On leadership and my dad

June 16, 2013

This Father’s Day, I want to acknowledge and appreciate my dad, David E. Raley, Colonel, USAF (Ret.). I have learned so many leadership lessons from him. Learned in ways that are often not clear in the moment.. Yet are clearly understood much later…


Be a hard worker. My dad is a hard worker, he doesn’t shy away from whatever task needs doing. He just pitches in to start. He tried to teach us this quality early on. I remember as early as elementary school, the many hours he role modeled hard work — helping around the house pulling weeds and taking care of the yard. Imagine us kids’ enthusiasm, Not! And bringing work home and spreading it out across the coffee table, explaining bits and pieces of his work to us at the same time which was often interesting. And he always awakes at the crack of dawn– Rise and Shine!

Be a can-do fixer. I am quite certain that my dad can fix anything. He fixes things around the house. He fixes cars. He fixes laptops, networks, police computers. Whenever I am faced with something that is broken, I only need to think of dad for creative ways forward. What would dad do? As Bob the Builder says: “Can we fix it? Yes we can!”

Be a learner. My dad is always learning. From stacks of books around the house. To audio books. And formal coursework. My dad is always learning. And he encouraged me to be a learner too. When I announced my intention to earn a degree in Computer Engineering at the age of 15, he quickly ordered a Heath Kit so that I could learn how to solder and build electronics and see what I was getting into! He also earned his MBA back in the 70’s when I imagine that an MBA was still a relatively new concept. Which in turn inspired me to earn an MBA. And he became a professor for adjunct university courses. And a mentor to others. Later a campaign manager. And an elected official for local government. Today, he continues to be a learner, always picking up something new.

Be an innovator. We were one of the first families ever to own the original Radio Shack TRS-80. In fact, we soon had more than one. We also had one of the early portable calculators, and a “luggable” Compaq computer. Did I mention that he is resourceful? Surrounded by technology, resourcefulness, and constant encouragement to innovate, both of my brothers went on to become Principal Software Developers. All three of us kids have patents (in software technology) to our credit as well. Invention is part of our DNA!

Be a friend. My dad continues to be a friend to others in the community. When we visited at Thanksgiving, I went with him to visit an old Air Force friend, who lives nearby and is only semi-mobile. We brought over plates of Thanksgiving feasts to share. It was inspiring to see their friendship up close!

Be a great husband. My dad and mom are great together. They role-model for us what is looks like to commit to a partner for life. Through thick and thin. To value family.To make time for one another. To be respectful and considerate. To make space for one another. My dad and mom together are a package, completing and helping one another!

Our parents inspire and influence well beyond those early years when we live at home.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!


Lenses and Landscapes

May 28, 2013

Following an inspiring talk last week by Lyssa Adkins and Michel Spayd of the Agile Coaching Institute  at SV-ALN, I started to think about lenses. Frames of reference. Perspectives. As usual, their ideas resonated and inspired me. The very next day, we were already putting one of the models (lenses of I, We, IT, ITS)  into practice– collaborating with a colleague who had also attended the same meetup. I am so happy also that from my new company, five of us attended the meetup. Five of us drove to San Jose to be part of this agile learning community.  A very good sign!


And since I am a new employee, joining a large company. I wanted to apply this idea of lenses more broadly to my onboarding. In the book, The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins talks about areas of focus and structured learning.  Combining the ideas from Lyssa and Michael with the ideas from this book – I have the following learning lenses: people, interactions, place, technology, software architecture, market, processes, tools, product, strategy, cadence and timing, All of these are ways of understanding my new systems.


Back in my Xerox days, I was part of a research project on work process and culture. There were many interesting things I learned from PARC, including the notion of anthropological research; approaching customers as though I were an anthropologist. And after a year of being exposed to PARC as a place and as a community, the anthropolists on that research project coined a new term to describe me — they pegged me as a “landscaper.”


At the time, I was a young manager of a team of devs members of the technical staff, developing a sytem to receive compressed streams of objects ready to print onto rapidly moving sheets of paper. You can read more about the technologies in these patents.  Color was all new to most of us. We were experts at black-and-white digital printing and scanning. So it was exciting to create space, vision, and community for learning and developing color technologies. I could see that we could become SMEs in this whole new area. And we did!


As a landscaper, I am someone who studies a system , and then maps out future visions for the system. A field of possibilities. As an agilist, I have added collaborative to that mix. Collaboratively mapping out future vision.


A system can be a community, a complex software system, a loosely coupled group of people, a team of teams, a product portfolio, a federation of competitors and cooperators.


I have lots to learn about the new systems that I am now a part of J so that we can collaboratively develop this field of possibilities…


Be the salmon #change #agile

April 27, 2013

I was talking with a well respected colleague and friend about the challenges of being a change agent. How we don’t live in a perfect world. We often are faced with the reality and constrains of our environments.

That can be so frustrating for people that approach life with an academic perspective. That things “should” be a certain way.

She and I see life and change differently. We are change agents.

Salmon swimming upsteam to spawn
“Salmon swimming upsteam to spawn by vofuth, on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution”

She told me this story of the way she sometimes thinks of herself as a salmon.

I am the salmon, swimming upstream, and if it’s a good day I will not be eaten by the bear.

Be the salmon.

Keep swimming. Upstream.

Even when the river currents are deep. Even when life is unfair. Even when the budget isn’t there. Even when a senior exec says no, hell no, to your “great” idea. Even when others are negative. Even when others view your enthusiasm as misplaced.

Be the salmon.

If I were brave #inspiring #coaching #courage

March 15, 2013

I was reminded of this song this week. Twice.

Without courage, I am just a shadow of myself.

This is a very inspiring song, with meaningful lyrics.
It’s your turn – what would you do today if you were brave?

Always growing, always learning

March 15, 2013

When I reflect on what energizes and motivates me …. Learning is always part of the equation. Can be my learning, can be someone else’s learning (which is another way of saying that I enjoy helping others develop and grow, too).

Learning matters.

Recently, we initiated an Ops Review with our management team. The goal was to update management and staff on certain topics, and also to acknowledge the significant team accomplishments. It was great. Well received. And impactful. We will carry this forward. During the meeting our VP asked each team to additionally share their learnings so that she could understand what the stumbling blocks were and how were planning to overcome in the future.

Learning matters.

As an agile program manager, one of the tools of the trade is the Retrospective. The team members (in small groups of 5 to 8) reflect on the past iteration. Asking questions like: How satisfied are we? What were the +/-‘s? Who do we want to appreciate? What do we want to remember? See the book Agile Retrospectives  and a previous post (Retrospectives that work) for many more ideas! Without retrospectives, agile teams will languish.

Learning matters.

On a personal level, I learn best through action and reflection. In other words, I make mistakes and then try to learn from them! A mistake without learning is one that I will soon be repeating…. I love the agile “failure bow”…. Take responsibility; say it to your stakeholders and your teams. I made a mistake, I did xyz. Take responsibility, own it, learn, and then move on!

Learning matters.

Daily learning. Even in a corporate setting. Especially in a corporate setting!


What motivates you?

What are you learning?

Which tool, which tool

March 6, 2013

One of the challenges we face as project and program managers is the lure of new and bigger tools. And, while I do like saving time with cool new tools, I have learned to ask more questions before diving in.

  • What problem are we solving with this tool?
  • What is being automated?
  • What were the pros and cons of the old way? Versus the new way with the new tool?
  • Who are the stakeholders? And what are their needs?
  • Is this the most effective tool for the job? Why or why not?

On a very practical level, I would like to share a lightweight “tool” that I’ve found to be quite effective for smaller projects, and for sharing release level status wit stakeholders of many types.

It’s called the one page project plan and is described in some detail in this book www.oppmi.com .

Here is a version that we created for the PMI Agile teams. In this case, we called it a dashboard … you can view an example from one of several teams here (google drive /google docs /anyone with the link can view).

For scrum, I’ve found that the most effective tool is stickies on a wall for a co-located team. And Word or Excel printed as one page dashboards for stakeholder communication. For distributed teams we’ve used SeeNowDo. And are migrating to Jira + Greenhopper. For backlog management we’ve used Rally. None of these tools is perfect – including my favorite – stickies on a wall. 

My main point is not to sell you these or any other tool. But rather to encourage you to think differently about the tools that you are currently employing, and the ones that you hope to introduce soon.

Start with the simplest version that works,  start lightweight. Then layer on complexity as needed. 

The system, seeing from a different angle #agile #coaching #systemsthinking

March 2, 2013

Do you ever wonder why people are doing and saying things that seem to not make sense? That seem illogical? Seem irrational? And not, of course, what I would do in the same situation?

Welcome to life. Welcome to “we are all different” and coming from different perspectives. Different places. Different needs and expectations.

One way to help make sense of it all is a systems perspective.  We are all connected and all part of many systems. And each system is coachable. The system can change. Change is always possible.  I was honored to be a student of Lyssa Adkins (@lyssaadkins ), Michael Spayd (@mspayd ), and Marita Fridjhon  (@MaritaFridjhon ) in the Nov 2012 pilot session of Leading from the Next Level: Systems-Oriented Leadership™ for Agile Coaches.  It was a very important class for me, one that I learned so much from. It has taken me a few months just to process some of the learning enough to be able to write and share about it here.

As a senior leader in a global, high tech corporation I run across lots of situations that seem to be incongruous. That appear broken. And most of the time, in a traditional corporate sense, these are not “my issues.” They usually don’t fall cleanly within my “span of control.” They are generally systems challenges. Meaning that they are cross-functional, cross-silo, cross-organization…  Such challenges are often the systemic, entrenched, and the “way we do things around here.”

Even a new project or a new integration or new acquisition can run into these systemic challenges.

New meets old. And tension is created. Which brings us back to systems perspectives.

Here are the types of questions that I ask myself and others to employ this perspective…

What is trying to happen here?

Who are the players (stakeholders)?

What are the needs and expectations of each player (each part of the system)?

What are the relationships of the players to one another?

The organization is also a player – what are the needs and expectations of the organization?

It’s like a giant chess board. A game of empathy. Listening. Who needs what from whom? What matters to each part of the system?  Now, what questions, what open-ended questions can I ask to help the system repair. Repair, flow, change, move forward. What possibilities do I see? What are the possible highest dream outcomes. Notice the “s.”  We need lots of possibilities. Lots of Plan A, B, C, and D’s…and space for more outcomes to emerge.  What outcomes that *might* be possible? What else? What else? And if those outcomes are possible, what else might be true? Can I share some hunches (guesses)  with some of the stakeholders?  Can I reveal more of the system to itself? Without being too entrenched in one outcome myself?

One practical – that I learned long ago from Don Rossmoore, a student of Chris Argyris, is to start by interviewing stakeholders. Asking them what’s working well and what needs to work better…. Longer conversations. Lots of listening.  The question “what needs to work better” is especially important…it focuses forward. Much like Marshall Goldsmith’s Feed-forward.

Systems are all around us. Webs of relationships. Differing perspectives, needs, challenges. A systems perspective is valuable (critical, invaluable) in coaching a system to change, to flow, to be dynamic.

Agile conversations

December 6, 2012

Just what makes a conversation agile? how do we bring agile values into our everyday conversations? What are edges? Why do they matter?

These were some of the questions we explored in the Agile Conversations workshop with David Chilcott and Shelley Schanzenbacher.

About 12 of us were happy learners in this space! As usual, I’ve posted #sketchnotes here.


Great experience – fun too!

Social Entrepreneurship is mainstream #socent

October 10, 2012

At the ASF conference I was inspired and happy to participate in the standing room only Social Entrepreneurship Learning Lab.

“Social entrepreneurship, the practice of inventing new approaches to transform society for the better, is attracting more talent, money, and attention than ever. Explore this increasingly visible field, including its definition, its intersection with philanthropy, and its inspirational stories.”

“Presenters: David Bornstein, The New York Times’s Fixes column, Dowser, New York, NY; Anne Marie Burgoyne, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Menlo Park, CA; Niki Calastas, Hurliman Scholarship Foundation, Redwood City, CA; Abigail Falik, Global Citizen Year, Oakland, CA; Sandy Herz, Skoll Foundation, Palo Alto, CA; Dermot Hikisch, B Lab, San Francisco, CA; Daniel Kaufmann, Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, San Francisco, CA; Gerald Richards, 826 National, San Francisco, CA; and Jill Vialet, Playworks, Oakland, CA”

What an amazing group of people.

People who are making a difference. In the world. Today.

Note to self:

1) read David Bornstein’s NYT fixes column and book.

2) visit 826 Valencia – the pirate store with a secret world of tutoring and book publishing!

3) Learn more about the “sense of agency”…what is it really, how do we encourage the building of that sense. And how might that learning relate to increasing healthcare self-advocacy in adults with developmental disabilities?

Tweets and Sketchnotes are posted below:

Another storytelling resource is http://www.venicearts.org   from @globalcitizenyr #ASF12 #socialentrepreneurship

Everyone at playworks w @jillvialet learns to tell their inspiring stories http://www.agoodmanonline.com/publications/storytelling/index.html  … #ASF12

Recommended book “powered by pro bono” aka army of volunteer models #socialentrepreneurship #ASF12

Support entrepreneurs w the mind of engineer, heart of a poet, gut & rigor of someone who wants to succeed #socialentrepreneurship #ASF12

Good movement building starts with good advocacy #socialentrepreneurship #ASF12

It’s not just cognitive skills that matter. You need grit. Rebound ability listening to @abbyfalik #ASF12

To scale look at how you will scale the impact, not just the organization … Sandy Herz #socialentrepreneurship #ASF12

@abbyfalik: @jessamynlau: As a funder, it’s ok to be a follower. #ASF12 ”

See things not as they are now, but as they can be. Sandy Herz of @skollfoundation at #socialentrepreneurship #ASF12

@mattbarcomb @margaretmotamed hi Matt I will post the notes! It’s a great conference so far #inspiring

Notes so far on #socialentrepreneurship #ASF2012 pic.twitter.com/tN6y3Lmx

great idea.Free tutoring on writing etc to kids http://826valencia.org   w a cool pirate “secret entrance” #socialentrepreneurship #asf2012

Jill Vialet ‏@jillvialet Happy to be spending the morning with @dnbornstein and @giveonepercent at the Assoc of Small Foundations conference

It’s not just cognitive skills that matter. You need grit. Rebound ability listening to @abbyfalik #asf2012

How can we reduce people’s defenses and open then up to #change ideas? #socialentrepreneurship David Bornstein #asf2012

William James quote So much of wisdom is knowing what to overlook #socialentrepreneurship David Bornstein #asf2012

Goal is to get entrepreneurs to create more blueprints that others can franchise #socialentrepreneurship David Bornstein #asf2012

How do we find and support social entrepreneurs? #socialentrepreneurship David Bornstein #asf2012

The smartest people who have solved the problem are not in your organization. #socialentrepreneurship David Bornstein #asf2012

Daniel Kaufman ‏@giveonepercentSpending the day at #ASF2012. If you are at the Social Entrepreneurship learning lab, come and introduce yourself. Would love to meet!

Board Self Assessment

October 9, 2012

I am on a board – a non-profit foundation board. As part of that role, I attended the Association of Small Foundations conference in San Francisco this past week. The session on Board assessment advocated an annual retrospective via anonymous survey of the board. Boards are often that magic 6-8 people size that works so well for collaboration, so while I think the survey is helpful, I know that an in person retrospective would be even better! Clearly refection is a good think, and leads us to improvement. Our board’s next meeting will include a mini retrospective following the board meeting. The “write on a post-it note silent brainstorming style” and then debrief. That’s a great take-away.

Since we meet quarterly as a board (a team), how often will we reflect? How long?

What reflection will you add to your own teams?

Sketchnotes from the session are below