The illusion of agility (what most Agile transformations end up delivering)

Agility is a unique and continuously evolving state that is typical to a specific organization, a state that corresponds to an organization’s people, set-up and history. A traditional (industrial) approach to becoming more Agile commonly creates no more than an illusion of agility.

Agility is a specific state as it reflects the unique lessons and learnings that an organization and its inhabitants went and go through, the way in which specific annoyances and hindrances were and are overcome, the many inspections and adaptations that occur along the journey, the unknown future challenges that will demand distinct responses. Agility is a unique signature with imprints of the people involved and their relationships and interactions, of used and abandoned tools, processes, practices, of constructs within and across the many eco-systems that make out an organization, potentially even stretching across the organization’s boundaries.

No model can predict, anticipate or outline the unique signature that an organization’s state of agility is.

However, many of our organizations have their roots, and their beliefs, in the past industrial age. As they feel the need and the pressure to increase their agility, they naturally revert to familiar, yet old-school, industrial recipes. They undertake cautiously planned attempts to shift to the Agile paradigm (although they need to leap), wrapping them in separate change projects. They look around and imitate what other organizations do. They copy-paste what others, regardless whether they operate in the same economical domain or not, claim brought them success. They enforce processes and practices in a cascaded and mass-production way. They rely on text-book models that prescribe generic pre-empted blueprints organizational structures. The learnings and the hard work needed needed to acquire sustainable agility tuned to the organization’s specific context are conveniently ignored. Ironically, these are the exact approaches that block them in their growth, the ways of working that they need to abandon in order to enter and survive the new worlds, the worlds that require a higher agility.

The mismatch is fundamental. They need and want to hose down their industrial ways, yet re-inforce them. No more than an illusion of agility is created, which is painfully revealed when, often after several years, the deflation by reality hits hard. In the face of the urgency, the increase in agility is negligible. The actual results are disappointing.

What was hoped would be achieved is not achieved. The people creating a company’s products and services are not more engaged or motivated (rather they keep leaving and no new talents can be attracted). The people funding the work are not more pleased (not achieving the gains and returns hoped for). The people buying and consuming the organization’s products and services are not more satisfied (and usage and satisfaction keep declining). Overall, the old predominant disconnectedness is not resolved. The traditional top-down line organization with its typical silo structure and separation of skills and expertise is not replaced with team work, shared purpose and commitment. Blaming keeps taking precedence over collaboractiveness.

Increasing agility is a path. Progressing on that path requires vision, belief, persistence and… hard work. Agility, as a state of high adaptiveness, can only be achieved by regularly… adapting. Adaptations only make sense upon inspections of actual work and observable results. Think feedback loops (all around). The new reality, for which agility is needed, says that what works today might not work tomorrow. What works for one company (a complex system of interconnected people, processes, tools) might not work for another company. What works for one combination of teams, technology and business might not work for another combination.

Signposts that might help you detect whether an illusion of agility is being created:

  • It is not a transformation if it doesn’t change how you work.
  • It is not an Agile transformation if it doesn’t simplify how you work.
  • It is not an adoption of Scrum if it doesn’t engage and energize people into productive collaboration (customers, teams, stakeholders).

Note. None of the above makes sense if no proper attention is given to technical excellence.

The new reality tells us to act in the moment more than we ever did before. Embracing uncertainty and unpredictability has a great potential too. Getting the most out of the possible thrives upon acceptance of the unwritten state of the future and what that future might bring. It reminds us that we are not alone in this, that each individual, no matter their function, level, position or silo, can contribute. Living the art of the possible against unpredicted outcomes has the option of engaging people as it shapes their future. Acceleration comes from vision, determination and dedication; from the courage to move away from following a plan or copying a model.

Regardless an organization’s past attempts and choices, reverting to the path of hard work is always a workable way out.

More Agile teams does not make a more Agile organization.

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations and Jellylab for the graphics)

The deliberate evolution of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”

In 2013 I accidentally created a book, “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”. In 2018 I deliberately evolved my Scrum travel companion into a second edition.

I am humbled over the many unanticipated consequences of the accidental creation of my pocket guide to Scrum. I equally enjoyed updating my book to a second edition 5 years later. This time around it was a deliberate evolution rather than an accidental creation. The first batch will be available 16 January 2019 and soon after in all major formats (hard copy, Kindle, PDF, eBook, ePub) via all main channels worldwide.

Who would have figured that there was room for a second edition of my pocket guide to Scrum? Certainly as my book remained in the best-seller list of my publisher all the time?

For this deliberate endeavor, I considered how I described the Scrum Values in the first edition. In July 2016 they were added to the Scrum Guide. How I described the traditional 3 questions as a good, but optional tactic for the Daily Scrum. That too is now in the Scrum Guide, since November 2017.

Obviously and fortunately, that does not mean there are no further evolutions to mind.

Not only have I found new ways to express Scrum, while working with teams and executives, facilitating various classes, and connecting with practitioners at events. We also adopted terminology that better expresses the intentions of Scrum.

Beyond these intrinsic drivers for change, I observe how the balance of society keeps rapidly shifting from industrial (often physical) labor to digital (often virtual) work. In many domains of society, the unpredictability of work increases, drastically and continually. The need for the Agile paradigm is bigger than ever, and thus the value of the tangible framework of Scrum to help people and organizations increase their agility while addressing complex challenges in complex circumstances.

More and different people look for guidance and insights on their journey of Scrum, increasingly in domains beyond software development. Organizations look for clear insights in the simple rules of Scrum as their current ways of working fail them in the Complex Novelty space.

As the third Scrum wave is rising, the second edition of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” remains the simple and straightforward compass for those that want to surf that wave. This second edition more than ever offers the foundational insights into Scrum for Complex Novelty players and their organizations to properly shape their Scrum.

Some of the updates in the second edition that stand out (a bit more than the other changes) within the preserved overall structure (of chapters and modules):

  • The definition of Agile is condensed to three key characteristics.
  • Observations are added on the post-chasm years of Agile.
  • The Scrum Game Board is slightly tweaked.
  • The forward-looking design of the Scrum events is expressed more clearly.
  • A Release Burn-down chart as a forecasting tactic is added.
  • The pictures, naming and descriptions of the included scaling tactics are improved.
  • The Scrum Glossary was updated.

I thank Blake McMillan (Soulofscrum.com) and Dominik Maximini for their much-appreciated review of this second edition. I thank all translators for their past and on-going efforts to spread my words in different languages. Stay tuned for more news about translations.

If I have done a proper job of re-imagining my book, the second edition won’t feel like a new book. A word-by-word comparison would prove otherwise.

Enjoy reading!

Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

The accidental creation of “Scrum – A Pocket Guide”

Contrary to a common assumption, the creation of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” (2013) was anything but a long-lived hope, ambition or dream. As I shared with Joe (Jochen) Krebs on his Agile.FM podcast, it was an accidental and unplanned endeavor.

By the end of January 2013 I was not only entering my last period of work at a large consulting company, I was also asked by Dutch publishing house Van Haren to review a manuscript of a book about Scrum.

That turned out more difficult than expected. I gave it a few attempts but each time I ended up not finishing the manuscript completely or fluently. I found myself changing and updating the content way too much. And -most of all- I found myself not recognizing and not liking much of what I was reading. I felt bad about it. I felt even worse for being unable to turn my findings into positive, constructive feedback that would be helpful for both the (unknown) author and the publisher.

After a few weeks of mentally running around in circles I decided to skip a detailed reading, but go through the manuscript once more and list my biggest findings. At the bottom of the still impressive list, my most important remark to the editor was to not mention my name as a reviewer in case it was decided to move forward with the publication.

Soon I received news that the publication was cancelled. It turned out that most reviewers were not too impressed. The publisher shared that they still saw value in a book about Scrum and asked how I envisioned a possible involvement. A quick consultation round within my network, including Ken Schwaber, helped me set aside the doubts whether I could write a book myself and got me into grabbing the opportunity.

I was completely unsure of what I was getting myself into, but I felt somewhat comforted by the idea that I had 2 full months to work on it (April-May 2013), the time between ending my work at the consulting company and starting my partnership with Ken at Scrum.org.

I additionally found comfort in the fact that I had already published quite some articles and blog notes on Scrum. I assumed that I could easily assemble them into a book. How I was wrong! As soon as I had brought my previous publications together, the real work started, taking much, much more time than I ever could have anticipated. That time went into writing and rewriting, eliminating, simplifying, improving flow and cohesion, stepping back, waiting and getting back to it, aiming at barely enough descriptions to trigger the reader’s imagination. My first working title was “The path of Scrum (A comprehensive travel companion)“. That changed into „Scrum Pocket Guide (A smart travel companion)“ and ended up as “Scrum – A Pocket Guide (A Smart Travel Companion)”.

At the heart of my book are the (mandatory) rules of Scrum, from a deep understanding of the purpose of the rules, the main principles underlying Scrum and the Scrum Values. The essential rules are clearly distinguished from (possible) tactics to apply the rules. Some historical perspective to the becoming of Scrum (and Agile) is added, while I end the book reflecting on the future state of Scrum, the challenges that lie ahead of us. I consider “discovery” and “journey” the ultimate key words in the way I wanted to present the Scrum framework. Scrum is the compass that guides people and organizations on their journey of discovery in the land of complex challenges. Adopting and employing Scrum is in itself however also a journey of discovery. Hence the subtitle of my pocket guide to Scrum, “A Smart Travel Companion,” and the picture on the initial cover.

When visiting the Scrum.org office in Burlington-Boston in June 2013 I shared my final manuscript with Ken, and Ken kindly agreed to write a foreword, which he delivered in August (find it below).

Finally, in November 2013 I was able to announce that my book was released to the world, and available in all major formats (hard copy, Kindle, PDF, eBook, ePub) and via all main channels worldwide. If you have trouble finding my book, ask Google.

And my personal amazing journey as an author continued, with many unanticipated consequences of the accidental creation of my pocket guide to Scrum:

  • In the spring of 2016 I created a Dutch translation of my book asScrum Wegwijzer“.
  • In the fall of 2016, at the occasion of the 4th reprint, the cover of the English version got updated and I recorded a 3-minutes introduction of Scrum.
  • In 2017 (spring) Peter Götz and Uwe Schirmer created a German translation as “Scrum Taschenbuch“.
  • All that time, my book remained in the best-seller list of my publisher, Van Haren (the Netherlands).
  • In 2018 I have created a second edition of my book. This time around it was a deliberate evolution rather than an accidental creation.
  • In 2018 several people approached me to create translations of my book. Stay tuned for more news.

It is quite amazing and humbling that the result of my accidental work in 2013, after 5+ years, is more alive than ever, and that demand is big enough for a deliberate evolution into a second edition of the book. I hope you open up my book again now in a while, to find information that is most valuable to where you are on your journey at that time.

THANK YOU!

Gunther
independent Scrum Caretaker

(Thank you, Higher View, for your professional expertise in video creations)

The foreword to “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” by Ken Schwaber, Scrum co-creator:

An outstanding accomplishment that simmers with intelligence.

Scrum – A Pocket Guide is an extraordinarily competent book. Gunther has described everything about Scrum in well-formed, clearly written descriptions that flow with insight, understanding, and perception. Yet, you are never struck by these attributes. You simply benefit from them, later thinking, “That was really, really helpful. I found what I needed to know, readily understood what I wanted, and wasn’t bothered by irrelevancies.”

I have struggled to write this foreword. I feel the foreword should be as well-written as the book it describes. In this case, that is hard. Read Gunther’s book. Read it in part, or read it in whole. You will be satisfied.

Scrum is simple, but complete and competent in addressing complex problems. Gunther’s pocket guide is complete and competent in addressing understanding a simple framework for addressing complex problems, Scrum.

Springtime and work anniversaries

The many congratulations today reminded me of my most recent work anniversaries.

  • April 2013, five years ago. I started Ullizee-Inc. It was a huge step to abandon my safe position at Capgemini, even when it was to move to the home of Scrum.
  • April 2016, two years ago. Letting go of exclusively partnering with Ken Schwaber and working for Scrum.org was, if not just an even bigger step, certainly a more frightening one.
  • April 2018, today. Reflecting, looking back, those were decisions I ‚had‘ to take. For they were the most honorable decisions to take.

Looking back, I regret none of my job changes, despite the losses, the pain, the regret to find we were not in it together after all. They turned out very revealing experiences in many regards, not only professionally but certainly at a personal and human level (if ever those aspects can be separated). Looking back, those were the best decisions possible. Looking back, it leaves the misleading impression that it was all part of some bigger plan.

Looking back even further, I wonder. Quite some of my many job changes actually happened in springtime. More importantly probably, every single one was based on principles and values and was a forward-looking decision, in search of a different, if not better, future.

Over time, certainly, I started recognizing, appreciating and ultimately embracing that I am good at searching, not at finding, that I am good at travelling, not at arriving. Really good at not belonging too, an outsider. Wholeheartedly however. Walking the difficult path, facing the challenge to achieve what I may find I need to achieve without being part of formal, corporate or commercial structures anymore.

There are plenty of challenges, more than I ever will be able to handle, and probably even more deciding to be on my own 2 feet. Some challenges are known, most are not. What life is all about, right?

Allow me to thrive on deliberately emerging opportunities to bring value; to the individuals, the communities, the teams, the organizations I am grateful to work with.

With love

Gunther
Scrum Caretaker
Eternal novice

Creating opportunities to deliver value (as an Independent Scrum Caretaker)

I have wandered the fascinating realms of IT, technology and software development since graduating in 1992, except for the years of running a bookstore (1996-1999). I discovered an Agile way of working through eXtreme Programming and Scrum in 2003. It became my purpose, my belief and my core; spreading the Agile paradigm to help people create better products and humanize their workplace.

After a career as a consultant (2001-2013) and spending 3 years working exclusively at Scrum.org as partner to Ken Schwaber, in 2016 I decided to further my path as an independent Scrum Caretaker; a connector, writer, speaker, humanizer.

I’ve come to accept the difficulty of grasping what this holds. I understand the difficulty when people offer me positions and assignments, assuming I am desperate (for money, status, work). Regardless, through my self-chosen ‘title’ I consider the areas through which to deliver value to the world, to help that world become a better place to live and to work in.

  • Classes“: Facilitating people’s knowledge and insights in Scrum through Professional Scrum Master and Professional Scrum Product Owner classes, and custom workshops.
  • Events“: Attending and speaking at events.
  • Writing“: Creating papers, a new book and blog notes (reproduced at some other channels).
  • Consulting“: Working with teams and organizations, upon the non-negotiable requirements that it must be personal, about Scrum and serious.

Every activity involves plenty of hours of devising the right words and even many more hours of silent reflection, travelling mental cobblestone labyrinths. I don’t look for money for every single activity in every single service area. Context prevails.

From my standard offer of services:

Through my work I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of every person, team, department and organisation. It has inspired me to move away from fixed approaches. (…) I don’t require specific task descriptions. I require no title. I don’t post my assignments or expose the name of your organisation, unless you explicitly allow or ask me to do so.

Through the initiative of the Scrum Caretakers meetups, I see my experience confirmed that it is not easy being a Scrum Caretaker. It takes quite some intrinsic motivation, belief and dedication (a purpose) to give up (paid) time for mere collaboration on open-ended topics that rarely serve a commercial purpose. It did get me in touch with a lot of non-usuals suspects, outside of the threaded paths of ‘Agile’. The sheer beauty of that experience makes up for a lot of the sacrifices.

I am gratified for the opportunities I stumbled into through my years at work. It served me well in becoming what I didn’t know I wanted (or was able) to be. Most dots only got connected in retrospect, still making it seem as if there was a plan. There wasn’t. In general I had no clue. I still haven’t. But becoming an independent Scrum Caretaker did help me shift towards creating opportunities to deliver value, and help more people deliver value. Reciprocity.

Re-vers-ify (re-imagine your Scrum to re-vers-ify your organization)

Agility is why organizations adopt Scrum.

Organizations suffer as they fail to act with agility through product releases, on the market, for users and consumers, facing competitors. Scrum is mandated and it is overlooked that the agility demonstrated outwardly also depends on the setup of internal structures.

Organisational rigidity is the result when people are separated in functional silos, when collaboration is instructed through hand-overs and governance, when go-see management is not practiced, when the daily work has no room for discontinuous innovation. Basically, such rigidity is the anti-thesis of Agile and impedes outward agility.

Scrum is a simple framework for complex product delivery. Scrum thrives on the self-organizing capabilities of collaboractive people creating finished versions of product in short cycles, called Sprints. Scrum is in itself agnostic of internal structures, positions, titles, hierarchies. Scrum has no mandatory rules for organisational constructs. Scrum is simple, not easy. The simple rules and roles of Scrum are most often twisted and broken to fit an existing organization. Yet, it is nearly impossible to benefit really from adopting Scrum without updating the internal operating systems.

The sensible and courageous way forward is to re-vers-ify, to re-imagine your Scrum to re-emerge your organization. It is a path, not the destination. The destination, an updated organization, is unknown, remains to be discovered.

  • Use Product Backlog as the single plan for one (1) meaningful initiative (project/product/service). Slice the initiative if it is too big.
  • Reset the accountabilities for the selected initiative to Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team(s).
  • Facilitate the eco-system with tools, infrastructure and a (Scrum) team zone in order for them to create sashimi releases. A controlled and automated deployment pipeline is certainly a much needed step forward.
  • Repeat, grow, learn, expand.

“Re-vers-ify” is a narrative to help people re-invent their organizations; an invitation for people to re-imagine their Scrum to re-vers-ify their organization. Over the course of 2017 I have introduced re-vers-ify in several ways. I have now highlighted the essence in a short movie. It takes only slightly over 3 minutes of your time. Enjoy!

If you have more time to spend, consider reading my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide (A smart travel companion)“. It ends with following belief:

Scrum, a simple framework for complex product delivery

Much has been said, is being said, and will be said about Scrum, the most adopted Agile process.

Scrum, in the end, is a simple framework for complex product delivery. Scrum has a limited set of mandatory rules and roles. They all serve to create an environment within which people inspect their work regularly, so they can adapt. Scrum is an open framework in the sense that people can employ a variety of specific practices. When these practices are employed well, the integral result is still… Scrum.

Despite/due to its popularity and simplicity, much misunderstandings exist. I highlighted the essence of the Scrum framework in a short movie. It takes less than 3 minutes of your time. Enjoy!

If you have more time to spend, consider reading my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide (A smart travel companion)“.