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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.

Agile Tribu – What it means to me? (In France (the country) and in English (the language)


2012 was the year I learnt about agile. To be faire, I had probably used it without knowing it. But as ancient history will say, there is power in words and calling something what it is. “Je m’assume”. This is my favourite French phrase, a state of being explained in simply 2 words, I assume (take on and be at peace with the position).

Beginning of 2015, I started discussing with Yannick and Nathaniel about setting up a structure together. The question on my mind is what will 2 agilists with extensive agile and technical background do with me, a non developer (not even html), HR and change management background. But we had a vision, even though it was just the beginning of a sort of a vision.

We started with lowest hanging fruits. The problems we all face as independents. As independents, we work alone, we find work alone and once we had work, we may forget to look for future projects. We wanted to create a space physical and virtual where independents can exchange, find solidarity with other independents and a convenient place to go to work and give trainings or hold meetings.

But we had a question, are we just a co-working space provider or a “mission” provider? That’s when we started debating and refining our vision. We are not just running away from something but we are running towards something. And that something is about advancing the practice of agile. This is the heart of the matter and the subject close to our hearts.

And this is where my heart lays – the dignity of work. Talking about happiness, talking about scrum, kanban, waterfall is just describing the waters when we are drowning. If we look at the spirit and essence of agile and the manifesto, it’s about communicating and gaining understanding among people, producing things that works and hence has value, working along side each other to achieve a goal, ability to adapt to seek improvements. How does that not describe the human spirit and being a human being in an ecosystem of people? And how can we say we can find dignity in work when we don’t have these, when we work by ourselves to produce outcome that benefits no one and has no contact with other human beings and has to work against other people? If we have these, how can we say we are still unhappy and why would scrum, kanban, waterfall matter? Aren’t these just the rules that define the game so we can succeed in working and enjoying this game of work?

And maybe that’s the HR in me speaking. And I digress.

We wanted a structure that will be open, transparent, provide teaching and learning opportunities, auto-organised. Most of all, it is to achieve better adoption of agile, not just in IT but in all professional communities (and private lives too, in my opinion). It’s not because it’s fashionable (but we like the trend), it’s not because it’s money making (that will be help!) but really because if we want to achieve all these values we talked about, agile propositions will get us there. In my opinion, if we were to achieve dignity at work and a happiness as a by-product, agile works. And it’s because agile already expressed these as values and principles.

Stephen Covey also proclaims that values govern people’s behavior, but principles ultimately determine the consequences.

Hence, practicing the principles will determine our arrival at expressing those behaviours in the values we promote. And why I put my trust in agile.

As a group, we debated about the name and finally, we arrived at Agile Tribu. A tribe is a group of people who is community driven and organises itself automatically according to a code. A tribe also has unique qualities that non-tribal members may not understand or join without displaying them. And a tribe has an insanely tight cultural code and belief system. And this is what we would like our structure and the network we build to do – a tribe obsessed with agile and advancing these principles and values, not as individuals but as a community, to hold each other up to these high standards and also to help and build each other towards the practice of agile.

We have also evolved in our thinking. We believe whether a person works for a company or works for themselves, they are still an individuals. And coming together as Agile Tribu will help to advance agile in their company or in their personal growth and work. But we hold true to the idea that we need a physical space to do that, a time to come together, to share, to learn, to teach, to think, to explore and to create.

And our business will be to help people in companies or individuals to advance agile adoption.

Finally, on a personal note, it is a community that I hope will consider my skin colour, my language and my origin as additions to a similar passion. Et oui, je parle français également.

And I hope, we will attract like minded people to come join the tribu and participate in our work, most of all, to work with us to uphold the vision we have on agile.

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

Talking about HR in Agile Meetup


It was 29°C outside, 7pm in the evening and one of the 2 days in between the world cup matches. I thought everyone would be off somewhere in a bar, movie theatre or somewhere cool. But it was a full turn out. And it was in front of some very lovely and patient french people that I presented a case study on Agile in HR and HR in Agile.

To begin with, it was based on an project I was involved in. And to be honest, before this project, agile was really just an adjective. It still is but there is so much more depth to the agility used in software development. And this group of people I was standing in front of were all practitioners of agile methods for many years.

Agile, whether referring to being flexible and adopting to circumstances or tied to a whole library of terminologies like scrum!, kanban!, XP programming!, burndown! or for that matter burnup! (all terms that made me stopped in my track at one point or another to say huh?!), is irrevocably, undeniably, incontestably about people.

So it was to great wonder why there haven’t been much talk about HR in agile. And even more curious is how the basic principles of agility can be applied to HR? Because, how can an arm in the company (usually IT department) be agile whilst the rest of the company be fat and heavy?

And so it was, after reflections on that project, the hits, misses and the “je ne sais pas quoi” that I attempted to be honest in this sharing about my involvement, my learning and most of all, why if we want to talk agile, we should talk people and if we talk people, we can be agile too.

With or without the library of terminology tied to agile, most business leaders today have to battle with rapidly changing consumer behaviours, disruptors from non-traditional competition, globalisation and accelerating innovation. Thus, being adaptability as Darwin first proposed is really the only contant and means of survival. And so agile or capital A-gile is a logical response.

This is the case for the example I provided. The company had to be quick in time to market, they had to deploy digitally sound solutions across various parts of the customer journey. And they had to use a combination of acquired expertise and in-house capabilities simultaneously across various markets covering different technology platforms.

The example I presented was on a part of the project where adapting agile methods cannot be independent of helping people adopt the change. And where adopting to this change cannot be done through traditional HR means.

The challenge was to condensed it to 1hr 30mins and respond to any questions from the floor. I think we did well as a group, 29°C and hungry to share on a hot July evening.

The english version of the slides are now available on: http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agility-in-hr-hr-in-agility-july-2014

Oh did I mention that it was in French, a first for me in terms of public french presentation.

Being an entrepreneur in a foreign country – France


My journey to start my own company in France is an incredible adventure. Though it’s not directly related to recruitment matters dedicated for this blog, I hope it can help to provide a perspective for companies aiming to start operations in another country.

As a non-european foreigner in France, it took me 18 months before I can even start operating. There were times when I just lost the will to continue and this is when strong partners such as lawyers, accountants and friends got me through. Below is a month-by-month account.

March 2011 – My immigration lawyer has failed to obtain for me a long-term residency card. Without this card, it means I’m still on work permit and will have to get a commercial permit to own a company.

April 2011 – Armed with a business plan and offering, I found a lawyer to start work on administration.

May 2011 – A decisive time. Nicolas Sarkozy amended the immigration law to win votes for election in 2012. The quota for student visas to be converted to work visa is reduced and very limited. However, this office also deals with work visas to commercial visa.

I translated my life into French including: birth certificate, passport, diplomas and professional resume.

Other documents to prepare in French: Business Statute, Business plan, budget for 3 years, forecast for 3 years including treasury, business bank account with funds deposited, proof of work in France, salary slips for 12 months, proof of health insurance, proof of domicile, approval from my apartment syndicate, proof of insurance for my apartment and tax filings.

*If you are a local or European citizen, you don’t need any of these other than a business statute.

June 2011 – We had approval from EU commission to operate in France as a foreigner. My lawyer applied for company registration with above documents. We were informed that our application would only be looked at in August with the immigration office.

July 2011 – I wait.

August 2011 – Meeting with the immigration office. They require more recent documents than June documents. This means all proof of domicile and insurance has to be resent dated August 2011. I completed their request.

September 2011 – I wait

October 2011 – Immigration office asked for more detail business plan and budget. We supplied.

December 2011 – They officially rejected my request on 2 reasons: My business plan is unclear and my budget is unclear and not conformed to the French format.

I was told we can appeal and the office has 3 months to review. If the response is positive, I will receive a confirmation, otherwise we can assume refusal.

*My business plan is similar to all consulting services, there are no products and the service is simple. The budget was an internal format with indication on capital to operate for more than 6 months without income and a further injection should that be the case.

January 2012 – I worked with the lawyer to appeal against the decision. We appealed to the foreign ministry with the following arguments:
– I am not competing with a French national for job. I am creating jobs for future employment.
– I am not competing with French companies for business. My business is international. And since I’ll be paying taxes in France, it is a form of investment into France.
– I have been living here for 7 years.

My ex-colleague in Finance helped me put the budget in the French format.

February 2012 – We sent the appeal letter with a renewed version of all the documents stated above.

March 2012 – I wait.

April 2012 – I wait and getting desperate since our 3 months to appeal is up.

May 2012 – Francois Hollande was elected and one of the first things he did was to repeal the law by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011. I received news that my appeal is considered.

June 2012 – I received a letter to present all documents to the immigration office in July.

July 24th 2012 – I went to the immigration office. I almost vomited into the bin with the stress of the meeting. The lady at the immigration office could decide if my case is approved or not. She said I had to provide more documents on proof of previous work, unemployment status and tax payments.

I ran home and got the documents and submitted.

My temporary commercial visa is granted but I had to return in September with proof of registration of my company.

*At this point, you’d think it is homerun! Actually not. Because I now have to make sure the company is registered within a month and it was summer holidays in France.

August 2012 – My lawyers and bankers took turns to go on summer holidays. My bank had misspelt my company name and thus had to reissue proof of funds. Without this, we cannot register the company.

Meantime, I’ve decided to provide free coaching services to launch business activity.

September 11th 2012:

– 1015am, my company is finally registered. The confirmation is available online and I request for email download of proof.
– 11am, I met with the immigration office. I’m still missing a document for insurance. I explained that the office takes 3 weeks to confirm insurance after registration of the company. It was too impossible in summer.

*This would be probably the first time I missed an important deadline. Even when my ex-boss had asked me to conduct a European wide client survey in over 12 countries in August (summer month), I had managed to produce 2300 completed responses from all countries without exception. That is a different story to tell.

Finally, after 2 hours of waiting, the lady told me that it has been approved and I can collect the final permit in a month.

The Starting Line
Often I was asked why I had persisted even after months of waiting. Aside from the incredible amount of respect I get from French people when I say I’m starting my business here, the biggest reason is a personal decision to not quit.

Having said that, at many different points in the 18 months, I had given up, laid in bed and decided to have my own hunger strike against life and bureaucracy. Each time, a well-meaning phone call or coffee from friends and business associates helped me through.

Because going back home is far too easy. (Although I had mentally packed and unpacked my bags umpteen times.)

And despite reports on a weak Europe and a rising Asia, I still believe it makes business sense to have a people business in Europe. Asian employment market is still immature to coaching and development needs albeit growing.

And finally, I do plan to establish in Asia but having my feet planted in Europe will mean I have both markets open to me.

After more than 18 months, I am only at the starting line. As any Olympian can attest, years of training are only a ticket to be at the starting line of the race. So I’ve arrived. This is just the beginning of a marathon. There are miles ahead and mountains to climb but at least I can say, I’m on the line, competing.

And I’ve learnt a great deal. The most important lesson is to find the right people to work with you such as lawyers, accountants, bankers etc.

Post Note:
Since starting, I had encountered more administration that had been overcome 1 by 1.
– I’ve since found a good accountant.
– It’s also my accountant who informed me that I had been scammed. It’s a famous scam in Europe targeting new companies. I count several hundred euros of loss.
– I’ve been insured.
– I’ve set up postal services.

The list is long. I can only deal with each one step at a time. In the meantime, I remind myself of this word everyday: breathe.

Oracle to pay $1.9b for Taleo – FT 9/2/2012


FT says this echoes the pending acquisition of a similar company SuccessFactors by SAP and a move towards cloud computing. Read FT

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