Key Successes to Agile Training

Organizations that thrive are those that value their employees as key asset in maintaining the competitive edge. To keep up with the constant pace of technology changes most organizations promote the training of employees; and most employees view such training as a pathway to advancement and success.

 

Often, agile training have not been seen as an opportunity or benefit but as a job condition, on top of a long series of demands placed on the employees. Yet, most employees reluctantly accept to participate in the training, for the fear of losing job or advancement. In such an environment agile training have little hope for success. Also what employees are left after the training is a faded memory of one or two definition or concepts.

 

In my experience as a Trainer and Transformation Consultant, the success of any training depends on two aspects: the environment provided by the management and the transformational nature of the training offered by the trainer, rather than mere informational.

 

The first aspect, the environment that respects employee’s autonomy and freedom of choice will invite full participation from the employees. In fact, when employees request for training, and participate voluntarily is when can be of real value to both the individual and the organization. Only when we’re free to say “No” we can be free to say “Yes”. In most organizations trainings come as a mandate or with subtle pressure to attend where employees will continue to resist the training.

 

The second aspect, the training focused on the individual and organizational purpose provides a rich context, where the employees have an opportunity to examine their perspectives and considerations and where they can freely inquire and think from different places and discover for themselves the power of agile as an access to serving both their individual and organizational needs. This type of insights causes profound shifts and breakthrough results. This result and feedback in and itself promote the training to their colleagues, who may be still on the fence about choosing to attend.

 

Empowering employees to choose powerfully allows them to participate fully in the training. And a training that provides them an opportunity for their personal growth and which in turn fulfills the organizational needs. Their feedback to their colleagues will automatically make the training viral.

How do we create an environment where employees are motivated and engaged and request for training, where they see it as an opportunity to meet both personal and organizational goals?

How do we deliver the training that honors the employees accomplishments and invites opportunities to grow further in them fulfilling on their purpose?

Contact Latha Swamy at Adisya, for a free consultation, at 925.200.7424 or latha.swamy@me.com

Dramatic Results without the Drama

My guiding vision is to bring about a world where communication and collaboration create miraculous results, where people are present to their innate greatness.

One of my main tools as a leadership coach and management consultant is a kind of deep listening. Listening in a certain way invites full self-expression for all people, including bringing out hidden fears and emotions, which can then be fully voiced as resources for problem solving. I have an opportunity every single day to live my promise for the world, grow and develop my skills to bring out the best in other people. In this way we all expand our capability and make a greater contribution to the whole. Here’s my experience from one such day with unlimited opportunities for growth & contribution..

It’s a sunny day at a high tech world-renowned firm in Mountain View, California. Down the middle of a large open office are rows of tables and comfortable office chairs. In a small conference room off to the side, there are no chairs or tables, just some beanbags on the floor. The walls are hung with erasable white boards. One of these is filled with colored sticky notes, some neatly arranged in rows and columns.

Five young men in jeans and t-shirts huddle around the board. To one side stands a middle-aged man in business casual attire, keenly interested in knowing what this team has to say. Another participant, the team’s coach, stands in the back of the room, watching with intent. That’s me – I’m listening for what is said and what is unsaid.

Jeff points to a sticky note from the column marked “In Progress.” It represents a task he’s responsible for. He says he completed work on it yesterday, and moves it to the column marked “Done.” Ben then picks up a note from the “To Do” column and says he will work on it today. It gets repositioned to the “In Progress” column and marked with Ben’s initials.

Sid goes next to the board and points to a task. He gives an explanation of as to why the task has not been completed. As the team’s coach and consultant, I listen carefully to learn the context for his update. I ask Sid, “Is there anything that’s blocking you from moving forward”? Relieved, Sid says that he’s just waiting for a reply from someone else before he can take the next action. I ask, “Is there anyone you can meet with to get this addressed?” Sid thinks for a moment and determines the next action he will take that day to move the task forward.

Vincent goes to the board next, points to the task with his initials in the “In Progress” column, and says, “I worked on this yesterday…and will still be working on this today.” I’m listening for a positive statement indicating what it will take to complete this task. Vincent looks at his team and says that he has to learn a new tool to see if that works. Another team member, Prashant, steps forward, saying that he’s familiar with that tool and will be glad to work with Vincent that morning, for which Vincent thanks him with a nod and a smile.

Finally, Michael goes to the board, moves a task to “Done,” and waits, implying that he is not sure what to take on next. I turn to Bob, the Product Manager. He’s responsible for ensuring the team is focused on creating a quality outcome; he speaks for the customer. I ask Bob: “Is there anything urgent and important that’s not on the board?” Bob says, “Well, there’s this one bug that’s been bothering the customers for a while…”

I then ask: “Do we know the severity of the impact?” Bob says reluctantly that this issue has been a source of customer dissatisfaction for few months now. He expresses concern that this could lead to revenue loss for the company due to customer attrition; somehow it didn’t make it into the weekly plan for the team. I respond, “Well, that’s why we’re always planning, daily, weekly, and monthly, rather than just having a general overall plan.”

Bob decides to prioritize this item for the team to work on. Right away, Michael says he can start the investigation today and report back tomorrow morning. Bob smiles with relief and says that he’ll introduce Michael to a customer who can provide details. Michael takes a sticky note, writes a few words to describe this task, adds his initials, and places it in the “In Progress” column.

They ask each other if there’s anything else they need to talk about as a team, and Prashant says he’d like to go over his idea regarding a software build. This is a crucial activity in which several teams are working in small increments, making changes on a daily basis. The team gives him a nod, and Prashant turns to a clean white board, takes a dry erase marker, and starts the discussion with a diagram. The others gather around him, and pretty soon they’re engaged in deep technical discussion. In about five minutes, they end the conversation with an agreement about a new process, and Prashant and Jeff add a couple of tasks to the “To Do” column.

In a remarkable demonstration of transparency and efficiency, this entire scene happens in about 15 minutes’ time. Everyone is still standing, and with the meeting completed, they go to their desks to start work. Value gets delivered to customers as frequent as every few weeks, generating revenue for the company in millions of dollars.

This is a picture of an extraordinarily high-performing team who must shift gears frequently in response to customer needs. In spite of these constraints, the meeting we just witnessed was astonishingly efficient – notably free of time-wasters like finger pointing, rambling discussion, and posturing. What makes this possible? How did we achieve such seamless responsiveness? Let’s explore a few elements: Transparency, Autonomy, Support, and Alignment.

Transparency

The white board with movable tasks arranged in columns is referred to, not surprisingly, as “The Board” – and sometimes more descriptively as “The Big Visible Information Radiator” (BVIR). These displays help us visualize and initiate interactions. These interactions are shared directly and visually, rather than having to send email or make phone calls about day-to-day progress and decision-making. Impediments to progress become immediately visible and are addressed quickly.

In these interactions, many elements of workplace dynamics are brought to light and can be re-examined by the group. It’s easy to see which company policies and implicit agreements hinder the project and which advance it. Respect among teammates is increased along with the visibility for each one’s contributions. No one is afraid to disclose difficulties, and because the “blame game” is simply not happening, and collaboration happens spontaneously since secrets are unnecessary.

This 15-minute interaction in front of the BVIR takes place daily and is called “The Daily Standup.” One purpose of the Standup is to alert each person to the work coming up and what each member is working on. This quick interaction gives an opportunity to acknowledge having met the commitments they made the day before – and if not, whether anything is blocking their progress. Each person can experience recognition for the previous day’s work. Finally, the act of physically moving each task by stages into the “Done” column imparts a sense of accomplishment on a daily basis. The BVIR provides visual clarity on what each person can do next to move the game forward at a sustainable pace without team members getting burnt out.

In addition to providing a forum for transparent group process, I also create a space for each individual’s concerns to become clear. In my role as coach, it’s important to encourage blame-free communication so that people trust one another and are honest in discussing their needs.

With this trust established, they all support each other in winning the game. This group of people now emerges as a highly coordinated team focused on fulfilling the vision for the future. There are fewer issues with miscommunication since conversations are mostly held in the open, and since folks know they can trust each other. The Coach encourages them to develop their skills and take on new challenges – as we say, to “fail fast” and learn quickly, with small failures redefined as learning experiences.

Autonomy & Support

After the 15-minute huddle, the team is off to their work area. The work area is just two long rows of desks and chairs, where the entire team sits next to and across from each other, as if they’re at a long dining table. There are large whiteboards all around the periphery, and no sign of any cabinets or shelves. There are no telephones on their desks and hardly any papers, just computer monitors, keyboards, some electronic gadgets, a few notebooks and pens, coffee mugs, etc. Just around the corner, near the large white board, is a round table with few chairs around it, for the team to quickly check in as needed.

There is no manager telling them what to do. There is no need to monitor the team’s working hours or what they do. The programmers get to decide what they work on each day and have the autonomy to come up with how they will build and implement their work.

Catered lunch arrives in a large dining area. Around the late afternoon hours, some of the team members go off to the game area where they play Ping-Pong. The refrigerators are filled with various drinks and even some wine and beers. An espresso machine dispenses freshly brewed lattes. Some folks sit in comfortable sofas and chairs and have conversations with their co-workers, sipping coffee, and others keep working on their laptops while munching on snacks. For those who stay late, dinner is brought in. This organization does a great deal to ensure a culture that values employees and handles their basic concerns so they can focus completely on bringing new ideas to market.

Alignment

Later that afternoon, another conference room is filled with 12 people around a large oval desk and sitting in chairs, all talking at once, arguing and analyzing. The coach enters the room and asks, “What happened?” … then there’s silence in the room. Someone says that a customer called with a complaint, the call was escalated all the way up to the CIO, and the matter is now urgent and high importance. The coach listens and asks again, “What made that happen?” Someone says that the way the architecture is laid out is causing these issues. In answering the question, “Who needs to be present here to get this sorted?” they call out the relevant parties: the architect to adjust the design, the product manager to represent the customer’s need, and the lab hardware engineer to tune the appliance. A meeting is called between these three folks; soon they’re in the same room—having only dealt with each other via phone and email in the past, they now discuss the issue in a small huddle room with white board while the coach facilitates the conversation.

As facilitator and coach, I provide listening and guiding questions that shift the emphasis of the conversation away from “Something’s wrong—Whose fault is it?” in favor of “Something’s missing—How are we going to create it?”

After several minutes of intense discussion, there’s now a space for completion and creation. The focus shifts to the customer’s needs, and together the assembled team determines what needs to be done. The Architect goes to the Board and lays out the design and highlights an area that needs to be tweaked, the Lab Hardware Engineer adds additional items that will improve performance, and the Product Manager highlights the priority order of these items based on customer need. In just a few minutes they have aligned on a common mission for their teams. They agree on what constitutes the minimum viable product (MVP) that can be validated with customers in a short period.

At the end of the session, the three people go meet with the team and communicate this shared vision. Team members ask a few questions to clarify. They quickly shape the minimum set of features that can fulfill the vision. Everyone on the team commits to delivering this in four weeks’ time – and off they go! People at every level are now confident that they can figure out the implementation details and contribute to the emergence of the new design. The power of alignment brings focused intention and peer support to their work.

Conclusion

These elements – transparency, autonomy, support, and alignment – are some of the central themes of a project management style called Lean or Agile, which I use in my work in leadership training and operations consulting. In combination with my technical knowledge from engineering, they are some of the most powerful tools for creating efficiency and good will in the workplace.

As an Agile Practices Leader, I get to empower and enable hundreds of people every day, where in the field of contribution, leaders emerge and leadership is present, people are present to their passion and performance skyrockets, customers are delighted.

Agile and Hip-Hop

hiphop

Image Copyright www.thegeminigeek.com

The thing about hip-hop today is it’s smart, it’s insightful. The way they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable. – Barack Obama

My friend Marcus Bell—a famous Hollywood singer, song writer, and producer—once said that hip-hop has four main goals. After listening to what he had said, I realized that there is so much resonance with what he said with how I see agile transformation. The four goals are as follows:

  1. Get your skills up
  2. Listen to the streets
  3. Know your audience
  4. Move the crowd

Hip Hop is a phenomenon of hipping, that experience of passion, out here. Hip hop originated in the 70’s in New York, USA, as a part of outdoor parties. It was about bringing communities together and having fun. Here’s my take on how the phenomenon of hip hop applies to agile transformation:

  1. Get your skills up: Based on the team’s skill matrix we could figure out how liquid our team is and when we encounter an situation where there are less than three experts in an area, we’ll know that growth is required in that area. That way, it will not become a bottleneck. Agile is about constantly learning and growing and we bring XP practices like pair programming, peer review, and other invaluable skills.
  2. Listen to the streets: Steve Blank once said, “Get out of the building.” Your business assumptions can be wrong. Go out and speak with your customers. In Agile thinking, we receive insights about our customers. We learn about what matters to them and how they live their lives. We also learn about what they want and how we can solve their problems. We place bets on what they might prefer and run experiments to validate or invalidate assumptions. Ash Mayura’s Customer Factory Blueprint is all about taking our ideas through small experiments to identify what the customers are dealing with so that we can design intelligent solutions that will make a difference in their lives.
  3. Know your audience: Knowing your customer is the key. In Agile practices like Lean and LeanStartup, the goal is to listen to our customers and find out what they value and deliver that. We use tools like Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas and Traction Metrics to create and measure unique value proposition and create “happy customers.” Ash says, it is not about customers being happy, it is about what will make them happy. It is about who are our customers are and how well their lives are enhanced after using our product.
  4. Move the crowd: Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, is famous for his company providing the “wow” experience for their customers. Happy customers create more profit for the company. Companies go out of their way to please their customers. Word of mouth referrals by satisfied customers go a long way. Customer delight has become of the key Agile values. In addition, Agile also cares about happy engaged employees. Tony has also said, “Business often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”

Adventures in Listening as One: Exploring Shared Horizons

shared_horizon

horizons of understanding [Conversation] is a process of two people understanding each other. Thus it is a characteristic of every true conversation that each opens himself to the other person, truly accepts his point of view as worthy of consideration and gets inside the other to such an extent that he understands not a particular individual, but what he says. The thing that has to be grasped is the objective rightness or otherwise of his opinion, so that they can agree with each other on a subject. (Gadamer 1979: 347)

In conversation we have, what he calls, our own ‘horizon of understanding’. This is ‘the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point’ (ibid: 143). With these pre-judgments and understandings we involve ourselves in what is being said. In conversation we try to understand a horizon that is not our own in relation to our own. We have to put our own prejudices (pre-judgments) and understandings to the test.

This report briefly describes one of my recent engagements as an Agile Transformation Leader, by bringing in the notion of Shared Horizon…in producing breakthrough results. Every initiative I take on not only serves my client, but also gives me access to my own personal transformation, where I breakthrough my own constraints, and emerge as a leader standing for other’s greatness.

Background: The client is a well-known global brand, a financial services company, located in the Silicon Valley, CA, USA. The $2B USD Investment of this 500-people program was commissioned to design an emerging product for a new market. The program included folks from the main company and two of the acquired companies, for this purpose. The program was designed to operate in an edge culture that is Responsive to market changes and Responsible to understanding the customer needs. The $2B (USD) investment program was a year late in delivering on their promise and was dealing with the existing corporate core culture of Predictable and Reliable, with zero tolerance for variance.

Status Quo: Some of the challenges the client was facing at that time for the last year of investment: The acquired startups were busy avoiding the domination of the corporate bureaucracy. Leadership in each silo organization didn’t have a holistic view of the business strategy; product roadmap differed quite a bit from the strategy; and what distribution was selling differed quite a bit from both strategy and the roadmap. They were using agile/scrum and the teams were in silo working on their own never ending backlogs. The steering committee with investment was getting increasingly frustrated, as the program couldn’t meet their annual operating targets. Competing initiatives were created as plan B that started building similar products, and were unwilling to collaborate with the program teams. At the end of one year, there was lack of cohesiveness and clarity on what to build, resulting in customers not being offered a product that is whole and complete and provides value as expected, and wasted funds.

One Leader’s Commitment: This status quo is not unusual in large organizations; however, the head of Emerging Product & Strategy was unwilling to tolerate what was happening and was clear that a different kind of intervention, beyond agile, was needed. My business partner, and myself were called in for this purpose to get the first MVP out to the market in 3 months.

We saw this as a great opportunity to transform the leadership team from a silo, command-and-control-style management to one where they can stand for a shared future, a future that fulfills the concerns of stakeholders, customers and employees. This future will bring alignment of the leadership vision, management objectives, and what the agile teams are executing on a day-to-day basis. Leadership will be present as a natural self-expression.

Created Future: Standing in our commitment to create powerful leadership, one of the first things we did was bring in a team of 9 people from the senior executive team together, for them to emerge as leaders and to create a powerful future, with a clear vision and strategy. This leadership body invited their direct reports and partners in the eco-system, a total of 42 people, where they re-created the future and gained their commitment.

Dynamite Execution: We brought in the then emerging concepts of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) and Kanban practices, inside of the transformation technology. We facilitated sessions with the product engineering leadership to identify and prioritize features that fulfill the created future. This brought the needed focus for execution. We stood up 20 or so agile teams consisting of 250 people inside of three agile release trains (ARTs), delivering on the features in a SAFe tick-tock cadence, every 6 weeks. This gave the executives some certainty that was needed in the middle of products emerging, market evolving, new competitors showing up – all the uncertainties.

Breakthrough Results: The innovative product was successfully launched in three months after we started the transformation, and met the promised date; the company stock price went up by 50%; throughput increased by 400%; deployment time reduced from 3 days to 3 hours; deploys increased from 2 per year to 2 per quarter; and the programs and the teams got to know themselves as producers of exemplary results!

Other results include, aligning the annual operating targets with the product roadmap, and altering the HR practices related to individual compensation to a team incentive; also brought integrity into the executive portfolio governance and reporting.

Adventures in Listening…

‘…Legein, therefore is to lay: ‘Laying is the letting-lie-before – which is gathered into itself – of that which comes together into presence…’

The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening by Gemma Corradi Fiumara (Author)

Shared horizon can only happen inside of listening…As a facilitator of several sessions with various people in the program, over the year of my work with this client, one of the things that was a catalyst to causing the breakthrough results was listening. Inside of my pristine listening, miracles showed up. However, it wasn’t always easy to bring in this listening.

Our listening is usually limited by our bias and prejudice, and is usually pretty narrow. When two people are in a conversation, they will bring all of their assumptions and considerations initially, until, something clicks, and they start to actually hear what the other is saying for what they are saying, without adding anything to it. This listening is quite powerful. In that kind of listening, speaking can occur, new ideas can emerge.

How do I being this type of listening? It’s starts with caring for people and really giving a damn about what they have to say. Then it is about being aware, of my thoughts, and acknowledging them rather than ignoring them, and in the moment giving up my concern. Then I’m free to listen, for few brief moments, until the next thought pops up, and I repeat the process. So, listening happens in the brief intervals between my thoughts.

In a world that values powerful speaking to listening, corporations will soon realize that listening is what allows for both the speaker and what is spoken to in the new media, listening is probably the most important factor in the toolbox. Listening is what allows others to be, let it all lay and gather itself, so to speak—it’s where both the speaker and what is spoken to have life, and in the process miracles occur!!

I see that contribution can be as simple as listening others for their greatness. As I allow for listening to occur, my identity disappears. I’m in another’s world, naturally present to their greatness – a clearing for collaboration and communication, where there is a shared understanding, a fusion of horizons and the emergence of social network.

Conclusion

It only takes one person (who called us in to do the intervention) to stand for a future that is different from the default way, or status quo, and it soon becomes a network of committed leaders with clear focus and commitment, resulting in a dynamite execution!

Where do you see an opportunity for a shared horizon?