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Podcast Ep. 6: Quincy Jordan on Living Off the Agile Landscape


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Episode Description:

Return guest, Quincy Jordan, is joining Dan Neumann once again! Quincy is a Principal Transformation Consultant and has been with AgileThought for about one year. Prior to AgileThought, Quincy was the Transformation Lead for Pivotal’s Atlanta Office, where he consulted with clients to help them reach enterprise scale. Quincy also served as a Principal Consultant and Agile Coach at SCRUMstudy.com for over six years. Quincy’s mission is to help companies and people who are ineffective in their own mission by transforming them from what they are to what they desire to be.

In today’s episode, Dan and Quincy get their hands dirty and talk about living off the agile landscape. Quincy explains the differences between agile “gardening” vs. agile “farming,” where the agile farming metaphor came from, and key “farming” practices.


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Key Takeaways

  • The background behind the agile landscape “farming” metaphor:
    • In farming and gardens, there is great attention to detail and a lot of care put into it, similar to the nurturing needed with agile
  • Agile gardening vs. agile farming:
    • What you need depends on the business outcomes you’re trying to achieve
    • Agile farming requires thinking outside of your immediate environment and scaling beyond your environment
    • Inward benefits from agile gardening vs. outward benefits from agile farming
    • One isn’t better than the other but it is important to choose the right tool
  • When scaling:
    • Programmers should pull back their vantage point to get a more aerial view, focusing on overall outcomes and things going on in the environment
    • Teams need a vantage point that is an up-close picture to really see all the detail
  • Key Farming Practices:
    • Farmers need to actively protect the environment
    • Just like farmers use crop rotation for soil depletion, it is important to rotate teams to avoid transformation (or agile) fatigue
    • Rotation needs to take place, whether you rotate teams across different functions or rotate within the team
    • Keep the team together regardless of how you’re rotating it
    • When an environment is new, similar to a farm, they have to ready the soil of the environment
    • Preparation is key
    • If you want teams to collaborate well, an accommodating, structured environment needs to be prepared for the team
    • Farmers must be concerned with “where” before “what,” and “timing” before “time”

 

Mentioned in this Episode:

Like what you heard? Check out our podcast page for more episodes full of interesting discussions, agile insights, and helpful resources.

 

Transcript

Intro: [00:00] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:19]  Thank you for joining us today. I have with me again, a fellow colleague, Quincy Jordan, and we’ll be getting our hands dirty today talking about living off the agile landscape. Thanks for joining Quincy.

Quincy Jordan: [00:32]  Hey, thank you Dan. Glad to be here again.

Dan Neumann: [00:35]  I don’t often think about farming and agility and I was curious if you could share kind of where this metaphor came from in your mind. What’s, what’s the background on that?

Quincy Jordan: [00:48]  Sure. So, you know, it’s interesting. I’ve done several and maybe I shouldn’t say several, multiple large enterprise transformations at this point. And uh, and there’s some very consistent things that I see, uh, across multiple enterprises and in those that have started down that journey. And then they really struggle in terms of trying to go from either a proof of concept or an incubator lab or something like that and scale across their entire enterprise. And so I got to thinking about gardening and what a garden is and how gardens are treated. Um, and then so that, let me to start thinking about farming and the comparison between the two and how in gardens there’s a lot of attention and a lot of detail that are given that’s given in a way that’s very difficult to do when you farm. And so that’s where a lot of this really stemmed from. Um, originally that’s where it really came from in happy to, you know, elaborate on that as we go.

Dan Neumann: [02:08]  Absolutely. I think you touched on one really important thing leading into that, which is a lot of organizations start with a pilot, so they’re very careful with the setup of who’s on the team, which project they select for this agile pilot. Uh, the politics of it, the communication, there’s a lot of care taken into that setup. And then somewhere between one and many teams, things seem to go sideways. They start to fail. Is, is that what you’ve seen as well?

Quincy Jordan: [02:37]  It is. And so I actually delivered a talk at the Tampa Bay Agile meetup on this particular topic. And one of the things that I pointed out in the talk is, uh, so it was a guy named Mathius Willemijns. He’s a Belgium grower. And so he set the world record for growing the largest pumpkin. Uh, I forgot which year, but it was within the past couple of years. Uh, and his Pumpkin, he grew it up to 2624.6 pounds. That’s a huge pumpkin giant, and it’s a giant. They had to put it on a forklift and, uh, you know, it was, it was very difficult to move. It was very impressive. Uh, and so that kind of really intrigued me on, okay, well what, what are some of the things that one has to do to grow a pumpkin that large, uh, and the level of care that these growers put into this, uh, is really quite fascinating. The guy that had the world record prior to Mathius, he would actually put a blanket over the pumpkin every night, every night, and they would talk to the Pumpkins and, uh, you know, special nutrients in the soil that they would add and you know, all these different things that they would do. And so then I thought, and I said, okay, so what’s the reason that we don’t have nearly 3000 pound pumpkin patches? So we have individual pumpkin second growth to that, but why can’t we grow, I don’t know, like a thousand of those or a million of those. Uh, and it’s because what a gardener puts into a garden requires an amount of attention that, uh, you can’t give when you scale. And so I’ll, I’ll give some examples of that. So when we think about when a company says, okay, well we’re going to do a proof of concept where we’re going to have a pilot team that we’re going to spin up, uh, for our new, our new agile environment, or so, whether they do, they make all the conditions around the team favorable to the team, uh, they tend to change the workspace so that it is a collaborative workspace. They, in many cases, may even bring in breakfast or they may bring in lunch. They do all these different things, uh, and they’re using sticky notes and whiteboards, whiteboards in, and everything is in this nice protective cocoon, so to speak. And this garden is, uh, produces something that’s very impressive. All right, so what’s the benefit in the agile garden in that case? So like what’s it, so let’s just say, what’s the purpose in a garden? Agile, Garden. Otherwise, just what’s the purpose in the garden? So I’m just curious for you, what, what would you see the purpose in a garden being?

Dan Neumann: [06:17]  Well, actually we have a garden. And so for me it’s, it seems like its purpose is to grow weeds most of the time, but, but we grow a small amount of, uh, some hot peppers because I like hot peppers, we grow some Zucchini. Um, but it’s, you know, you go there, you pick a handful of tomatoes, you snack on them on the way back into the house. And it’s, for me, it’s mostly for entertainment and, um, you know, a little, a little change of pace, but it’s definitely not so that we can, can everything and survive the winter here. I have a grocery store for that.

Quincy Jordan: [06:51]  Gotcha. Okay. So, yeah, so it’s interesting that you said that because when we think of a garden, a garden, really the output of that is more for inward pleasure. It’s more for, this is something that, uh, I can benefit from, my family can benefit from my immediate surrounding, my immediate community can benefit from. Um, and that’s really the purpose in it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Um, and so when you think about some of the incubator labs or proof of concepts, they are very impressive, uh, within different organizations oftentimes, uh, but they are intended to demonstrate inwardly to that company what they can do and what that output is. So I’ll give you another example of that. Uh, several years ago, uh, I did a proof of concept with AT&T and the proof of concept was to demonstrate how well we could integrate these different applications, uh, for one of their call centers. And we built a fully functioning telephone company inside of, in executive conference center from scratch. We took a room that was maybe about a 50X100 room and we turned it into a proof of concept functioning telephone company to demonstrate the level of skillset and application integration and, and, and, and so forth for that. This was again, several years back, really before heavy cloud technology and all that stuff. And so, so we proved it and we showed it. Now when they went to implement that, there were some things that had to change, and so when we’re looking at these proof of concepts in gardens, when you scale up to where you’re now not looking at how can we inwardly benefit from this, but how can we outwardly give this benefit to our customers in our users? We now have to shift from gardening to farming in terms of our mindset, because a farmer, they’re intending for their output to go beyond their farm. Their users or their consumers do not reside or not primarily residing on the farm. They live outside of the farm, and so that’s the type of thinking that has to be there for agile farming is you have to think in terms of scaling outside of that, outside of that environment,

Dan Neumann: [10:02]  Yeah, I see some of the, that metaphor, you know where you’re, you’re trying to prove that we can, let’s say have an agile team and that I think is what you mean by it’s inward focus. Prove that we can set up a team that delivers every sprint, if you’re doing scrum or delivers on a regular cadence, regardless of the agile framework that people are choosing. Do I understand that part correctly?

Quincy Jordan: [10:25]  Yes. And there’s, there’s actually two, two other examples I’ll give So if you. Think about Spotify, so a lot of folks are familiar with the Spotify model in Spotify. They started out using scrum and when they got ready to scale, they quickly realize, okay, the way that we’re doing this isn’t working for us to start scaling and really start farming this throughout our company. So they made the shift and they actually changed from scrum masters to agile coaches and they change from scrum teams to squads. Okay. Uh, and they change from, to some degree, if you look at things kind of from a program level, um, they change from that to tribes. And so the point here is, it’s not that you can’t scale scrum. The point is that at that time they couldn’t, they didn’t see how they could scale scrum. Uh, and so they made changes because what they were doing as a proof of concept or in a small environment was not scaling up to a large environment in terms of like farming. Lego is another example of that. So the Lego company, they did the same thing except in that case they actually went with safe. And so I wanted to point out, or I like to point out Spotify and Lego because one Spotify came up with a completely new model and Lego used another model that came along later, which we know as safe, neither is better than the other. They’re just different applications to solve a problem of going from an agile garden to an agile farm.

Dan Neumann: [12:22]  Sure. Yeah. The scale is going to impact the tools you choose, the, the approaches that are used. Um, absolutely. And I think it begs the question a little bit, do we, do we need to scale up? Sometimes I think folks scale just for the sake of it or because they feel like they need to, as opposed to really harnessing the power of that smaller individual team. Uh, you know, if we need a 2000 pound pumpkin gardening is kind of what you need. If you need, you know, 10,000 Pumpkin’s that are all between 10 and 15 pounds, then a farming approach is appropriate and you need the tools and the methods and the um, the ways to coax those things into growing that are appropriate for mass scale production.

Quincy Jordan: [13:22]  Yes. And it, and I think that brings out a really good point that what you need depends on the business outcomes that you’re trying to achieve. In the example that I gave with AT&T, the objective of that was the proof of concept. That was the outcome that was desired was to proof of concept. So when that case in agile garden is exactly what you need, uh, one isn’t better than the other any more, then a shovel isn’t any better than a tractor. But if you want to till, okay, a 2X3 foot area, you’re going to have a hard time doing that with a tractor. It’s too much. It’s overkill. And in that case, a shovel is what you need. And so I’m glad that you brought that up about the tools because that’s exactly what has to happen there is I personally, uh, my tools of choice in and as I put it, fighting the war on transformation, uh, are stickies in sharpies. Those are my tools of choice. Those are my weapons of choice. Um, however, I do recognize that if I am helping an organization transform that is 1500 to 2000, 1800 strong in their area, that is being transformed, stickies and sharpies will help, but there’s going to need to be more to organize and structure across an organization that large. And so one of the things that I’d like to point out is that the vantage point makes a difference. So a show, if I show an image, and if you would just imagine the image of a tomato vine up close, like you’re really close up on it, you can see the ripeness of the tomato, you can see the, you know, the beautiful reddish orange ish color to it and the strong green vines that it’s attached to. Uh, and it’s nice and plump. The skin is very firm, it’s perfect. And you can see that really well. Now take yourself back. You’re still looking at that exact same tomato, but take yourself back about 500 yards. Now you can see not only that tomato, but you can see all the surrounding tomatoes around it. And what you’re more than luckily going to see are rows of tomatoes, the vantage point starts changing. The further back you have to remove yourself from essentially the fruit that you’re bearing. And you have to, uh, now everyone doesn’t have to, but if you’re going to scale, you have to move back some so that you can see the bigger vision. You can see the bigger picture. And one thing that I’ve noticed just even from a natural standpoint, when you pull back, say like to an aerial view of a farm, it starts looking very symmetrical. You start seeing a lot of rows, you see a lot of uh, it, it looks very clean cut. Um, the further away you get from it and then the closer you get, the more detail you can see and it doesn’t look as structured anymore. It looks a lot more organic. The interesting thing is it’s the same area, it’s just how you’re looking at it. It’s just how close you are to it. The teams, they need that vantage point of the really up close picture. They need to see that level of detail, the portfolio and program folks, they need to be a little further back.

Dan Neumann: [17:46]  Yeah, I like that example because a lot of times I feel like portfolio program, those levels still want to go in there and talk about individual plants, you know, as opposed to focusing on the overall outcomes are things going on in the environment that are affecting all of the plants. And I think that’s an opportunity too, to kind of remember that their job isn’t to go in and inspect every plant for bugs there. Their job is to focus on the environment around the plants and improve that.

Quincy Jordan: [18:17]  Yes. And, and it’s interesting that you mentioned that because, so if we think about modern agile and the concept of psychological safety and you know those types of things that are good and necessary for teams, they are very applicable for agile gardens. When you start thinking in terms of agile farming, you really actually have to shift from only thinking about psychological safety and you have to shift into how do I protect the psychological safety. So at one level you’re trying to protect the individual through psychological safety, but the psychological safety itself needs protection in that environment. So I’ll tell you exactly what I mean by this. Okay. When you have a garden, the garden is so much more easier to control that you can actually encapsulate the entire garden to keep things out and make it the exact environment that you want it to be.

Dan Neumann: [19:34]  I have that fence around my garden. And the bunny looks so sad actually, the rabbits sneak through the fence sometimes. But that’s a different story, right? But we did, we got plastic fence. We put it around the roughly 40 feet of perimeter that we have for our little baby garden.

Quincy Jordan: [19:48]  Yes. And that’s because it’s the garden. But now imagine if you decided, okay, we’ve done this garden thing, so now we’re going to, we’re going to actually do a farm. So you gone and buy 2000 acres. How easy would it be to try to cover that 2000 acres in the same way that you did for your garden and if you did, would it then hurt the production that you have and so forth? So when we started talking about agile farming, psychological safety is important, but farmers have to actively protect the garden. They have to do things like they have to literally either purchase certain types of animals that are going to help protect the garden. They have to put things in place to protect the safety that’s there. There’s even an image that I like to show of, uh, there’s a foam that they use to spray on top of seeds that have been, that have been sown recently. The seeds are in the ground, they’re covered with dirt. The seeds are safe. The problem is they’re not being actively protected from frost. So they have to actively put foam on top of the safe environment to protect it from the frost, the outside influencers from coming in. So when we’re starting to, so when we’re talking about agile farming, the safety that is there has to be protected. Not just provide safety, but provide measures to protect the safety in the environment.

Dan Neumann: [21:43]  Yeah, no, I think that makes a lot of sense. The safety as a prerequisite, the type of safety and the way you view safety will change depending on perspective. Living up here in Indiana, I travel a lot of course to clients, but in Indiana we, we drive by a whole lot of farm lands. And one of the things that I noticed on some of them as they will have test plots basically where they’ll have, you know, 5 or 10 rows or some chunk where its seed A that they’ve planted and then they’ll have seed type B. So they’re, they’re actually using this very large landscape and effectively running experiments within that farm. And I think that’s another facet as you go beyond one team up to a bigger program or a portfolio of work in an organization is then you can really intentionally craft experiments across each of those groups. Not to compare one group to the other, you know, psychologically destroying way. But to look at, hey, when we change this part of the environment, what happened and maybe run a different experiment in parallel and then you can take the output of those and maybe try to scale that up. So it’s somewhere maybe in between that gardening and the farming where you can use the farming to conduct multiple parallel experiments.

Quincy Jordan: [23:16]  Yeah. And what’s interesting too, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of what you’re saying is also, um, a crop rotation system, um, as well. And so one of the things that farmers do is crop rotation. And I’m not sure if you’re familiar with crop rotation or not, but the reason they do crop rotation is because different, different types of food or things that are grown deplete the soil of different types of nutrients. And uh, some things that are grown actually put certain nutrients into the soil so they will rotate what they grow on different plots of land. Uh, sometimes it’s a three year rotation, other times it’s a four year rotation. What I find interesting about that is, what I’ve seen in a number of companies is they will take a team or maybe four or five teams and they’ll say, these teams are the feature teams. That’s all they work on they’re the feature teams. And these teams over here all they work on are, uh, break fix or bugs and you know, that’s all they do. And even though those teams may do pretty well, what I’ve noticed that happens is they essentially deplete the soil and the teams actually need to be rotated through whatever part of the product that they’re working on or maybe rotate it into another product. Uh, you will find that they start to get what I kind of consider like transformation fatigue or agile fatigue or something like that where there, it’s not that they don’t like the work that they do, they’ve just done it so much that they’re really just kind of bored and tired of doing it and they need to rotate.

Dan Neumann: [25:21]  Yeah. I The bug teams, I mean back in the day when I was writing code, nobody likes to do bug fixing or bug hunting for forever and if you don’t have the feature teams getting exposed to pain their bugs cause they’re not going to learn as much about. So I like that idea of of rotation. You know, where, where people aren’t on the same particular specialty for long periods of time. It does make me think about some of the activity going on at the end in the farming community though, corn’s an example, corn needs nitrogen. And so that’s why they rotate corn and beans cause beans, fixate nitrogen in the soil. Some of the research going on is now what, what if you had corn that could fixate it’s own nitrogen and we won’t get into the whole uh, modified organization, um, modified organisms and hybrids and all that. But if you can have the team in this case, let’s say it’s a feature team that’s also able to do the support, then you’ve um, rotation’s one option. Another option is to have them kind of eat their own dog food. Just, you know, one non farm metaphor in there. But what if they were to do the support or people within the team took a turn doing support so that they are, um, learning continuously how to improve their overall environment.

Quincy Jordan: [26:42]  I think that would be perfectly fine and I’ve seen that before as well. I think the, the emphasis here is rotation needs to take place. Whether you rotate teams across different functions or different work or different products or you rotate within the team, uh, who’s taking on what parts to your point, what I think is also important to know is you’re not breaking up the team to do so. You’re still keeping the team together regardless of how the team is rotating. What I’ve seen is sometimes folks want to uh, rotate by taking a team member off of one team and putting them on another team and rotate them in that way and it’s not to say that there isn’t some benefit in that, but the a degradation in quality and consistency in my experience is it’s not worth it to do that. You lose too much momentum in the process.

Dan Neumann: [27:53]  Yeah. It takes so long for a team to learn to work together and while there can be value in bringing that other person in our cross pollinating ideas, the, the disruption can be significant. So it needs to be done very carefully. And I would say infrequently as well. Well, fantastic Quincy, thanks for sharing. Are there any last thoughts about this before I ask you what you’ve been reading lately?

Quincy Jordan: [28:21]  Uh, the only other thing I was saying that I don’t think I really distressed as much or touched on is when an environment is new and they’re first starting, similar to a farm, like the very first thing that you have to, and this is the case also for gardening. Um, it just, it’s a different level. Um, but they have to ready to soil, they have to make sure that they environment is ready and you know, if you want teams to be collaborative and so forth, you have to know that your environment has to be accommodating to that. Um, there are some organizations that have a structure and there are many actually. They have a structure now where they can seem, they can send the entire teams to get trained and to learn how to work in a different way and so forth. And then they go back to their organization and nothing there is ready or structured or set up in a way that’s accommodating for what they learned. And so when that takes place and you’re going to go from a couple of teams and now you’re going to try to scale up to five or six, seven, eight teams, the environment, the physical environment needs to be prepared for them while they’re doing all that stuff so that when they come back, they’re coming back into an environment that’s prepared for that. If you don’t, they’re going to hold on to that learning for short span of time and then they’re going to become frustrated and they’re going to revert back into whatever that environment is accommodating for and encouraging of.

Dan Neumann: [30:15]  Yeah. It’s so critical that the environment support the agility. Um, going way back earlier you, you talked about the favorable conditions for that pilot team and something that came to mind for me is a lot of times they’re artificially favorable, which means it’s so different than the rest of the organization that when you try to scale, you’re going to go into that scaling really doesn’t stand a chance unless there is some other significant shift in the organization. Yeah. So it’s artificially favorable. Very cool. Yeah. The preparation is, is key.

Quincy Jordan: [30:53]  Yup. And there’s maybe one last point that I would like to make before, um, before we go on that. So there, there’s a saying that that I like to share, which is that farmers must be concerned with where before what and timing before time. And I’ll say where before what? Because as a farmer in this holds true for it and so forth, uh, you need to know where in the marketplace your businesses are really located before you start trying to figure out what, so there’s, we have a lot of talk about are we working, are we solving the right problems? Are we working on the right things? And I believe that is very important, uh, and maybe this is a lead into another podcast, I don’t know. But I think that’s, yeah, and I think that’s very important. But I think before we start asking the question of, are we solving the right problems, I think we have to evaluate, well, where are we in the process? Because if you think that solving the right problem is what we’re going to spin up seven more, uh, scrum teams and where the problem is located is actually in HR or it’s in finance or it’s in marketing, then you can spin up all the number of teams that you want, it’s not going to matter because you’re actually placing efforts in the wrong area. And, uh, the analogy that I like to think of or the experience that I’d like to think of is when you go to the doctor, one of first things they want to know is where does something feel uncomfortable? Regardless of what it feels like where, because if you’re feeling pain in your forearm, you don’t exactly want the doctor x-raying your leg because that’s not where pain is being associated. And then the second thing was timing that farmers must be concerned with timing before time. And what I mean by that is when you scale up in an agile garden, you don’t have to be as concerned about what’s going on in the stock market and what Wall Street is doing. And uh, shareholders. And you don’t really have to be as concerned with all that. But when you are looking at agile farming and you’re looking at a large enterprise, whether it feels organic or not, it’s a reality that what’s going on on Wall Street very well can affect whether or not you can have 6 agile teams and spin up to 18 or your stock price plummets and causes the powers that be to make decisions to say, nope, we need to keep the number of teams we have, and we can’t spin up anymore. So if those things are not being thought about, um, quarter after quarter, their shareholder meetings. there are different things that have to take place. And those things are on a set time. They’re on a set calendar and farmers have to cooperate. They have to cooperate with the seasons and the calendar and so forth. They can’t fully dictate everything like you can in an agile garden. Um, so some things you can and some things you have to cooperate with.

Dan Neumann: [34:30]  Ooh, another time we can talk about short term incentives, like quarterly reports versus long term value plays. But, uh, that’ll take us into serious overtime. So thank you for that. Let’s see. It was a where before what and timing before time. Just a little takeaway for folks. Fantastic. Hey, what, uh, what are you reading these days, Quincy, as part of your continuous learning journey?

Quincy Jordan: [34:52]  All right. So one of my colleagues, um, after hearing them talk about it over and over, it has subtly convinced me without trying that I should read the “Age of Agile.” And so that is what I’m currently just started reading. Literally just got the book within the past few days was so, uh, and starting on that. I plan to have a good read about this over Thanksgiving break actually.

Dan Neumann: [35:22]  Fantastic. And one of the things I like about so going into the environment, so that’s the, what we’re reading, I like that it has become a book club within the Agile Community of practice within AgileThought. So it’s a really neat opportunity to that book and the contents and the value of it with folks who maybe otherwise wouldn’t read it or to get some additional perspectives beyond it. The agile coaches at the transformational consultants. Now we’ve got Devs and QA and BA specialists all contributing to that conversation. Fantastic. Well, we do have a, an episode on communities of practice too, so that’ll, that’ll tie together there. Well, thanks for taking the time out of your other duties today. Quincy appreciate it.

Quincy Jordan: [36:10]  Absolutely. Thank you.

Outro: [36:13] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner Podcast brought to you by AgileThought, get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought-staging.ectfh4-liquidwebsites.com/podcast.

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