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Posts from the ‘Environment’ Category

Secret Revealed! Guaranteed Success for your Agile Transition

Picture by charchenSo you have initiated an Agile transition and have faced some resistance to change! Or maybe, you assessed your current level of Agile Maturity and are hoping to achieve the next level. Better yet, you and your team are planning to launch an Agile transition that is not driven by the wrong reasons.

That’s great!

If you haven’t already done so, you may want to read: Getting Started – Reference Material for Managers Who Wish to Understand Agile and Scrum and What consultants don’t tell you before you begin an agile transition.

Let’s cut the chase and get to the point. Are you ready? Here it is. The secret to a successful Agile Transition -> Make people look good!

Yes. That’s it. Surprised?

I’m not talking about psychological manipulation. I’m talking about finding what drives the people you are working with and the managers around them and then capitalize on their drivers in order to get them to get on board with the transition – and better yet become evangelist for your transition. Here are some examples:

  • Suzy is hoping to get promoted to Vice-president within her organization. She heads a business line from which you need support and a dedicated Product Owner. Why don’t you explain to Suzy how innovative her group would appear to others if she agreed to embark on the Agile initiative?
  • Peter is struggling to increase the performance of his group. So far, he hasn’t shown much interest in the transition but you found out that he has been under high pressure from his manager to increase the performance of his team. Why wouldn’t you show Peter how using an Agile approach could help get his manager off his back?
  • Monica is a project manager who has lost several key people in previous months. She is usually by-the-book (i.e. PMBoK) but during a recent lunch, she admitted that she would be willing to try something different if only it would help her retain the contributors she needs to make her project successful. Why don’t you take this opportunity to get the project manager on board with Agile by offering to help her?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking you to lie, to cheat or to fake the objectives and expected outcome. I’m telling you to get others on board and working WITH you by telling them the whole story and helping them understand that there is something in it for THEM too.

Agile relies heavily on communications and interactions. Why don’t you start with all the people directly and indirectly impacted by the transition? Sure, it will require more time in the short term to influence people into supporting you but in the long run, you will be glad you did it.

Go ahead. Try to figure out what drives people around you or what issues they are facing. Find a solution that can help them and you’ll end-up with a win-win scenario and a successful transition.

Clueless – 7 hints you’re probably not on the Agile track

Are you sure you want to be Agile?As an Agile coach and working for a consulting organization that specializes in Agile Software Development, I get to meet people who have decided to adopt or are thinking of adopting Agility within their organization.

I have to say, most people understand what an Agile transition means for them and their organization and are willing to make the changes required to make their transition a success.

And then, there are others who are most likely adopting Agile for the wrong reasons and as such, aren’t really interested or even aware of what it means for them.

I’ve put together a short list of 7 (real life!) conversations that made me wonder if common sense had left the building. Feel free to share your conversations…

Time estimates

  • Client: I don’t understand. Since we’ve adopted Agile, our developers consistently exceed the time estimates for their tasks.
  • Me: Interesting. Who provides the time estimates?
  • Client: The project manager…

Change Management

  • Client: We are really serious about implementing Agile within our organization.
  • Me: Great! You realize Agile is not a silver bullet that will magically eliminate all your issues?
  • Client: Of course, we are fully aware. We would like to start with a new project that is scheduled to start shortly.
  • Me: Good. Following our earlier conversation, you realize you will have to make changes to the way your team is currently working and that might impact their productivity in the short term.
  • Client: We can’t impact the team’s productivity. The project budget, scope and time lines have already been defined and the project is already 2 months behind schedule…

Trust

  • Client: We have identified a list of issues that we need help with. Here’s the list. Can you help us?
  • Me: Possibly. Let me look at your list. Who came up with the items on this list?
  • Client: Me and my direct reports.
  • Me: Has the team been involved in putting this list of issues together?
  • Client: Absolutely not. We asked them to put together a list of issues they were facing and most of the items were related to lack of trust, micro-management, and bad communication so we threw out their list and put this one together for them…

Retrospection

  • Client: We are just about to begin a new iteration but our last iteration was a disaster. We missed our time lines, the product owner is upset at the development team and morale is very low.
  • Me: Have you done a retrospection at the end of your iteration?
  • Client: No. We need to start development on the new project immediately.
  • Me: Wouldn’t there we be value in evaluating what went wrong in order not the repeat the same mistakes?
  • Client: We don’t have time for that and quite honestly, we don’t want the team’s morale to get worst once they realize how bad the situation is…

Management Support

  • Client: This Agile thing is great! I’m going to impress the management team with our success.
  • Me: How so?
  • Client: The development team asked me if they could use Agile for their next project and from what I read, Agile can help them improve their performance and reduce the time to market.
  • Me: Yes, if it’s done right you may get those benefits.
  • Client: Wonderful! After I gave them the go ahead to start immediately, I told them I now expected to project to be delivered in 9 months (instead of 18 months) and cut their budget by half…

Collaboration

  • Client: Agile has done good things for our development team but we keep facing issues with project members that don’t report into our department.
  • Me: Who are those external contributors?
  • Client: The architects and the DBAs.
  • Me: Do you keep them informed of your project progress? Do they get involved in defining the stories? Do they estimate their work?
  • Client: Hell, no. We simply assign them the work they need to do and complain to their boss if they fall behind…

Scrum Master

  • Client: I don’t understand why things aren’t working well.
  • Me: What is the issue?
  • Client: We took the Certified Scrum Master training you offer, we read a few books, and we’ve started implementing Scrum but nothing seems to be working.
  • Me: What do you mean?
  • Client: The only thing we didn’t do is take a natural leader to be the Scrum Master. Robert was available so we asked him to be the Scrum Master.
  • Me: Who is Robert?
  • Client: Robert has been with the company for 22 years. He’s one of the few Mainframe project managers who preferred not to learn the new web technologies and since he didn’t have any assignments, we thought he could do the job…

Do you have any hints you would like to share?

Is your work environment Agile?

Picture by Alessia206

As a follow-up to my post on Agile Leadership, I have described the 7 dimensions of an Agile Project Team and what it means to deliver results in an Agile context. This forth (out of five) post briefly looks into the Agile Work Environment (or Agile Work Space) to successfully support the delivery of results by the project team.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done – Principles behind the Agile Manifesto.

As suggested by the Manifesto, providing the right environment will support a fast paced, entrepreneurial, flexible and autonomous culture allowing the project team to focus on their objective while enjoying their environment.

A few questions to assess the work space configuration of the project team:

  • Are all team members co-located?
  • Does the physical environment support effortless communication?
  • Are team members within 10 meters (30 feet) of a white board?
  • Are team members allowed to stick post-it notes to the walls around them?
  • Does the project team have access to natural light?
  • Are team members allowed to decorate their work space?
  • Do the project team members have access to free good-coffee?
  • When necessary, do team members have access to private rooms to concentrate on their activities?

Needless to say, the right work environment can have a significant impact on the project team’s performance. More specifically, the right work environment should support the team’s autonomy, ability to communicate and collaborate. It should support the use of the right processes and tools to be efficient while allowing them to enjoy their surroundings.

What is Agile Leadership?

Agile Leadership is the application of the Agile principles (as defined in the Agile Manifesto) to the leadership of software development endeavours.

In addition to encompassing the processes, tools and rules of Agile Scrum, Agile Leadership extrapolates them to change how teams and projects are managed within the context of the work environment and new leadership paradigms to deliver better results.

Agile Leadership Model

Where Agile Scrum mostly focuses on the organization of the project team, the roles and responsibilities of the team members, the artifacts, and the rules under which the project team operates, Agile Leadership includes the work environment as well as the specific leadership abilities expected from the managers and stakeholders.

Agile Leadership is a fundamental paradigm shift with the objective of making the project team successful and the people within the team happier in order to deliver better results. The shift mostly comes from the leadership (aka management style) and the rules used to govern the actions, the behaviours and the outcome of the team.

Getting managers to become more Agile requires changing behaviors and to use a more democratic approach to management. More specifically, Agile Leadership requires to:

  • Transfer certain powers to the team members themselves to let them determine how best to accomplish their tasks;
  • Empower the project team through self-organization and commitment to results;
  • Transfer decision-making to individuals who are closest to the activities;
  • Demonstrate a greater openness to ideas and innovations emerging teams;
  • Clearly define the desired vision and to adapt to the context of each team to ensure alignment with the overall objective of the project and to ensure cohesion between the team members;
  • Provide the necessary support and resources to the project team so they successfully accomplish the expected results;
  • Become a change agent within the organization by accepting and publicly endorsing the idea that the status quo is not acceptable and that the old methods are no longer adapted to the new reality;
  • Systematically involve business people in the definition and execution of solutions;
  • Adapt the style of management so as to use an inclusive and democratic approach.

In addition to bringing new concepts, Agile Leadership also revisits and adds to some of the concepts on which Agile Scrum relies. There is already much documentation (books, blogs, podcast, etc.) on the topic of Agile. In an upcoming blog post, I will add details to the areas of focus listed below and associate the underlying concepts with theories explained at length elsewhere in other areas of expertise such: as organizational behavior, organizational development, management science, and coaching.

The “Best Agile Work Space” Contest (The BAWS Contest)

A few days ago, we invited representatives from a potential customer over to visit our office. They are seriously considering a transition to Agile but some of the managers had questions with regards to what an Agile work space could look like. The potential customer is a large insurance company and like most insurance companies, people working there are used to a traditional (very traditional) work space. We could see they had some reservations about the open-concept before coming for a visit.

Their visit lead me to wonder what other Agile work spaces could / should look like, so I came up with the idea of launching a friendly contest…

The “Best Agile Work Space” Contest

I invite you to email me a picture of your Agile work space (martin [at] analytical-mind.com). In the spirit of sharing best practices and getting ideas from each other, I will post your pictures and your company’s name for people to get inspired. You can also share with everyone what makes your work place the Best Agile Work Space. We’ll even ask people to vote!

Let the contest begin to determine the “Best Agile Work Space“. Tell your friends to email their pictures.


To launch the contest, here are a few pictures of our work place.

Best Agile Work Space - Pyxis' Office

Best Agile Work Space - Pyxis' Office

Best Agile Work Space - Pyxis' Office

Best Agile Work Space - Pyxis' Office

Best Agile Work Space - Pyxis' Office

Best Agile Work Space - Pyxis' Office

Examples of other Agile Work Spaces found on the web

Windows are often a scarce commodity and are doled out to an organization’s favored employees. One of the nice things about an open workspace is that windows are shared. Even if the view is only of our parking lot and can only be seen across three messy desks, at least I can see the window and some natural light – The Ideal Agile Workspace | Mike Cohn’s Blog – Succeeding With Agile®.

Our New Agile Workspace – Our New Agile Workspace on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

I started to respond in his comments and then remembered that it would be better to capture our workspace on video to share with others.  I am hoping other agile shops will do the same.  We are always eager to see how others are doing things so we can continue to improve – Attempting to Achieve the Ideal Agile Workspace | Derek Neighbors.

Ward Cunningham among others was a big influence early on in making it happen.  The patterns & practices team workspace is optimized for agile development practices.  The workspace features writeable walls, configurable workspace, speaker phones, projectors, focus rooms, and a customer room – Shaping Software » Blog Archive » Microsoft patterns & practices Agile Workspace Tour.

Want to join Pyxis? Here is a message to the new employees

Welcome

If you did not already notice, Pyxis is a different company. You have surely seen that the number of smiles per hour is much higher than in traditional organizations. There are several reasons contributing to this phenomenon but for now we just want to explain the governance model used so that you understand exactly what is expected of you.

What is governance?

Corporate governance is the set of processes, customs, policies, laws, and institutions affecting the way a corporation or company is directed, administered or controlled. Corporate governance also includes the relationships among the many stakeholders involved and the goals for which the corporation is governed. – Corporate governance – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

What is the management philosophy?

The management philosophy of François relies heavily on the work of Peter Block and more specifically on the audio book “The Right Use of Power: How Stewardship Replaces Leadership“. If you do not know this audiobook, we invite you to invest 3 hours to understand the philosophy. The alternative is that you will have to reconstruct the enigma over the coming weeks, so this is certainly a good investment.

What does it mean to work at Pyxis?

Before going further, it is important that you know the values and mission of Pyxis and our perspective of capitalism in the 21st century. Then comes the most difficult challenge for a new employee, you must rid yourself of your mental model of a traditional business because most of your references will not apply at Pyxis. Want examples?

In a traditional business At Pyxis
The boss tells me what to do. I determine how I can help Pyxis reach its objectives.
I wait for directions. I initiate the right activities.
I have a boss. There is no hierarchy.
I must ask for permission. I make decisions, communicate them and make them visible on our wiki.
The company takes care of me. I take care of myself.
I hope the organization will help me develop my skills. I develop my skills while working on initiatives that will help Pyxis achieve its objectives.
I do not take any risk. I learn from my mistakes.
I wait for my boss to solve my issues. I solve the problems.
I look for the leaders. I am a leader.
I wait for someone to assess my performance. I initiate the 360-degrees feedback evaluation.
I can’t wait for retirement. Week-ends are too long and I can’t wait to go back to work on Monday

OK, let’s not exagerate!

What are the teams at Pyxis?

Pyxis works in “communities“.

What do I do now?

If you have more questions than answers after reading this page, it’s normal. Most people need time to assimilate new concepts and our mode of operation. If you have questions, ask them to the people around you or help others by adding them to our wiki.

Does your organization support prostitution?

Does your organization’s compensation model and your personal attitude support prostitution?
[Note: The definition of prostitution is provided at the end of the blog post. In the context of this post, I am referring to the second and less often used definition.]

The Scenario

Do you deliver value or paperwork?

As the head of a large Information Technology department, you walk by Michael’s desk one afternoon and to your surprise, you notice that your system administrator is frantically switching from Google to Chat to a discussion Forum. You recall similar observations a few weeks ago so you quickly wonder if, at $80K per year, you are getting your money’s worth for a system administrotor who always seems to browse the internet. To make matters worst, you don’t even remember when was the last time your company ran into serious systems issues. Do you need Michael on your team? Maybe he is a good candidate for the headcount reduction you have been imposed by Finance.

A few days later, on your way out of the office around 7:15 pm you hear key strokes and notice that Kim is still working. You remember approving Kim’s over time report last month and start to realize that the increase in ERP support calls might be starting to impact Kim’s work-life balance. Remembering your conclusion about Michael, you wonder if you shouldn’t close the system administrator position and add resources to Kim’s team. At $55K per year, you would still be able to cut your budget spending. Pleased with your conclusion, you briskly walk to your car hoping for a nice family dinner.

A New Concept

Here’s a new concept. For people working in most traditional organizations, this will sound like a really weird concept but what if employees decided their own working hours? I’m not talking about the flex time concept where people decide what time they wish to start and end their work day but actually decided how many hours and which hours they worked?

Typically, the traditional work week varies by company and by country. A standard work week in Canada is somewhere between 35 and 40 hours per week. Some would argue they work many more hours per week but that’s not where I want to take this discussion.

Imagine for a moment you stopped controlling the hours worked and focused instead on the results. Granted, this is a much more complex endeavor but in my opinion much more suited to year 2010.

The Old Paradigm

At the beginning of the industrial age, many employees were paid “by the piece”. For every bolt fastened, shirt sowed, or widget delivered they received a small amount of money. Eventually, companies realized that it would be more predictable and easier to manage if people were paid by the hour. Needless to say, the model has somewhat evolved and employees are currently paid by the hour, by the day, by the week, or by the year but the model pretty much remains the same.

The New Paradigm

The new model I’m proposing is to offer a fixed salary (or a risk salary), without any expectations of number of hours worked. Instead of expecting people to work 40 hours per week, people would be expected to deliver value or results. As I mentioned, it is certainly more difficult to set up the type of results expected but on the other hand, isn’t this the basis of commerce – I pay you $x for this good or service without any consideration about how many hours were required to produce it. The production piece is the responsability of the seller, not the buyer.

Back To The Scenario

Pleased with the previous day’s conclusion, you call into your office Michael and Kim’s direct supervisor to share your thoughts. Michael’s boss explains that since hiring him 2 years ago, systems outage have dropped 92% as Michael is consistently looking for ways to improve systems availability. He heavily praised Michael for creative and pragmatic solutions and despite the fact the Michael rarely has to do overtime, he would recommend him for a promotion.

Slightly shocked, you turn to Kim’s boss and ask for comments on her employee. With a grin on her face, Kim’s manager tries to hold back her answer as it certainly wouldn’t make you look good. She explains that Kim clearly lacks analytical abilities which is why she has to spend more time than all her colleagues solving similar issues. In addition, Kim is a poor team player. She likes to think of herself as a super-hero and she prefers trying to handle problems without the help of her team mates which often leads to repeated issues as the root problems are rarely solved properly the first time around. Despite many attempts at helping Kim with her shortcomings, she doesn’t feel the need to improve since she is often praised by the head of the department for putting in long hours…

(Silence in the room)

Embarrassed and apologetic toward both managers, you realize your attitude toward the number of work hours per week may have had the opposite effect that you were originally looking for. You genuinely thank your employees for their valuable feedback and wonder if you shouldn’t aim to leave early today…


pros·ti·tu·tion (prst-tshn, -ty-) – NOUN:

  1. The act or practice of engaging in sex acts for hire.
  2. The act or an instance of offering or devoting one’s talent to an unworthy use or cause.

Stuck in a dead-end job…

During a recent conversation with on of our client, the project manager informed me of a new iPod Touch application they had just released. A few days later, I downloaded the National Film Board application from iTunes’ AppStore and installed it. As I browsed through some of their short films, I came across this one.

The Necktie is the story of Valentin and his quest to find meaning in his life. Stuck in a dead-end job, he has forgotten all about the things that used to bring him joy. Years pass, and boredom replaces all his aspirations and hope for the future. It is only on his 40th birthday, when he rediscovers an old accordion hidden in the depths of his closet, that he regains his lust for life.

Working with organizations to help them transition toward a more Agile work environment, I couldn’t help draw many parallels between this short film and some of the people we meet. Although some people count the days until their retirements, many decide to change the course of their career within their organization (and sometimes outside) in an attempt to enjoy life and have fun once again. I hope you’ll enjoy this short film.

Timmy’s story: Is it better to be right or to be helpful?

Timmy's story

Would you rather be right or be helpful?

This is the story of Timmy, a highly talented university graduate. After spending 4 years completing a university degree in Computer Science at a well-recognized school and over a year working on internal projects within his firm, Timmy was sent off as a consultant to help an organization in need.

Timmy quickly realized that he was more knowledgeable, more competent, more skilled, and harder working than most software developers on his new team. Whenever an issue would come up, Timmy knew the answer much before everyone else.

After a few days, Timmy realized the sad state of affairs within his client’s software development organization and in trying to help his new colleagues, he started dispensing recommendations as if they were candies on Halloween night.

Every time Timmy noticed something that wasn’t done properly or as per the theory he had mastered, he would immediately point it out. Every time a colleague would run into an issue, Timmy would quickly point out the source of the issue and the solution to fix it. Every time Timmy noticed a team-mate slack off, he would tell others on the team. Timmy knew he was right – pretty much all the time.

Needless to say, Timmy was not well liked by his team mates. On the other hand, Timmy didn’t like his consulting mandate either and within a few days, Timmy asked his firm to pull him off the mandate.

Despite Timmy’s capabilities and the obvious need of his new team, the conflicts between him and his colleagues grew quickly every day. After a few weeks Timmy had enough. He couldn’t understand why nobody saw that he was right, that he had the answer to all their questions, and that they wouldn’t have any problem if only they would listen to him.

Feeling so frustrated by the situation, Timmy showed up at his firm’s office one morning asking for help. “Can someone tell me what is going on?” he cried out.

A senior consultant who immediately saw the distress on Timmy’s face, gladly offered to help. He explained to Timmy that although he was a competent technical resource, Timmy failed to realize a few key elements of consulting:

  • Timmy hadn’t made sure to clarify the reason he was hired. Clarifying the expectations was necessary to avoid possible confusion around the role he was to play;
  • Nobody likes to feel they are inferior to others – especially not to consultants. If Timmy wanted his suggestions to be accepted, he would need to use a softer approach, some humility, and a lot of patience;
  • People do not accept suggestions – let alone recommendations – from others unless they have established their credibility;
  • Team mates are not likely to accept input unless they actually ask for it;
  • Timmy needs to ask himself if he believes it is better for him and for his client to be right.

Do you know anyone who is like Timmy?

What does “I have an open door policy” really mean?

Have you ever heard a people manager demonstrate his openness and receptivity toward his employees bragging “I have an open door policy“?

Open door policy

Open door policy

In theory, having an open door policy means that anyone can walk into their manager’s office to ask for advice, to request help, to bounce an idea, to propose a suggestion or simply to shoot the breeze.

In reality, I have rarely seen managers actually keep their door open – figuratively speaking. Once a people manager gets the opportunity to have his own office, he will implement obstacles along the way – close the door, hire an administrative assistant or pretend someone is about to come in for a meeting – to reduce to a minimum the number of disruptions.

Many managers with an open door policy would rather have their employees limit their number of visits and are certainly not interested in hearing suggestions that could increase their workload.

That behavior might be explained by the fact that people don’t realize the benefits of keep their door open. The importance of maintaining open, constant, and reliable channels of communication is a solid asset for any people manager.

Let’s push the open communication channel further and imagine what would happen if the manager was actually sitting with the employees. I’m not talking about a closed-office near the employees but a cubicle or a desk right there where the action is. If you wonder why someone would want to try this, you are probably working for an archaic organization and you are certainly not an agile manager.

Closed offices have become such a status symbol that most people couldn’t imagine moving up the rank without an appropriate office. Managers then start preferring their status symbol to obtaining reliable information quickly from their team members. Once the ego takes over, managers lose their strong information channels and then need to rely on other mechanism to remain efficient.

I personally believe that sitting with employees has some substantial benefits:

  • It brings the manager closer to the action – the manager will know quickly when something bad is happening or something good that needs to be recognized;
  • It brings the employees closer to the manager – information is more likely to move up and down the chain of command;
  • It includes the manager within the team – the perception of “the boss” versus “the employees” is lessened since the manager is physically part of the team;
  • It removes the psychological barrier of approaching the boss – there are no hurdles to cross, the boss is right there;
  • It immediately breaks the perception of classes – there are no evidence that some people are more important than others since nobody has obvious status symbols.

Granted, the manager’s attitude has a lot to do with the benefits obtained by this change but all things being equal, a manager that sits with his people is more likely to build a stronger team and implement strong communication channels.

A colleague of mine has actually pushed the concept further. Mathieu has come up with a more cleaver way of obtaining and disseminating information – he permanently sits in the company cafeteria. He uses an enclosed room for private conversations but most of the time he works in the cafeteria with his laptop where everyone can approach him.

Do you know how much valuable information Mathieu is getting?

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