What is common sense? Common sense, properly defined is a common thought or belief used within a group that holds similar or common beliefs and values. It’s a good way of identifying groups that gather and unite to express a common front. However, many people use the term ‘common sense’ in a derogatory manner in which the exclamatory person is expressing his/her own perspectives regardless of others emotional capacities, cognitive understandings, cultural values or social structure. The expectation that we globally share the same perspectives is erroneous.
When using this statement, people are making the assumption that there is a universal commonality or understanding of their own perspective, which is very often not the case and often leads to a lot of confusion and frustration. The way we see things as individuals can vary on so many aspects.
To use ‘common sense’, we would have to be surrounded with people who…
‘Common sense’ is very useful when a person or group is trying to define a very restricted identity on all fronts; emotional, relational, cognitive and environmental. For example, people who want to define and express their beliefs, like Greenpeace, will have a use for ‘common sense’ to group, unite, define and propulse their beliefs into the world. We have to be aware, as a group, that this identifies but a select group of people, not the entirety of civilization. That is why people who travel a lot and experience different cultures and civilizations tend to not use the term ‘commons sense’ because they understand that it never really applies.
As well we have to consider that ‘common sense’ is forever shifting on an individual basis. As people’s perspectives; emotions, relations, cognitive abilities and belief systems shift, so does their definition of ‘common sense’. That is why we see many people shift and move between groups, organizations and social identities and belief systems.
When expressing our personal perspectives with others we should use the term ‘common understanding’ which implies an understanding between two or more people. There is a verbal exchange of ideas and perspectives to reach a ‘common understanding’. This exchange and understanding is absent from ‘common sense’.
Maybe universal ‘common sense’ is something to strive for. Would this not also mean that we have achieved or defined a universal truth? I believe it’s a very noble objective but for now we are quite far from achieving such a state. So for the time being, be aware of the use you make of ‘common sense’, it may not be as ‘common‘ as you think.
An Integral Agile Approach
We tend to take care of debts be they financial, technical or even loyalty debts. But there’s another kind of debt that has emerged in the past few years: developmental debt. Developmental debt is described as the debt of human development as opposed to technological advancement in organizations in the world. As an agile community member I believe we have missed a golden opportunity in addressing this quickly accumulating debt in organizations.
I’m an integral enthusiast. Why? Simply because I believe an integral approach helps open the door to completely new perspectives that contribute to development. If at this point you’re asking yourself “What development is he talking about?” well coincidentally your question might be proving my point. The answer is: all of the them.
The basic principle of integral theory, to my understanding, is to consider as many perspectives as possible when it comes to developing practically anything. This means considering the external components, i.e. the tangibles, products, environment, actions, structures, tools and processes to name but a few, as well as the internal components which include emotions, values, cultures, purpose and intentions.
What is the value of this approach? It ensures that you consider as many perspectives as possible when innovating, solving problems, creating something from scratch, conceptualizing, bringing to action as well as saving a lives. Integral approaches are being applied everywhere (see Integrative Medicine) and IT is no exception.
I believe we should be very grateful to have been given such a gift as the Agile Manifesto for Software Development. I think there is really more to the manifesto than meets the eye, or even the mind for that matter. I also believe the agile community is struggling with the definition of what it is to be ‘agile’, what the word should mean or even which message it should convey. Some people are convinced that it is a state to achieve as in: “To be Agile”. Some believe it to be a means to something while others may think it as a mythical perspective not applicable to today’s reality and problems. Well, what if the answer was: “All of the above”? That is where, I believe, the power of the integral perspective can help achieve the true power of agile development.
The integral model includes a concept known as the quadrants. Each quadrant in the integral model offers a perspective believed to be essential for a more complete picture of any given subject. The upper left (UL) quadrant addresses the internal singular view, a.k.a the ‘I’ perspective and the upper right (UR) quadrant addresses the external singular view, the ‘It’ perspective. The lower left (LL) quadrant contains the internal plural perspective, ‘We’, and the lower right (LR) quadrant the ‘Its”. The example below includes some categorized examples of broader aspects of life.
I don’t know if the agile manifesto was intentionally written to include an integral perspective but it just so happens that the four agile values fit almost perfectly in every quadrant:
N.b. ‘Interactions’ may fit in the LL quadrant as well.
This is where things get interesting, at least in my opinion. This may sound like a rant, and maybe it is a rant but I strongly believe that the benefits of throwing this out there far outweigh the risks.
I don’t believe the agile values have been conceived in such a manner that one should take precedence over another. In fact, if that were the case, the values would probably have been written in the following format:
“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools over Working software over comprehensive documentation over…”
There’s a reason the agile manifesto includes these four values. The values address many of the shortcomings that have been observed and experienced by some of the brightest minds in the IT and business industry. Furthermore, worldwide attention and focus on agile software development is a testament to the much needed changes in the IT domain. The application of agile methodologies has been partially successful and has in it’s wake created huge heap of developmental debt.
As a scientifically focused industry we have become excellent at devising tools and processes, pushing the limits of innovation every minute if not every second. This incredible ability to innovate, create and build faster, more efficiently and sustainably can be considered as either good or bad. It all depends on the perspective in which it is observed.
One thing I believe we can all agree on is that the rate of technological development has greatly surpassed the rate of personal development. “Why should we consider the rate of personal development of any importance?” For the same reasons outlined by the following agile manifesto values:
“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”
“Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”
A few facts
According to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2016 (download link to trend report) 92% percent of the respondents in South East Asia reported Engagement as being an “important” or “very important” trend. What this signifies is that companies understand and recognize that this is a pressing issue and that it needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the Singapore government has recently recognized a deficiency in leadership and innovation amongst its population and is proactively encouraging institutions and organizations in Singapore to include developmental programs in their regular activities to promote innovative thinking and leadership development.
The Agile Link
To quote a famous fellow Canuck - Isn’t it ironic that the agile manifesto provides just the right set of values to address these developmental short comings? Even more ironic is the fact that organizations are adopting ‘agile’ without realizing the full potential of applying all four values! And to be completely transparent, isn’t even more ironic that we, as an agile community, have come up with so many tools and processes (Scrum, Less, DSDM, SAFe, etc…) that, even though of great help to many, have created the same types of pains the agile manifesto had initially set out to alleviate? Numerous debates on the web as to whether these frameworks, processes and tools help or hinder software development are testaments to these pains. Is our misinterpretation, resistance and in many instances greed in regard to the agile manifesto to blame? This is where, I believe, organizations would greatly benefit in taking an integral perspective towards the agile manifesto. Including the left integral quadrants in their ‘agile’ transformations, and hence the two values noted above, could resolve many of the pains they are currently experiencing. At the same time addressing the developmental debt and the many of the pressing issues as outlined in the Deloitte Human Capital Trend 2016 report.
What is being observed at the moment, through various trend reports such as Deloitte and Gallup, is that HR, often responsible for developmental programs, is lagging behind in innovation compared to it’s business and technology counterparts. While this may be true it is absolutely unfair, in my opinion, to stand from afar and throw the blame on to HR so easily for the lack of developmental progress in organizations.
The agile manifesto values have been available since the beginning of the millennia and probably a little before that. In fact, Deming’s principles of inclusive continuous development have been around for over 60 years. We, as business and IT communities, have the responsibility to address this developmental debt within our own circles and give a helping hand to HR in redefining the new organizational ecosystem. HR on its end needs to recognize the current debt and welcome the help. Bureaucratic constraints need to be dealt with and rethought and re-engineered to allow for a more collective effort in coming up with new ideas. We are all part of the problem and therefore should be accountable for some of the problems.
A World-Centric Perspective
There exists a global phenomenon in which technology is advancing at a rate that has never been seen before. And there is no indication of it slowing down in the near future. I believe there is no need to stop or even slow it down. In fact many of the innovations and solutions that have emerged within the last twenty years are truly addressing major pain points in the world. On the other hand we, as an ever growing population, need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and dangers of accumulating developmental debt. The gap between technological advancement and our ability to take wise decisions must not grow. In other words, Developing new technologies and innovating is fine, as long as we develop ourselves along the way to be able to cope with our future creations.
A Few Ideas and Suggestions to Start With…
- Include and balance all four agile manifesto values in your agile transformation
- Address the developmental debt while sustaining your agile transformation by including the UL and LL quadrants in your transformation plan
- Apply an integral perspective to all spheres of development, i.e. individuals, teams, departments and organization
- Promptly address bureaucratic constraints that are impediments to developmental initiatives
- Employ agile coaches that are integrally developed (Lysa Adkins is doing a great job at the moment introducing integral concepts to agile coaching… and so are we)
A tale of startups, VCs, their colliding intentions and a disillusioned Agile coach
Part 1 of 4 — The “pitch”
In the past year, I’ve been working mostly from co-working spaces, coffee shops, the odd university campus here and there and, when I get really lucky (i.e., I have enough money), I treat myself to a beach-side cottage and enjoy a coconut smoothie while working on my trusty laptop.
What can I tell you? Life is good when you’re in the right place at the right time… But I digress. The reason for my digression is very simple. The story I am about to share with you takes place within a co-working space. People that have launched or worked for startups will easily relate to the atmosphere of a co-working hub.
For those of you who are working 9 to 5 in offices and oblivious to what co-working spaces are, think of them in terms of small and big libraries where you’re allowed to talk (less the collections of books and the librarian) and that are filled with cool geeks, rad nerds, designers, and other innovation aficionados.
Most of these co-working spaces offer the same services: hot-desking, personal desk or office, mentors and coaches, the odd social night or happy hour and networking events. But most importantly, they offer a direct contact and relation with VCs via pitch nights where panelists come to scout and give their feedback on the startup ideas that are being pitched.
Being new to the startup ecosystem, here’s what I initially thought VCs were: passionate investors who wanted to bring startups from ideation to production as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As you know, I’m an Agile coach and, as such, I am professionally trained to identify any situation where an Agile approach is beneficial and will allow development teams to produce software with an incr… Wait! I think you all know where this is headed, so I’ll spare you the Agile sales pitch.
Basically, what I sensed was an opportunity for my partner and I to assist the VCs and startups with an Agile approach to software development. Now, I was aware that many of the startups were already keen about Agile software development, but what jumped out at me was an opportunity for the VCs to take advantage of this business value-driven approach.
My intention was to introduce Agile software development to the VCs and inform them of how it could be greatly beneficial to them. Business value-driven demonstrations, functional software increments, retrospectives, etc. There was a lot to be gained from a VC’s perspective, or so I thought…
Armed with an Agile passion and convinced this was going to revolutionize the startup industry, I immediately booked a spot at one of the “Pitch Night” events organized by a co-working hub in collaboration with a local VC firm.
The evening seemed like it would never end as I sat through five startup pitches and feedback sessions. I made the best of the situation by scrutinizing every reaction the VCs had in regard to the products that were being presented. That way, I could introduce myself by asking them about their impressions on a specific startup or the lot of them. I couldn’t wait for the last pitch to end! As soon as the microphone was turned off by the event’s Master of ceremony, I stood up and made my way to meet Paul, the head panelist from the VC feedback table.
“Hi Paul, my name is Marc. I’d like a couple of minutes of your time concerning a software development approach that I believe will greatly benefit VCs like yours in regard to their involvement with startups in the long run.”
“Uhmm… interesting. Let me introduce you to my colleagues, Matt and Dave. Maybe you can take some time to share your idea with them. I promised to meet someone right now,” he immediately said as he politely introduced said Matt and Dave into the conversation.
OK, minor setback, I thought to myself. Might as well go with the flow and trust that his “colleagues” will be more interested.
With that, I turned to Matt and Dave who were standing by the counter, smiling absently while enjoying their event-sponsored beverage. I plunged into the conversation head first: “Are you guys familiar with Agile software development?”
They looked at one another and answered “No” in synchronicity. So far so good, I was thinking this was going to be a revelation for them.
“It’s an approach that I believe will help your firm minimize risk and allow your startup teams to produce more business value up front, deal with complexity and change, as well as enhance collaboration,” I said in the best salesman tone I can produce.
Their reaction was instantaneous: eyebrows rising in interest, ears perking in curiosity, and eyes opening wide in amazement. I had them! Hook, line and sinker.
“I could tell you guys all about it here, but it’s a bit noisy and there are other people I have to meet. How does a quick meeting over a coffee early next week sound to you?” I did my best to pull off the “I’m important enough to brush you guys off and meet other people” bit Paul had just pulled on me.
In a swift movement and without giving them a chance to respond, I pulled out two business cards, handed them to Matt and Dave and shook their hands.
I then said: “I’ll send you an invitation tomorrow. Sounds good?”
Once more, they responded simultaneously and without hesitation: “Sure!”
I swiftly made my way off towards a friend I knew would be willing to talk to me and make it look like he was expecting it.
The event was slowly coming to an end with people making their way out of the co-working space. I usually stay and close shop with a few of the fellows but not that night. I had to play my cards well and look busy, like I had places to go and people to see, even if it was 10 in the evening.
The next morning I sent an e-invitation to them booking 90 minutes of their time between 10 and 11:30 on the following Tuesday morning. The cards were set. The waiting game began…
The progressive nature of this country is astounding. So why isn’t agile software development working out here?
First, I would like for you to take a couple of minutes to watch Dave Thomas’ presentation “Agile is Dead”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-BOSpxYJ9M . It will give you an idea of the initial purpose of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
You don’t have time to watch the video? Here’s a summary that will give you an idea of what he’s saying:
Agile software development, as it was initially intended, is dead. The word ‘agile” itself was basically transformed from an adjective to a noun, i.e. made into an ‘absolute’ principle, a product, a state to achieve, something concrete to build. Why is that? One obvious reason is money. There are always people looking to profit from a great idea or concept. That being said, it’s rather difficult to sell values or principles, so they turn them into ‘absolutes’, products and services.
But not everyone is in it for the money. Some people actually have good intentions regarding agile software development but still fall prey to the ‘absolute’ principle. Why?
The vast majority of people has difficulty and don’t relate well with ambiguity and intangible items. Since the dawn of civilization, man has invented and created tangible artefacts to relate and communicate feelings, intuitions, values, and principles. Religions are a great example of this phenomenon. They arise from a pure and inherent need of mankind to represent intangibles, values and principles through gods, beings, things, processes or tools.
Having an agile mindset supposes that an individual is comfortable with complexity, chaos, and the unknown. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all the original signatories of the manifesto, were agnostic; but I digress…
Ok, back to Singapore:
The education system here has been based on the belief that cognitive capacities and hierarchy are the true elements of the propulsion to success. People in Singapore are admired for what they ‘know’, not how curious or creative they are. This has led to a huge gap in the development of leadership and creativity within individuals.
Singapore’s progressive government has lately acknowledged the lack of attention given to creativity and leadership and has introduced programs to incorporate this into MOE (Ministry Of Education) curriculums. But there is still a huge hill to climb.
Parents are an important factor in the equation. They pressure their children to follow the rules, the process, to become knowledgeable… not to inspect, question and adapt. Because of this, it becomes all too natural that individuals feel the need to have structure, processes and tools, to have something tangible to relate to.
The extent to which people need to view things as absolutes here is overwhelming; especially in the way they talk. In Singapore, “You must…” is a very common way to start a sentence, leaving little or no space for creativity or other perspectives.
I often ask development teams and managers: “What would an agile software development team or process in your organization look like if Scrum, XP, Lean, SAFe and the other frameworks did not exist?” A sense of uneasiness immediately sets in and they become uncomfortable.
Agility requires a certain level of comfort with chaos and unknowingness and also an acceptance that what is known may just not be the truth.
As Dave Thomas puts it, people get trapped in the “what” and “how” and all too often forget about the “why”.
The good news is that Singapore has evolved technically and culturally faster than any other country in the last 50 years, a very short time span considering their starting point. It’s actually quite a paradox when you think about it. Why would they even want to be agile after having accomplished what so few countries have accomplished?
So at this point I feel compelled to question, inspect and adapt my initial statement:
Agile software development is not working in Singapore’s organizations.
This begs to ask the following question:
“With such a great example in a country that has adapted itself and become a world leader in so many domains, why are organizations looking to adopt agile software development?”
Recently, I have experimented with being in a place of not knowing and what shows up in my life. The other night, walking back from work I felt the urge to write what was coming up for me. I stopped on a bench on Orchard road and here is what I wrote in the moment:
“Nothing starts until I surrender to not knowing.
When I am in a place of knowing:
I feel knowing limits me in so many ways...
I hesitate talking to people I do not know, beautiful girls, people with powerful energy
I get all shaken up when things I really want to happen do not...why?...I had planned it all in my head :)
I take ownership of decisions that are not mine
I make so many assumptions, what if...
When running my business, I try to forecast all the situations and prepare as much as I can...yet how much of that is restricting my vision?
When I interact with others; how much of me is really showing up, how much is fake and what I am hanging on too?
Decisions...all these decisions I make every day, why are they so hard to make? What do I really need to know to make them? Don't I have everything already available to me to make them?
When I am in the knowing I am not including others...I think I am, yet it is all based on my perspective...
Not knowing, to me, brings:
When I am in a place of not knowing, I focus, I listen, I am me, I show up, everything becomes possible :)
The possibility to love...people for what they are and how they are showing up...situations I am in now (they only happen once, so why not notice them) ...myself now (the only version of me that truly exists)
Balance...my mind is calm...aware and open
The time to slow down...I am an observer and actor in the moment, it is easy to do both at the same time
So many perspectives that I cannot count them...there is so much more out there
Beauty...I am surrounded by beautiful things, landscapes and people...they feed me with their energy and insights
Freedom...to exist and share magical moments, to fully embrace the time that I have to experiment with life
Not knowing awakens my curiosity
Not knowing enlightens me”
A couple of years ago, I moved to a different city and that forced me to stop doing something I was passionate about: sports coaching. I had been coach to elite athletes between the ages of 11 and 18. I like to think that I was a fairly decent coach and in fact, I had quite a bit of success. Now, many people may think success is a reflection of the number of wins or championships a coach has under his belt. I must admit to having my fair share of wins and championships. In fact when my kids found my secret box of medals they immediately thought they had found a pirate’s treasure chest. However, wins and championships are part of what makes a coach successful, but it’s far from being everything.
Early on in life, I realized that there was always someone behind the scenes that helped champions rise to the top of their game. Behind every Gretzky, every Brady, every Ronaldo there was an organization, a staff and a coach. Everyone strived to support these elite athletes to help them develop to their full potential. As a result, these champions are renowned around the world for their accomplishments.
Everyone remembers a champion: from Cristiano Ronaldo’s numerous goals or Wayne Gretzky’s NHL records to Tom Brady’s accomplishments on the field or Roger Federer’s endless success, we never forget their prowess. It’s another ball game when it comes to remembering Alex Ferguson’s famous second half EUFA strategy call, Scotty Bowman’s Stanley Cup winning third period lineup or Bill Belichik’s Super Bowl winning fourth quarter offensive plan. In fact, many people might not even know who any of these coaches are and especially how they were instrumental to their team’s success. Why is that?
There are many commonalities between these coaches. One of the most important traits they share is that they quickly understood their role in the organization. Coaches are not on the field, they are not on the ice nor are they on the courts, the players are. This may seem like a simplistic observation, but it is often forgotten in the sports domain. Organizations become dynasties by aligning their efforts towards the same objective; which is basically to deliver a winning team. Again, this seems really obvious in the world of sports but not so much in the corporate world. Why?
Winning sports organizations have long understood that strongly supporting players on the field is by far the best investment they can make. There seems to be a simple understanding within these organizations: management is responsible for setting purpose, values, culture and mindset.
The coaching staff supports the team and the players are responsible for bringing everything to fruition. It’s a fairly basic framework when you think about it. The people at the top support the teams below and so on. Sounds like a simple framework right? Well, yes and no.
The reality as seen by the corporate world is slightly different than that of a sports organization. I believe this to be a simple matter of perspectives. What does it take to put this framework in place and turn your organization into a long lasting dynasty?
In short, a simple change in culture and mindset starting at the executive level.
Catch my next piece for a follow-up to this article: Building Your Way Down Towards Agile Organisations
In many of my conversations, I often get challenged about my use of the word purpose; especially when it comes to Agile initiatives. The following story is one of my favorite moments where not only was I challenged but also generously offered a new perspective that slightly, although significantly, changed my definition of working with Agile initiatives purposefully.
It was Tuesday; the meetings were streaming by without anything exceptional to report. People were applying tools like time-boxing, subject focus and situational leadership within their meetings and that made me a most happy Agile coach!
The audible notification of the next meeting from my phone signaled that there were ten minutes left to the current meeting; ; an epic architectural planning session for the sprints following the current and next sprints. We closed the meeting with a review of the parking lot items and the next action items on the board, followed by a quick ROTI (Return On Time Invested). Result: 4.5, great!
I asked the two 4’s to provide one improvement that would make the rating of this meeting a 5. One individual suggested introducing architectural concepts to a developer and the other suggested including the development director from time to time so that he'd be able to understand and engage in the development lifecycle.
“Excellent. I’ll bring these two suggestions to our next retrospective and see what outcome we get.” I said.
“Thanks Marc, and make sure you don’t forget the muffins for the retro!!” replied the head architect with a forceful wink. I later received a couple of chuckles when I offered a healthy twist to the snack by bringing zucchini, lemon and bran muffins.
I then rushed to the next meeting room which was two floors up. I brushed the general director of the IT department while skipping every two steps with the Agility of a puma.
“Marc!!” he shouted.
“Sorry Allan. I’m tight for my next meeting. Send me an email if it’s important and I’ll read it after the meeting…”, I said continuing with the momentum I had built up. I’m not sure he heard the last words coming out of my mouth as I was already a flight and a half further up.
I arrived to the meeting room two minutes early. All the Scrum Masters were present for the next meeting except for George, which was not surprising to anyone. We counted down the last two minutes before the meeting by a light conversation about the sidewalk conditions in the city during this unusually snowy winter. At the ring of the bell, I wrote down the meeting time on a post-it, stuck it to the outside of the door and closed it.
I opened the meeting with a warm welcome and decided that a check-in might be of value for the day’s meeting. There was nothing particularly alarming going on in the organization but I thought that a positive exchange of check-ins might be enjoyable.
The door swiftly swung open just as Alex, the Project team’s Scrum Master, was about to speak. George came in with his usual nonchalance, but this time there was a tinge of guilt in his demeanour.
“Hi everyone. Sorry for the tardiness.” George said in an interrupting yet mellow tone.
“Welcome George.” I replied. “Alex was about to start the check-in.”
“Oh. OK” said George with a smile.
We cycled through the check-in ‘popcorn style’. Everyone checked-in without anything outstanding to declare. We were then ready to proceed with that week’s Scrum Master meeting.
The format of our meeting varied every other week. One week we adopted the Open Space format. The other week was designated for a specific developmental topic that was decided during the Open Space. That week’s topic was: Developing with purpose, a topic that I found very compelling and inspiring.
I started the discussion with an open question: “What does purposeful development mean to you?”
The answers were complementary to one another and didn’t make the discussion evolve toward more than a simple reflection of what was already being done. I felt that the group was not taking advantage of the full power of the meaning of purpose. I decided to challenge them a bit more with another open question: “How do you know the purpose is the right one?”
This one hit them like a ton of bricks. Faces were frozen with befuddled looks. A lengthy silence ensued and then Eric, the Contract team’s Scrum Master, spoke out in a partially irritated voice: “Purpose is the reason we do things. There’s no right or wrong. It just is.”
I nodded, acknowledging his statement. Another prolonged silence overtook the group. Then Eric continued, increasingly irritated by the question: “What are you getting at? I mean, how can you verify purpose when you develop? The teams just do what’s written in the stories, that’s it! No need to overthink!”
At this point, I started worrying about my understanding of purpose. Then I reminded myself that they were the ones who had chosen the subject the previous week.
“Why did you guys want to address purpose in this meeting?” I retorted.
Another silence filled the room for what seemed like more than fifteen minutes. Being very patient by nature, I decided to wait this one out.
Mary, the Finance Ledger team’s Scrum Master, shyly proposed the theory that: “Maybe there’s a feeling that the teams are simply developing what’s being asked of them and that they see no real purpose to it.”
“That’s the point! To do what you’re told to do!”, replied Eric in a disconcerting manner.
Mary started replying with a bit of conviction: “I’m just saying that the teams feel they’re not involved in the process. Maybe they would engage more into what they’re doing if they were to develop with some kind of purpose in mind.”
“Can you provide an example Mary?”, I proposed.
She hesitated before answering. “Something like… I don’t know, like for example, if the purpose for this sprint’s development was to ‘Make Finance Ledger entries accessible and quick to access’.”
“Do you really have to explicitly declare something like that? Isn’t that the premise of delivering value and quality in Agile?”, interjected George.
“I guess so…”, said Mary. “But I think it’s not naturally retained in people’s thoughts. It gets lost in the habits and daily routine.”
“I see what you mean”, said Alex.
“Maybe there’s some value in reminding them the purpose of why they’re developing such and such.”, he continued.
I couldn’t appreciate how purpose was being used at that moment. It was just not ‘big’ enough. It didn’t seem to have the global reach and influence that purpose should have. I decided to challenge Alex’s reference to purpose.
“But isn’t purpose something bigger than a simple condition of satisfaction? Isn’t it something that aims at inspiring more than a simple developmental aspect?”
“Purpose resides on varying levels. I think that purpose is useful to the extent that it engages a people and teams. Ultimately, the owner of the purpose is the product owner; and he should have the task of inspiring the team with it.”, replied Alex.
No one answered. I took some time to let this sink in. This was a new perspective for me as I have always believed that purpose served evolution and development of one’s self. Anything less than that, I simply categorized as a ‘reason’ to do things. But Alex was onto something.
This launched a series of discussions in which the Agile coaches came up with activities and new ways to encourage their teams to find purpose in what they were working on. The culmination of the meeting was the introduction of purpose for… you might have guessed it: the weekly Scrum Master meeting!
We closed the meeting with a ROTI. Result: 5!!
Completely satisfied, I rushed back downstairs to meet the director that I had almost run over coming up. I knocked on the door frame and he invited me in.
“Marc. I was thinking as I walked around the floor this morning. It seems to me that the teams don’t seem to be as engaged as they could be. What do you think?”, he asked.
“Thanks for asking Allan. As a matter of fact I think it’s a very timely subject. Can I interest you in a discussion about purpose?”
As a director, leader or coach, are you inviting people and teams to develop and work with purpose? Are you limiting the definition of purpose based on your perspectives? How can purpose serve your teams and especially your organization?
This text uses software development as an example, but I strongly believe it is applicable to a variety of domains, and in fact, to everyday life.
Warren Buffet maybe one of the best and renowned investors in the world, and believe me, he’s made quite a fortune throughout his career. But is money or material the only things you can invest in? If your career involves interacting, communicating, helping and guiding groups and individuals it may be worthwhile to consider yourself as the hottest commodity on the market.
This is especially true for Agile coaches, Agile managers and ScrumMasters. With the ascension in popularity and implementation of Agile methodologies investing in self-development is no longer an option. Organizations are now asking for individuals who are able to guide, positively influence and make a difference as coaches, managers and ScrumMasters.
A testament to this is the mindset alignment Lyssa Adkins and her team at the “Agile Coaching Institute” have taken.
The ACI favours coaching at a human level versus a technical level. Reason being they are fully aware that Agile transformation occurs when we as coaches and ScrumMasters prioritize individuals and interactions over processes and tools. We at Epicoaching stand by that mindset.
Considering individuals as an important part of transformation is by no means a revolutionary principle. Marshall McLuhan coined the term “The medium is the message” in 1964, demonstrating that the individual is an essential part of the message. It still stands try to this day.
That being said, coaches and ScrumMasters are not only vehicles but instruments of successful Agile transformations. Hence, the posture they adopt as messengers and evangelists of Agile values and principles are of the utmost importance.
To make my point, take a reputed stand-up comic and government official and have them deliver the same joke, word for word to the same audience. Which one do you think will have the most laughs? The stand-up comic clearly comes out as a winner on this one. The message, in this case the joke, fulfils its purpose, but only because the medium was fully aligned and shared the same purpose as the message.
Some people believe that being a stand-up comic is something that comes naturally. The make the assumption that most stand-ups succeed on their first try on the stage. As any stand-up comic will testify, that cannot be any further from the truth. Stand-up comics work very hard to create material that will have the impact they desire. But that is only a fraction of the work they do. Being able to deliver the skit is as much work if not more than the writing itself.
The point here is not to compare stand-up comics to coaches. The purpose is to expose the reality that roles that require interaction, communication and presentation require one to develop their ability to be fully present, in the moment.
A speech, conversation and even a song can feel awry when the person communicating or delivering is not fully present. For example, if you've ever witnessed a rewards ceremony like the Oscars you may have witnessed some memorable speech deliveries that just simply didn't seem right. This is mostly due to people succumbing to their instincts and from there ego takes control of the show.
Coaches and ScrumMasters may not fall prey to their egos to the extent that it makes them behave irrationally. However it does play an important role as to how receptive, open-minded and intentional they are when communicating with teams and individuals.
The appropriate question maybe: As a coach or ScrumMaster, what role does the ego play in your ability to be in complete service to your teams? How does it affect your capacity to truly listen and act without any biases or hidden agendas? Are you fully aware of your shadows that limit and constrain your perspectives, possibilities and actions?
Invest in yourself. It may just be the best investment of the year… or even your life.