To mark the end of the year 2018, I spoke at Agile Vietnam. Speaking has always been a clarifying process and this year’s theme was especially apt – learn, unlearn, relearn. And this year has been a year of unlearning.
I came across the Dunning-Kruger effect in a meet up by an experience and humble agile coach. Like Yoda, the wisdom he shared has been so simple and enlightening. So this year has been falling, tumbling, stumbling down the peak of mount stupid, caught in the valley of despair, seeking for enlightening, learning, unlearning and relearning.
All agile coaches talked about it, to some extend. We should have cross functional teams that are stable and perpetual. And I’ve proven the power of such a team in previous years of coaching. What made this year so hard and so humbling?
While preparing for the topic for conference this year, I invited a coachee / colleague to co-speak with me. In truth, the preparation was more like a long overdue retrospective for the year. And while I coach, I also learnt so much from that experience.
So what’s so difficult about building cross-functional teams? – The human need to want to be understood.
Yes, agile has also gone through transition and so should we, if we want to remain agile. For a very long time, agility was about shortening the build test learn cycle to launch products / features faster to learn from it. We brought the product owner into the scrum team to help prioritise and focus the effort. We put on the shoulder of the product owner, the voice of the customer. And we assume that with him/her with the team, we will know the right things to build.
And this has worked for many years as the technology teams race through years of release cycles to achieve a shorter release cycles.
Age of Lean Startups
With the explosion of digital startups, small teams work tighter together to release products to the market at a speed where we can see a mobile app in app store in as short as 2 weeks. These companies acquired users through ease of use and acquisition. User experience, design came to the forefront as winning edge as users are more and more fragmented in their digital behaviour. Demographics no longer rule the user behaviour and interaction with digital channels.
Small, cross functional teams that included product / service design with development teams worked well together to achieve fast time to market, investment driven development.
The purposeful collision of both worlds
Many large organisations today wants to innovate. They also don’t want to “rock” the base. Very purposefully, I’ve seen the rise of innovation labs who’s sole job is to innovate and design new products and services. On the other end, they tried to “do” agile to reduce cycle time to achieve faster time to market on the existing. The problem is that while innovation lab operated independently to build and test, the discovery path can be anytime from 3 – 6 months or longer. And post discovery hand-off to delivery follows the traditional path of funding cycles. Finally, when it reached agile development teams, they have a very short time to realise it.
Incremental vs Iterative
The problem with the above is that development teams are working to release incrementally. There is still a phase gate between design and development. Even though we had built a cross functional team of development and testing to have shippable products at the end of the sprint, we still had to cross the design phase. That meant that problems with design can only be uncovered in implementation phase. If all design problems were already solved, we are still in an incremental development loop.
Exploration vs Implementation
For any idea to warrant time and effort, it has to create value for the organisation. These can be to acquire new customers, retain them, get them to spend more or provide review. An exploration phase is important to uncover the value and justify for the build. This phase must also review the feasibility to build them, the desirability in experience and the viability for the business. That’s what the innovation lab can help with – if the innovation lab is well connected to technical feasibility study and business owners to justify needs. But the dichotomy is that innovation wants to be free from constraints to imagine and so should they.
Hence, the design (user experience, visual and interaction design) requires exploration. And in this process, I see usability testing as a form of quality assurance for good design. The challenge is feasibility at the end of innovation cycle that can completely throw out exploration outcome or require such and effort to build that lowers viability for the organisation.
User Feedback vs User Acceptance Testing
At the end of a scrum sprint, we have sprint review. The review is to showcase the work and gather feedback. Even if the product owner was accepting work on a daily basis and even if the product owner is reviewing work with stakeholders on a daily basis, the work is still not being reviewed by real users. Acceptance testing is biased as the work was built based on requirements by the same people who created them in the first place. For real feedback, we need real users. This is when usability testing and user research adds value.
However, sponsored users are hard to come by readily. If we use traditional marketing efforts to recruit users, there will be a lead time and that meant that the sprint will have to planned in testing and integrate feedback into testing.
End to end cross functional teams?
Not so. (Well, at least for now) I experimented with exploration squads that are split into design squad and tech squad for the sole purpose of exploring an idea and working on a possible solution. And to support the release of the idea, delivery squads that are cross functional to include product owner, scrum master, designers, developers and testers.
In theory for 2 week sprints, the first shippable product from design to deployable should be 4 weeks, 1 sprint for exploration, 1 sprint for build for a small, broken down idea. And that was when I tumbled down the slope of mount stupid.
Problem #1 – the hunt for perfection, in other words, “no rework”
Exploration has to be just exploration. The moment the idea becomes too big, it will miss out in synch and take a longer time than needed. And it’s hard to ask designers and architect to stop exploring and release what they have – that which they consider “not perfect”.
Exploring an idea and ideating is hard to be disciplined. Knowing the definition of done for an exploration is hard as exploration can turn into different corners and morph into different monsters.
In addition is the notion of “no rework”. That seemed to be a common mantra. No one wants to release or take on something that isn’t perfect and may incur future rework. Even I’m in conflict as to what is perfect to wait for perfection or releasing to reap value prior to perfection. Sometimes, perfection is so attainable that it would seem stupid to do something that falls short. Yet often, what we think is perfect is actually just another version of our thinking.
Problem #2 – the need to belong, in other words, “you don’t understand me”
Designers and developers and testers user different tools and language. While developers and testers are more attuned to each other from working in the same requirement. Designers and usability testing (as QA) are more attuned to their own language and ways of working. Putting them together becomes a trial of alignment and understanding.
When we have 1 or 2 designers in a delivery squad, they feel far from the rest of designers who are working on exploration and no one to spar off to discuss their work. On the other hand, it’s easier for developers when we have 3-4 developers and testers in the squad. Even the developers also felt the need to sit with other developers to discuss solutions and spar off ideas.
For this, chapters were created for the sole purpose of having people of the same kind role across multiple squads come together often enough to spar ideas and learn from each other. That works when there is support for this to happen and regular uninterrupted from to work together.
Learning Unlearning Relearning
Debating with my colleague and myself while preparing for the conference taught me something. I don’t think it’s a perfect solution but something I want to try to improve.
Things I would not change will be:
Things I still struggle with and need more learning:
Looking back, this year has taught me much. I’ve always believed that having a goal and a clear objective will clarify the path. Yet this is hardly so in working with teams and people. It can only be achieved when we have a common goal. And achieving this common goal is a lifetime in learning.
Tumbling down the peak of mount stupid and crawling out of the valley of despair, I know fear is the impediment. The fear to see myself in the mirror and face up to failures, the fear to be vulnerable, the fear to let go of what I know for the unknown, the fear of the comfort of knowing and the discomfort of unknowing. But I know, to be a master of my practice, I have to conquer it.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda
“To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle, or the night.” – Yoda
http://agilevietnam.org/avc2018/ Thank you.
This year, with everything that was happening, major transformation at client’s, changing jobs and the french election (yes, I was worried for a while), I didn’t propose any topic. Not that I would be selected to speak but a proposal to speak at the conference is always a self-reflecting exercise to crystallise my thinking and a report card of sort of my learning since the last topic. It was also more appropriate to say, I couldn’t put into words what were brewing thoughts in my mind.
On a bus with a fellow coach from Japan to go shopping (of all things), we started talking. If you have conducted training to people who speak a different language than yours or tried to learn a different language, you would find out very quickly 2 things, 1) how to say what you want to say in shorted possible sentence and as clearly as possible 2) you have no understanding or baggage on the language (hence, sarcasm is lost on me, wouldn’t understand the double meaning).
While cutting through all my jibberish in the mind, trying to explain my frustration in coaching this year, I found myself getting from 1 aha moment to another. And that was how I came up with 3 topics I’m excited to share and wanted to propose at the open space. I managed 2 at the open space for which I will share in separate articles.
The 3rd one was about the top 8 things to focus on in the first 10 weeks of agile journey. While on the very long bus ride from west coast to orchard, I rattled on about 5 and couldn’t quite work out which other 3 would be more important. I wanted to ask the audience to help me during open space but decided there were far more interesting topics to attend than to occupy a slot. So I conceded.
Coming back to my aha moments and learning a different language. Learning all these languages wasn’t just for fun (it’s actually not that fun to be in a class, loss for words, especially for me) but it was for me to relate to people in different cultures better and become more efficient in communicating. I learnt about their food, language and culture so I can see their perspective. Agility was about doing things the way it should be, really. Getting to the market faster, learning to do things better and of higher value to the people who uses them. Isn’t that what we wanted when we first started?
Secondly, because I came from a long history of change and talent management & aquisition and not from technology, I didn’t learn agility with the “baggage” of someone who had worked with it and then taught it for years. I had to learn “why” and logic in structure unlike a kid who has learnt to speak a language from birth. And that’s how I learnt agility. I didn’t have to unlearn things, I learnt it in 2010s when the world has started digitisation.
That was how I came to talk about my frustrations and how I came to those topics. Being at war with what it was and reinventing what is becoming and always, coming back to good practices and habits that just work (at it’s purest form). I sincerely believe we just can’t be not agile but we have to keep reinventing our practices to achieve the why.
I love scrum, in it’s simple list of events and artefacts is an opportunity to invent practices to meet the objective. It never ends because the “why” is true. Agilists have to keep reinventing and improve. It is our cause and or being.
I like the story Peter Berhens told at the closing, in an environment to be the best, you have to fight to have a place in agility. It’s not a given or a mandate. And I think that fight is to be constantly better in our delivery, constantly clearer in our objectives, constantly sharper in our understanding.
When I returned to my team this week, a scrum master came up to ask my opinion on something. I asked him, what he thought. He said it smelled a little bad and I said, well, if it looks bad, it smells bad, it probably is bad. Abandon and rethink.
We have to hone our gut feel, sharpen our senses, learning about the newest and clarifying it for use. When you look at it, we’ve been living in distortion from what it should be. Yet in a conference like this, how do we absorb so many things to find crystallisation of thought. That’s why I think, I’ll be reflecting for a while, distilling and adapting till it is not gooey in my mind. I shall be seeking clarification for a while.
Quoting Pete: You’re (I’m) not done!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.