Category Archives: Agile

5 Agile ways to engage women

Wet boots_Mumintrollet

Flickr Commons, Mumintrollet – Wet Boots

We know that women make up only 28% of the digital/tech workforce, with even fewer in pure technical roles. Here’s five ways an Agile culture can help you attract women to your organisation and support them.

1. Meet and greet to find good fit

Invite a potential candidate to meet her team. Sure, it’s a bit like a first date, but that means people smile a lot, act nicely and try to make a good impression. Research tells us that women value community. If you say your workplace is friendly, then giving a woman a glimpse of that friendliness and community may encourage her to join your organisation. Meet and greet to find good fit is inspired by Agile principle #5 – giving people the environment and support they need.

2. Team self-selection to give her choice

Sandy Mamoli’s awesome book Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel, explains that we’re happiest and most productive if we can choose what we work on, and who we work with. Choosing a team where you’ll feel valued and able to contribute, taps into the co-operative collaborative style of working that many women seek. Team self-selection to give her choice is inspired by Agile principle #11 – that the best designs emerge from self-organising teams.

3. Buddy up to find support

It’s baffling to start a new gig and learn the ropes. A buddy who’ll support you beyond your first day, by introducing you to others, helping you understand the organisation and translating the job description from aspirational to real, can be incredibly helpful. It’s been demonstrated that women sometimes don’t put themselves forward, due to fear that they don’t have all the requisite skills. A buddy is someone dependable, who is thoughtful and supportive when you need it most. Buddy up to find support is inspired by the Agile manifesto that values individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

4. Mentor her to help her grow

My blog post Words that keep women from applying for jobs lists the top 20 inclusive words that attract women to job ads. It’s unsurprising that curiouscreative and thoughtful are on that list. A mentor is someone who shares knowledge and wisdom to support your career growth and aspirations. A great mentor connects you with others who can grow your thinking, your dreams and potentially your salary! If you want to support a woman in your workplace, extend the generosity of mentorship. Mentor to help her grow is inspired by Agile principle #6 which values face-to-face conversation.

5. The right pace, so she can hit her stride

When my kids were little, a 9:00am arrival in the office, felt like midday! This was because of the 5:00am start required to read the same picture book three times, and ready kids for childcare and school. Those days are behind me now, but the memory of busy beyond belief persists. Agile principle #8 describes promoting a sustainable working pace. If we support women achieve this at work, they’ll be better able to manage the chaos that is life, and they’ll stick around.

Teaching a company to test & learn

Bethan - Cause I'd Rather Pretend I'll Still Be There At The End_640 x 427

Flickr Commons, Bethan – Cause I’d Rather Pretend I’ll Still Be There At The End

Last week at ANZ we ran a game changing game. I say that because 500 people signed up for some fun, and left with a thirst for better understanding our customers, and evolving solutions to meet their needs. My plan was to teach our people how to test and learn, so I figured that the best way to do this was to invite them to give it a go!

Before I describe the laughter generated over the three days of game playing, I’d best explain the game. Lifted from a side bar in Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping, the game, originated by Rick Cusick, is aptly named – Do you need to shower in the morning? We asked folks to individually map the activities of their morning, from the time their eyes sprang open, to when they reached the office.

Next we asked them to form a team and discuss their morning’s activities, creating affinity groupings and naming these. The next step was to create a single persona, and map out that persona’s morning activities.

The fun started when we introduced some drama. “Imagine”, I said, “if on this particular morning, your alarm clock failed to go off, and realising you had a meeting with the CEO, you had only 15 minutes to get ready! What activities would you omit?”

Now it’s safe to say that up until this point, the morning maps painted a rather heart-warming picture of our people. Folks exercised, they hugged their children, prayed and changed nappies. Some checked email, shared a coffee with the bus driver and cycled, walked or caught the train into work.

The 15 minute time restriction changed everything. What was critical and what was not? After putting themselves in the shoes of their persona, each team recalibrated their morning maps.

The most important learning of the game was how critical it is to deeply understand our customers before devising products, processes and experiences for them. At the bank we’re really keen on human centred design, and this game is the beginning of spreading that knowledge further. Our gamers came away thinking about how they could apply the idea of minimum viable solution to everything we do, so that we can test and learn and create great outcomes.

I started with an audacious goal – that an interactive game could be our vehicle for introducing a new way of working. With the help of our change experts and an army of fabulous facilitators, we proved that a game can be a game changer.

Words that keep women from applying for jobs

Words that keep women from applying for jobs_image v3We know that while women make up 43% of the Australian workforce, they only make up 28% of the digital/tech workforce, with even fewer in pure technical roles.

How we recruit women to these roles, is one problematic area. We can hypothesise on the biases that prevent women from making it through the process – how we advertise, how we shortlist and how we interview. I’d like to stretch your thinking on just one thin slice – the words we use in job ads and position descriptions.

We’ve known for some time that women’s style of communication is more communal, using more emotional and social words than men’s style of speech. In 2011, research established that specific words are a major turnoff to female job seekers because masculine-themed words signal to women that they may not fit in at a particular workplace.

Two software companies – Unitive and Textio have built a business model around text checkers that screen for words likely to prevent a candidate from applying for a role. Both of these paid services have a core list of words and phrases lifted from rigorous research and real time trawling of job listings.

Here are 20 words likely to keep women from applying for jobs:

Active     Ambitious     Analytical     Assertive

Autonomous     Best of the best     Boastful     Challenging

Competitive    Competitive salary     Confident     Decisive

Determined    Dominate    Foosball    Independent

Ninja    Objective    Strong    Takes risks

Let’s take a deeper look at what research says about a few of these. When companies use the word “ninja”, they intend to communicate that they are seeking an aggressive and expert candidate. To most of us though, a “ninja” is a dude.

I wanted to believe that this word appears infrequently in job ads in Australia, but a quick search on Seek suggested otherwise, with many companies deeply committed to Agile, still using this term.

It’s not that women job seekers don’t believe in themselves, but what we know is that phrases like “best of the best” unconsciously signal a company is seeking white males.

Another phrase, “competitive salary” is problematic because women, who are less likely to negotiate, may think they have to haggle over their pay.

Inclusive words look like more like this:

Adaptable     Collaborate     Committed     Connected

Cooperative     Creative     Curious     Dependable

Excellent     Flexible schedule     Imaginative

Interpersonal     Intuitive     Loyal     Resilient    Responsible

Self-aware     Supportive    Thoughtful    Trust

Laura Mather, the founder of Unitive, explains that none of these problematic terms will turn away a female jobseeker on their own, but sprinkled throughout the job ad, they will have that effect. She advises that it’s ok to use masculine-skewed terms, but it’s important to balance them with words from the other side of the spectrum.

Here’s a quick before and after on a company description in a job ad:

Masculine

We are a dominant software firm that boasts many leading clients. We are determined to stand apart from the competition.

Feminine

We are a community of developers who have nurtured effective relationships with many loyal clients. We are committed to understanding the software development sector intimately.

And this is what the candidate description looks like:

Masculine

Strong communication and influencing skills. Ability to perform individually in a competitive environment. Superior ability to satisfy customers and manage company’s association with them.

Feminine

Proficient oral and written communications skills. Collaborates well in a team environment. Sensitive to clients’ needs and can develop warm client relationships.

Since we know that the language we use in job ads can keep women from applying for jobs, how does language more broadly influence the success or otherwise of women applying for jobs?

I’ll leave you with four ways we can increase our awareness of this:

  1. Think about the word picture you paint of your workplace. Is it all foosball and beer, or community and flexibility?
  2. Ensure your description of an ideal candidate is not gendered.
  3. Think closely about how you phrase interview questions
  4. Don’t let the gendered language women use in their job applications or in interviews, affect your perception of their capability

 

Thanks to the thought leaders whose articles I referenced:

3 Key ways to attract more female candidates

6 Ways to tweak your job descriptions to attract better candidates –

10 Actionable ways to increase diversity in tech Paper

Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality

Here are the words that may keep women from applying for jobs

Hire more women in tech

How to hire more women at your startup

How to make job descriptions female-friendly

Vic ICT for Women, BoldMoves White Paper

What to do when you first meet the team you’re coaching

Starting to Coach a Team

Victoria Schiffer & Russell Baghban, Agile Coach Camp Melbourne 2017

How do you approach first contact with a team you are about to coach? This was the question I posed at Agile Coach Camp Melbourne, where I facilitated a session on this topic.

Four brave souls volunteered to role play a team meeting their Agile Coach for the first time. Each team member played the part of someone new to Agile. The team member’s responses varied from apprehension and fear, to curiosity and even bravado. It was a hard gig for the Coach!

I’d like to thank the 15 or so engaged folk who generated the ideas so ably summarised by Victoria Schiffer and Russell Baghban’s visual depiction of the session. Here’s my deeper exploration of the ideas shared.

Start with a warm handover

It’s easy to know when the coach’s sponsor hasn’t provided a warm handover of the coach to the team. It sounds something like this – “I’m not seeing the output I’d expect. I’ve brought in an Agile Coach to improve things”. This isn’t a warm handover!

Sponsors can set a coach up for success by being honest, but not brutal – “I know you are working hard. We’re still encountering road blocks as we implement an Agile way of working. Given that this is new for us, I’ve brought in an Agile Coach to support you.”

Sometimes a coach will find there’s been no expectation set of what the coach’s role will be. In the absence of any handover whatsoever, the coach will need to explain what a coach can do. How the coach will support the team, is an ongoing conversation.

Form a coaching triangle

A coaching triangle refers to the relationship between sponsor, coach and team. Before beginning to coach a team it’s essential for the coach to understand the sponsor’s expectation of the coach, and of the team. This is tricky, as the coach may discover there’s a need to influence or coach the sponsor, to guide an effective outcome.

Establishing a good relationship with the team is essential for the coach, but keep your expectations for the first meeting at “let’s get to learn something about each other”.

The coach must also be aware that the team’s relationship with the sponsor is most likely one of history and expectations. While it’s great to be a catalyst for new ideas, a good coach seeks to ensure the team and the sponsor are in step.

Listen listen listen

Michael Bungay Stanier expresses it best when he says, “Get comfortable with silence”. When you are meeting a team for the first time, the temptation is to launch into a description of who you are and what you want to achieve with the team. Some folks even suggest that putting together a coaching contract should be the first thing on the coach’s agenda.

Resist the urge! Consider starting with, “Tell me about you guys”, then simply listen listen listen. Sure, you might ask a few questions along the way, but in Bungay Stanier’s words “bite your tongue and don’t fill the silence”. The silence that follows a question you’ve asked is the person thinking, and that’s great!

Don’t set an agenda

Truly… don’t set an agenda for the first meeting. Let that meeting be an opportunity for the folks in the team to talk, and to tell you what they want to tell you. It’s the first best time to get insight about who each individual is, and how they interact. Is there someone who is quieter than the others? Why might this be so? Do individual’s perspectives cohese, or diverge? Is there defensiveness, resistance or hopefully curiosity about what comes next?

Don’t feel you have to direct the conversation – let it unfold. Sometimes holding the first meeting in a coffee shop, rather than a meeting room, can reduce the awkwardness, and help folks feel more comfortable.

Express curiosity, but don’t solve problems

When you are introduced to a new team, the perfect prop can be the question. “How does your work fit into…?” This allows a team to explain their understanding of both their work, and the obstacles they face. This is not the time to solve problems, but rather to express curiosity and learn more.

Bungay Stanier again, talks about “Taming the advice monster”. There will be a time to discuss approaches and even offer advice, but not in the first meeting with a team.

The wrap up

The best wrap up is to leave folks ready for what might come next. Propose another opportunity to meet. Suggest the team might think about things they are curious to learn more about, or some of the obstacles they mentioned in this meeting, and take it from there.

If you do choose to put in place a coaching contract with the team, you’ll know when it is the right time, but it’s rarely at the first meeting.

The infographic accompanying this post is the collective wisdom of those at Agile Coach Camp. During the session there was divergence of opinion on many of the ideas that surfaced. What we all agreed on though, was that change is not prescriptive. Use your first meeting with a team to begin the process of building trust. It is what will be required for the team’s change journey.

Agile Coach – charting the course of change

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Eddy Obeng, Four Types of Change

Despite being a movie about transformation, there was of course no Agile Coach in the 1957 romantic comedy Desk Set. Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert and inventor of a reference computer about to be introduced to a New York TV network. Katharine Hepburn, at her sharp witted best, plays the network’s librarian, in charge of researching facts, and answering questions on all manner of topics. The movie, as you can imagine, is full of fiery exchange, as Tracy and Hepburn seem unable to set a joint course for change. Albeit without the atmosphere of a Hollywood classic, lack of clarity often characterises the starting point for an Agile Coach.

Eddie Obeng, the British organisational theorist, educator and author, provides a great way of understanding change. He describes four different states.

1. Paint by numbers change – where what and how are known

Where an organisation has high clarity on what it is that needs to change, and how to do this, Obeng describes this as paint by numbers. He is referring of course, to the type of art experience you buy in a newsagency, that shows you what picture you are going to paint, and directs you how to do it, using the numbers on the picture.

An organisation trying Agile for the first time, might start with a known what; such asa single pilot project, and a defined how, being the Agile way the team will work. It’s not necessarily a straightforward change, but because the what and how are known, organisations rarely engage an Agile Coach at this stage.

 2. Making a movie change – where how is known, but not what

No more so than today, does the world of Hollywood know how to make a movie. The part that is unknown each time a studio commissions a new movie, is the what.

With a pilot project modelling how Agile achieves collaboration and customer focused outcomes, an organisation could wonder what other applicability Agile has. What ways of working could be utilised beyond IT? What Agile practices could Leaders use to manage portfolio prioritisation? An Agile Coach can help disclose to an organisation the breadth of what, that can be achieved.

3. The quest – where what is known, but not how

The adoption of Agile often sits within the “quest” quadrant. Obeng here is referring to JFK’s well known speech of 1961 to commit funds to the space race:

“Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts of our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

JFK magnificently articulated what he wanted to achieve, but openly expressed that the US did not have the how of sending man to the moon.

The last decade has proven the success of Agile, but there is still no one size fits all approach to how to implement it across an organisation. It takes a skilled Agile Coach to define the how, and keep testing it along the way!

4. Lost in the fog – where neither what nor how is known

The starting point of change is often when an organisation acknowledges it doesn’t know what to do to embed Agile working, or how  to do it. A great Agile Coach collaborates with stakeholders to define what Agile capability looks like. Once this vision is articulated, the Coach focuses on how to achieve this. Trained Agile Coaches are organisational change managers, expert in moving from lost in the fog to clarity.

The movie ends happily. Tracy and Hepburn sort out misunderstandings and of course fall in love. As in the movie, the course of Agile change can be choppy, but with a skilled skipper, perhaps less so.

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?