Agile project management and leadership with Willem-Jan Ageling
Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson as they engage in an insightful conversation with Willem-Jan Ageling on agile project management and leadership.
Understand the importance of a goal-oriented leader who supports and empowers their team, and the common anti-patterns to avoid, such as:
🔸 Bureaucratic processes
🔸 Ignoring organisational blockers
🔸 Watermelon reporting
🔸 Pretending to be agile while reinforcing bureaucracy
Learn how leaders require agile training, mentoring, and coaching to truly understand and support agile methodologies. Discover the value of identifying leaders who are frustrated with bureaucracy and demonstrating how an agile approach can deliver valuable outcomes, helping organisations thrive.
Tune in to explore strategies for outcome-focused agile coaching and remember that the ultimate goal is to ensure organisational success.
Read along you will
Shane: Welcome to the No Nonsense Agile Podcast. I’m Shane Gibson.
Murray: And I’m Murray Robinson.
Willem-Jan: And I’m Willem-Jan.
Murray: Hi Willem. Thanks for coming on. So we wanted to talk to you about leadership and management in Agile today, how leaders can help or hinder your agility. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about who you are and what your experience is.
Willem-Jan: Okay, I’m an agile coach for World Line, which is a pay company that believes agility is key. I’m the founder of Sirius scrum, which is, the largest independent Scrum community in the world. And I’m one of the prolific riders, if I am allowed to say so myself of Sir Scrm. And my favorite topics have to do with agility. And how it doesn’t limit the software development teams.
Murray: So were you a software developer? What was your career path to agile coach?
Willem-Jan: I started as a software developer somewhere in the nineties.
Willem-Jan: did that for what is it, six to eight years. And then I bolt into the leadership role. So I started as a team leader. At a certain point I became a project manager. And, one of the things that I always bump helped into was the fact that I made great plans based upon was other people said that we could do. And, the plans always had to change and I always had to defend myself for the plans that changed. cause the reality was different than we expected. And I found it very strange cause one of the key aspects of being a project manager is to also manage these changes. But every time I went to the steering committee, it was like losing face. So you also saw that other project managers were really creating watermelon status reports. So green on the outside and red on the inside. I always try to refrain from that. And then after 10, 15 years, I bumped into Scrum other Agile approaches, and it all made sense to me. And then I thought I have to stop doing what I do. I can’t defend myself acting as if the world is very easy to predict. While it’s not, it’s far more complex. So I started the career as a ScrumMaster and I’m still feeling like I’m a screw master. It’s all, in the name according to the company. I’m known Agile coach.
Murray: Say you’re a reformed project manager,
Willem-Jan: Indeed. Indeed. Yep.
Murray: That’s right. So am I. We’re not all terrible. Shane.
Shane: I used to say I’ve never met a project manager who made the transition to Scrum coach will. You two can change it for me.
Murray: Yeah there’s certainly quite a few project managers who have gone off and got a Scrum certification and they’ve been employed as a project manager of an Agile project. And as far as I can tell, they pretty much do exactly what they always used to do. But now everything’s done in sprint.
Shane: Because they’ve been trained to do a certain process, a certain way of thinking for many years, and they’ve practiced that craft, that they’ve learnt that’s the skills they have. And then they go on a two day fluffy overview course, get a couple of terms, and somehow are expected to completely retrain their experience, their skills, their thinking. And that’s probably not fair to.
Murray: but it depends on whether you are ready for it or not. Shane.
Willem-Jan: If I’m very honest. at a certain point I wanted to make a switch in my career, and I saw that Agile was very popular. So I thought, Okay, what’s the best way to get into that? So then I saw that with Scrum dog, you are able to Get a credential screw master credential by simply doing a test.
Willem-Jan: what I did. I failed for the first time. second time I passed, and I all of a sudden had that screw master stamp. Having said that, I still knew nothing about what screw really was about. I only knew the mechanics. But the meaning behind Scrum, so the first two pages of the scrum guide, they never really stuck. It was all for me, all about the sprints. All about alternative way to create output instead of focusing on the outcome.
Murray: Ken Schwaber did write a book called Agile Project Management with Scrum. That was his second book. And he talked a lot about Scrum as the new project management methodology. So he certainly did position it that way at the time. I actually started doing Agile in 2004 when I was a project manager. And, I needed to make a big change in what I was doing cause I was delivering very successfully, but I was getting a lot of negative feedback from people about being too task focused to controlling, and Agile provided a completely different way of looking at it. I used to think that I was responsible for the outcome.
Because that’s what everyone was telling me. You’re a project manager, you’re responsible for the outcome. But what I realized was that the responsibility is shared. The developers, the testers, the analysts, the managers we’re all responsible collectively for the outcome. No one person can take responsibility and so there’s no point trying to control people. Your job is really to bring people together to achieve the outcome, not try and make them cause it doesn’t work anyway.
Willem-Jan: For me, the pitfall was not the the fact that I felt and responsibility for the outcome, but more that I was working towards output.
Willem-Jan: I thought we are all in this together. I always thought that the software developers, the testers, myself but also the stakeholders were all in this together to make it a success. But I was focusing on delivering what we promised to deliver and not on this is the impact that we want to make. So that was my pitfall.
Murray: That’s your job as a project manager is to deliver the spec, isn’t it? You’re given a spec, you deliver it. Often it’s in a contract. You’ve got all of these detailed features and requirements to deliver. People will talk about the business benefits and the outcomes during the business case development at the beginning of a project, and as soon as it’s approved, everyone forgets about it. It just turns into requirements and deliverables and documents.
Willem-Jan: Yes, Indeed. That’s the whole experience that I had. and it was that realization during an actual training, by the way from Someone that really could bring it forward. That is about in a complex environment, you don’t know exactly what will happen. So you can’t focus on the output. Cause it might be the having the wrong impact. You have to find other ways. Then it hit me and I never looked back.
Shane: Murray and I have this argument around terminology all the time, cuz I’m quite pedantic now my older age about terms And how they’re used. I keep coming back to this idea of product manager versus product leader. And the way I think about it now is managers manage the work to be done, Leaders lead the team and the organization and make the trade off decisions when they’re needed to be made. And for me, that’s how I differentiate now manager type behavior with a leader type behavior. What’s your view? How do you differentiate between a manager versus a leader.
Willem-Jan: So for me, a leader is someone who says this is the thing that we want to achieve. And then forces The environment and coach’s team to find the best ways achieve the outcomes. That’s for me, the leader And the manager is more the person, that gets the instructions of okay, this is what we have to do and, make it so with your teams very black and white as I say it now,
Murray: It’s like task focus versus people focus.
Willem-Jan: or maybe outcome oriented versus output oriented .
Murray: Yeah. The other thing I found very difficult about being a project manager is that the developers and everybody else on the team were constantly changing their estimates and not meeting their estimates. And the clients were constantly changing what they wanted and it was always my fault. Everybody blamed me all the time. The teams blamed me, the clients by me, my own managers blamed me. This quite
thankless job really, which I think explains why project managers produce so much documentation cuz it’s all about defending yourself from the inevitable blame that’s gonna hit you.
Willem-Jan: Yep, indeed. I have the same experience and I can recall that once, a project manager colleague went on a holiday for a couple of weeks and asked me to take over and, 80% of my work was to ensure that all decisions that were made were documented very clearly so that I would not get the blame for things. that were decided in her absence. And it exactly happened like that. So two months later, something happened that, had to do with the decision that were made at that. I got the blame for pivoting from original plan. And I could prove well, it, it was not my decision alone. It was a mutual decision. But all these people that now are saying, not saying anything anymore, so I recognize that. It was a lot about try to fend off the blame. And that’s a shame cause you can, push your energy in so many more positive things.
Murray: I think it’s also the reason why project managers are heavily focused on processes and contracts and, those other things. On the right hand side of the agile manifesto, it’s all about defending yourself.
Willem-Jan: Yeah. and the company in the end because you are also the face of the company. so when a client says, we want to have this output, and in the end it doesn’t bring what a client wants you still want to show that contract. you said it yourself. This is what you wanted, so you should not complain.
Murray: yeah, exactly. Cuz clients will give you a specification and say, Deliver this for the agreed amount of money. And then as soon as you start, they’re constantly wanting to change what they see at the start and they get very Irritated when you wanna charge them for it,
Murray: I realized that the core concepts of project management were really not tenable. I realized that while I was a project manager that there’s always so much uncertainty that we couldn’t really predict things. There’s always so much change and we could write perfect requirements and architecture documents, and then we would just find later on that we were wrong about a lot of stuff. I was hungry for change when I came across Agile and I found that Agile and Scrum and I found it very helpful, which I guess is your story as well.
Willem-Jan: Yes it’s the same for me. Indeed.
Murray: So when we are implementing Agile, I wonder if you’ve had the experience where you are brought in by management to help a team because they’re saying that the team’s not working well, they’re not producing enough, they’re not delivering, and we want you to improve the team, or a set of teams and then you find that you improve the teams. And before very long you’ve just realized that actually the problem isn’t in the team at all. It’s outside the team and maybe even the managers causing it themselves. Have you had that experience?
Willem-Jan: I have had that experience all the time. It’s one of the top things on my list of things that happened when I aim to coach teams or help. Agile and Scrum are often well understood by the people and the teams. They know what it means to work in a scrum environment or maybe another agile approach. So it’s not them. Of course, there are many things that a team can do better, but optimizing the teams while environment is not, helping out the teams to be effective that’s not the best way to proceed in my view.
Murray: What are the most common blockers you come across that are outside the team’s control?
Willem-Jan: One of the most important things that I see is to focus on things like output. You have to deliver this and this, and not the why. Why do we want to deliver that? Or what kind of impact We want to make with our product. Another one is focus on velocity You said you would have 60 story points burnt this print. Why That you only do 55 or you said that you would deliver these three items. Why? That you only deliver two? And if a team then would say, we still met our goal, then for some it’s still not sufficient cause you promised three and you’re only delivered two And another one , that was very prominent in World line is that a certain organizational impediment constantly comes back. Cause the organization doesn’t want to resolve it or manages don’t want to resolve them, it’s really disheartening for these people. They constantly pinpoint this is the thing that we need to have changed. For instance an approval process that’s far too slow, that’s holding the teams back. And not only one team, but all the teams, 15 teams in the department. That’s really a thing that I have seen a lot. It really broke the transformation that we had a couple of years ago. Cause these teams were not believing in Scrum And Agile anymore.
Murray: Yeah, I’ve seen teams that have been quite harshly reprimanded by program managers for raising organizational issues outside their control. And they just stop having proper retros after.
Willem-Jan: That’s exactly my experience. And I even had teams that said let’s not have s anymore. Cause we constantly will have the same arguments and the same discussions and nothing will.
Shane: So when we talk about managers versus leaders where does a program manager fit in and agile?
Willem-Jan: Program manager,
Willem-Jan: It depends a bit on how that person is picking up the role. You would expect that a program manager is very much focused on what do we want to achieve with our product portfolio or with our program. And if that is the case, then such a person could be a leader. But I think generally a program manager is more a manager like, the word says than a leader.
Shane: So I think as soon we hear those words, manager we get a organizational intent, we get a team topology, a culture coming from that organization that says we’ve probably got some challenges. We’ll probably see some of those. Antipas you talked about outputs, not outcomes or goals. Velocity as a measure of success, not what you delivered recurring organization impediments not getting unblocked because it’s outside the team control, but nobody else wants to fix it. So for me, that word manager becomes a dangerous word. That we should be aware that we may have problems in that organization as we try to change the way we work to a more agile way of working.
Willem-Jan: Yes, I agree. In our organization, we even decided to change the wording from department manager to tribe leader, so I was very happy with that decision.
Murray: I quite like leader as a, name. Shane, and I often argue about words my view is it’s behavior that’s important. And somebody who’s a manager could be a servant leader. And I’ve seen managers who are servant leaders who’ve been quite helpful. And then I’ve seen other people with the same title who are really authoritarian controlling, political destructive to the team. What I want to see is somebody who can be a servant leader. If they’re in that role, somebody who can support the team and unblock them.
Willem-Jan: Yeah. Yes, agreed. For me, it’s not about the name and also not about the responsibilities that they have. I always try to find, A common ground on what we want to achieve. that’s always what I start with when I have a conversation with project managers department managers stakeholders that are far from the teams.
Murray: So even beyond the project manager I’ve found that frequently we are still working in a siloed, bureaucratic organization with people above the project manager who are very jealous about their test empire or the development empire or whatever it is. Or you’ve got people who’ve selling things that can’t be delivered. And the big problem is really when you raise the issues and they just shoot it down. Do you see that sort of behavior much?
Willem-Jan: Yes. I think it has to do with the silos and that everyone has their own goals to achieve, which are conflicting.
Willem-Jan: if, for instance sales wants to sell as much as possible and making promises that developers make that doesn’t help people should all have the same motivation, to achieve a goal that’s the same for all of them and not conflicting.
Murray: Yeah, so my view is this sort of destructive behavior, which is quite common amongst management starts at the top. I did a survey of 400 people on LinkedIn and asked them what proportion of your managers during your career, helped your team, did nothing or actively hindered your team. Not talking about careers, but teams and team delivery. And basically, I got 25% of my managers in my career have been helpful to my team to deliver its goal, about 35% who were neutral, did nothing to. Just manage the bureaucracy. And 40% who are actively destructive, that is making bad decisions, implementing bureaucratic processes that they knew were causing problems refusing to help at all.
I dunno if you’ve had a similar experience or not, but it seems very common in organizations, to have a lot of managers who are really not helping at all, or even just making things worse for the teams.
Willem-Jan: I agree with that. When at the top of the organization has visions that, are not aligning with working in a complex environments, and with having more agile approach that’s already destructive, then you can do everything you want at team level or a department level, but you will not succeed. Cause the incentives from the top will be colliding with the things that you want to achieve. But even within our organization, we now have the top management who says we think agility is super important. In fact we want to increase agility all over the company. But that’s the top of the organization. And then you have in between different layers of management and that things are getting lost in translation there. Cause many people. In the management layers have no clue what Agile or agility is all about. That’s where often the issues are within what I experience at least.
Murray: So What is Agile leadership?
Willem-Jan: What is Agile leadership? For me it’s all about setting goals, outcome oriented goals impact oriented goals. And then fostering the environment and helping to
remove, impediments that are there to. Optimize the chances to achieve this. So that’s for me, agile leadership.
Murray: It sounds quite a lot like the Scrum master role.
Willem-Jan: Yes. I think Scrum Master is also an agile leader and the scrum master, as I see it, is often considered only to be someone who helps the team. What you often see is that 70% of the Scrum masters are team focused and often they do it on the side, so they’re developer and also scrum master for instance. And then they of course only have the capacity to help the
team. But, even the scrum master that know that they also should help the organization to change to be working in an agile way. Even those square masters don’t have the opportunity because the organization doesn’t want them to do that. They only want them to focus on the team. So I agree. And Screw Master is an agile leader and it’s a role accountability that’s really underestimated in my view.
Murray: Yeah, so even if you’re a senior manager and you don’t want to be called a Scrum master, you could still use those principles and ideas of outcome focused, goal setting, servant
leadership. I also think that leaders have an important role to work on the system. So the organization structure it’s processes, the way it works to help.
Willem-Jan: Yeah, to help change the organization to be more effective in creating valuable products. Then agile leader indeed should step in there.
Murray: Yeah, so let’s say that the three of us are coaches in a big organization, and the teams are telling us that there’s a lot of blockers and we take them up to management and they’re not being resolved. Maybe they’re structural issues and process issues, what can we do? What should we do? As a group of agile coaches in an organization?
Willem-Jan: Maybe what I can do is tell a bit of what we have been doing as agile coaches within our organization.
Willem-Jan: So we started with looking around. So we were our own little department of 1500 people, and the company is far bigger. So we looked at other agile coaches, scrum masters or agile minded people, that want to achieve the same thing. And we found them. Now we have 20 people and we call ourselves the Agile federation. And we have one goal is to increase the agility within the company. We started at two years ago, and right now we are established within the company. In that from top to bottom, everyone knows there’s an agile federation. If you want to be helped in increasing your agility, then you can look to them. So that’s the first thing that we did. And secondly, we also looked at who do we want to target? And then we came to the decision that we wanted to start with the people that are the ones that block us the most. So then you’re looking at people from finance, project managers, and in general people from quality security at risks, but also human resources as we like to call them. And that’s what we did. So we simply approached these people and asked them if we could have a chat. And then the chat that we were able to have was all about what do you do want to achieve within the company? And then find a common ground. And in the end, we were always able to have a common ground of we want to make an impact as a company.
Murray: When I’ve been able to work with managers on a program or a team, I’ve been able to take them on the journey most of the time, occasionally not, but most of the time they’ve wanted me there. So, I was able to take them on the journey. But I’ve had conversations with people two levels up, who are causing a lot of problems for the teams, and they were just very aggressive, very political, very defensive, just refuse to listen or accept anything we were saying at all, and just seem to see everything in terms of power and politics. So I found it quite difficult. Maybe it’s something it takes quite a long time.
Willem-Jan: Yes. I’m on this journey and I’m going to assume I will lead years and years if I will be successful. I don’t know.
Willem-Jan: But indeed so many people in the organization, are still in a traditional mindset of conveyable production.
Shane: But isn’t that partly our fault? We often leave people that are in the middle of the hierarchies out of the loop, we don’t reeducate them. We don’t reskill them. We don’t give them any help to actually understand this new way of working and where they may fit in . It is a fundamental change to those people’s roles. And I do wonder how much support from an agile community point of view, we give those roles, because we tend to focus on the team a lot more than everybody else that’s going through that evolution.
Willem-Jan: I fully agree with this. So we decided to create an agile leadership training the company. And we said we are going to target middle management and higher. So this is all about topics like we want to focus on outcomes, not on outputs. We want to understand what kind of environment are we in? And what is the role of agile leader in this whole thing? And are there still ways to have a long term vision while you are in a complex environment? So we started with that June last year. And we had a pilot with, leaders that we knew were, on our side and asked them for the input on our training. they were very positive, and since then we have monthly trainings and now in total
250 leaders in the organization have followed this training. I think it’s really about helping these people to understand what it means to work in a complex environment to create products and what their role is. And this has been really great journey.
Shane: So I can guess. That, That training’s not about the mechanics of scrum, it’s not a scrum in a day. Here’s what a retro is. Here’s what a standup is, here’s why you should care. I’m guessing what it’s about is having conversations with people at that level to tell them the things that they need to know, for what they do in their day job and what the change means to them. Is that right?
Willem-Jan: That’s exactly what we try to achieve. Teams mostly know what scrum and agile is all about And of course they can learn a lot, but they mostly know, And managers of those teams also mostly know. But it starts at a level, From there and higher. These people also need to understand why Agile exists. Most of them are really not liking the word of agile anyway. They believe that the traditional way of working is bringing them more benefits than an agile way of working. So helping them, to understand What’s the, best way to go for, in our organization? And what we also did was respecting the professionality and the, experience of the people that we coach and train. So we had 30 to 40 project managers in the training. We did not say, What you’re doing is bad cause that’s not up to us. We simply showed them there are alternatives and, they can be used in combination with many things that they have been doing and that helped a lot.
Murray: So agile coaches often quite negative about management. What’s the best attitude to take when you are dealing with management?
Willem-Jan: What I always try to do is to understand that these people have an important position, that they are beneficial to the company and to not confuse these persons with their role at that moment in the company. For instance when Agile was introduced in the company that I worked for I was a project manager and I could have seen it as a threat for me. And I was even told by Agile coaches that my role and I would be obsolete in the near future. And I think that’s a very bad thing to do. Cause then you basically dismiss these persons. So I think you should respect these people and their professionality and everything that they can bring and help to show them that are other ways.
Murray: Yeah, we talked to Esther Derby about this and she said that it’s actually quite difficult to be invited to coach managers. That they don’t feel that they need anything from you or an Agile coach, cuz they perceive an agile coach as being a team level kind of role. But the way to Get invited is to ask them about the problems they’re having and then make some suggestions about, some things that could help using Agile Scrum ideas.
Is that your approach?
Willem-Jan: My approach? Is very much the same, But, not completely, because I don’t want to come with the agile solution immediately.
Murray: She wouldn’t recommend coming with the Agile solution immediately either. She would say it’s about empathy, understanding their problem and helping them with patterns many of which are not agile at all. They’re just based on experience or wider reading.
Willem-Jan: And what I also do is offer them insights.
Murray: when you say insights, do you mean things like, this is what I’m seeing with the teams?
Willem-Jan: No I’m talking about, canne. Let’s look at this model. What do we see in this model?
Murray: So offering different points of view, different ideas, Is that what you’re talking about?
Willem-Jan: yes, indeed,
Murray: Yeah. Some people in management are really very genuine, very good, very helpful. Other people are very ambitious politicians who are spending a lot of time. Trying to manage people’s perceptions of them so that they can climb up the next rung or so that they can hold onto their power. And so for them, the honesty and openness that you have of agile, fundamentally we put honesty and openness very high up on our values. They find that very threatening because when they’ve been saying that everything’s great and everything they’ve been doing has been working. They don’t want any agile coach telling senior management that there’s blockers and problems.
Willem-Jan: Yes, I also have seen these people in the organization, because they are everywhere.
Willem-Jan: This is one of the most difficult things about, wanting to change a larger organization or even a smaller organization. Cause, without these values that you also have in Scrum you don’t have these, you can also not be having a learning environment and you need a learning environment. To understand if you are working in the right direction and failing to understand what you did is not helping you learning. Yeah that’s very difficult to change.
Murray: Okay. So in terms of changing things at the middle and, senior management level, I think we’ve covered off a couple of different things. One is agile leadership training so you can expose them to some new ideas. The other one we talked about was what I would call coaching consulting on a one-to-one basis. Is there any other things that you’ve, you’ve done that have been helpful when dealing with trying to make that bigger level organizational change amongst leaders?
Willem-Jan: Those are the two things that we are mostly focusing on
Willem-Jan: teaching and coaching. What also is important is that you show that are opportunities for these people as well. If you would be a leader of change, that’s also very good for CP and also good to show the top of the company. here, I’m one of the people that is successful in helping this part of the organization to make that jump towards higher value products. So yes of course it’s a mindset change. It’s also a different way of doing things from managing to leading, but there’s a great opportunity for these people to be Standing out , to others.
Murray: Yeah let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a executive for a moment. Imagine you’d had some good agile experiences and now you wanted to implement it. What can you do? What advice would you have for those senior leaders who want to help?
Willem-Jan: For the senior leaders, I would say ensure that you are able to communicate what you want to achieve as a company.
Willem-Jan: And also ensure that you have alignments between the team, goals and the company goals,
And that people that come with bad news are rewarded instead of being punished. cause bad news, are most of the times learnings that you can use to improve yourself.
Murray: I had an opportunity as an executive to implement Agile in a hundred person organization. And let me tell you everything becomes a lot easier when you are setting people’s salaries. It’s amazing how people want to do the things that you suggest. But the thing I’ve always found very helpful is restructuring. Taking people out of silos and putting them into cross-functional teams that are focused on a particular product or capability or set of clients.
Willem 2: Yes, I can only agree. Very good point.
Murray: And we can keep the functional managers, but we turn them into , supportive roles. Like chapter leaders, they call them Spotify. I really like the unfixed model as well because it’s gone well beyond the Spotify model, and he’s brought in a lot of organizational design concepts from Team Topologies and elsewhere, and given you a menu of what you could do.
Willem 2: I’m also inspired by the effects model from Jurgen Apello all about organizing around, value chain. It’s really a concept that I like and would like to embrace a bit more also within the company and help the leaders to have an understanding on that as well.
Murray: yeah, It’s really good and I recommend that people go and have a look at the unfixed model and listen to our unfixed interview Jurgen.
The other thing I did was I changed the agreements we had with customers and clients. So I found that often the contracts we engaged in with those clients were causing, a lot of this fixed scope behavior. and when we are moving to an agile way of working, what we really wanted to be able to say is that we agree that we will focus on achieving a goal and we are going to put some constraints about the time and the money. And we’re going to do some planning about how we think we could achieve the goal and what it might mean. But ultimately we’re saying we’re going to put this much effort into it over this much time. And what we are going to do is work together. As the customer and the teams to get as much value as possible out of that effort, that time, that money that’s available. And we’ll do that by renegotiating the scope every sprint.
Willem 2: Yes. Awesome. And I agree to shift discussion from the output to the outcome, to what goal do you want to achieve? Not on, what you create, but what your impact is and if you are indeed heading towards that.
Shane: We have to recognize how much of a change that is for some parts of the organization. So if we look at finance they are traditionally looking to manage the tasks to be done. So the budgets are around what work’s getting done, how much is it gonna cost? And when we change to this agile way of working, we need them to shift to the outcomes, the goals of the organization. And that’s a big change for them. Often it’s an easy conversation to start with cuz it’s something like, budgeting’s really easy now because we know the number of people we’ve got. Typically that is a fixed cost going forward. And therefore we’re not so much worried about the output, how much work they’re doing. We just want the budget around how many there are and how long they’re gonna be with the organization. And so, we need to help them relearn a different way of working as a supporting role in the organization, not as a constraint and approval mechanism that’s task focused. It’s A big change for them.
Murray: I think that comes back to their own senior executives, like the CFOs. So for example, if the CFO has told the finance team, every project deliverable has to have its own budget and its own time, and I want you to track it all, then that forces all the project managers into fixed scope behavior.
Willem 2: But I think you still can show that you’re heading towards the right direction, that you are constantly creating value and helping to achieve the goals. So it’s not that we are from the radar for, two years and we see you back when we want to have a new budget. You can still show that you are heading towards what you we’re aiming to achieve, and you can still say after half a year, for instance, or a year. We thought that we would be able to make this impact, but until now our learnings are that this is not going to go that week. You can still say let’s stop this endeavor, for instance. So there are still mechanisms to have some sort of control or leave. At least we ensure that you’re not putting money in the things that you don’t want to put it in.
Murray: Yeah, I agree. Look, finance and accounting is supposed to help the organization protect its money basically. And to provide reports on whether they’re gonna be profitable or not. I would really like organizations and senior managers, whether they’re in finance or some other area, to measure projects and products by their outcomes, as you suggested, not by their outputs. I would love that organization then to set monthly measures and say, All right, here’s the budget. Tell us each month how you’re going against those measures, because that would focus everybody on achieving those outcomes instead of the deliverables. I haven’t seen it yet, but I think that would be good.
Willem 2: And suppose you would have that then it would also be an incentive for the people at the Sprint review to be on top of that instead of only demoing what they did. They would also look at, okay, are we still spending our money wisely?
Murray: Yeah, I would love to do that. You could bring it all the way down to the individual teams and say how is this contributing to increase our revenue? The changes we did last sprint, how did that help to increase our conversion rate, for example?
Willem 2: Yeah,
indeed. So these are also the discussions that we have with our Azure leadership training, but also, how do we aim to coach the managers, people within finance and other positions that are traditionally
not that agile.
Murray: And have you been successful in your company in getting the organization to use those outcome measures instead of output measures?
Willem 2: That there are a couple of things that are bright spots for me. One is that HR on the company level want to work in an agile way, but also want to find ways to support the agile organization and to be a learning company. And based upon our advice, they are now looking at, okay, how are we going to measure the impact that we are going to make? So this is what we want to achieve, and how are we going to measure that with all the things that we do?
Murray: That’s good. I think we should probably go to summaries, Shane.
Shane: All right. Summaries. I’d like to do a survey to see how many scrum coaches or agile coaches come out of a project management background versus a software engineering or another background. I’m really intrigued how many have gone through that journey and survived. and ideally, how many of them are any good at it?
I love the idea of watermelon reporting, I heard that a while ago. Green on the outside, red on the inside. We’ve all seen the reporting changed color, as it went up, the seniority level. One of the major themes that we keep getting on this podcast is this concept of set goals for the teams. Let the teams go and do what they’re good at and then help them be successful. Remove the blockers, support them where they need your support, but get out of the way once that goal’s been set. I like the idea. A leader can be described as being outcome or goal orientated. A manager is typically task focused, so we can use that as a behavioral trait to see which one we are being when we’re doing
Murray: and people oriented, I said.
Shane: So I differentiate and you know this between pastoral care. And other leadership roles, somebody who is a pastoral care leader is very focused on the people, the health of the people the people achieving their personal goals and helping them when they’re in trouble as individuals. And then there is a role around leadership of the company and the things that need to be achieved. And often we have a person who does both. But what I find is people tend to have strengths in one or the other, It’s a unicorn behavior to be really good at both, and that’s great. Both are important, but they’re two different types of leaders. I like the idea of antipas.
So the ones you described as focusing on the outputs and not the outcomes using velocity as a weapon, okay. You’ve achieved the goal. But hold on. We, there’s 30 points missing. What were you doing? And the idea of recurring organizational impediments, there’s a blocker, it gets raised repeatedly and the organization just won’t solve it.
And one of the ones we had on last week was this idea of continuous deployment. Continuous integration and DevOps, and this idea of approval processes that are outside the system. So there’s a person who has to say yay or no, even though the system has said it’s good we wanna remove those.
I think one of the other anti patents that we talked about is where there’s a big gap between what’s being sold and what’s been delivered. When we got that gap we know that there’s a problem there.
I love the idea of an agile federation. I’ve heard of agile coaching circles before. and I love that idea. I wonder if that’s, a behavior or a patent that we get when there are predominantly internal agile coaches who are there for the long term, whereas often we see agile coaches get flown in as consultants or contractors for our point of time, and therefore they’re not as incented to create those federation behaviors which are required for organizational change. So that intrigues me.
And the last one is love the idea of the training you do for your leaders. So we want to help people become agile savvy because there is a whole lot of terminology and things that they probably haven’t heard before. So let’s help them become savvy by educating them and mentoring and coaching them. And that came back to one of the points you raised right at the beginning was as a project manager turning up to the steering committee and losing face because the promises that were made weren’t kept. And if we keep that in mind that often when we talk to a project manager, they are. Experiencing that behavior time and time again. So if we call it out and say, Look, are you constantly losing face in the promises that have been made but not kept and they start nodding. It’s going cool. Have we got the best thing for you? Agile helps us not have that happen as often.
And then the same with our leaders, we don’t want ’em to lose face. We want help them adopt this new way of working. So let’s do it in a way that’s helpful rather than, Oh, you don’t get this. You’re a middle manager, you know you’re go . McKinsey said 20% of you are gonna be out because that’s how we save money and achieve this agile transformation. That’s me. That’s what I got outta this one. Murray, what do you got?
Murray: Okay, so my summary, I think as agile coaches, we often find that we can help a team and the team gets it and they start doing the right things. But within A short period of time we come across major organizational blockers, which prevent the team from being more effective. That might be, for example, that we can’t get Devon tests to work together cause they’re in different silos in the organization. Or it may be that there’s some other team that. Is controlling deployment or operations that is being really unhelpful or there’s tools that we need that we don’t have, or there’s a lot of processes that we have to comply with, which are very unhelpful things like writing very detailed test specifications or requirement specifications for everything. so then in order to help the team be effective, we have to work. WITH Managers outside the team to change the organization to support an agile way of working. So therefore we need to find ways of getting that bigger organizational change to happen. And sometimes the managers we are dealing with are not wanting to change at all. They like the bureaucracy. That’s where they got their power and their status from. So they don’t want to change it. And they may very often have a long history of working in bureaucratic organizations where they’ve learnt to behave in a very political way, which is good for them personally, but not helpful for the teams that we are coaching. So it’s a very common thing. So how do we help them? Well, We can teach them about agile and agile concepts through training, that can be helpful. And I’ve seen that turn the light on with some people. I think that we can coach them and support them.
And to do that we need to take an attitude of I’m here to help, not to tell you what to do but you need to be invited to help people. You can’t just start telling people, You must do this, you must do that. You have to be invited to help. And often they don’t want you to help because you know you are down there and they’re up here. Somehow we need to get to the senior leaders and we need to get them on board. If they’re not on board, then there might not be anything we can do. If we’re gonna be honest about it, it may be that we can only work at the team level and help the teams as much as we can within the bureaucracy.
It’s very, common for senior executives and managers to say that they support Agile and then to do the exact opposite of everything we want them to do to help the teams. And I think fundamentally it’s because we often work in big bureaucracies and senior managers have got to their positions by being good at running the machinery of the bureaucracy and good at managing the politics of it. And I think the openness and honesty of agile, which is critical for learning and for finding and resolving issues, is often culturally not there amongst some management teams and executive teams. And. It’s really hard to know what to do about that.
I think the best we can do is find executives who are gonna sponsor the change and who support it and who wanna work in the new way. And I think just like with project managers, it’s not all negative. There are people in those positions who are frustrated by the way things are now and who want to change. And I think we need to find those people and help them. And sometimes we just have to accept that, that we can’t, we just have to help the teams. So it’s quite frustrating. I think many agile coaches feel the frustration and really wish that there was more support and that they’re not getting it. But, approaching managers with empathy and just being realistic about what you can achieve, and then maybe, coaching, training, support. Learning. That’s the best you can do. Do you have any comments on that?
Willem 2: Yeah. So when I hear these summaries, then I would like to emphasize that you’re doing it for a purpose. To help the company to make the best of its capabilities to thrive.
Murray: That is an excellent point, willam. I think that is the motivator for change that you can point to because we’re not doing agile just for agile’s sake. We’re doing it to, help the company survive and thrive.
Willem 2: So that’s one of the first things that I bring forward. this is the common ground. We all want to make this company as great as we can be. And, we can also agree that many things don’t work as we expected them to work. And there’s a need to improve, and then find it together.
Murray: Yeah. So we need to be outcome focused in our agile coaching as well. And also we need to be iterative and incremental in the way we help the organization change. Yeah. All right. Now how can people find out more about your ideas? Where can they read your, articles and so on.
Willem 2: Well, I’m part of the serious Chrome community and we have a Slack community where you can find me. And I’m also posting the articles on Medium and I always publish them on LinkedIn as well. So if people are, connecting with me on LinkedIn, then they will be able to follow me there.
Murray: Yeah. I recommend Serious Scrum. That Slack channel is one of the most active agile Slack channels that I’m part of. So I really like that. And a lot of the people involved in the community are really thoughtful and have a lot of good insights. and there was a good conference recently at which I spoke
Willem 2: Yes, indeed. Thank you for that.
Murray: You can go and see the recordings, somewhere where, where is that? On YouTube. So just look up Sirius Scrum. Yeah. It’s a good community to get involved in and it’s more than just Scrum. I think that people take a pretty broad approach to Agile, which is great.
Yeah, that’s great. Thanks for coming on. Will.
Willem 2: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Outro: That was a no nonsense. Agile podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help to build great teams that create high value digital products and services, contact Murray evolve.co. Let’s evolve with a zero. Thanks for listening.