Leadership, the value of a mistake #agile

November 10, 2016

This week, like most weeks, I made some mistakes… I’d like to pretend that they didn’t happen, defend, or gloss over them. But, I know better. Better to retrospect and find a way to address, avoid or automate in the future!
One of my favorite books on retrospectives is “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen, when I’m prepping to facilitate a retro I like flipping through the pages of the Hardcopy book.  It’s a retro thing to do, in more ways than one 🙂

I also recently heard David Marquet (author of It’s Your Ship, great book) speak and started listening the the Audible version of his book for the second time. He references learning from mistakes, too. See one of his posts here.
Back to my personal retrospective, I keep a paper notebook at home, and from the front page of the notebook I write the date and a sequence of things that I am grateful for. Some items are small, some are large. Gratitude acknowledges. Gratitude celebrates. Gratitude energizes. Don’t miss this step!

Next, I flip the notebook over and rotate 180 degrees, like an old-fashioned double-book with two covers. And I proceed to write down everything that concerns me.  Be it a mistake I made, or a challenge that is beyond my control. I summarize all the many problems, leaving room for a few lines of solutioning under each one.

Next, I reflect on each! Thinking about options for going forward. Imagining a better future. And after a day or two and sometimes longer, I am able to fill in a solution or improvement under each concern.

And, if it’s a day with extra challenges, I read back through the many problems now resolved and the many things I’m grateful for. All great reminders of my good and beautiful life! #grateful

Why this works
The brain keeps working on problems in the background til some closure is reached. Imagine thousands of background tasks running on your laptop, and each day more new “processes” are spawned. No re-boot possible. What a slow computer! You need a way to “end process tree” on some tasks. So there is free capacity to a address new challenges that will crop up throughout each day.

From a practical perspective, you already “paid” for whatever the issue cost in terms of time, energy, and angst to date. And in return you received some learning. Take the learning and put it to good use!

From a spiritual perspective, each positive and concern listed becomes a prayer, and, with faith, persistent prayers are eventually answered, one way or another. There could well be upside! It’s highly likely! Or, at a minimum, you will be able to help someone else facing a similar path. Get up. Pay it forward.

From an agile perspective, by holding a personal (or team) retrospective we capture the learning, make resolutions, and clear space for new priorities.

Your turn, what will you learn today?


Getting ready for an uncomfortable conversation

October 23, 2016
Like many people, I’d prefer to avoid tough conversations. Yet, addressing such topics is the only way to improve our relationships, our results, and the status quo.
Here are a few tips that I’ve learned from @LyssaAdkins to setup the conversation up for success…
First, take a few minutes to think about the issue from three different perspectives. An exercise called 3-2-1 guides us to envision ourselves first in the 3rd person perspective observing the conversation, “they”. Then, a 2nd person perspective “you”, imagine saying “you did xyz, you Abc”. And then finally an inclusive perspective saying “we” and inviting a shared solution.
Next, I write out what I intend to say and how I want to be received.
And finally, just before the actual conversation, I review my intention as written above.
Try it, you will be amazed at the clarity with which you enter the conversation and with your ability to stay present and on track in the heat of the moment. This will honor the other person and enable productive dialog.

On limits and limitations

November 10, 2014

When faced with a limit that changes the way I was planning to go, I first get mad. Why is that limit there. Who is responsible for that?  Let me go talk with them. Maybe they don’t understand the cost and repercussions of this limitation?

In other words, I move into action, too fast!

In “The one-life solution,”  Dr Henry Cloud talks about the benefits of limits. Limits provide boundaries that guide decision making. Limits are most beneficial when they evolve over time. They are not “forever.” It’s also important for us each to have a sense of our own personal limits. He asks these questions:

  • Where are you being pushed past your limit and allowing something to occur…?
  • What limits of others are you not respecting that it would help if you would?”

I see that the two questions could be in conflict. It’s not always easy to find solutions that work for everyone’s limits. And still it is critically important to try!

In church today were challenged with a message about Necessary Limits, from 2Cor12 “Now I take limitations in stride, with good cheer…” What timing!

In weakness, strength is possible. In weakness we are humbled and start to ask for help. We become open to change. We become curious.

Curiosity assumes there is reasoning behind the limit! …Assuming there are a good reasons for the limit, then ask questions of curiosity.

  • Who might benefit from this limit? In the future?
  • What good can we make from this limit?
  • What other paths can we explore?
  • What are some innovative alternatives that honor and learn from the limit?

Get curious!

One way to approach enterprise level #transformation

April 29, 2014

Here is a practical way to think about for enterprise change… this is a model of concentric circles. Like an orchestra, get started with the core circle, then start to layer in the other pieces. Keep all of the layers going in parallel. Enlist and encourage others in the system to take on these roles also.

Core circle 1) Observe and listen. Ask questions of understanding. Gain trust.

Layer 2) Begin to mentor and facilitate the middle leaders, and/or the informal leaders to see their need for change. What are the broken windows. What’s working well, what needs to work better. (It quadrant)

Layer 3) Begin to offer feedback and coaching to the leaders at all levels as they seem open to input. Seek feedback on myself as a coach. Model collaborative approach, reflection, transparency. (I quadrant)

Layer 4) Coach the senior leaders to develop a vision for the future. Employ tools that work well with both the number of leaders and the existing culture(s) of the existing system(s) (We quadrant)

Layer 5) Work with leadership to create a system for managing change initiatives.  A system that draws on a combination of volunteerism, and nurtures junior leadership within the org. Look for quick wins out of the gate. Provide adequate Project management structure and exec support so that these projects can evolve and succeed. Celebrate wins. (Its quadrant)

The quadrants refer to Michael Spayd’s work and upcoming book as mentioned here

Team toxins, why your #agile #team is stuck

October 16, 2013

Teams need feedback, and boundaries. We want to have in a collaborative culture. One with high trust.

It is important that we do not tolerate, condone, or otherwise support when we see or hear toxic behaviors. Here is a link that helps explain toxic behaviors and their effect on teams here http://www.beyondtheleadingedge.com/192/leading-edge-news/teams/the-four-team-toxins/ . I first learned about this model from Lyssa Adkins – it provides a powerful lens for surfacing team challenges.

When you see Team Toxins, please give feedback privately to the person. Or come and talk with your manager or a trusted coach so that they can help you address.

One good model for giving feedback is http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/10/the-peer-feedback-model

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About #IT, #DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

October 3, 2013

It’s a business fable. And, I loved it anyway! Remember reading “The Goal” by Eli Goldratt back in B school? This is the DevOps twin.  Written by Gene Kim @RealGeneKim, Kevin Behr @kevinbehr AND George Spafford @gspaff.

What is DevOps?

It’s a concept that signifies tight, systems collaboration between Development and Operations (IT). As this post on Dev2Ops explains, “DevOps is a response to the growing awareness that there is a disconnect between what is traditionally considered development activity and what is traditionally considered operations activity.”

One of my favorite quotes from the book is in reference to an IT department:

“You’ve just described ‘technical debt’ that is not being paid down. It comes from taking shortcuts, which may make sense in the short-term. But like financial debt, the compounding interest costs grow over time. If an organization doesn’t pay down its technical debt, every calorie in the organization can be spent just paying interest, in the form of unplanned work.” “As you know, unplanned work is not free,” he continues. “Quite the opposite. It’s very expensive, because unplanned work comes at the expense of…” He looks around professorially for an answer. Wes finally speaks up, “Planned work?” “Precisely!” Erik says jovially. “Yes, that’s exactly right, Chester. Bill mentioned the four types of work: business projects, IT Operations projects, changes, and unplanned work. Left unchecked…”

If your business includes deploying any type of code to a website or other online access, and uptime and security matter. Then you will relate to this story. And be inspired to work towards positive change!

Office layouts, creating practical space for #agile #collaboration

September 29, 2013

Always a heated and interesting topic. The best topics are both, right?

I love this great deck (link below) from Ed Kraay. Really provides thoughtful guidance about the value of flexibility. It’s like that old adage of giving decisions to the people closest to the work. If possible, give teams options. And also allow them to iterate and change later too. The work changes…Why choose to be stuck in one layout?


And here is a University of Michigan study that talks about the direct productivity results of teams given their own shared work room.

“We conducted a field study of six such teams, tracking their activity, attitudes, use of technology and productivity.Teams in these warrooms showed a doubling of productivity. Why? Among other things, teams had easy access to each other for both coordination of their work and for learning, and the work artifacts they posted on the walls remained visible to all. “

A while back I asked other companies what they had found the ideal workspace to be for agile and heard this on one of the discussion groups (sorry I’ve lost the attribution):  “We basically are using the cubes for walls but not for work surface. Instead we are using free standing tables.  This encourages teaming and people sitting side by side when looking at screens and working collaboratively. You can see some examples in the links below.  It also requires less square footage per person. The idea is that when people are collaborating, they prefer to be closer to their colleagues, they don’t need all the walls.”

Of course, quiet space is also needed. Just like at home. If one of us is going to sleep at say 10pm, the others can’t be listening to loud music or TV. Even a loud conversation would be disrespectful to our housemates.

Same is true with sharing space at work…. Teams do not want to hear the constant distraction of other teams’ work which is unrelated to them.

In my first job out of school, I sat in a team space…there were maybe 20 of us students packed into one large interior room. All sitting at desks. A true Dilbert-style “office bullpen.”  We laughed a lot. I enjoyed that experience and have many fond memories. We were not a true team, in the sense of working on a shared project, rather we were “hired hands” available to other teams. We laughingly placed a huge sign over our doorway: “Do you know your work-order number?”…and in that space I learned to concentrate in a team setting, and to be respectful of others. I also learned practical engineering and people skills. You see, I was a dev back then, well a “dev-in-training.”

When I graduated with my BSECE I moved into a cube. My very own cube.  Just directly across from one of the team managers, who liked to talk loudly with his office door open, Very distracting. I soon acquired my first pair of headphones. Eventually I found a respectful way to let him know, so he began to be more aware and adjusted his habits.  Managers, please close the door or speak softly when you talk about distracting topics unrelated to the team J 

Ultimately, the best solutions for team spaces will come from the people closest to the work, the teams themselves…

Fellow managers, we are just the boundary setters. Be clear on the space available, the tools, and the budget. Then give the rest up to the team. If some of the team members lead the team to make anti-collaboration or toxic decisions, then it is our job as managers to step in and manage the individuals. 

Rule breaker, rule maker, and not a rule follower

August 26, 2013

One of my execs, whom I have the greatest respect for, called me out a few years ago as being a rule breaker, a rule maker, and not a rule follower. I began to see how true that is and why this way of being enables my success in being a change agent in corporate environments. I was recently invited to share my learnings  on this topic at a local meetup.  The slides are here.  And below is a bit of a summary…

There is a time for rule making, breaking, and following. Motley Fool has a related book http://www.amazon.com/Motley-Fools-Rule-Breakers-Makers/dp/0684857170 which talks about evaluating companies based on their product lifecycle. If they are early stage, look for rule breaker characteristics. If they are late stage, look for rule making.

Rule breaking is something we all do occasionally. If you are in a change agent situation, you will need to be breaking rules more frequently though. And when you break rules, you stand alone. Be willing to do the “failure bow.” You are the one taking the risk. And to stay in this game, you need faith and support.  Get a coach and be a coach, one approach http://www.agilecoachinginstitute.com/coaching-and-mentoring/.

Rule making is most is effective when we are collaborative and inclusive. Rules made alone, without collaboration, do not stick. People will ditch those “imposed” rules at the first opportunity. Some ideas for collaboration: Be a collaborative leader https://agiledreamer.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/be-a-collaborative-leader-part-1/  (see also part 2 and 3)

Rule following has a place as well. Don’t run around and break every rule in sight. Choose carefully. Focus. Just pick a few to break at a time. Follow the rest.  Inbox zero and GTD help keep the rule following burden low. Reference also, the Marshall Goldsmith story “Is it worth it?”  Pick your battles. Have a great attitude about all the rest!  In terms of literal “following,” a few of my agile mentors are Tobias Mayer, Lyssa Adkins, and Michael Spayd.

I’ve also found many systems mapping tools to be valuable. These tools help us to make sense of, or to build intuition about the people, processes, and products.  

We also practiced using powerful questions within the session, though it was too short of a time box.  Here are a few more of my session learnings:  next time I would just ask people for a show of hands on which category people align with rather than trying to “hear all voices” with over 50 people, and I might open space for questions sooner. Finally, I would leave a bigger time box for the powerful questions exercise. Or sub in a game about rule breaking and making similar to the children’s book “what would you do dear?” allowing for small group discussion around scenerios and then ask people to share a few insights afterwards.


What rules will you break next week?

What broken windows will you stop to fix?

What well worn paths will you collaboratively make into official roads?

Powerful Questions, #leadership thru curiousity

June 28, 2013

I like to lead. My idea of leading is to drive projects forward to the goal and outcome planned, and to be seen as a creative, idea person… a smart person that knows the answers…  But I am learning that real leadership is not about answers. And it is definitely not about being the smartest person in the room. It is much more about courage, faith, caring, and questions.

And the very best questions are powerful. Powerful questions.

I first learned this concept from Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd in their Agile Coaching Institute classes.

Briefly, powerful questions are open-ended, asked from a perspective of curiosity, inviting creativity and possibility.  

Powerful questions are also a little bit like swiss-army knives. When you have one good one, it works in multiple circumstances.

Here are a few to try:

If we had everything we needed for this then how would it look?

If we could do anything, what would it be? (Lyssa Adkins)

If we do xyz successfully, what else will be true?

And here are some resources;




Real leadership is about asking powerful questions. Encouraging ( -couraging ) others. Creating space for other solutions.

It’s not easy being #agile

June 18, 2013

Some days “being” agile feels like walking down a path with a blindfold on. Unsure of each step. Second guessing, is this the best step to take? Or is this other way better? Reflecting, rehashing, replaying, acknowledging the people and the successes, noticing our own failures and “bowing.”Image

Wow, makes me a bit tired just reading that list. Sounds a bit like riding a bicycle and juggling at the same time. Daunting.

And also energizing.

The unexamined life is not worth living – Socrates

Reflection is key. Reflection and a decision to commit to one change. Long ago Tobias Mayer introduced a group of us (agile scrum team) to “commit cards” where following some retrospective discussion, each team member commits to one thing, and writes that one thing on a card for the rest of the team to see.  And, as a team, we do it all again two weeks later. It is amazingly effective. Try it!

On a personal level, reflection is also important. When I examine my life, my actions, my strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, and opportunities, then I have a chance to commit to practice being different. A chance to grow.  

Recently, I embarked on a different type of retrospective. A  personal 360 survey from www.360reach.me . Lots of interesting insights.

I can see that the way that I am perceived in the survey aligns closely to the way that I see myself, which is encouraging. I can also see my weaknesses clearly outlined in the data, and even more compelling is that the comments clearly show that I need to be more aware of those weaknesses, because they shed light on the times when I  hurt others feelings and shut others down.  I become laser focused on a goal or an idea, and stop seeing the people around me.


Strengths can also become weaknesses when taken to extremes. 

Our weaknesses are patterns that come out when we forget to honor our values.

What are your values? Are you honoring your values today?