Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to be an effective Scrum Master by understanding the Ego states

We are our behaviours, thinking and experiences. Wherever we go, we carry all our emotions and personality with us.  A question, do  you agree that the way we speak, deal with others are influenced by our past ?

imageSarah Taraporewalla of Thoughtworks talked about different personality types, their impact on areas like communication and relationship with our colleagues at work.  She presented this topic during Agile Australia 2012 event, a few weeks ago.

She also explained some of the topics like Iceberg principle, TA and positions using her own example as Scrum Master and Agile coach. 


Transactional Analysis(TA) describes how people are structured psychologically. It uses what is perhaps its best known model, the ego-state (Parent-Adult-Child) model, to do this. 

imageEric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, believed that each of us have 3 ego states (our Parent, Adult and Child). This is also called PAC model.

The Parent ego state is comprised of the behaviours, thoughts and feelings copied from our parents, or other parental figures.  The person with the Parent ego state will spend most of the time giving guidelines.  

'Adult' describes our ability to think and determine action for ourselves based upon the 'here and now'. 

This is the ego state in which individuals behave, feel and think similarly to how they did as a child. Person with Child ego is very emotional.  Could cry or get angry easily.  People storming out of the meetings, crying when you give a feedback are good examples of a person with Child ego state.

By being in Adult ego state, one could control both the parent and child ego state people. 
If you are a Scrum Master or a coach, you could observe the conversations between people, and understand their state.  Using the PAC model effectively, one could use appropriate communication mechanism to not only get the work done but also to maintain relationships.

During one of the feedback meetings, the employee I was chatting with started crying. I understood that, she is in the “Child” ego state. As stated earlier, one needs to be in Adult state to manage Child and Parent egos. Being in Adult ego implies, I need to be non threating (Physical posture), and should be in state of enquiry.

Sarah also recommended following books to learn more about Psychology


Understanding PAC model
Transactional Analysis

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to choose a right Agile coach ?

I am sure you agree that no one is born as an Agile coach. People chose coaching profession based on their strengths. Knowing that, there is a great demand for Agile coaches nowadays, it is always beneficial to understand their journey. Finding an Agile coach is not so difficult, however finding a right one is.

After observing coaches since several years, I found a pattern among their journey. The following pattern could be used as a framework to identify a phase an Agile coach belongs to. If you believe they belong to first two phases, then it is recommended to have a Pragmatic coach to support them.


1. Novice phase: As the name implies, new to Agile coaching and diligently follows every step learnt from the past. Very eager to learn new facilitation techniques, and attends all the new training programs, conferences without fail. Very enthusiastic and very vocal about Agile methods in the company.

2. Passionate phase: I understand that, being passionate about something is always good. It carries a lot of good energy, but on the flipside, it could make one blind to the different/better options available.
This phase for an Agile coach is like being a teenager in life, a bit reckless.

During this phase, coach continues to carry a big Agile hammer around all the time. As the saying goes “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Whether the customer needs a particular practice or a methodology, the coach will go ahead and push the customer to practice them.
As and when the coach comes across something new, he/she wants to put that into practice immediately on the projects. The coach in this phase strongly believes that Agile/lean practices are silver bullets, which in reality are not.

3. Pragmatic phase: Coach has spent several years working on small/medium and large scale projects. Has gained enough experience working with different clients solving challenging problems. Good thing is, It is easier to identify a pragmatic coach. When you meet one requesting for help, he/she won’t tell you to go, and apply Scrum or Kanban or any popular practices. They would encourage interviewing the key stakeholders,they will also try to understand the issue from an enterprise level before suggesting any solution. These coaches will try to understand the root cause, and provide solutions accordingly.

As I said before, finding the right Agile coach matters. Coaches could influence the bottom line of the company, and having more pragmatic coaches who are not carried away with the hype are always beneficial.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Value and Culture over practices and processes

On Day 1 of Agile Australia,  Sandra Dalli  and Sarah McAllister of Bank West shared their experiences adopting Agile at  BankWest.  BankWest is into the beginning of their 3rd year of its Agile adoption and bringing Agile into the organisation has involved so much more than delivering Agile projects.

During this session, the speakers shared not only their success but their failures during the journey of Agile adoption.  One needs to appreciate the fact that, they didn’t paint a rosy picture saying their journey was easy.  One of the triggers for the bank to adopt Agile was the massive failure on a water fall project. The team on the waterfall project spent several months writing requirement specifications and design documents burning the project budget, and at the end realizing there is no money to build the software.

Before sharing their journey, let me share my experiences of Agile adoption in large organizations.

Based on my past experience, an organization goes through the following phases during Agile adoption. As shown in the picture below, there are 3 key phases. 

1. Learning and Experimentation
2. Initiation
3. Matured 

The details of these phases are explained below mapping BankWest experience.

1. During Learning and Experimentation phase, the enterprise typically takes following actions to initiate the Agile adoption:

             a. Identifying a point of contact to run the Agile show
             b. Form a team or group to drive Agile related activities
             c. Hire or get Agile coaches on contract
             d. Create training programs and start enrolling employees into this
             e. Start one or more pilot projects and experiment applying Agile methods

BankWest went through steps similar to one mentioned above ending this phase successfully. Another key reason for their success so far is the support from the top management. I could clearly see that they had applied Top-Down Agile adoption  strategy.

When the speakers were given the baton to start Agile adoption 3 years ago, they spent nearly three months going through various websites, and documents researching everything about Agile. They also wrote a lengthy manual for everyone to read, which they made fun of as they realized later that this is not the right way. 

Regarding Agile coaching, I think they took help from Lonely Planet.

2. The initiation phase is all about embracing Agile as much as possible.  The BankWest speakers shared the way they brought testers and developers collocated as part of their journey. They were serious in bringing Agility to their company, and they followed every recommendation given in Agile books and ones shared by Agile coaches.  

As we know, implementing a new practice or skill across organization takes anywhere between few months to years. It is always recommended that new practices should be encouraged to be adopted incrementally than in a big bang way.  

Incremental learning
BankWest took 5 practices(Daily stand up, retrospective, showcases, etc)  as priority and encouraged all teams to practice only one at a time for a month, before moving onto the next one. At the end of 5 months, they saw most of the projects well versed with some of them.  The entire organization was amazed to see this transformation happening in front of their eyes.  

Read more about Agile adoption phases and the J-Curve effect here

Currently BankWest seems to be at the end of this phase.

3. Matured Phase: During this phase, pretty much all the infrastructure needed to do Agile projects should be available handy.  Matured Enterprises start looking at Agile adoption beyond software delivery, and starts including HR, Finances, etc.  Some of these activities could be started during the second phase itself depending on the size and maturity of the organization.

During the conference, I listened the journey of BankWest, NAB and other companies. My own experience of Agile transformation in past companies combined with this clearly shows that, there is no secret recipe to succeed in the journey of Agile adoption. Every company has it’s own culture and DNA. Don’t try to copy set of practices of another company with the hope that you would succeed. 

Every organization has to invent and carve a path for themselves. Teams will fail many a times. However, as long as they are learning from their mistakes, they should be encouraged and supported in their journey.   One thing is clear, identifying the right group of people to steer the journey, and hiring good Agile coaches during the beginning makes a lot of difference. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

How to build a high performing Agile team ?


Building a high performing team is a dream of every Agilist. Agile Australia event had a track on this topic too.  Mike Bromley of NBN covered this topic on Day 1 of the event.  As part of building a high performing team, the first step is to hire talented people.  According to Mike,

                   Culture is a driving force behind performance, and people = culture.        

He also mentions that 9 key traits of a good performer. I have put together the traits in the screen shot below.


As one could see, it is difficult to find all the talents in one single person. One needs to carefully chose people so that, they complement each others skill. Some of the talents mentioned above(courage, innovation,etc) cannot be identified using the typical interviewing (Q&A) technique. Special techniques are needed.

Here are some of the special techniques

Monday, June 04, 2012

Agile Australia 2012– Successful event



Two days of Agile Australia 2012  ended last week. The organizers had put a lot of effort in making this event a success.  The key notes on both the days were inspiring, and the topics during the event not only touched upon Agile methods, but also included  leadership and case studies from various companies. 

Food was good by the way, the weather wasn’t bad. Since the venue was within Melbourne city, the commute was easy.

I would be summarizing some of the learning in the next few blog posts.