Category Archives: Created Futures

Agile and Hip-Hop


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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


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.


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?