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Posts from the ‘Collaboration and teamwork’ Category

Agile in a Command-and-Control Organization : What to do when upper management forces overtime?

Image by MyLifeStoryMy colleague François Perron launched a very interesting discussion on our private wiki – “As a coach, what to do when executives and upper management force the project team to do over time in order to meet deadlines?”.

As you can probably guess, this initiated very interesting discussions and an obvious reaction to such an approach.

Everyone agreed that due to the project visibility and the position of the organization within its market, the project launch date was critical. Everyone also understood that the organization had very few options so nobody debated the need to achieve results. The discussion was strictly around which measures to use in an Agile context.

I’ll admit up front that I am biased toward intrinsic motivation (I really loved Drive by Dan Pink) and the fact that it is well suited for an agile environment.

As such, my first impression to the conversation that was going on were:

  • Does the organization wish that employees spend more hours at the office (attendance) or would they prefer more engagement (commitment)?
  • If their choice is to increase the hours of attendance, imposing overtime will achieve this goal while giving them a false sense of increased performance. People will show they are working longer hours but the real throughput is unlikely to be much higher. In addition, software development is a brain intensive activity and reducing the amount of rest people get is likely to increase the number of mistakes they make.
  • On the contrary, if the organization wanted more involvement, the inclusion of team members in determining the best way to achieve the results would probably come to a better decision – even possibly leading the willingness to do over time

It appears to me that by forcing overtime, the executives and senior managers will probably collect their bonus and congratulate each others in the short term only to realize in the longer term that they have simply pushed the problem forward for others to deal with – and possibly request more over time in the long run.

Collaboration or Cultivation – How we see our organization

Image by atomicShedI attended Israel Gat‘s presentation at Agile 2010 yesterday called “How We Do Things Around Here In Order to Succeed”.

The path an Agile roll-out should follow depends on the core culture of the corporation: control, competence, collaboration or cultivation. Irrespective of the specific culture, the Agile roll-out invariably tests cultural integration, wholeness and balance. It exposes inconsistencies between approach to customers versus approach toward other constituencies such as partners and employees. To create and capture lasting value, the Agile initiative must be linked to a coherent corporate culture. This workshop holds the details you need to know about how to forge this critical link.

The session drew parallels between an organization’s culture and people’s character. Israel defined culture as “how we do things around here in order to succeed” hence, the name of the session. From an organization’s culture perspective, Israel divided the world into 4 quadrants (Control, Collaboration, Cultivation, Competence). The quadrant were derived from axis of 2 spectrum from Possibility to Actuality and from Personal to Impersonal. It turned out François decided to attend the same session which turned out to be useful since the group was divided into smaller group for the exercises. François and I join a group which we thought was most representative of our organization. Interestingly enough, we went with 2 different groups. Below is what I captured to be the essence of the Collaboration theme (what I thought represented Pyxis the most) and the Cultivation team (which François thought represented Pyxis the most). Note that the description came from the various groups and not the speaker.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Power and knowledge is distributed
  • Emerging and contextual leadership
  • Required maturity and commitment
  • Better buy-in from the group in the decisions being made since people feel part of the process
  • Group usually composed of generalists
  • Continuous learning and improvement of the group
  • Loyalty to the group
  • Chaos in critical situations
  • Let’s have a meeting mentality
  • Failures aren’t celebrated
  • Conflict avoidance by group members
  • Longer time to make a decision
  • Lacks specialists
  • No more ‘stars’ – ability to stand out of the group is eliminated

This group structure pathology is when relationships become more important then results.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Forgiveness
  • High engagement
  • Personal passion
  • Learning
  • Challenging
  • Creative
  • Easy to respond
  • Diversity
  • Trust
  • No problem is unsolvable
  • Loyalty
  • Fuzzy direction
  • Inability to prepare
  • Geared to the right personality / character
  • Hard to align
  • Can deter people
  • Spin in circles
  • Fear of conflicts

This group structure pathology is when subjective impressions by charismatic leaders over rules the objective data. At the end of the session, it was interesting to notice that we were probably both right in our assessment. It turns out, Pyxis is a Collaborative and Cultivating culture. Now is time to do something interesting with this information.

Are you an Agile Leader? – Nine questions for people managers

Picture by angus mcdiarmidOne of the frequent obstacle encountered by project teams when transitioning to Agile is the resistance of their manager. When an executive declares that the organization is moving to Agile, many team members look forward to working differently – that is until their manager gets involved.

As an organizational coach, I often use a simple questionnaire to assess the level of agility of the managers I deal with. Below are nine questions to help determine how Agile the manager I’m talking to actually is.

Go ahead – try the short test.

True or False?

  1. To get the best results, it is preferable to properly control the activities of the team members
  2. A process that is not well defined at the outset will always give sub-optimal results
  3. To reduce the loss of productivity, it is preferable to isolate team members in cubicles and use email as the preferred a mode of communication
  4. A team of experts with specialized knowledge is always more efficient than a multi-disciplinary team
  5. The best tools and processes are those selected by the organization and standardized for all groups
  6. It is generally preferable to thoroughly document what we people do even if it reduces their speed
  7. Money is the best way to keep individuals motivated
  8. It is more important to follow the plan than to adapt to changes
  9. A signed contract is better than an informal agreement to ensure cooperation between different departments

How did you do?

If you answered True:

  • 9 times (out of 9): As you enter an Agile transition, your current management paradigms are likely to be severely tested, but with the right mindset and the willingness to change you could be surprised. You may want to take this test again a few months after the beginning of the transition to see how much you have progressed.
  • Between 5 and 8 times (out of 9): You have some of the right reflexes but you haven’t fully grasped the concepts behind Agile. With some work and an open mind, you could modify your leadership style and eventually become an Agile manager.
  • Between 1 and 4 times (out of 9): You’re almost there. You are comfortable with most of the Agile concepts but still need to fine-tune some of your reflexes to make it to the top of the chart.
  • 0 time (out of 9): Congratulations! You seem to understand the Agile approach and the underlying concepts very well. If you behave the way you answered these questions, you are an exemplary Agile leader. Send me an email, I certainly would like to hear from you.

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…


  • 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…


  • 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…


  • 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?

True Collaboration – Ants Vs Crabs

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] 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.

You don’t believe workers can self-organize. Think again. Even 8 year-old kids can do it!

The Experiment

Picture made available by daedriusI attempted a small experiment with my kids a few weeks ago – get them to voluntarily help clean the house. If you have children between 7 and 10 year-old, I’m pretty sure having your kids help with cleaning is nothing short of a nerve-wrecking experience. If you don’t have kids, the process typically goes like this:

  • You – “Timmy, can you please pick up the toys in your room.”
  • Timmy – “Why?”
  • You – “Because your room is a mess and I break my face every morning when I come wake you up.”
  • Timmy – “OK, I’ll clean up.”

30 minutes later, you go see Timmy.

  • You, slightly annoyed – “Timmy, what are you doing?”
  • Timmy, looking up – “I’m building a castle, daddy. You want to play with me?”
  • You – “Yes, I’d like to play with you as soon as I’m done cleaning up. Why didn’t you pick up your toys like I asked you too?”
  • Timmy – “OK, I’ll clean up”

30 minutes later, you go see Timmy

  • … (you can guess the rest)

So, back to my experiment. A few weeks ago, while my wife was grocery shopping I decided to use an adapted version of Scrum. I called my son and his twin sister and told them we would do a little activity. To their enjoyment, they were wondering what I had in mind. They sat next to me at the table while I the took 4 x 6 index cards and on each of them, I wrote a task: pick up the toys, put your clothes in your drawers, empty the garbage cans, bring the recycling to the garage, put the Tupperware away in the drawer, vacuum the floor, etc.

  • My son – “Daddy, why are you writing these down?”
  • Me – “We’ll play a little game.”
  • My daughter – “Can I play too?”
  • Me – “Of course. Here’s how it goes. I wrote 8 cards and each card has a little task. I need you to help me clean up the house while mommy is doing grocery.”
  • The twins – “OK, what do we do with the cards?”
  • Me – “You will each select the cards (the tasks) you would like to do. You then decide in which order you want to do them.”
  • My daughter – “Daddy, some tasks are longer than others. What do we do about that?”.
  • Me – “It’s up to you to decide.”
  • The twins – “It doesn’t matter. We’ll decide which ones we pick.”
  • My son – “Do we get a reward for doing the work?”
  • Me – “Mmmm, good question. I know you like to read. How about I give you tokens for each task? Once you get 50 tokens, I’ll buy the book you asked me.”
  • My son – “OK.”
  • My daughter – “Can I buy a beeds set instead of a book?”
  • Me – “Sure.”
  • The twins – “Can you write how many tokens each task gives on the cards?”
  • Me – “Good thinking! Picking up the toys is 3 tokens, bringing the recycling to the garage is 1 token, …”
  • The kids – “OK, but who picks first?”
  • My son – “Let’s do rock – paper – scissor.”
  • My daughter – “Yes, let’s do rock – paper – scissor.”
  • The twins – “ROCK, PAPER, SCISSOR…”

After determining who would start, they quickly picked the cards and started doing the assigned task. At their own pace, they executed on the cards. Then, something cool happened.

  • My son – “Daddy, can we add a card? We need to water the plants.”
  • Me, laughing – “Of course. Who’s going to take this one?”
  • The twins – “Me, me, me!”
  • Me – “I guess we’ll have to write another card so you are even.”
  • My daughter – “Can I dust the bureau? I saw mommy do it the other day and I’d like to do that.”
  • Me, with a big smile – “OK, if you’d like to do that. I’m OK with this.”

Together, they successfully completed all their tasks. All of their tasks! No fighting, no screaming. That was a “proud moment” :) Imagine when my wife got back home after the grocery…

With the Xmas Holidays and the broken routine, I was pleased to see my kids grabbing the cards by themselves this past Saturday and starting to execute on the routine. “Wow, this self-organization thing really works! Even with kids…”, I told myself.

The Take-Away

If you want people to carry out a task, here are a few suggestions:

  • Describe the task;
  • Let the team self-organize;
  • If the team needs help, you may suggest tools or a process – but do not impose them;
  • Get out of the way;
  • If possible, make it fun;
  • That’s it.

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 2)

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post on this topic, below is the agenda of our meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

Strategic Café

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Strategic Café

Agenda – Day 2

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Presentation of our initiatives for the next 6 months (8:30 to 11:00)

Strategic Café

Pause (11:00 to 11:30)

Strategic Café

Prioritization of our initiatives for the next 6 months (11:30 to 12:15)

Lunch (12:15 to 1:00)

Strategic Café

World Café – Strategic assessment of our environment (1:00 to 2:30)

Background: To correctly set up our strategies, we must understand the environment in which we operate for: our consulting service, our products, and our training.

Question: What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each sector of activity?


  • Products
  • Products
  • Consulting Service
  • Consulting Service
  • Training

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 12 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

Pause (2:30 to 3:00)

World Café – Operational improvements (3:00 to 4:30)

Background: In order to continue our growth, we must give ourselves the means to grow up, what are the improvements that wants to carry out: sales, marketing, finance, human resources and SME.
Question: How does improve on our operations to do the goals we had set?
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Subject Matter Experts
Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

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?

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 1)

If you ever had a chance to participate in a Strategy Definition meeting, you either had a good time because YOU were dictating the strategy to follow or had an awful experience because your recommendations were totally altered, down-graded to a point of irrelevance or blown out of proportion making them un-achievable. Needless to say, for most people a Strategy Definition meeting is an experience comparable to a visit to the dentist for a root canal.

As I already mentioned, not only is our organizational structure different from most organizations but so is our strategic process. As opposed to a top-down Strategy Definition where the Top Executives come up with the Strategy, we use a bottom-up approach. Once again, we rely on the wisdom of the crowd to come up with the best strategy we can achieve. Not only is the strategy sound, it also removes the need to obtain buy-in after the fact since employees participated in the definition of their strategy.

We’ve implemented a Balanced Score Cards approach to our strategic planning process 6 months ago. This approach is helping us move forward but the format of our previous meetings left a lot of room for improvement. After asking around for an alternate approach for the meeting, François suggested we try a World Café format. After reading about the principles and the book (The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter), we spent time preparing and planning for the meeting. Needless to say, the Strategic Café was a huge success.

World Café used to Define the Corporate Strategy

I want to sharing with you the agenda of the meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Agenda – Day 1

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Warming up the brain cells (8:30 to 8:45)

We asked participants to compete in a friendly game of Rush Hour. The intend was to introduce a fun element in the day in preparation for the meeting.

Strategic Café

World Café – Retrospection of the previous 6 months (8:45 to 10:30)

Background: What should be done to improve the organization on the following 5 dimensions: communication, accountability, prioritization, leadership and decision making?

Question: What are the challenges encountered within the organization and what is my contribution to meeting these challenges?

5 Tables: Communication, Accountability, Prioritization, Leadership, and Decision Making.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 15 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Each of the 5 paper-table-cloths is assigned to an individual responsible to come up with a plan of actions.

Strategic Café

Pause (10:30 to 11:00)

Presentation of the new governance model (11:00 to 12:30)

Unfortunately, this part is confidential ;)

Lunch (12:30 to 1:15)

Strategic Café

World Café – Improvement to the well-being of people (1:15 to 3:00)

Background: In 1 year from now, what will be the impact of our organization on the following 4 sectors: employees, existing customers, stakeholders, and potential customers?

Question: What programs should we develop to meet our objective of improving people’s well-being?

4 Tables: Employees, Existing Customers, Potential Customers, and Society.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall on which the organization would invest time, energy and resources to move forward.

Strategic Café

Pause (3:00 to 3:30)

Strategic Café

World Café – Selection criteria to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months (3:30 to 5:15)

Background: Given the limited resources and the large number of initiatives within our organization, which criteria do we want to use to prioritize and select the initiative that we will move forward using the following areas: Financial, Customer experience, and Employee learning and growth?

Question: Which criteria we will use to determine our priorities?

3 Tables: Financial, Customer Experience, and Employee Learning and Growth

Mechanics: The participants were allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall. Those would become the criteria used to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months.

Strategic Café

Dinner (6:00 to 8:30)

As an analogy to our Strategic Meeting, we had organized dinner at O’Noir.

I’ll be publishing Day 2 of our meeting shortly.


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