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Taking cover in Brussels Agile Tour 2014


Last week, I spoke at the Brussels Agile Tour 2014. It was an impressive event with great organisation and a few great things that should be kept as traditions. Firstly, the speaker teaser to introduce their topics is a really fun way for every one to decide which session to go to. Some of the teasers are so funny that I thought, I’d just cancel my session and go attend theirs. Secondly, I like the fact that we use our name tags to provide feedback. It’s a great to recycle and return the badges. I never know what to do with mine from all the different events. Finally, I enjoyed the pace. 30mins break in between has provided opportunities to exchange and catch up if previous sessions overrun. Bravo Team Brussels. #atbru

My session was the grave yard slot of 2pm. I was wondering if I’ll be speaking to a sleepy crowd or none at all. (The other sessions at 2pm sounded really interesting!) And I was greatly humbled with the presence of senior agilists and long time practitioners like Pierre, Yves, Jurgen, Patrick and others. (See Pierre’s blog on the event.)

It was a lively debate and I was challenged and also inspired. It was not easy and there were moments when I wanted to run for cover. But through all these, I deepened in my convictions and matured in my thinking on the topic of HR and Agile.

Agile is a culture but the building blocks of culture are principles. 

I used an example of a board game to explain agile to people new to agile. There is an objective to the board game and in designing the board game, we have rules to help us achieve that. Badly designed games have rules that conflict and not fun to play with. Great games have rules to promote the objective. Rules in agile world are the various tools we use. We have daily stand ups because that helps in collaboration. It’s well and good to say “Individual & interactions over tools and process”. If we don’t have events to promote interactions, then we leave this to chance. We talk about short release cycles and sprints because these increase the frequency of collaboration with our clients. It might not have been designed as such but without sprint planning and release cycles, clients collaboration will be up to vigilance of teams to seek communication. Stephen R. Covey says that habits need to be cultivated. I think of agile like wanting to be lean and fit. It requires exercise but if I don’t develop a healthy habit of exercising and eating right, then wanting to be lean and fit is a wish with no commitment.

“… values govern people’s behavior, but principles ultimately determine the consequences.” Stephen R. Covey

Organisation & HR is the set up of players

One of the biggest debate in the session is about competences and job descriptions. It’s a hard one to advocate because so many of us have been burnt by this. There is a legacy hatred towards people limiting our capabilities and using HR tools for that. Opponents of these will say, they are limiting and inaccurate. It creates boxes and people are not things to slotted into boxes. Especially in agile where auto-organisation and team work is a mantra. I’m in change management so my take on this is about point of reference and fair process. There are roles to play and agile falls apart if the roles are not taken care of. There is a concept of Forming, Storming, Norming et Performing (noted in Pierre’s blog). That is often used in team building and set up. For me a job description list out the possible things the person should be doing and the team will work it out and probably trade some of the responsibilities but the key function does not change. And in using it as part of change management discussions, it promotes involvement and facilitate discussion. In a high level of consciousness (Peter Moreno – who presented enneagramme –  puts it nicely), we probably don’t need these anymore. That is at performing stage. Personally, in the case study I presented, the job descriptions was mostly used in discussion and setting up the teams and recruiting. After that, I don’t think we ever refer to it anymore.

Competences however is another matter. I’ve advocated hiring by competencies AND potential rather than qualifications. And I’ve advocated hiring a super team and not a superman. If agile’s final mantra is responding to change and it’s principle in continuous improvement and seeking excellence, then personal development has to be an individual mindset and mantra too. I wasn’t very elegant in my explanation on competences vs skills. Competences is about behaviour, skills is about knowledge. We tend to hire by knowledge. Have you worked in this industry and this function? Competence will be about “Have you worked in this type of environment and how do you manage this situation?”

This is where I am convinced. We cannot let go of human resources practice because letting that go is letting down the human aspect of work. AND we cannot continue as we do today in human resources practice. Continuing to do so is the very definition of insanity and failure. HR needs to revolutionise in the way we operate and keep up with times. We have to unleash human potential and not limit human development. If anything, we need a spotlight on HR and forced through change.

Individual coaching is the 3rd pillar of a 3 prong approach

This is where I have developed in my thinking. I learnt so much in Peter Moreno’s presentation on enneagramme. He talked about the law of the 3. And I thought, yes, that’s it. In agile adoption, we have agile coaches to cultivate the agile practices. I also believed that we need organisation and HR for the structure and hiring and finally individual coaching to help in the personal transition. The most common is the obstacle of “giving control”.  A 3 prong approach will ensure the ways of working are in place, the people are in place and the heart is in place. In my case study, I had worked with an agile coach as the organisation and HR expert to coach in set up and work with HR. But I’ve always felt that we needed a coach to help the people overcome their own fears and queries. I am convinced of this but my articulation is at its infancy.

As Pierre says in his blog, we have work to do.

So for now, I ask my colleagues in agile to keep an open mind and an open heart. Don’t treat HR like enemies but think of us as willing comrades. I’ll admit there are not many of us yet across the river. But with help, we can bring more to us. I’ll put on my change management hat and say, it’s like reversi. The pieces are there, just waiting to be converted to white. The first step is conversation.

The link to my presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agile-tour-v-english

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About Jas Chong

Organisation change and transformation.

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