Agile is philosophy, not methodology

We are living in a fast-paced world. Every industry around us is impacted by digital disruption. 30 years ago, the goal was to have a personal computer on every desk. Since then, the industry was disrupted several times—with the internet, with cell phones, with the internet on cell phones…

And now our world is transforming into a connected world—everything is in a cloud, kitchen devices are talking to each other and your cell phone; your car knows where you want to go even before you entered your car. Yes, the world is fast. And it will never be slow again.
But, our world is not just fast. It is also complex. Our competition is not passive. And there are no longer any secrets, in this complex world. Every breakthrough in technology, organizational science, or anything else, is recognized and used by a competitor, in a matter of months.
Nobody can win every time. And those that win cannot enjoy their victory for a long time, before being disrupted by some other type of innovation.

 

As an Agile coach, what tools do you use to motivate and challenge people?
Since I was a little kid I was a competitor. I wanted my team to be better than other teams, and I wanted to be better than others. But most of all I wanted to be better than I was yesterday.
And my new challenge is to find a way to help people to be better than yesterday.
And in this quest, I am using games as an improvement tool.

Also, it is very important to create an environment of psychological safety, an environment where people, no matter whether they are workers or managers, are not afraid to experiment. An environment in which they are not afraid to fail. And where they are not afraid to change.

To learn is to change, they say.
Making it clear, from the start, that all of us are experimenting and failing too, is what makes this environment.
Our company has rigorous tests for candidates, and a fact that you already passed those tests is saying that you are just as good as the rest of us. We will work, together, in this company for the next 5 or 10 years. We will create a lot of beautiful things together, and we will create a lot of mistakes during that period, too. And every mistake will probably be forgotten soon. We are in this together.

So, when reasons for urgency are communicated well, an environment where people can experiment, play and challenge themselves, is created – motivation is not a problem.

You are coming from the IT industry. How is leading IT teams differently than leading non-IT teams?
The IT industry is very flexible. Every idea, every proposal you have, can be developed and presented in a matter of weeks, if not days. Especially during the last couple of decades, with the expansion of Agile way of thinking, we have a new “class” of workers appearing.

Knowledge workers. A knowledge worker is a person that knows more about work that needs to be done, then his manager. The job of a manager is changing from being a teacher and mentor towards being a coach who helps knowledge workers do their job best way they can. Creating an environment for them to achieve mastery in what they do.
And real power lies not just in individual knowledge workers, but in the teams they are forming.

And how are you coaching these knowledge workers and agile teams of knowledge workers?
Well, you know that wise saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”. The world is so fast – if you are a leader and you are not close to a place where a product is made – it is just a matter of time when your knowledge will be obsolete. You will not be able to give a man a fish, but you will also not be able to Teach a man to fish.

A long time ago I realized that I cannot keep track of all technical challenges, and I started to use metaphors and patterns from real life, as examples when teaching people. And nowadays, I find that using games to help people improve motivates me the most. These games have roots in Coaching and NLP techniques like Identity Walk, Disney Strategy, Goal Setting, even Phobia Cure, and many more. I use different games to simulate benefits of particular development techniques, like pair programming, test driven development, requirements flow, but also games for facilitating team liftoff, project kick-off, team building, and many others.

Playing games at work, that must be fun. Do you play games only with developers or with management, too?
Yes, of course. But the games I play with managers are a little bit different because the context in which they work is a little bit different. The goal of those games is to identify potential risks, and minimize the cost of mistakes.

There is a saying “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Well, then a simulation is worth a thousand pictures. By using simulations, a few months of work can be compressed into a single day. People become more aware of problems that can happen in the near future, with projects, between team members, between teams…
By playing these games, we can explore different options, we can Rewind whenever we want, we can use Thinking Hats and take a view on projects from different perspectives. We can identify strengths and weaknesses. Again, adjusted Disney

Strategy and Identity Walk and other techniques are used. By understanding these games, and underlying NLP and Coaching techniques and principles, you can adjust a simulation to fit your current context.
But, as we go up the hierarchy, games become more difficult. For example, if you want to look at company strategy as a game than the problem is that rules of the game keep changing unpredictably.

Do you use games for anything else?
Well, I try to use different elements of games in various ways. For example, when you meet a person that is a fan of the same game like you are, and when you start to discuss that game, others that listen to your discussion may find your language difficult to understand. Creating common language, or creating specific hand gestures, or specific agreements what to do in a particular occasion, or anything else that can only your team members understand; is fun and has a team bonding effect. And it can also improve the effectiveness of your meetings.

So, you like teams that play a lot, and that want to be a little bit better than “yesterday”. How do you know that they really improved?
To be honest, it is hard. We are always finding new metrics we can use, new parameters we can measure. Companies today use a lot of different tools to support their product development. And with those tools, you have a lot of options what to measure. A lot of data is generated every hour and every minute. And with all that data, you can measure a lot of different things. But there is a trap with those tools – people are measuring something just because they can, not because it matters.
Finding metrics that matter the most in a particular situation, that is an art.
And there are some important things that you just cannot measure with a tool. Employee engagement, motivation, teamwork, collaboration, satisfaction, learning, fun,…, happiness. And for that kind of metrics, old fashioned surveys can be used.

Previous and current results can be compared and radar charts can be shared as inputs into retrospective meetings. Also, current results can be compared with desired future results, and gap analysis can be used – one of my favorite inputs for team coaching.

For the end, Agile is an attitude, a way of thinking. What could be some best practice, the easiest way to implement that philosophy into a corporation?
Best practices we are using today will be “old ways of working” maybe even tomorrow.
The widely-accepted theory of change is that we all have a natural human tendency to resist it. But, as Agilists, we know that organizations must continuously change in order to thrive in an always changing market. How do we stop resisting change and, instead, learn to embrace it? How do we get those around us on board too? There is no easy way. There is no best practice.

The first step is to understand that only change is constant.
When you have people motivated to learn, not afraid to change, and when you add a little bit of gamification – that is the secret sauce for success. At least for now.

Bojan Milutinovic
About Bojan Milutinovic 1 Article
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

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