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Podcast Ep. 104: Celebrating Two Years of the Agile Coaches’ Corner

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Episode Description:

In celebration of the two-year anniversary of the podcast, Dan Neumann is joined by Sam Falco, co-founder of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. In the theme of continuous improvement, Dan and Sam take a look back on the last two years of the podcast and reflect on all that they’ve learned about podcasting and agility. They also invite some of their favorite past guests and AgileThought colleagues to share their own biggest takeaways and lessons learned from the past two years on the theme of agility. Andrea Floyd, agile transformation consultant; Steven Granese, managing director of the transform practice; and Michael Guilder, agile consultant.


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Key Takeaways

  • Andrea Floyd
    • Key lesson: The importance of the agile mindset and an agile culture coupled with any agile journey
    • “What does it mean for us to be successful”? “What will that take from a mindset and culture perspective”? — Andrea Floyd
    • Tools and techniques: Exercises around value stream mapping, understanding what value means to your customers and users, design-thinking techniques around customer journey mapping, good leadership, and commitment from the whole organization
  • Adam Ulery
    • Key lesson: The importance of having committed top-level leaders in an agile transformation
    • The buy-in of leadership in a transformation is key (it makes the difference in creating real change or giving up)
    • Drawbacks that occur without leadership buy-in: Change will only occur in small pockets at best, more than likely it will flounder and never transform the people and the way they work
    • Tools and techniques: In order for leaders to transform themselves, they must be committed and willing, step out of their comfort zone, push through fears, and commit to change
    • In summary: It is important to have top-level leaders that are committed to the transformation and are committed to change
  • Quincy Jordan
    • Key lesson: Agile is agile (it has transformed, evolved, and adapted over the years)
    • It used to be considered strictly for software development but has now been taken outside of IT, into HR, marketing, etc. The overall thinking has made a big plash in non-IT environments
    • A challenge with agility being adopted into non-IT environments: Sometimes business and leadership have a misconception that agility is only IT, so they believe it is not relevant to them
    • When agility ripples outside of IT, it can be really powerful
  • Michael Guiler
    • Key lesson: That the business side has really begun to take hold of agility
    • What has caused the shift from technology-driven agility to business-driven agility: The entire world has fundamentally begun to understand that agility is key (i.e. “We can’t just have really detail-oriented plans with a command and control structure and be able to compete in today’s world” — Michael Guiler)
    • Now, business wants to build an environment where they can really pivot on a dime and compete — and agility is the way to do that
  • Steven Granese
    • Key lesson: It is very difficult to define what agility is — especially with large organizations
    • There are a lot of different ideas and definitions about what agility is
    • It can be hard to define what problem the client is trying to solve and why agility would help them
    • How Steven has seen the problems that clients are trying to solve change over the years:
      1. From a focus on speed (the speed with which they need to continuously adapt) to a focus on market changes (it’s the organizations that focus on market demands that are the ones having the most success)
      2. There used to be more of a concern about leaning too much on tooling and automation but now it has become so good and there is so much more that is possible now due to the tools that are available
  • Sam Falco
    • Key lesson: Agility spreads beyond IT — even to a personal level
    • “Even on a personal level, I have taken a lot of the principles and ideas — and even the practices of Scrum — into my own personal life. I use Scrum on a weekly basis; I don one-week Sprints for myself”. — Sam Falco
    • Sam has lowered his personal work-in-progress (WIP) limit from three to two and his throughput increased
    • He has learned how to apply agility in all sorts of situations
  • Dan Neumann
    • Key lesson: The power of collaboration (specifically, the value of collaborating with people)
    • You can riff off each other if a client isn’t quite hearing what one of you is trying to say
    • Diversity of perspective is tremendously valuable (just like on any well-functioning team)

Mentioned in this Episode:

 
Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by 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: [00:16] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m your host Dan Neumann, and here with co-founder of the podcast, Sam Falco.

Sam Falco: [00:25] Happy anniversary, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [00:27] Happy anniversary. I Googled it. And apparently the anniversary gift is cotton.

Sam Falco: [00:32] All right, I’ll get you a mask.

Dan Neumann: [00:38] Yeah, I wasn’t sure if it was an anniversary or birthday party. So it was very tough.

Sam Falco: [00:43] Podiversary. It just sounds like something out of a John Carpenter film, actually.

Dan Neumann: [00:50] I’ll Google that later. Yeah. Cultural references lost on me. Oh, okay.

Sam Falco: [00:57] John Carpenter with the thing.

Dan Neumann: [00:59] No, that’s the thing. Right? The things never seen it.

Sam Falco: [01:03] Wow.

Dan Neumann: [01:05] True story. Yeah. But, uh, that could be on my continuous improvement journey later. Sure, sure. Okay. Yeah. Related to this. So this is episode 104. Last time I did math, even though I bailed out of my math minor, you have 52 times two is one Oh four. So this is what we’re calling the two year mark for the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast.

Sam Falco: [01:27] Which is pretty exciting because when we first conceived this thing, I remember Steven Granese said we should do some sort of audio content. And, uh, what do you think I said podcast and sort of pushed it into, into existence. And of course the funny thing was I was like podcast, but I don’t want to run it. And so you took it and ran with it and that’s been awesome. And then, so when we said the two year anniversary was coming up, I was thinking, how much have we learned about podcasting, about agility and everything in two years? Because things change so fast. So that was when I suggested that as the theme for this episode.

Dan Neumann: [02:11] No. And, uh, and I think it ties in really well at the end of most episodes, we ask the guest, the participant, whatever, what have you been learning or reading as part of your continuous improvement journey? And, uh, so this is an extension of that. Although we’re not going to read 104, 103 titles of books to you. If we decide we could, and maybe with a little bit of effort, we could pull together that list. But, um, we decided, we talked to some of our colleagues, the volunteers at AgileThought that said, they’d participate in this little experiment with us. Yeah. The first person I talked to is Andrea Floyd, who’s a transformation consultant.

Andrea Floyd: [02:51] I learn something new almost every day. So as I look back since full celebration of a two year anniversary for the podcast, I think what I continually see today is around the importance of the agile mindset and an agile culture, coupled with any agile journey, meaning that if you’re going to invest your time, your energy, your people, and wanting to look for new and better ways of working and achieving the outcomes you desire. So you’re moving forward with an agile journey, take the time to understand the landscape in which that journey is going to take place and with intention and focus, make sure you understand what does it mean for us to be successful and what will that take from a mindset? And what does that take in terms of shifting some of our culture? We landed in this place today because of the way we operate today, the way we think today. So to imagine a new tomorrow, you have to invest time, energy to really understand what does it mean when I say adopting an agile mindset and creating an agile culture?

Dan Neumann: [04:06]
What do you think some of the drawbacks are of maybe ignoring culture or not embracing the mindset?

Andrea Floyd: [04:13] Some of the drawbacks that I’ve observed when people like nor the importance of understanding agile culture and the agile mindset when they undergo their agile journey, is it doesn’t stick. So without having a frame of a overarching understanding of the why behind, why do we want to be doing this and how do we need to evaluate how we are going to make shifts in the way we work, um, from a cultural and a behavioral standpoint, you’re going to find that you’re going to lose a lot of value along the way. So cracking open that secret spot, where you’re open and your imagination is allowing you to think differently.

Dan Neumann: [04:57] Are there some tools or techniques that you find helpful for exploring the culture in the organization as they go through an agile mindset and an agile transition?

Andrea Floyd: [05:08] Some wonderful tools for exploring different tools and techniques for exploring how to think about your culture and your mindset. Wow. Some of them ones that come right to mind immediately are exercises around, um, value stream mapping, understanding what’s value means to your customers, to your users, to your, uh, clientele so that you can imagine, how can I get an idea to value delivery and into their hands as quickly as possible. So value stream mapping is a great way of looking at some of the ways to maybe shift and adjust how your organization is designed and how you start to think about how to get value into your, the hands of your customers. I also encourage other, uh, design thinking techniques, uh, around customer journey mapping and understanding from an empathetic standpoint, what problems are you trying to solve for your customers? Why is this important? And if you frame that, use that to frame how you move forward in your actual journey, you’re going to get the best results.

Dan Neumann: [06:19] Is there anything else you want to share? I was just, and we will chop this part out, so I was looking at the one note, I think we touched on bits and pieces in there.

Andrea Floyd: [06:29] So in summary, any journey is an exciting journey, but you need to think about it in terms of its holistic impact. So if you can drive in and the leadership can engage in a deep enough way to appreciate that, we do need to think differently if we want to do something different tomorrow, uh, encouraging them to understand the importance of getting educated and informed around what it means to have an agile mindset and their role in helping to establish a culture that creates an environment where people are free to innovate and learn.

Sam Falco: [07:05] I really liked what she had to say about the importance of changing the culture. Uh, it takes leadership commitment. I saw I’ve seen a very simplistic definition of culture being the way we do things here. And while one of my friends, who’s an anthropologist vehemently objects to that over simplified definition of culture. I like it for our purposes because as she said, we got here with a certain set of behaviors and we’re going to have to change those behaviors if we want a different outcome. And it takes leadership to get there. And Adam Ulery, senior agile coach at AgileThought had a similar perspective on it.

Adam Ulery: [07:54] One thing I’ve learned about agile is the importance of having committed top level leaders in an agile transformation and for those leaders to really transform themselves. So, and in every agile transformation I’ve led, the difference between true change and giving up to remain status quo essentially, is the buy-in of leadership, right? So I’m not talking about lip service or the appearance of supporting it. We’ve got a few teams who do daily standups, or, you know, even go through the mechanics of a framework, but their heart isn’t in it. They don’t understand the true principles and values underneath, but I I’m talking about true commitment and change on the part of top leaders. So without that, it will at best take hold in small pockets, but more likely flounder and ultimately never transform the people and the way they work. Right? So we all know organizations who claim to be agile because they have some Scrum teams. But if you look at how they approach their business, they are far from agile. And in my opinion, this is a true lack of leadership. The rewards for being an agile business in 2020 and beyond are undeniable. Uh, it’s, it’s not easy. It’s not fast, but it is a game changer. And it’s absolutely, it could be the difference between a business that sticks around for a long time. And one that gets us lunch eaten by a younger hungrier agile business.

Sam Falco: [09:29] If leaders have to transform themselves, what does that take?

Adam Ulery: [09:35] It’s a great question. If leaders have to transform themselves, it takes true commitment and a willingness on the part of the leader to change from what they may have known for a very long time to be true for them. A true step out of your comfort zone, push through fear, commitment to change is what it takes and that’s not easy, which is why I think a lot of leaders don’t understand what they’re signing up for when they call us in and they want to go through an agile transformation, but we try to quickly educate them on that. This is what we are talking about is we’re not talking about a superficial change. We’re talking about something that will transform your business.

Dan Neumann: [10:25] So when I listened to what Adam had to say, I think it was just really the importance of having top level leaders who are committed. I know I’ve seen transformations or journeys or whatever we want to call it, where they started grassroots and eventually bumped into a level of management or leadership that really had no interest in agility, no willingness, no interest, no curiosity, no support. And if those top level leaders aren’t committed, it causes a major challenge.

Sam Falco: [10:57]
Right. Right. And Quincy Jordan, principal transformation consultant with agile thought thought along similar lines.

Quincy Jordan: [11:07] So in the past couple of years, um, I would say that I have learned, uh, one that I guess in a true sense, agile is agile. It has evolved and adapted. Uh, you know, at one point agile was considered strictly for software development. And, uh, and before two years ago, um, you know, there were those who had taken agile approaches outside of, um IT, but, um, but over the past two years, I would say, I think it has taken more route where you see agile in HR, you see agile in marketing, in, uh, you see agile at, in other areas. And really the overall thinking has really made a big splash. Um, over the past two years in non IT environments,

Sam Falco: [12:02]
Where do you see the most difficulty adapting? What, what started out as a software, uh, concept into other concepts?

Quincy Jordan: [12:13]
The area that I see the most, the most difficulty with, uh, uh, agile being adopted into the areas outside of IT uh, really in my opinion, I have more to do with the business and leadership, uh, because they oftentimes, those areas still have a very strong perception that well is only IT. So that’s, that’s what our software development teams do or that’s what, uh, what our IT teams do. Uh, and so initially they’re not even thinking that it’s relevant to them at all. They’re thinking they can still throw things over the proverbial wall. It’s just that now the wall is agile. They think they can throw it over that wall, um, and still, you know, get their things done. And, and, uh, but they quickly are learning that, Hey, this is actually very beneficial, this mindset, these frameworks, uh, these things are very beneficial for, uh, their area of work as well.

Sam Falco: [13:20] Can you give an example, obviously not naming names, but do you, can you give an example of maybe a leader who got it and their aha moment?

Quincy Jordan: [13:31] Sure. So, uh, you know, I’m thinking about a current client who we are working with their IT area, uh, but this key stakeholder, um, they were kind of on loan. So to speak, to run this program in the area that they come from within the company is non IT. This was their first, first IT-related engagement at all, um, within the company. And so the light bulb started going off for them. Uh, I don’t know if I’ll say quickly, but it, it didn’t take long for that to happen. And so, uh, it has occurred so much that they’re now saying, Hey, we really want to take this back to, uh, my area, my, my quote, unquote kind of real team. And we want to do this over in that area as well. And that area is completely non-IT at all. Uh, it’s not IT in any way whatsoever. Uh, so they want to take the concepts that they’ve learned on these, on this, IT engagement in, bring it over onto the business side, which has more to do with my customer experiences and, you know, those types of things. Uh, and it’s, it’s not IT all the way. And they are very, very much a strong advocate within the company for.

Sam Falco: [15:02] And I like that example that Quincy gave of, well, first of all, just that agile itself has evolved and adapted and his example of a leader who got it right. And that aha moment is really powerful because when someone does realize, Oh, this is what I can get out of this and look at how powerful it is, and they take it back and spread it through the rest of the organization. It, it just sort of ripples out. It can start in IT and grow throughout the organization. And I’ve seen that organically and I’ve seen it planned either way. It can be really powerful. And so when I asked Mike Guiler, who’s an agile coach, he also talked about the change to agility led by the business side.

Mike Guiler: [15:50]
So Sam, what I’ve learned in the last few years about agility is that the business has really begun to take hold of it. So when we first started, when I first started, it was always a technology driven thing, right. We was always technology that raised their hand, Hey, could you come and help us? And you got lucky if you could get somebody on the business side of the house to lean in a little bit, and usually you had to pull them in and they’re like, just do your thing. Today, now it’s the business side of the house, as the ones raising their hands, you know, maybe they have partners on the technology side, maybe they don’t. Um, but the last company I was able to help. They it was entirely a business organization and they reached out and they saw the real value of it. You know, we struggled a little bit with some of the, the language because you know, most of the material out there for us is technology driven. And I don’t know how many times we heard, you know, but we don’t do software, but they got the concepts. And as we started to iterate over that, it really took hold and they really begin to see the real value. That’s so exciting.

Sam Falco: [17:00]
What do you attribute the shift from technology-driven agility to business driven agility to?

Mike Guiler: [17:07] So I think the shift from technology to business driven agility is that the entire world, if you will, have fundamentally begun to understand that we need to do this, that we can’t just have very detailed-oriented plans with a command and control structure and be able to, to compete in today’s world. And the business gets that. And now they want to build a, an environment where they can really pivot on a dime and compete. And agility is the way you do that.

Dan Neumann: [17:47] When I heard what Mike said for me, I think the biggest observation was, you know, business is really taking hold of agility and it’s not because they want to necessarily, but they have to, they need agility to compete in what is more and more an ever-changing world.

Sam Falco: [18:10] Right. It’s kind of like what Denning writes about in the age of agile that this is, this is compulsory. If you want to survive, you have to do this. Similar to what Adam said as well. And it’s gone from, you know, small organizations now doing this as you know, so-called business agility to now enterprise agility, huge companies are starting to get in on this. And it looks a lot different as a result. And Steven Granese, managing director of the Transform practice at AgileThought talked about that.

Steven Granese: [18:46] In the last few years, uh, especially working with enterprise clients where I’ve really learned about agility is that, um, it’s very difficult to, um, first define what it is, uh, especially with large organizations. Um, there’s a lot of different ideas about what agility is, what agile is, what some of the frameworks are. Um, but more specifically, it’s, it’s hard to define what problem that, um, our clients are trying to solve and why agility or in a specific agile framework, um, would even help them. And more and more, I found myself trying to help our clients with, uh, defining the problem that they’re trying to solve. Always sound so simple to say, Hey, what brought me trying to solve? Uh, but more, the more we get into that, the more we realize, wow, it’s not clear. What, what, uh, what the problem is that we’re trying to solve. Agile is a framework, um, agile as a mindset, agile as a collection of methodologies, it’s defined in a lot of different ways. Um, they can solve a lot of different problems, right. And so, um, I found myself worrying less and less about the solution, meaning like the, the implementation of a framework. Um, I found myself more and more clarifying with the client. Um, where are they trying to go? And how are they trying to get there?

Sam Falco: [20:04] How have you seen the problems change that the clients are trying to solve?

Steven Granese: [20:11] I’ve seen that the, the problems that our clients have changing, um, in two different ways in my mind, um, one is speed. The speed with which they need to continuously adapt. Um, certainly when the agile movement started a couple of decades ago, that was one of the problems it was trying to solve. You know, things are changing all the time, whether it’s requirements changing, um, uh, whether it was just individuals changing their mind about what they wanted. Nowadays it’s more about market change. Um, especially in the, in the last, uh, several months here in 2020, um, the world just changes so fast. It continuously changes. And it’s the, um, the organizations that are able to really focus on the market side of things, uh, their customers, making sure they’re responding to market demands. Those are the ones that, that I’m seeing, um, having the most success. The second aspect of it is really the, the tooling and the automation. We’ve seen a big emphasis, um, on that the tooling has come so far. It’s tempting to lean too much on tooling. Certainly. Uh, we see a lot of clients that lean too much on, on the, on the tooling first, however, the tooling has become so good. Now things are now possible that really, as consultants, we didn’t think of as possible before. Here’s the example that comes to my mind the most, um, five years ago, if a client asks, Hey, should we do this agile thing? Can we do it remote? Can we do it online? Well, yeah, maybe you can, but I, we don’t really recommend it. Nowadays because the world is thrown into a pandemic and the world is working from home. All of a sudden, there’s a bunch of innovation around tools, not just project management tools, not just software development tools or DevOps tools, but online collaboration tools and video conferencing tools. And so much more as possible now, um, for teams to work together and to come up with more innovative solution because of the tools that are available.

Dan Neumann: [22:14]
What I like about what Steven said, and not just because he’s the boss. I mean, I loved everything, right?

Sam Falco: [22:24]
I mean, clearly man’s a genius.

Dan Neumann: [22:30] A lot of times I see organizations, whether it’s at the team level or higher up in the organization, they get so hung up on what they want to do or how to do something that they stopped to actually figure out what the problem is they’re trying to solve and really stepping back and identifying what the problem is, gives rise to new opportunities to solve that problem.

Sam Falco: [22:56]
Absolutely. And he got me thinking when he was talking about how tooling has come along way, and when I teach professional Scrum courses, and we talk about the principles behind the agile manifesto as sort of foundational things they need to understand, I always get pushback on the principle that says that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information is face-to-face conversation. And they say, well, you know, we’re not face-to-face now. And I say, aren’t we? Right. Because we’re on Zoom. And we have all these wonderful tools and well, it may be 95% of the way there, there is some, some physical things you can’t see, you can’t see my foot bouncing up and down on the floor, but, but we’re there. Um, and we, we, a lot of that. So we are still able to have face-to-face conversation, even if we’re not physically present in the same room. So things have changed. Things have improved and we’re able to be more agile.

Dan Neumann: [23:59]
Yeah, yeah. Tool support, but not tool doing total dependency. Yep. So, Sam, have you learned anything in the last couple of years related to agile?

Sam Falco: [24:11] Absolutely nothing.

Dan Neumann: [24:14]
My turn.

Sam Falco: [24:14]
Um, along the lines of what some of our colleagues said about agility spreading beyond just it, I mean, even on a personal level, I have taken a lot of the principles and ideas, and even the practices of Scrum into my own personal life. I use Scrum on a weekly basis. I do one week sprints for myself. I write fiction as a hobby, and I manage every novel as a Scrum project. And like recently I was talking to Mike Guiler about this. I, as an experiment, lowered my personal work in progress limit from three to two son of a gun, my throughput shot way up. It works. So how to apply this in all sorts of situations. How about you? What have you learned in the past couple of years?

Dan Neumann: [25:04]
Yeah, it’s a tough question. And I appreciate that we had so many of our colleagues, um, take some time to, to share what they’ve learned for me. I think, um, it’s really been the, the power of collaboration. I think maybe when I started as an agile coach, uh, you know, cause what do you have to do to be an agile coach? You just say you’re one and yep. And then if somebody is willing to engage you in that mode, then voila, you’re an agile coach. Um, but really the value of collaborating with people. I did an engagement with Eric Landes, where we went to an engagement as, as, as a couple, as a pair and my perspective and his were complimentary to each other and there was tremendous value, um, that was received to the client by that collaboration. Um, and similarly I’m engaged with Andrea Floyd at a client right now. She’s the transformation consultant and I’m working with a lot of the teams there. And again, it’s just, um, we can riff off of each other if the client, um, maybe isn’t quite hearing what one of us is trying to communicate. The other one might say it in a way that clicks more. Um, and just that diversity of perspectives is, um, tremendously valuable, just like on any well-functioning team.

Sam Falco: [26:32] Yeah.

Dan Neumann: [26:32] But I think there’s a lot of, uh, possibility that organizations expect a hero coach to come in or that somebody has got magic beans to sell them. And if we just get the coach to complaint the beans, we’ll get a bean stock. And that is so far from the reality. So yeah, just have a full appreciation for, for the collaboration there.

Sam Falco: [26:54]
Yeah. It’s been great collaborating with you over the past couple of years, I have been able to do this as much as I’d like, but maybe in year three.

Dan Neumann: [27:03] Year three. Yeah. It will be. Folks can stay tuned. Who knows what the year three will bring. We, um, I do not have you do not have we do not have a 52 week backlog of topics. Um, we will have 52 weeks of episodes, but you have, people are curious about things. We always invite them to submit questions. We’ve had several good ones come in that we’ve, um, turned into episodes. If there’s a guest that somebody thinks we should have, uh, would be curious to know who those folks are. And then we’ll continue along our learning journey. So thanks Sam, 104 good episodes, plus a bunch of trainer talk bonus ones that you did and some other folks did.

Sam Falco: [27:45] Yeah. Thanks for having me, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [27:47] Until next time.

Outro: [27:48] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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