Skip to main content

Scrum in Japan Part 2 - Culture, Mindset Shifts and More!

September 14, 2023

In this episode of the Community Podcast, host Dave West continues his conversation with PST Gregory Fontaine about agile adoption in Japan. They dig into the challenges of agile adoption, the value of discipline in agile and Scrum, culture and more!




Dave West  0:20  
Hello, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave ware CEO Today's podcast is actually the second part of a podcast about Scrum in Japan, I was talking to Gregory Fontaine appears to be based in Tokyo. And the conversation was so interesting, we decided to make up part two. So this is the part two. Now if you haven't listened to the first one, that's okay. It doesn't expect we're not going to be testing you on anything in the first one. But if you do have time, then just have a look at it. Because I think we'll have a listen to it, because I think you'll find it quite useful. So on the previous podcast, we talked about agility in Japan, and Gregory's journey to be a PST in that country. Today, we're going to focus a little bit more on culture, particularly on how culture influences how a jet Agile is practiced in your country. Now, hopefully, this is just broadly relevant not just to Japan, but also to other countries as well. You know, as I'm very lucky in my position, that I get to wander the world, talking to different organizations doing Agile, and it's really interesting seeing the influence of, of local cultures, and actually country cultures on how agile is practiced. Anyway, so without further ado, welcome to the second part of the podcast. Gregory,

Gregory Fontaine  1:51  
thank you for having me, Dave.

Dave West  1:54  
Wow, it's great. I'm learning a lot as we as we talk. So let's, let's start really a topic that we started to talk about in the previous podcast, which was around how do we move from a culture of analysis? Or certainly, you know, the perfection game that kind of, you know, sort of thought process into a, into a culture of delivery? We know that's crucial for agile and, and this is quite relevant in Japan.

Gregory Fontaine  2:28  
Yeah, I think I think for the most part, what I what I'm going to talk about is, is going to resonate with people outside Japan as well, but from what I've seen, what stands out as keys to making that transition, and that that change is the mindset adopting a product mindset. I think when when people try and and adopt new ways of working, and Scrum in particular on are marginally speaking, agile development, if there is, especially at the sponsorship level, if there is no understanding that the kind of problem that they are dealing with, is one that requires empiricism that requires trial and error, then everything is going to be very difficult. From there. Yeah. If you believe, do you believe that you can you can know exactly what your customer need? Do you believe that you can tell exactly what solution we satisfy them? Do you think you can fully design upfront the plan for implementing that solution? If you say yes to those questions, then why bother? And one big obstacle is that many, many people here are gonna say, yeah, yeah, yeah, we do. We we can do that. That's fine. Waterfall is going to just just work fine. And unless there is that switch, or that understanding, or that, understanding that Nope, this is not the kind of problem we are dealing with, and will we benefit from an empirical approach?

Dave West  4:06  
It's going to be difficult. It is interesting, Gregory, I, if anybody asked me those questions, of course, I would say no, I don't know what my customer is, you know, et cetera. But there's still a desire to learn, you know, to spend a little bit of time prepping to spend a little bit more time prepping to spend, well, let's, let's spend that extra two weeks. You know, I mean, it's only two weeks, we can do a design sprint, we can, we can do and then you finish that and you're like, Well, we haven't quite got that information we haven't got, you know, and you carry on. It's not that I would explicitly say I know and as many people I speak to, though, of course, we don't know what our customer wants, but we want to know a bit more before we actually ask them, you know, how do you break that cycle? How do you persuade them to To because I don't want to like an idiot, delivering something that the customer really doesn't want. I don't want to look like an idiot even having the conversation with the customer without me doing a lot of analysis. How do I how do you balance that? Gregory?

Gregory Fontaine  5:16  
Okay, okay. Okay. I think again, as I said, starting with the mindset, or the aligning on the type of problem that we are dealing with, at the start is very important. If you get your sponsors, especially the execs or senior management to say, yes, that's the kind of problem that we are not going to crack. Just in one attempt, then everything many things follow. And if you don't have that, like, why bother investing in a C ICD pipeline? Why bother having the testers or the UX designers and the programmers work together in a cross functional team or nothing's going to make sense to them, right. Other than that, I think I think there's a big misunderstanding around how we control do with risk in a jail in jail development in Scrum. Not everyone, but many people in Japan who have a shallow understanding of agile development, look at it at something that is risky and professional, maybe even that would incorrectly assume that delivering early and often leads to lower quality, for instance, and they don't see that delivering early and often is a great recipe for risk control. I often use the analogy of the chitin sushi restaurant, in my Japanese classes. Do you know what it is? Dave?

Dave West  6:39  
No, no, tell me what one of those is.

Gregory Fontaine  6:41  
Okay, maybe I can take you to one in a few months.

Dave West  6:45  
Excellent. That sounds great food and learning that would be a great combination. That sounds awesome.

Gregory Fontaine  6:51  
Let's do that. And so at the Kaiten sushi restaurant, instead of ordering a whole set course. You choose one or two, sushi is just one or two pieces, items. Yeah. You eat, and then you reconsider? Am I full? Yes. No. Was it good? Yes. Now, what else do they have? What else do I want to try, etc. And you repeat until you're satisfied. And there is no waste the truth by doing that. There is no wasted money on the part of the consumer, obviously. And if the consumer ordered something that you don't like, well, the impact is minimized. Because every plate is just one or two pieces. Yeah. Yeah. And so the Katyn sushi restaurant analogy, that is a great example or analogy of how small batches help reduce waste control risk. And an increased customer satisfaction, let's say. And so because there is this big misunderstanding, I think that that's one situation where clearly to a teaching stance teaching or guiding your your client through a better understanding of the kind of problem they're dealing with, and and how a child development might help is it's powerful. Teaching is not the solution to everything. But But I think there's, there's a deficit of understanding around around this this area. So

Dave West  8:22  
if I was, if you were telling me that about this kind of restaurant, I would say Well hang on a minute. That's can't be very efficient. Because that means the waiter or waitress has to come multiple times. And hang on a minute, doesn't that mean that we have to, you know, you see that. And that is true of how people perceive this small batch size challenge. So what do you say when they say we haven't got enough waiters for that?

Gregory Fontaine  8:53  
They have a C ICD pipeline.

Dave West  8:56  
So they use automation. Exactly, yes.

Gregory Fontaine  8:59  
Ah, that's so smart plays on, on on, on on the trail and, and just the thing comes to the table automatically. So there you go. The analogy works even on that front.

Dave West  9:14  
Oh, my gosh, so then, that that that is awesome. But the other thing that's interesting about how you frame this and see if I get this right, and we'll we'll discuss this for a second that my hopefully, is that ultimately, you asked some questions. Am I foul? Did I enjoy it? Was you know, do I you know, do I need a drink now? Now I'm sort of adding questions, but you've got that classic sort of like incremental eating model. And that's true, really, of when we look at a problem. We're you know, we've got this product goal, and we want to ask questions of it. And they are are the best Sprint's that are focused on answering those questions when a sprint goal relates to a series of questions that we need to uncover, then at that, that's awesome. And I think that that kind of those questions need to be brought front and center. So you say, Well, no, yeah, we do know the customer. And we're awesome. But there's a couple of things we don't quite know, maybe let's look at that for a minute. Which is, is that really what you were sort of saying is that does that make sense? Gregory?

Gregory Fontaine  10:32  
Yeah, that's exactly what's happening. You can order whatever you want, just a little bit, and reconsider later, which is, I think what's happening? When you're doing Scrum, you go after a one spring goal. you inspect you adapt. And you see from there, so yeah, the analogy works quite well.

Dave West  10:56  
It does. The other thing that it does, particularly for leaders is you don't have to spend you can stop spending money. I know at a restaurant I don't know about you, Gregory but I've I live in America. So we big portions, right. And we like when you go into the restaurant, like Yeah, I want an appetizer, I want to main course let's let's think about does, there's five dessert, let's do it. And the appetizers are so big that I don't, I don't I don't really need the main course. But because we've ordered it. And you know, we're gonna spend the money, I managed to eat it. And then I also eat the dessert. And then I come out of the restaurant feeling not the best. And that's true of this as well, that analogy. This, I'm going to be using this analogy from now on, I think it's awesome.

Gregory Fontaine  11:42  
And I'm gonna take you to Okay, 10 sushi restaurant.

Dave West  11:46  
I'm gonna hold you to that. So one of the things about the restaurant as you were describing to me, Gregory was, its it seemed it must be quite disciplined, right, you've got this automated way of food coming out, you probably got a kitchen that that makes sure that all of the right different bits of sushi, which i By the way, love so that I'm very excited about the visit, the different pieces of sushi are being delivered. And and also somebody watching, you know, maybe there's a there's a big hit on Neogi, or one of the you know, as a particular role that's become massively popular. So they're keeping an eye on it. It's a very disciplined, very structured very data driven very, is is that is that the case? I mean, Japan strikes me as a very discipline place. So one of the stems must be around discipline, then in an agile situation is, is there anything that you've seen around discipline and the value of discipline?

Gregory Fontaine  12:46  
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, things that come to mind is, and I think people who come to Japan realize that, after just a few days of being around these things are just functioned really well, really effectively. Trains are on time. When Flights resumed after, when the pandemic settled down. I think it was chaotic in many airports. Around the world, I heard, but but that did all not happen to the same extent at all. In Japan. I took a health check my annual health health check the other day. And there were dozens, if not hundreds of people are in the same batch. As I was, and everything was so efficient and smooth, and my experience as a patient also wasn't bad at all. I mean, to health check, you know, but so the efficiency also in the healthcare system is is quite impressive. So yeah, discipline, definitely. Somewhat related to that. And that's

Dave West  13:57  
crucial, right? I mean, to effectively managing these batch sizes, smaller and doing thing you need to increase your discipline.

Gregory Fontaine  14:07  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I know that this is not like, exactly. This is definitely not the only thing you need to do have agility and effective autonomous cross functional teams, but it does help. It does help because and maybe that relates to commitment as well which is an important which is a scrum value, right? That as you know, in a scrum team, you want to have the right degree of healthy pressure coming from within pressure to commit to each other pressure to be professional pressure to be yum brush up to deliver and you don't want that pressure to be coming from the outside right. teams that are able to To get that pressure from within, they're less likely to suffer from collective underperformance, let's say, and it is also less likely, I think that several months later, or years later, some new management comes in. And they say this team is broken. So let's go back to old ways of working. Now I'm in control. So, yeah, in the teams in many teams that I worked with, over the last six years that I've been here, where a giant had a foot in the door, let's say, of the team or foot in the door of the organization. And again, the prerequisite would be sponsorship, support agreement. Yeah. When that happens, teams, teams, those two giant teams can really be really be effective. And agility can really shine in, in, in Japanese teams. That's that's my experience.

Dave West  15:53  
And to some extent, that is because of some of this underlying cultural right elements of Japan. But you know, the sort of the maniacal focus on the customer, for instance, you know, the the well organized the discipline, we just talked about the is that the case?

Gregory Fontaine  16:12  
Yeah, yeah. So if I compare it to France, and not not because I want to do some French bashing, but just that happens that the French people are the people like arguably understand best. In France, if you go some agency or government, office, whatever that'd be. But you call the wrong number. And you and the wrong person ends up answering your phone call, and you start complaining or asking some question to the wrong person. They are not going to treat you very nicely. Yeah. What was that guy? Why is this guy calling me they're gonna, they're gonna make you feel lame. Like you're an idiot, for giving that for calling the wrong number, or wasting their time. Yeah, that's not going to happen to you in Japan. Even if you call the wrong person, the wrong service, they're not going to try to make you feel like an idiot, they're going to try and help you the best of the occupied capacity. So I think that comes from a mix of conscientiousness, respect for the customer, commitment, sense of responsibility, and so on. So yeah, I fully agree.

Dave West  17:27  
It's interesting, you bring that up, I was in before the pandemic, I was in Brazil. And one thing that I noticed, San Paulo was the the teams that, you know, Brazil has a very family very, you know, sort of like to me, I don't know if you've seen their soccer teams, but they're very passionate and very supportive of each other. And it was really clear that psychological safety and trust was something that was easier there than in other cultures where there's more competition, it's all about striving to, they liked to work as a team. And, and I think that it is interesting that agile when you lean in to the cultural strengths of a society, and accept to be and be mindful of some of the challenges in that society talked about risk earlier, for instance, you can really do fantastic things, bringing in agile in those those situations.

Gregory Fontaine  18:29  
Brazil would be an interesting culture to compare Japan with, I don't know what kind of Yeah, differences they are, but listening to your story. I feel like it's harder to get that psychological safety here in Japan, because a lot is not being said. And so and so I think people will think more about why, what happens if I say this, or what are people thinking of me right now? It's, yeah, we we know that some things are not being said. So makes people think twice. Yeah. So not that easy to implement a psychologically safe culture here in Japan. And

Dave West  19:13  
that is interesting. And it is easier. And it's also in the Netherlands, which is the most agile place in the world. You get coffee in the Netherlands, and it's usually served by a scrum master. The, the, because of culturally the Netherlands has this directness which can be a little off putting at times but is incredibly refreshing when you're doing an agile so they have a different kind of culture that is created psychological safety there. And of course, these are all we're talking generalizations and everybody's slightly different and the world is very complex and different. But in general, there is something there that is really interesting. So I guess as we come to the to the end of this podcast. And really, I think, being aware and being mindful of culture, and the dynamics of that culture, when you're working often with teams that are made up of people from many different cultures. Now, we, you know, the reality is when you're building products and multinational organizations, you know, you never know those cultures. But being mindful of that, I think it's super, super important. But just focusing back on Japan at the moment. You know, the, we talked about the adoption of agility isn't perhaps as widespread as we would like, it's sort of in the earlier Doctor type thing. We also in the previous podcast talked about how much innovation obviously, well, you know, we're all very much aware of Nintendo and Toyota and all these sorts of organizations. So that that's interesting as well. We also talked about some of the cultural elements that make agile work really well, like maniacal focus on the customer, the discipline, the, you know, etc. So what do you think's next for Japan? I mean, in terms of agile adoption, what would be your sort of parting words around? People that listen to this podcast? Maybe they're working with teams that have Japanese people in from Japan, sorry? Or maybe they're working in Japan? Or maybe they're working with suppliers from Japan to what would be your parting words around this?

Gregory Fontaine  21:37  
Okay, thank you for a great question. I think we, I encourage people not to be frustrated with their Japanese colleagues, that's something I hear from people who come from outside Japan, is that very rapidly, they become frustrated, they are quick to judge how things are being done in Japan, and I think that's unhelpful, unhealthy. And, and they fail to appreciate that there's a lot to be learned also from how things are done in Japan. So yeah, that's my first message to anyone who's coming to Japan and trying to be helpful. The other thing is, I think we need more leaders, if you happen to be one of those early adopters, if you're doing something that is working. And you're thinking some others might benefit from it. Think through what you can do for for the rest of the community. And because you're an early adopter right now, so if you want to help Japan, continue growing as a country. I think if there's a lot you can do, by sharing the know how that you've gained by being an early adopter of agile development, or Scrum or whatever. And so I anchorites also people to do that become leaders.

Dave West  23:11  
Great messages, Gregory. The UN actually not just unique to Japan, I think we need great leaders throughout the world. And I think there's also a propensity to always look for the negative whenever you go into any new situation or environment and compare it to maybe a view of the world that isn't necessarily always so accurate of the world that you're comparing it to. And this can't work here, and all these idiots and I think that ultimately, by being curious, and being humble, I think a lot of great things can can happen. And also carrying a level of of enthusiasm. Let's not forget that because, you know, if you do these things, amazing stuff happens, we know that we've been on those projects on those products. And we have seen the power of this way of working, change the world and or at least change a little bit of world we're dealing with so really exciting opportunities. Gregory, thank you for spending the time today. I understand it's, it's late, where you are early where I am, and I really do always learn something and I'm very excited to come to Japan in November and have a few go to one of these restaurants and have a few pieces of sushi though. Unfortunately, my metric system My my, my my metrics that I use to determine whether I'm full aren't necessarily well tuned. So you're gonna have to help slow me down a little bit in terms of yes, they're lagging indicators would be a good way to describe them. But yeah, but I mean Excited to see this continuous delivery process and pipeline in operation in a sushi restaurant. That's going to be going to be great.

Gregory Fontaine  25:10  
Thank you, Dave, for your great questions for your curiosity and your enthusiasm. We need it. Thank you so much.

Dave West  25:17  
Thank you, Gregory. So, thanks, everybody for listening. This is Dave Wester, the host of the community Podcast. Today I listened, asked some questions of Gregory funtainer PST based in Tokyo, Japan, and we really leaned into the culture and the differences of, of how culture influences agile adoption. Maybe some of these ideas resonated. This is part two of a podcast. So if you've not listened to part one, take your time. Download it maybe or other podcasts in the series. There's a whole collection of some really interesting things worth listening to. So thanks for listening, and Scrum on everybody.

What did you think about this content?