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For years, I have lived in a belief that complex problems require complex solutions. If we’d like to hugely improve our business with agile, we should use some complicated framework, with multitude of tools, approaches, and processes designed to address every possible scenario. It backfired on me several times. The wake up call was almost three years ago, during Agile Portugal 2015 conference.

You might know it or not – 2015 was year of agile at scale. If you wanted to be treated seriously as a speaker, consultant, or coach, you just had to share your experience with it. Everyone was into scaling. Because, clearly, we all knew how to do it right on a team level… Obviously, having quite a background at large scale agile, I joined the bandwagon. My speech in Porto covered exactly this topic.

Then, during a break following my presentation, reality hit me with a sledgehammer.

You all talk about agile at scale, which is great, but we’re startup of ten people and want to do it. How?

If I remember correctly, my answer actually made sense. Something along the lines of starting small, using the least processes and formalities possible, just the kind of basics that make sense. Regardless, I was dumbfounded enough to quit corporate job two years later and joining a very small company to see how it really works.

But there’s more to it.

Just at the end of 2017, I was contracted to run series of trainings on basics of agile to over one hundred employees of a large state-owned conglomerate of very traditional sector. As if it wasn’t challenging enough, majority of the participants had little to none exposure to IT terminology, processes, and industry. Trying to grasp and convey the essence of what agile is was quite tricky.

To make things worse, I’m not really sure if they stand a chance to actually make it with the transformation. Reading between the lines, it was clear that management buy-in was dubious at best. Agile was yet another great idea they had, following (and perhaps preceding) series of other spectacular transformations.

Yet, I wanted them to benefit from my trainings regardless of what future could bring. Then, out of the sudden, I had my eureka moment. I found the Holy Grail of the least you could do to get all the benefits in the world. And it was hiding in plain sight, disguised as one of Scrum ceremonies.

(I seriously dislike the official, semi-religious terminology of Scrum. Artifacts, ceremonies, masters…)

Retrospectives, in their simplest possible form, are Minimum Viable Agile.

It’s that simple. Get your team for half an hour and ask them the most basic and most profound of questions: If we had a second chance to live through these last two weeks again, what would we do differently?

Hell, you don’t need to wait few weeks. You can ask this question every morning. The benefits will astonish you.

Why?

First, as human beings, we hardly ever reflect on our lives. Not to mention, on a regular basis. We only do this when things either radically change (think: you’re about to have a baby), or when they go really, really wrong. If neither of these conditions is fulfilled, we just fly ahead with staggering mindlessness. Nothing weird about that, we’re just humans, perfect in our imperfection. It is worthy to shed some light on whether we’re going the right direction or not.

Second, no currency is worth more than our time. Not only you cannot buy more of it – it comes in extremely limited supply. Given you’ve reached this sentence of this post, you’re about four minutes closer to your death than you were at the beginning of it. It’s one of the most uncomfortable facts people are ever faced with. You will have no chance of reliving yesterday. If you did something stupid, or pointless, or in an inefficient way – you will not have a chance to change it.

You do have a shot of making it differently today. Otherwise, tomorrow you will be even closer to your demise, with yet another wasted day. That’s your choice.

Third and the most important reason for starting with Minimum Viable Agile – it will get you somewhere else. Yes, there are thousands of prophets saying you must use Scrum, Kanban, or whatever else. Each of them has numerous examples of how, to a different extent, these things worked in the past. They are perfectly right about that! These approaches, in that particular conditions, in these particular businesses, gave very specific results. That’s a fact.

However, extrapolating these past experiences into your business can be nothing but a false prophecy. No company is out of the box, so applying off-the-shelf framework can only work to an extent.

By regularly inspecting and adopting the way you work, day by day, you can create your own agile. Tailored and customized to your specific needs, to the way your people work, to the very DNA of your business.

All it takes is to start small.

So, if you had second chance to relive yesterday, what would you do differently?

At one point or another, every organization turns to hiring some truly experienced staff. People possessing skills unavailable in-house. Those that not only deliver more than the rookies – their performance can be seen as shocking. Their insights reach well beyond what’s visible to the naked eye.

The experts.

Sometimes they turn whole business around and put it back in black. Sometimes they can foster growth of others, for the greater good. Sometimes their leadership (social, technological, actual…) can massively contribute to historic successes.

Most often though, they’re just a waste of money. Given their expertise and limited marketplace, a substantial waste of money. It’s not like it’s their intent.

It’s just that they’re misused.

How is it even possible? How can you understand the need for expert support, find the right person, pay them a ton of money – and somehow spoil it all?

It’s remarkably easy. You misuse expert by telling them what to do. Don’t ever do that.

Tell them what to achieve. They’ll tell you what to do. Then they’ll do what’s necessary.

In a manic world of fitness, there’s a phenomenon called “active couch potato”. It describes a person eagerly engaging in various physical activities, from gym to marathon running – yet, stuck out of shape. As it turns out, for many, even regular trainings are not enough to offset the utterly sedentary lifestyle. Sitting in the car, welded to the desk at work, chilling by the television – running your 5k every Saturday morning won’t make up for it.

I should know well. For quite a few years I was a textbook example. That somewhat overweight guy crossing the half-marathon finish line in the photo above? That would be me, a bit over half a year ago.

And as, with quite a lot of effort and relentless support of few of my best friends, I moved past this limbo, I realized how many teams and organizations behave the same way. They’re capable of heroic achievements every few months (say, just prior to some major product release), then get intoxicated by their epic success, learn nothing, and decay into the world of widespread mediocrity. Several cycles more, they’re surprised by their lack of form, however it’s defined in their business context.

So, is your team an active couch potato or fit and healthy?

There are several rules that decide the origin, highlight, and the ultimate fate of every society. There’s the commonality of values, however temporary that may be, deciding it’s appearance. A set of people brought together for whatever the reason, though deciding to stay together far enough the needs of survival, defined in myriad of ways. Then there’s the bright spot – a society rises, grows, and ultimately outshines every other around, attracting all kinds of decent folks, along with freeloaders and some plankton.

Then, as it inevitably fades, it reaches state of stability. Low enough not to become a spot on a radar for big sharks, big enough to thrive. Hey, have you thought about the people around you? Your closest circle of friends.

What are they like?

Seriously, sit there for a while and figure out what it is that defines your inner circle.

What are they like? What is it that defines them? What are the core beliefs that hold them together?

Really, write it down.

Got that? Now it’s going to get harder.

Look at the things you figured out. If you average them out, they will quite accurately describe the actual reality of one person.

That person is you.

There’s a reason for that. Being a ultrasocial species, we seek acceptance above everything else. Whatever role we currently play in the society – father, mother, single at particular age range – there are things our inner circle expects us to do. Everyone outside it expects everybody within to adhere to adequate set of rules.

The system scales up indefinitely, to encompass whole mankind, though that’s irrelevant.

Thing is, subconsciously, you will attempt to comply to rules of your inner circle. Ever heard of all those idiot kids doing the dumbest things imaginable? They do it for the very same reason for which you’re buying a flat on a 40-year mortgage, an enormous size TV set, and get a new car every four years. Odds are, you need neither of these.

Though everyone around has them. Darn it!

And as you might thing I just made my point, I’m not even close.

Career-wise, how far up do you think all these people in your inner circle might get? Executive status? Start-up owner? Just a regular Joe?

Whatever your circle is, you will attempt to keep up with them.

  • Hang out with the winners, winners you shall be.
  • Hang out with the average Joe, average Joe you shall be.
  • Hang out with losers bringing you down, a loser bringing others down you shall be.

There’s the old saying:

“If you hang around with five idiots, you will be the sixth.”

Now, let me state the obvious. It is cruel. Some people just aren’t cut for big wins, epic achievements, and coming victorious out of the greatest of risks. And that’s perfectly okay. There’s nothing wrong with this.

As long as you make a conscious choice.

Now, look around you again. Do you think these people will help you go up, or bring you down to the level of their acceptable mediocrity?

Just don’t be cruel when making cuts. It’s not their fault they feel complacent. It’s not your fault you don’t. It’s just the fact of life.

Look around, make your choice, cut mercilessly.

Don’t be a sixth idiot. Unless, obviously, you want to. That’s your choice.

Every now and then, some friendly soul stumbles upon someone full of despair about some aspect of their life. Low on money, unhappy in love, with bad health – you name it. There are endless ways to be miserable. Some of these poor bastards actually attempt doing something to recover from their dire situation. That’s noble of itself, make no mistake. But quite often things just don’t work out well. They fail once. They fail twice. Then thrice. Then, if they’re still fighting, they might fail again. It is remarkably easy to give up. Don’t beat yourself if it happened to you. That’s just being human. With exception of relationships, we hate being stuck in the limbo. Then we give up and accept that we’ll never be rich, happy, or healthy. That makes us sad and miserable. Then the good soul appears and, with best intentions, shares the worst motivational advice ever. Read more

We all have days that, for lack of a better expression, utterly suck. Mine was Tuesday, a bit over two weeks ago. Early morning, I finally made a long-postponed decision to resign board membership of a very promising consulting company. With all the fun and excitement about it, it was hugely time consuming – and I tend to have my plate full to the limit. Communicating it wasn’t easy, as the rest of the board are all my friends. On my way to the client, I got an interesting call from medical lab. Long story short, either I’d change a lot of things in my life, or I’d die sometime this year. This was new. Then, major political turmoil at one of my large accounts resulted in their cancellation of all consulting services. Including mine. As I had daily sync with my staff in the evening, I was clearly in what could be called a bad mood. As we were concluding the call, my operations manager – who knows me well – told me just one thing. Read more