Monday, January 30, 2012

What am I doing in daily work?

It seems that the posts in my blog come less frequent and one of the reasons is that I am working on removing impediments, supporting the team, the Area Product Owner (APO), other scrum masters and other people in the organization. I am giving trainings, facilitate workshops, participate in workshops as a scrum master and being "summoned" to other meetings (well, one way to figure out what needs improvement is to participate the meeting and then see). Even though I am not willing to share my observations and findings in public, I am sharing with you HOW I attempt to tackle the issues e.g. how to approach people and situations.

In this way, I am happy that I have the opportunity to test the different techniques which I learned in the past in the “real” life. It's not more and not less - applying the theory in praxis. All those trainings seem to pay back now. In many cases I try a systematic approach to an issue with a (fact-oriented) focus on product and people instead of process.

Step one: Create common understanding of the issue

First of all, I observe my environment and try to be objective in those observations. This means I avoid to interpret a situation or even judge what is happening. Typically, I do not get the full picture and thus I need to ask questions to understand the situation better. I try to visualize the situation in various ways - it typically helps all of us to see what is the issue and understand the context. When I approach people, I ask them about their point of view, their findings and their ideas. Of course, I am not telling others that now you must make this visible … I rather ask e.g. “do you know? if not, would you like to know? Do you have any ideas on how to make it visible?”. I also remind others to e.g. tolerate other people’s opinion, not to jump to conclusions, seeing the issue from a different point of view (e.g. if you would be APO, how would you interpret the situation).

Step two: Make people think on where they want to be

This has been a though nut. Too often the motivation is low, the context right now appears to be one in which people believe only negative things can happen. It requires more energy from me to convince people to let go from the misery and the negative thoughts and start thinking "out-of-the-box", without limitations (In another case, I stated the facts like it is possible to switch off the lights in the building - just to show that it can be done). Also here, I like to stimulate discussion by e.g. drawing a picture of the ideal situation (similar idea as above), followed by asking people what is hindering them to get there. Often, the discussions lead quickly (with haste - no time to think) to a situation in which some key individuals think that they have the one and only solution (and of course only they and nobody else in the world would ever be able to do any better). I think it is important to document the solution as a potential (!!!) solution or let's call it experiment (or even potential experiment).

Typically I discuss with people to create understanding in what is hindering them in getting to the ideal state (aka root-cause-analysis). When doing so, I try to avoid why-questions and I rather ask like “what makes you think that this …”. I observed that why question are making people nervous, "itchy" and they feel sometimes offended and become defensive. Somehow it might be that the underlying tone in a why-question is that “you did it wrong … “ - something like in this direction.

Step 3: Asking others - what can YOU do?

Like in the our issue mgmt board (see earlier post and more coming later), I show people how easy it is to pull an item and start working on it and demonstrate what I can do to help. Even it is a little step forward, yet I can typically choose from various options on what to do next (and show this to others as an example). Furthermore, it seems important to demonstrate this "I take responsibility" attitude to others that even though I am not the expert in a particular field, I can facilitate the discussion. Once more, the wording is important. Instead of talking about solutions (often people hear that this is now THE final solution and written in stone), it seems important to ask people whether they can support an experiment. Generally I prefer talking about experiments instead of solutions because the solution first needs to proof that it works (difference between hypothesis and theory, or theory and praxis).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

two additional thoughts on the previous post ...

#1 an external coach is not a garant for a successful Lean & Agile transformation/journey/change, however if there is no external coach, it will be even more difficult.

#2 with each book I read, I find at least two more books which I want to read, more topics which I want to study and understand deeper. In other words after several years of coaching, training and consulting, I consider myself as a novice in the field ;)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why an organization needs an (external) agile coach

I recognize another pattern in my daily work. The need for an external agile coach in an organization which wants to become agile. Sounds trivial – doesn't it? (I know it also sounds like I am advertising my own company here)
Here is what I see happening. A person in an organization starts working (voluntarily) as an agile coach. The person might attend courses, conferences, seminars, discuss and exchange ideas with others in the community. Assuming that there are no left-overs from the previous work area and nobody will ask question from this person concerning the old work, the person should have pretty much time to start doing the work. Yeah right – we talk about a BIG change here ...
The issue is that Lean and Agile might be to a traditional-oriented organization as big of a change as the “eponymous laws of planetary motion” by Johannes Kepler in the 17th century. The mental model is put upside down (actually downside up, as it already flipped once – see below). In Lean the management is supporting the people, not commanding them around and doing micro management. The one who is creating value to customer i.e. the value worker is the center of the universe and the others need to help those people.
For those who go back a little longer in the history of management, you will find a definition that a manager's role is to remove hurdles from the subordinates so that they can do a better job. I think that definition got lost somewhere on the road.
What about the coach now? Well, the observation is that our coach seem not really to know what to do in the beginning – how could he? He is fresh in this. Now it happens that OTHER work is giving to the person, OPERATIONAL work – participating meetings, doing this and that side job. The result of this is that the agile coach is too occupied and has no chance to learn truly what lean and agile is all about. This might lead to the situation that the speed of change in the organization is slow – in worst case the change stalls. In disaster case the organization will abandon Lean and Agile and starts to blame Agile for its failure.
Now I see, that an organization needs someone with whom they have a chance to reflect their decisions, models, WoW – are those in line with Lean & Agile values, principles and its “spirit”? The people in an organization make so many decisions – every day. And even though people received trainings and had some personal coaching on Lean and Agile, they need help in understanding how to BE agile, not how to DO agile.
The other day, a group of six people discusses for one hour and tries to create a common understanding of the Agile Principle #1:
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

I think that was a good investment of time and energy.
There are also other factors influencing the outcome of becoming Lean and Agile. Many of them, you can read in books – “management support” being there on the top of the list. I have read many articles in management science and “management support” has been so often mentioned that I got really numb to it – yeah again “management support” … and again … well – yes it is #1 item in a successful change. Meditate over that for about two days.
Personally it took me about two years to get the basics “right” and make sense out of it, another year to be able to learn what “counts” (yeah yeah, I am a slow learner) by interacting with others in the organization in form of training, coaching and consulting. Thanx to my boss, I could do that. I did nothing else then learning how to be a coach – no “operative” work.
I like to draw to a black and white picture – for the purpose of stimulating discussions and bringing people out of their comfort zone. Life is grey. If you accept grey, there hardly will be a pure white. I would have been so much happier in my years as a program manager, would I have known about Lean. I think that an external coach is needed for the white (or the black – which ever you prefer).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Company policies are one big source of waste

I think I start to see what is waste.  
Here is what happened: I went to an outdoor store to get me a winter-jacket. The store has a local shop in Espoo and one in Helsinki. I found a jacket but it was a little too small and I ask the sales guy if they have a bigger one. He checked from the computer and said that they have one in the Helsinki shop. That happened on Tuesday. I asked whether they can reserve it for me until Friday, because then I am in Helsinki and I could check it out whether this one would be big enough.
The sales person said that they cannot do that - they cannot reserve a jacket for three days - it looks bad in the inventory (or somethings like it). What he can do is let the jacket come to Espoo. This takes two days, so the jacket arrives in the Espoo shop on Thursday, then it can wait for only one day and I can get the jacket on Friday from the Espoo shop.
Now the jacket traveled from Helsinki to Espoo - causing all sorts of costs (logistic, transport etc.) and in addition the transport caused air pollution due to CO2 emission (not very environmental friendly policies)

What a waste of money!!!

In addition I wanted to visit the Helsinki shop anyway for some other purchases which I now postpone to somewhere in the future (the selection in main store is much bigger). Why did I not go to Helsinki in the first place? I did that earlier and then the thing I wanted was in a store in another location. Then I appreciated the service to have the item transported to the Espoo shop, which is the nearest for me to visit.
Back to the company policies...
The good thing is that those policies are made by the people in the company, so no outer force is demanding those from you and the policies can be changed.
The hard part is that those policies are made by the people in the company, so in order to change the policy, the policy maker needs to change the model (call it also mindset, belief system) which the policy is based on. And takes typically time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Intermediate summary of my experiment as a ScrumMaster

First of all I would like to thank you all for your comments, improvement ideas and especially your encouraging feedback to continue this blog. My first sprint is over and I think it is time to summarize from different aspects.
In short, working with the people in the organization, removing impediments & dysfunctions is fun – I like it. Being everyday in office is personally challenging and I feel that it limits me in doing a good job. My days in the office are quite busy. The overall atmosphere is rather depressing and it is a true challenge to stay motivated as well as motivate others. We try new things in the organization and I am eager to see how those things work out (more about in upcoming posts).
Now the long version.
Here are some deeper thoughts on my role as a ScrumMaster. I think ScrumMaster is a full-time job and a senior position – nothing for newbies in worklife (who cannot open their mouth, freshlings from university, shy people), duck when it comes hard and don't have the guts to stand for what they believe in.
As a Scrum Master – you need to work with all sorts of people in different levels in the organization – APOs, POPs, PO, Line Managers, Project Managers, and many other managers and self-evidently with the people in the team. Yes, there are more then one incident when the opinions clash and the discussions replace the heating system of the building. The important part is that the discussions continue (and are not put under the carpet), hopefully in a more systematic way and that those discussions will lead to e.g., improvement, creating knowledge, learning, creating common understanding.
People come to me to discuss and ask questions – and this feels great. Obviously, my observations, findings, comments are valid and my suggestions, proposals and ideas make sense to other people. On the other hand, this makes me also busy and already now I feel that I cannot serve my colleagues to the extend I would like to. This goes hand-in-hand with the notion that when I need to prepare for a workshop, topics etc. I typically do that at home because (A) the environment is much more stimulating (inspiring views, better coffee, better food, better couch, more peace) and (B) the relevant books I need for this are typically at home (for all Finnish people – if you buy work-related books with your own money, you can deduct those books from taxes).
Currently I am living from the knowledge I gained from past courses, conferences, books, work-groups, interactions with other coaches etc. - yet I do have hard times to keep on learning new theories, new ways of working, getting new ideas on how to tackle the issues at work. For any longer-term assignment (i.e. being a coach in a product line), I would need to find a more satisfying solution.
The feeling I am getting from the overall work environment is currently, that it is rather depressing and this is besides the fact the management wants to cut about 25% of the workforce (see major news articles for exact figures and more info). NO – the little things are the ones which create this feeling. Well, all insiders know what I mean and the rest of you have to guess. The positive thing is that this situation stimulates creativity in finding ways to overcome the shortcomings (in the way my parents told me what happened after WW2).
If ANY manager starts to get worried or/and annoyed by what I write – lets have a chat at anytime you want. I am also fed up with my work PC (too many restrictions with what I can and cannot do in the Internet and related to applications) and now I continue my blog from my home laptop (with Ubuntu – all FOC!!!). This will lead to additional delay for the internal publishing of the posts – sorry folks.
Anyway the next week(s) are already full of stuff which I will share with you – Monday we start in the team experimenting a new way of working. In the retro last week, I asked the team to assess their new SM. We start the organizational wide issue management board. There will be several trainings on various topics and many more workshops about this and that.
Have fun and enjoy the readings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Don't bring me down – injecting positive thinking and optimism

You got me runnin' goin' out of my mind,
You got me thinkin' that I'm wastin' my time.
Don't bring me down,no no no no no,
I'll tell you once more before I get off the floor
Don't bring me down.
- Electric Light Orchestra -

What a start of the week. Monday morning - “quality orientation meeting” - after this meeting I felt really devastated. Well, maybe its just me – but then this organization does have problems and would need help. I think that the meeting agenda was far to full, no space for emerging topics and neither time to discuss items thoroughly through. The discussions were unstructured and unfocused i.e. many people expressing their opinions and explaining their ideas. Worst part to me was that key people proposed actions which IMO might make the situation even worse, because those actions consume time from others and then the time is not there to fix the problems. A downwards spiral.

Also I got the impression that lean and agile values and principles are not respected/ followed (or not even close and I wonder if the people even ever heard about the existence and the meaning of those. Or maybe they know, they understand and they have no idea what to do with those – I do assume that people do not know what to do with them and I do not assume that they are purposefully ignored) during the discussions and in the proposals. Many proposals seem to support silo thinking and I consider them as “anti-agile”, “anti-scrum”. Now of course, I can lay back and let them watch to continue to fail, and potentially they learn or then they do not. I get a headache (warning signs start to go on) and this indicates it is not my problem. Maybe – when people from the organization read this, it might trigger something??? (hope dies last last). Many people in this part of the organization seem to have the attitude that they cannot do anything – they act like victims of the environment and the circumstances. I think it is pretty hard to stay positive and be optimistic in such an organization. In fact, there are many things one can do and most likely people just do not know what possibilities they have. So I thought about it what to do ...

Please, make me happy – motivate me. I predict that the one who finds a cure for this will get rich or at least famous. The only one who can motivate me is … ME. The only one who can make me happy is … - guess again – ME. Lets start with oneself – I ask me what can I do to improve my situation.

The same evening I join the “agile coaching circle” in Helsinki for the first time. Aaaahhhh – what a pleasant experience. People who are open-minded, positive thinking, forwarding looking, taking responsibility, taking ownership, focus on learning – that really cheered me up. I think this is important for e.g. scrum masters and agile coaches working in such an “though” environment. My suggestion: go and meet others, exchange ideas, discuss and learn with each other. I think it is refreshing. There are plenty of those kind of community groups across companies and maybe even within companies. After that injection I was mentally ready for more organizational challenges.
Feedback is important and it helps me to check whether I am doing the appropriate things. Thus, I started to collect feedback from the team in various forms after e.g. workshops (rating, what went good/what needs improvement, both of them or then a bit more detailed – of course no need to over-do it either). Now I am back to my other problem – I am totally running out of time. I have so many ideas what the teams, individuals and the organization could try out to improve the situation, so many thoughts with whom else to discuss, who else to bring together, that I need to limit myself and set me my own WIP limits ;)

This is an experiment, I choose to do this work in this organization and I am learning – what else do I want?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Drowning in my long list of findings

I have to restrain myself and not be the kind of guy who storms into somewhere, tells people what all they do wrong, what all they do not at all and what all they think they are doing good and which does not bring them anywhere anyway. I did that already and learned that this approach does not bring you too far as a coach even though my observations are shared by other outside coaches (I guess the guys are still mad at me even though … ok - I let it be). Helping others (or an entire organization) is (often) more difficult then I imagine – I consider myself to be a “Stehaufmännchen”.
Back to my current assignment. I have a longish list of findings, I would even say I am drowning in them … and the more I discuss with people, the more findings I get. How to get started in removing impediments and solving issues? Here is what I did. I divided my findings into four sections: (A) issues I can discuss directly with the team, (B) issues I can discuss with the PO alone, (C) issues for the Scrum Master Community and (D) all the rest.
The issues with the scrum master community are relatively straight forward. It is a small group, already open-minded, willing to learn and to change. This does not mean, it is easy. One of my older observation appeared again. The most difficult group of people to facilitate is a group of coaches/ facilitators – funny isn't it? Anyway, I am very optimistic here. We were able to identify rather quickly a set of issues which are related to this group and the SM's role in this organization, and we were able to identify a few concrete action what people can do. Lets see in two weeks when we come together again what has happened. This is not a systematic problem solving approach yet, as one of the items was that the most people are not familiar with a systematic problem solving method yet. One step at the time.
Section D is the most critical and most troublesome one. These are the items in which I try to initiate changes to the system - “Your system output is what your system is currently capable of, and if you want to increase your output you need to change the system”. These items in my section D affect broader part of the organization, they affect several stakeholders as well as cross-team aspects and the solutions typically introduce change contradicting to the current belief system and thus current practices.
My first little success is that I got buy-in from many people to make those issues visible. I got a prime spot – the big white-board in the coffee area :) I just read Kniberg's article on “Lean from the Trenches - An example of Kanban in a large software project” (thanx Nirnaya) and once more the importance of visualization is highlighted. It is one of the issues in this organization – too many things are hidden in complicated and complex electronic tools (I don't like the phrase: “its in the intranet”), where a basic course is needed to get the minimum out of it. I prefer pen and paper for such things.
I proposed to use a Kanban board and now I am working together with other SMs to design the board layout. There are many open issues related to the design, like who owns the board? Who will set priorities and so on – lets see how it will go. One thing I learned is that there is no need to design too much upfront – it will be much easier to decide what to do once you see what is the issue on the board. The challenge here is to convince others that this approach is a feasible one and others can “hold their horses” and give it a try. Besides the findings from the SM community, we also thought that this would be the space for all sorts of organizational issues (at least from that floor) – once more lets see how it will go and what happens once the board comes alive.
And then there are things happening outside this part of the organization and it appears to me that (upper) management is managing change instead of leading change and consequently imposing more actions to the teams to improve the quality situation, so that there is even less time left to fix the problems at the level where they can be fixed i.e. - the code base.
Any suggestions in how to deal with that are warmly welcome.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

cannot comment my own blog ....

@Ismo comments on post "agile is not ..." - thanx for highlighting this. I meant here architects and testers which are OUTSIDE the team, people who think we are superior compared to "stupid" designers and coders, which are too proud of themselves, who think we are the only ones which are smart here, people who think that without them the world will collapse.
Instead the people could focus on (team) learning, improving the entire value stream, improving the big picture.
IMO - this has nothing to do with silo thinking, as this is observed reality and certainly not the target state for which I would aim to. Obviously I need to be more clear in future on what is observation and what not.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Agile is not enough in large organizations

I see this over and over again in my current companies as well as hearing it from other firms. With Agile (and Scrum) the teams do improve, “things” get better and then they stall. Why? I claim here and now its because of
  • the missing management support
  • continuous improvement is not in place at all levels
  • people are not respected
  • and the people are clueless about their goals
I hear you say, BUT of course this is not happening in our organization. WE DO have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, everybody (is told and) knows what to do and WE know in which direction to go etc. etc. (Reminds me a little on married couples – did you notice the change from the “me” to “we” as soon as your friends get married? Of course this also happens to oneself, typically it is unnoticed until the person looses its identity in a marriage – potentially followed by divorce). We know often means that some managers in the firm claim to have some idea in what they want, independently whether they are able to communicate this or not and completely loosely coupled to reality of software development.

What do we need? A good start for all people who are not coding (e.g., testers, architects, XYZ managers) is to start looking into LEAN. Yep – those “crazy” ideas adapted from the Toyota Production System towards product/software development. Ideas like: the boss is coming to a team and asking – how can I help you? What can I do to make your work life better – and DO IT.

The tester - claiming to have such an important role - asking questions like? Mmmh, how could I help the developers to implement the right stuff, maybe by writing test cases and even automate those (see also ATDD and ROBOT framework).

Start with yourself: I hear a lot of “I can't do” – how about you would help your colleagues and friends (maybe first yourself) towards a “I can do” attitude? I can tell you from my own experience, it's much more FUN – REALLY!!!
Imagine a world without boundaries (and fears) and think about three things you could do at work to improve the way management supports you. I am sure you come up with some great ideas (maybe simply talk to your manager/s, make your work problems visible, talk to your Scrum Master). Now take a deep breath and find the bravery to take those ideas into (STOP: in case you are not sure whether your action is legal or otherwise justified by human rights, please contact me BEFORE you start your actions) reality.

Jolly Good