Posts Tagged ‘Agile’

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 .

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. 


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!

So long #SFagile2012 , and thanks for all the #zomblatt

June 7, 2012

I enjoyed #SFagile, and am happily posting my sketchnotes here to share.

Special thanks to our organizers @agilemeister @Bendre @lisacrispin @mhsutton @dwhelan @lisaw1 and the informal organizers @jitterted @derekwade @carlton858

The community was magnificent! The location fun and lively. And the insights were many.

I do so enjoy our agile community.

Be a collaborative leader, part 1

June 1, 2012

Collaboration is a word that we generally associate with teams, not with leaders.


Teams collaborate, and leaders lead, right?


If a leader wanted to be collaborative with an individual, what would that look like? With a large department or group? With other executives?


This may sound attractive in theory, but it can be difficult to recall examples of what this would look like.


So, you want to be a more collaborative leader?


Here are 10 practical, real world examples of how this could look for a manager today inside a corporation….


1)       When it’s annual budget planning time, invite team members to suggest what will be needed next year, when and why. Include “nice to haves” too along with rationale. This can take the form of a shared spreadsheet on Sharepoint or GoogleDocs.


2)     When it’s time to assign work or tasks, try asking for volunteers instead. For extra credit, try assigning responsibility instead of tasks. Delegate. It’s empowering!


3)     When you do need to assign something to a specific person, still ask… “Would you please “… and leave space for the person to decline, if they feel strongly. Give as many choices as possible. Choice is collaborative and it is also empowering.


4)     Create space for things to go right. Find a way to have vision that the team can succeed. If you have doubts, the team or team member will sense your doubts. Share the concern and then ask how they feel and ask what is needed to mitigate. If the concern is with an individual team member, communicate one-on-one. In either case, be hard on the issue, and soft on the person.


5)     As a collaborative leader, it’s important to say what you think. But, if your emotions (including anger) are still fresh and unchecked, the timing may not yet be the best. Try reflecting on your intention first. What do I hope will happen as a result of this sharing? What is my intention? Speak the truth in love.


6)     Make a “travel” bag of collaborative tools – sticky notes in several sizes and colors, blue painters tape, index cards (in while and maybe an extra color or two). Let team members know that they are welcome to take this bag to gathers too…it’s a shared resource. Keep it stocked and ready to go.


7)      Share information openly whenever possible. Share it in a way that allows people to quickly know if this is optional to read versus if it is integral to their day-to-day mission. For example, if several times a week you have “FYI” info, consider posting to an internal blog, board, or even an email with a easy to categorize title. For example – Just FYI #1, Just FYI #2, or Learning about our customers #1. Learning about our customers #2, etc.


8)      To develop annual performance goals for and with a larger group, start a collaborative space on a team wall with print-outs of the related missions, goals, and visions that we want to align with. Then, start writing sticky notes with brainstorm ideas of potential goals. Invite team members to contribute with this silent brainstorming method. Write new sticky notes with updated summaries of what looks best for the team. Encourage participation. Leave the wall up for a while so that people can see the connection between suggested goals and what was decided.


9)     When a few people are remote and the rest are “all in one” room, leave a webex with chat window open and projected onto an easily visible screen so that the remote folks can chime in with written ideas and questions and even a “raised hand” via chat during the conversation. Because it is very hard to collaboratively join in when you are a single remote person to a team. Of course you can use a webcam based system to give the remote person visual cues.  But the running chat window along with webconferencing or other tools like googledocs or Confluence is a practical alternative.


10)  Another collaborative idea for including remote team members is to post snapshots of the team idea walls and boards every week and post to a shared location. Our admin (who we love) takes the pix and posts to Sharepoint every Monday. Would be great to add occasional photo’s of the team, too. and ask remote team members to share pix from their life as well. Even pix of their backyard or the recent snow story can help to bring us closer.


What’s your collaboration story?

Be a collaborative leader, part 3

June 1, 2012

I am inspired to write this series because I am learning that being “agile” is not enough. Starting up 15+ scrum teams is not enough. Hearing that team members that are happier in self-organizing teams is not enough.  Even delivering frequent, iterative value is not enough. Without Collaborative Leadership, we will revert back to the old way. Slowly. Surely. Sadly.

I am a manager inside a large enterprise. There are the ways that I am learning and practicing Collaborative Leadership… try it, you’ll like it!

1)        Hiring is a critical time. People make the difference. How will you collaboratively find an A player who will fit with your collaborative environment & who can do the work? Be collaborative Send a draft job description to the team members who will work with the new person. Invite their edits and comments! Invite their referrals for the position – after all, who better to recommend a great candidate? Invite these same team members to collaboratively build a set of interview questions and invite them to contribute to the interview timings and structure as well. And after a round of interviews is completed, invite the interviewers to a collaborative sharing and discussion of the candidates. This collaborative candidate review is powerful and revealing.

  1. Before we start the interviews, I would like to request your ideas and input on the interview process ..


  1. In some cases, team members enjoy interviewing their potential manager in pairs. People have shared that they found this helpful because they were also able to observe the candidate answering other person’s questions. And they learned from one another how to improve their own interviews for the future – by that observation. Is this something that you are interested in trying?


  1. We will hold a group debrief following the interview so that everyone can share their impressions with one another. I am finding that this is very valuable because it allows us to hear different perspectives upfront, before hiring. And also to build together a stronger picture of what we need in the new member and why it matters to us. For example, in the past debriefs, several people commented that they felt that a given candidate would “go to bat for them.” This was significant because two different people commented this about two different candidates. Now we know that our candidate will need to be strong in this quality.


  1. On the second round interview, we are also trying something new. The candidate is holding an interactive session … we are simulating a team meeting. The candidate is presenting on the topic of “10 things I’ve learned.”


  1. I would also love to hear your ideas on who we want to be on our interview panel. Who is effective at interviewing?


  1. PS: here is an interesting article

#39 – How to interview and hire people « Scott Berkun

2)      Be vulnerable. Share your own learnings. Your own mistakes. We don’t learn by always being perfect. In fact, none of us is perfect!

3)      When it comes time to Celebrate – plan the celebration together. Enjoy celebrating as a group and ask team members for celebration suggestions.

4)      Everyone loves to be appreciated. And yet appreciations are infrequently shared. Try making an Appreciations wall with sticky notes and public appreciations. Go first, add the first appreciation note, sign and date it so that older appreciations can be aged out.  Appreciate teams too! So much of what goes right is due to successful team collaboration.

5)      Keep gardening – this is how we soften the ground, it’s a marathon without a single destination, not a sprint a. Use internal blogs & newsletters to encourage and nurture new ideas and soft ideas. I recently wrote an internal blog post called “I’m bored”…I can already see that this will be a “best seller” post because it is hitting a nerve. People care. People read. People talk. Give them something deep to talk about, insightful, meaningful, challenging. Plant seeds.

6)      When facilitating meetings, remember the facilitator motto of “all voices heard”… ask everyone to participate. Ask people for their ideas and opinions by name. It’s engaging to be addressed by name. It is energizing and collaborative. And it can be a bit stressful too – so as a facilitator, make it OK for the person to remain quiet – “Great, you are in agreement with what has been shared” or “We’ve got everything covered so far, good to know.”

7)      Sometimes, you will still need to “take charge.” Being a collaborative leader doesn’t make you a fulltime facilitator, a wallflower, or worse yet, road-kill. Some decisions need to be made independent of the team. The world is not a black and white place. There is a lot of gray, and fuchsia, and aqua, and many other colors! Ask yourself, “with more time, would I be able to make this decision more collaboratively?” and if the answer is no – then stop pretending that the decision is still open for collaboration. Instead, get open with the team and explain both the decision and your rationale.

8)      Relationships & alliances matter– you are not the lone ranger or even the lone facilitator– this is a system we are talking about. And relationships matter more than hierarchy. More than titles. More that org charts. To get more of a sense of how alliances form an energy pattern, reference Michael Spayd’s work with Constellations here and here.  Whenever you sense tension in a relationship, then in fact there is tension. And it’s good to keep that in mind if you are expecting the other person or group to collaborate with you, your team, or your initiative.

9)      Create (mental and emotional) space for teamwork. A)  Welcome and thank people communicating bad news early, B) Say “we” more…especially when taking credit!, C) Say “I” when taking a failure bow, read the rest of this post here

10)   Develop collaborative leaders – everywhere you go, commit to be a force for developing collaborative leaders. You are a collaborative leader, you believe in agile values, help others to step up into this role, too. Start with vision, see others through a lens that highlights the positive and the collaborative. If they come to you with a problem, listen and ask powerful questions, ie If we had everything we needed for this then how would it look? Assume that they want to become collaborative leaders themselves. Assume the best. Act “as if.”

It’s your turn…

What we are learning about agile coaching & transformation

February 19, 2012

The February BayScrum meetupwas a circle discussion – as Ted had suggested last year -we shared our learnings and challenges around agile coaching and transformation.

Notes are below!


Coaching Stance – holding the space

November 28, 2011

I was fortunate to be an assistant in the November Coaching Stance class… with Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spayd, and Cynthia Loy Darst, what a great learning experience. I highly recommend this class – this learning and practicing experience!

My big takeaway – Wow it is much harder to be an assistant rather than a student. Being a student I get to focus much more on me. On my learning. On what I am taking in. On what I am practicing. And when I am a student all of the other students are my peers, my fellow learners. We are connected with relationships. We see one another, we meet, we interact, we connect.

Being an assistant is all about helping the students and the “front of the room leaders” to be successful. It is a chance to practice a continuous level 3 focus. A soft focus – tuned into everyone else’s learning. Tuned in to the system of people in the room, the whole environment, the place. Lyssa explained that it is about both holding space energetically and also holding the space for B.O.D. Beauty, Order, and Design. I notice that this is often my role. When I am leading a meeting at work, I am responsible for both facilitating the meeting and for holding the space   … how much nicer it would be to have an assistant – someone helping to “hold the space”… I will ask for that help now that I see the value and importance!

On the second day, I was a participant for part of the day – which I loved, now double valuing the chance to both build relationships and learn new ideas about coaching. One of my favorites was a game where you take turns coaching someone else – with a twist that the coach is given frequent prompts to try specific practices – like comment on Level 3. It made me very much more aware of where my questions and comments are coming from at any given moment. We laughed a lot!

I also loved the chance to meet and interact and learn from a great community of coaches.  We are coaches now. Because we WANT to coach and help others. It doesn’t mean that I am a great coach, or the best coach. Still –all of us in the class, we are all coaches now!

As usual, I have posted my notes … here are the images.


Let me know what you think…


November 25, 2011

Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd came to lead our BayScrum meetup session. The learning was about Constellations. Which is a tool that can help us understand different perspectives around an issue or situation. Google System Constellations or Satir Constellations to learn about the method.

We talked a bit about how it works and then jumped into a demonstration – which was very intense. Lyssa and Michael cautioned that this is not something easy that we can just take back and try…it takes training, skill, and practice. Still, we can learn about perspectives and relationships just from watching and or participating.

I like to draw my learnings and have posted here …

Reflecting back, I can see that with any system (or people) there are relationships. The relationships enable energy (thoughts, ideas,conversations, caring, etc)  to flow between people. Better relationships enable easier flow, more trust, etc. When there are people within a system (constellation) that others are ignoring, discounting, disrespecting, etc then the energy (communication, trust) is low and the system feels stuck.

So I can map out systems, think about different perspectives, and look for the parts of the system where trust is low. Those part of the system need attention.

PS: this Reminds me of acupuncture … getting energy flowing …

Nurturing an online #Agile #Community of Practice

October 23, 2011

I am part of a wonderful new online community – the PMI-Agile Community of Practice. It’s still a toddler in my eyes…but it’s a big toddler at 13,000 subscribers. Wow!

And these past few days I attended a PMI conference with several great sessions focused on growing online communities of practice.

One of the sessions I enjoyed was “If you want to grow Oaks, You Need Nuts!”  with Mark Gray  .  My full session notes are in the drawings below!

I came away from the session, and subsequent discussions, inspired to nurture our community conversations.

Active participants in our community are the “vital few”… be curious:

  • What are they seeking?
  • Why are they here?
  • Acknowledge them for being willing to ask

Teach others to fish, rather than giving away fish

  • Resist the urge to solve the other person’s problem with “one solution”
  • Think about sharing sources of ideas, rather than answers
  • Cultivate dialog and mentorship
  • What do you think of…
  • Is this valuable? Or maybe not?
  • Here is a thought or here is a story, maybe it will spark some ideas…
  • That sounds interesting, let us know how it goes.

Building relationships, start with introductions

  • Here is who I am: Build an online profile so that people can learn about you
  • Attached an automatic signature block with profile link
  • Be curious about the other person

Come for the information, stay for the relationships

  • Be gentle, be respectful, be positive
  • “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet” Mark Gray

Inspiring session, hope to see more of Mark’s thinking and coaching in the future…

And inviting everyone who wants to join our learning community to join us at (would need to join PMI first at the basic subscription cost).

PMI-ACP – the audit!

October 4, 2011

A few weeks ago I applied to take PMI’s new PMI-ACP exam – the Agile Certified Practitioner. I was initially reluctant to sit for this exam because – I knew it was going to take time to file, to skim the required reading (I’ve already read most of the books suggested), and to actually take the test – see the FAQ. I also have so many interesting and exciting change initiatives and coaching learning opportunities currently underway  … so where will I find the time?

And as soon as I pressed the submit button on my application, boom, I received email that I was one of the lucky (unlucky) random foks to get audited. Really it’s fine, I have tons of the required experience and classes. It was more of a sense of – bummer – this is going to eat up even more time.

A)     The transcript was easy – MBA– no problem, they deliver electronically! Go USC!

B)      Work experience in Agile – no problem… thank you EFI and my wonderful manager for the opportunity!

C)      The Agile Related Education – oh man. This was harder that I imagined.

You see, much of my Agile education has been either in-house or in Open Space with some fabulous consultants, like Tobias Mayer, and Chris Sims. My first great learning experience was working along side Jesse Fewell, Pat Reed, Brian Buzzuto, and others on the original PMI-Agile PB Wiki – this was even before there was an official Community of Practice. I am also a trained “Innovation Games® facilitator – great tools to facilitate agile collaboration and the best tool for hosting online retrospectives with virtual/remote teams!  I have also learned so many great agile lessons from the Agile Open Northern California  open space — for several years in a row with Ainsley Nies, David Chilcott, and many other amazing folks. And then there was the first open space that I actually shared at – the PMI San Francisco Open Space – exploring the Agile Way.  I love open space events – great hands on learning!  My first more formal training – with certificate – was a Product Owner class with Chris Sims and Steve Bockman – called The Agile Product Manager’s Guide to the Galaxy – hmmm was this going to apply? And I have also participated in and hosted Agile tracks at PMI symposiums.

So I started emailing all my teachers above…only to learn that the events above probably don’t count towards the Agile Related Education. Uh Oh. Now what?

Fortunately I realized that through an interesting twist I did actually have my CSM – by chance! (that is a story for another day). Great  – I thought – that should be two days of the training requirement. Alas I went to the scrum alliance site and could not find the letter proving that I had in fact taken the CSM training – no proof of attendance. Now I was on a mission, if I had to be audited, at least I would help others who are a audited later…by sharing my learning. I happily emailed scum alliance support and asked for the letter of attendance. And they quickly replied – “Thank you for contacting. You will need to get this letter from the actual trainer. Do you still have their contact information? If you give me the name, I can provide it to you. “…  Wow  – this was getting frustrating. At least I knew how to contact Tobias Mayer! Who quickly sent me the needed letter!

Then a colleague pointed out that in fact there is a way to print a certificate of CSM on the scrum alliance site. Ironically I could not “find” the button to create this certificate until he sent his email –  I re-checked my screenshots. The font on the “generate certificate” button is really small. And my eyesight is not improving here with age! I am glad that there is a place to generate the certificate.

By then, reviewing the list of books for the exam study – I also realized that Lyssa Adkins’ Coaching Agile Teams class would also count! Hurray! And I also had just taken The Coaching Stance class with the Agile Coaching Institute. Now my audit folder contained an embarrassment of riches. Lots of “extras” just in case. Letter from many Agile friends and trainers. We sent in the whole lot of letters and certificates… and voila – I have passed the audit.

So lesson here – just ask the Agile trainers for a letter of completion listing dates and learning goals at the time that you attend that class. Keep a copy in a safe place – electronic – pdf is fine. And wear glasses when checking the scrum alliance site for your certificate – it’s there somewhere!

Good luck with your exam!