Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lessons from the Secretary

I had the opportunity to attend the Korbel Dinner Monday night – one of the perks of being the wife of a Dean at the University of Denver. Dr. Condelezza Rice, alum of DU, was the featured speaker, and she was quite engaging, discussing the Middle East, Russia, and even football with ease and humor. When asked about managing the state department, my ear perked up. Here is a woman who has managed folks all over the world, dealing with major issues. Certainly, I could integrate a few tips from her into managing a scrum team! Indeed, there were three points that I could modify to manage a small team of IT professionals, rather than ambassadors and other international mediators.

First, problems don’t come in neat, single-disciplinary packages. Coming from a former Secretary of State, there are many examples that can be used here. But even in a development team, issues are often not neat, and rarely affect only one system! It’s very important to understand the complexities and connections when trying to resolve an issue. If one area becomes simpler, chances are another will be more complex. Where do you want the trade-off?

Second, policy is influenced by the people you train. This makes obvious sense for a school of international studies. How can it be used in a scrum team? It’s all about culture. Build the culture to encourage the behavior you want. Don’t expect that a great culture will just happen. Do you want people to be okay with making small mistakes, in order to learn and expand their knowledge? Celebrate those failures!

Finally, Dr. Rice talked about bringing people in who have been there. She has started the wheels turning on an endowed professorship, the Rice Family Professor of Practice. This position, I foresee, will be filled by people who have experiences of international relations that will enhance the studies and theory of the students. In other words, it’s important to tell the real stories. Books and theory are wonderful, but experience is the “secret sauce” – what really shows others how to integrate their knowledge into practice. Again, in scrum teams, listening to those with experience can be very useful – whether that experience is within the existing organization or from another company with a successful implementation of agile. Take all those stories, blend them together, and play with building a solution from that knowledge.

I love learning, in the many places I find myself!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Perfect is the Enemy

I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before. I’ve been experiencing this over the last month. A potential client wants everything to be just right before starting an agile project – the right people, the right timing (working around multiple vacations), and the right scheduling (have you ever tried to schedule executive assessments one week out?!). It’s hard to get everything set up PERFECTLY before you start an agile project, or any project for that matter.

My answer? Start anyway. You CEO and CTO will not be in the same country for two more months? Start anyway (they can communicate via email, right?). You’re still missing two out of ten planned staff? Start anyway. All the requirements aren’t yet fully vetted? Start anyway. The servers/databases/other pieces of equipment aren’t yet ordered? Start anyway.

There’s never going to be a PERFECT time. Projects involve people, and people have lives. And, well, life is messy.

Funny. I’ve already posted about this once. Seems we often need to be reminded... 

Just start. It's okay. It will work out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Agile and Business – Leading at a Higher Level

I have been re-reading Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard. Published in 2009, it’s not a recent book by any means, and it says nothing about running IT organizations or coding methodology.  Nope, it’s a straight-forward business book. Like many of Blanchard’s books, this one has a message that works well as the entrance point for talking about agile practices with executives. Here are a few points.

The triple bottom line

Most executives and business leaders understand their organization’s bottom line. Blanchard, however, extends that concept and talks of the triple bottom line. Rather than simply making money for the company’s investors, the organization needs to focus on being the provider of choice, the employer of choice, and the investment of choice. In other words, the people that work for you (employees), and the people you work for (customers) need to be part of the formula for success, rather than simply the money that is made.

High Performing Organization

Blanchard labels the companies that focus on this triple bottom line as High Performing Organizations or HPOs. Fortunately, he doesn’t just stop there. He spends the rest of the book identifying ways to determine if your organization (or department, or team) is high performing, and what to do to turn it around. He uses a model that he calls SCORES.


This is one area where the agility of Blanchard’s model shines. Blanchard notes that there are 6 focus areas to address in order to help your organization become high performing.

Each of these items has an associated principle or concept from agile as well:

·         Shared Information and Open Communication – Open communication builds trust, encouraging everyone to take ownership of their organization. Transparency and the support of face-to-face communication are the agile equivalents.
·         Compelling Vision: Purpose & Values – Anyone who’s worked in an agile environment can tell you that the vision is the driver. If you don’t have a vision, why do you have a company? Vision drives the project, and helps motivate the individuals involved.
·         Ongoing Learning – I often talk less about agile and more about creating a learning environment at a client site, where it’s acceptable to make (and therefore learn from) mistakes. The focus on continuous improvement in agile also encourages this learning environment.
·         Relentless Focus on Customer Results – The first agile principle notes that “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer.” Focusing on the value brought to the customer sounds pretty agile to me.
·         Energizing Systems & Structures – No one wants to work in an environment where the smallest request feels like a giant burden. What can be done to remove the systemic obstacles, so that work can be done with ease? As one of the principle states “Give [individuals] the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
·         Shared Power & High Involvement – This relates to two of the agile principles: building projects around motivated individuals, and working together on a daily basis. My favorite story about empowered individuals is one that Blanchard relays. At the Ritz-Carlton hotels, every staff member was allowed a discretionary fund of about $2000 to solve customers’ dilemmas. One member of the cleaning staff used that discretionary fund to personally deliver a laptop to a customer who had left it behind on his way to Hawaii for a very important presentation which, of course, was on the laptop. When the smart people that are hired to do excellent work are given the motivation and authorization to do what they need to do, amazing things can happen!

I have to admit, I can probably find some agile theme in almost any book (I believe I’ve mentioned The Hobbit here before)! Where have you found an example of agile at work (or play!) in a non-technical field? What stories can you tell to relay the importance of the agile principles? I’d love to hear about them!