Blog

18 Applications of Open Space in Product Development

When I say "open space" in this context I am referring to taking the higher laws of Open Space Technology (rather than the mechanics per se of OST) and applying them to large teams, or multi-team program events where difficult coordination problems must be solved to handle the enormous complexity and risk of large scale agile approaches to product development. Because events of this scale have costs that scale with the number of participants, it behooves the sponsor to wrap them inside of all the elements of OST and Open Space Agility.  Namely, extend a written invitation to every person in the organization, with a well-crafted theme, providing ample advanced notice, create the appropriate "guard rails" and psychological safety to unlock the most enlightened, creative mind of each participant, and…
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Why a CXO May Dread Agile Transformation and What They Can Do About It

  Is agile transformation making your life miserable as an executive or member of upper level management? If not, you are a very fortunate person. About 80% of agile transformations fail, and a signatory of the agile manifesto, Alistair Cockburn, has been known to say that he hasn't seen a real, lasting successful agile transformation yet. Agile has been around, going by various names, such as Scrum, eXtreme Programming, or Kanban, for well over 20 years, and thousands of corporations of a variety of sizes have attempted to transform themselves into places where an agile mindset thrives, but to little or no avail. So why should you expect your company to be any different? If you do the same things as the rest of the crowd, you will most likely…
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A Community of Thinkers

In late 2013, Jean Tabaka, Eric Willeke and Liz Keogh came up with the idea of a Community of Thinkers, with a statement about what that meant to them. Rather than post it centrally, they each posted it individually, and encouraged others to copy and paste if they agreed and supported the notion. We support this vision of community: “A Community of Thinkers” I am a member of a community of thinkers. I believe that communities exist as homes for professionals to learn, teach, and reflect on their work. I challenge each community in the software industry to: reflect and honor the practitioners who make its existence possible; provide an excellent experience for its members; support the excellent experience its members provide for their clients and colleagues in all aspects…
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OSA Balances Team Autonomy & Lean Agile at Scale

Lean Agile is not just about letting small teams doing whatever they want.  I work with large organizations that have dozens, hundreds or thousands of teams of software developers that are building, maintaining or replacing a part of a very complex digital system at any given time. There is no possible way that a small team of less than 9 people could do their work with the same or better results in terms of features, availability, resilience, performance or scalability, as the huge array of teams that are accomplishing this grand scale of work today. In each case, several agile coaches who are engaged with the client and familiar with the situation all agree, this level of complexity in a system requires many teams to create and upkeep. So, even…
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Military Starts Agile Community in Omaha, NE

Once upon a time, there was a Colonel who served his country in Omaha, Nebraska in Air Force Weather. There were lots of different kinds of projects that were going on between the military and some of it's defense vendors. Much like NASA and other kinds of large scale system development "missions" that we're familiar with in the civilian world, this arm of the military was using a traditional, phase-gated, sequential, large batch approach to organizing the work, sometimes referred to as "waterfall" and everything was fine with that until it wasn't. Too many projects were just taking too long to finish, if ever, and they were too frequently over-budget, or perhaps quality was lacking, or maybe just the scope of requirements seemed excessive, or some combination of these flaws…
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Peter Pan, The Agile Guru Blogger

I've been reading some blogs, and seeing some presentations lately where some agile practitioners who have historically had some very strong opinions are flip-flopping on their stance, and consider it part of their "evolving."  The hyperbole with which they state their point of view, and then nonchalantly reverse it reminds me of a scene from Peter Pan where he says, "Tinkerbell, I hereby banish you forever." Then Wendy says, "Please, not forever." And Peter relents, "Well, for a week then. C'mon Wendy, I'll show you the island." Everyone is entitled to their opinion and their right to change their opinion, however, I have to really ask myself how carefully some people walk through their own logic, and how much they acknowledge that we all have bias.  Introspection and carefully weighing the pros…
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Managers Make A Difference A Dozen Ways in Agile

Here is a short list of what managers can be/do in an agile organization: 1. Storytelling to harness the intrinsic drive of the people who do the work 2. Master the science of work systems 3. a change advocate (aka. cannery in the coal mine) 4. a life-long learner/teacher and village idiot who speaks truth to power 5. an experiment design facilitator 6. an Intrapreneur - Shark Pitcher 7. a Product/Project Exterminator 8. Growth hacker Data Analyst 9. Recruiter - Hiring - Onboarding Buddy - Mentor 10. Restorative Justice of the Peace 11. Improv Coach, Life Coach, Executive Coach, Business Coach 12. Match Maker - Gemba Walker
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The Whipping Boy-Czar

The hottest topic in agile transformation right now seems to be, "What about the managers?" In his book entitled, "Large-Scale Scrum: More with Less" Craig Larman is very plain about his views on this topic. "In LeSS, Managers are optional.  Organizations that have managers don't have to get rid of them -they can perform a useful role - but you don't have to add managers for your LeSS adoption." It seems to me that there is a choice for both the organization and for the people who have been career managers to make a choice about what to do to address problems that arise in the everyday operations of the enterprise.  This is the place where the rubber hits the road in terms of how we think about things: rational…
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Empty Emancipation Without Choice

I completed another engagement with a client 3 days ago confirming what Daniel Mezick, Author of Open Space Agility Handbook and The Culture Game has said about inviting the people who do the work into an Agile Transformation. Inspired by Participatory company forerunners, Semco and Morning Star, my client eliminated all titles (Manager, Director, Team Lead, etc.), performance reviews*, etc. Then said to his entire workforce, "There are no rules. Govern yourselves. Don't focus on Utilization rates. I emancipate you."  At least, that's the way the message landed with the knowledge workers.   Everyone freaked out. Even the Agilists in the company were stunned and despondent, because you cannot mandate freedom any more than you can abandon people to the Tyranny of Structurelessness.   Result: Workers complained. Some resigned. Profitability…
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16 Questions for Setting Up a Coaching Alliance.

As I have begun building a coaching alliance with the CEO and executive team of my clients in the past, I have found a very broad disparity of awareness, maturity of practice and level of depth in coaching needs.  So, I’d like to share some questions that I may begin conversations with, whoever may be engaging my services.  This kind of Fierce Leadership conversation (please see the book by the same title) is most useful when it is completed earlier than later in a business transformation consulting engagement. 1. Does the Enterprise Agile Coach’s activities include executive coaching? 2. Who does coach the executives? 3. How do the executives shift their mindset to become agile? 4. In what way do the executives go first in agile, to serve their constituents?…
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