22 January 2018

Whatever Agile Is, It's Not Religion!

Everyone has an idea of what Agile is and what it will look like. It depends on their journey, what they knew before introduction to Agile, where they want to go with it, what they like about it, how they are using it and so many more factors. Some people might not even use it correctly.

You must have heard discussions about what Agile is and what it really means a lot. Some people argue it is a Verb. Some might even argue it is even a Gerund. Some even is expanding Agile and making derivatives from it, i.e. Modern Agile. For one, it might be mostly about the Product and not really about development. For some, it might be more about learning from a feedback loop. For others, it might be about technical best practices and DevOps. I am not going to argue which one or ones are the most suited from my perspective. 

What I want to advocate is to keep in mind that Agile is not a Religion. True, some might not even understand Agile correctly and believe they are practicing it and they are expert at it even. However, their interpretations of whatever Agile is is working for them. Let's assume it is a Religion for a second. Even then, unless you build a strong relationship with that person, you can't convince them to convert. 

Photo by Sander van Dijk on Unsplash
Dakhma (Persian: دخمه ; Avestan: lit.  “tower of silence”), also called a Tower of Silence, is a circular, raised structure built by Zoroastrians for excarnation.
I am writing this as it happened to me twice in my career, once as a Scrum Master and once as a Coach. While back, I had transitioned from a developer into a Scrum Master. When facilitating Retrospectives, or having 1-1s with team members, I tend to provide them with solutions, instead of building trusting relationships and then together digging in what could have been done/improved. I preached to them what the best way of performing is, compared it to their problem, showed them what their approach was and where in their thought process was not aligned with Agile (i.e. at that time XP practices). It was very hard to move away from providing solutions and believing on the team to get to their solutions. It was much easier to do the prior. However, if you can do the later it is immensely more powerful.

I have once more caught myself as a Coach to act as a hard extremism. I got into discussions about who shall facilitate the daily stand up; who needs to be in retrospectives; who can be standing at the daily scrum; and what a sprint goal might be. What I lost sight of were the underlying reasons why we are having these conversations. I jumped into my perfectionist mode, tried to provide my audience with reasoning to convince them into my way of Agile. What I should have done, was to listen to them, ask questions, understand where they are coming from, maybe even walk with them in their world of Agile and then suggest very subtly a new way of doing things. 

What I am glad at, is that I was self-aware about my behavior way back then as a Scrum Master and now as a Coach. It is true that in the eye of other observers this might have been a normal conversation. However, the fact that I could see a great potential that I couldn't reach it through the conversation satisfies me that there was a better way. 

To remember it, I will always keep in my mind the following (and I suggest you do too):
  • Agile is Not a Religion. 
  • I won't try to convert people to my way of Agile.
  • I will have a true conversation with them; I will actively listen to them, ask powerful questions, and empathize with them.
  • I will be open-minded & receptive to their definition of Agile. 
  • My definition of Agile is going to change throughout time.

8 January 2018

Better Meetings Canvas V2.1

Better Meetings Canvas is not anything new. It is what every good facilitator knows by heart. However, it is not easy to rely on your heart all the time. Sometimes you want a straightforward structure to follow, or maybe when in doubt to rely on, or use when delegating the facilitation to someone else, or keep a secret recipe of how you run your meetings.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/jhIQlYem7CA

I have introduced the Better Meetings Canvas in "Effective Yet Effortless Meetings". I have been using this model myself facilitate sessions, and also teach other facilitators to become better at what they do. Throughout these, I have come to update the canvas to have a very important part "Feedback Mechanism During". I have also updated the questions and the descriptions below each section.

If this is your first time using the canvas, read it from top to down, left to right, and answer the questions in that order. And always ask yourself the first question "How important is to have a meeting really?".

You can also find a Google Docs version of the Better Meetings Canvas V2.1.

1 December 2017

Want to Make Change Happen & Stick? You Have to Try a Community-Driven Approach. It's a True Challenge!

You are in the business of Change1. You are influencing the change of people's behavior and/or processes2. You have many tools in your toolbelt to introduce change, make people aware of the change, help them through change, let them experiment with change, and even empower them to be the change themselves.

You are knowledgeable about different strategies including but not limited to McKinsey, Kotter, ADKAR, Deming and even Lean change Model. In some circumstances, they worked really well, and in some, they didn't bear the result you intended. I don't want to debate on which is better than the other or give you hints on when to use which3. However, I want to introduce you to a concept that can greatly improve your ability to influence, drive and make change happen. It's the one and only Community!

Let me ask you a question. How many times have you considered yourself part of a community? How many times have you felt the need for a community? I bet there were even times you were part of a community and didn't realize it until some time.

Picture 1 - A Happy Community
As humans, throughout the history, we relied and continue to rely on communities for many reasons. It might have been because of satisfying our basic needs, helping each other, built around an interest, or even virtual communities. No matter what format and shape a community take, it is a very powerful social tool to rely on.

So why are we not relying on them even more? What is holding us back thinking and relying on them a lot more when it comes to the change space? Why communities are not our go-to solutions?

You might think there might be consequences. There isn't! There is no real harm in building and flourishing communities. A community will self-correct (evolve) itself or even die out naturally if the need is satisfied. You don't need to worry about it a bit. You just need to let go. It is not hard to build a community. It only takes someone to initiate it (i.e. a community initiator) and someone to follow that person (i.e. community member) around a similar need, which they want to be satisfied. For such a cheap investment, why are we not building them more often? You might think a successful community is a community with lots of people involved. I wouldn't agree with that. A successful community is a community. Communities are successful if we (i.e. people in & around the communities) don't tamper with their lifecycle.

We need to build communities more and more often than ever. What I would like to propose to you is a challenge. Whatever change you are working about in your role, I want you to think of a community-based solution as your go-to solution. I want you to think of solutions that have communities built-in into them. It might not be easy to initiate a community, start it, support and nurture it, and even let it evolve. That's why it's a challenge. For doing so, let me introduce you to the definition and lifecycle of a community.

Definition of community below is the one that I like to use.4

The figure below illustrates the lifecycle of the community.

Figure 1 - The Community Lifecycle

I do not want to go into all details of this illustration. I just want to talk about the most important point in the lifecycle of a community, the Evolution. As you can see, there are many directions that a community can take from the Evolution stage. And that's the main challenge working with communities. As a person with an interest in a community, you would want to shape the community in a way to have the shortest loop possible after the Evolution phase. You would want the community to be in the loop of "Motion-Evolution", rather than "Evolution-Start", and rather than "Evolution-Initiation".

The challenge here is not really how to start or build a community. The main challenge is when the community is in Motion, how to understand its needs, how to support it, and how to nurture it. How can you make the shorter loop exist? The shorter the loop, the less community member you lose, the more momentum you have and more people's needs are being satisfied.

Communities are very fragile. They need the correct type of support5. Many people, in and out of the community, can affect the community in positive and negative ways. It doesn't take that much to see a community fade away. Without the right structure in place that let the community to go through its natural lifecycle, you won't be having a community at all. You might have a group that you are calling it a community.

I would love to hear your thoughts on communities. Even better, if you give it a try to build one and what you learned from it. At last, we are all part of the community that helps each other learn more about communities.

1- You are even if you don't believe that. The only constant is the change in the world we live in, and you are a part of it!
2- You might direct a change, focus on the process v.s. people or many other approaches you might take to introduce change.
3- Even if I want to, I  don't consider myself qualified and knowledgeable enough to do so.
4- Part of Community-Driven Change talk, as presented with my colleague Shawn Button at AgileDC 2017.
5- The best type of support which as a person you can provide for a community is to take part in it, or even better coach people of the community and facilitate sessions for the community.

14 November 2017

Ask Questions, Please!

If you learn one thing from Problem Solving Leadership Workshop, it has to be asking questions. There are lots and lots of information available out there. And not all can be transmitted to you in at once. Even if it could be, the order of transmitting the data might not be aligned with the order that you are familiar receiving them. There are so many things that could go wrong, which could potentially add to the complexity of effective communication. For an example, it could be the words that are being used, they might not be in your vocabulary, or there are words that you are not commonly using it. You might need to think about the semantics when hearing those words, which will result in losing the threat of the conversation and transmission of data.

You would ask, then what shall I do? What’s the best1 course of action here? The best way is to Ask Questions2, in your own time and your own format. The person replying to you might get tired of answering you, being polite helps a lot. If they have other occupancies in mind, seeing you as a polite person, their inner voice pushes them to respond back to you, or at least not ignore you.
When you are asking questions to have a more effective communication, you ask it at your own pace, and with the style, you have or choose to use. You might be more of an explorer, to ask one question and wander around to find out more information about yourself. You might be the chatty person, that want to get all the information by having a conversation with a person. You might be unique, and not any of these; surprise surprise!
Any style you might have, you always will benefit from asking questions, and keep in mind follow those with a "Please". You can be polite other ways, such as asking "Would you mind ..." or "If it's no bother you can you ..." etc. But what's the point of using more words when you can simply use "Please" and carry the same semantics? "Please" will send the message very directly. It transmits the message to any person, even a little knowledge of English language. Everyone knows what "Please" means and how to respond to it.

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Let me tell you a personal story. I met Jerry as a result of taking PSL course. I purchased two books from him. I had with me the one that I already read and enjoyed, “Becoming a Technical Leader”. He asked me which book I want him to sign. I handed him the "Becoming a Technical Leader". But I wanted all to be signed, “The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully”, and “Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method” too.
Guess what I did? I asked him, and Jerry signed all three books! Imagine if I didn't ask him, I probably never had the chance to have all of them signed. He also could have turned me down, but at least I have asked. When you ask, there wouldn't be any regrets no more. If I hadn't asked, I would have asked myself probably for the rest of my life about it. How many times will you get the chance to meet such a great person in your life to let is pass.

I’d like to practice my questioning skills If you don’t mind. It's now my time to ask a question from you. Can you think of a situation that you could have asked the question and you held back? What were the consequences? Please share it with us.

1-There is no best! We are in a complex domain! Link to the Cynefin blog post of mine! 
2-If there is only one takeaway learned from PSL, would be Ask Questions! 

10 October 2017

Coaching Triads - The Most Effective Way to Practice Coaching in a Safe and Confidential Space

Coaching Triads are a setting in which you can practice coaching and get better at it. It requires a safe and confidential space to practice coaching. So be clear about that.

How does it work?

In three rounds, you practice coaching as a coach, a client, and an observer. In each rotation, you play a different role. I always suggest that the coach becomes the observer in the next round and so on. There is a detailed illustration below.

What’s your role?

As a Client

  • Bring a real issue - choose something that is current and relevant to you. Something that you haven’t found a solution to it already. Do not bring in old problems that you have solved. 
  • Remember the point of this is for the coach to practice.

As a  Coach

  • Coach!
  • This is a safe space to try new and different styles of coaching, tools, and techniques and to take some risks.
  • Be clear about your intentions.
  • Be open to feedback, do not try to resist it and defend yourself. This is valuable information for you to improve on and grow. 

As an Observer

  • Remember, you're observing mainly the coach, to provide him with valuable feedback. It will be very valuable to focus on the coaching relationship and the client. However, don’t let that take your focus away from giving most of your attention to the coach.
  • Don’t interrupt the coach. Don't offer suggestions to the coach or the client.
  • Take notes of what appeared effective in the session. Write down specific things the coach said that were very helpful.
  • Provide feedback to the Coach at the end of the session. Use specific examples and try to focus on both positive and constructive feedback. 
Figure 1 - Coaching Triad - Suggested Rotations

20 September 2017

My Notes from Professional Scrum Product Owner

I have participated in a two-day course on Product Owner. These are my notes on the course.

Day #1
  • Prioritize v.s. Order
    • There could be many priority ones, there could be only one at the top when ordering
  • Task management, I have not heard that in Scrum.
  • Change is not free, there is a cost associated with it from many different directions.
  • Agility hopefully speeds up learning
  • If no one is using your product, it is unsuccessful
  • Product Manager v.s. Product Owner (in small organizations one person)
  • Ideas
    • come with an open mind, leave your daily life outside the door, at intervals lets go grab those and bring them in!
    • "How is it in my life?" Board: To have a board for people to discuss and put ideas on how it is in their lives.
    • Lean Canvas start with a problem, give them problems or a scenario or ask them to bring one of the challenges to the table
    • Felt like you needed to have experience with Business Case to go through Lean Canvas.
  • The more we work on Sth, the more we love it.
  • Debrief
    • What was that activity/conversation about?
    • What was brought up in the conversation?
  • Measurements are not to set the goal!
  • EBMgmnt Values!
  • Time to prototype ==> innovation metrics!
  • Product Box
    • Small space
    • Everything on a box, no interactions
    • Try to sell
  • Pitch to get funded
    • Large investment
    • Interactions
    • Lots of questions
    • ROI Qs
Figure 1 - Reasons to Pursue Agility
Figure 2 - Entrepreneurial Product Owner (&why it's hard to be one)

Figure 3 - Pin the Scrum! A great facilitation tool to teach Scrum

Figure 4 - Pin the Scrum in action
Figure 5 - Scrum in a nutshell
Figure 6 - Various ways to sort requirements
Figure 7 - Product Backlog with depth (top down, left right) i.e. Story Map
Day #2
  • Debrief 
    • How those conversations usually go?
  • Stacey Matrix: 3 Pillar of product development
    • Technology
    • Requirement
    • People
  • Idea 
    • Thermostat/Temperature Exercise
    • Keep at 37C
    • What are the factors?
  • Scrum Values:
    • Courage
    • Focus
    • Commitment
    • Respect
    • Openness
  • Stories to be easily consumable by the development team!
  • Excellent PO
    • Empathetic
    • Listening
    • Goot at debate
    • Good negotiator
    • Manage up
    • Articulate well
    • Work with people (customer)
    • Say No
    • Failed before and proud of it
    • Clarify well
    • Think & say what they want
    • Able to trust people
    • Do not attack people
    • Ask Questions
    • Decisiveness
    • Critical Thinking

Figure 8 - Product Box 1

Figure 9 - Product Box 2

Figure 10 - Product Box 3
Figure 11 - Lean Canvas + Product Box 4 
Figure 12 - Lean Canvas 2

Figure 13 - Lean Canvas 3
Figure 14 - Product Backlog

12 September 2017

The Role of Empathy in Leadership

"Everything is personal", Mo started his presentation by saying that. He was supposed to talk about Leadership, Empathy, and role of one in the other.
He took us through several exercises that gave us insights into empathy. He debriefed each exercise by asking the question similar to "What would you think the other person was thinking about?". This is Mo's presentation.

These are the summary, instructions, and debrief of exercises he facilitated.

  • First Exercise 
    • Handshake
    • 30 seconds to stare at each other
  • Second Exercise
    • Tell me the truth
      • Hypothesis question, what the other person feeling?
  • Third Exercise
    • Tell me about a time you scared/failed
    • That reminds me of the time...
      • It's not about the stories but the sharing of feelings
One comment that I made was that his exercises made us to trust the person we are talking to. It will be very hard to replicate that in a work environment. 

Figure 1 - Listening without Bias
As part of being a good leader, you need to listen. The above pictures show anti-patterns of listening actively, or as he put it mindfully listening (v.s. radically listening). It is a good rule of thumb for you to be self-aware.

Figure 2 - Wheel of Emotions 
Working on your empathy, one can think of different emotions. When you become angry, ask yourself am I angry? or am I annoyed? or am I disturbed? Try this with other emotions as well. This helps you immensely in developing your empathy. You won't be able to empathize with other people if you don't know what exactly they are feeling.

This slide reminded me of my blog post about "How to Use Check-In Protocol to Incorporate Feelings in a Retrospective". I relied on different names of colors to convey the message that we need to work on our communication and be aware of it as well.

This great presentation was sponsored by Shopify and was hosted at the #TeamLeadTO group. By the end of the meetup, you could see empathy is way more personal that you thought of. You need to work very hard on it if you want to be a good leader. The exercises helped us a lot to have a conversation about not our feelings but what we believe the others are feeling, and practice our empathy toolkit!