Mother, I’m a bit of an Agile Addict

Dearest Mother,
You wanted me to describe my new job as an Agile Coach. Well, it’s a little hard to explain without explaining how I got here as that journey helped shape how I do what it is I do. The story starts with who I was when I left to go to America. I was a young introverted electrical engineer, who enjoyed his eclectic music and as your correctly summarized “didn’t suffer fools easily”. I left Australia on what was supposed to be a six-month contract with my company. I was to work on a steel mill automation project, destined for Russia, then return home via England visiting family. The plan never happened as plans seldom do but oh what a journey it turned out to be. Continue reading

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Drunk Tank Pink Organizations

I went to visit the Virginia Holocaust Museum to witness the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery finish their mandala. The mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol.
The result of four days of intense focus, placing vibrantly colored sand in ornate patterns. Each grain falls exactly where it needs to be for the effect. The picture builds out from the center. Each mon20160814_111428k working in concert. The table has basic guidelines but there is no telling what the final mandala will look like.

A book I have yet to read seems to be the latest fad in organizational transformation. Labeling organizations by Frederic Laloux’s palette of colors and an associated metaphor. Once you create an aspirational categorization, it can become a competition to immediately demonstrate your organization is at the target teal state. Some companies want to skip the journey altogether by buying and installing a framework . Continue reading

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LEGO Serious Play with Washington Mandela Fellows at VCU



Hard at work on individual builds

I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to participate in a capstone event at VCU. The university had been hosting a group of young business leaders from Africa as part of the Mandela Washington Foundation. Four hundred fellows were hosted around the United States at different universities for six weeks over the summer. We wanted to build a LEGO® Serious Play session that brought together some of their experiences and set the fellows up for continued success on their return. Coming up with the guiding problem around which we would build the session was a challenge. Although part of the same program, the fellows had diverse business interests and came from all over sub-Saharan Africa. Some had their own businesses and others worked for organizations into which they were hoping to inject new ideas. Continue reading

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Anatomy of a P.I.R.A.T.E. Build Monitor

As I have blogged before, I have a slight obsession with build monitors. That obsession has probably peaked with the creation of the P.I.R.A.T.E. or the Peripheral for Information Radiation, Audio and Telemetry Enabled. What follows is a description of the main components. I’ll follow up with subsequent blogs on what I learned about group dynamics and some of negative the impacts of scaled Agile has on the individuals it is imposed upon. All very unscientific but it started me on a path of self-study into conflict in organizations and the project I was on. Sounds scary so let’s start with the more playful side of the P.I.R.A.T.E. Continue reading

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The Mathematics of Agile Dysfunction

“Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.” ~ Francis Bacon

In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio is a thief who steals corporate secrets by enter the a victim’s dreams. The plot follows his attempts at the inverse task of implanting an idea into the mind of a CEO. The problem with the technique is that the dreams can become so real that he no longer knows he is dreaming. His character uses a spinning top to know if he’s still in a dream state, or back in reality. If the top keeps spinning, Leo’s character is still dreaming. If it falls, he is awake. The top represents what Yuval Noah Harari refers to as part of an objective reality. It is something you can touch or feel or prove through mathematics in the case of the top’s physics. What is interesting is how much of human achievement is based on our imagination or subjective realities. Harari posits that what has allowed us to scale our collaboration globally is our unique ability as humans to create inter-subjective realities. Set of beliefs that are taken to be truths across entire communities of believers. Beliefs that can survive the comings and goings of individuals, sustained over time as well as distance. Working with clients using scaled Agile frameworks I find the same dynamics in play. What happens when you try and inject new scaled Agile memes into the existing corporate body of a culture? Will the body reject them, graft to them or be poisoned by them? Continue reading

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On Turtle Time

For the past three years we have vacationed at Emerald Isle in North Carolina. Each year we wander the sandy miles in search of turtle nests ready to hatch. We then spend a few hours each night in the company of patient turtle patrol volunteers hoping we will see the nest hatch. We have never seen one hatch but spending moonlit evenings with the waves washing their soothing sounds ashore has it benefits. You get to see another other species demonstrating that too long at the top of the chain leaves them devoid of an understanding of the objective realities of Nature. They are the vacationers quizzing volunteers on the schedule and status of the reptilian release. Each time the answer is the same, when the turtles are ready, but the answer is never enough. Continue reading

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Stitching Work and Play

“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do” – John Ruskin

A trip through southwest England made with no expectations surprised me with a bridge between the Ages of Guilds and what remains of a culture of craftsmanship. The Arts and Crafts Movement was a response to the mass production and commoditization of design that came with the industrial revolution. The the decline of guilds as the backbone of manufacturing was not the end but maybe the beginnings of a new stage of design centered thinking. Its leading lights may be less well known now but the threads of their influence remained interwoven in the architecture, furniture design and jewelry making well into the 20th Century. Where is that joy of crafting in work now? Are we moving to further separate work from craft and play or are we seeing the first signs of their reintegration? Continue reading

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The Point of Play

Lap Pic

On our big crazy learning adventure of a government software project, we had returned so soon to plan a new release. Once again anointed to do a Fist of Five commitment exercise at the end, I had challenged myself to make it more playful than the last. After the flat out fun I was asked a pointed question: “What was the point of that exercise?”. Essentially, what was the point of play? The short answer may mean this is the last time I’m invited to invite others to play. There was no point. Continue reading

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Pulling at the Roots of Culture

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s that time of year again when I have to make the executive decision. Extract a garden from the wilderness of the backyard or let nature continue its inevitable reclamation. As the house has emptied over time the requirement to do it as part of being a family has drained but never quite the enthusiasm. I have no authority over plants. They will grow as they see fit. I can do my bit to encourage plants that fill my need for a fresh veggie or two. I can make the conditions right for the needs of plants. Then I must let the seasonal symbiosis takes its path.

So why then must the focus be the dread of pulling at the roots? Continue reading

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Wanted: Corporate Fool

Jester wanted. Must be mirthful and prepared to work summer weekends. Must have own outfit (with bells). Bladder on stick provided if required. ~ The Times, August, 5th, 2004

I’m lucky to be on a large crazy project. Large enough to have its own ways but with a leadership willing to step back and ask the question – “Who do we want to be in the future?”. Who are we now? A collaboration of contracting companies working on a large legacy government portal, heavily interconnected with other departments and agencies in such a convoluted way I lovingly refer to it as Conway’s Nightmare. The program director had gathered what amounted to the royal court of the project – the leadership team. I was invited to join. A facilitator led us through a pretty neat icebreaker that reminded us to be empathetic to our different management styles. Part of the introduction involved a description of our roles. I dutifully announced my current label from the 2-D Org Chart but on a whim decided to describe how I saw the part I played. I said I was the Project Jester and somehow it felt right. Continue reading

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