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As mentioned in the previous flow post, flow is the secret sauce for delivering maximum value to users in the shortest possible time.  

By optimizing flow, you’ll be able to take control of your workflow and more quickly (and continuously) adapt your product strategy and development processes, which is critical for any organization wanting to become more product-led. The right solutions will be identified and delivered faster because feedback loops will become shorter

At the end of this article, I will share 9 ways to optimize flow to become more product-led that came out of a great conversation with fellow Dandy Johan Wildros, an expert in using Lean Agile principles to optimize flow. We worked together at If insurance on an Agile transformation of one of their core systems. You’ll also find helpful tips for getting started and things to watch out for. Feel free to jump to the tips at the end if you’re eager to see the 9 ways.

Product-Led Organizations

In a Product-Led organization, delivering products that solve real customer problems is the top priority. Such organizations recognize that business, product, and technology must work in harmony in order to build products customers love AND are equally valuable for the business. They optimize for their business outcomes, align their product strategy to these goals, and prioritize working on that will help develop those products into sustainable drivers of growth. 

Making that happen requires that a number of critical organizational and team-level capabilities are in place, all of which rely on optimized flow:

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As we explored in our previous post, people driving innovation and creativity think and work differently. Research has shown that within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries, there’s a higher than chance representation of autistic people and people with elevated autistic traits, or what Cambridge researchers call “systems thinking minds”.

Orienting themselves to concrete facts instead of context, they analyze information from the physical senses using objective logic and prefer evidenced-based approaches. Such individuals can be easily misinterpreted as “arrogant”, “aloof”, or “not a team player”, which often runs counter to the common notions of what makes a good employee… and can set them up to fail.

These differences need to be destigmatized and normalized because neurodiversity is the new normal

Below are actionable strategies that you can take to help to unleash the brainpower of your neurodiverse talent and overcome the misinterpretations, assumptions, and differences that often sabotage their careers. They’ll help you to ensure high performance with a big heart.

You’ll find the strategies organized according to the three implicit expectations I shared in my past post along with real-life examples: the Mind Reading expectation, the Focus Fallacy, and Seeing the Forest for the Trees. The strategies shared were written in partnership with someone who is on the spectrum so are expressed from that perspective.

#1:- MIND READING EXPECTATION: This is the expectation that neurodiverse thinkers can intuit how you think and feel based on context and body language, and then decipher your preferred response without any direct communication. This is not the case. We are wired to focus deeply on one thing at a time and can, therefore, easily miss non-verbal or contextual cues. As a result, we can appear to be aloof, arrogant, uncaring or dismissive because we’re not picking up on the hint. Our intent is 100% positive. We just can’t read minds.

We need teams with norms in place that positively reinforce candid and direct communication, which may feel uncomfortable sometimes:

  • Assume positive intent and stay curious about how we might have perceived the situation
  • Directly tell how you’re feeling and thinking, and what you need from us 
  • Choose words that are candid, respectful, and concrete

EXAMPLE: A Neurodiversity pilot program in Chicago in 2015 was to formally launch in the second week of January, after Christmas break. The day before the launch, heavy snow hit the area and was rapidly accumulating. The program head sent a short email letting his new team know to work from home if temperatures went below 0. To his surprise, he received a barrage of anxious emails from each of his team members asking questions like, “what if it’s 1 degree above or below zero? Should we still stay home?”, “According to which weather app? They tend to be plus or minus a few degrees off from each other so I want to be sure.”, etc.  The manager quickly sent out a message adding more concreteness and specificity around his expectations. 

#2: FOCUS EXPECTATION: This is the expectation that neurodiverse thinkers can simply “tune out” all the background noise and produce amazing work in any context or environment, that focus is always a matter of choice or willpower. It’s also the expectation that neurodiverse thinkers can jump into a creative pursuit with others and flow as a team. This is not the case!  

We have brains that are hardwired to be extra sensitive to everything going on inside and outside of us. In other words, we are distractible by design and don’t always know how to flow well with others.. We need environments and team norms that minimize distractions and make it easy to focus, work well together, and stay engaged.

  • Provide us time and space for deep, uninterrupted focused work
  • Make explicit where collaboration is needed in the work when it’s not obvious to us
  • Agree, as a team, on what collaboration looks like (for us, on our context) in terms of specific expectations
  • Agree, as a team, on working agreements and expectations around collaboration and revisit them regularly during retrospectives

EXAMPLE:  During an Agile transformation at a bank in 2018, a Senior Developer in one of the new Scrum Teams was known for his brilliance but also his disdain at being interrupted by his team. Whenever anyone came to his desk with a question while he was coding, he’d snap at them and ask to be left alone so he could focus on his work. The Scrum Master recognized the detrimental impact of the Senior Developer’s behavior on the team, while at the same time, she saw that he was legitimately struggling to come in-and-out of such deep focus to address ad hoc needs. It was clear, to that Scrum Master, that this Senior Developer struggled with Neurodiverse attributes even though he was not formally diagnosed. During the next retrospective, the Scrum Master invited the team to create working agreements around how they could all help this Senior Developer stay in his flow-zone while also leveraging his insights and help. As a team, they created the agreement that the Senior Developer would have “office hours” at 10am and 2pm for any questions. And during the times between, there’d be a cue of sticky notes of questions the Senior Developer can address during his office hours. The plan worked beautifully. The Senior Developer got to have planned focus hours and then prepare himself mentally for interruptions, and the team got to use him as a valuable resource. Moreover, the team started answering their own issues on the stickies, which created even less reliance on the Senior Developer and positioned him as a mentor the team could check-in with as they tried things on their own.

#3: SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES EXPECTATION: This is the expectation that neurodiverse thinkers can always zoom out with you to see the entire forest, i.e., the bigger picture. We can’t because we’re actually inside of the forest obsessing over the uniqueness of each tree and piece of foliage! Our processing style tends to be bottom-up, rather than top-down, which means we start in the details and work our ways towards the generalities. While this style affords us unique and innovative insights, it also invites many questions and misunderstandings that can come across wrong to management.

We need communication that is direct, concrete, and specific, along with timely feedback. We need you to make your needs and expectations concrete and specific, along with feedback loops in place so we can gauge whether or not we’re on track and self-adjust accordingly. This includes specificity around the outputs and outcomes you’re after along with your implicit expectations around generalized behaviors such as “respect” and “collaboration”. Our detailed brains see uniqueness in everything and sometimes struggle to generalize. What may be obvious for you could be an entire spectrum of possibilities for us. Similar to the “Mind Reading Expectation”, this involves making the implicit more explicit so we can all stay aligned.

EXAMPLE: When introducing a team to the Scrum values, I invite them to take a few minutes to quietly write down what each value means to them and how it would look in terms of concrete behaviors. Each team member is then asked to share his or her responses while I take notes on a flip chart. Together, the team aligns on a shared version of each of the values that includes what the value is, what it means for them (i.e., why it matters), and what it looks like on their team in terms of actionable behaviors. They also align on “team agreements” around what collaboration looks like for them, as well as how they want to give and receive feedback from each other when a team agreement is perceived to be violated. The resulting working agreements are then revisited regularly during retrospectives and evolved as the team grows and matures together. I’ve found that making the implicit more explicit like this helps to minimize the chances of misunderstandings happening that could keep teams in the “storming” stage longer than necessary. Too often, I’ve seen team members assume negative intent towards those maverick members who seem “defiant” or “not team players” when really, in reality, the team agreements are simply not specific enough for everyone to be truly aligned.

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Welcome to a 4-Part series on FLOW!
This post is an introduction along with key reflections.

What is Flow

“Flow” refers to the flow of customer value through an organization, from customer request to value delivery. It’s the work flowing through the Product Development process through market release and beyond.  

Why Flow Matters

Flow is the secret sauce for delivering maximum value to users in the shortest possible time.  By optimizing flow, you’ll be able to take control of your workflow and more quickly (and continuously) adapt your product strategy and development processes. The right solutions and Ways-of-Working will be identified faster because feedback loops will become shorter. 

Focusing on flow sets you free to manage the system, not the people. Instead of managing people and optimizing for business and resource efficiency, you can focus on managing and optimizing flow. This is a powerful way to “Manage the System and not the People”. You will be free to co-create an organizational context where all aspects of the work can move together in a way that balances both flow and resources.

How Agile Leaders Optimize Flow

Agile leaders optimize flow through iterative and incremental organizational change. They use Lean Agile practices to put into place structures, processes, and ways-of-working that will ensure the flow is as smooth as possible without disrupting other organizational activities. Their goal is to reach the optimal flow efficiency and delivery of value with minimal waste. 

Agile leaders make it safe and economic to work in small batches. They move away from large batches of work delivered in projects and move towards small batches of work delivered continuously. The result is shorter lead times, higher quality, lower risk, and lower costs. 

Agile leaders build in slack time to ensure their team members have the capacity available all the time so there’s always a team member immediately available to start work. As a result, the quality naturally improves because team members will be focused on a single product or project. Their entire attention will be on the tasks that comprise the work, leaving a minimal chance for mistakes caused by frequent context switching. 

Agile leaders manage for throughput rather than capacity or utilization.  They implement Kanban principles by making all work visible, limit work in process, and aim to stop starting work and start finishing it as soon as possible. 

Traditional Organizations

Traditional organizations, on the other hand, do the opposite. They deliver large batches of work and optimize for business and resource efficiency, all of which causes waste. Resource efficiency refers to how much of the capacity of your teams that you’re putting to use. Traditional organizations work towards achieving maximum resource efficiency by keeping their teams busy 100% of the time, often working on more than one project. However, from experience, we know this doesn’t work. Computer processing units (CPUs) and traffic systems come to a standstill when overutilized, as do people! Overutilization and frequent context switching leads to longer lead times, diminished quality, inconsistent flow and unreliable delivery of value to customers, if at all.  

Moreover, the project paradigm of traditional organizations only serves to worsen these problems. A few examples of what I’ve seen in organizations are listed below:

  • Projects batch features together in ways that result in lower-value features being delivered along with a few high-value ones. 
  • Project success is often measured by completing the original plan on time and budget, which doesn’t reflect whether or not actual value was created for customers and for our organization. This drives several damaging behaviors, such as judging Product people only on their ability to create comprehensive requirements and Developers only on having code completed. 
  • Projects can take so long to complete that stakeholders try to cram as many features into the project as possible, given that it can be hard to get new features added once the project has completed. 
  • Project planning happens when the least information is known, which means more work is added as more information is obtained, leading to increased cost, effort. and complexity to production environments.

Starter Questions for Reflections

Optimizing flow starts with uncovering those strategic, and often small, windows of opportunity to put into place the structures, processes, and ways-of-working of Agile Leaders. 

Recognizing such windows of opportunity starts with reflection. 

Below is a list of reflection questions for Leaders, Managers, Team Leads, Scrum Masters or anyone in any development organization wanting to optimize flow and deliver even more value to customers.

The next post in this series will be a collection of actionable starter steps building on these reflections, created in collaboration with fellow Dandy Johan Wildros, that anyone can use to start moving the needle even more once those opportunities are spotted!

Flow-based reflection questions – Stay tuned for next-week’s Flow Starter Steps!

Where can we eliminate low-value work?
Is there a way we can remove impediments to help a team achieve a regular or shorter cycle time?
How much WIP can our teams handle?
Do our teams regularly address technical debt? if not, why not?
What is one handover that we could eliminate today OR incorporate the activity in our team?
What can we do to help our team’s throughput?
How often are we forced to switch tasks because of urgent needs that arise?
How long does it take before our code is tested?
How long does an item remain in our backlogs before it’s started?
Is the trend, or number of defects, going up or down?
Where, in the process, are the most defects introduced?
Are dependencies being managed, or better yet, broken?
How can our teams collect more feedback from customers?
How do we know if our features create value for our customers? What feedback loops are in place?
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We’ve all heard of Agile Leadership. But what about Agile Management? It turns out that they’re both distinct yet intimately related. Let’s explore this interesting and relevant topic!

Agile leadership is a transformative, development-oriented leadership style that creates the conditions required for unleashing knowledge, motivation, initiative, and collaboration across any organization.

Agile management is a natural part of Agile leadership that manages the system, not the people. “Manage the system, not the people” means creating an organizational context (structures and systems) that support both autonomy and alignment so teams can deliver value at a high pace and work together with other teams in order to optimize the business outcome of an entire organization.

Agile Leaders naturally manage the system by adjusting their style according to their context and choosing organizational structures that will support alignment and autonomy.

  • They recognized that teams operate in a larger context and that structures and systems within a given context (such as rewards and information flow and quality) can either promote great teamwork or create obstacles to excellent collaboration. 
  • They align organizational structures with business strategies and goals in ways that support well-functioning and high performing teams that are able to innovate, solve complex problems, and deliver at a high pace. 
  • They focus on empowering networks of teams and developing capabilities so the emphasis is no longer on the skills, characteristics, and traits of a single, all-powerful person with the designation of “leader” or “manager”. Both leadership and management has evolved to be collective endeavors that leads to the betterment of all involved and looks different depending on the context.

When Agile leaders have strong management skills, they become known for influential attributes such as:

  • Initiative
  • Mindful forethought
  • Situational awareness
  • Willingness to grant autonomy 
  • Willingness to grant responsibility 
  • Ability to demonstrate flexibility 
  • Ability to build trust

The Agile Management Flower

In Agile organizations, each leader is responsible for managing one domain, either people, product, technology, or process. This type of cross-functional Agile Leadership Team works together on moving the organization forward while working within each area supporting their people at operational and tactical as well as strategic level.  

The interplay between the people, product, technology, and process domains is where the functions of Agile leadership and Agile management coexist. Therefore, to enable Agility within an organization, it’s critical that management practices used within each domain support the Agile principles! 

An Example of Agile Management

An example of an Agile management practice is creating a common view of intent and direction. Practically speaking, this means delegating and clarifying what to do and why, with sufficient feedback loops, together with those who are actually doing the job.

Establishing strong alignment around “what and why” has a two-fold benefit: it decreases the need for top-down command and control, while simultaneously creating conditions for faster decision-making and autonomy. The result is increased speed in the decision-making throughout the organization.

There are some additional patterns and practices that can be used to create an organizational context that helps to manage the system towards high performance in an Agile way:

  • Clear Purpose – Purpose leads to focus, which increases the speed and value delivered by the teams by 100%.
  • Mandate – A clear mandate minimizes bureaucracy, which increases the speed & possible innovation of the team by 100%. 
  • Small and Stable Teams (Brooks Law) – Team size really matters. Teams of 5-7 people who are high performing are 100% faster.
  • T-Shaped – T-shape increases the speed of team deliveries by 100%
  • Employee Engagement – Being in a team gives a sense of belonging and context, which increases employee engagement by 100%.

Learning to manage the system may take some time in the beginning, but it’s worth it. In the end, speed and quality will increase since it allows for a higher level of autonomy, quicker learning, increased engagement, and a more rapid adjustment to reality. 

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Innovation is your top competitive advantage. What are you doing to support your innovative tech talent? It starts with recognizing that innovators and problem solvers are wired to think differently and work differently. 

Imagine you’re lost in a foreign city and don’t know the language or customs. And to make matters worse, you lost your cell phone. Disconcerting, right? This is what the workplace is like for technical and creative people who think differently. A lot of time and energy is spent being lost due to issues which affect everyone, especially the neurodiverse, instead of being productive and innovating.

For example, research has shown that there’s a higher than chance representation of autistic people and people with elevated autistic traits in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries. They’re wired to spot complex patterns and relationships, focus on details, and work independently. They also possess strong logic and analytical skills. Orienting themselves to concrete facts instead of context, they analyze information from the physical senses using objective logic and prefer evidenced-based approaches. 

Sometimes these tendencies and preferences lead to workplace challenges. Brains wired to be extra sensitive to external and internal stimuli will lead to those “quirky” behaviors that are often stereotypically associated with people who thrive in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM):

  • Missing social cues
  • Getting carried away with ideas
  • Getting lost in the weeds
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Making awkward small talk
  • Asking countless detailed questions

Such individuals can be easily misinterpreted as “arrogant”, “aloof”, or “not a team player”, which often runs counter to the common notions of what makes a good employee. Moreover, most current work environments are structured as “one-size fits all”, often with positive intent, as though neurodiverse talent simply “turn off” these differences and fit into any work environment. This is, simply, not the case. Neurodiverse brains often have communication and collaboration styles based on logic instead of context and naturally process information “bottoms-up”, starting with the details, instead of “top down”. 

What I’ve seen as an unfortunate consequence of such misinterpretations, assumptions, and differences are three implicit expectations that often sabotage the career of our neurodiverse colleagues and friends:

  • “Mind reading” expectation: The expectation that they can accurately pick up on implicit expectations and unspoken norms, which is not the case. This comes from autism’s Theory of Mind (ToM) deficit.
  • “Focus” expectation: The expectation that they can create and innovate in any environment, which is not the case. This comes from autism’s and ADHD’s Executive Functioning (EF) deficit.
  • “Seeing the forest for the trees” expectation: The expectation that they can “turn off” their brain’s detailed processing style and zoom out to see the forest while ignoring the details of each tree, which is not the case. This is known anecdotally as “bottom-up” processing, and comes from autism’s Weak Central Coherence (WCC) deficit. 

We’d, therefore, benefit from rethinking our HR practices if we want to attract, engage, and retain our creative and innovative talent. The people driving innovation and creativity think and work differently, and these differences need to be destigmatized and normalized because neurodiversity is the new normal

A great place to start is with an increased awareness of their unique strengths, needs, and processing styles, which this blog post attempted to address. The next blog post on this topic will focus on some actionable strategies for leaders, colleagues, Scrum Masters, and Agile Coaches who want to overcome the three implicit expectations and create a culture where neurodiverse talent can thrive and shine.

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Agile HR is an approach to HR that prioritizes speed, responsiveness, flexibility, and collaboration. As discussed in depth in our free Agile HR Dandy People poster, Agile HR has two facets that are both critical for achieving Organizational Agility: 

  1. Agile for HR – Applying the Agile mindset and evidence-based tools within HR teams and projects
  2. HR for Agile – Evolving people practices to support Agile teams and organizational transformation

Agile for HR

Changes in our environment, legislation, and technologies have outpaced HR’s ability to keep up in many organizations. As a result, HR often feels caught in the weeds of compliance and administration. Many HR practitioners are recognizing the need for new methods and ways for delivering value to the organization are increasingly turning to more Agile ways of working. The result is an HR team that co-creates directly with the internal and external customers to build a great place to work.

HR for Agile

Building an Agile organization requires that HR redesigns people practices in a way that’s congruent to Agile’s more networked, team-based, customer-focused operating model. Traditional HR often paces itself according to annual cycles where individual performance is optimized and rewarded irrespective of impact or outcome, and this needs to change. 

8 Relatable Examples

Below are bite-sized summaries of eight relatable examples of how different organizations went about using Agile ways of working to increase their HR Agility. As you’ll notice, some even blend “Agile for HR and HR for Agile” in clever ways that help increase the agility of the whole organization!

#1 – Using Agility to create a company manifesto

  • A company manifesto, that outlined desired values and behaviors, was co-created by employees and managers using iterative and incremental development that included hundreds of people, where HR played no role. 
  • Prototyping, testing, and validation were used throughout the process, where draft versions were released each sprint for the whole organization to give feedback on. 
  • The manifesto and values were approved after 6 iterations, after which the material, content, videos, storytelling on top of the values and manifesto were created.
  • Although the manifesto took many months, everyone felt they had a voice and played a role in its creation.

#2 – Using “Leadership as a Service” to enable Business Agility to thrive 

  • The traditional role of middle management, where line managers are assigned specific teams to “manage”, got replace by a team of managers offering management and leadership services. 
  • Teams that are stuck or need help can connect with these “Leadership as a service” teams and get the resources or coaching they need. 

#3 – Using Agility to redesign a performance management system

  • An HR team wanted to involve their employees in redesigning a performance management system.
  • Just like scientists who want to create a valuable solution (see the graphic below), they created a prototype and initiated several feedback sessions with managers and executives, after which the second version was created. 
  • The next step was an online demo with employees providing feedback on the most important design principles.
  • Feedback was implemented to create the third version, which became the pilot version and in two real-life units.
  • After the two units had tested the pilot version, the last version was created and adopted step-wise throughout the organization.

#4 – Using Scrum as a learning framework for a leadership development program

(…where the team decides on what they want to learn, sprints, priority, reviews, retrospectives) 

  • The training participants, all managers, created their own learning backlog themselves by asking each other, “what do we need to learn? Why is it important? When can we say we have learnt this?”
  • They prioritized their list of learning content.
  • Each month was a theme that they had decided or prioritized.
  • External trainers came in and trained on the theme.
  • Reviews and retrospectives were held that invited reflection upon what was learned, how it was applied, how can members learn better in the group, which ultimately resulted in evolving learning methods. 
  • Re-prioritization happened throughout the sprint, especially in situations like sudden layoffs, where “Layoffs and employee negotiations” were prioritized new theme. 
  • The result was that managers experienced increased ownership in a learning journey that they prioritized according to their definition of value, where learning was broken into smaller live and virtual events in a self-directed way.

#5 – Using Agile development for an HR/IS project instead of using the waterfall method:

  • Managers and employees were invited to co-create the HR processes together before the system project is even started.
  • Incremental releases of the system were agreed upon, where only parts of the system were released to parts of the organization.
  • The result was a more reliable, less risky implementation with quick adoption because managers and employees helped identify and define the practice to be useful for them.

#6 – Using Scrum as an operating model for HR development work 

  • A small HR team of 5 people agreed to use modified Scrum to develop HR practices. 
  • Three afternoons each week were booked for syncing efforts and team collaboration.
  • The development portfolio was prioritized, where they worked on one or two projects at a time, released them, and then move to the next projects.
  • Bringing value to the users was their shared focus, along with getting things to “done” and collecting feedback and validation before implementing and moving on to develop the next thing. 

#7 Using iterative and incremental development for culture change

  • The implementation of a culture change initiative was co-created by employees and managers and prioritized according to value and effort in partnership with business leaders, as opposed to an executive sponsoring the cascading of a one-size-fits-all culture program throughout the organization 
  • The first unit chosen was according to the biggest impact on revenue and customer NPS
  • Learning from the first implementation was used for planning the “next release” 
  • Managers and employees became active change-agents and catalysts 

#8 – Using DevOps to inspire changes to the recruitment pipeline

  • A Talent Acquisition team wanted to reimagine recruitment as a talent pipeline
  • Using lean principles to optimize the recruitment process and bringing in digital assessments as recruitment steps, the team cut off unsuitable candidates early and only receive CV’s and application letters from the most suitable candidates
  • The result is fewer applications and CVs that are more suitable for the job, which translates into less non-value-adding work by recruiters and less wasted time for applicants

When it comes to Agile HR, what have YOU tried? What has worked or hasn’t worked for your organization?

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“Imagine an organization that’s a fluid network of teams collaborating towards a common goal of delighting customers, where communication flows easily in all directions, and ideas can come from anywhere. What would that be like?”

The question above is an example of what’s known as a framing question. Such questions have many answers that helps to scope and clarify a problem just enough to move the conversation in a positive direction. Given that an organization’s ability to respond rapidly to market changes and emerging opportunities is determined through a series of day-to-day conversations, framing questions can serve as a valuable tool for Agile leaders wanting to achieve business agility.

Ed Morrison from Purdue University spent decades researching and implementing agility models in the social sector based on the transformational power of day-to-day conversations. He observed that every conversation is in response to some question, whether that question is asked explicitly or not, and choosing the right question makes an enormous difference to whether or not agility is achieved.

  • Problem centered questions bog groups down into analysis, where members become paralyzed by the mistaken belief that there is one problem to solve
  • Opportunity-centered questions emotionally engage people, where members see a complex problem to solve with many possibilities

The goal is to use questions to frame conversations so that the people are inspired to work together in new ways.

Questions that inspire and engage are called Framing Questions. Framing questions address potential opportunities and are surprising, rather than obsessing over known or hidden deficits. They frame what the collective wants more of rather than problems to overcome.

The framing questions force us to look at reality a little differently and are often used in Design Thinking and other Innovation models. As Ed Morrison points out, “a good framing question is complex enough that it will require the deeper thinking and engagement of each person in the conversation”.  The most powerful framing questions tap into the collective intelligence of the whole and thereby mobilize organizational brainpower to achieve lasting business agility.  

Framing questions often start with phrases such as:

  • “How MIGHT we?”
  • “What if?”
  • “Imagine if… What would that be like?”
  • “What’s already making us successful, and how can we do more of it?”
  • “When have we seen…, and what might we learn and apply from these moments of success?”
  • “Why can’t we…?”

Some more examples of powerful framing questions that can add vitality to business agility efforts are as follows:

  • “Imagine an organization that’s a fluid network of teams collaborating towards a common goal of delighting customers, where communication flows easily in all directions, and ideas can come from anywhere. What would that be like?”
  • “Imagine an organization where all jobs directly support the mission and values of an organization and all employees understand how their day-to-day activities support the organizational culture. What would that be like?”
  • “Imagine a culture change program driven by employees and managers that focuses on influencing one unit first and uses the learning for the “next release”. What would that be like?”
  • “Imagine a team-based, self-organizing organization. What is the role of line managers/development managers in this new networked team structure?”
  • “Imagine a leadership development program where the participants get to decide and prioritize what they learn. What would that be like?”
  • “Imagine a manager’s handbook created using agile ways of working. What would that be like?”
  • “Imagine if HR only launched small scale initiatives that are piloted within specific teams, job families, or units where feedback is gathered early and often to determine whether the initiative should be expanded or scrapped. What could that be like?”

What are your experience with framing questions to frame conversations so that the people are inspired to work together in new ways? Share in the comments below!

And if you’re interested in reading more about Ed Morisson’s work, visit: https://strategicdoing.net/

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In this blog post, we present a case study using the model designed to leverage the processing strengths and mobilize the brainpower of today’s entire (organizational) collective, which we’re currently calling the Grow/Plow Coaching Model. We have previously published a post on the Grow/Plow model that you can find here if you havent read it.

The Grow/Plow Coaching Model

As you can see on the graphic below, GROW and PLOW naturally overlap at the O and W. PLOW supplements GROW so bottom-up thinking could be integrated into a single coaching model we’re calling the Grow/Plow Coaching Model:

The GROW/PLOW Coaching Model for leveraging top-down and bottom-up processing styles
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MAINSTREAM MODELS MAY NOT BE CUTTING IT

Mainstream coaching models don’t fully account for the unique processing styles that are prevalent in the systemic thinkers that organizations rely upon for creativity and innovation. As a result, we’re not tapping into and releasing the remarkable creative and innovative potential of today’s talent in roles involving creative knowledge work. Moreover, research suggests that many of these systemic thinkers often have attributes of ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, or other atypical ways of thinking. Given that everyone falls somewhere on the ADD, ADHD, and Asperger’s spectrum, we posit that unleashing creativity and innovation in today’s workplace requires a coaching model that accounts for multiple processing styles. We all think differently, and we need a coaching model that fits everyone.

In this blog post, we present a model designed to leverage the processing strengths and mobilize the brainpower of today’s entire (organizational) collective, which we’re currently calling the Grow/Plow Coaching Model.

POPULAR COACHING MODELS

All the mainstream coaching models we’ve come across are variants of the popular GROW model, which involves establishing a Goal, examining current Reality, exploring Options, and determining what Will happen next: 

The GROW Coaching Model

Such approaches presuppose that the coachee’s processing style prefers to start with concepts, such as goals or the big-picture aspirations often discussed while coaching, before diving into the details. This processing style is known as top-down processing and accounts for how most people think. Top-down thinking is driven by cognition where the brain applies what it knows from experience and what it expects to perceive and “fills in the blanks”. 

SYSTEMIC THINKERS THINK DIFFERENTLY

Systemic thinkers, on the other hand, often have neurobiological and cognitive attributes that result in a bottom-up processing style that prefers details before concepts. A bombardment of sensory information comes in and their brain takes in these details before moving into conceptualization. This processing style is often connected to what’s known as the Weak Central Coherence deficit. In our experience, such thinkers prefer using problem-solving approaches to coaching that welcome the sensory details underpinning the need for change early in the process where the desired future state can be emergent and shaped by data rather than presupposed at the onset. 

THE “PLOW” PROCESS

We took the basic steps involved in problem-solving to create an acronym we call PLOW. The PLOW process involves defining the Problem (i.e., state the problem as clearly as possible and be specific about the situation, behavior, circumstances, and timing that make it a problem); Learning as much as possible about the problem (which includes gathering data like facts, feelings, and opinions); exploring Options; and determining what Will happen next:

The PLOW Process, which can be thought of as a generalized 4-step problem solving model
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This is the thirteenth episode of the Agile Leadership & Management Series.

A core function of Agile leadership’s management work is to develop organizations into what is called learning organizations, a term coined by MIT’s Peter Senge, which are organizations that facilitate the learning of its members and continuously transform themselves. Such organizations possess the capability to survive and thrive in the midst of rapid change and high complexity. 

Learning organizations are one of the best ways to create a flexible organization that can handle VUCA in a good way. The idea for a learning organization is that people identify needs so that strategy emerges from the accumulated activities of peoples and teams. It emerges within the overall vision of the organization’s future so innovation and improvements add to the organization’s whole.

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This is the sixth post in the November Agile Leadership and Management Series.

Research has shown that new teams face significant struggles with coordinating their efforts, are more prone to making mistakes, and are less likely to catch and correct those mistakes in real-time. The reason is that almost none of the conditions required for team effectiveness are in place. 

Harvard researchers Ruth Wageman and J. Richard Hackman has used the conditions required for effective teaming to create a 10-minute teaming process that helps new teams get on a strong positive trajectory and overcome the liabilities that could sabotage their success. This process has been shown to radically decrease the number of mistakes made by the team, catch and fix errors in real-time, and create the psychological safety required for everyone to speak up and create a shared understanding of how to accomplish the team purpose.

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This is the fourth post in the November Agile Leadership and Management Series.

When forming Agile Leadership Teams we have found some mistakes to be common within many different organizations and through different types of businesses. Here they are compiled in a list to make it easy for you to study before you form your leadership team, and come back to on a regular basis.

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This is the third post in the November Agile Leadership and Management Series.

As an Agile Leadership Team, regardless of the four Leadership team hats you find yourself wearing, there are certain conditions that dramatically increase the chances that a group of leaders will develop into an effective team.

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Leadership today is a team sport. The emphasis is no longer on the skills, characteristics, and traits of a single, all-powerful person with the designation of “leader”. Leadership has evolved to be a collective endeavor that leads to the betterment of all involved and looks different depending on the context. 

The Dandy People team have put together an Agile Leadership Team poster. The poster introduces 7 powerful Agile Leadership Principles designed to help leaders create a focus on what will help increase the business outcome of the organization. If the members of an Agile Leadership team agree upon strives to move towards these principles, collaboration and exploration can be enabled and strengthened!

You can download the poster for free here and use it as you wish

As Leaders, We Always Strive to:

1. Keep a transparent strategy and facilitate a pull-based backlog for teams to self-organize around value – NOT pushing things to the teams, or micromanaging

2. Give a clear direction and share WHY we are doing things to enable new learnings to impact the WHAT – NOT deciding on a solution.

3. Managing structures around the teams so that they can make quick and smart decisions – NOT managing the people.

4. Acts as sponsors by asking “What do you need to succeed?” and actively remove impediments – NOT acting as a steering group and only following up results (or making decisions on the team’s behalf).

5. Empower the people and foster a culture of psychological safety to enable initiative, experimentation, and problem-solving together – NOT stepping in to solve every day, low-risk problems so teams can become increasingly mature.

6. Empower teams and individuals to build the capabilities needed to take responsibility for delivering value continuously – NOT taking the responsibility from them, and not only optimizing for short-term goals.

7. Lead with vision, practice what we preach, and actively encourage a spirit of joy and responsibility – NOT keeping old structures and practices in place that reinforce ineffective behaviors.


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The same rookie mistake I made on my transformation journey into marathoning is one that I see a lot of organizations make on their Agile journey: not taking the time to find the right shoes. Let me explain.

Me with some of the tools that set my foundation to become a marathoner.

“Doing” agile is not enough

I thought I had a solid start on my transformation from couch potato to marathoner by focusing first on the routines and habits of runners. I felt like I was a runner because I was DOING the things runners do, like running 5-days a week, eating healthier, and strength training. Many organizations fall into the same trap. They think they’re agile because they’re going through the same motions and copying best practices. But then my mother saw me running out in the neighborhood and pointed out something that changed everything. She gave me the same perspective that I’ve given clients looking to become agile, and it blew my mind. 

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My client is still happy. 

My goal is to coach myself through a transformation from couch potato to marathoner (well, a half-marathon). It’s been life-changing. 

Behavior science is the secret sauce

The barriers and obstacles I experience with “becoming a marathoner” are similar to those experienced by organizations wanting to “become agile”. The secret sauce lies in behavior science. Through this marathoning process, I’ve uncovered my own behavior-based twist of the Deming cycle and Lean Startup and am using them to inspire a Lean Performance Management model for teams and organizations. It’s always fun when personal and professional worlds collide!

The Behavior-Change Cycle

Below is the Behavior-Change Cycle I created for myself inspired by the Deming Cycle and how behavior scientists approach organizational change:

The Behavior Change Cycle I created for my transformation
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– And why on earth am I even doing this???

I just took on the most challenging client–MYSELF.

Inspired by friends who are marathoners, I decided to cultivate what I’m calling a Marathon Mindset. I’m coaching myself towards achieving increased flow in the presence of variability. My aspiration is to emerge from this COVID-19 crisis a better person. Through this process, which involves training for an actual marathon, I’m learning that my own barriers and obstacles to “become a marathoner” are similar to those experienced by organizations wanting to “become agile”. This aha moment was unexpected, but transformative as an Agile Coach. I now believe the Marathon Mindset is the Agile Mindset because it simultaneously fosters both stability and agility through continuous and incremental evolution instead of a big bang transformation. Below I share some insights into what I’m learning for the benefit of Agile change agents everywhere.

This is me trying on my brand new Stockholm Half Marathon t-shirt. Cool, huh?
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