Agile Transition and Transformation

MinfTheGapMarko, you are the transition” – well known statement in our leadership team when we were starting with agile. Our agile leader and coach was putting a lot of energy to drive our agile transformation and therefore he well deserved such an epithet.

However, the statement above reflects outsourcing or shift the burden mindset suggesting that someone else is driving and responsible for the change.What about the rest of us!? – Do we just continue to do the “work”?

So, thinking (or not thinking) about the transformation always reflects back to us as how do we make changes – how do we change ourselves, not just others and things around us.

Even though transformation may look similar to transition, to my view, it would be great to consciously make a difference. We usually use agile transition as a rubber to erase a particular terminology and to change some practices to the new ways of doing things. When we are done, we declare peace. Transition, as I would describe it, is a process that does not even need to be mentioned. It is a continuous effort. Transformation is on the other hand an effect of the transition and represents a vision where we would like to be and how closer to such a vision we are.At the end, it is just the terminology. The most important part is to go that road!

A while ago we had a small celebration – one of our managers was going to retirement (I hope I will be so vital during my retirement celebration party!). He has given a small speech looking back to his career and said:

I had two really big changes in my professional career – one was when we changed the technology from mechanical to electronic switching network nodes. We needed to learn everything from scratch.

The other, even bigger was transformation to agile”.

We actually never talked about it this way, but his career retro speech emphasized a magnitude of the biggest change in his 40 years of work. Even riding on the agile transition train for a few years, it was a moment to realize that our responsibility as leaders and our influence is tremendous. Why not use that chance!



While our transition is (or should be) a never ending journey in adopting and changing the way how business is done, transformation to agile mindset and how to become agile is rather a matter of setting it as a strategic organizational (and personal) goal. Please note, transformation of the organization to the agile one is a learning process, NOT an installation process.


The Real Cause of Empowerment – Chemistry

The Real Cause of Empowerment – Chemistry

In 2010 I’ve been flying with my colleague from our international leadership team meeting. We started to chat and she told me the story about her daughter studying in Switzerland far from home being in situation on her own. She found the apartment with other 4 students that were quite diverse set of individuals by gender and nationality. After the initial period of adjustment, there was supposed to be some order in the apartment regarding the facility sharing, cleaning, cooking etc. Quite interesting setup they made for cooking. It was like this:

– Every day other person cooks (roles are shared)
– They agreed upon a menu that week (delivered product)
– Every Sunday they make a list of supplies for cooking that week (product backlog – planning meeting)
– They have made some analysis and decided to buy a large amount of supplies to get discount and also delivery directly to home (improvement, optimize the whole)
– A meal should be liked by everyone (daily retrospective)
– Improvements in cooking skills over time have improved (continuous learning and improvement)

They have no “managers” (like mom and dad), they have no steering and they are the customers creating requirements and customer consuming the product. What a nice loop and example of a self-organized agile team.

EmpoweredBeing part of management I was once introduced with the term “empowerment within borders“. If we think a bit deeper about it and its origin, it discloses the message to preserve the decision making, authority and structures… (and positions). It tells that borders are clear and determined, there are rules and people shall know them and follow. Those borders can be easily narrowed if something bad happens, or eventually widened if something very good happens. To my humble notice, it is the same like saying – please think ‘out of the box‘ within this box.

If we consider it in terms of innovations that come (exclusively) from people’s creativity and thinking – we expect from our organization and people to generate ideas, to think of new business models and add on a value for services and products. So we say – please do it – and by the way, here are your borders…

Recent research indicates some interesting results. In some animal species like apes, there is a hierarchy starting from the alpha male having the biggest power in the community. Results show that this power is connected to the two hormones: testosterone and cortisol. While the former is responsible for reduced fear, willingness to compete and take risks, the last is connected to the level of stress. Alpha males were having high testosterone and low cortisol level, while other males that were lower in the hierarchy were showing a higher level of cortisol and reduced testosterone.

If we assume, as researchers suggest, that those results are equivalent to the humans’, we may bluntly conclude that dis-empowered employees do have a higher cortisol level, thus exposed to the unnecessary level of stress.

Sending them to courses like “how to handle stress” or similar is then a short term measure and a fairly wasted investment if we don’t remove the real cause of their hormone dis-balance.
Who would imagine that leaders are actually biochemists!

You may also want to take a look at the following posts:

Empirical People Control
Are You Trying to Tell Me I Should Serve


THE Guiding Principle

THE Guiding Principle

What if someone, like a golden fish you just caught, tells you: “From now on, each of your decisions will be the right one”. Isn’t that something that we never think of as one of the 3 wishes!?

Sounds foolish I know…please read on!

THEGuidingPrincipleDan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick talk about six principles for sticky ideas. They call it SUCCESs – Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories. A couple of nice examples they try to pull out. The first is about the simplicity in the Southwest Airlines, a low-fare company. The Southwest Airlines comparing to their competitors is the profitable for the last 30 years. The philosophy that is foundation for their decisions is based on a single sentence: “We are THE low-fare company”. All initiatives to provide more services to the passengers needed to pass the test against their philosophy. Serving the Cesar salad instead of a portion of peanuts didn’t pass the test. Another example comes from journalism. When journalist writes a story then the most important sentence must come first. It is called a lead. All information that follow after the lead are presented in the decreasing order of priority/importance. It suits readers’ reading preferences and maximizes the valuable information. It is a good practice that is de facto a standard in the industry.

Both of the examples are guiding principles.

What is the guiding principle in the industry of SW creation? How do we consistently make decisions? How do we consistently behave? How do we make such a culture? These questions were brought on the table (or better to say on the whiteboard) by our agile coach a while ago. He wrote it:

“[Tweet “Our Guiding Principle is to always decide for a benefit and improvement of our people”]”.

So if we say, and we usually do, that people are our best assets, we should treat our best assets as priority. Is this possible?

We nowadays work in the environment of things; numbers, charts, reports, processes, rules, profit… Do we really listen and meet the needs of the folks? It sounds naive, perhaps stupid for some, but not for Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies – one of the fastest growing information technology services company. He explained it nicely in his book Employees First, Customer Second.

Also, not stupid at all for Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei on Twitter) that calls this principle the antimatter principle. On his blog he writes the simple slogan: “Attend to folks’ needs!

It complements a lot something we call the servantship! Please check it on my blog post Are You Trying to Tell Me I Should Serve?