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About one year ago, I wrote an article about monkeys and ladder experiment. Despite seeing someone posting it on LinkedIn at least once a week, it was never conducted. The analogy is useful as a brilliant explanation on how people in workplace can become conditioned to do something completely senseless.

Just because “that’s how we do things around here!” Read more

Three things to read and use when you consider starting your own business.

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Did you know, there’s a second page of Manifesto for Agile Software Development? You’d be surprised what’s in there – and how unlikely it is for your business to follow the principles listed there.

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About two weeks ago, during Q&A session following Let’s Manage IT event in Łódź, I was asked a great question – how to measure progress of Agile transformation. Short answer – don’t measure it, as you’re missing the point. For a touch longer one, see the short video below.

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?

There was the famous experiment on monkeys. You get five of them into a cage with ladder, with banana on top of it. As soon as they enter the cage, monkeys immediately rush to get their beloved food. But reaching for ladder triggers cold shower.

Quickly, monkeys realize that this banana should be left alone.

Then you swap one monkey for a new one. As it, inevitably, rushes for a banana, it gets beating from the others. Few moments later, it knows that it’s not worth it.

Then you swap another one, with the same result. Then the next, and so on. Soon, all the monkeys are swapped and each of them knows that was taught a lesson.

Which is where we play evil scientist and add a new monkey in. Without a doubt, it tries to reach for banana, only to get its beating.

As all its predecessors, it has no idea why it got punished.
Other (swapped) monkeys have no idea why they punish the new one – none of them ever got wet.
Apparently, this is how things are in that specific cage.

The best part of the experiment?
IT WAS NEVER CONDUCTED.

We have no idea if monkeys would act this way.

The scariest part of the experiment? We know, well enough, that regardless of how monkeys would behave, we would act as the way they did. Just the social element of our human nature.

When put in a new environment, we don’t want to be the one to rock the boat. Reaching for banana is challenging the status quo – and nobody likes that. Unless we’re conscious and deliberate about it, we don’t really want to expand our comfort zones.

And without it, we’re becoming obsolete, as someone competing with us will expand theirs.

Remember that as you walk into your monkey cage this morning.

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.

Once you enter a particular workplace, you notice a few things. The way people talk. The way they act. The things they say. While every individual behaves in their own, very specific manner, you’re likely to notice a pattern. They do have something in common, something distinctive. It’s almost like visiting some other country, which you expect to be very similar to yours. Very quickly, you’ll discover that your first impression is wrong. Nations grown upon, say, Greek and Roman heritage, generally behave the same way for any outsider. The quirks and peculiarities emerge rapidly though, making each of them to stand out. And all the companies within such national environment display the same differences to each other. In essence, that’s what we call culture.

But where does it come from? Read more