Posts Tagged ‘values’

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 


I was very excited at the fact that Henrik Kniberg was presenting at Agile Africa this year. And his opening keynote did not disappoint. First, he made it clear what he meant by Scale. He didn’t mean a couple of teams, or even many teams working on different teams working on separate things – he meant numerous team with various inter-dependencies. And then he told us some ways we could avoid becoming “unagile” when working with lots of teams.


He said that the first thing to realise is that for such a complicated ecosystem to work, you want everyone to be operating from a space of high autonomy and high alignment. When you achieve that, then everyone understands the problem and also has the mandate to figure out how to solve it. kniberg1

Kniberg then introduced the concept of a “soup” of ingredients required for an environment in which many teams could thrive and continue to operate in an agile fashion. The ingredients of his soup included:

  1. Shared Purpose
  2. Transparency
  3. Feedback Loops
  4. Clear Priorities
  5. Organisational Learning

1. Shared Purpose

Kniberg emphasised that in order for everyone to have a shared purpose, over-communication was essential. Every team member needs to be in a position where they are able to answer the questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Why are you working on it – what is its impact?
  • How will you measure when it is done?

He described the following top-down model as an example:

  1. The company agrees on their beliefs. This belief relates to how they are to remain a viable operation. It could be around how the company believes they make money; who their customers are; or what is likely to happen in the future.
  2. Beliefs then break down into North Star Goals. This is a goal that the organisation wants to achieve in order to realise a belief. It needs to have metrics.
  3. Goals are then broken down into “Bets“. It is called a bet because it is a hypothesis: if we do this, then we think (bet) that this will be the impact on our goal.
  4. And, finally, teams have goals which contribute to proving or disproving bets (Kniberg called these tribe goals).

2. Transparency

Being clear about what everyone is working on and why helps to provide context that enables autonomous teams to make intentional rather than accidental decisions. One of the tools Kniberg shared with us was the DIBB Framework.

DIBB Framework

DIBB stands for Data, Insights, Belief and Bets. Basically you have a single space listing all the prioritised Bets and it is very clear what data was used to generate insights that led to the Bets, and then the Belief that particular Bet relates too. Bets can be tracked on a single Kanban taskboard with the columns: Now (what we’re working on now); Next (the Bets we will work on next); and Later (not priority for now). Kniberg emphasised that all of this information should be in a simple format that was easy to share with all (one of the companies he worked for used a simple spreadsheet).

3. Feedback Loops

We all know feedback loops are important. Feedback loops help us adjust our course. Scrum and other Agile frameworks already have built-in feedback loops for single teams. It is necessary to increase the feedback loops to cover multiple teams when scaling. Examples of multi-team feedback loops could be a Scrum of Scrums, multi-team retrospectives, Friday demos, Whole Product Review or Alignment Events, and Management Reviews.

Whole Product Review

A whole product review is when all the teams working on a particular product (whether building features or working as a support team) get together to plan for their next timebox. It includes the following components:

  • A demo by each team of what they have done since the last Product Review (to create context)
  • Break-outs per team to plan ahead for the next timebox.
  • Creation of Team Boards that include
    • The goals for the next timebox ordered by impact
    • Stretch goals for the next timebox – these may not be achieved
    • Risks in the next timebox
    • The deliverables that will be delivered at the end of the next timebox
  • A management review of the team boards on the same day before the next timebox starts

Triple Feedback Loop

This actually came out of a conversation I was listening to during one of the Fish Bowl sessions at the conference (and not from Kniberg), but an idea for these multi-level feedback loops could be:

  1. Normal team reviews (Loop 1)
  2. Monthly product reviews (Loop 2 – with all the teams)
  3. Quarterly Sponsor review (Loop 3 whole day with team and management)

4. Ordered Clear Priorities

Ordered priorities help teams make the right decisions when trade-offs are required. Priorities should feed down into teams from the Company Beliefs and North Star Goals. Clear priorities help teams answer the questions “If we can only do one, which one would we do and why?”.

5. Organisational Learning

In order to improve, we need to learn. We cannot learn if we don’t have time to stop and process feedback that we receive. Or have time to practice skills we are growing. Kniberg suggested a couple of ways to create slack time in teams:

  • A pull team schedule where teams pull work as they have capacity to do it
  • Scheduled slack time e.g. retrospectives, gaps in sprints, etc.
  • A culture of promoting learning over busyness

Some ideas for cross-team learning:

  • Holding “Lunch and Learn” events where teams get together in an informal session to discuss a particular topic
  • Cross-team retrospectives
  • Embedding team members i.e. having a team member from the team that is sharing temporarily sit with the team that is learning

chef The last part of the keynote dealt with the “chef”. The chef is the person who ensures all the ingredients are available for the soup and continuously tweaks them to ensure the soup is as tasty as possible. In traditional organisations, we used to call this person or persons “leaders”. Leaders are not there to tell the team how to solve the problem. They are there to ensure that the team environment contains the ingredients for autonomy and alignments.

Leader chefs:

  • Create a shared sense of accountability
  • Enable teams to align their decisions to company goals and with other teams
  • Ensure that decisions can be made through transparency and clear ordering of priorities
  • Create slack

My main take-outs were:

  • Intentional rather than accidental decisions
  • Scaling needs autonomous teams that are aligned
  • Some cool ideas for creating top-down goal alignment and transparency
  • Some cool ideas for creating peer-alignment and transparency
  • The role of leaders in an Agile set-up

What were yours?

With thanks to

Being Brave

Posted: March 24, 2016 in Team
Tags: , , , , ,

braveMy natural personality is more introverted. My natural reaction to conflict is  avoidance where possible. These personal attributes often make some of what I, as an Agile Coach, need to do, quite challenging. This week there were two conversations that I knew I had to have. One was with my Product Owner around something he had done that had affected me negatively on an emotional level. The second was with a ‘difficult’ team member who was responding to me quite defensively in sessions and I needed to unpack the why. Neither of these were conversations I relished having (especially as I would need to raise the topic of discussion) and they caused me at least one sleepless night.

Thankfully, over the years, I have had training in various ways to open conversations like these and I often rely on this training to try to at least start the conversation off with the right language and framing (invariably the wheels do fall off as the conversation progresses). One of my favourite fall-backs is the “I think, I feel, I need” tool which, as artificial as it sounds and feels, seems to work really nicely – especially when you’re raising something where the impact on you is subjective (like an emotion). I also try to remember to focus on describing actions and behaviours rather than attributes and, finally, to try to start any question with “What”. As I mentioned, I try. I’m not always successful 🙂

Anyway, in both cases this week, I kicked off the session with much trepidation, introduced the elephant I wanted to discuss, and then mentally closed my eyes and waited for the fall-out, unsure of whether I had the courage to face whatever that fall-out was in a constructive way. Thankfully, for both, there was no real fall-out and I felt that we managed to have a constructive conversation without damaging any relationships. I ended the day feeling quite buoyant and really grateful that I had screwed my courage to the wall to have both conversations. Being brave usually pays off, you see, because often what we fear is only in our own heads.

What are the things that you fear in your role? What tools and techniques do you use to help you feel more brave?

#SGZA 2015: Owning your slippers

Posted: October 29, 2015 in Team
Tags: , , ,

I recently attended the regional Scrum Gathering for 2015 in Johannesburg. This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 


This was a very interesting and insightful session. We only had 45 minutes, but apparently Danie, Jo and Kevin also offer a full-day version. They refer to plenty of models that are all tied together nicely in a non-threatening activity (which is pretty fun too) in their workshop. One thing that was very clear from the exercises is just how bad we are at making valid observations that are not clouded by our own perceptions and interpretations. One example is when Danie asked someone to say what they had observed about their group, at which point the person responded “everyone looked happy” (judgement). Danie kept repeating the questions and eventually we arrived at the valid observation that “most of the people were smiling”. This is an observable fact – sans any inferences and interpretations – and can be challenged on facts alone.

We also briefly explored the drama triangle. A person can enter an interaction as any one of the triangle points (rescuer, persecutor or victim) but everyone will eventually end up as a victim. The only way to avoid the drama triangle is to practice mindfulness (owning your own slippers) which will help you stay off the drama triangle entirely. Owning one’s slippers means accepting them for what they are. Until you own your slippers, you cannot change them.

Finally, the facilitating team provided a nice idea for practicing true observation:

  1. Attend a session and write down everything you observe, moment-for-moment. Imagine you are a video recorder.
  2. Review what you have written and note how many items are not true observations of fact, but have been coloured by your Ladder of Inference. (As a variation, you could ask someone else to check your observations for you).
  3. Rewrite these judgments as true observations.

Have you used any of the models in my sketch-note? Which ones did you find useful? How have you practiced using them?

I unfortunately did not attend the Agile Africa conference held recently in Johannesburg, but did follow the various tweets over the two-day duration. The last keynote speaker was Kent Beck, who apparently did a sterling job. Below are some of the key tweets I picked up on from the session as well as a summary sketch note for his speech by the very talented Sam Laing from Growing Agile. I’ve also included a link to a Kent Beck post on pruning as I had no idea what that was when I first encountered the word in Sam’s sketch!

1 2 3 4 Sketch


A great thing happened today: my team took control of their retrospective!

I arrived to a white board with a proposed agenda already laid out. As it had all the necessary components (check-in, fact gathering, and actions), I encouraged the team to run with it and all I did is help the team nominated facilitator steer the group back on track at times. It was great! There was a lot of open conversation and it was nice to have the team members driving themselves towards the outcomes. Considering where they were 4-6 sprints ago, it’s also a lovely sign of just how far they have come as a team.

I’ve always struggled a little with the concept of sustainable pace. Most examples are around team burn-out and not having a ‘death march’. I can buy into that kind of work-life balance idea(l) – although humans generally like a little bit of pressure to get things going – but always felt there must be more to it than that. Then I stumbled across this quote in an article:

‘Sustainable pace’ means that speed takes second place to good QA practices that keep technical debt low.

I like that. How do you feel about this statement?

leadership definition Karl Westvig, founder of RCS, recently came to chat to the company where I work about his leadership experiences as a ‘serial entrepreneur’. I liked some of what he said, so here are my notes:

1. Build an organisation that is content-rich and process light

For me, this aligned nicely with the agile value of “people and interactions over processes and tools” as well as the lean start-up principles of fast feedback. Many of the agile ceremonies are more about getting people to talk to each other and share content than anything else. If everyone is aligned and information is shared, then there is less need for formal processes. This is also why Scrum recommends keeping teams to a certain maximum size (more people means more communication channels to manage).

2. The three Fs

One of two pieces of advice he received from his out-going head prefect at school (who seems to have been very wise for an 18-year-old) was to always adhere to the three Fs when interacting with others: be firm, fair and friendly. Firm in standing your ground and being confident and decisive; fair in the decisions you make and how you treat others; and friendly in your interactions.

3. Don’t wear your blazer for the first two weeks

In South African schools, prefects often receive special blazers so that they can be easily identified and as a badge of ‘honour’. This second piece of advice is around earning respect from others based on your behaviour and not as a result of your ‘badge’ or ‘blazer’. As a Scrum Master, this is a challenge we deal with every day; however it is great advice for someone who is in a position of power too.

4. Discover your inherent group culture

Karl described an interesting exercise he did with a group of about 50 employees to identify their inherent culture. The group met in a room with a pile of children’s toys piled in the center. Each person then had to pick a toy from the pile and describe what attribute of the toy, in their personal context, had made them pick that toy. As each person spoke, their comments were captured on a big whiteboard, and certain trends emerged. When these trends were grouped together, the team were able to identify four main values that they all inherently possessed, and those values were then adopted as the core values for that group and the organisation it was to become.

5. The job of a leader is to create certainty

Basically, be able to provide a plan for if something changes and do not keep changing your mind. Make a decision and stick to it (within reason). Having previously worked with a CEO who seemed to regularly change his mind on a whim or forget what had previously been agreed, I cannot say how important it is to provide a certain level of consistency for people to rally around.

6. Emphasise demonstrable behaviours over values

Values are cool but often they get printed on posters and promptly forgotten. Also how easy is it to provide feedback on if someone has integrity? Or is trustworthy? Typically, unless there’s something fundamentally flawed, most people will be struggle to provide a rating on a person’s values. Karl recommended rather focusing on getting feedback on demonstrable behaviours. Is the person friendly towards others? Do they behave in a polite and professional manner? Do they contribute in meetings? Or whatever behaviours would result from your organisation’s desired values.

7. Vision-led, values-driven

This was around why start-ups do what they do. Largely it isn’t about financial incentives but more because people have a common goal (vision) that they believe in (due to their values). Karl conceded that this becomes more difficult as companies grow and stabilise, but is still an ideal to strive for.

8. You cannot control the pilot

You can train the pilot. You can plan the route the pilot should take. However, once the pilot is up in the air, there is nothing you can do from the ground to control how they react to the conditions that they encounter. As a leader, you eventually need to let go and let people get on with the job that you hired them to do – without interference.

Finally, Karl left us with an observation and a tough question. His observation is that most successful companies have autocratic, not-very-nice leaders (e.g. Apple and Steve Jobs). Does this mean that a leader cannot create a great culture without sacrificing some element of performance? My gut feels that this cannot be true, but he did make a good point. What are your thoughts and/or observations?