Flying the airplane while building it – Jan Sheppard
Join Shane and Blair as they chat with Jan Sheppard about the experience of building a new agile way of working while still ensuring you are delivering data and analytical value to your stakeholders.
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Welcome to the agile data podcast, where we talk about the merging of agile and data, ways of working in a simply magical way.
Welcome to the agile data podcast. I’m Shane Gibson, I’m Blair Tempero, and I’m Jan Sheppard. Hey Jan. Welcome. Thank you for coming on the podcast with us. What we normally do when we kick off with somebody new on the podcast is ask them to tell us a little story about their background so that the audience can kind of understand where you came from and how you got into this world of agile.
Excellent. I’ll start a little bit earlier than getting into the world of agile, I’ll start with the getting into the world of IT. When I was a teenager in the, in the eighties in high school, I was. The school bought a computer when i was in the fifth form and I was really fascinated by this and thought, wonder what that’s going to do for my future?
What ended up happening to the computer was it was put in the back of the physics room of the Tea towel over it ‘cause I went to an all girls school and every day I looked at it and thought there’s gotta be more to life than this. And fortunately, I was at school at a time when applied Maths came in and this was the beginning of my initiation into the IT world.
And it was if then else programming and I was really excited to start off with, but got bored quite quickly. So put down the concept of it being in my future until Y2K came along and got a job as a tester on the back of answering a simple question. Do you know to relational database is, to which all I said was yes.
And the rest is history, really getting in fast forwarding to agile. We were going through a, quite a transformation as an organization when a harvest the value of that data and to do that, we needed to work quite differently. And Shane just popped up and, and as someone we should talk to guide them along and the rest is history created some magic since.
And one of the things I remember, I think, uh, from memory, this was probably the second organization I was lucky to work with back in those days. Um, I remember you had this term and the term I’ve stolen and used relentlessly from, from that day on. And it was talking about, um, flying the plane while building it and the way I kind of explained it, as you may recall at that time that, you know, to, to get, uh, this new way of working and to spend a year kind of, you know, building a new platform, building a new way of working for the team without delivering any value to the organization.
Seemed like a crazy idea. So why don’t we try and do those changes while actually delivering something out to each of your stakeholders? Um, and for me that was really interesting because you know, the amount of risk that you were taking to, to say we’re going to experiment with us. And there’s a chance of infected the likelihood that at many times we will fail.
Um, but we’ll make sure we don’t crash and burn in the ground. We want to just take out a few trees and fly for a while before we kind of get some altitude back. So, you know, how did you find that process given, given the amount of change you were making in the organization at that time? It’s quite interesting.
How, your perspective on how you saw it. Because actually in my mind, there was no crashing and burning. There was no option of taking out trees that actually wasn’t a possibility. So I’ve considered that until now. And in my mind it was, it was the only way to, to make the step change that we needed to, we, we couldn’t go forward as an organization.
We couldn’t start using our data. We couldn’t explore the possibilities unless we, we took that approach. We couldn’t know everything upfront. We had to just start and hit in a direction and learn as, learn as we went and there was no prize for second, no option of failure. Therefore there was only success, so off we went. And where are you at now?
Cause that was a quite a few years ago, has everything settled down and, and you’re in a nice stable position, and I know the answer. Define stable.
I’m in a constant change, constant innovation and constant challenges, and inspection and adaption and changing the way you work. I look back on those days, quite fondly now, to be fair because the rate of change is so high, the rate of changes is exponential. And while we were certainly pushing out into brave new frontiers at the time and building the plane in the air was, was certainly our mantra at the time, the amount of change that we achieved in,
in the space of time that it took was quite small to the amount of change that we have to be dealing with. Now in this same space of time, the, our environment’s changing, technology’s changing so quickly that we just need to be going faster to keep up. And if we play this out right, it’s for us to stay relevant as, as an organization, as it’s relevant as a,
The data industry to be fair because there is a future where robots take over and we, we’re no longer needed. So let’s, let’s get ahead of that one and make sure that we’re doing the right thing for, not only our organizations, but New Zealand. And data’s a key and cool part of that. And so how are you, how are you managing that change?
Right? How are you? Because I suppose I have a view that it’s going to be incredibly noisy, Right? It’s going to be lots of fires. Uh, lots of things, you know, you need to plan for over time. So, you know, if I look at a time horizon of 12 months, we, we should be doing these things to get ready, ideally, uh, for that to happen.
Um, you still gotta run the business as usual, the daily operations, make data available for people to do that. How do you handle that chaos? And you were always, cause I think you are chief data officer now. So again, Constant change, you know, you’ve now got the title there and theory sees all data’s yours.
Right? Um, not that I actually agree with that approach right. As you’re the person that helps people use data rather than do it, but, um, how are you managing that chaos? Yeah, I think there’s, there’s two key elements that I call out for critical for, for success. And one of them, we picked up very early on and, and it was in the days when we were working together.
And that was the concept of Imagineering. So we’ve embedded Imagineering in our SDLC. We now call it innovation, but the concept was, imagine the future and then engineer your way back to how you make it happen. That’s allowed us to take quite significant stick changes and directions and feel safe about taking those changes because we know what the future looks like rather than taking one step and then the next and always been looking at and to and um, known
So that’s been a really, really important the concept for us. That Imagineering. So I know you didn’t call this concept of innovation iteration over a couple of days. It was five days in a dragons den. Um, I think we even had a podcast on what from memory did we? We did, yes we went through the whole pain and beauty of it.
Um, then a couple of couple of hours. Um, and one of the things I really loved about that was the dragons den, the panel was relatively senior people from the organization that was sitting there and, and, you know, the teams were pitching their ideas. How do you get that by under that level? Right? How do you think it’s a one-off because of the organization you’re in and you just have the right people at that senior level in the organization, you know, was it a, Hey, can you just come and sit in this thing and like turn up because in other organizations I’ve worked in those senior people are, you know, the diaries are booked out for years.
Those kinds of things are seen as frivolous and not the way they should work. So how did you get those senior people to the panel, to the table to be part of this different way of working? Um, so I’ll pick up on the second element, the success here, and that is around social license, which includes a lot of listening.
So one of the reasons we were able to go so far as, because we, we listened to what the environment needed. And we responded to that, not what the environment wanted so not what our business wanted, not those who are partners on the outside wanted, but what they needed. And we use data to fill those gaps and to enable people to, to see new worlds through data and use the analogy of the matrix quite often to describe that.
So it’s, it’s a really important aspect and the approach between the imagineering and, and the social license that bought us a lot of runway, uh, uh, the senior people and the organization. Of course the, their job is to keep an organization safe. So how this was packaged, made them feel like it was safe. And then we,
We demonstrated value and the world had changed because of using data and looking at things in different ways. And then it’s like, that became the new norm for them. We didn’t put anything that was left field out there upfront, and we didn’t plan 10 steps ahead. And any one point at which is in line with building the plane in the air, we knew what we were going to do next, we knew the gap and the business,
That, that, that would fill, and that when we achieved that we reevaluated what we thought was next after that to respond to where the organization now was, instead of where we thought it would be if we were following a linear process. So to have those people at the table it was kind of, there was a bit of gamification going on, um, and unashamedly pimping data and what a difference it could make.
So by making it something that was showcasing how the world could be different with a little bit of effort and inviting the whole organization along, it made it, broke some of the barriers, anyone can do this, it has value. The smallest thing has the biggest value type, type approach. So yeah, it was, it was delightful actually that there was a buyer and a net changed how they saw the work that we would do.
And I think one of the things that, um, I’m not sure we did it on purpose, but you know, it was a very fortunate accident and one that I’ve seen working with other organizations where we haven’t replicated that accident. We haven’t had the same permission to character go forward. It became harder. And what that was was, um, You effectively, we’re looking to change some new technology at the time.
So you were talking to vendors and going through that joyous process, um, and you ended up doing a proof of concept, um, with some of your data. Uh, and so the team very quickly, you know, got hands on, created something, presented it back and had either, I seem to remember, I wasn’t planned, but maybe it was they’d stumbled upon a piece of information that nobody believed was true.
And then when they showed the supporting information on, on what they delivered, it said, no, actually these are the numbers. This is what is happening. And everybody focused on that and said, oh my God, we never knew that. And it became part of the organization wide initiative to, to actually use that information and change what you focused on.
Do you, do you feel like that, that ability to get that one really quickly to show what was possible, um, gave you more permission to then kind of take a bit more time in terms of the way you changed the way you work and take that risk? Um, absolutely. And, um, nice that, uh, it looked like it was an accident on the outside.
It was, it was well constructed. The choice of area that we focused on was, was specifically chosen because it was a hot topic in the organization. And half of the story, we knew that what we were going to tell. But the other half of that story, we didn’t until not long before we had to do the presentation, like quite the day before.
And we were using the own, our own data to gain the insight that we thought that the organization should be trying to, to look for. And we knew the good news story, and we wanted to find something and the data that was the not so good news story, and it was there in plain sight. So being able to visualize data meant that we could see things that we couldn’t and rows and rows of data in seconds.
Something that would have taken an analyst months to, to uncover, and to be fair, we hadn’t ever uncovered ourselves when we just looked at data. So that was carefully constructed and yes, it was everything we wanted and we applied that model quite often, even before we started, we started prototyping with using Excel and creating.
Graphs around things that people hadn’t even seen before to try and get the, the excitement and the, the thinking about the possibilities, not just what people know before we even bought a BI tool and we’d done that journey. So the path was, was well calculated in terms of taking the organization on the journey so that when we got to the point of making a significant purchase, they were ready for it.
And how do you balance it out now? So, you know, when we look at different ways of working, one of the ideas is this balance between delivering the value somebody asked for and showing them what’s there out of the possible, you know, uh, I think, you know, the famous quote of Steve Jobs says, you know, if I ask them what they wanted, they wouldn’t have asked for an iPhone they’d have asked for something else.
So how do you balance that? Not building something that. Yeah, building something and they don’t come. Right? Because you haven’t actually built the right thing for them, but not building exactly what they want. You know, what the product owner mandates, because what I find is often product owners give you a solution, not a problem, right?
That’s a really hard job to get into the product owner role when they’re often telling you what to the team, what to build, not the problem that needs to be solved. So how do you balance that out to make sure you’re building something that is actually what they need or want. And like, that’s, that’s always a challenge because if you, if you ask your business what they need, they can only say what they know, not what they don’t know.
And that’s where the concept of Imagineering comes in. That we work with them just to, with a blank sheet of paper. What does the future look like? What does good look like? To you. And so neither solution or problem in there it’s opportunity and then work back to deliver the opportunity to them. The first step and this journey that I took, I think it’s well worth noting because.
The first step in, this was the role of N Plus One, introducing that when, when we were working in spreadsheets and SSRS reports and quite static things, whenever someone came to my team and asked for something that it always got, whatever they asked for, plus one thing more so that they could see that there was more, rather than just limiting what they’re asking for to spark their imagination and spark conversations around.
What does this mean? How does this now add value to your, to your business? So, yeah, it’s, it’s definitely, um, a journey that you need to pace yourself on. But the key thing is you’ve got to start somewhere and you’ve got to start with curiosity and, and drive otherwise tomorrow will be the same as today. And did you find that by allowing the team, the space of a week to do those innovation or imagineering iterations, that that helped reinforce that part of the possible message with them?
Did you find that, um, the team started, maybe bring it back from what I’m seeing in other organizations. Um, we talked about this idea of if we use the scrum of a sprint, um, and, and what i’ve kind of identified over a while is it becomes a relentless grind eventually the teams, uh, are now working for 40 hours a week or 37 hours they’re not doing the stupid 80 hours or the hero behavior, um, that some teams used to have, but they’re constant, you know, just every two, three weeks delivering something onto the next thing.
Um, it becomes a grind. And so what I saw was that that week of innovation, um, they’re still working on some things that have value, right, but, uh, there’s kind of a break in the cycle. It’s a step change. Um, and so that seems to refresh the team. Did you, did you find that, uh, it was, uh, it was, um, exceeded my expectations beyond belief, actually.
What, what came out of the other end of that week And, and some of it is, it was SUNY breaking habits, but it was empowering the team to solve their own. Things that weren’t working for them. Okay. That’s what you focus on because the team I had 21 direct reports at the time and divided them up into teams of four or five.
And I chose who worked together because it was people who wouldn’t normally work together. So they had to form their own teams. They had to come to agreement about what it is that. That group would focus on a way of working. So they’ve come all of those challenges, which was mirroring what happens when you put a sprint team together, but they didn’t get to choose their own start point, but they got to choose their
Destiny and how they molded and shaped each team is very, very different. So there were a lot of learnings to come out of that as, as a consequence of not only what they’ve produced, but how we could then work together differently, that would be better. For me as an observer, it was, it was just amazing.
Absolutely amazing. I will say though, um, the one time I have perceived risk in the time I’ve been on this journey was Thursday of that week.
Yeah. So things I ha I had a rough plan of, I would introduce something random each day to kind of disrupt or change direction or refocus in something, something else. And when we got to, to Thursday, it was, it was, the wheels were falling off and I thought, well, this is a good way to limit my career. If I get to the end of the week, that, that would be success.
And then the teams, they came back together and they were stronger for, for having gone through, through that process. And I let them, I only intervened a little bit and here and there, but they found their own philosophy. They found their own way of working. They found new depths to their relationships with each other and come Friday.
The magic just completely shone through. So. So, yeah, our team, if I remember rightly, um, come Thursday, we had a disagreement about what we were going to produce or the way that we’re going to produce it. And I think it was, it was a light bulb moment that we thought, oh, let’s give two for the price of one, but that must’ve been scary for you.
Yeah, it was, um, it was certainly a moment to, to reflect on, but that, that was the power of putting yourself in a position like that. And, and that was the outcome. This team split, and there were two factions within the team and quite different approaches and couldn’t bring themselves back together, but why should they, why should they not
Unitedly present two different options to the same, same problem. So actually that ended up being twice the value than those who presented. Yeah. And I guess that’s the, um, that’s a metaphor for edge, or really when you’re putting people in from different disciplines into one team to work together, it’s not the traditional testers over their developers over there.
So it was, it was kind of a good test and there’s multiple ways to solve the same problem. Those both ways are right. You might have to pick one, right. Just for efficiency or for some reason, but you know. Um, so I have a theory for those that are iteration sprints though, that you wouldn’t want to do it with a team that are brand new and never started the, you know, to change the way they work.
I wouldn’t use an iteration sprint right at the beginning of that or that change journey. Um, Because I think the teams have to know how to form themselves. Know we’re putting them in, in a highly more stress really? Cause we’re changing everything we’re saying, you know, you don’t get two to three, you don’t get three weeks to deliver, you’ve got a week.
You don’t have a product owner coming in with an idea that you can work through, you’re the product owner. Um, you’re not working in your normal squads or your teams. We’re going to get you to a self form again on that short period of time. And so, my theory is you, you know, the team has to be quite resilient.
They have to have been through some of the pain and some of the joy of this new way of working before, you know, you could do that. What’s your view? Absolutely, yeah because the innovations front was the opportunity for us to take the next step in uh in our evolution. So if you expect something to evolve that hasn’t even formed then yeah.
That, that, that could go very, very well. Very, very poorly. So yeah, the timing was, was quite critical because we had been going through the pattern where we were well-entrenched and well-established and the, the pattern that we had, and it was good. It was working well to be fair. And so the, the, the future, which coming back to the earlier point is the rate of change was about to increase significantly on us.
So we needed to find a new way of doing what we did. Same number of people, same structure, same, same style but different approach to it and find new debts who, who had more to offer than if they worked in a different way and equally who didn’t have more to offer who was at their maximum with what we were doing.
And, and that certainly came out through the process in a way that turned out to be safe. No one got broken over it. Everyone came out stronger, but certainly, some were already operating at their maximum. Some had more flexibility in them to change. So timing as essential on that, it’s when you’re not when you’ve hit your peak, but just before you hit your peak, which is hard to guess right after the fact the model of what happened is always much easier than a predictive model of what happened.
But so obviously for you to pick the right time, you know, you need it to be involved in the team, So again, you know, you weren’t, uh, when you took this risk, you, you wouldn’t, you didn’t stay in back or you didn’t go, right. We’re going to take this risk, you guys go and, and, uh, I’ll, I’ll keep an eye on it from a far.
Um, and, and one of the things I think you mentioned that, you know, 21 direct reports, one of the behaviors that I found quite interesting and. Um, now I’ve seen very, rarely, but I’ve seen it a couple of times afterwards is I always remember that you did one-on-ones with your direct reports every week.
Um, so, you know, with 21 direct reports that were somewhere between 10 and 20 hours every week, spent having a one-on-one conversation with every team member and for me, and in retrospect, that was incredibly valuable. That built a safety net because, and they were due to constantly get a feel for where they’re at and then bring that back and go, okay, we can maybe accelerate over there, but we probably need to slow down or put a bit more of a safety net around, over here, because things are getting wobbly.
And so when I’ve seen other people do that, the teams have seemed to form and storm a norm better than when we haven’t and so much. So that actually, when I talk about now, is this role of pastoral care leader. Um, one of the things I find challenging when you move into a new organization, as they start their journey, some person typically gets given the role of if they’re doing a job, a scrum, scrum master product owner, pastoral care leader, team lead manager, and a stakeholder manager.
Right. Five roles to coach five roles, uh, in one day. Um, and so I’ve been able to devolve you as I will actually, we need a scrum master to focus on that. We need product owners to come in and focus on that, but the pastoral care one, it wasn’t until I saw the investment of time by you and a couple of other people that I’m like, actually, it’s something that we probably need to do.
And it needs to be embedded in your DNA rather than called out as, as a role that like it’s a task, I think because you can’t achieve anything unless you have good people who are empowered to do amazing things, right? You can just turn the handle and, and produce another widget, but you can’t be effective in today’s environment unless you have good people that are enjoying what they do and being valued.
For it and adding value to the organization. And it was, it was, it was, um, really interesting times. And you used the word risk again and now it’s time. You’re feeling quite nervous about what I’ve done instead of going. Oh yeah, that was, that was, that was quite a journey that the concept of the 21 direct reports was.
What has been called out as my riskiest decision in my career and, um, by others. But the decision at the time, there was no other option it came about because of having. Two teams and information management team looking after, or reporting side and a data warehouse team of NAFTA, the data warehouse and building it out, but not the two teams not being connected.
So all data was going into the data warehouse. It wasn’t necessarily coming out in a way that supported the business. And the reporting team were doing what all good reporting teams did at the time. And they had their own database that they were putting the data they needed into it. So. The bringing the teams together and effectively creating a startup with 21 direct reports was in response to that.
The only way to break that behavior and that culture was to break the shackles that the team meet and the culture that was around it by creating a startup and putting everyone in together, they’re all. All equals. And that’s where agile was a really important tool for bringing people together and to teams bringing the developers and the analysts together and them getting to know each other.
And by finding that by working together, they can achieve some great things and getting to know the business that they’re in. And so, yeah, agile was, it was very, very important to that process. But when I floated the idea that I could see no other way than effectively creating a startup, the pushback, and from those who care about these things, and that is their jobs, including HR, that you shouldn’t ever have more than eight direct reports, or you create a new.
New layer in the hierarchy in that site, but that won’t work. It won’t get us where, and it’s like, okay. So be it kind of thing. And off we went and it worked, it absolutely worked because the things, the artificial barriers of the team structure were stopping us from moving forward. We’ve certainly moved on from that as the team’s expanded now and you touched on.
Do we have data end to end, which is absolutely fantastic. And now it’s, um, keeping with the functions teams built around the core functions with team leaders. So they’re leaders in that function. And maintaining the horizontal way of working as the next step in our evolution to meet, meet the changing environment that’s coming.
And I haven’t yet come up with what the next structure is, but I’m sure I will when the time’s right, but all the way through this, it’s been the people it’s been a lot of the same people from the beginning in this journey and they’ve had to believe in the vision. They’ve had to believe in that this is, this is the right way.
Absolutely delighted in how people have grown and evolved themselves. The skill sets you’ve picked out the way of working, absolutely amazing. One of the things for me is if you do about 21 people, that it’s a large group of people and, you know, in the area of data and analytics, it’s a hot market, you know, there’s, there’s lots of jobs and lots of cool stuff to play with.
And you think quite low turnover from memory within your team. And it’s not because your organization has, you know, sleek chambers and free lunches and, uh, she escapes right as it’s not that. Do you think, why do you think that is? What do you think your, your team have been quite stable, um, in terms of working for the organization and working together?
Uh, I think it’s, it’s them actually, as, as why. They’ve bought into this way of working and this vision and they’ve used it to grow and evolve and that they, they bring their best selves to work and they, they thrive, right. They thrive in this, this environment. And as a result, we achieved some pretty phenomenal things and that’s cool. And I think I’ll come back to your point about the word risk.
Um, you know what I’ve seen over the last couple of years is most times I’m getting engaged is not because the organization as a whole has decided to adopt an agile way of working. Um, you know, there’s an organization in Wellington whose been through this change and actually took out six or seven layers of middlemen.
Because they actually did do a top down one that said we’re going to try a new way of working as a result of the new way of working, they decided that those hierarchal lead roles, those teams of eight didn’t make sense anymore. Um, and so they actually restructured the organization to remove them. Um, but most organizations I work with it’s, it’s somebody.
Uh, with the ability to influence or make the decision for their team to try this new way of working. Um, and often we can’t use the word agile, I do remember when we started this journey, it was don’t use the word agile, use the word intuitive, right? Because agile had already had a bad name for a new way of working.
So there is risk. Therefore, you know, effectively what I call the shit umbrella. Right? You need somebody there has got the mantra, the ability to make the call, um, and help their team be really effective and find this new way of working. But they’re effectively becoming the shit umbrella and they’re wearing a lot of the risk, uh, from above the umbrella if things
Don’t go well, so yeah, my view is maybe risk isn’t the right word, but it’s definitely their umbrella. Yeah. Um, yeah, like, um, courage we’ll, we’ll, we’ll use that word then shall we? Um, and, and with a small dose of ignorance, if you don’t look for the, what could go wrong and you deal with it, when it comes to. It’s a, it’s a much happier journey that you go on and absolutely like, like building a plane in the air.
This should never have worked. Right. And, and the early days I used the analogy of bumblebee. I can’t explain why this approach worked. I have no idea why it worked and why we’ve sustained it for this long to be fair, because a lot of other organizations have tried going on the same kind of journey they’ve got so far, and then they, they shut down.
We’ve been doing this for quite some time now, so yeah, it’s it almost feels like it’s bumblebee it. This approach defies gravity but it’s working. So don’t question it, but using this because we didn’t start off with a methodology in mind. So yeah. As things become a hot, you know, the big data bollocks that became hot on the marketplace, as things become a hot, everybody buzzes around it.
Right. And then they want to codify it and they want to create a methodology. Typically my view because you can sell a methodology. Right. So, um, so they all want to standardize it and have a certain way of working and that’s the answer. Um, but actually it’s just a way of thinking, right? And this is a way of working and that way of working has got to change.
So yeah, the bees do buzz around, but there’s always a hive, Um, and as long as you’re changing for, you know, as the environment changes and the teams are empowered to adapt their way of working, not stick to the mantra that they had a year ago, because that mantra property doesn’t fit where you are today.
Probably won’t or definitely won’t fit where you are next year. Do you think the answer is that you’ve let the team constantly evolve and, and manage that change? We have had to constantly evolve and there is a next step and as I said, I don’t know what that looks like yet, but it will, it will come clear when it’s time is getting near.
A real test for, um, the impact of, of this type of changes when we were going through yet another restructure as an organization. And that was, that was the end of the the startup structure and moving into, and we’ll use the overused term centers of excellence around each function because we use that rather than the word teams, because teams immediately create silos.
And there’s the change document was circulated around everybody and showed a typical HR hierarchy with it, the box at the top and all the direct reports, the vibe of the team changed and I didn’t know why, like quite suddenly the whole room was, it was quite very, very different. I looked at people’s screens and they were looking at this hierarchy, this traditional hierarchy, and they were all going into an anaphylactic shock.
They were that, that the fact that they were going to be forced back into a box was the most unpalatable thing. They’d gone too far. And they had enjoyed the freedom, the way of working that, that, and what they could achieve the way we had. So. Yeah, it’s interesting how people respond and certainly the next message is that’s to help us be stronger in the functions.
And of course, we’ll continue to work in a cross-functional agile way because that’s what makes us succeed. Yeah, I think, um, I think you’re right. I think the, the, the ability to map it back to something that you thought you knew, like a hierarchical wall chart, um, brings up all the behaviors of that wall chart, even if you’re not working that way anymore.
Is that. Perception there, you know, when you see the word team leader, actually, they’re now going to dictate what works, doesn’t win rather than be the pastoral care leader, which is actually, we need to scale because we’ve got too many people for you to spend an hour every day. Um, so we need somebody else to take over that, that loving and hugging, um, and making sure everybody’s safe.
Um, so pretty clear feedback that the team lead rather than the manager. Absolutely that they had a leadership role leadership in their function as well. So we can continue, continue growing out. And this is where I think, you know, there’s a thing that’s the Spotify published some ways of working when you scale, um, which was the way that the airplane ended up flying for a period of time.
Um, and. As I said before, what happens is people then go, that’s the answer? So he then called it the Spotify model and they started implementing exactly the way Spotify did and Spotify got quite upset about there actually it’s a detrimental to the, to the way of working, because actually they’ve now said they’re not going to publish anymore about what they’ve changed because they, they didn’t like the fact that people started treating it as a methodology.
Not as, Hey, this is what we did give it a go. And more importantly, they said, if you do something different than it works for you, and could you let us know? Cause we wouldn’t want trying it. Um, but again, that was the, their idea of how do you go from a group that’s, you know, small enough to work together, to then scale out to, you know, 50 groups, um, that actually still working across each other.
Uh, or near each other or impacting each other. How do you do that successfully? So scalings hard. Yeah, scaling hard and then if you use the Chinese proverb that you never stand in the same river twice. It’s exactly that. And how you operate as an organization, how you structure your, your own teams.
Right? So Spotify, that model worked for them. It worked for them at a point in time and it got them to somewhere, somewhere different, no other organization standing in the river at the same point. They’re different. They’ve got different cultures, the environment is more or less advanced than the ones Spotify was operating.
And so there is no such thing as a, a recipe for guaranteed success. And that certainly being, so you wouldn’t even be in that river what a year or two ago? Because one of the things I learnt was having come from another organization where I was helping them on their agile journey to yours. Um, I knew, I thought I knew the answer.
Right. Um, and actually what had happened was that team had grown. And when I started working with your team, I naturally started them off at the level the other team was, if that makes sense. And they, and I got blank stares, you know, it was like, what do you mean? You don’t understand this? And it was like, oh duh, actually the other team has got to that level.
I’ve got to start at the beginning. Um, the next organisation I worked with the team I worked with after yours. I was like, right now, I know how it works. Start at the beginning and these are the steps. Um, and again, epic failure, well, not epic failure, but you know, lots of learnings, um, because that team grew differently.
They implement things in different orders. Some things they didn’t implement, some things they found a better way of doing it. Um, and so that analogy, of actually may look like the same river, but you never actually the same point in time and the river. And it actually isn’t the same is perfect for that way of working. There you go, i’m going to add that to my toolkit after fly the plane while you’re building it.
Yeah. So is there a certain test you do to find out what the maturity of the team when you onboard them? No? Gut feel. Um, no, for me it’s observation. So I have a mental checklist in my head, uh, that over the years I’ve, I’ve kind of said, here these are the things I want to look at and just observe. Um, and I thought about codifying it.
But then I’m like, as soon as I codify that into a checklist, uh, it’s an antipattern. Right. Cause now I’ve got a methodology and actually, you know, you need to watch the team in their there and their thing. One of the examples was, um, one of the checklist and my head I always do is as team noise. So I’m observing how often people are moving across their desks and working with other people.
Um, and so. Yeah, that gives me a sense of, of some stuff. Um, and one of the teams I was working with, uh, you know, they were quiet and as we started our journey they stay quiet. And for me, there’s an anti-pattern right. When I see the team, the noise not going up, I’m going okay. We’ve got a problem. What I didn’t realize was they were incredibly mature at, um, communicating, uh, digitally.
So they were constantly chatting to each other online, even though they sit next to them. And that was the way they worked. Um, and that was successful for them and they weren’t going to change it because there was no reason, but I couldn’t see that. And it wasn’t you look and you go, ah, yeah. That’s yeah.
You’re actually, you can’t think, oh, they’re failing. I can’t think, I think we might have something we need to work on. Right. Cause that’s, for me, it’s all about. Okay. Have a think about this is it working for you, or is there something you should focus on changing and if you were going to change it, what would you think you’d do?
Um, but yeah, it’s, it’s, um, you fall into that human habit right of where’s my checklist and the vibe is, is the most important, um, tool you can have. And when you talk about pastoral care and all those good things, you distill it down to that, that one thing, what’s the vibe of the team who is it? Who’s out of sync is it’s quieter, noisier than the norm.
And the norm does change over time, but certainly you’ve got to be on top of that. And that comes back to the time that you give your people. So in the startup structure was forming and having the 21, it was 21 individuals that I’d put together and trying to build into or enable to build into something.
And by giving everybody time, I got to know more about them, what their, A game looks like, why, what else was going on in their lives that meant this needed to be an easier week for them or, or what their hopes and dreams were, how much capacity they had and by, by being able to, unpick all of those things and then build it back as a, as a team, it didn’t matter if someone was having a bad day because something was going on at home because the team adjusted around them.
And it was, it was interesting. There was one bad hire in this, and this time and the team dealt with them as in an organic way because they came into the team. They disrupted the team, accepted them, almost light, surrounded them to start off with and to bring them into the way of working in the, that essentially the vibes, the rhythm of how, how the team worked and that everybody was expected to contribute have their say, no one got, um, Dismissed.
If they said something out loud, you’d get told off. If you didn’t say something, if you sat on it about this, this one person didn’t take well to that, that kind of environment and became dismissive. And it’s almost like the, the team just didn’t react to that. They just like left them behind and moved over and they became.
Isolated and, and therefore lost their ability to disrupt the team. So it was quite the team dynamic is quite an organic thing. And when it starts working like that, it’s, it’s something pretty special. And when i often talk to them when we start the journey is. Um, you know, depending on the size of the team, when, especially when you’re in a bigger team, there will be people who decide that they don’t want to work this way.
You know, they give it a good go and they’re more than capable of working this way, but they actually go, you know what? I’m not really keen on doing this. This is not the way I want to work. So they kind of vote themselves off the island and we have to have a clear understanding of how we’re going to manage that will they move into a different role in the organization.
If it’s a team way of working on an organization. If the organization is going to work that way, then how do we help them find something that they’re going to be happier? And the second scenario is when they get voted off the island by the team where, and you’ll see it time and time again, like you see it, the team swarm around them and onboard them and help them.
And then. They see that they’re struggling. So that actually relieves the behavior. They then start spending more time helping that person to get them up to the velocity. So the team velocity goes down where they help that person and then you get to a stage where they go actually, for whatever reason, you’re not making it.
And then they just isolate Um, and so we need that pastoral care person to be watching that because often, um, you know, there are times where it’s not the person that’s, you know, they’re going through something in their personal life. Um, and so having somebody who’s connected with them, they can then say, okay, well, we just need to be, we need to keep that person safe.
Cause they’re a little bit fragile at the moment outside of work environment is really, really important. Um, and I think there’s something that we don’t talk a lot about in agile and the way we work that keeping people safe, uh, is really, really important when they go through this level of change. Um, so, and it is, change is hard.
It’s hard on people and it’s. It’s a wee bit about making it, um, mild disruption. So it’s part of every day, not that you get established into a pattern and then tomorrow you suddenly do something else. It’s that constant evolution as such and it’s strengths, some strengths are emphasized now and deemphasized later or
The continuously molding and growing and where some skills are more valuable now, how, how do you bring them in and see it in a new direction? And I think a real key to that is to have a balance of diversity in the team. So it has more resilience. One of the things that we did because we were pretty top heavy to be fair, we had a lot of senior people and certainly intermediate and had no junior people in the team.
So brought some junior people, started hiring straight out of university or politic even, and that’s added another dynamic to the team because it’s a different way, way of thinking. There’s no patterns of work experience before. There’s a lot of, um, a lot to learn about how to be part of an organization, new skills and, or the different, um, outlook on life, even that
that brings. But that’s, that’s added an extra layer of um, resilience to the team to be able to adjust to about a continuously adjust, because we were challenging ourselves with a different lens on diversity of thought on an, on a daily basis. Cool. I think we’re pretty much there for time, but I think that the key thing there is, you know, change is constant and, uh, you know, we probably need to do another podcast in a year’s time to see whether you’re still flying one plane, a hundred planes fighter jets, uh, what’s actually happened.
Absolutely , thank you. This has been great. Decent, right catch you later. Thanks Jan
And that, data magicians was another agile data podcast. if you’d like to learn more on applying an agile way of working to your data and analytics. Get over to agile data.io. .