Assessing agile capability

Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson in a conversation about assessing the agile capability of individuals, teams and partners. A lot of people and companies in the agile and software development space exaggerate their capability. Certifications and big brand names don’t tell you much. What really matters is experience and a commitment to ongoing learning. Asking people to explain what they would do in real scenarios. You can tell whose an expert by asking them about the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches. Don’t rely on big name professional services firms and consulting firms. Invest in improving your own teams capabilities. Use an apprenticeship and mentoring system. Encourage people and teams to learn and try new things.



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Podcast Transcript

Read along you will

 Shane: Welcome to the no-nonsense agile podcast. I’m Shane Gibson.

Murray: And I’m Murray robinson. 

Shane: So today we’re going to talk about agile capability. 

Murray: Yes. I thought we could talk about how to assess the agile capabilities of people when you’re hiring them. How to assess the agile capabilities of consultants and other firms you might engage and also how to assess your own capabilities internally. I have interviewed and hired a few scrum masters in my day. And my experience is about a third of them are full of shit, about a third, a mediocre, and a third are quite good. I found that there was no correlation at all between the quality of a scrum master and the brand name of the consulting company that they’d worked for. So people coming from the big four professional services consulting firms were no better than independence. People coming from specialized, agile consulting firms where not particularly better than average.

Shane: I have a theory that the more agile projects you’ve worked on, the more experience that I have, the better scrum master they going to be, did they ever a ring true. Was it people who’ve been scrum mastering for awhile with scrum coaching? Did they tend to show more expertise? 

Murray: Yes. Years of experience helps a great deal. There’s a lot of people who’ve done a, a two or three day scrum master certification and, they are just beginners. So the more experience you have the better, but it really matters that you have experienced in a organization that’s doing agile well. I’ve worked with a few scrum masters and agile coaches that have come out of banks. And they tend to have got agile completely the wrong way around. So they’ve learnt waterscrumfall and that’s what they think agile is. 

What I’m looking for is people who have, a couple of years of experience, at least doing agile with a good team. And in particular, I’m looking for people who demonstrate that they continually learning so that they’re actually really interested in this area. They’re enthusiastic about it. They go to meet ups. They’re reading books about it. They’re reading blog posts. We can have interesting discussions about the pros and cons of different, agile techniques and approaches and there’ll be well informed about it. 

Shane: So that sounds to me like they’ve chosen to be a scrum coach or an agile coach. It’s not just a hobby. So they’re saying, I want to do this role. I got no invest in the time that’s necessary to get educated, get upskilled, to learn what works, what doesn’t, and get the expertise and experience to do it. Versus I was a project manager and I see you’ve gotten a scrum coach job. Pick 

Murray: Yeah. And I’ve done, my two days for master certification course this year. So yeah. I’m not interested in that. I’m also looking for people who have the right mindset. What I’ve talked about before as an agile mindset, that is style or a servant leader. They humble they learning a helping and empowering. I like people who are experts as well. And who can say what they think. I don’t like people who are hands-off and wishy-washy and old. We don’t give people any advice because that prevents them from learning. I don’t like that sort of thing. 

Shane: Yeah. I’m with you on that one. I remember one scrum coach, every time he got asked a question by the team, he always said that. He was saying, you go work it out because that’s what needs to happen. I like to, say I’ve seen some patterns before. Here’s what they look like. These customers or other teams use them in this way and got success. These other teams use them in this way. And didn’t, if you feel any of them might work for you, give them a go. So provide at least some options. We can help teams accelerate safer by providing some guidance. I think.

Murray: Yeah. We can provide patents and we understand the issues. So what do I do in these interviews? Shane is I do, what’s called behavioral interviewing. I give them a real life example and we just talk it through. So I’ll take something, maybe that’s going on at the moment, or talk about a team that I know is having some issues and I’ll just give a description of what’s happening and then say, what would you do? I’ll start off with a simple problem. Let’s say the team is not meeting their commitments and see what they think. And then I’d make the problem progressively harder and harder until I can see that they can’t answer it anymore. That’s how I can assess the difference between somebody who’s, excellent. And somebody who’s just good.

Shane: Yeah somebody that’s a novice versus somebody. That’s experts that have been doing it.

Murray: Yeah. So novices, tend to be really by the book, but they don’t really understand what the book is told them. So you get a lot of rehearsed answers, the sort of things that people would say to pass an exam. But when you dig into why I can’t really answer it.

The other thing is that it’s common for people to still think that teams commit to a certain number of points per sprint. And then they have to work over time to do it. And that’s no longer a thing. So people who say that me, that. Outdated. , I ask people, tell me, what are the common problems in scrum that you encounter? Because all of these techniques, and it’s the same with Kanban. of these patterns have strengths and weaknesses and you need to combine them together. So the strengths offset the weaknesses and people who are inexperienced comp tell you about the weaknesses of the patterns that they’re using. Cause they haven’t had enough experience yet to see it. So that’s what I’m looking for. And I have interviewed people who appeared gaudy in the first, 15 minutes. But after that I realized that they learned everything out of a book and didn’t know what they were talking about. I’ve interviewed people from, major international well-known consulting companies who have an attitude of, I don’t really care. It’s other people’s responsibility, as a scrum master, I just facilitate standups and ceremonies and that’s, pretty bad. 

Shane: So it’s go through a scenario, you’re interviewing, two people turn up one somebody who used to be a business analyst they’ve gone through and done the two day certification. The they’ve worked in a team that did a little bit of agile, but was probably closer to water scrum fail. But they still believe it’s a better way of working and the passionate, they’ve shown that they’re willing to research, willing to learn, willing to experiment, and they look like a good servant leader. Second person turns up. They’d been doing scrubbing coaching, five years have got big glorious nine customers that they’ve worked with. They actually do have expertise and experience. They’ve been in the trenches. by the book. This is how you do it my way or the highway approach. Which one would you hire? 

Murray: Depends on the needs of the situation. If I needed somebody to be effective straight away and they had to work independently, I might hire the second person. I might not do things exactly the way I want, but they’re able to work independently and they probably quite good. The problem I would have with them is that they might be doing quite a few things wrong because I’ve learnt it from a big bank or waterscrumfall environment and I’d be worried that they might not be coachable because I’ve got too high opinion of themselves. The first one would be good for a lower stake role where they just don’t need to be so senior and we’ve got time. Catch them and support them through. It depends on the circumstances and also how much they’re asking for, because I’ve noticed that some of these peoples that I would class as quite mediocre, and I wouldn’t even hire them asking for a great deal of money these days. 

Shane: Yeah. And I think mostly for me, it depends whether it’s a permanent or contract role. So , it was the person gotta be a payment and he was able to grow into that role and be part of the team and help grow the capability in the organization. Long-term or is it somebody who’s, full-time contractor, which is fine, but they’re accountable for coming in, getting the job done and then going on to the next scale of growth. So that lens is often useful. 

Murray: What worries me shine is I’ve seen other managers hire payPal to be agile coaches similar to me and think that they’ve hired somebody really good. And then I discovered that this person has come out of a big bank or big professional services consulting them. And they’ve got the completely wrong idea about why agile is, and they are really into silos and waterfall. But because they’re doing things in sprint with user stories, I think it’s agile. So are they really into JIRA and processes and documents. and, I’ve just got the wrong end of the stick and people still hire them because I guess a lot of peoples think that’s what agile is. Unfortunately.

Shane: But also it’s hot when you buy your house or you are a person and you get a couple of hours, if you’re lucky. Then you find out what the house of the person’s really like when you’re working with them or living in it for a few years. 

Murray: I can assess people cause I’m an expert in agile delivery and coaching and it’s fun for me, but few people can. I find the recruiters uh, looking for just a big company name on your resume and some certifications. And they’re looking for people who’ve got a bit of a gift of the gab. So recruiters can’t tell. And then a lot of managers can’t tell either. And so as a result of that, they are going off brand names. So, the big professional services firms have done very well during this last COVID epidemic. I say that Accenture and Deloitte both had 15% revenue growth and increased profitability. I can see what’s happened is that executives have become nervous because of COVID. And I’ve just decided to go with the big brand name. Cause nobody gets fired for hiring the big brand name. 

Shane: Yeah, the GOP supermarket chains are probably the only ones that are done better out of COVID than the big consulting companies. It sounds like there’s a bit of an opportunity in the marketplace for uh, agile coach recruitment person, one who actually goes out and recruit those skills where organizations, where they’re recruiting based on having done it. 

Murray: Except that the main job of a recruitment consultant is not actually recruiting people who are a good fit for the job. Their main job is to sell and get revenue. They are measured on how much revenue they get in and they’re closely monitored and, closely managed.

 What about if you are uh, Scrum master or I agile coach. How can you work out whether your employer is going to be good to join? 

Shane: Yeah. So when a customer approaches me the facing already look for is somebody at a relatively senior level, that’s going to provide cover for the team as they experiment. And if that person doesn’t exist, then we’re asking for a hiding. And I probably. Go find something else. Because in my experience, if you don’t have that cover when things go wrong, the Jack boots come out and knee-jerk reactions happen and you start doing things that you wouldn’t normally do because the command and control from the top coming down.

I used to think understanding the team before I started was important, are they really open to, working in a new way, but I’ve backed off on that a bit because I’ve often started working with teams that I thought weren’t really into it. And then as they experiment, as I do this new way of working and they love it. There’s often people on the team, I think, there’s no way, you’re going to move away from that regimented waterfall process. And they completely flip and then say, wow, never thought I’d like the stuff, but I actually enjoy coming to work now. I’m in far more control of what work I’m doing and the quality and how I do it. 

So the next one is why are they hiring me? are they trying to achieve? If I here, look, we’ve started down this agile way of working. We’ve been doing it for a little while, the team of, getting some good traction, but they just keep hitting some problems and we think getting some coaching would be useful. And that’s a big plus for me. If I hear, I remember one, it was a SAP project and it was, we need to actually increase the amount of work. We’re not delivering fast enough. We’re not delivering quick enough. The underlying thing really wasn’t about changing the way the team worked for good. It was about, increasing the throughput. It was about chicken farming better. So that, wasn’t one that I took. The other one it sustainable? Is there a person who’s going to pick up the coaching mental internally over time or, are we going to go in and start this journey? And then because I’m a consultant I’ll leave and there’s nobody internal to pick up that coaching role and that coaching role needs to exist all the time. who are we. To be that coach on an ongoing basis for that team, that’s another important capability for me. That means that there’s a chance that this way of working will persist. 

Murray: Yeah. What I’m looking for is managers who are wanting to do something new, willing to try something new, willing to provide you with that support because they do have a problem that they need solved. What I’ve found a problem is going into big corporates, using a safe approach where the program manager is really controlling, and it can be quite difficult to tell to start with. But I worked for one project director was destroying his own agile implementation by being authoritarian.

It’s also a problem working for people who don’t have support internally. So let’s say that , they brought you in to help them do agile, but actually they don’t have the cover from their managers. And a lot of this is quite hard to tell from outside, so it can be a a bit hit and miss and really, I just try and make the best of the circumstance and add as much help as I can. 

Shane: Yeah. So I don’t mind if the person that’s bringing me in doesn’t have the air cover. But if the conversation goes something like, look, the team’s starting to experiment, they’re getting good traction and we need some help of introduced this idea that we can work this way, but the rest of the organization doesn’t follow this mantra and isn’t backing us. So we don’t have the, a cover. As long as it’s up front, then you can look at it and go, okay this is going to be a bit rockier than if we did, but we still got a servant leader. Who’s passionate about the team work in a different way. If they can get the money to bring me in, then they’ve got some power, some influence, cause they got budget. Rank their capability to be successful lower, but yeah, I might still engage, whereas putting my unethical head on, if you can see to me, we’re a safe organization, I’d say thank you very much and look somewhere else. I don’t like the safe way of working and therefore I just won’t do it.

Murray: What would you do shine. If you were advising a client who was hiring a professional services firm to come in and help them with a digital transformation in an agile way. And , a lot of them, just don’t deliver on their promises. So what would you say to a client who’s trying to decide who do we engage?

Shane: Yeah. So I think there’s a couple of things in there, but if we take it with the agile Lynch I’d say hire an organization, that’s going to coach your internal team to be self-sufficient. If you believe that professional services company, if their revenue, if the business model is to come in and coach get you up to speed on exit, go for it. And if that’s not the model, then find somebody who’s. That is the model. I think this digital transformation is just bullshit. I think it’s old clothes for new it’s the new buzzword or it was the new buzzword it’s, has all the hallmarks of badly run pieces of work. They’re massive amounts of people spending massive amounts of time with massive amounts of dollars to radically change something on day one. It’s just politics. But yeah, everybody’s drinking the.

Murray: Yeah. I would say that just because a company has a really big international brand and I’m in digital transformation doesn’t mean that they’re actually any good at it at all. It depends largely on the people that you get on your project. Those companies uh highly variable internally on how they work, even if they have best practices and playbooks and things, what you actually get depends a lot on the quality of the people they put on the engagement and you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that a large number of those people are actually contractors. They will claim that they’ve got thousands of people and then they’ll go and hire a whole lot of contractors under the umbrella of a few permanent staff. So I’ve had quite mixed results with the big name consulting firms. I think the really big professional services firms, not the McKinseys and buy-ins that the big professional services firms that charge, two to $4,000 per day per person. Those firms frequently implementing water scrum fall, which is, the old way of working, dressed up with agile words and being done in sprints. And it has all of the old problems of going way over time, way over budget, poor quality, big bang implementations, enormous amount of conflict internally between vendors. And just not delivering on expectations.

Shane: As you said about the recruitment market, you gotta look at the business model. So if the business model of the recruiters is low margins, you it’s a volume game. Then they’re going to give you as much time as they can based on that volume business model. So some of the large consulting firms, there are a permit scheme, so you may get a really good person. He’s an awesome scrum coach, but the business model was not for that person to stay with you for the entire lifetime of your work. That person will be moved on to other customers when they need to move them on. So. have a preference for the niche agile consulting com because that’s their business, their businesses to coach and do agile, they have training material and onboarding and ways of upskilling their team with the expertise of the coaching level people in their organization. They’re focused on the success of an agile way of working. It’s just not one line of their business. So I believe those companies probably are a bit, if you want good coaching capability apart from, consultants like me, of course. 

Murray: What about if you’re engaging a professional services firm to rebuild your systems, and so that they’re going to come in and they get to build things for you while doing it all in a world’s best practice, agile way. Cause that’s the common case. People tend not to hire, but take agile consulting companies because they think that if they get in one of these big professional services firms, they’ll get that at the same time. 

Shane: Yeah, but the market’s changed. At least in New Zealand, three, four years ago, I would have said that the majority of the coaching people in the market where you’ve got independent contractors or people in the niche, agile consulting companies. We go through waves, we’re at the wave of, nobody got fired for buying IBM. Nobody, gets fired for giving $500 million to a big shiny seed company. But that’ll change, the market always goes through waves and the next wave we’ll go back to niche consulting companies when organizations realize that, the capability they think they’re buying is not actually there.

Murray: Yeah, I find that the people with the best skills and the best processes are at the niche consulting company. A lot cheaper than they enormous brand name consulting firms. It’s much better value. 

Shane: Yeah, I’m just thinking about it as we talk. And I think for me to answer your question, eventually, I’d say to the customer, what are you buying. Are you buying a digital transformation where some of your old legacy systems get transformed into a digital platform? Ika, you’re implementing a CRM then if the vendor uses edge all or they don’t, it’s up to them. 

They use whatever way works for the end to deliver that outcome for you. The success criteria is you have a new platform that will. If you’re wanting to change the way your organization works adopt an agile way of working internally, then you can use a project or a program to be the first cab off the rank to experiment with. But, there’s a chance that what you deliver as suboptimal the first time because you should be focusing on your way of working, not successful delivery of that technology or that platform. 

Murray: But I don’t think vendors are equal in their ability to deliver a quality outcome for you. I think the quality of the outcome depends a lot on their ways of working in my experience. A company , that is good at design thinking and genuinely good at agile and good at the technical practices of XP and devOps I going to hand over to you a solution, which is far superior than an average big brand consulting firm. 

Shane: Yeah, because it comes down to expertise. And if there have adopted an agile way of working themselves, essentially how they run their business then , my belief is, they’ll have a bit of delivery. There’ll be a better business for you to work with. It’s not unusual to have a large organization that’s geographically dispersed and one team and a city is particularly good at delivering in an agile way. And another tribe has particularly bad. So, everybody’s going to implement it or use it differently.

Murray: What about engaging a company that’s in India or the Philippines of Vietnam to do your software development for you in supposedly an agile way, because I’ve had pretty bad experiences doing this. I’ve worked with all of the big Indian famous software companies, and they’ve been pretty good at doing things in a traditional why not great okay. The people who work on shore with you tend to be very good. The people who are working off shore tend to be like a sweat shop in a lot of ways. And the quality’s pretty bad. I’ve found that when these companies say they work in an agile. That I actually don’t know what they’re talking about and that they, uh, typically just doing things in the traditional waterfall, why it was all the problems it brings. 

Shane: Yeah. So I don’t have a lot of experience in that space. For our startup, we looked initially at, should we outsource the development of our frontend to one of those companies I initially engaged with a couple to see what would happen. We quickly got taken into a large requirements, upfront process, even though I said, we needed an agile way of working. So they and all the other problems that come with it of people not having the same primary language being in different country and that stuff. I mean, our development team are actually remote, they’re scattered around the world, but they’re not working for one of those organizations.

I had good friend of mine that worked for a us company, but the development shop was in another country. And they were building all of the billing software and something happened in here drop down as the product owner for the development team. This is all conversations over beers, but I got the impression that one of the major problems is how the people in those development shops are incented. So again, coming back to the recruiter, if the recruiter isn’t seen to close five recruitment deals a day, they’re going to behave in a certain way.

And my understanding was a lot of those developers, were under the gun for the volume of code, not the quality of code delivered. They were seem to, to hide problems rather than expose problems that needed to be fixed. So there was a whole lot of business practice and those organizations that meant it was hard for the developers to be self-organizing. There was no Soviet leaders, there was large amounts of hierarchy. And nobody was able to take a risk. Yeah, that’s what I think is one of the major problems with that model.

Murray: I think that there are good quality, agile technical people in those countries, but they very much in a minority. know one company that, recruited a whole lot of people that seem really good, really agile, they’ve come out of ThoughtWorks India and, companies that are really doing agile properly in India. I haven’t actually engaged them to do any work but I’m optimistic that they would be good. But I think it’s just a lot harder when you’re engaging with a company that’s in another country that has another language, another other culture, very different ways of working and expectations. Typically there’s a lot of barriers between you and the people doing the work. It’s a lot of project managers and project directors and account managers. And the more barriers there are between you and the people doing the work the lower, the quality of the work. 

Shane: Yeah, we want to remove the hierarchies. We want to remove any impediment between the customer talking to the team, doing the work. We want to reduce that cycle time as much as possible. One of the ranks I always go on is when you see the 20% project management fee on an estimate or a quote from a consulting company or a vendor. If it said 50% of the time for a scrum coach, I’m like, yeah, perfect. But 20% of the total cost of the project that’s one of the warning signs for me, that an organization isn’t adopting an agile way of working, but it’s hard, you go in as a consultant company to an organization and they go, we want this work done. How much is it going to cost? And you go it depends how long it takes and how much you want built. We’ll have eight people turn up and we’ll tell you when you’re finished. That doesn’t work very well. So the whole funding model for organizations and how they engage this capability is difficult.

Murray: My experience is that most of these big consulting firms are actually quite bad at developing software in an agile way. Some way between bed and mediocre. You’re lucky if you get mediocre or okay. There’s a lot of bad practices, bad management in those big firms, and in some of the smaller ones as well. 

Shane: But isn’t that a weird, because in the old days, those large fans were accounting brightnesses, and they were bloody good at being large accounting practices that had standardized process could bring Grady’s on from university and train them up and move them from a novice to a practitioner, to an expert, to a coach. They were really good at that yet when they move over into the software development world they seem less good. Is that because these more uncertainty in software development versus give it some credits. 

Murray: I think it’s because their management have never really understood it very well, and I’ve never really committed to being good at it, as good as they are maybe in doing audits. My experience with the really big famous professional services firms is that you’re probably going to get a group of people who are going to be about the same knowledge, experience and standard as the people you have inside your own organization. And it only gets worse from there.

Shane: Yeah, but we can’t forget the standing joke. You always pay a consultant to write down what nobody will listen to you if you wrote it down. So yeah, that is a business model.

Murray: That’s the management consulting firms. And I wasn’t talking about Bain, McKinsey, BCG. Those companies are generally completely clueless about agile. By have one person in your country who knows what they’re talking about. They have a group of partners who are good at selling, and then they’d have a group of graduates who were all asking themselves, what is this agile thing that we’re going to be doing to this big bank or telco next week? know people who were housemates with some of these consultants and the housemate was asking them all, are yo doing agile? Aren’t you at your agency? Tell me what it is cause I’m going into a big bank. Her paying $6,000 a day. Is it tell them all about agile and this is all new to me. 

Shane: A long time ago, I used to work for a big us software company. They had consulting services and our consultants used to always have to read the menu of the module they were implementing on the plane to go to the customer. So when they tuned up, I didn’t have to open the menu on site as often. 

Murray: That’s funny, but it also tragic. 

The last thing I want to talk about is assessing your own capability. You might be a coach has come in to help people. And they’re saying, can you tell us, what are our strengths and weaknesses, or you might be hired as a permanent person. let’s say, you’re a manager. You want to assess your own company’s capabilities. What would you do? 

Shane: So I suppose it depends whether it’s the organization or the person. It’s an answering question is how many agile coaches have coaches themselves? How many of them actually have somebody else that they talk to and get feedback on where they should improve? 

Murray: I’m not talking about assessing individuals on talking about assessing groups. So we’re talking about structure, processes, ways of working in a skills capabilities, the whole kitten caboodle.

Shane: Yes. What I tend to do is the first week or two, when I’m working with a new team and a new organization, or Ziv, it’s really hard for me actually, because you so want to jump in and start helping. I set it up that we have agreement that I can just sit back and observe for a while.

And that, helps me assess where they’re at and where the next area that we could probably work on might be. But I don’t have a checklist. I probably have one of my head, but I don’t have one written down on paper. I probably have a bit of checklist from a technical capability and the data and analytics space, so I’ll look and go. I have the automated, the tests for the data, are they reconciling their initial source to target loads? There’s a bunch of technical things that, I have , it started to codify. So I can see from a technical practice where the gaps are, but not from a capability to adopt an agile way of working, having got there. Not sure. 

Murray: Yeah. So I find it’s quite common that clients want you to do an assessment. When you start, it makes them feel better and it points you in the right direction. So I have found the best way to tell what the capabilities would company alike is to go in and listen to some retrospectives or to run some retrospectives. You can tell whether the company is being open and honest and transparent in their retrospective. So for example, one organization I went into, they would often cancel their retrospectives or they’d do them in 15 minutes or half an hour. And that’s a really bad song that things are being done in a traditional authoritarian way. Another one proud of themselves on being agile, but just tried to get it done as quickly as possible. Let’s just go round the individual after individual. That’s pretty bad as well, because they weren’t getting into the root causes of anything or any fundamental issues.

So the way you do it tells you whether you’ve got the right management mindset and support to do agile. I can go into any organization and run a retrospective and get a whole lot of really good meaty stuff out of it. And from there I can tell a lot about what they’re doing well and what the priorities should be for improvement. 

Shane: Yeah, I’d say all the scrum ceremonies for me, observing a standup. And how I deal with that, zooming the Y like groom the backlog, or do the sprint planning. Each one of those gives you insight on areas we can improve. And the key thing is there’s always an area you can improve. Even if you are, a really mature scrum thing, there’s always something you can iterate on to make your way of working better. 

Murray: Well, yeah. And you know what? You don’t have to scrum at all to be agile. 

Shane: You know, have I’ve just grab it all night, but always a good place to start. So Yeah. observing is really useful. I just don’t believe there’s a codafide list 

Murray: A lot of people do surveys. It’s very common for a consulting company and they come in and send out a survey to everybody, 

Shane: Yeah. That’s been a lot of maturity models, We haven’t seen an agile maturity model yet, but I’m sure, some idiot’s going to go and do one. 

Murray: saw one at a big telco. One of the big management consulting firms. It was basically an agile maturity model and on the head five areas with 10 or 20 questions in each area and a writing of one to five, and they had a target. Everybody had to be at least 2.5 by a certain date. But it was all self assessed. So of course I would say that better than they were.

Shane: which is wrong. Actually, they should have low board giving themselves one and then giving themselves three next time and then they would have got the bonuses. 

Murray: I’m also checking the organization against the agile values and principles because that’s defined what agile is basically. You could actually do a survey saying, is your organization more focused on individual and interactions or people and processes, where would you put line. A lot of organizations the call themselves agile would probably still be pretty heavy on processes and tools, for example. 

Shane: Yeah. I’m just not sure that, creating that level of documentation as anywhere aligned with their job principles. 

Murray: It’s interesting, isn’t it? Cause people who are engaging consultants quite often want written deliverables, which are reports and assessments and things like that.

Shane: Yeah. and it’s something we probably need to talk about another podcast because that idea of as a coach, you should not be reporting back to the manager of the team about the team. That’s an anti-patent, you’re not there to do that. And you should never do. 

Murray: One of the things find shine is that the managers often think that the teams are the problem. But when you go into the team, you find it’s actually managers who are the problem because the teams are doing their best and trying to improve. But what usually happens is after doing retrospectives properly for a few months, the team has fixed everything they can that’s in their control. And they being blocked all over the place by other parts of the organization or by, management requirements. a common blocker is that your general managers or your salespeople are over promising without asking the team if they can deliver on all or an and another common one is that Joel infrastructure and an operations team is just making an extremely difficult to deploy.

Shane: Yeah, another one is you’ve got a gap in the skills of your team, and you need another person on your team to fill that gap, but there’s no head count approval. 

Murray: Yeah. So it’s quite common for the team to have fix their own problems pretty quickly if they’re a good team. And then what you’re really needing to resolve is problems within the organization, problems of structure and the process and approvals and things like that. That tends to be where the big wins and big payoffs happen.

Shane: Yeah. So I, suppose this living at back to close it out. The question is, if you were trying to determine, the capability of an organization, that’s trying to adopt their job or a person that you’re going to bring in to hope you adopt agile or an organization that’s going to help you adopt agile or an organization that’s going to deliver something for you, but use an agile way while they deliver it. Some simple capability assessments you can do. And for me, I think the answer is at the moment. No, and my answer would be, I don’t think, you should kind of fire, but people who have experienced in the space have a sniff test. There are things that they, sit there wanting bills off, and maybe we should document those a little bit more. The anti-patterns we’ve all seen that we, should keep an eye out for.

Murray: Yeah I think the people that you get how much more important than the organization brand name. So an organization could have a great brand name and reputation, and you just get a whole lot of people who were just not up to the standard that you expect, including really senior people, or sometimes aggressively going in the wrong direction, which is even worse. 

Shane: Yeah. And also the other shoe sometime on the foot. There are some times customers, organizations that are not willing already to adopt agile and, the good consulting companies or the good people come in and set up to fail. So we need to look at it by finance capability of The people who need help and the capability of the people helping.

Murray: The other thing look for is the quality of the organizations processes. So it’s people and processes, do they have good processes for doing agile software development? Do they have a whole lot of experts? Do they have a commitment to improving this space? And as you say, I fond the boutique firms are just much better then the big brand name Thumbs, but I guess I would close out by saying, it’s all a journey. People have got to start somewhere. We shouldn’t be too hard on novices. Everybody was a novice at one point and, we want to encourage them and teach them good practices. But I just think we do have to be careful about people who come in with the big brand name. Cause that just doesn’t tell me anything about how good they are in my experience or even how good their team is.

Shane: Yeah. When you’re engaging somebody to do work with you understand what you’re buying and understand is. going to deliver what you’re buying and make sure that the two things line up. 

Murray: Yeah. So let’s say I was a project director for a client and they went assisting that. I use one of the big firms I wouldn’t trust the firm. I would insist on my own people interviewing any consultants that I had to come on to do the work. It’s not going to work with us and I’d be wanting to do my own filter over them. And I’d probably want to set my own ways of working because I think that would be a lot better than what they would do. If we get good people from, the professional services firm and they’re working in with us in a good way of, working, then, I know we’re going to get a good result.

And this goes back to what we were talking about the other day about the product team. I want one team made up of staff, contractors, consultants all working together in one team across functions, across organizations, without any of this nastiness that you get between different silos and different firms. I want one team working together. It just simply does not work to give your software development to another firm and say, do this for me. 

Shane: Well, That’s not what we teach teams to do. We specifically say to teams, don’t have a reliance on another group of people that aren’t part of your team and this, you really can’t help it. Don’t hang something off and wait for it to be done and give them back to you. Get the skills in your team, be able to deliver into DND and get the job done. So, that outsourcing of chunks to another organization, that’s not part of you as an anti-pattern and you have to look at how they make money. If that organization makes money by having good people, that they will drop into your team for a period of time. And be part of your team. If that’s their operating model, that’s their business model. That’s how they make money, then go for it because they’re aligned with you. If that’s not their model, then probably want to think again about where the edge falls for you. 

Still can take some of the agile patterns and still better than big design upfront and some of the other water fail processes. You’re never going to get to close to Nevada and my expense. 

Murray: So to summarize then on assessing agile capability my experience is. That about a third of the people who say that they understand agile do and the others right at the very way, cool. Or faking it which is a real shame. The certifications don’t seem to make that much difference. What really matters is experience commitment, a lot of self-learning, ongoing learning. And then I think you can tell who’s good by doing behavioral interviewing and asking them, what would you do in this example or in this scenario, a real scenario, and then just talking through it. And then also asking people what do they think are the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches? Because the experienced paper will tell you what the weaknesses are in well-known approaches and inexperienced people won’t. So, Apart from that, I’m looking for an agile mindset, servant leadership, some humility, some commitment, some determination. Good people skills.

And then if it’s your own team, it’s really well worthwhile investing in improving their capabilities. I like to put in an apprenticeship system within teams where you have experienced people, mentoring, less experienced people. And that seems to work really well. But just encouraging people to learn, to grow to develop to try new things. I don’t like to set a mandated set of processes that everybody has to follow. I think it’s a lot better to have some guidelines. Some, ways of working that are good to start with, but then I really encourage teams to learn new things by going to meet ups and conferences, and then come back and try them out. And if they work, then, help the other teams do that. So there’s a lot of growth and improvement. You can get in a teams capability I have a time. So I think it’s well worth investing in trying to grow your own team’s capabilities.

Shane: Yeah, I agree. I think they’re all good tips. And hopefully some people who are listening can grab some of them and get a better experience when they adopting a new, agile way of working either on the team or by bringing somebody into. 

Murray: Yeah. And there’s a really, very big difference in outcomes between a good team and a weak team. So that’s really worth making sure you’ve got a good team and that you’re growing and developing them. 

Shane: Yeah.

Murray: All right. Thanks, Shane.

Shane: All right, we’ll catch you later.

Exit: That was the no nonsense agile podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help with agile contact that’s evolve with zero. Thanks for listening.