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.


Adventures In Agile – The One About It Being Hard

broken wings

Agile is a culture

Its not a product or a set of processes, it’s a mind-set and Michael Sahota writes about this comprehensively in his survival guide to agile transformation. Scrum he says is designed to be disruptive and introduces new roles, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Team.

For a leadership team in the early stages of Agile transformation, the introduction of new concepts such as transparency, trust and collaboration can be emancipatory and emotional.

For some the early stages of the agile mindset shift it can feel like a transcendental experience, for me at least I spent a good 12 months firmly in this space.

I’d written about this in earlier articles as a consciousness awakening, I found others of the same ilk, some found me.

I can spot the difference because those that have made the shift are just different from those who haven’t. Perhaps it’s the transparency and collaboration factor, they seem to have a different energy, vibe and presence.

Now I am in privileged and humbled to be able to help others through this journey, while I am still on this journey myself.

It’s been described as an emotional roller coaster and in the very early stages of our journey the team likened it to being in an amusement park or a circus.

It’s magical, mysterious and powerful and right now it’s hard.

I think we’re all  facing the day to day reality that we are trying to change ourselves, how we work, our mindset and still operate within a larger organisation who are not Agile and that we must now operate in a dual culture.

We have all in our own ways opened our minds and have wholeheartedly embraced the change, we are getting better at inspecting and adapting everything we do, and we are moving through that really uncomfortable place where we are trying, succeeding and sometimes failing on the way to our goal.

But this agile transformation isn’t about us as a leadership team.

It’s about whom we have been entrusted to lead. Simon Sinek so eloquently describes this when he talks about why leadership matters. He says leaders set the tone and when a leader makes the choice to put the safety (feeling safe and a sense of belonging) and lives of the people inside the organisation first, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong.

So we are beginning to ask our people to help us rebuild an ecosystem and mindset which previously saw them not being trusted completely to get the job done, and where we did not create an inclusive environment that fostered trust, courage or transparency.

We are at the first stages of learning about servant leadership and what it might mean and it’s a natural partner with agile.

If we are no longer managers of people than who are we, what value do we bring?

But this isn’t about us

It’s about our people

Take these broken wings

Take these broken wings

And learn to fly again, learn to live so free

When we hear the voices sing

The book of love will open up and let us in

Take these broken wings

There’s Something In The Water


One of my favorite movies of all times, stars Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra , a down and out loser (and really unattractive for Bradley) suffering from writer’s block, living in New York. Eddie then meets Vernon who’s involved with a pharmaceutical company, and gives Eddie a drug, NZT- 48.

After taking the pill, Eddie finds himself able to learn at the speed of light and recall memories from his distant past. He experiences astonishing new degrees of clarity, perception and energy. In one fight scene he obliterates a gang in the subway after accessing memories from a Bruce Lee movie. Yeah!!

Recently I had the pleasure and privilege of breakfasting with Kate Billing from Black Smith and we discussed the phenomenon of becoming conscious. Yes! she said, it will feel uncomfortable, scary and exhilarating at the same time. But the thing is, once your there – you can’t go back.

It is transformational. And this has been so true for me on all levels.

In a previous blog I wrote about hatching into a creative networker, being a digital citizen, social media and the opportunity to collaborate with amazing people on line (and in person!)

And this has been my NZT – 48.                                                                           

But I don’t think it’s just me – I think something’s going on collectively. I can feel it even if I can’t understand it. Hey ho I say, – always go with your intuition.

And you know what? You can see it too if you open your eyes – you can distinguish between individuals and organizations – those who are still asleep and unconnected and those who are awake and conscious.

This is deep shit – so indulge me in this post because I have an theory I want to explore with you.

Let’s consider Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious theory which has always held an appeal for me.

Collective unconscious coined by Carl Jung, proposes to be a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms.

He distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious, in that the personal unconscious is a personal reservoir of experience unique to each individual, while the collective unconscious collects and organizes those personal experiences in a similar way with each member of a particular species.

I agree with that premise

So here is the question that has bubbling away for a while – is the web exposing and transforming our collective unconsciousness to a global collective consciousness?

We now have access to more information, more memories, more thoughts, than we do as a mere individual. Look at social networking sites, humans have opened up as never before, for better or worse. Blogs are but one example (and one of the coolest in my opinion) of that collective consciousness and community forums, ebooks, and the general publishing of knowledge and access to information are just a handful of many others.

The human collective consciousness seems to be wide open and wanting to connect to others and before the web we lived in relatively isolated individual worlds.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee in his blog said that the web is a new model of universal consciousness in which knowledge is readily available to anyone, anywhere. We have instant access to a unified body of knowledge and the potential for interconnecting with everyone else who is on the web.

 The unified connectivity presented by the web has been long known to the mystic, who in meditation has access to a dimension of oneness in which everything is simultaneously present, and all knowledge is accessible.

The experience of samadhi, or super-conscious state, happens on this plane of oneness. But the Internet presents a model of a unified consciousness that is accessible on a more physical plane, to anyone who has access to a computer.

The web is not a hierarchical structure and is globally democratic and you can see it changing and it carries the blueprint of its potential—a consciousness and interrelationships that has no barriers of nationality or geography.

It is present everywhere at the same time.

He believes (and maybe I do too) that we as a species are evolving and that through the expanded web of individual relationships throughout the planet – like a cellular structure – is coming alive and will continually make new connections.

It is then possible to ponder that as these connections of both knowledge and people are made – will they evolve to make further connections in a way similar to how the individual brain activates and accesses information? I think its already happening.

And here it is

At a critical point then will the interrelationships and flow of information come alive and begin to function as a unified field? When a unified level of consciousness on a global level is activated.

We are limitless

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


HR – What is Your New ‘Why’?


Last week I attended an HR conference about changing HR. About time. Up until 10 years ago I was ‘in’ HR, influenced at the time by David Ulrich, later on we even collaborated on the design of a new HR model for one of New Zealand’s largest tertiary institutions. At the time I did not quite understand the notion of HR being agents of change, I got bored and frustrated. Lacking the strategic thinking maturity but up for a challenge, I took myself off into the world of technology change and rode that wave for the next ten years. I discovered emerging concepts and new ways of working like Agile, Servant Leadership, studied Spotify, Google and  IDEO. Michael Sahota, Jurgen Appello and Simon Senik became my new hero’s and I became a disciple. I started to think like a designer and began to see the connections between the parts and the whole. Most importantly I now understood the critical design link between organisational strategy, leadership, organisational systems, operating models, how work is prioritised, how its done, processes and practices and employee experience. I saw the disconnect between what HR was doing (policies, transaction and function, sometimes leadership) and the relationship to the whole. In response to the question what is HRs role? I usually heard ‘to maximise employee assets’, ‘manage the people side of risk’, ‘develop good systems and processes’, ‘support the business strategy’. That takes care of some of the what and some of the how; but I have never heard from anyone as to the whyIf HR by definition is about Human Resources exactly what is the why? HR what is your mantra? what are you about? what do you stand for? There is now an emerging view that HR should be replaced with EXD (Employee Experience Design) and HRs role is to create and maintain great employee experiences and all people practices should be employee centric. In this paradigm EXDs mantra is to create and foster great employee experiences. Why? Because very simply when you focus on creating great employee experiences you foster belonging, trust and a sense of purpose. Simplistically these are the cornerstones of engagement. Taking the simple EX design principles one step further into organisational design – what do leadership styles, support, work organisation do employees need to have great experiences? – then we start to see the link between concepts like the role of agile leadership and optimal experience for the human in the workplace. I come back to the role of HR, I think your new ‘why’ is to create and foster great employee experiences and you do this by employee centric design across all organisational dimensions and ensuring explicit linkages (how and the what). By definition you become an Organisational EX Architect. This new remit requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about HR and the key competences – we now need you to be creative thinkers, innovators, design thinkers, systemic thinkers, knowledge workers and change agents. Change begins with awareness, and while a chartered institute for HR will undoubtedly be welcomed by many – it in itself will not be a panacea for the change. Real disruption wont happen until the new guard understands collectively what the new ‘why’ is, what it means and what it will take to get there.