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Organizations and teams today are under pressure to organize in a way that shortens time to deliver, accelerates innovation, lowers development cost, and increases operational efficiency. Since “You get what you organized for”, it’s important to take the time to choose which principles you want to guide your efforts. By using a set of proven Agile Organizational Design Principles, you can increase the odds of becoming faster to learn and quicker to deliver!

In this webinar Kari Kelley guides us through three critical Agile design principles that can help provide a systemic approach for pushing decision-making power into the organization to help increase speed to deliver customer value faster and more accurate.

And the interesting story is: What can we learn from looking at how restaurants are organized and how they function?

PDF of the presentation here:

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Many times we (as Agile coaches) quickly discover that the Agile frameworks used in our client organizations are deeply incompatible with…

  • The nature of their work 
  • The flow of their work
  • Their overall organizational context
  • And the list goes on!

This is especially challenging when the organization has chosen to quickly scale a single framework with brute force while using a one-size-fits-all approach without considering systemic root causes to their performance issues. In my experience, this often happens when management aims to address symptoms that manifest at their flight level for immediate pain relief and inadvertently neglect to probe more deeply into systemic causes. 

As a result, the teams doing the work struggle through these mandated ways of working that ultimately lead to more problems than they solve! 

This blog post is about my experience when Kanban was a better fit than Scrum, the SAFe caused more problems than it solved, and the organization was afraid to let go and let teams explore what Agile Ways-of-Working works best for them. 

I’ll be sharing pieces of the journey that led to a 300% improvement in Lead Time along with three key questions that can help keep you on track if you find yourself in a similar spot, which are as follows:

  • #1: What problem were you brought in to solve? And what Agile good practices could help?
  • #2: Is the problem actually the problem? Or is it a symptom of something else?
  • #3: If it is a problem, are the current Ways-of-Working helping or hindering? What does the nature and flow of work tell you? What about the organizational context?

This blog post is structured according to those questions where I share the success story that came from carefully answering each one. Hopefully the article will be helpful resources if you find yourself navigating through the same murky waters!

#1: What problem were you brought in to solve? And what Agile good practices could help?

Like most Agile Coaches, I started by seeking to understand the measurable problem I was brought in to solve. And because the client wanted quick results, I also looked for what Agile good practices might help to secure some early wins.

In the specific experience I’m drawing upon for this blog post, this was, “We need to improve this department’s predictability to at least 80%”. 

The landscape

The teams were using Scrum in a SAFe set-up based on a decision 5 years ago to centralize everything Agile under one big SAFe roof. Managers and stakeholders seemed to like using PI planning as a really large batch transfer that happened every 3 months. The outcome amounted to quarterly Gantt charts from each team detailing at a User-Story level how they intended to work on the massive influx of work items the business pushed onto them to complete. Although stakeholders actively invited the Product Managers and Product Owners “to say no” to taking on more work then they could handle, during my interviews I learned that the unspoken cultural norms made it very unsafe to do so. 

What the data showed

Team interviews and high-level value stream maps indicated that, like most organizations, the teams were flooded with work due to a push-based system, features were bundled into projects creating very large batches, and there was a lack of prioritization due to minimal program or even backlog management. The result was a push-based system that was “going through the motions” of Lean Agile but not experiencing the benefits.

Although Scrum is a pull-based system, it wasn’t being used in that way. To get the system heading back into the right “pull-based” direction, I recommended we start with some known good practices for balancing capacity with demand and optimizing flow, such as unbundling features from projects to work in smaller batches, practicing regular backlog refinement, implementing clear definitions of ready and done, and implementing some good program management practices that include prioritization. 

I also recommended that we work on creating T-Shaped team members so work wouldn’t grind to a halt if people were sick, on holiday, or chose to leave the team.

T-shape that describes how to form teams consisting of members with expert knowledge together with members with good enough knowledge of the issue.
T-shape that describes how to form teams consisting of members with expert knowledge together with members with good enough knowledge of the issue.

What I did not expect

Although the Agile Coach and Product leadership team agreed with my assessment and recommendations, which I expected, the team-of-teams did not! They were firm on their stance that adopting such practices would not address the root cause to their pain points. Moreover, they disagreed with management’s assessment that they have a predictability problem. 

As a coach, this was interesting territory. I was brought into drive change in a team that believes no change is needed and doesn’t agree with the measures used to gauge their performance. 

After a few honest discussions with the team, I found myself asking the following question:

#2: Is the stated problem actually the problem? Or is it a symptom of something else?

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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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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