The Agile lightning talk cheatsheet

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Image from p.173 “Crayon and character: truth made clear through eye and ear or ten minute talks with colored chalks”, (1913), Flickr Commons

In choosing a lightning talk topic, stories of failure are as useful as stories of success! In fact, choosing a sensational topic is actually half the work. I’m reminded of an embarrassing episode in my childhood, when I definitely got it wrong.

A long time ago now, when I was a small child, perhaps 8 years old, my parents decided I needed to get some religious education. They sent me to a youth group summer camp, with lots of groovy young leaders who modelled the behaviour expected of people who were passionate about religious observance. We kids were engaged in outdoor activities, (on a religious theme), lots of singing, (on a religious theme), indoor games, (on a religious theme). Well you probably get the idea.

The highlight of the camp was when the parents and the religious leader of the congregation came to visit. The passionate enthusiastic youth leaders assembled everyone with their mums and dads in a big circle to show off the kids’ newly acquired religious knowledge. The coolest of all the youth leaders welcomed everyone and explained, after the rousing welcome song, that now the kids had an opportunity to ask the religious leader a really good question.

I was, unsurprisingly, the first child to raise my hand. In fact I sprung out of my mother’s lap, barely able to contain my excitement at the incredible question I had to ask. I faced the revered religious leader, and in a loud and confident voice I asked, “Why do we have freckles?”

Laugh you may. I had clearly not understood the first rule of engaging an audience – choose the right topic!

So what is the right topic for a lightning talk?

A good lightning talks tells a story that the audience is not likely to have heard before. Like a TED talk, it is an idea worth sharing. Here are some prompts to help you think up a topic:

  • Great ways to…
  • Great ideas for…
  • What we can learn from…
  • How to … in 3 easy steps

Some of the lightning talks I’ve delivered are:

  • 5 great ways to seed Agile curiosity in your organisation
  • 5 great ideas for competitions that build your team’s Agile knowledge
  • 5 great ways to introduce or reinforce Agile behaviours into a team
  • The Great Pancake Cook up – teaching collaboration
  • What we can learn from our Lean cousins at Alcoa
  • How to make the most of a field trip to another workplace
  • Help – my team has list its mojo!

Telling the story

Bearing in mind that a lightning talk is no longer than 10 minutes, how do you tell the story in just 10 minutes?

Like all good stories, a lightning talk needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Here’s the framework:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Explain something to the audience
  • Parting words

Simple hey?!

Well it should be. The right amount of content is about the amount of content that another person could convey if they were asked, “What was that lightning talk about?”

A lightning talk isn’t…

A lightning talk isn’t a conversation, a rant, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, a sales pitch or a commercial platform for your company or career.

You talk because you love the idea of sharing an idea. As with a TED talk, it “takes the listener on a journey and provides an insight into the subject that they did not have before”*.

How do you tell a good story?

Consider telling a story. Our brains are programmed to enjoy them. Good stories set the scene, they include build up, and of course resolution. They often make the audience laugh, or connect and hopefully reflect on the theme of the lightning talk.

If you are using slides, make them scant and of few words. Where folks are reading, they aren’t listening.

A great lightning talk expresses your curiosity and enthusiasm for your topic. In putting your lightning talk together, ask the question, “How can I convey what excited me about this topic”. This question will help you shape the few dot points that are the middle of your lightning talk”.

Refine, refine, refine, using each sentence for maximum value. Your adrenaline will prevent you from thinking straight, so don’t plan to invent your talk from a few dot points on a cue card. Know every masterfully picked word.

A few words can evoke a world of thought. Think about how a pithy quote can express or cement the ideas you are trying to convey. It’s sometimes a great way to end a lightning talk.

Preparing to deliver

Because a lightning talk is not a speech, a lesson or a lecture, you need to TALK it. Have a run through with your friends and colleagues, practice it in the mirror, tell it to your pot plants, but don’t get up on stage with a script.

One the day

I have little advice for you except to say that those in the audience are unlikely to see your legs shaking.

Go slow. Not only will it make it easier for people to understand you, but they will also be able to absorb what you are saying and reflect on it.

Are lighting talks for the beginner presenter?

I would absolutely encourage a beginner presenter to give it a go. Contrary to popular opinion though, it takes more skill to deliver a fabulous lightning talk than a half hour presentation. Don’t be discouraged. Instead reflect on these top 5 reasons why you should consider giving a lightning talk:

  1. It “gives you a rare opportunity to spend time thinking about a specific topic [you are passionate about] and distilling it down into something you can quickly and effectively communicate to others”**
  2. It is the magnet to connect with other people thinking about the same things as you
  3. For that moment in time, you are a thought leader
  4. It’s an awesome icebreaker at the post conference drinks
  5. It’s scary good.

 

* http://tedxmelbourne.com/apply/

** http://businessofsoftware.org/2013/07/why-you-should-give-a-lightning-talk-2/

 

Agile leadership – questions for innovation & continuous improvement

Brick 101 - LEGO Ideas Research Institute - Flickr Commons

Brick 101, LEGO Ideas Research Institute, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves to drive continuous improvement and innovation?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers, acknowledge the success of their teams and reward right behaviour. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to continuous improvement and innovation?

Applying the coaching lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I teach my teams how to embed continuous improvement through Lean and Agile techniques such as retros, kaizen and improvement katas?

Applying the business lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I reward individuals and teams who regularly implement improvement activities to maximise lifecycle profits?

Applying the purpose lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I energise and engage my people to drive continuous improvement?

Applying the enablement lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I make time for my team to implement improvement? Do my people have the autonomy to implement improvement?

Jez Humble and Barry O’Reilly’s 2014 Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale is truly a wonderful blueprint for developing the sort of generative company culture that leads to innovation.

These are some questions that Agile leaders ask to create such a generative culture.

Applying the coaching lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I model and teach collaboration, risk sharing and acceptance of failure in order to learn?

Applying the business lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I promote ways of working that foster innovation through continuous experimentation?

Do I run hack days?

Do I reward great ideas?

Applying the purpose lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I recognise that without autonomy, there will be no opportunity for my people to innovate?

Applying the enablement lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I create a generative culture that enables my people to think innovatively to resolve impediments?

Appelo makes it sound easy when he says, “We aim for a more powerful system, not better controlled people”.

What other questions, can we, as leaders ask, to propel continuous improvement and innovation?

Agile leadership – rewarding right behaviour & acknowledging success

Doughnuts - Amy - Flickr Commons

Doughnuts, Amy, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves about acknowledging success and rewarding right behaviour?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders support learning, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to acknowledging success and rewarding right behaviour?

Applying the coaching lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do I teach individuals and teams that it is important to acknowledge and celebrate success?

Applying the business lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do I measure the success of individuals and teams simply by their output, or by their focus on activities that relate to the core value stream?

Do I bring doughnuts when we get through a tough story or sprint? Do I know when my teams have got through a tough story or sprint?

Laugh you may, but what I’m emphasising is a leadership style that recognises the connection between acknowledging people’s effort and business success.

Do I wait until release of a product to acknowledge the effort of those involved, or do I thank my team regularly?

Applying the purpose lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do my people feel valued? How do I know this?

Applying the enablement lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do I reward people who resolve problems across the entire value stream?

I guess the antithesis of this is managers who reward people who do whatever it takes to get something across the line, regardless of whether it creates other issues, such as technical debt, poor staff morale or unsustainable processes.

I perceived the joy on a fellow’s face this week, when a leader acknowledged how the work he had done directly contributed to relieving a bunch of problem tickets in a service delivery queue. It’s not hard to acknowledge success and reward right behaviour. Are your leaders doing this?

Read on to learn the questions great Agile leaders ask to drive innovation and continuous improvement.

Agile leadership & learning – a new paradigm

Scrumtrooper Image - Axis Agile - Used with permission

Scrumtrooper image, Axis Agile, Used with permission

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves about learning?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders support delivery, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to learning?

Applying the coaching lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I share knowledge, skills and perspectives with my people, to foster their professional growth?

Do I understand the role that mastery plays in helping individuals feel more engaged in the work they do?

Do I emphasise and model the value of life-long learning?

Am I the person recommending books, meetups and stuff I’ve read on the Internet?

Do I blog, respond to blogs or start conversations on Slack or Twitter?

Applying the business lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I foster practices that drive experimentation and learning, to maximise product lifecycle profits?

Applying the purpose lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I help my people understand the value of what they’re delivering, so that they develop a sense of purpose?

This of course references Dan Pink’s 2009 publication Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. W. Edwards Deming in fact predates Pink when he writes in Out of the Crisis in 1982, “The aim of leadership should be to …bring pride of workmanship to people”. In 1988 Deming revised this phrase to “joy of workmanship” and it refers to purpose.

Since Pink’s 2009 publication there have been a flurry of books on the topic of purpose, including Appelo in 2011 and unsurprisingly a couple of great little TED books from last year, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes, by Margaret Heffernan and Why We Work by Barry Schwartz.

I really like the work of Steve Denning on the topic of purpose and delivery, so I’ll quote him here:
“Delighting other people is inherently motivating…
The meaning of work isn’t in the bread that we’re baking; it’s in the enjoyment the customers get from eating the bread.
The meaning of work isn’t in the words the actor is reciting; it’s in the response of the audience to those words.”

So I’ll add to the list of questions that great leaders ask themselves: Do I expose my people to customers, suppliers and other world views to connect them with customers?

Applying the enablement lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I create a culture where it is safe to fail? This question of course comes from an understanding that we learn from both failure and success.

Do I reward teams that experiment to learn?

Do I take a systems approach to learning, understanding that to resolve impediments I must see the whole, rather than just the component parts?

Do I use lean techniques to focus on the entire value stream, to measure and learn?

Am I am a driver for development of strong chapters and communities of practice, to support both new and expert practitioners?

In an interview online, Carsales.com CIO Ajay Bhatia talks about his leaders’ engagement in communities of practice:
“We run a book club for the leadership team across product and technology, where we discuss the most important things we picked out from the book and go away and try and implement those things among our teams… Our book club has been so successful that now it is no longer only limited to the leadership team and the number of members is ever increasing. This is creating a culture where we are constantly picking up new ideas and ensuring what we build in Australia is no less than world class.”

Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, said in the keynote address at Agile Australia 2016, “it’s important for people to try stuff, but not get the OK from me to do it”.

Great Agile leaders know that learning isn’t just about sitting with individuals once a year to set a learning plan. It’s about always asking, “What did you try? What did you learn?”

Do you model these behaviours? Do you know leaders who have changed the paradigm?

Read on to learn the questions great Agile leaders ask about rewarding right behaviour and celebrating success.

Agile leadership & delivery – it’s not about pizza boxes

190310 - Losers of Friday Night Rejoice - Lis Ferla - Flickr Commons

Losers of Friday Night Rejoice, Lis Ferla, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask about themselves about delivery?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders communicate as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to delivery?

Applying the coaching lens to delivery, great leaders ask themselves: Do I give my people the Agile expertise and tools to deliver?

Applying the business lens to delivery, great leaders ask: Do I ensure that my teams work at a sustainable rate to maximise delivery?

You guys know that the best measure of this is the smell of pizza – right? Where you see a stack of empty pizza boxes in the office on Monday morning, then a team has worked over the weekend. When the smell of pizza on a Monday morning is the norm, then the team isn’t working at a sustainable pace.

Tom DeMarco in his classic 2001 book, Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, says that “an increasingly common bit of organizational folklore holds that pressure improves performance and that maximum performance can occur only in the presence of maximum pressure. This idea, though deeply embedded in our culture, doesn’t stand up to examination in the light of day”

Managers who encourage their people to commit to the right amount of work and who reward those who meet the goals of the sprint time and time again, understand that sustainable delivery leads to predictable business outcomes.

Applying the purpose lens to delivery, great leaders ask: Do I provide the goal and strategic direction, allowing my people to define how they meet requirements? Do I trust my people to figure out how to meet requirements?

Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group, comments in an ITNews interview online, on the paradigm of leaders providing strategic direction and thus allowing people to deliver. He describes that Toyota has strict rules about what executives spend their time focused on:
“In Toyota’s hierarchy, the president and executive are only permitted to think about horizons two and three,
The people at the coalface must run and operate horizon one.
As a CIO, I am always drawn to the challenges of today – challenges around IT security, developer recruitment, or how we use cloud. But I have to trust the teams to manage horizon one.”

Applying the enablement lens to delivery, great leaders ask: Do I trust my people to resolve problems? Do I challenge them to balance delivery with managing accrual of technical debt?

Dipesh Pala, IBM’s Agile Capability Leader for Asia Pacific, exhorted leaders at Agile Australia 2016 to “shift from managing results, to designing environments that encourage results”.

At the same conference, Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, remarked, in reference to a customer service help desk, that using Kanban was critical in delivery. He explained that “the ability to pull tasks, rather than being given them” was what created swift and effective delivery.

He went on to explain that “if we fundamentally change the way things work, it gets better”. I was struck by the simplicity and sense in this statement. Great Agile leaders are enablers for delivery. That is their job!

Are your leaders asking the right questions about delivery?

Read on to understand the new Agile leadership paradigm for learning.

Agile leadership & communication – so many opportunities

The Garage - Peter Kaminski - Flickr Commons

The HP Garage, Peter Kaminski, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves about communication?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders apply their role as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers to decision making. How do these four roles shape how leaders approach communication?

Applying the coaching lens to communication, great leaders ask: Is communication with my people face to face, authentic and regular? Do my people feel comfortable to initiate contact with me as much as I do with them?

Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett Packard fame, incepted the practice of “management by walking around”. Until they stepped down from HP in the 1970s, they interacted with their employees in an unplanned way to check equipment, understand the status of work and engage people in authentic conversations.

Appelo describes “management by sitting around” which of course means taking the opportunity to sit with your various teams, hear what they are working on and interact with them. If this isn’t possible, then he suggests “management by Skyping around” which is unfortunately less spontaneous.

I remain astonished by my observations in workplaces, of how frequently managers miss opportunities to interact with their people in an authentic and regular way. Standup is the time to hear how teams are progressing, showcases, even more so.

Do I know those I manage on a personal level?

Appelo suggests imagining a personal map of your people. Do I know what my people like to do outside of work, how many kids they have, who they are friendly with in the workplace? When you start this exercise you might be astounded at how little you know about your people.

Am I open to being influenced by those I manage?

Have I created an environment where individuals and teams are able to disagree where appropriate, negotiate, compromise, agree and commit?

Applying the business lens to communication, great leaders ask: Do I have a Kanban board to communicate progress on my goals?

Do I use Agile practices like standups, information radiators, blogs and conversation platforms like Slack, to establish the sort of two way communication required to maximise product lifecycle profits?

Do I insist on right fit ways to communicate the status of work, such as through conversations, standups, information radiators and A3 canvases, instead of reports and gannt charts?

Applying the purpose lens to communication, great leaders ask: Am I out and about interacting with my people to create opportunities for two-way conversations and interactions about our organisation’s purpose and strategy? Do I favour two-way communication to convey purpose and strategy, over group emails and formal forum events?

I’m not suggesting that whole organisation events shouldn’t happen, but where these are a one way conversation, with leaders pushing information to folks, and folks feeling uncomfortable in asking a question, it isn’t an effective two-way conversation about strategy.

Applying the enablement lens to communication, great leaders ask: Am I effective communicating across organisational boundaries and hierarchies? Is my communication underpinned by an understanding of the complexity of the organisation? Do I communicate to effect change within a complex system?

Connected communication is at the heart of effective leadership. Do the Agile leaders you know ask themselves these questions?

Read on to learn how great Agile leaders succeed at delivery.

 

Agile leadership & decision making – new patterns, new questions

Brain - Chris White - Flickr Commons.jpg

Brain, Chris White, Flikr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask about themselves decision making?

My previous blog explained how Agile leaders of today understand themselves to be coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape how leaders approach decision making?

Applying a coaching lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Do I teach my teams a model of delegated decision making?

Jurgen Appelo explains that “we can only escape [the] typical management trap and increase the quality of work when we distribute control in our organisation.” Comparing an organisation to a brain, Appelo continues that “all around us (and inside us) complex systems self-organise successfully because control is rarely centralised.”

The level of delegation will of course depend on the maturity of the team, the status of its work and the impact of decisions on the organisation.

Drawing on Reinertson’s work in Managing the Design Factory Appelo encourages teams to create delegation boards that clarify what level of authority teams have across different activities.

The seven levels of delegation that Appelo defines are:

  1. Tell – making the decision as the manager
  2. Sell – convincing people of the decision
  3. Consult – getting input from the team before decision
  4. Agree – making the decision together with team
  5. Advise – influencing the decision made by team
  6. Inquire – seeking feedback after decision by the team
  7. Delegate – no influencing, just letting the team work it out

Applying a business lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Do I delegate enough control to allow my people to maximise product lifecycle profits?

A Product Owner, responsible for defining the features for a new app, needs the right level of authority to make decisions about which features should be built first second or not at all.

A Scrum Master shaping people and processes within a team needs authority to ensure folks in the team have the right equipment to build profitable products.

Applying a purpose lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Have I conveyed the organisation’s strategy to my people, so that they have the right information for decision making?

I think about one organisation in which I worked where strategy visualisation happened on walls in a glass meeting room, but where those walls were covered in brown paper to prevent people outside the room seeing the information.

How different is this from the strategy boards on full view at companies like REA Group, Carsales and Envato. Where strategic conversations happen behind closed doors, teams simply won’t have the information they need to produce the right output.

Applying an enablement lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Does my team have a delegation board that encourages them to make decisions and solve problems as appropriate?

David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around talks about shifting the psychological ownership of problems and solutions using a simple change in language from a “Leader-Follower” pattern to a “Leader-Leader” pattern. Marquet, a former U.S. Navy Submarine Commander, achieved in the leadership and productivity guru Stephen Covey’s words, “the most empowered organisation he’d ever experienced.”

Marquet describes a conversation in the traditional Leader-Follower language sounding like this:
Captain: “Submerge the ship”
Subordinate: “Submerge the ship, aye”

In the Leader-Leader language it would sound like this:
Subordinate: “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. All crew are below decks, the hatches are shut, the ship is rigged for dive, and we’ve checked the bottom depth.”
Captain: “Is it the right thing to do?”
Subordinate: “Yes sir, our mission requires that we submerge now in order to complete this exercise”
Captain: “Very Well”

An ability to appropriately delegate decision making and problem solving characterises Agile leadership. Do your Agile leaders ask themselves these questions?

Read on to learn the communication questions great Agile leaders ask.