire and select your answers (column D) to each question. The second tab of the spreadsheet presents a graphical representation of the results (as shown below).

You can download and try the Agile Leadership Assessment Questionnaire for your projects. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.

Share your thoughts with me on this tool.

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Getting Started – Reference Material for Managers Who Wish to Understand Agile and Scrum

Image by DarlingSnailFor those of us who have been working with Agile for a while, the values, the principles, the approach, the methods and the practices are almost second nature but for those who start to enter the Agile world, the ramp up can be challenging – especially if you are looking at all of this from a management position.

After being asked by a few people “Where can I start if I would like to know more about Agile?”, I decided to put together this short list of reference material. There is also a good discussion happening on LinkedIn.

I am missing anything? Is there material you would recommend to managers?

What is Agile?

Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

The term was coined in the year 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was formulated.

Agile methods generally promote a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals. (Agile software development – Wikipedia)

“Agile Development” is an umbrella term for several iterative and incremental software development methodologies. The most popular agile methodologies include Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Lean Development, and Feature-Driven Development (FDD).

While each of the agile methods is unique in its specific approach, they all share a common vision and core values (see the Agile Manifesto). They all fundamentally incorporate iteration and the continuous feedback that it provides to successively refine and deliver a software system. They all involve continuous planning, continuous testing, continuous integration, and other forms of continuous evolution of both the project and the software. They are all lightweight (especially compared to traditional waterfall-style processes), and inherently adaptable. As important, they all focus on empowering people to collaborate and make decisions together quickly and effectively. (Agile 101: What is Agile Development? | VersionOne)

Just what is agile software development? In 2001, a group of methodologists got together to agree on a common set of guiding principles around effective software development. Rather than summarize their agreements here, I’ll point you to their “agile manifesto”.

From a pure definition standpoint, agile is a conceptual framework generally centered on iterative and incremental delivery of working software, driven by the customer. The iterative part suggests that we are repeating, or iterating, a complete lifecycle of development over a short, fixed span of time. With each of these iterations, we ship some working subset, or increment, of features. (A Brief Introduction to Agile — Developer.com)

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile approach to software development. Rather than a full process or methodology, it is a framework. So instead of providing complete, detailed descriptions of how everything is to be done on the project, much is left up to the team. This is done because the team will know best how to solve its problem. (Introduction to Scrum – An Agile Process)

Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for project management and agile software development. Although the word is not an acronym, some companies implementing the process have been known to spell it with capital letters as SCRUM. This may be due to one of Ken Schwaber’s early papers, which capitalized SCRUM in the title.

Although Scrum was intended for management of software development projects, it can be used to run software maintenance teams, or as a general project/program management approach. (Scrum (development) – Wikipedia)

Scrum is an agile framework for completing complex projects. Scrum originally was formalized for software development projects, but works well for any complex, innovative scope of work. The possibilities are endless. (Scrum Alliance -What Is Scrum?)

The Scrum Roles

Scrum has three roles: Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and Team. (Scrum Alliance -Scrum Roles)

Tips for an Agile Transition

Perhaps, but not necessarily. Pilot projects are commonly done for two reasons: To see if something will work or to learn how to make it work. By now, enough other companies—very likely including some of your competitors—are using agile approaches like Scrum that there is no longer any question of if it works. The real question most organizations face is how to make agile or Scrum work for them. One or more pilot projects can be very helpful in providing those answers. (Transitioning to Agile)

Organizational Impact of an Agile Transition

When development teams adopt agile practices, product management is often caught off guard by the amount of work added to their already overflowing plate. Agile calls for new product management skills and traditional staffing models do not typically accommodate the new product owner role. Given that most product managers are already overworked, how can they manage these new activities to derive more value from software projects and products? (InfoQ: How Product Management Must Change to Enable the Agile Enterprise)

Agile methodologies are helping software organizations stay competitive by delivering products more frequently and with significantly higher quality. Making the switch to agile development also challenges traditional notions of project management, introducing new ways of managing time, cost and scope. Learn how to successfully manage agile projects with the resources below. (Agile White Paper: The Agile Project Manager | VersionOne)

When an organization starts to explore Scrum, there’s often an uncomfortable moment early on when someone points out that the role of “manager” seems to be missing entirely. “Well I guess we’ll have to just get rid of ‘em all!” wisecracks one of the developers, and all the managers in the room shift uncomfortably in their seats. (Scrum Alliance -Manager 2.0: The Role of the Manager in Scrum)

About Agile Coaching

Agile methodologies introduce a newer role, typically called the “Agile Coach” that traditional methodologies will not focus on, or even mention. For those who have been working in an agile way for some time, it may seem like a natural complement, yet for those newer to this way of working it raises many questions like, “What’s so important about an Agile Coach: What’s wrong with a Line Manager, or a Team or Technical Lead: Why does Monster.com list 54 positions with this title:” (InfoQ: The Agile Coach, from A to Z)

Market Trends

Gartner’s analysts (Thomas Murphy and David Norton) predict that by 2012 “agile development methods will be utilized in 80% of all software development projects”. The authors explain that although Scrum will continue gaining in popularity over the coming years, organizations will not be successful in their transition unless they move toward a team-focused culture (Gartner Predicts 2010: Agile and Cloud Impact Application Development Directions | Analytical-Mind)

In their recently released study “Agile Development: Mainstream Adoption Has Changed Agility“, Forrester reports that “35% of respondents stated that Agile most closely reflects their development process”. The report is based on Forrester’s/Dr. Dobbs Global Developer Technographics Survey, Q3, 2009, which surveyed 1298 application development professionals. (Forrester Reports “Agile Development: Mainstream Adoption Has Changed Agility” | Analytical-Mind)

Recommended Blogs

Recommended Books

Agile Transition – What about the teams outside the transition?

Picture by ehpienIn a large scale transition similar to the one we have undertaken a few months ago, it is difficult (and maybe impossible) to transition all the teams / departments at once. Similar to the prioritization of the product backlog, we have selected a handful of projects to launch immediately. Unfortunately, this means that many (many more) projects will not begin their transition for a while since the organization we work with has decided that coaches are required to help them succeed.

As such, we have decided to implement a strategy for those “out of transition” teams. Below is the approach we selected in order to make the transition successful without negatively impacting the performance (and the workload) of those directly involved in the transition. Based on our experience, we felt it was important to have a strategy (albeit minimal) to support other projects to be implemented using an Agile approach.

The reasons why it is important to have a strategy for those “out of transition” projects are as follows:

  • To maintain a unifying vision of what we are trying to accomplish with Agile;
  • To maximize our efforts in the development and selection of tools supporting Agile;
  • Not to ‘abandon’ the projects that were not deemed highest priority;
  • For other projects to be executed successfully in an Agile mode even if they are not part of the intial selection.

Therefore, we suggested having a reduced service catalog for the “out of transition” projects. Examples of services that can be offered are:

  • Training courses offered to the selected projects could also be attended by “out of transition” participants;
  • A simple audit of the “out of transition” projects’ practices and high level recommendations for improvement;
  • Limited support;
  • Access to the corporate wiki for information, knowledge sharing and best practices.

So far, the recommendation has been well received by the “out of transition” projects. In the months to come, we will be able to determine if we made the right decision.

The Nine Dimensions of Agile Leadership (revisited and improved)

Following an earlier post on this topic and based on the increasing popularity of Agile Leadership, I have revisited my previous model with the experience we are gaining with the transitioning a large Canadian financial institution. Although the transition is still underway, our increasing experience is allowing us to improve the model.

The fundamental objective of this model remains to increase return on investment (ROI) and employee satisfaction / motivation within the project teams while applying the 4 Agile values and 12 underlying principles.


LEADERSHIP

Leadership is stated as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task” – Wikipedia.

Objectives setting and performance management

Goal setting involves establishing specific, measurable and time-targeted objectives – Wikipedia.

Performance management includes activities to ensure that goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Using a clearly defined vision, identifying and communicating clear objectives so that people know what to do;
  • Aligning the goals of the team members amongst themselves and with the focus on delivering business value to the organization;
  • Providing frequent feedback to employees so they can adapt their performance accordingly;
  • Evaluating the performance level of the project team, in addition to individual performance.

Management and leadership style

Management in all business areas and organizational activities are the acts of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives – Wikipedia.

Leadership style refers to a leader’s behaviour. It is the result of the philosophy, personality and experience of the leader – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Switching from a traditional “command and control” to a “servant leadership” style;
  • Abandoning an autocratic and prescriptive style to make room for autonomy and emergence;
  • Allowing space for teams to become autonomous;
  • Adopting a situational leadership style based on the maturity level of the team;
  • Evaluating the end results rather than the means used to implement the plan;
  • Assisting the team in addressing its needs;
  • Providing the necessary support to develop individuals;
  • Giving people the right to make mistakes;
  • Facilitating collaboration.

ENVIRONMENT

Surroundings are the area around a given physical or geographical point or place – Wikipedia.

Work environment and organizational culture

Organizational culture is an idea in the field of Organizational studies and management which describes the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Establishing a favorable work environment to support the success of an Agile project;
  • Providing open and collaborative spaces;
  • Providing simple tools such as whiteboards;
  • Reserving small enclosed meeting rooms;
  • Using furniture that can easily be moved;
  • Providing hardware and software that reduces the costs and initial delays to start-up projects.

PROJECT TEAM

A project team is a team whose members usually belong to different groups, functions and are assigned to activities for the same project – Wikipedia.

Autonomy and accountability

Autonomy is a concept found in moral, political, and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it refers to the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision – Wikipedia.

Accountability is a concept in ethics and governance with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as responsibility,answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Giving authority to the team to allow it to do its job properly;
  • Transferring the authority and responsibility to the team:
    • The way to do things and organize work (the HOW?)
    • On the allocation of tasks and ideally on the composition of the team (the WHO?)
    • On the estimation of effort required to complete tasks (the HOW MUCH?)
    • It can even be the place (the WHERE?) and the work hours (the WHEN?)
  • Avoiding interference and micro-management;
  • Giving autonomy to individuals to make them accountable;
  • Creating teams of reasonable size to facilitate collaboration and communication;
  • Letting people who are closest to the action make the final decisions;
  • Providing the necessary support when the team requests it.

Collaboration and teamwork

Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals – Wikipedia.

Teamwork is work performed by a team – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Promoting collaboration and teamwork;
  • Maintaining a climate of trust and respect within the team;
  • Developing the concept of compromise;
  • Taking a position of cooperation and negotiation rather than honoring contracts;
  • Encouraging discussion and debate of ideas in order to bring out the best decisions.

Communication and knowledge sharing

Communication is a process of transferring information from one entity to another – Wikipedia.

Knowledge sharing is an activity through which knowledge (i.e. information, skills, or expertise) is exchanged among people, friends, or members of a family, a community or an organization – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Encouraging the use of face-to-face communication;
  • Providing opportunities for people to share information and knowledge;
  • Establishing communities of practice to promote the exchange of knowledge;
  • Making relevant information visible to all participants.

Skills and Professional Development

A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both – Wikipedia.

Professional development refers to skills and knowledge attained for both personal development and career advancement – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Ensuring that participants have the skills required to successfully execute their tasks;
  • Promoting training and development when the skills are not adequate.

Continuous improvement and organizational learning

Continuous Improvement Process is an ongoing effort to improve products, services or processes. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once – Wikipedia.

Organizational learning is an area of knowledge within organizational theory that studies models and theories about the way an organization learns and adapts – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Allowing the team to question frequently its good (and bad) actions in order to improve;
  • Not systematically penalizing failures;
  • Addressing recurrent problems;
  • Documenting and make visible the organizational barriers;
  • Reviewing the best practices to adapt to changing realities.

Processes and Tools

Process or processing typically describes the act of taking something through an established and usually routine set of procedures to convert it from one form to another, as a manufacturing or administrative procedure, such as processing milk into cheese, or processing paperwork to grant a mortgage loan, or converting computer data from one form to another – Wikipedia.

A tool is a device that is necessary to, or expedites, a task – Wikipedia.

This dimension of the model focuses on:

  • Letting the best processes and tools emerging from the team members;
  • Allowing the team to choose its tools and adapting its processes to maximize performance;
  • Disseminating best practices to other groups;
  • Ensuring that the team has set its own rules of operation.

I am building and using this framework to help dissect the key components of Agile Leadership in order to help explain it to people managers and team members. Based on your experience, are there any dimensions missing?

The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Picture by topshampattiIf you work in an Agile environment or better yet, if you manage people who have embraced the Agile principles, you have certainly bought into the concept of self-organized teams. The underlying assumptions are that:

  • People are more motivated when they are self-organized;
  • People take their own commitments more seriously than the commitments made by others on their behalf;
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted;
  • Teams improve when they can settle their own issues;
  • Changes in the composition of the team affect the productivity of the team members;
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way to share information.

Needless to say, management hasn’t changed much in a hundred years with its need to control and its chief tools remain extrinsic motivators.

Taylor believed that work consisted mainly of simple, not particularly interesting tasks and that the only way to get people to work on them was to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully. Later on, Maslow developed the field of humanistic psychology in the 1960s (which questioned the idea that human behavior was purely ratlike seeking positive stimuli and avoiding negative stimuli) and McGregor challenged the assumption that humans are fundamentally inert (in the absence of external rewards and punishments, we wouldn’t do much).

In his most recent book (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Usaudiobook format), Daniel Pink presents many factoids taken from scientific researches to demonstrate how people can (and can’t) be motivated. Although the author brings a scientific perspective to people motivation, the book is easy to read in addition to being entertaining.

Scientists then knew that two main drivers powered behavior. The first was the biological drive (comes from within) and the second comes from without – the rewards and punishments the environment delivered for behaving in certain ways [...] The third drive – performance of a task provides intrinsic reward. The joy of the task is its own reward.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

In his book, Pink states that human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another.

Autonomy

The opposite of autonomy is control. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.

Pink’s book provides valuable scientific explanations to the concept of self-organised teams. He presents the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) concept and the Self Determination Theory (SDT) to demonstrate the relationship between autonomy and well-being. He goes further to associate autonomy with higher productivity, less burnout, and greater level of psychological well-being. More closely related to software development, the author presents the level of authority given to employees at software giant Atlassian where people decide: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and whom they do it with.

Mastery

The desire for intellectual challenge (the urge to master something new and engaging) was the best predictor of productivity.

Daniel Pink explains that people are motivated by self-development and learning of new skills or developing existing abilities. The actual challenge of mastering a discipline is often a better motivator than money can be (assuming a minimal level of income). Similar to children who easily get motivated with playing – which is a way for them to learn and master a skill – managers can leverage that ability to motivate individuals.

As such, human beings are said to have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges to extend and exercise their capacities to explore and learn – which are in themselves powerful motivators.

Purpose

The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.

The author points out that many psychologists and economists have found that the correlation between money and hapiness is weak – that is past a certain level, a larger pile of cash doesn’t bring people a higher level of satisfaction. As such, contrary to traditional motivational techniques, money does not increase happiness and performance – some research have actually demonstrated the opposite effect! It is possible to keep people highly motivated without constantly leveraging money as a motivator.

Human motivation seemed to operate by laws that run counter to what most scientists and citizens believe. When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for that activity. Rewards can deliver a short term boost but the effect wears off and worse can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.

In direct contravention to the core of tenets of motivation 2.0, an incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ends up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why? Rewards, by their very nature narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster but “if then” motivators are terrible for challenges. The rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.

Carrots and Sticks – The Seven Deadly Flaws

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. The can diminish performance
  3. The can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  6. The can become addictive
  7. The can foster short-term thinking.

The relation to software development

Algorithmic tasks are tasks in which an individual follows a set of established instructions down in a single pathway to one conclusion. That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.

A heuristic task is the opposite precisely because no algorithm exists for it, individuals have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. Software development is a heuristic task.

During the twentieth century, most work was algorithmic but as McKinsey & Co. estimated that in the United States, only 30 percent of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70 percent comes from heuristic work.

Researchers have found that external rewards and punishments – both carrots and sticks – can work nicely for algorithmic tasks but they can be devastating for heuristic ones.

Conclusion

If you need scientific explanation and useful examples to explain to people around you why a self-organized (autonomous) team with team members who are striving to develop their skills in an attempt to reach a common purpose is possibly the most impactful motivator, you may want to read this book.

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