The joy of agility with Joshua Kerievsky

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Shane: Welcome to the No Nonsense Agile Podcast. I’m Shane Gibson.

Murray: And I’m Murray Robinson.

Joshua: And I am Joshua Kariovsky.

Murray: Hi, Joshua. How are you?

Joshua: fine, thanks for having me. 

Murray: We want to talk to you about your new book, Joy of Agility. But why don’t you kick us off by telling us a little bit about who you are and how you got to this point in your career. 

Joshua: Sure, I have been in the software business for decades and decades. I started my own company in 1996 called Industrial Logic. We were very early into lightweight software methods. 

And Industrial Logics now helping companies around the globe, become more agile. And what we really do ultimately is help companies improve their software development capability from the product planning side to the craft side. So, creating good story maps and doing test driven development and the soup to nuts kind of approach to helping radically improve software development.


Murray: You’ve written this new book Joy of Agility. What’s it about and why have you written it?

Joshua: So I, teach people about agility. And I find that if you talk to a hundred people, they’ll give you a hundred different definitions of the word agile. Everyone has a different conception. A lot of people think it means doing certain rituals, having certain roles. They think of it as a project management approach. They think of it as a framework. They think of it as purely a software development thing. They think of it as the Agile manifesto. There’s just an endless number of different ways to interpret Agile. 

So part of the reason for writing the book was to bring some clarity to that. And the way I tend to bring clarity is through stories. So I wanted to share stories of real agility. Things that could help people understand what does it really mean to be agile? And what is this word agile anyway? 

I believe agility is applicable to many human endeavors, not just software development. I don’t think that’s a very radical statement. We can be agile in all sorts of different things that we do. Both at work and at home 

Murray: Shane and I have experienced some, pretty bad agile as we’ve been doing coaching and consulting. I see a lot of water scrum fall, which is just waterfall. Same phase gates and the same siloed departments, but now the business analysts write user stories in sprints before sending off a thousand of them to the architecture team. 

One of the most depressing experiences I had recently was consulting to a safe team where the people were just, on this death march and felt very disempowered and miserable and just couldn’t be bothered doing their retros because nobody listened to them. And I’m seeing people come out of some of those horrible environments now calling themselves agile coaches, and implementing that. That’s how you do agile, they think. 

For me agile was very much about empowerment, support, bringing your whole self into the work and working in a very collaborative way. And I just don’t see it that much anymore.

Joshua: Yeah, you’re uh, definitely speaking the truth. It’s a really bad state of affairs for capital A agile. It’s become a very big money play, so you see the giant consulting companies in on it now. Once the money started to get into it, it started to get a little scary because now you got people that are really in it just to make money and don’t really understand too well and are just looking for a quick way to make a buck.


Joshua: I’m actually proud to say I’m completely uncertified. I hold zero agile certifications. I’m not anti training. I love training. In our company, we create, world class training. But I don’t get into like certifications that don’t involve proving you’ve learned a skill, so somehow demonstrating the skill to the point where an expert can say, yes, you got it. 

Shane: Yeah, I’m with you. I see value in training. I see value in learning from others. I see minimal value in getting a certificate after two days. But I do believe that doing the two day course to kick off your journey of being a scrum master, great idea. It gives you some basics and then go and learn the craft. 

I work with data and analytics teams, they’re always dealing with complexity, they’re dealing with problems day in day out, but if they’re rocking it they seem to have more joy in their craft. 

Joshua: Yes. I believe that when you really are agile. That there is joy associated with it. You experience joy. If you’re not experiencing joy from whatever sort of approach you’re taking to agility, that might be a sign that it’s not as agile as it needs to be, and you’ve got some improvement to make. 

We need to focus on what real agile looks and feels like, because it is joyous. It’s not just following some framework or, behaving in a certain way. It is really a breakthrough. When you really are agile. You’re doing some awesome stuff and it’s getting done quickly, easily, gracefully.

That’s real agility. That’s what I’ve been about. That’s why I’m still interested in this topic 20 years into this thing or more. And I haven’t given up on, sharing my enthusiasm with people about this, even though there’s all this, dumpster fire as Murray was talking about earlier. There’s a lot of junkie stuff out there. Yes.

Murray: You’re actually seeing a whole movement of people giving up on Agile now. Dave Thomas said Agile’s dead. And you’ve got Ron Jeffries talking about dark scrum. And then you’ve got the big management consulting firms saying, we’ll help you fire 20 percent of your managers by implementing Agile, which is really not about Agile at all, it’s just an excuse for firing people. I’m wondering, how much of that is the fault of Agile itself? 

Joshua: We have to distinguish between the use of Agile as a noun. And the use of it as an adjective. I treat it as an adjective, an agile dancer, an agile surgeon, an agile team. But when we talk about agile these days, a lot of times people are referring to it as, a thing, as a noun, as this, framework. That’s where the trouble begins. If you think about it, agility has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years, ever since we had living beings 

I think of agility as being something that salespeople can demonstrate, a surgeon can demonstrate, a basketball team can demonstrate agility on the basketball court. I’m trying to get us back to the origins of this wonderful and fantastic adjective to really understand it and appreciate it for what it means and then how do you actually become agile.

So in many respects, my whole book’s about how do you do it in a way that would be applicable to any kind of human endeavor, which is, what are the aspects of agility you need to master?

Shane: We often hear organizations doing an agile transformation and the goal seems to be agile. Not change the way we work or what we do, adopt a new way of working and take some of the things that have been described as agile patterns and apply them if they work for us.

The goal is agile transformation. And we know that that’s, not what it’s about. It’s just things that people have done that they’ve told us about that if we adopt them, they may help us do something in a better way.

I think the behavior we see now where Agile’s been commoditized is a sign of success of those early explorers that crafted these new patterns and shared them with everybody and people that were adopting were getting success. 

Murray: Let’s try and strike a more positive note. What is the core of Agile do you think?

Joshua: In the course of writing this book Joy of Agility, I wrote a bunch of stories of real agility. And out of that work, emerged six mantras around this concept of quick, easy, grace and quick, adaptable, and resourceful. 

Quick is different from hurrying and from rushing and from working in such a way that you’re out of control and you’re making lots of costly mistakes. On a basketball court, it could be you’re going so fast that you just, stepped out of bounds, or you lost the ball, or you tripped. You’re out of control. You’re not actually going quick.

So quickness is always good. We want quick customer service. We want quickness in our builds. We want a web page to load quickly. Quick is good. Hurrying, rushing, being out of control, and going too fast, those are bad things. So we have to distinguish those two. 

Then there’s being resourceful. Being resourceful means overcoming obstacles. We’re not stuck when we’re agile, we find a way. 

So resourceful, adaptable. Adapting quickly. So quick resourceful and adaptable is a great way to think about agile.

If I think about a dancer or someone performing in the Olympics, they’re quick and graceful and moving with ease. 

Murray: Well, dancers are highly trained. They’re bringing a lot of skills and practice and experience and combining them together in a graceful way. You may not have seen it before, but they’ve been practicing it.

Joshua: In fact, practice is an incredibly important part of being agile. 

Another way to look at adaptability is you have to be poised or ready to be adaptable. You’re not just necessarily going to adapt on the fly if you don’t have any kind of capacity for adapting. 

During this COVID pandemic, there were certain leaders of countries who said, Hey, banks, I want you to deposit money directly into people’s accounts. And I want you to do it in two days, because there’s some emergency going on here. Some banks were able to adapt rapidly and execute on that. Some were not, some had to spend weeks, maybe months to make all the changes. The ones that can make the change quickly and easily and gracefully were agile, they were prepared to adapt quickly in an unforeseen situation.


Murray: What are these mantras that you came up with from your experience then?

Joshua: So the first one is this mantra from a guy named John Wooden considered the greatest basketball coach of all time. He is both a hall of fame player and a hall of fame coach. Thing that’s most incredible about him is that in a 12 year span, he took his UCLA Bruins and they won 10 out of the 12 NCAA championships which is very hard to do, it’s never been equaled. And teams just simply could not compete with John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. 

So John Wooden, sports figure Hall of Famer player, legendary coach, He would say to his players over and over again, be quick, but don’t hurry. And that’s a very hard thing to do to distinguish the two, it’s not so simple. Sometimes we’re quick. Sometimes we were hurrying and we’ve got to reflect and ask ourselves, was I quick or was I hurrying in this situation? Or before you’re about to do something, you say, Huh, I don’t want to hurry. Let me make sure that I do this in a more controlled way. John Wooden would call it quickness under control. So that’s the first mantra. 

A lot of times you got to slow down in order to really be quicker. And John Wooden would take the UCLA freshmen. So these are high school athletes that were amazing basketball players. 

And the major thing that coach Wooden needed to do was slow them down. They were going too fast. They were off balance and they were being heroes and he had to slow them down and teach them quickness under control.

So the second mantra is be poised to adapt. This is a phrase that is often used by people in resilience engineering. These folks tend to be called in when there are major disasters. And they are able to help explore what happened. They were the ones that introduced the concept of Safety 1 and Safety 2. 

Safety 1 is if there’s something that fails or is a near miss. You try to figure out how to make that not happen anymore. Whereas Safety 2 spends much more time focusing on studying what works. What are people doing in the system to make it work? So the safety 2 is the study of resiliency and trying to learn more from that and double down on that stuff instead of just focusing on failures. It’s this concept of being poised to adapt, having adaptive capacity. Imagine you’re so busy that when some unexpected event occurs, you’re just not ready to adapt. You don’t have adaptive capacity. Having the capacity means you’re ready. You’re poised to adapt.

Murray: We’ve seen this during the COVID epidemic with all the supply chain problems because everybody has created very long supply chains all the way back to China and other places. And as soon as something went wrong, there was these cascading failures all the way through the supply chain .

Joshua: I think a lot of times what happens with systems is they fall to a single approach. Sometimes in lean manufacturing it’s a pull system. Just in time is the term, so you can say well, this is the better way. We’re always going to do just in time.

And that means that we’re not going to have a stockpile of tires. When a new order comes in for a car, we’ll make a request from the tire manufacturer and get the tires we need for that car. Just in time. Great. Works awesome. A lot of the time, but not all the time. It may not have you prepared for adapting when things change. So I guess the older I get, the more mature I get in looking at this stuff I appreciate multiple ways of doing things. That’s going to be the difference. Now, if we talk about examples from the automotive field, there’s auto makers that had this incredible shortage of chips. We still wanted to manufacture vehicles. They just didn’t have the chips.

Tesla still suffered from this chip shortage, but they were able to change their software to work with other manufacturers of chips and not be so dependent upon one manufacturer of a chip. They were more poised to adapt than most automakers. Again, Elon Musk would say they were still impacted by the global shortage, but it was much less of a problem for them than other companies cause they had more adaptive capacity.

Shane: In New Zealand, one of our largest city’s been in lockdown for 12 weeks now. So everybody gets packages delivered to their house because they can’t go out shopping. And we have a state owned delivery service, NZ Post went through that whole digital transformation. Now they’re absolutely flooded from a postal delivery of packages. What’s interesting is their organization has invested in agility off and on over many years. Are they quick in terms of changing what they do? No. No quicker at delivering it. They’re worse. Are they adaptable? It still looks like the same conveyor belt. I’m assuming all the parcels go on it. They don’t adapt their practice to put some a different way. And therefore they’re not really that resourceful because he’s just standing there going, Ah, it’s a big problem. We’ll let you fix it by not ordering anything. It’s interesting when I apply those, words against that behavior. , you can see some gaps. 

Joshua: There’s a great story from Apollo 13. Most people have seen the movie that depicts what happened when there was this problem, in the aircraft, and they had to suddenly move the astronauts into the command module.

In the movie, it’s very dramatic and there’s all these engineers down in, Texas somewhere and they throw a bunch of stuff on the table and say, Hey, quickly, you got to figure out how to make, a round thing fit into a square thing or vice versa. And they have to dramatically figure this out, right there on the spot to save the lives of these astronauts. 

That’s not actually what happened. If you read what actually occurred and study what the astronauts said, they actually had practiced this already. They practiced and practiced all kinds of things that might go wrong during the, mission. So it wasn’t really such a big deal to come up with a solution and it wasn’t we got to react because of this problem. They’d already, done some things and even though they hadn’t exactly rehearsed on that particular event. They’ve done so many other things that they were able to easily piece it together and create a solution on the fly because they’d prepared, they practiced what to do when things go wrong and they were poised to adapt. 

Shane: Kind of reminds me of Agile Theater, when people stand up and do these amazing presentations and then you go and talk to the people that were involved and they’re like yeah, you could say that, but this is what really happened.

Joshua: That happens all the time. I might tell a story about a certain company, of something that was quite agile that occurred. And that doesn’t mean that company is agile. If you go and look at the company a year later, or you go to a different part of the company, they may not be that agile at all. I know places where psychological safety is very high, but in other parts of that company, it’s not very strong at all. It’s in fact, terrible . So, you can’t just say that everyone’s agile in a company if there’s one story about them. 

Shane: And how do you find that use of storytelling when you’re working with people who are new to Agile, who you’re training up or you’re educating or you’re helping, do you find the use of storytelling valuable?

Joshua: I find that a good story sticks with you. It stays in your brain and that’s ultimately what I really want. I want people to have stories that are unforgettable. They’re so impactful that they’ll remember them next time they’re in a situation where they need to do something similar.


Joshua: The third mantra is an interesting one. It’s be balanced and graceful. If you’re not in balance. You really cannot be very agile. So let’s talk about psychological safety for a minute. Let’s say you just had a terrible thing happen and you come to the meeting and you’re unstable. You might, might not be. The easiest person to work with at that point in time. That’s one example. 

Another is classic in the software field. There’s new product work and the technical debt is rising and there’s not a good balance being struck between the two types of work. So you’re not actually poised to adapt because you’re out of balance. Balance and grace are closely aligned because if you’re not in balance, you tend not to be very graceful. 

So back to the basketball thing, John Wooden would blow his whistle anytime someone was out of balance, either on offense or defense, because he understood that being in balance was key to being fast. So that’d be quick, but don’t hurry again. He said, I don’t want just physical balance. I want emotional and mental balance as well. So if his championship basketball player was upset about something, and they’re not mentally or emotionally balanced, they’re not going to play as well. 

Murray: The values of the Agile manifesto are all about balance. So we value responding to change, but we also value planning. And it’s the same with individuals and interactions over processes and tools. It’s amazing how many people are completely focused on processes and tools these days, but we need to balance it with individuals and interactions.

Joshua: It’s not just be balanced, but it’s be balanced and graceful. Before I was calling it this particular mantra name, it was called treat people with dignity and respect. So think of gracefulness in both movement, but also behavior. If you’re graceful with your customers, if you’re graceful with your colleagues, that typically means you’re treating them with dignity and respect. It’s a joy to work with you. Being graceful can be also, Hey, look, a graceful flow of work happening across our Kanban board That kind of grace, so ease, grace, those types of words are really important.

Murray: Yeah, okay. 

We’re running up to our time. So maybe we should summarize Do you want to go first shane?

Shane: Yep. So one thing I’ve picked up is lightweight methods aren’t new, they’ve been done for years. We’re just trying to do them more often and do them better. 

I like the fact that you talk about craft. It’s not a factory they’re crafting their practices, their ways of working .

I like the idea of quick, resourceful, and adaptable. 

I like the idea of looking outside of agile. Something I subscribe to as well. I read some of the agile books, but I read a lot of other stuff. 

And same thing around storytelling. I like a good story, and I like telling a good story, it makes it more engaging. 

I like the idea of joy. Watching a team grow, watching a team enjoy their work more is one of the benefits I find in coaching people.

So that’s me. What have you got Murray?

Murray: Yeah, I can see Joshua that you’re trying to redefine Agile by going back to the basics of agility which gets us away from all of this focus on particular methodologies.

And, quick, resourceful, adaptable and graceful, are all good ways to think about Agile. There’s a real need to reorientate people around the core of what Agile is really about without all this focus on Jira administration and tickets and velocity.

Let’s bring the joy back to agility. 

Joshua: Absolutely. Yes. That’s what I’m endeavoring to do and staying very positive about that. Agile is too precious to let it fall to this kind of dumpster fire that we’re seeing where, It’s very poorly implemented.

That’s happened because it’s become enormously popular and there’s a lot of misunderstanding out there. And, we’re here to help folks really experience the joy of it. And remember that joy still exists and make way for it. 

Murray: Yeah, if you’re not enjoying doing Agile, then you’re probably not doing Agile. 

Shane: Yeah. Or you’re working with an organization that. Doesn’t want to adopt agility. They don’t want to be quick resourceful and adaptable, they just want to have a big a word and do a transformation. 

If you’re with a team or an organization and nobody’s having fun, it’s not joyful, then walk away and find another group of people and hopefully that becomes a joyful experience. 

Murray: I would say before you walk away, try and lead a positive change in your own team first, the best you can. Because people will appreciate it. And also it’s probably going to be a lot like that at another place you go to but If it doesn’t work then walk. But I would say, have a go first because everybody can be a leader. 

Shane: yep. 

Murray: All right.

Thanks guys. 

Joshua: Thank you, Thanks for having me.

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