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Women in Leadership – A Deliberation


Last week, I attended my first training for women with only women. Every 2 years, I’ve had the privilege to go to a training that touches me immensely to propel me into action. And this year was “Building Relationships and Influence”. I attended the class facilitated by 2 strong and supportive women (thank you Lisa and Naju) with 18 other talented, stylish and beautiful women from my organisation. I am humbled. Everyone of them uniquely strong in their own ways, bringing their expertise and knowledge to the table and opened their hearts to learning and growing themselves and others. I am quietly moved by the humility in the room, the generosity of opinions and thoughts and the grace each one showed in sharing their own challenge and difficulties. I can learn so much from the poise and posture from each one of them.

Lianna – who taught me how to laugh in the face of adversity and the one I will go to war with. We will fight fearlessly and if we die, we will at least die laughing

Neha – who taught be the confidence to go after what you want and how to stare down any problem with a plan with economic precision

Monisha – who taught me how a smile can win the world and when she speaks, we will be left defenceless

Som – who taught me the patience to take down a problem and the value of taking small but sure steps to achieve the goal with tenacity

Ari – who taught the selflessness of support and I know with her friendship is won, she will stand with you, behind you and ahead of you in face of problems

Viola – who taught me how to shrug off anyone or any problem and how not to be taken prisoner by anyone. I imagine if you are in her court, she will be fiercely loyal

Grace – who taught me grace and how we will all be bought over by her cooking and she will probably take down anyone gracefully without you even noticing

YiLing – who taught me that words don’t have to be many, just those that count

Phyllis – who showed me a glimpse of her bag of secret weapons for any problem and taught me the value of showing them only when needed

Tun Kim – who fooled me and taught me that appearance is only a tenth of what’s inside

Joan – who taught me that strength can come from small and loud voices and passion for work comes in so many forms

Eileen – who taught me how to listen actively and how to turn a learning into practice by listening actively

Agnes – who taught me the love for life and she will outrun us any day with that love of life

Lee Hong – who taught me curiosity and listening intently to understand. If one day I were to be judged, she will be the fairest of all

SiJie – who taught me the keenness to learn and though she may be the youngest but will soon be oldest in wisdom

Cheryl – who taught me how to to move mountains with influence and the right influence

Diep – who showed me how the world can be so small to be held with her big heart inspire of it all

Lorinne – who taught me how to never stop learning and growing and perhaps one day, I will fulfil my wish to pick up flute like she did

And this is only what I was privilege to have a glimpse of in the 2.5 days. Everyone of them with years experience and expertise I can learn from.

I had never grown up with strong female models in my life. And I am constantly surprised at the rich variety of female women and leadership traits. And I am truly grateful to have participated in a programme that opened my eyes to all the possibilities.

We have to do more.

Because when I look up, it is not yet 50/50 at the table, when I look around, it’s a lonely number, when I look down, I can already see the young eyes starting to despair. And when I look further ashore, equality is still a luxury for some and forbidden in other places. https://wbl.worldbank.org

A colleague of mine asked, what if men have a training for men only, what would you say? I said, do it! Do it to understand that diversity is still a problem, do it to understand how or promote diversity, do it to enrich styles of leadership. Imagine how rich the discussion at the board can be with all different characters and strengths. And imagine all these strengths and passions were driven by a common vision.

Companies can deliberate on the benefits of diversity, leaders can wonder on the ROI of having both men and women at the top. I am proud to say I belong to a place where the deliberation of benefits is done and diversity is acted on with deliberation.

https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/report/womeninleadership

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Leaning in 2018 – My year of commitment as a woman for other women.


Sometime towards the end of 2017, beginning 2018, I read the book Lean In: Woman, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. In many ways, reading this book now, in my 40s had shed light on many things I was experiencing but was unable to express in words exactly. As a woman, I was able to see clearer the topics she wrote about now then I was able to associate with in my 20s or 30s. And there were other topics that I saw parallels in my friends such as being a working woman and bringing up children and the support of a partner. And around this time last year, I made a decision to commit a year to contributing to growth of young women around me.

New year resolutions are sacred for me. I take a disciplined agile approach to my resolutions. There are minimal viable achievements, kanban flow of activities and iterations. However, this commitment was more like an idea, emerging through trial and errors with different personas. And in way, much more challenging as I actually have users other than myself. It wasn’t like I was my own product owner, scrum master and developer and customer. While the journey had its differences, the intent was the same – I wanted to equip young women with the knowledge of themselves and the skills to define the career they want for themselves. (knowing who they are, knowing what they want to do, knowing how to get there.)

Looking back, it was a challenging and rewarding year.

Trainer vs Coach vs Mentor vs Colleague vs Friend

These were the hats I wore in the course of the year.

As a trainer, I provide information and practical use of knowledge that they can’t just google and learn on their own.

As a coach, I ask questions to help them expand their thinking and guide them to arrive at answers on their own.

As a mentor, I share professional life experiences and market insights to give them a point of view to consider their options.

As a colleague, I share workload and collaborate at work and provide contextual guidance at the workplace.

As a friend, I listen and share personal life challenges and experiences and show sympathy or care when I can.

At least, I try to do the above. It’s not easy to navigate the different hats and I don’t wear all the hats with all of them. The minimum hats I will wear is to be a trainer and coach. It was not easy.

Switching hats whenever they need and knowing when they need which hat and wearing those hats comfortably were challenging. Sometimes, I was too much a friend when I should have been a colleague. Sometimes I should be a coach but I needed a friend. Sometime, I train because I’m impatient when I should have been a coach.

Pushing, pulling, persuading, cajoling, caring, crowding, sharing, showing, showering – every one a different path, every one a different means. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes, I miss the mark. I felt constantly the weight of the responsibility to do the right thing or at least, do no harm.

Being there for them also meant being there when I was not at my best. There were days when I thought my weakest was weaker than theirs. I couldn’t show up the way I wanted or show up at all. It also meant, they saw my most vulnerable moments when I should be showing them strength. And the lines were blurred.

And sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised that I am also coached by them through these difficult corners. Their untainted lenses were refreshing and uplifting.

Female Leadership

Today’s female leaders do not have to deal with formal discrimination (in most countries) where the laws have allowed us to vote, to stand in office, to be as equal to men as possible. The fight for legitimacy is over. But is it?

As Sheryl Sandberg said, there are simply not enough female leaders today to provide a balanced view. When the majority of the leaders are men, we think majority is the norm when the norm is formed with representation from 50% of the population.

We do not have to dress like men to be a leader at the workplace anymore. We come as we are embracing our femininity. But how do we deal with physical transformations that are face only by women? Physically, we still face child birth, menopause that are unique and affects us chemically and mentally.

An exmaple, who do I talk to when I’m going through when I’m tearing all the time? Never had it when I was in my 20s or 30s. Suddenly, in my 40s, tears seem to come from nowhere and I can’t seem to control it. Wasn’t crying just tearing. Is this a norm? How do I deal with it at the workplace? I also wonder how my colleagues deal with situations when they lactate.

Reflection

When I closed the year in reflection, I had also had a new articulation of my commitment. It wasn’t simply to equip them for today, it is to equip these young women with a future support from other women. I feel keenly daily the lack of role models at the top I can chat with and a peer group I can draw strength from. And I hope more young women build strong relationships with each other for the support in the future. And I hope they will do the same with other young women in future.

Seeing the growth is rewarding albeit a growth that could be independent of our work together. Growth is natural and this year, especially meaningful for me to watch people grow in strength and stride.

This year, a new set of resolutions await, a new year of learnings. But I think this is one I will keep for another year.

 

I want to build a SWAT team for agile transformation


This last year, I was deep into agile transformation in an organisation as an agile coach. On the eve of my handover, I had realised that much has been done and yet much more to be done. When I surveyed my body of work, I had also realised that the transformation had taken a direction with my background in organisation structure and human resources. And I was keenly aware that I had not been able to reach deep pockets of agility in other areas outside of my specialisation. It has been a while now since I talked about a SWAT team. On retrospection of my work, I knew that this is what I want to do going forward. Build a SWAT team for agile transformation. A special weapons and tactics team focusing on helping organisation be agile.

Let’s assume I don’t have to reiterate the benefits of agility. So many people have done that. But in case of any doubt, let me summarise by saying, there is no technology or business agility. An agile organisation that has a strong learning quotient to learn from the market and react accordingly cannot be agile in 1 area and completely lagging in another. That will be like saying, I need a strong right arm and the rest of my body can be waning. Physically, I am not possible you have isolate a part of the body to be strong while the rest is weak and lethargic. So I go back to systemic change and change that impacts all level. And this is why I think 1 person can’t do it all and neither can 1 type of person.

In Europe, I’ve often seen and was part of the agile community formed by individuals. Most agile coaches are independent and operate independently. That or they were engaged in-house as part of a group of agile coaches. There were various models of engagement and I had also experienced them myself. One time, I was hired as an independent change consultant, another, I was hired as a scrum master / agile coach. Some of the people I knew were hired as agile coach to coach a few teams, others as trainers. Often what I see (not always) is a fragmented market of demand and hence a fragmented market of supply. And the type of demand changes from medium to large organisations. The small companies are usually inherently agile and lean from entrepreneurial background. For medium to large companies, sometimes scaled agile is used to create some order in process.

In Asia, I have started to see some similar trends. Companies look for agile coach, trainers, scrum master / agile coach. Before I generalise further, I think I can say that there is a growing trend towards adopting agile. (For good or bad reasons.)

So what has all these got to do with SWAT?

Let me first lay out a few common observations and challenges to overcome in an organisation that is starting to think about agility.

  •  Business Cases – There is usually an investment accountability process for any product release. This means long research and requirement writing to finalise a strong business case for investment and a funding process that follows.
  • Project / Phase Approach – Large requirements are broken down into phases for delivery and usually, there is no respiration period to learn from the market if they were playing catch up. And teams delivery each phase can be made up of different people.
  • Silo Functional Organisation – In a project or product delivery, the people writing the business case, detailing the requirement and then explaining to technology team are independent functions not belonging to the same group. And there is hands off in the process.
  • Large and Non Stable Teams – Each silo function is probably a large group of people (over 10). For delivery groups, it is a large group of people gathered together for 1 project and they may or may not work on the next project together.
  • Lean and Cost Saving Infrastructure – Development environment is shared and there is no or little automation to handle multiple releases and shorter development cycles.

So it is not uncommon when a company thinks about trying agile, they use a project as a test bed and hire an agile coach to coach this project to see how that works. And then the next project and then the next. It would be ok but usually with a systemic environment that is not conducive, the initial team that experienced success will probably hit a break wall very soon. And when teams are formed for a project, the team building is gone to waste when they join other project teams and work with new people.

For an organisation convinced and committed to transform itself, I think it requires a pace that allows for sustainable momentum of change. But there is an initial stage of transformation that will be institutional followed by sustainable pace. That is when I think we need a SWAT team.

And these are the special weapons and tactics that will be needed in different order and combination of sequences. And it will be a tall order to expect an agile coach to embody all of these to help an organisation transform. And a team works together to focus on these areas to achieve the initial transformation before going into a sustainable mode.

Organisation Design Change

Teams have to be formed to create stable and dedicated teams. In existing context, this is not easy as each person can be involved in 2-3 projects that can finish at different times. They will need to be transitioned to form teams to start working together. Some of these roles may not even exist in the organisation chart and incumbent HR may not be able to support the creation of these profiles let alone the hiring of these people.

In tight labour markets and where labour laws are strict with strong unions, attrition, work contracts are common issues during this transition. Acquisition of external skills will also be difficult in particular skills area. In response, the design will have to have elements of transitioning, skills upgrading and development.

Product Driven Change

Where projects govern the way things are delivered, products thinking will have to take over to make way for stronger product integrity and innovation. Product driven thinking will mean a stronger focus on product performance and delivery where most valued. It will also require stronger design thinking to ensure products can be delivered incrementally in response to value driven in each delivery. To achieve the “cheaper” in a “faster and cheaper” agile delivery, it has to do with doing less and delivery more value to customers. Targeted delivery ensures each delivery enhances the product in a way the customer desires. And when objectives are achieved, stop developing the that area to focus on other areas of value. But this means better business domain knowledge, stronger design thinking and focus on innovation and market response.

Process Change

A waterfall or handoff type of process can be entrenched in the decision making process. For this to change towards agility without losing accountability will require process change to review both. When we lose the long business case and requirement gathering stage in place of agile delivery to build-test-learn from the market place, we need a different process of communicating requirements and account for investment. Often, this also means a process of “testing” and “learning” that may not be in place or as strong as the “building” and releasing process. Without it, the organisation will only be releasing in shorter spurts of time that may not also end up to be more expensive to support these frequent release.

Budgeting & Financing Change

Budgeting and financing is an integral part of process change but deserves a space on its own especially in large public organisations with stakeholders and shareholders to answer for. Inherent in any agile delivery is a shorter decision making cycle coupled with shorter release cycles so the over response to the market is shorter. Traditional funding and budgeting model is anything but short as it calls for scrutiny in investments and upfront accountability to ensure the money spent will deliver the said outcome. To move away from upfront promise to outcome driven accountability, the budgeting and financing process will have to be continuous and more frequent, as many as the release cycles intended.

Engineering Change

To respond to agile delivery, the engineering practice will have to change. Shorter delivery cycles requires teams to work at a sustainable pace but consistent. To ensure quality development that can be released “any time”, test driven development practices, test automation, code quality will have to meet those standards among others. In a longer release cycle, teams can handle a sudden surge of activities near release date where late nights ensued and adrenaline pumps high. With regular but shorter release cycles, the quality will have to ensure releases are smooth and each release doesn’t become a mayhem but just a regular exercise.

Infrastructure Change

There is almost always a need to change infrastructure to support agility. This can mean creating possibilities of automation to support the releases, newer technologies and transition to these technologies. It can mean cloud, different supporting systems and many more. (And this is where I am lost.)

So you see, I can’t do it all. I am your organisation design change and process change person. And I wished I had a design thinking person, a devops person, an XP person and a beyond budgeting person to come together and form a SWAT team.

In my dream, my team will study the state of the organisation and chain up the changes so each organisation design change is hooked up to the right process change and the right engineering change and etc. And each change is dosed at the right amount for that organisation to create the different layers of transformation. And we will work at the leadership level to create systemic change to the environment so the teams can work in a fail fast fail safe environment while delivering products they and customers love.

And the SWAT team will only apply our expertise where required for the areas required for “just in time” change. While one organisation is going through transformation, another organisation can be sustaining change. And the SWAT team can be an agile coach for those sustaining change and come together to SWAT through a transformation. And the SWAT team is stable, we know our strengths and we cover for each other when we are applied. We have all the ego in the world and yet none with each other. We push each other to be better. We fight, we work, we build. We are the best together and can stand on our own. (Now, I’m getting really idealistic.)

It changes nothing. It changes everything. I want to build an agile transformation SWAT team.

Moving to Singapore – Agile in Practice


Singapore.JPGIt’s been a year I’ve moved to Singapore. Almost 9 months since my last post. Think of it as a release, after many iterations in the making. My first MVP was September 2015 when I tried out 1 month of living in Singapore. The next iteration was November 2015 where I actually stayed for 6 weeks, found a job and started working on a project. And I moved out of Paris and 10 years of my life in an apartment in all but 10 days. And it’s almost 10 months since I made that decision. My life adopting changes in numbers.

Singapore was where I was born and bred, I had studied and worked here all my life before moving to Paris 10 years ago. But Paris was home to me. To move out in 10 days a life I made for 10 years took all the agility in me. I developed a kanban flow of work, mapped out my life in various epics and sliced my first release. Everything else waited till February 2016 when I returned for another 10 days for another slice in release. Let’s take my move as an examination into agile application since I’ve always said, “you can apply agile to anything.” – Probably the most dogmatic thing you’ll hear me say.

Proof of concept – Working Freelance in Asia

To move to Singapore, I needed to proof that the concept works. (Notice I didn’t use the word ‘back’. It’s hard to say there is a notion of moving back since I never really felt at home in Singapore. And it’s just easier to consider it a brand new country move.) As an independent in Europe, I wanted to see if the concept of freelance works in Asia. There was a lot of time spent in front of Linkedin. A lot of skype and email conversations with people operating in Asia in the agile space. And I lined up as many conversations I can get for my September visit. I also wanted to see the appetite of Agile HR in Asia where it has taken me 2 years to build in Europe and only just seeing the beginning of a form of recognition and adoption. In addition, I had lined up a potential business opportunity to practice Agile HR as an independent in Singapore. It couldn’t be more encouraging.

Sept 2015 – My visit has proved wrong a few assumptions. Since I was going back for my sister’s wedding anyway, it was really fail fast and very safe. I had found that independents are still in the budding stage of being recognised in the Singaporean work society. Coupled with a new adoption to agility, being an independent in this area of work meant that work is limited and largely in training areas. In addition, procurement practices in large organisations where there were signs of agile adoption have not evolved to retain independent contractors. Work contracts are still signed through preferred supplier agreements and large supplier qualification exercises. Singapore is also a very expensive city to live in. That meant that without initial work, the upstart cost will meant large investments upfront. My business opportunity also stalled due to budgeting discussions and interventions from HR.

 

Round 2 – MVP – Minimal commitment move to Singapore

The minimal viable product / solution-more-like-it was designed to be a small test to the market. I was accepted to speak at 2 conferences in November 2015, Agile Tour Vietnam and Agile Tour Singapore. Since they were at the beginning and end of month, I had another 4 more weeks to see if my move to Singapore could be finalised. Both tours gave me good understanding of the agile community in the region and where the standards and appetite was. I was also confirming an offer in the mean time.

Nov 2015 – Minimal commitment / maximum output. In November, somewhere between my travels, I confirmed my work engagement. There was no contract but I had an offer that I could work with. And I found a place that I could rent into. I was travelling with a cabin luggage for 4 weeks of travel and speaking engagements and ended up staying for 6 weeks. I had started and completed a 6 week projects and signed on for a job while I still have everything in Paris to sort out. In 6 weeks, I sorted out all the essentials to give me the move I need.

2nd Iteration – Release 1.0 – 10 days to release

I returned to Paris knowing that I had to go back to my new job in 2 weeks. Excluding weekends and jet lag, I had exactly 10 days to sort out my move including French administration. (If you know about French administration, you will give me a 2nd oscars for lifetime achievement award in doing all these in 10 days. The first was to set up a company in France). It requires extreme estimation and every feature valued to give maximum benefit while the rest would just not cut it.

Dec 2015 – I story mapped my life in Paris and found a slice for release. All others will have to be abandoned or left to next release in Feb 2016. The 2 biggest themes were french administration and my apartment. My apartment were divided in different parts of living epics. Each epic had essentials that I had to take in and others nice to have that I had to abandoned. But I had allowed a few “wow” features that would give my life a sparkle to get over all the nice to have that I had to leave behind. Since French administration has large dependencies and hard to estimate in effort, I had to draw up my risk charts and focused on the riskiest ones to mitigate risks and manage them through a kanban board. The flow method worked better ensure that daily planning and prioritisation can helped when new information comes up. I’ve also added a new column for “pending comments” where there is no limitation on WIP since I can pile as many there as I want pending feedback from all external parties. Some items moved up in level of importance and some had to move down (very painfully but necessarily). I sacrificed a few wows but kept at least 1 box of wows to last me through the new move. I had 3 checked-in luggage, 2 cabin luggage and 2 boxes I can post. Everything else that didn’t fit won’t qualify. On Christmas day, I left Paris and 10 years of my life in 10 days. There were still many things left in the “pending comments” column but largely, my release was secured. Among the “wow”s were 2 boxes of fois gras, 1 bag of champagne truffles, a slice of truffled brie and lots of champagne and whiskey on business class. The most riskiest french administration items were tackled or mitigated with the rest in wait of release 2.

Managing an agile backlog with a waterfall French administration backend was my waterscrumfall release.

Release 2 – Closing my company in France

Feb 2016 – 2.5 months after moving to Singapore, I flew back to Paris to close my company. Release 2 afforded me with some additional wows and must haves. Depending on your point of view, French fashion was on my must have list. My reason, can’t get it here or at the price I can procure. But release 2 was largely for french administration of things. All the items that had large dependencies that I had put in motion had paid off.

Waterscrumfall – yes, we all hate it. It brings goosebumps everything I hear of it. But on hindsight, I had learnt much with my waterscrumfall release 1.0. Release 2.0 was integration with backend some of the front end user stories for a more complete release. I had exhausted cosmetic releases and all “integratable” items. It’s not ideal but it’s how I learn about agile transformation in less ideal places.

  • RAID – Risks, Assumptions, Impediments and Dependencies is a very important step and essential in prioritisation.
  • Dependencies are dealt with up front and allowed it’s time to complete and to avoid a lot of grief in the future.
  • Slicing of user stories include prudent pruning of features with dependencies.
  • Don’t focus on just must haves, a “wow” item can be much more valuable than a few “must have”s, it’s all a matter of perspective.

On that last point, think about the new iPhone 7, it has removed a “must have” of the last 10 years, before even smart phones came to the market. The phone jack is gone and the wireless ear phones is finally wireless.

And so is life with its many surprises. I also had to let go of a few assumptions for my move. The most painful was missing 4 seasons and its colours, the most compelling was Asia’s thirst for new expertise and a very very fertile ground in agile transformation. And so, I had left the city of lights for another. From a hunter of work to be a farmer of new approaches. And many aspirations. So release 3 will be brand new, in the making.

 

Don’t look for a superman, look for a super team.


This week in Paris, I hosted a session of Agile HR meetup. It’s our autumn edition before I return from Asia for the winter session.

We had more than half of the participants from HR! It’s truly encouraging to have more and more HR coming to share and exchange. It was also liberating to talk about HR from an agile perspective to tackle some of the challenges faced by HR.

While the session is in French, my slides are in English. And I’ve also quoted some specific challenges faced in Europe that Asia may not experience. The slides are the same as Agile Meetup in HK.

Agile HR – Meetup Slides

I also wanted to do a mini workshop on competences but we ran out of time. So for the next session, I’ll be focusing on specific topics such as recruitment, competences, review & feedback and how agile can come into play in these HR topics.

Agile HR – A developing vision towards HR transformation


For a few months now, I’ve been running experiments. And I’ve been running Agile HR meetups in various places, Brussels, Paris, Hong Kong, with various people. And I’ve been speaking, at conferences, meetups and coffeeshop conversations. And I’ve asked questions and asked more questions.

So, here is a summary of the meetups and reflections.

In the beginning, my conviction is that HR must be closer to the business, stronger in support and more present in the boardroom. After a year, my conviction remains stronger and my articulation clearer. We simply cannot continue to use conventional workplace management methods towards an evolved and evolving market place.

But there is also nothing revolutionary at its core. When I look back at the agile manifesto, it is the most basic and common sense of things. We need to interact more, collaborate more, adopt more and produce working outcome. But to do all these, we can’t leave it to chance, we need to synchronise and practice the principles and ceremonials.

HR – So few and so far away

The first couple of meetups in Brussels and in Paris brought forth these points from participants. Even though the invitation is open to all, HR and agile practitioners, the people who came were mainly agile practitioners or people keen on agile. There were hardly any HR participants.

When I look at the social media groups for professionals linkedin and meetups, HR groups are few and far between. And the image to business has been the same, they are never available. I even joked with my friends, when I tried to set up meetings with people, the people who were consistently cancelling or not available or not responsive were HR. I’ve never had it with finance, IT or operations. Even with mobile sales people, they are usually a phone call away. It seemed they had hidden somewhere or enclosed themselves in the room. Or lat least that’s the sentiment people have mentioned.

When we look closer, the sad truth is that there are only so many HR people hired in the company. Sometimes, in a company of 2000 thousand people who over 150 people in technology, there is maybe only 20 or less HR people. When you divide 20 HR with 2000 employees, it’s a ratio of 1 to 100. If we look into a company, often, the smallest department in the company is the HR.

In a meetup, after much criticism and debate on whether we should fire all HR, I thought I’ll say something in defence. (After all, I have been in this world for over 10 years.) When I asked:

“So you say HR doesn’t approach you to understand your needs. Have you gone knocking on their door?”

“So you say HR doesn’t care for you. Have you told them how you would like to be cared for?”

Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t. But as in interactions and focusing on individuals, it really takes 2 people or more to talk. Should we be calculative on who makes the more effort to try to communicate?

To the knowing, and I count the alight to be among the “knowing”. We can practice the manifesto by reaching out and communicating more. Because, the knowing knows that shutting down communication will beget more communication.

And HR can be more organised in communicating with business. Instead of the big annual headcount, performance review meeting, try shorter feedback loops and frequent discussions on needs. If there are more interactions, there can be less paperwork and misunderstandings. And people strategies is not a form filling and paper pushing exercise.

HR & Technology teams – 2 different languages

I invited 2 recruitment experts whom I worked with in a project to share their experience in a meetup in Paris. We had participants calling from different places and some in person. My invited guests were dealing in from Netherlands.

One of the key points we kept arriving at was, HR and technology teams speak different languages and sometimes, they simply don’t understand each other without interpretation or time and effort. It’s like the Gershwin song, “Let’s call the whole thing off.”

“you say tomato, I say tomato; you eat potato and I eat potato; tomato, tomato, potato, potato
let’s call the whole thing off.”

Sone of the most common challenges that HR, especially the recruitment team, expressed is that when it comes to technology teams, hiring managers or teams don’t want to spend time explaining what they want and when they do spend a bit of time, they expect HR to get it quickly. Let’s not forget that while technologists spent their time with technology and is still catching up with the latest, HR doesn’t. It’s like a product owner expecting developers to understand their requirements without spending time grooming and explaining them.

Collaboration takes time. Especially in the beginning, it takes a lot time to understand each other and decoding the messages. But the time spent is often rewarded with stronger working relationship and effectiveness as a team. Crossing the aisle to communicate is not enough, building a bridge together will make the passing easier in the future.

HR can collaborate more to create a profile of the requirements instead of asking to fill out job description forms. With the HR I work with, filling out job description forms is probably the last thing we focused on. The first thing we talked about is who do we need now and why. I left them alone in how to find these people and give them ideas when I have. The followup discussions have always been why some candidates are rejected and some are great to calibrate our understanding of what’s needed.

HR is an obstacle

That’s the other thing I hear often in these meetups. The situations can be headcount freeze, can’t hire, can’t change job titles, can’t change teams, can’t … In many case, there were frustrations on things they can’t do because they were blocked by HR processes. Some of those I came across in agile teams are, we can’t have a scrum master because scrum master is not part of the list of positions we have in the company. Or, you can’t hire this person until next year when the headcount is released.

This is when HR fails the business completely because it seems to be blocking and helping. If we look back into the reasons why these came up, it’s often not because HR were the ones responsible for the set up but are accountable for it. And they lack the will and courage to find break through solutions.

In Europe, unions often determines many of the policies from increment, hiring and firing headcount to creating new positions. Headcount and/or budget freeze for hiring is often decided at top management at the beginning or end of financial year. And HR is held not only as guardians but penalised if these are not adhered to.

Fundamentally, if the practice is waterfall, then even if there are collaboration, interactions and a desire to produce a working solution, adapting to change cannot happen. And it’s rather unfair to blame HR when we / business were the ones who put them in that position.

To change, some of the bad practices needs to be abolished. Annual and x-year anything is by nature very waterfall, if the world remains unchanged for that period of time. The reality of agility is that an organisation has to be able to react to business demands very quickly and smoothly as if it’s in their DNA. Most companies understand that and yet will follow-through hours and hours of year end meeting for next year plan and x-year plans with nothing during the period to iterate and make adjustments.

HR can be brave and abolish some of the practices while updating others. HR can also be more creative when it comes to adapting to changes. In one of the project, with early interactions on changes required, collaborating on the resourcing requirements, HR could update unions early on and kick off some difficult discussions to reach satisfactory outcome for both. Instead of annual headcount requirement, they can also look into monthly and quarterly adjustment for the needs of the team and advise some of budgeting red alerts for the business.

Reflections

I am convinced we are at the tipping point of change for HR. People strategies simply have to catch up with technology driven strategies. There are be other drivers but I still believe technology drivers to be the biggest. And I believe agile to be a coherent and encompassing path to change. Maybe there are other paths and there are other big consulting firms to produce mountains of studies and papers to bury me in. But when I look at the need for HR to recenter on People over all the process, tools laws, obligations. I come back to agile manifesto inadvertently.

Maybe there are other ways, but how about we just simply start talking. Let’s listen and talk. And let’s not leave it to chance, let’s plan and co-ordinate these interactions. How about we just start with that? How beautiful is the world when people try to understand the other and talk!

Agile HRagile HR 2

Beginning and ending with Total Talent Management, a widening systemic approach.


The title is a mouthful and a way I round up 2014 into 2015, with a few hours to spare. The world of work has changed progressively and even more so with the latest financial crisis. According to a Deloitte report, non-employee workers can reach up to 40% of a company. And it will likely to continue in trend with skills gaps and structural differences in the economy. So I’d like to kick off the new year summing up what I’ve been posting about in 2014, a systemic view of the workplace, a consideration on Total Talent Management.

Back in 2013 in a world wide HR conference in Orlando, I’ve heard someone mentioned the term, Total Talent Management. Traditionally, talent management is about actively looking at resourcing and planning the human capital in the company. Some companies have strategies for development and training with a selected group with leadership qualities, others may have a broad stroke approach and others non at all. But in all the practices, this is mainly tied to employees in the companies.

Employment laws have often dictated how HR can behave with non-employees. To protect workers from being excluded from employment benefits through engagement under interim or contract, there are typically tight laws around engagement of temporary workforce. This limits the number of years a person can be a temporary worker in a company and to ensure the line is clear, HR has also created walls to prevent ambiguity and potential lawsuits. The limitations vary from country to country, some relaxed and some stricter, typically in Europe and US. Some are enforced and some have common practices.

The result is a general deterrence from considering non-employees and hence any form of management.

If non-employee workers remain a minority of 5-10%, we can argue it is better to avoid all risks and it doesn’t impact the company largely in overall performance and strategy.

The challenge is whilst terms of work and its contribution has evolved, the laws have not. In a company today, there can be a percentage of temporary workers to complement for productivity surge and employees on leave. In addition, there is also an influx of contractors due to skills gap in the company. This is particularly prevalent with newer technologies and advancement in digital transformation. To compete, companies either seek expertise outside or outsourced a particular work order. Hence, outsourcing partners also becomes an extension of the workforce. There is also an increasing trend of independents who would not want to be employed and are happy to continue as consultants and/or contractors to companies to provide their expertise. Non-employeed extension of the workforce is growing and can sometimes represent up to 40%. What is this 40% really?

From a systemic view, a system includes contributors and includes any influences. If we think about throwing a stone into a pool of water, the rippling effect is the layers of systems. There is an immediate system and external systems connected to it. So where do we draw the line? It’s hard but one thing is sure, it does not stay with only employees, not when the rest of the system could make up to 40% when we consider a wider system.

And here we come to the HR challenge in 2015, if it has not already peeked in 2014. The question is, will HR step up and step out beyond the comfortable legal system of human capital in their company or will they take cover under the law and abdicate the responsibility to management? So what are the considerations of Total Talent Management?

Ensuring common ways of work in selection

A company, like a system, has an established way of working (sometimes called culture). In selecting independent contractors and even outsourced partners, this has to be considered. An external injection to the existing system with a completely different way of working and functioning will create misunderstandings and slow down progress. The efforts to correct it will be greater after engagement then selecting the right people and partners. HR has started to play a greater role in engagement of individuals who are hired on temporary or contractual basis. However, the greater impact is when injecting a whole group of people such as outsourcers or consulting partners. To ensure there are enough common grounds in ways of working, this has to be considered at selection stage. If HR is not managing this, then it will be up to hiring managers and management.

Ensuring team work in integration

Most HR will recoil at providing any form of training or leadership development to non-employees as this can give rise to potential law suites or ambiguity. However, team work can benefit from good facilitation during the integration process. Hence, HR will have to explore potential ways to help teams function together within the limits of the law. This can mean facilitation workshops, identifying problem areas and reflecting to partner companies or individuals as a form of improved service provision. A simple induction session given to all non-employees on the company culture and objectives will also be helpful without crossing the line extensively. This is the most challenging area and will require innovative HR approach.

Ensuring sustainable benefits in knowledge transfer

Finally, the benefit of external workforce is the expertise they bring and help during productivity hikes. The benefits can extend over longer period of time when their knowledge is transferred to existing workforce. Knowledge transfer can happen when people work together. With a concerted effort, knowledge transfer is not by chance and can directly impact in-house expertise. This can mean creating pair working, mentoring and strategic placement of external workforce with in-house. External workforce can also provide objective feedback on teams and leadership. Hence, with their exit, interviews and handovers are just as important as it is with employees.

Stepping into 2015, why not extend the vision and assess your current management of talents and how far it reaches. And from a classic systemic view, think about your resources and not your lack of. You’ll be surprised at how much you and your team can achieve.

Happy New Year!

So you hate job descriptions, how about personas?


I was torn. One of the biggest debate I had encountered when presenting in agile tours was the concept of job descriptions and competences. In an auto-organised world of agile, why do we need job descriptions? Isn’t that too limiting and will be outdated? While I agree that HR tools are traditional and lack innovation, I stand by the need for a point of reference. But I had left the conferences with a heavy heart.

How can we not do something for the sake of doing it? And how can we look past it’s ugly form today to see it and use it for what it is?

Let’s take a step back. A job description has 2 main functions, 1) for recruiting 2) for a summary of the job. If we take away job description, then we had to assume that a job title says what it does. So when we recruit a scrum master, we would assume that all scrum masters are the same and does the same thing. Hardly. Otherwise, all scrum masters would be cookie cut and replaceable by another seamlessly.

How do I hate you, let me count the ways.

So what do we hate about job descriptions? There are so many things to hate about it. The endless list of requirements that only a superman can fulfil and maybe not. Some of the qualifications are so ridiculous, I would have to cross breed spiderman’s ability to climb walls, superman’s ability to fly and then that wouldn’t be enough, because we would want that person to be resistant to kryptonite too. Then, the description of the job itself would either be too general that it seems anyone can do it or so specific that no one could have done all that and then be immune to kryptonite. And after all this, the person may still not be suitable because there are cultural and environmental factors not considered.

Different as night and day

Let’s look at the scrum master role (non-cookie cut version). In broad sense, the scrum master is the person that helps to identify and removes obstacles for the team to achieve a release in the time and budget allocated repeatedly. The success of this person will depend on his / her ability to resolve issues and motivate team forward. The difference is, every company has different issues and different team dynamics. Some simple, some complex. Some stable in agility, some still adopting agile.

Personas

In agile, personas are used to address a segment of users / customers. It is a fictional character / profile who has needs and wants and display characteristics and behavioural. We often give this person a name, age and income and we describe the problems we want to solve for this persona. We can create several personas who would be potential customers for a product.

Personas as Job Descriptions

In recruitment, the best recruiters and head hunters will usually as the hiring manager, “what kind of person are you looking for?”. And here’s where a persona began to make more sense. Some job descriptions already look like this but let’s take this a step ahead and call it a persona.

3 types of information

Scott the Scrum Master

We are looking to hire “Scott the Scrum Master”. He doesn’t have to be called Scott or be a man, but let’s call him Scott first. He should be in x age group with about x years of work experience. (Let’s tackle legal issues later, e.g. age gender etc). In this area, we use only basic information.

Scott’s personal traits and behaviour

Here, let’s describe this person in terms of behaviour and characteristics according to the demands of the environment. It would also include what the person must know. Here, we would include competencies that will help to describe Scott as the kind of person to succeed in the environment presented.

Scott’s goals

This area describes Scott’s critical success factor, what he is expected to do in the role. We can include a vision of success, what Scott would have done to be considered successful in the role.

A rose by any other name? 

So am I just changing the name of job description to persona to please the agile community or sound innovative? In my mind, a job description has always been a point of reference to hire and induct the person into their job, even if it is for internal hire. The purpose and use is the same.

But in working and debating with agile teams, I think a Persona takes on a very different form than a job description. In a persona, the cultural aspects and critical behavioural traits are emphasised whilst skills and specific knowledge are added as required. The significance is that even if we have 2 rocket scientists considered for the same job, we will be able to know what kind of person we want and choose the person who most mirrors the behavioural traits. And more importantly, we can also consider a non-rocket scientist for that job as they as they can achieve the goals described.

What then?

Persona in itself will not be enough. If we do so, we fall into the same trap of a job description, using it as a form of checklist to hire. When it comes to hiring, there is a  simple law of 3.

– creating the persona to describe the person desired and what success means in the job. Be clear but keep it simple. Remember, the person shouldn’t have to climb walls, fly and still be immune to weaknesses.

– creating a list of competences that make sense to include in the persona. Eg. if spiderman is to climb walls, then he wouldn’t need to fly like superman. Or maybe we don’t care about flying or climbing, what we want is to get to the highest or lowest place in the fastest way possible.

– creating a list of questions to qualify the person. If we want a person who can work in a complex political environment, we must know what it takes and ask the person to describe how they had worked in previous similar environments or how they would act in this situation.

There is much to be done in the way we look at HR tools. But let’s start here. Let’s recognise that a job is more than a job title and a person is more than his collection of job titles and certifications.

HR case study – Human Resources vs Human Capital


I wrote about this topic some time back as a proposition and how a word is a world of difference in human resources and human capital.

I’m still being challenged for using the word capital and I don’t have the right answers. But how about we take a step forward. How about we start treating people in the organisation as people and people with ideas and thoughts and potential to make the company better? How about we also look at HR transformation in an agile fashion, iterations by iterations, seeking continual improvement?

Some time this year, I was invited to participate in a HR case study competition in China. I thought I’ll use my experience to show the difference. And I started writing and a simple 500 word essay turned into 8000 words and I become more passionate about the subject that I went on to speak about HR in Agile Tours in Brussels, Toulouse and Montpelier. Talking about HR in agile is simply asking for trouble. But I like trouble. We need it. If we bother to fight and debate, we care enough to make a difference. So maybe, a drop in the ocean can contribute and a tiny sand can cause a ripple.

In this case study, I detail the story behind the presentations in the agile tours. And the story is told from the HR angle. And I invite HR to review the story and ask themselves, which type of HR are they in this tale of 2 HR?

A HR that is close to the business and can see potential in the situation and the people can advise, accelerate and advance efforts in an organisation. The law is kept firmly in its place of preventing deterrence and not the first draw of solutions. The people are the first considerations and their knowledge the currency of change.

A HR that is misguided (even with the best intensions) can obstruct, obscure and obliterate efforts. And OOOps is a heavy price to pay in talent drain and loss of momentum.

The choice is clear. The decision is courage. The path is arduous. The journey however, is a savour of bitter-sweet, there will be battles won and battles lost. But the war can be won. A thought is all it takes.

Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?” David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Edited case study from the original awarded version. http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/hr-case-study-transformation-rh

Speaking Events – Agile Tour 2014


Last week I spoke at Agile Tour in Toulouse and Montpelier. It was my first speaking event in agile tour and it was in French. I was glad I had a rehearsal in a meetup event in summer. So this was easier.

Speaking about HR in an agile tour is a risk for so many reasons. Firstly, agilists (coach and IT teams) do not usually have good experiences with HR. At best, it’s a polite existence, at worst, HR is seen often as an obsolete practice or obstacle for change and advancement. Secondly, with an agile structure, there is a common perception that agile organisation is flat and thus has no need for management, after all, auto-organisation is a modus operati. Finally, in combination, if there were any HR issues, these were inherently dealt with in the team or ignored. After all, it’s an agile tour and people will be keen to learn more about agile and not HR.

The turnout was what I expected and a nice cozy group of just over 10 people in each session. It was a great group for conversations and the group was curious as well as reflective.

My key message: Agile Coach and HR can be great partners. 

The Batman & Robin, Bonnie & Clyde, Sherlock & Watson, a formidable duo. That was my experience when I worked as HR with an agile coach in setting up the team. The agile coach wanting to break all conventions, bring new practices, innovate and improve. The HR, the voice of reason, doing what is necessary to set up the scene, clear administrative and people hurdles.

The sub-title: Agile teams are made up of people and will have HR concerns. 

It may seem counter-intuitive but each organisation is different in size, culture and practices. But every individual is a human being with human concerns such as career development, pay check, sense of belonging. While an agile organisation based on auto-organisation is rather flat in structure, it will still have a form of structure and roles to play.

The characters: Product, Delivery, Project Management (and more than 1 each)

A typical scrum team is made of 3 types of roles, product, delivery (architects, developers, testers etc), scrums master (agile project managers). While a scrum can be formed and disbanded to reform based on delivery, each role distinct. But in any team, everyone has a role to play and we can’t be all and do all. Clear understanding of roles and accountabilities are important for auto-organisation to work. These are horizontal functions, it also exists with vertical teams. For example, product owners as a vertical can develop expertise and share best practices.

The weapons: Agile have tools and so do HR

HR can bring in expertise in agile teams with competences and development, job description as a point of reference, group and individual evaluation. HR needs to innovate to match with agile development such as iterative recruitment and organisation set up, piloting and testing competency programs to developing organisation and adapting job profiles to agile requirements.

The storyline: Australia

There are no villains or crime to fight. It’s about building a country, working together for city development. If agile coaches can call on the expertise of HR to work on people issues and HR can call on innovative methods of agile coaches to provide structure, transition and change can be effective and deep setting.

The challenge: Acknowledging and appreciating one another

The challenge I left the group to ponder. How can both collaborate and communicate to begin working together? It requires the crossing of worlds, stepping out of comfort zones and reaching out. As I said, if there is no knocking on the door, there is no opening of the door.

All slides are in french.

http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agile-tour-2014

I presented this with Pablo Pernot, an expert in change and agile. We’ve also recently launched our offer in HR transformation. http://transformationrh.fr . Yes, because HR really do need to transform their practice.

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