Agile Bal Masqué


To the people

In the new world

Haven’t you heard

Everybody’s got a great life

We’re living in the blur

Tokio Hotel

After almost a year of being lost in an parallel space and time continuum of an Agile Transformation – I’ve learnt many things, Of most importance to me?

That Agile means different things to different people.

For some, agile means adopting ‘proper’ Scrum, working in iterations, daily inspection, adaption and transparency, collaboration and team work. For others, it can mean the waterfall-style development,with some aspects of the ceremonies and practices such as daily stand-up meetings.

I have definitely become less of a ‘purist’ when considering adopting agile outside of software development than working with development or project teams. I sense its somewhere between Shu and Ha in this operational context of agile transformation. Subsequently I’ve become obsessed with spotting Agile anti-patterns.

I’ve made many mistakes – the consolation is that this is supposed to be normal.

I hope you can learn from mine.

In your agile adoption or transformation journey, when this becomes unbalanced, you will experience and see some obvious symptoms.

If your approach is very process orientated with strict adherence to the Scrum processes with less emphasis on say transparency, team work and collaboration you probably won’t have a happy or high performing team but you’ll get some stuff done.

Inversely if you choose to adopt only some of the practices and ceremonies and focus on collaboration for example but aren’t inspecting and adapting with transparency then I think you could end up with a variation of agile which isn’t ‘pure’ Agile.

And does that really matter in the end?

Regardless of where you stand in this continuum, to be an Agile organisation or business unit I’ve formed the view that you need to have the right balance of Agile strategy, mind-set – people, interactions, behaviors, culture and processes, practices and tools for you. 

Different strokes suit different folks.

I think this is particularly relevant to Agile in an operational context.

After all, as long as you have some sort of agility it makes sense, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want their organisation or their change initiative to be more agile?

Scrum & Agile

Let’s revisit what Scrum is and its importance to Agile.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum. The Scrum Guide describes Scrum as a framework where teams can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum as a framework is lightweight, simple to understand but difficult to master. Edwin Dando has talked about this with me many times – I now well understand what he means.

“The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artefacts, and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage. The rules of Scrum bind together the events, roles, and artefacts, governing the relationships and interaction between them”.

Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage

And so common is it for Agile teams to find themselves skipping over the key components that it’s got its own term and Wikipedia definition – Wagile. Agile + Waterfall = Wagile.

“….that result from slipping from agile back into waterfall, doing a lot of short waterfalls and thinking it is agile”  

I think Scrum is an important framework and I’ve seen broad adherence as well as a more looser interpretation. The loose interpretations I used to freak out about. I’ve become more comfortable with the looser approach to method because I’ve also seen that the agile mindset and ways of working – do work!

And what can you do in the future to ensure you stay on track with your Agile Transformation journey with an approach that works for you? What’s important to consider?

Recruit for Agile Mindset/Experience

You can recruit for this and it’s critical that you do. You might get push back that it doesn’t really matter. You can teach any framework but it’s much harder and takes a long time to teach Agile mindset. Perhaps you’ve inherited the team or new people have joined. Induction and expectation setting then takes on real importance    

Agile Working – What’s Importance to Us?

Being really clear about Agile – what it is, what it means, how you experience it and see it. Taking the time to explain that the principles behind say your stand ups or your planning process. What does “Team” mean and what it feels like when everyone is collaborating? How is the way we work different for an individual not familiar with Agile concepts? How does this play out day to day?

Be Really Clear on Delegation

Delegation can work differently in Agile environments. For new managers joining an Agile environment this can be confusing. Scrum is clear about the relative roles and responsibility of the PO, SM and Team. Jurgen Appelos “Delegation Poker” is good for any new manager, functional lead or team member joining an Agile environment.

What is the Role Of The Manager in Agile?  

As with delegation, being clear and discussing what the role is and what it is not in Agile is super important. Does it mean consulting the team but making the final decisions? Or is it about facilitating a high performing team and what does that look like? While a manager isn’t in the Scrum team in that role, sometimes in operations a manager may also do work in the team but take that hat off.

Be Sure to Explain Where You Are & How You Got Here 

Agile is a journey and if you are moving from a traditional to Agile environment where individuals are typically signed off on their work, to a more collaborative, team oriented process, it’s vital to factor this into your Agile transition plan.

It takes time and coaching and effort. And be aware that it’s going to take more than just or two sprints for your team(s) to find their groove. Because, in the end, Agile is far more than a process change – it’s a game-changer for the entire business.

Over a 6 – 12 month period I would view as the foundation layer, learning and making mistakes, things won’t be perfect – and it is really important to be able to tell the story of that journey and the changes that have happened.

Because without this any one new cannot appreciate or understand what has gone before, what you have learned and how you got to today. Your unpicking at scale a hundred years of management practices and notions of how work can be done.

Self-Managing Teams Don’t Just Happen   

I used to believe that teams would just self-manage to the level to what I expected them to. This was naive. A team can be engaged but may not able to self manage say to the level of dev team because of relevant levels of expertise. Outside of software development you get into to notions of relevancy. So being able to self manage to the level of capability of that team and be realistic about the level of coaching support and guidelines needed.

David Marquet showed us In “Turn the Ship Around” to give the team the keys to ship without a gradual release of delegation aligned to competency will result in confusion and failure.

Agile Is Not For Everyone  

Some peoples brains are not wired that way and despite your best efforts won’t change. Help them find something fulfilling satisfactory elsewhere.

Transition Will Cause Resistance

I believe you cannot manage change, you can only help navigate it. There are too many variables. Naturally is it not going to be all smooth sailing, your changing their world and long held belief systems. Some people will just plain not like it,

Agile Isn’t A Silver Bullet 

Agile is not magic. We can’t produce something from nothing or make other trade-offs go away.  You can’t expect to maintain the status quo AND improve. It’s simply not the “real world.” You cannot a team to become self-managing overnight. You might not see any improvement to performance quickly because your Agile programme aligns at a point of time to balance the longer term with the now. And then you’ll see results. The trick is knowing what point that is and ensuring alignment to that point,

To me Agile is all about embracing the uncertainty of change and learning how to use it to your advantage.

And becoming Agile means being open to possibilities and options.

Being Agile is understanding what innovation truly means in the same sense that an artist understands what “creativity” means.

I can explain the values, principles, practices, and dynamics of agile culture to someone, but I can’t tell them how to be innovative.

That’s something that has to come from within – the want to be truly great, to be better than you ever thought possible.

It’s uncomfortable, change.

And, through discomfort, we learn and grow.


The New Face Of Recruitment Knows People


Yesterday I hung out with a bunch of recruiters, a brief visit firstly with Jonathon and Sean from Rice Consulting at the Generator, Johnny B from Synergy Consumers and bumped into Laura Burton from Progressive HR.

In talking to them I got an insight and a new perspective. These folk have specialised in their respective industries (recruitment, FMCG, HR) they know people. They really know the emerging and top talent, where they are, who wants to move and who doesn’t. They collaborate and creatively network beyond the next job  – they know their stuff and it’s impressive.

This is the new face of recruitment.

We talked about some of the challenges facing internal recruiters, which technology hasn’t solved for. Starting with applicant tracking systems, job boards, recruiting websites, and now an array of social media tools. There’s talk of some bigger organisations taking down job boards because internal recruiters can’t deal with the number of applicants, feel overworked, and are deluged with unqualified candidates.

In this model of recruitment there is little room or opportunity for tailoring the candidate process and the funnel approach to recruitment may be simply the best method to sift through the sheer numbers.

The business model for most internal recruitment departments (and many external recruitment agencies) is not predicated on knowing people. How can you tell? Because the most common recruitment process is candidate sourcing via job boards i.e. SEEK. The model is reactive, job by job. But recruiting is the business of knowing people and with many variables between each person, creating systematic processes to find/screen/interview/assess/close and giving it a fancy new name (Talent Acquisition) will never be sophisticated enough to deal with millions of variables of people and market influences – that’s chaos theory.

Google has taken the business of knowing people a leap forward and has better than anyone else developed a recruiting culture. Recruiting and the need for it permeates the entire organisation. Not just the recruiting function or the HR organization, but the entire company. As a result of this culture, Google funds recruiting to the point where the function is in a league by itself.

Google recruiting has the best-funded recruiting function in any major corporation. Dr John Sullivan in his case study of Google Recruitment Practices Dec 2005, indicates that, at times, Google recruitment has a ratio of 1 recruiter for every 14 employees (14:1). He states

If on the surface this ratio doesn’t impress you, I might suggest that you compare it to the typically much larger ratio of employees to all HR professionals, which is about 100:1. Because “building a business case” is an essential factor for building a recruiting culture (or even for having a strategic impact), their funding level puts Google in a class by itself


So to my point unless organisations are willing to really re think their internal recruitment business models, rather than playing around with the geography then it’s a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You’re not solving for the right problem. By this I mean enabling internal recruitment to build talent communities in partnership with talented professional recruiters whose business it is to know people, ensure its funded and the right people are leading – otherwise you may as well automate or outsource it all together.

Great recruiters internally or externally are made up of great people – they and they alone make the difference. Great recruiters care. They care about their delivery promises to their hiring managers and candidates, whether it’s sourcing/following up when you say you will, caring about how this may feel to a candidate, caring enough to stay creative and explore every way to find a great person – and that care is what makes great recruiting departments.

Great organisations cultivate that care, they know how to hire and keep great recruiters, and be quick to let go of senior executives who just don’t get it


Dont Talk to Me About Customer Experience Until You Have Your Own House In Order


If you’re a job seeker and looking for a new role it can be a very emotional experience, we’re talking money and livelihoods here – very personal stuff indeed.

It’s highly probable that the majority of you reading this article have re-entered the job market in recent years or have a colleague, connection or friend that did. Many of you will be able to recount great experiences but I am guessing that every one of you will have a less than satisfactory experience to tell.

If you’re an employer and you have a candidate focused recruitment process, you regularly monitor and track candidate experiences and have processes in place to improve them – then your in the minority.

Dr John Sullivan an internationally known HR thought-leader from Silicon Valley and Professor from San Francisco State University in his blogs variously asks why many in recruiting cannot connect that a poor candidate experience is similar to a poor customer experience and assume that there is not a significant negative impact and finds it disturbing. He goes on to say that anyone with a basic knowledge of customer relationship management knows that there is a well-documented correlation between customer (with their treatment and the products purchased) and customer retention, i.e. their willingness to buy from the organisation again.

He further states that organisations like the Ritz-Carlton and Wal-Mart have elevated monitoring guest satisfaction to a science and know the exact dollar cost of obtaining a customer, upsetting a customer, and losing a lifelong customer. He says while such evaluation is common in sales and customer support functions, it is nearly unheard of in HR functions, which often interact with a significant volume of potential customers in any given year. The impact of a poor “candidate experience” is uncalculated, unreported, and not discussed, in his view, making it quite possibly one of the largest “hidden costs” facing modern organisations.

Most corporations don’t know the real costs of having a bad candidate experience because they don’t have metrics to measure the pain points nor do most conduct periodic surveys to identify the frustration levels of those who never apply, those who drop out of the hiring process, and those who reject your offers. Mystery shoppers need to periodically test the system, and both recruiters and hiring managers need to be directly measured and rewarded for providing a positive candidate experience. There’s really no excuse for not improving the process. It really doesn’t cost much more to treat candidates the “right way.” Customer relationship management tools and technologies are abundant and most are easy to adapt to recruiting

Here are some recent anecdotal accounts from folk in my network that I’ll share with you to illustrate my point.

      “I arrived to meet the recruitment manager and was kept waiting 40 minutes. When she did arrive no apology, and she started yawning and looking her watch. She then talked about herself, how great the company was for the next 20 minutes and asked if I had any questions. Unfortunately I had been warned off this company by a colleague for much the same reason, so didn’t take it personally. And yes I was left with a very negative view of the company”

“I was approached by a company told about a great new role I should consider. After a chat I indicated I might be interested and the HR person said she would arrange for me to talk further with her boss. After two weeks of hearing nothing I finally got hold of her and she said her boss had been on holiday and the role had been changed to something else altogether. This company’s share price had fallen to a new low – I wasn’t surprised”.  

“I was approached about a new role in a company. The recruitment process was open for 4 weeks in which time I explained I was half way through talking to another organisation and asked whether they would consider discussing the role with me before the 4 week period ended, no sorry we need to stick with our process and we can’t discuss the role with you until we have shortlisted those other candidates who might also be eligible. 2 weeks after by which time I had already received another offer they came back to me and asked whether I would still be interested. Uh no…”

“I was approached by an internal recruiter for a role for an organisation I would have normally been iffy about. The role sounded interesting so I gave permission for my details to be forwarded. After one week the hiring manager looked at the CV’s, what followed was a whole list of inane questions from the hiring manager to the recruiter via email which I answered, another two weeks passed for a first interview at which point I was sent to the wrong place, and then a further 3 weeks for a second interview and finally meet the team – well they were extremely negative about the role and impressed the ‘truth’ as they saw it. I was then told the role wasn’t permanent after all. Overall this took 8-9 weeks from start to finish which was as it turned out a complete waste of my time”

These are real stories from very senior people in my network. In almost all cases they reflected poor candidate experience directly with the employer and not from reputable professional recruiters.

There seems to be no or little effort to customise the experience, instead all candidates are processed through the same funnel.  And here is my point – how can you begin to attract talent when you treat them all in the same robotic way. A senior candidate known in the market should never be put through an inane behavioural based (read situational) interview. Millennials may favour a more relaxed and social approach. The fairness argument about treating everyone the same way is a guise for lack of thought and consideration.

Some key gripes for senior candidates included:

  • Roles posted on social media with no contact name. While some people are ok to apply like this – most senior candidates are more selective. One very senior IT executive said he would not even bother applying for a role in this way.
  • Not returning phone calls. This may not seem like a big deal to the person receiving the message, but it can be very upsetting if you’re the one waiting to see how you went after an interview, or to confirm your resume was received, or to discuss the finer points of a role you have seen advertised.
  • Very slow basic (don’t confuse slow with thorough) recruitment processes which are frustrating to a candidate, do not acknowledge that the process is two way, candidates often are often talking to multiple employers about other roles – i.e. it’s not one sided and you do have competition, you will lose the best candidates (except if your Google maybe)
  • Internal recruiters who would not speak to candidates for initial discussion about the role outside ‘the process’. The insane adherence to process and lack of agility is just plain stupid.

This reminded me of a survey conducted by OCG Consulting in 2009 of 11,000 candidates which examined candidate experiences of the recruitment process from recruitment agencies compared to when they dealt with employers direct.   Recruitment agencies were rated poor more often than employers in every category.

5 years later, things have changed internal, recruitment functions seem to have proliferated everywhere, social media and Linked in have fundamentally changed the recruitment landscape and I am guessing for senior candidates at least; that the survey if re done today might now reflect an inverse result. How many HR departments invest significant amount of time and money on training for recruitment departments?

A good number of the senior people said they would not deal again with the organisation no matter how good a role looked because of their now poor perception. Asked whether this impacted on their perception of the organisations product or services, almost all said they would now choose a competitors because of their poor experiences.

The changing recruitment landscape and the advent of new recruitment channels like LinkedIn and Seek also contribute to a less than personal experience for many candidates, when a recruiter relies on those channels solely to attract and screen potential candidates, there is missed opportunity to engage.

How many HR departments can say hand on heart that they place a great deal of thought and focus to how a candidate experiences the process? Unfortunately for most the recruitment process design is solely based on process, the transactional, the here and now administrative need.

How many organisations have metrics in place for each vacancy where they actively checking levels of candidate satisfaction with the process?  Most corporations don’t know the real costs of having a bad candidate experience because they don’t have metrics to measure the pain points nor do most conduct periodic surveys to identify the frustration levels of those who never apply, those who drop out of the hiring process, and those who reject your offers.

I know there are fantastic recruitment departments out there with some very talented and committed people, you know who are. But I get the sense this isn’t the norm.

And no wearing thigh high boots, twirling your hair and chewing gum, to an interview doesn’t leave us with a lasting positive first impression of your company.