Latest Blogs by KurtSee all blogs
Some years ago, I was working with a team developing a new product at a technology company. The team was concerned that their Time to Market (T2M) was too slow, and they believed that they would be able to improve it by automating their build-and-test process. Automating any manual process is usually a good investment to improve T2M, but I suggested that we should first look at their overall T2M using a very simplified value stream map to understand where they were spending their time.
Apr 6, 2022
Product roadmaps provide a way to understand where a product is headed, but the information provided on most of them doesn’t help to clear the clouds of confusion about whether the product is heading in the right direction
Feb 17, 2021
In the Evidence-Based Management framework, we measure opportunities in terms of a concept we call Unrealized Value, which can be thought of as the benefit that would be realized if we could satisfy all of the currently unsatisfied outcomes of our customers.
Jan 12, 2021
The most recent evolution of the Evidence-Based Management Guide (EBM) introduced three kinds of goals...
Jan 4, 2021
For organizations in the midst of an agile transformation, the question “how do we know if/when we’re agile?” is pressing.
Dec 14, 2020
OKRs are a powerful tool for setting and measuring goals, but like all power tools, they can become dangerous in unskilled hands. When used in informed ways, they can improve focus and lift outcomes, but when mishandled, they can increase waste and inflict real damage upon the organizations that adopt them.
Nov 24, 2020
Nearly every conversation I have with people who are trying to bring agility to their organizations eventually comes around to the challenge of changing the culture of the organization. They often feel alone and frustrated in their efforts, successful working with their own teams, but surrounded by people who are sympathetic but feel, similarly, powerless. I've recently been speaking with Beth Davis, an agilist and HR professional, about how HR can be enlisted as an enthusiastic ally in this process. She shares her observations, both timely and timeless, in a blog: https://medium.com/@beth_davis/scrum-masters-your-relationship-with-hr-is-the-workplace-bridge-to-build-8f18dd32d3c1.
Dec 2, 2019
A college roommate of mine retired this week, after a long and successful career. While he's figuring out the next chapter of his life, it caused me to think about whether the notion of a "career" is even relevant in today's world.
Apr 3, 2019
I’ve had this ongoing discussion with a few of my colleagues who says that the term “agile leader” is an oxymoron - that the ideal organization is a bunch of Scrum Teams and not much else. Even in an ideal world, I disagree, and here’s why in a nutshell: I’ve never seen, and have not even heard of, an organization that was successful in their pursuit of agility who did not have a strong leader guiding the vision for what the organization can become, motivating people to achieve that vision, nurturing the pursuit of that vision, and protecting, when necessary, the people who want that vision from the people who don’t. The reason for this is simple, and is as old as civilization. As Nicolo Machiavelli observed, “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this lukewarmness arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually have experience of it.“ As intellectually compelling and self-evident we would like the advantages of agile to be, the truth is that there are people who benefit from the old system, and they didn’t get to where they are because they are not astute and influential. They are not simply going to resign their current advantages because someone proposes a superior system; you have to expect that they are going to fight to maintain the status quo. What Agile Leaders Do? Agile Leaders focus on three things: (1) they create and nurture a culture in which experimentation and learning are embraced; (2) they collaborate with employees (at all levels in the organization) to find common values to create a greater goal for the company and the teams; and (3) they create an organizational structure that reinforces and rewards the other two dimensions. Goals Providing guiding vision for shared goal setting is, in my opinion, the most important focus area, and the one that survives even after the organization and culture are largely self-managing and self-sustaining. The goals they inspire others to contribute to and make their own are strategic, and are generally customer or market focused. By strategic, I mean bold and audacious; both aspirational and inspirational. To providing contrasting comparison, think about the motivational difference between the goal of landing on the moon and returning, by the end of the decade with a more prosaic goal of improving profitability by 25%; no one is going to tell their grandchildren that they helped improve investor returns. These motivational goals that leaders help us to identify have some common characteristics: the are motivating and inspiring, but they also are uncertain; they force us to stretch, to do things we have never done before. That’s why agility is so important; if we knew how to reach those goals, we should just develop a plan and march to it. Leaders help their employees to persist in the pursuit of their shared goals and values when times get rough and old behaviors want to take over. Organization The basic agile team structure is very simple; if we use Scrum as an example, there are only three roles: the Product Owner, the Development Team, and the Scrum Master. But not everything an organization does is done by an agile team; agility is needed whenever we are dealing with complexity, but not everything is complex. If you were running a company that makes paint, research and development would need agility, but the paint factory itself might be better suited to using lean processes; unless you’re doing a lot of small-batch custom manufacturing, a predictive continuous flow process is probably better than planning production as a series of Sprints. The point is that, unless you are a small software start-up, there will always be things outside the scope of what agile teams do, even if they are only as mundane as payroll, accounting, tax compliance, legal, and investor relations. The role of management is to design, monitor, and correct this system to make sure that the organization achieves its goals. Even product development companies need to do more than simply developing the product. Where agile leadership comes into play in the management context is that they need to make sure that the different parts of the organization, with different operating models, don’t destroy each other. Put more positively, agile leaders need to help the organization optimize for flexibility and continuous improvement, making sure that improving customer outcomes always comes first, and that the other parts of the organization support this mission. But the other things need to get done, too. Agile leaders also help teams progress in their maturity. Agility is not binary, and there are predictable stages that teams go through as they improve their ability to learn and improve. Leaders create a supportive environment in which teams can progress, they provide coaches and exposure to peers who can help the teams learn, and they commit themselves to improving their own abilities in parallel. My college Ron Eringa has written a handful of excellent blog posts about this topic. Culture The most important thing agile leaders do is to foster a culture that supports empiricism and learning, and that is constantly seeking better customer outcomes and better ways of achieving those outcomes. The challenge for leaders is that they can’t dictate the culture; they can only create the right conditions for it to emerge. Some of my colleagues like to use a “gardener” metaphor: if you’ve ever had a garden, you know that you can’t make anything grow. You can create the right conditions with the right amount of water (but not too much), and enough sun (but not too much). You can remove other plants that might compete with the ones you want to grow, and you can protect the plants from predation. You can’t control all factors, however, and an organization’s culture emerges only partly as an expressions of its leaders aspirations; most of it comes from the people in the organization, how they treat each other and work together. Culture is the non-copyable je ne sais quoi that makes your organization unique. But while leaders can’t control and dictate this culture, they can encourage it and cause it to flourish by the examples they set and the behaviors that they model. Agile Leaders are the key to scaling agility Agile leaders play an important, even essential, role in scaling agility in an organization. While agile teams can fly under the radar so long as their scope remains small, the larger the scope and scale of agility, the more agile teams need supportive leaders to help them to frame the right goals, to make the organization work in support of agility and not against it, and to evolve the culture to embrace and reward learning, rather than merely tolerating it. What organizations who are struggling to scale their agility are most often missing is strong, supportive agile leadership that helps them to build strong, cohesive agile teams. Agile leadership and high-performing teams work in a kind of feedback loop: weakness in one weakens all, while strong leadership reinforces and strengthens strong teams, and vice versa.
Nov 5, 2018
It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, and yet we engage in an unconscious fiction of predictability every day. We work in an uncertain world, and our main goal in pursuing agility is to confront the unknown, and in doing so, to master it.
Aug 24, 2018