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Posts tagged ‘agile’

Agile teams – What people managers can learn from parents

image by candrewsBefore I explain what people managers can learn from parents, I feel the need to defuse what some readers may have in mind. I am not suggesting that employees and team members are children or act like babies [although, sometimes … – sorry, I’m digressing].

The Art of Parenting

If you have children, you should quickly relate to the fact that nothing really prepares us to be good parents. Sure, while growing up we assimilate patterns, behaviours, and skills from our environment – including and often to a large extent from our own parents. At a later stage in our children-free life, some of our friends start to have kids and we observe them – sometimes with curiosity, sometimes out of sheer voyeurism, and sometimes with envy – and that’s when we contemplate the idea of having kids of our own.

Then, one day out of the blue, the kind doctor tells your spouse that she is pregnant – in our case with twins! But that’s an entirely different story 😉

Then comes the next stage of learning to become a parent, we spent countless hours on previewing and ordering books, lot’s of books. Except for a few best sellers, the others titles vary based on our perceived areas of weakness and the bad pattern we noticed from our parents when they raised us.

And one day, a beautiful baby boy is born and/or a pretty baby girl – once again, in our case we got one of each.

Once the sleepless nights are over and the baby is capable of learning, parents slowly transfer increasingly complex tasks to their child: holding the milk-bottle, feeding themselves, walking without holding mommy’s hand, abandoning the diaper, selecting how much ketchup to put on their food, picking their own clothes, walking to school by themselves, deciding what time to go to bed, going to a movie without supervision, and so on up to the point when the child moves out of the house to start their own independent life.

What people managers can learn from parents

It is obvious that parenting is very different from managing people, no doubt about that. On the other hand, their are some similarities.

Nothing prepares people to become good managers. Sure, while growing up in our professional career we assimilate patterns, behaviours, and skills from our environment – including and often to a large extent from our own managers. Granted, some people had the opportunity to learn about management during their school years and that could be an added bonus.

As with parenting, once we decide to get into management we spend countless hours on previewing and ordering books, lot’s of books. Except for a few best sellers, the others titles vary based on our perceived areas of weakness and the bad pattern we noticed from our previous managers.

How that applies to Agile teams

Agile management is somewhat similar to the art of parenting with the manager transferring to its team increasingly complex tasks and responsibilities. Helping the team self-organize doesn’t mean to abandon the team to itself without help or some supervision. Along the same lines as parenting, there comes a time when the manager must determine how much responsibility to transfer and what level of support to provide.

Similar to the role of the parent, the agile manager is there to support the team’s development and make it successful and autonomous until one day – maybe – the team is highly performing and can become independent.


Agile for managers – Challenges, operation, and impact on leaders

After giving this introduction training to over a hundred people managers, I have decided to make the presentation material available to the general public in an attempt to help organizations successfully transition to Agile.

This presentation is introductory level as it introduces some of the most common reasons why organizations choose to adopt Agile approaches. It presents some high level statistics on software development project success (and failure) to demonstrate why the traditional project management approach may not always be the best approach to successfully deliver projects.

The presentation introduces what Agile is (and isn’t) and the reasons justifying its adoption. Once the Agile concepts have been presented, the material introduces the Scrum approach by giving a walk through of a typical process.

The presentation ends with the main impacts on people managers within organizations who are adopting Agile.

I hope you will find the presentation useful to help you move your transition in the right direction. Feel free to circulate the material.

Getting Started – Reference Material for Managers Who Wish to Understand Agile and Scrum

Image by DarlingSnailFor those of us who have been working with Agile for a while, the values, the principles, the approach, the methods and the practices are almost second nature but for those who start to enter the Agile world, the ramp up can be challenging – especially if you are looking at all of this from a management position.

After being asked by a few people “Where can I start if I would like to know more about Agile?”, I decided to put together this short list of reference material. There is also a good discussion happening on LinkedIn.

I am missing anything? Is there material you would recommend to managers?

What is Agile?

Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

The term was coined in the year 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was formulated.

Agile methods generally promote a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals. (Agile software development – Wikipedia)

“Agile Development” is an umbrella term for several iterative and incremental software development methodologies. The most popular agile methodologies include Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Lean Development, and Feature-Driven Development (FDD).

While each of the agile methods is unique in its specific approach, they all share a common vision and core values (see the Agile Manifesto). They all fundamentally incorporate iteration and the continuous feedback that it provides to successively refine and deliver a software system. They all involve continuous planning, continuous testing, continuous integration, and other forms of continuous evolution of both the project and the software. They are all lightweight (especially compared to traditional waterfall-style processes), and inherently adaptable. As important, they all focus on empowering people to collaborate and make decisions together quickly and effectively. (Agile 101: What is Agile Development? | VersionOne)

Just what is agile software development? In 2001, a group of methodologists got together to agree on a common set of guiding principles around effective software development. Rather than summarize their agreements here, I’ll point you to their “agile manifesto”.

From a pure definition standpoint, agile is a conceptual framework generally centered on iterative and incremental delivery of working software, driven by the customer. The iterative part suggests that we are repeating, or iterating, a complete lifecycle of development over a short, fixed span of time. With each of these iterations, we ship some working subset, or increment, of features. (A Brief Introduction to Agile —

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile approach to software development. Rather than a full process or methodology, it is a framework. So instead of providing complete, detailed descriptions of how everything is to be done on the project, much is left up to the team. This is done because the team will know best how to solve its problem. (Introduction to Scrum – An Agile Process)

Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for project management and agile software development. Although the word is not an acronym, some companies implementing the process have been known to spell it with capital letters as SCRUM. This may be due to one of Ken Schwaber’s early papers, which capitalized SCRUM in the title.

Although Scrum was intended for management of software development projects, it can be used to run software maintenance teams, or as a general project/program management approach. (Scrum (development) – Wikipedia)

Scrum is an agile framework for completing complex projects. Scrum originally was formalized for software development projects, but works well for any complex, innovative scope of work. The possibilities are endless. (Scrum Alliance -What Is Scrum?)

The Scrum Roles

Scrum has three roles: Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and Team. (Scrum Alliance -Scrum Roles)

Tips for an Agile Transition

Perhaps, but not necessarily. Pilot projects are commonly done for two reasons: To see if something will work or to learn how to make it work. By now, enough other companies—very likely including some of your competitors—are using agile approaches like Scrum that there is no longer any question of if it works. The real question most organizations face is how to make agile or Scrum work for them. One or more pilot projects can be very helpful in providing those answers. (Transitioning to Agile)

Organizational Impact of an Agile Transition

When development teams adopt agile practices, product management is often caught off guard by the amount of work added to their already overflowing plate. Agile calls for new product management skills and traditional staffing models do not typically accommodate the new product owner role. Given that most product managers are already overworked, how can they manage these new activities to derive more value from software projects and products? (InfoQ: How Product Management Must Change to Enable the Agile Enterprise)

Agile methodologies are helping software organizations stay competitive by delivering products more frequently and with significantly higher quality. Making the switch to agile development also challenges traditional notions of project management, introducing new ways of managing time, cost and scope. Learn how to successfully manage agile projects with the resources below. (Agile White Paper: The Agile Project Manager | VersionOne)

When an organization starts to explore Scrum, there’s often an uncomfortable moment early on when someone points out that the role of “manager” seems to be missing entirely. “Well I guess we’ll have to just get rid of ‘em all!” wisecracks one of the developers, and all the managers in the room shift uncomfortably in their seats. (Scrum Alliance -Manager 2.0: The Role of the Manager in Scrum)

About Agile Coaching

Agile methodologies introduce a newer role, typically called the “Agile Coach” that traditional methodologies will not focus on, or even mention. For those who have been working in an agile way for some time, it may seem like a natural complement, yet for those newer to this way of working it raises many questions like, “What’s so important about an Agile Coach: What’s wrong with a Line Manager, or a Team or Technical Lead: Why does list 54 positions with this title:” (InfoQ: The Agile Coach, from A to Z)

Market Trends

Gartner’s analysts (Thomas Murphy and David Norton) predict that by 2012 “agile development methods will be utilized in 80% of all software development projects”. The authors explain that although Scrum will continue gaining in popularity over the coming years, organizations will not be successful in their transition unless they move toward a team-focused culture (Gartner Predicts 2010: Agile and Cloud Impact Application Development Directions | Analytical-Mind)

In their recently released study “Agile Development: Mainstream Adoption Has Changed Agility“, Forrester reports that “35% of respondents stated that Agile most closely reflects their development process”. The report is based on Forrester’s/Dr. Dobbs Global Developer Technographics Survey, Q3, 2009, which surveyed 1298 application development professionals. (Forrester Reports “Agile Development: Mainstream Adoption Has Changed Agility” | Analytical-Mind)

Recommended Blogs

Recommended Books

Looking for a challenge? You may be interested in an Agile Organizational Coach Job

We are currently recruiting Agile Organizational Coaches.

Main duties and responsibilities

The Agile organizational coach works directly with the Information Technology and Business management teams to help leaders assimilate and apply the Agile principles to their day-to-day activities.

The organizational coach helps transform the traditional management style to a more Agile approach. Thus, the coach helps managers to properly assess the differences between the current situation and a set target. He then works with the managers to define a suitable plan and take concrete actions to address the obstacles encountered during the transition. More specifically, the organizational coach:

  • Through appropriate training, educates managers to the application of  Agile to their management style;
  • Creates groups (communities) of interest and exchange to assist managers in their development;
  • Meets with various stakeholders to understand the fears, challenges, and resistance and provides the necessary support to help them;
  • Participates in various management committees to train members of such committees and support them in their development.


  • Have held a management position within a large organization;
  • A minimum of fifteen years of experience in managing software development teams;
  • A minimum of two years experience in an Agile development environment;
  • Significant experience in project management;
  • Bachelor’s degree in business administration, commerce or management.


General Criteria

  • Political acumen and diplomacy;
  • Ability to find solutions win-win situations;
  • Passionate and self-motivated;
  • Team player;
  • Talented facilitator;
  • Understanding of business needs, business processes and organizational dynamics of a business.

What the heck does an Agile Organizational Coach do?

Picture by icedsoul photography .:teymur madjdereyIf you are in the process of transitioning your organization to an Agile approach, you have certainly realized that moving to Agile impacts more than the software development team – if you haven’t realized it yet, you will eventually find out the hard way 😉

In a large scale transition, it is necessary to work with the various managers to help them understand and assimilate the principles related to Agile and make them integrate those principles into their day-to-day actions. Therefore, an Agile Organizational Coach helps managers change their management approach to a leadership style better suited for an Agile environment.

The transition to a new leadership style is not limited to the software development teams. It also applies to the interactions and relationships with the business team’s managers. Making managers more Agile requires changes in their behavior, more specifically, it requires managers to:

  • Transfer certain powers to the team members themselves so they can determine how best to accomplish their tasks;
  • Define the desired vision, to adapt to the context of each team to ensure alignment with the overall objective of the project and ensure cohesion between the teams and their members;
  • Accept and publicly endorse the idea that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that the old methods are no longer adapted to the new reality;
  • Adapt their style of management when necessary to use an inclusive and democratic approach.

As such, the role of the Agile Organizational Coach is to:

  • Educate managers through appropriate training;
  • Create groups (communities) of interest and exchange to assist managers in their development;
  • Organize individual and group meetings with various stakeholders to understand their fears, their challenges, their resistance and to provide the necessary support to help;
  • Work with groups who require special support during the transition;
  • Participate in management committees where the presence of an agile expert is required.

    Are You a “Fiber One” or a “Cocoa Puffs” Manager?

    In line with my earlier post (Are you an Agile Leader? – Nine questions for people managers), I like to use metaphors to explain various concepts but I also like metaphors to determine the profile of the people attending my presentations. I recently used the cereal metaphor presented below (the power point slide is available here).

    In addition to being a good ice-breaker for the presentation, this slide usually gets people talking about (and sometime defending) their management style. Needless to say the “Fiber One” managers are often the ones who find the agile concepts harder to grasp.

    Which cereal are you?

    Clueless – 7 hints you’re probably not on the Agile track

    Are you sure you want to be Agile?As an Agile coach and working for a consulting organization that specializes in Agile Software Development, I get to meet people who have decided to adopt or are thinking of adopting Agility within their organization.

    I have to say, most people understand what an Agile transition means for them and their organization and are willing to make the changes required to make their transition a success.

    And then, there are others who are most likely adopting Agile for the wrong reasons and as such, aren’t really interested or even aware of what it means for them.

    I’ve put together a short list of 7 (real life!) conversations that made me wonder if common sense had left the building. Feel free to share your conversations…

    Time estimates

    • Client: I don’t understand. Since we’ve adopted Agile, our developers consistently exceed the time estimates for their tasks.
    • Me: Interesting. Who provides the time estimates?
    • Client: The project manager…

    Change Management

    • Client: We are really serious about implementing Agile within our organization.
    • Me: Great! You realize Agile is not a silver bullet that will magically eliminate all your issues?
    • Client: Of course, we are fully aware. We would like to start with a new project that is scheduled to start shortly.
    • Me: Good. Following our earlier conversation, you realize you will have to make changes to the way your team is currently working and that might impact their productivity in the short term.
    • Client: We can’t impact the team’s productivity. The project budget, scope and time lines have already been defined and the project is already 2 months behind schedule…


    • Client: We have identified a list of issues that we need help with. Here’s the list. Can you help us?
    • Me: Possibly. Let me look at your list. Who came up with the items on this list?
    • Client: Me and my direct reports.
    • Me: Has the team been involved in putting this list of issues together?
    • Client: Absolutely not. We asked them to put together a list of issues they were facing and most of the items were related to lack of trust, micro-management, and bad communication so we threw out their list and put this one together for them…


    • Client: We are just about to begin a new iteration but our last iteration was a disaster. We missed our time lines, the product owner is upset at the development team and morale is very low.
    • Me: Have you done a retrospection at the end of your iteration?
    • Client: No. We need to start development on the new project immediately.
    • Me: Wouldn’t there we be value in evaluating what went wrong in order not the repeat the same mistakes?
    • Client: We don’t have time for that and quite honestly, we don’t want the team’s morale to get worst once they realize how bad the situation is…

    Management Support

    • Client: This Agile thing is great! I’m going to impress the management team with our success.
    • Me: How so?
    • Client: The development team asked me if they could use Agile for their next project and from what I read, Agile can help them improve their performance and reduce the time to market.
    • Me: Yes, if it’s done right you may get those benefits.
    • Client: Wonderful! After I gave them the go ahead to start immediately, I told them I now expected to project to be delivered in 9 months (instead of 18 months) and cut their budget by half…


    • Client: Agile has done good things for our development team but we keep facing issues with project members that don’t report into our department.
    • Me: Who are those external contributors?
    • Client: The architects and the DBAs.
    • Me: Do you keep them informed of your project progress? Do they get involved in defining the stories? Do they estimate their work?
    • Client: Hell, no. We simply assign them the work they need to do and complain to their boss if they fall behind…

    Scrum Master

    • Client: I don’t understand why things aren’t working well.
    • Me: What is the issue?
    • Client: We took the Certified Scrum Master training you offer, we read a few books, and we’ve started implementing Scrum but nothing seems to be working.
    • Me: What do you mean?
    • Client: The only thing we didn’t do is take a natural leader to be the Scrum Master. Robert was available so we asked him to be the Scrum Master.
    • Me: Who is Robert?
    • Client: Robert has been with the company for 22 years. He’s one of the few Mainframe project managers who preferred not to learn the new web technologies and since he didn’t have any assignments, we thought he could do the job…

    Do you have any hints you would like to share?

    The 5 Dimensions of Leadership in an Agile Context

    Following my posts on delivering results in an agile context, the 7 dimensions of an agile project team and their agile work environment, this fifth and final post on Agile Leadership presents the “Leadership” level of the model. I’m hoping to help managers, leaders, and stakeholders better understand which behaviors to modify in order to obtain better performance and improve employee satisfaction within their organization. I came up with five dimensions associated with Leadership in an Agile context.
    Picture by pedrosimoes7

    Before I begin, I want to make a distinction between management and leadership. Over the years, the terms “leadership” and “management” have often been used as synonyms. To distinguish the two words I would specify that leadership is “transformational” in nature while management is more “transactional”.


    Leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task” (wikipedia)

    Servant Leadership

    Servant-leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. Servant-leaders are often seen as humble stewards of their organization’s resources (wikipedia)


    Management in all business areas and human organization activity is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal (wikipedia)

    Goal Setting

    Goal-setting ideally involves establishing specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-targeted objectives. Work on the goal-setting theory suggests that it can serve as an effective tool for making progress by ensuring that participants have a clear awareness of what they must do to achieve or help achieve an objective (wikipedia)

    A few questions to assess the Goal Setting dimension of the Leadership model:

    • Are the team members objectives aligned with one another?
    • Are the suggestions coming from the retrospection of the team taken into consideration in the objective settings?

    Performance Management

    Performance management includes activities to ensure that goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner (wikipedia)

    A few questions to assess the Performance Management dimension of the Leadership model:

    • Does the leader clearly define the objectives of his people?
    • Does the organization measure its progress toward its goals?
    • Is the performance measured at the team level in addition to the individual level?
    • Does the company evaluate both the individual’s work behaviours and outcomes against the defined objectives?
    • Do the team members receive timely and frequent feedback?


    Remuneration is pay or salary, typically a monetary payment for services rendered, as in an employment (wikipedia)

    A few questions to assess the Remuneration dimension of the Leadership model:

    • Do managers mostly rely on intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) motivation?
    • Does the remuneration model reflect the individual’s contribution to the team or is it based on seniority?
    • Is the compensation model clearly understood by all team members?
    • Is the leader rewarded for the development of his members?
    • Do team members participate in the definition of the compensation of their colleagues?
    • Is the compensation model strictly based on individual performance?


    Coaching refers to the activity of a coach in developing the abilities of coachees. Coaching tends to focus on the achievement by coachees of a goal or specific skill (wikipedia)

    A few questions to assess the Coaching dimension of the Leadership model:

    • Does the leader support its members in their skills and competences development?
    • Does the leader take the time to teach his team members on how to increase their skills and better themselves?
    • Is the leader selected by the team members?
    • Is the leader evaluated by his team members?

    Change Management

    Change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state (wikipedia)

    A few questions to assess the Change Management dimension of the Leadership model:

    • Does the leader work with the team members to establish a clear change management strategy?
    • Does the leader acknowledge that the pace of change is different for all team members?
    • Does the leader deal constructively for team members’ resistance to change?

    Leader’s Qualities

    Finally, in order to assess if the leader has the right qualities to be successful in an agile environment, I have selected a handful of qualities the leader should clearly demonstrate.

    Does the Leader display the following qualities?

    • Making decision when necessary
    • Enthusiasm / Optimism
    • Humility
    • Respect
    • Trust
    • Integrity
    • Confidence

    Is your work environment Agile?

    Picture by Alessia206

    As a follow-up to my post on Agile Leadership, I have described the 7 dimensions of an Agile Project Team and what it means to deliver results in an Agile context. This forth (out of five) post briefly looks into the Agile Work Environment (or Agile Work Space) to successfully support the delivery of results by the project team.

    Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done – Principles behind the Agile Manifesto.

    As suggested by the Manifesto, providing the right environment will support a fast paced, entrepreneurial, flexible and autonomous culture allowing the project team to focus on their objective while enjoying their environment.

    A few questions to assess the work space configuration of the project team:

    • Are all team members co-located?
    • Does the physical environment support effortless communication?
    • Are team members within 10 meters (30 feet) of a white board?
    • Are team members allowed to stick post-it notes to the walls around them?
    • Does the project team have access to natural light?
    • Are team members allowed to decorate their work space?
    • Do the project team members have access to free good-coffee?
    • When necessary, do team members have access to private rooms to concentrate on their activities?

    Needless to say, the right work environment can have a significant impact on the project team’s performance. More specifically, the right work environment should support the team’s autonomy, ability to communicate and collaborate. It should support the use of the right processes and tools to be efficient while allowing them to enjoy their surroundings.

    We need better management – we need agile management

    As mentioned in my guest post on Management 3.0, times are changing and many organizations are finding ways to lead people to deliver better results.

    Having spent most of my professional career in the software development industry, either as a consultant or as an employee of large corporations, it is obvious that many of my inspirations for leadership came for the technology side of things. I quickly realized two things:

    1. Working with technology opened my perspective to more innovations and allowed me to develop a willingness to continuously improve what was around me – not only the technology but the tools and the processes in order to derive better performance from people and later on to strive for a more balanced work-life,
    2. I noticed that many people in organizations who could change the way people were managed were caught in their old paradigms:
      • Senior managers who had power refused to change and were counting the days until retirements,
      • Middle managers who had an open mind, had no time to implement innovations or had no power to do so,
      • Support departments were more interested in maintaining status quo after years of implementing policies and procedures and weren’t so inclined to look for better methods.

    Once in a while, an external consultant would present some promising avenue to help improve performance and morale but their attempt would vanish once they closed the doors behind them.

    Then came Agile. Although the Agile Manifesto was published in 2001, I discovered the underlying principles years later and it became obvious to me that what was recommended for software development organizations would certainly work, outside the technology departments. For almost two years, I have been analyzing the principles, reading books, and working with colleagues and clients to derive an improved method of working. From my “Rebel Leadership” concept came the “Agile Leadership” approach.