Anti-Agile Personalities – Part 2

In my previous blog post I listed personalities on the management side that stood in the way of efficient, modern product development. In this post, I will cover some of the personalities you might find in the actual development teams.

read more »

Efficient, effective and inclusive decision-making – A bold statement, a book and a video

I hereby proclaim that; there are ONLY 10 different ways a decision can be made!

At least in a meeting with several participants.

Sorry for starting with this click baity statement. On the other hand – I haven’t been disproven so far. Regardless of if this is true or not, I believe that the art and skill of decision-making is an increasingly important topic. Why do I believe that?

In many organizations, I often encounter the assumption that a decision is either made by one person, or by a group that has discussed a proposal until everyone agrees. If this is actually true, your ability to conduct effective, efficient and inclusive decision-making is sadly limited. A rapidly increasing number of companies go agile, organizing people into a network of autonomous teams, supported by teams of managers and leaders.

Decision-making and ownership are decentralized to those closest to the problems and opportunities. Leadership is no longer manifested in hierarchies of individual accountability, but in interconnected layers of supportive leadership teams. Just as agile teams collaborate to delivering value to users and customers, so must the leadership collaborate when working, meeting and making decisions. A leadership team’s ability to reach a shared understanding through debates and discussions, explore options and then together decide on the best path forward – is crucial. The speed to decision and time to review and evaluate the impact will dictate your whole organization’s ability to quickly respond, learn, adapt and improve.

With this blog I hope to expand your toolbox and inspire you to experiment with a more varied approach to decision-making.

.

read more »

The top 3 biggest forecasting and planning errors

In my consulting and training engagements I get to see the impact where planned delivery dates are missed. It’s never because people just aren’t trying or working hard enough. This post gives you my top 3 real reasons traditional Agile planning and the dates produced by them fail.

Number One Reason: The Assumed Start Date is Missed

Sounds obvious right. To give an estimated delivery date you add the estimated duration to a starting date. Rarely do I see anyone track or adjust for the eventual start date for any initiative. Often the definition of “started” isn’t clear. 

read more »

Anti-Agile Personalities – Part 1

The technology development is going in lightning speed nowadays and almost every company has at least 10 competitors who can offer their customers the same or better experiences or goods. This puts quite a lot of pressure on companies and organisations to be nimble and customer focused which in turn does the same on the people working for them. Certain traits have become more important in employees than before, whether it is management or development teams, such as trust, flexibility, passion, curiosity, ability to collaborate, humility, and innovativeness. It also means that personalities not defined by these traits that still worked very well in traditional, hierarchical organisations actually might be obstructing efficient development in modern organisations.

read more »

Design Studio Facilitation

Design studios are useful for helping a group of people converge on an idea. This post provides a PDF presentation for facilitating a design studio workshop, including an additional optional section for refining ideas when the desired result is to generate multiple ideas. The general pattern is:

  • Generate ideas
  • Present
  • Get feedback
  • Refine and converge the ideas
read more »

Agile 2019

Agile 2019 in a nutshell: Jam packed with inspiring, informative talks! I tried to sum up my experience when I came home from DC a couple of weeks ago, but there were just too many good things to say! So I’ll leave you with the graphic above with some of the highlights, and I’ll share what I’ve actually followed up on since I’ve been back.

read more »

Three Myths About Strategy

There are lies, there are big lies, and then there are myths. And myths are the worst of the three.

Myths present a subtle trap, which is what makes even smart people fall for them. They are usually based on a plausible half-truth, and they do not immediately lead you astray if you start to act on them. It’s only with the passage of time that you realize that you’ve made a mistake, but by then your wrong choices can’t be unmade and the damage is done.

We encounter myths in most realms of human endeavour, and the discipline of strategic thinking is no exception. Here are three of the most pernicious ones I’ve encountered in a long career studying strategy and advising companies about it:

Myth 1: Strategy is about the long-term

Why it’s plausible

In some industries, the basis of competition can remain unchanged for decades, and leaders who stick to their strategy through downturns as well as upturns and ignore surface noise do very well.

Why it’s wrong

It is precisely when long-held assumptions about an industry are challenged that strategic changes happen. And you will need to make those changes very quickly. Thinking about strategy as some kind of long-term commitment can blind you to that need Strategy is not about the long term or the short term, but about the fundamentals of how the business works: the sources of value creation, the drivers of the cost to deliver it, and the basis of competition. To get a grip on strategy, we do not need to lengthen the time horizon of our thinking, but its depth. Far from being about things we are going to do in the future, strategy is about what we are going to do now in order to shape the future to our advantage.

Myth 2: Disruptors change strategy all the time

Why it’s plausible

It looks as if Amazon and the platform giants like Google and Facebook keep changing strategy because they use the massive amounts of cash they generate to innovate, bringing out new products and services every year. Innovation is easily confused with a change in strategic direction, and sometimes it does indeed trigger such a change.

Why it’s wrong

In the case of Amazon and the rest of Big Tech, most of the innovative new products and services reflect a single, consistent strategy, one that’s been familiar to business people since at least the 1960s. That’s when Bruce Henderson, the founder of BCG, observed that in many businesses, costs decline by a predictable amount with every doubling of cumulative volume. The implication was that by pricing ahead in anticipation of those cost declines, a company could sacrifice current margins to gain share, achieve market leadership and then reap the gains. The strategy was captured in the imperative: ‘Cut price and add capacity’. That’s basically what today’s platform businesses are doing – though do they use more jazzy vocabulary like ‘blitzscaling’ or ‘hypergrowth’ and add some twists. For today’s platform businesses for instance, the imperative could be called ‘Give it away and add users’. But it’s just a more radical version of a strategy that’s more than half a century old.

Myth 3: Competitive advantage is dead

Why it’s plausible

There is evidence that the time period over which advantage can be sustained is shortening, which suggests that achieving defensibility is harder, which in turn implies that barriers are more flimsy and easier to surmount. One market observer notes that average tenure in the S&P 500 has fallen from 33 years in 1964 to 24 years in 2016.

Why it’s wrong

Reports of the death of competitive advantage are vastly exaggerated. The competitive advantages of Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are so massive and the barriers to overcoming them so high, that public discussion of them revolves around the use of regulation to break them up to reduce their power. In a very short time, it has become hard to imagine how market forces alone could tame them. The full truth is not that competitive advantage is dead, but that you need to rely on multiple advantages rather than just the one. And part of the reason that Amazon & Co will be hard to unseat is that they have realized this. They are not betting on a building a single big wall, but on building up lots of smaller ones.

The Art of Strategy

In our uncertain world, fundamentals are changing so we need to think about them, whether they are valid in the short- or long-term. Think how you can deploy the capabilities you have and build new ones you need to defend your competitive position. Be on the lookout for the emergence of unexpected events at the customer interface that point to opportunities that can be deliberately exploited. Play to win the short games that will enable you to prevail in the long ones. Think deep to act fast. Strategy is still what it has always been: the art of taking action under the pressure of the most difficult conditions.

Psst: Do you want to learn the art of making strategy come alive? “Stephen “Art of action” Bungay is coming to Stockholm on Sept 4:th. We are a bunch of Crisper’s going, take the chance and join up you too!

Note: This is an exert from a longer article by Bungay in Harward Business Review. You can read the full versionhere.

6 Tips towards Business Agility

Agile, and Agile methods, like Scrum and Kanban, have had tremendous success over the past few decades, but still, most organizations are not getting the value and expected outcomes from their Agile initiatives. A big reason is that people often confuse Agile methods, or applying the methods in one department, with agility, which means having the ability to adopt these methods and deliver value to both the business and customers. Having that organizational ability is the essence of Business Agility. You can also refer to it as scaling Agile to the whole organization.

As co-organizer of the yearly Agile People Sweden conference, we have recognized that this is a current challenge for most organizations today, and hence the Business Agility is the theme for this year´s conference.

Business Agility is about creating an Agile Organizations adaptable for the VUCA world

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Kari Kelly from Atypical Workplace LLC.  It resulted in 6 tips for how your organization can create value through Business Agility.

read more »

The Product Roadmap Agility Checklist

I see many versions of product roadmaps in my work. Unfortunately very few pass this agility test. Does your product roadmap pass the Product Roadmap Agility checklist?

Download the checklist here.

read more »

How self driving car company AID builds its organisation using Agile – interview with the CEO

How do you grow, innovate, and deliver – at the same time? AID (Audi’s unit for self-driving cars) uses Agile to build its organisation at the same pace as their product. We interviewed their CEO Karlheinz Wurm on why they have chosen to do so. We also sneaked in a question – how is it (really) to get feedback as a leader?

Enter The Target Sergeant

Hi there, it’s been a while since you last heard from me, I know.

I have to admit it, I’ve been feeling lost for some time now. Since our company adopted Agile, I haven’t felt at home. People around me started thinking, took initiatives, started to talk about building a “culture”. I felt lost as my position was being challenged. I’ve done my best to highlight the threats of Agile all this time but no one ever listens (and what the heck is a “growth mindset” anyway?). But fear not, redemption is finally at hand! I got promoted to Controller (*cough* there was apparently no other position to put me in) and our CEO just briefed us that he was thinking of introducing OKR’s (obviously, everyone else is doing it). Now here’s an opportunity! Enter the target sergeant!

This thing about letting people think, and “self-organization”, why don’t people get it that this is the recipe for chaos! But – I see my part of the equation clearly now. There is a gap to fill! The target sergeant is what I need to reclaim my importance.

Let me quickly summarize the key success factors for the target sergeant:

  • Highlight the risks. Whenever there’s a creative initiative in your surroundings, highlight the risks. Always begin by acknowledging that it is a great initiative. Then do a silent pause. Raise your voice and start your next sentence with “but…” (oh this always works BTW). You’ll start noticing a few eyeballs darting from side to side. Then, build up a focused crescendo, “…have you thought about the risks?”(Of course they haven’t! Seize the moment as you’ve got the whole management team by the balls now). Your fellow management colleagues will start to panic. Because, let’s be honest, who wants to insert risks? If anyone at this point has the gumption to object, then cut them off with, “We have commitments to keep!” Game over! Silently smile and lean back as your peers start to appreciate the senior wisdom you bring to the table (a great example has been made. Who would dare to be creative now. Ha!).
  • A master target sergeant recognizes that few ever really meet their targets. This is a problem! How can our company ever be competitive as long as this is happening? Become a target sergeant master by always highlighting the target gaps in anyone’s execution. Aren’t they committed to the cause? Silently smile and lean back as your colleagues scurry around like mice squabbling over the safest bet during target setting meetings. Then raise your voice “shouldn’t our targets be aggressive”? Watch your colleagues squirm! Muhaha!
  • Oh, and this is one of my favorites,“Has anyone tried this before?” (…of course not, that’s why it’s a novel idea, duh! ) Look around and you’ll see signs of doubt. Should we really be the first ones to try this out? Who would dare to object to that?
  • The final killer: Put emphasis on the time pressure we are under. This is the simplest trick in the book! You are always late! This is due to the fact that you set impossible stretch goals in the first place! (does that ring a bell?) When “time pressure” and “late” appear in the same sentence, the meeting will quickly loose interest and move over to the next status point on the agenda. Watch the nods around the table as your peers recognize your senior wisdom!

To sum it up, I realize that my Controller role wasn’t so bad after all. I’ll make sure we avoid chaos and my CEO has hinted that I will be considered for the CFO position – he wants more execution at the top level!

Final target sergeant advice: Always remember to jump ship and move on to the next company before the ship sinks. The story will be that your peers failed in executing the vision. You are exonerated because you pointed this out from the start. (At this point in time, everyone will have forgotten that what you really failed to do was to innovate muhahaha). Happy drilling Sergeants!

Enkelt att ta bort 10 miljoner ton CO2 ur atmosfären och lagra i marken

Det är tekniskt och finansiellt möjligt att inom några få år kunna ta bort CO2 från atmosfären och lagra i marken “negativt utsläpp” med så kallad bio-CCS i Sverige.
Det enda som hindrar är lite lagar och regler.

read more »

Playing with Power – Game of Structure, Beta version

Two years ago I created a simple role-play card game called Game of Structure. After trying it out a couple of times it has been sitting idle, and what fun is that? So now I am making it available with this post.

=> Game of Structure – Beta version

The game is Creative Commons Attribution 4.0, so you may use it freely as long as you honor it’s origin. If there is enough interest I may go ahead and create a physical card deck based on this game.

What type of game is this?

The idea is to offer an experience of how a single hierarchy of fixed power roles can generate some common patterns of stuck attention, conversation and challenge that we frequently see in organizations. Often we spend a lot of time managing those conversations without seeing that some of them may emerge just from the power structure itself as a design choice. If we can experience that this may be the case we can talk about it and consider redesigning those structures rather than having to fix these challenges directly.

This game helps you see and experience some of the load of this extra complexity. Have fun!

Disclaimer – The game is fun as it is but I invite you to be a little careful when drawing conclusions from it – there may be some fallacies and traps! If you want to dive down this perhaps sensitive and deeper rabbit hole, read on through the second part of this blog post. read more »

Understand the Essence of Your Product

In my prior blog, I shared that the Product Canvas is a tool anchoring a shared understanding of your product. Part 1 of the canvas provides contextual and strategic information. Part 2 summarizes the key compositional element of your product requirements using the 7 Product Dimensions.

read more »

Health checks for Teams and Leadership

In this blog post I want to share a powerful tool, the Leadership Health Check. It will help you become stronger as a management team and reveal improvement opportunities for how you, as a team of active servant leaders, better can enable the agile teams you support.

But first, let’s take it from the beginning.

One of my favourite exercises in my toolbox as an agile coach is something I learned during my years at Spotify; the Squad Health Check. It’s a retrospectives format, a self-evaluation workshop, in which the teams express how they feel they’re doing on wide variety of topics such as collaboration, value of what is delivered, ability to influence, received organizational support, etc. The result generates insights and commitment to actions of improvement for both the team and the supporting leadership. I love it because I believe it’s a great tool for strengthening autonomy, culture and continuous learning.

More than a year ago, a colleague at Spotify Georgiana Laura Levinta and I created a health check for the leadership of our Tribe (Tribe is a semi-autonomous department at Spotify encapsulating 4-8 teams and with a dedicated set of leaders and managers). Geo and I were inspired by the Squad Health Check, but the goal with this adoptation was to help the Tribe’s managers perform a self-evaluation of their ability to provide active supportive leadership to the squads within the tribe, and to generate a discussion on how they can improve as a team to be able to provide even better support.

Since then, I have together with my current client Casumo, adopted this for their context, culture and beliefs. We’ve run it several times with great success and value, both with the company’s leadership team but also on cluster level (semi-autonomous department). I believe the Team Health Check and the Leadership Health Check both are tremendously powerful; hence I want to unleash them to the wider agile community, hoping that more organizations will find them valuable and useful. Or at least be inspired by them, and then try something totally different.

read more »

Go Blue or go Black – New Jimmy Cards now available!

I’m blown away of the popularity of the Jimmy Cards I created a few years ago. The massive amount of feedback and appreciative comments inspired me to compile two additional decks. The goal of the original red is to help new teams gel. The new black deck is aimed to challenge mature teams that have worked together for some time. The new blue deck will help the leadership team collaborate more effectively. And now, finally, the labour is done and the physical cards have actually been printed and are available to buy!

read more »

Know Your Product with the Product Canvas

What is your product?

If you ask your product development team members, product managers or owners, colleagues in finance, service or operations, marketing, sales, compliance, and all the other departments and teams that make up your organization, would they agree?

It might surprise you to realize that for many organizations, not everyone has clarity around something so fundamental. I’ve developed a Product Canvas to address this issue. The canvas also helps product managers or owners proactively steer their products.

read more »

What is Agile marketing – new article

Consumer behaviors are transforming and the speed of IT development is accellerating.  Launching new products is becoming ever easier. This means new challenges – and new opportunities – for marketing departments.  The companies that learn to master Agile marketing, in a faster changing world, stands a better chance of building long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Innovative companies like Zalando and Telenor are already applying Agile tools inside marketing. However, what is Agile marketing all about? In this article we’ve summarised the key ingredients:

  • More time to create
  • Cross-functional teams
  • Data-driven insights
  • Engage with audience through social media

Read the full article here “Agile marketing in a nutshell”

The CTO Questions: 10 questions that help you gauge the current state of your tech operations

Ever heard this conversation play out?

Manager 1: “We should adopt scaling framework Y.”
Manager 2: “But scaling framework Y doesn’t have a recipe for baking cookies. So we need to do X.”
Manager 3: “Whut? You’re both wrong. We have Agile teams. We’re good!”

In fact, each statement above can be wrong. So the question is, how would you know?

As a coach, it never ceases to surprise me how often management teams lack a shared understanding of their current state of tech operations. If members of a leadership team do not share a common understanding of the current state, it’s easy to fall into the traps of process religion (“my tool is better than yours”), or status quo bias (“why change? From my perspective, everything seems just fine”), or just sheer complacency, “I don’t need to improve, they do”. One piece of solid advice, the last thing you want to do as the leader is to be oblivious to the current state of affairs.

My preferred method of learning the current state is to always start with an “outside-in” view. Assume your operations are a black box and look at the output first, then delve into how the cogs operate inside. Answering these 10 questions helps you do that:

Value oriented

  • Do we create innovations that give us unique marked advantages? How many per year?
  • What is our lead time from idea to delivery? From idea to customer value? Sample data from 2-3 projects.
  • What is our ROI profile? Do we invest first, work long and hard for months and years and hope to reap the business benefits later? Or do we deliver value continuously? Typically Agile?
  • Do we have the development capacity to take on all the good business opportunities that present themselves? What opportunities have we let slip by?

Quality oriented

  • How often can we do releases with quality that include a cross-section of our tech stack?
  • How often do we have slippage on big projects? How much slippage?
  • What proportion of support to business features is clogging up our development pipeline?

Engagement and operations indicators

  • How many projects are there running in parallel in our organization right now? Do we allow skilled people to work with focus?
  • Do we regularly work overtime to meet deadlines?
  • Do we have high personnel turnover for people in coordinating positions?

Of course, you don’t need to answer all the questions above. But getting the facts on the table is the key to building a shared understanding of where you are at, so the management team can start to pull in the same direction when improving.

Need help refining your backlog and finding small MVPs?

I guess you, like the most of us, have a problem breaking work down to small but still valuable pieces and that your MVP (minimal viable product) is more or less the same as the project scope. If you recognize yourself in this than keep reading.

read more »

How to deploy a microservice application to AWS

In this post, I will use an example to show how you can:

  • Write a small microservice with a REST API in Java, using the Dropwizard framework
  • Containerize the application using Google JIB
  • Deploy the application to AWS using Ansible
    • With a robust, clustered and self-healing setup

read more »

Bootstrapping a Working Agreement for the Agile Team

I suspect that running a session with a team to help them bootstrap a Working Agreement, is the single most common workshop I’ve been facilitating the last couple of years. And I’ve learned a lot of what works for me (and what doesn’t work). In my experience, this approach works equally well for the agile team, the department management group and the steering board team. This blog is me documenting how I ended up facilitating these sessions.

For me, a Working Agreement captures the expectations we have on each other within the team when we collaborate and communicate. I’ve seen teams call it “Code of Conduct” or “Ways of Working”. I call it Working Agreement. You call it whatever makes sense for you.

Running a Working Agreement workshop as early as possible is crucial for setting the team up for success. Preferably it’s done during the team’s two-day kick-off offsite, or at least within the first few weeks as a planned structured workshop.

read more »

Remote or Distributed Retrospectives

Meaningful inclusive retrospectives are possible with distributed teams. Let’s talk about the basics you need to have in place, how you can facilitate a distributed retrospective, and what to look out for. This guide is based on the retrospective format that we used at LRF Media. The retrospective participants included 5 team members at the office in Stockholm, one person working from home, and 2 people working at the Kraków office.

read more »

Agile Everywhere – slides from my keynote at Lean Forum

Here are the slides from my keynote “Agile Everywhere” at Lean Forum, Gothenburg.

Great conference, great atmosphere! Very inspiring to hang out with a bunch of super-experienced practitioners. I love conferences where it’s clear that everyone is there to learn and spread knowledge. It’s funny though, in lean circles like this I’m often known as the Agile Guy, while in agile circles I’m often known as the Lean Guy 🙂

Here are some sample pics.

read more »

Flow through Visualization – Video från SAST Stockholm

Den 20:e September presenterade jag på SAST Stockholm (Swedish Association for Software Testing). Under 30 minuter delade jag med mig av mina tankar kring hur man uppnår “Flow through Visualization”. Presentationen hittar du här, och nedan har du inspelningen av presentationen.

Videon fokuserar bara på mig, men med lite skicklighet kanske det går att klicka sig fram i presentationen i ungefär samma takt som jag pratar mig igenom den. Om man orkar 🙂

Are you curious? Seminar with Joshua Kerievsky, creator of Modern Agile

On September the 19th 2018, Joshua Kerivesky, creator of Modern Agile, gave this talk “Are you curious?” at Crisp Stockholm. This is the video recording from that evening. The seminar is 60 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.

About the talk:

ARE YOU CURIOUS? Learning is key to improving. Yet without curiosity, learning stagnates. Are you continuously curious about your customers and their needs? Are you curious to understand what’s behind a colleague’s anger? Are you curious about how a change to your process might improve flow and outcomes? Curiosity may just be a superpower. We’ll explore this topic in depth in this new keynote talk.

Q & A with Bonnitta Roy on Open Participation

Bonnitta Roy was one of the keynote speakers at last year’s Agile People Sweden conference and she also held a course here at Crisp last February on self-organization beyond the team using Open Participatory Organizations (OPO), which was very well received by our course attendants. She is coming back to Stockholm in November and we got the opportunity to sit down with her and ask some questions about open participation and her work on the future of organizational life.

What is open participation and why does it matter in organizational life today?

Organizations face continuous pressure to “level up” to new social and economic realities. This places enormous strain on legacy structures which are difficult to overhaul, and conventional management practices which are difficult to shed. Instead of offering yet another “off-the-shelf” product, we help people see simple but powerful opportunities to become more open and more participatory in their everyday ordinary work.

In agile software development there is the notion of refactoring when code has become too unruly and is increasingly built up in an ad hoc manner. Refactoring means starting over with clean, elegant code. It releases a tremendous amount of complexity from the system. Open participatory practices do the same for organizational structures. It releases complexity and affords more elegant ways to solve complex problems.

So OPO is basically a location based structure to self-organize and to self-manage in organizations?

Self-organization and self-management are core principles of open participation. Location-based-structure is one way to optimize them. It is the only way I know that also avoids the “law of suboptimization” which states that when you optimize the lower system, you suboptimize the higher (and vice-versa). This “law” leads to paradoxes in incentive systems that have to juggle rewarding individual merit, team performance, and company profits.

Locations are defined as mutually interdependent. No individual location can be defined outside of its context with larger strategic wholes; but the “whole” is not defined other than by the interdependent coherence of all the locations. The language of “location” helps reinforce the synergistic way of thinking. If you renovate your kitchen you are simultaneously adding value to your house, and to the experience of everyone who lives there. Similarly, in the OPO, people focus on making sure that the locations are healthy, and that the relationships between them are synergistic. This simultaneously adds value to the larger whole.

Let’s ask some frequently asked questions, as most readers may be new to these ideas.

read more »

Confessions of a Change Agent – my keynote from Agile Rock, Kiev

Here is the flipchart from my talk “Confessions of a Change Agent” at Agile Rock conference in Kiev. Click for a zoomed in version.

Confessions of a Change Agent

read more »

Slides from KTH agile intro

Here are the slides from my agile intro at KTH last week. Hope you enjoyed it!

Some sample pics:

read more »

Building Great Release Train Engineers – a talk with Mattias & Yuval

In the scaled Agile framework, one key role is the Release Train Engineer (RTE). But who should I look for to fill this role? What are the first few process improvements experienced RTE’s typically do? Yuval Yeret (AgileSparks) and Mattias Skarin (Crisp) took the time to discuss the traits of a good RTE.

What are the traits of a good RTE?

Yuval: The easy answer to this question is that you are looking for a Scrum master for a team of teams. Going beyond that, when it comes to specific traits, you are looking for someone who cares about process and improvements, someone who has the ability to orchestrate things. But at the same time, someone who also knows when to step back and let the teams organize themselves. A good RTE is a great communicator and can see and understand what is happening.

Mattias: Firstly, a good RTE should be a people person, someone you’d like to talk to and bounce ideas with. Someone who builds trust and energy with their presence. In essence, a good RTE is the Uber Scrum master across teams. Secondly, a good RTE is systematic and makes sure the process events are run and planned in advance. Thirdly, a good RTE should be a good problem solver.

read more »