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May 31, 2018

Agile didn’t work as your silver bullet?  Not a surprise, according to Very’s Dan Fish, Product Manager & Agile Coach, and Gabe Weaver, Chief Product Officer.  Dan and Gabe joined Bob Payne at Lean+Agile DC 2018 to talk Agile methods, holacracy, and the hard work required to solve organizational impediments after adopting Agile.


Bob Payne: [00:00:01] Hi I'm your host Bob Payne, i'm here at Lean+Agile DC. Why don't you guys introduce yourself since. 

Dan Fish: [00:00:08] Sure. I'm Dan fish I'm a product manager and agile coach at Very.

Gabe Weaver: [00:00:14] And I'm Gabe Weaver I'm the chief product officer at Very 

Bob Payne: [00:00:17] Excellent. So you guys are here talking about why agile might not be the silver bullet everybody everybody's been making it out to be. And you also do Holacracy at Very so I'm excited about both of those things. I like to blow stuff up and I love you know experimenting with self managing teams and strategies. So those are a couple of things I'd like to talk about. So what sucks about agile?

Gabe Weaver: [00:00:51] I don't think it's necessarily that it sucks. I think companies suck.

Dan Fish: [00:00:58] Honestly it's very subtle ,  Gabe.

Gabe Weaver: [00:01:00] Yeah. No but but really if you look at some of the some of the data that's coming out stated the agile from today's seventeen's survey is a 4 percent in the company's report that it's not actually enabling them to have more market agility to respond to changing market conditions adapt and really move more quickly in business. So if you start to like peel back the young into why that is it goes pretty deep but I think a lot of it goes back to the construct of how we structure organizations

Dan Fish: [00:01:31] Yeah. And I'd say it's sometimes too much of a silver bullet or a you know it's like a salve you can sprinkle and everything will kind of go away. And the work really comes in after you've put some of these processes or or roles in place you know where do you go from there and how do you solve the organizational impediments that are there. That's the hard work and that's the real I think substance behind this sort of movement of responding to change and empowerment and bottom up stuff. How do you how do you actually make that happen particularly at large organizations that are used to top down management or centralized decision making and yearly budgets. Those are the hard problems to solve.

Bob Payne: [00:02:10] Yeah.

Dan Fish: [00:02:11] Rather than just you know what's you know a sort of a small scope problems that are just affecting one team. I think we've kind of seen them seeing that and solve that in a lot of ways that they are not. Not completely but it's you know how do you change the organization. How do you change the mindset and the culture and culture gets undervalued a lot

Bob Payne: [00:02:29] Yeah. So culture gets undervalued. A lot of talk a lot of talk about culture but not a lot of work and culture is fundamentally hard work. You know the old adage that culture eats strategy for lunch so you know if you want to create an agile environment that the current culture in the organization is going to resist resist those changes even if there are changes for the good. So I think the culture gets absolutely undervalued and the agile practices get overvalued. I 

Bob Payne: [00:03:12] Absolutely.

Bob Payne: [00:03:14] I mean I get a rash when people .. I get a lot of rashes.

Dan Fish: [00:03:20] Sounds like a personal problem.

Bob Payne: [00:03:20] It really is. I should care less. That would be easier. But you know I see people talking about you know the scrum rituals and like these are their meetings they're not rituals there's nothing.

Bob Payne: [00:03:34] You know if if if Taiichi Ohno came back to life and saw that Toyota was using the same processes that they that he and Demming came up with. You know 75 years ago he would freak.. He would freak out, he's like you you do not understand what we were going for there because the practices and processes are subordinate you know to getting stuff done creating value for our customers following work flowing value through the system. I mean the practices are just- they need to change and evolve then people were they put agile in here. They codify it make it a little precious little thing and then they don't change the intake to the three year strategic plan. One year funding competitors come out with new stuff. Well we're on the strategic plan will react to that in three years.

Gabe Weaver: [00:04:33] Yeah I don't even ant to get started on scrum and my disdain for it. But I think what's really interesting is that most companies treat is a way to gain efficiency. So but really what it is in the heart of it of where the Agile Manifesto came from was enabling people to work better with people in a more efficient and sane way.

Bob Payne: [00:04:56] Right.

Gabe Weaver: [00:04:57] That's more stable basically but the opposite is happening whereas companies are valuing processes over people and it's not sustainable and it's not working.

Bob Payne: [00:05:09] Yeah. So I won't lay it all out. So I live in that tent so I'm on the inside peeing out rather than the outside peeing in... So I do a lot of scrum training but I always start it with. Here's lean.

Gabe Weaver: [00:05:25] Yes.

Bob Payne: [00:05:26] Here's- it is OK to start with scrum scrum is not the goal. I really put in some slides recently with Bruce Lee. But. So. So it's discipline. It is continuous improvement in playing the long game. You can start there. But once you get disciplines then you can start to improvise in the system and then at some point when you get really good the systems fall away right. And ultimately you should be tying back to lean and lean eats itself. Yeah it never does it never sleeps it it's the whole goal is to change yeah.

Dan Fish: [00:06:11] One thing I like asking Scrum teams that have been doing it for a little while is how a scrum become an impediment. How does how does the framework of scrum and the rigid roles of scrum become an organizational impediment for you. I've seen some really strong mature teams move beyond scrum you know and get into continuous flow and it's so a beautiful thing because they've kind of taken the best elements of it the mindsets and the cultures and and the and less about the rigid rigid ceremonies or you know sort of straight lines of separation

Bob Payne: [00:06:43] Even the roles of product owner and development team in the scrum masters the you know the arbiter between those two opposing powers. Well what if they're not opposing and they're both working for the same thing you know like Motley Fool you have these little micro feature teams and there's a few engineers and business folks and they're just building value right there. The distinction is getting a go.

Dan Fish: [00:07:16] Yeah the guys at Gilt have a nice way of saying it which is this was in response to the Spotify movement from to you know 10 years ago or so.

Bob Payne: [00:07:21] Right. 

Dan Fish:[00:07:22] You know tribes and guilds just great stuff. Gilt had a nice paper saying we we think that stuff is cool but you know some of it's an antique pattern you know in particular separating prioritizing of work and doing the work right. Right. How do you separate those two things. Fundamentally it's you know that they really didn't believe in that I think. I think there's there's truth in that. I also think though there is you know a personality there is a you know a right of someone to say yeah I care about the business and where it's going. Up to a point and I just want to focus on doing a great job and I think I think I think there's a balance there.

 Bob Payne: [00:07:55] Well everybody has you know their particular proclivities are specializations and that's OK. This idea that we should somehow be you know there should be a level of homogeneity is .. i don't think Generalizing specialist means that, right? And I don't know that that's something that it's not some pure beautiful thing you know some people are going to have a deep interest in the the customer in the business somebody is going to have a deep interest in breaking shit and they're going to be really testers and some people are going to be really interested in building stuff but when they Windu people can have a rich dialogue and make better products make better decisions make faster decisions. I think that's the goal. Scrum can be an enabler. Josh Kerievsky calls it sort of the training wheels foragile in you know you can't always ride with the wheels on forever right.

Gabe Weaver: [00:09:00] Yeah. My observation I've noticed is in our projects even trying to get our clients to participate in their own product development. They hire us to build that is how often do business owners or are onsite customers or whoever the sponsors actually participate in regular weekly meetings with the team provide ongoing regular feedback and unlike a predictable cadence and more often than not it doesn't happen they don't they don't see the value of it and it's hard to shift that mindset and think beyond anything else. That's part of the primary reason why scrum why XP why anything will fail and does fails because there isn't that healthy participation from the business with the actual team building the product. Sure that was such a good game because it reminds you of a George Carlin joke about voting where it's like you know you don't get to complain about who's elected. If you don't vote right. Right. And George Carlin's like oh I sat home on Election Day. You know I don't want any part of this. I'd say one of the things I've seen over time consistently is that separation between the sponsor and the team doing the work. I know whether you know I did product development for years at Very, we're consulting for for for companies. But the problem is when you have a sort of proxy product owner right or something better than the team who doesn't have budget authority doesn't have sort of that that level and they're the ones though privatizing the backlog. Also for our ally that separation can be a real a real killer.

Dan Fish: [00:10:35] And then you lose empathy right because then the person who has the budgetary responsibility doesn't have the empathy of how hard it is to build software or other organizational challenges and impediments.

Bob Payne: [00:10:44] Yeah but also if they if they're making decisions without the information they're flying blind you know as well I mean it just is. You know it always surprises me when they don't care how hard it is to Bill will you'll care when it's late or we've gone over budget

Dan Fish: [00:11:02] Or their expectations are wildly off because they haven't engaged right. And that's where they get to sort of sit back and you know kind of sit in judgment of it without actually participating. I think that's frustrating.

Gabe Weaver: [00:11:12] Yeah that's one of the interesting things is another survey by Gardner. Basically 51 percent of organizations have no plans to establish refactoring as a core principle and how they build products and software. And they're not. They're not investing in the long term and stability and they want to go faster quicker. And I think that's where even a lot of business owners they don't want to hear that it's going to go slower or they don't care. They want to get to market quickly but they don't realize that by doing that they're actually short circuiting the speed later on and rendering more or less useless. Right. Oh by the way we're running a free platform the whole thing and you can't have new features for eight months. I think the only opposing force there is you know is there some over optimization there. Right.

Dan Fish: [00:12:00] Is is is creating in a really sophisticated tooling and some of the you know test driven development stuff you know doing that too early before you know your product market fit. I could see that being an opposing force. But I think once you've gone to market right once you have customers once you know you're going to be around for a while right. You want to be sure that all of the stuff you put in place before you know is at a certain level of maturity.

Gabe Weaver: [00:12:25] We disagree a little bit.

Bob Payne: [00:12:27] So for the folks that came up test infected the TDD is not only free it go you go faster because it's not a testing it's not a testing activity. It's a thinking activity. But

Dan Fish: [00:12:47] Sure I got a different way which is you don't actually need bulletproof Hice high scalable high you know responsive software when you have no customers.

Bob Payne: [00:12:54] Right.

Dan Fish: [00:12:55] Right now that's all trying to say there.

Bob Payne: [00:12:56] There are people that absolutely agree with you and there they are well respected. So Dave Thomas a pragmatic programmer Dave says you know I don't write many tests anymore. I don't know that he does a ton of production code anymore either but

Gabe Weaver: [00:13:15] He's also like elevated past level mastery and some some other force of nature that is amazing.

Bob Payne: [00:13:22] Me i'm just trying to ..i'm doing the best I can. I need a crutch right. I'm not a free climber. I need to attach my ropes as I get up the walk on the one I'm talking about. But I only see the tests there to help the cycle ocracy.

Dan Fish: [00:13:45] That's a good one.

Bob Payne: [00:13:46] Yeah. So how's that working for you?

Dan Fish: [00:13:50] Peaches and cream

Bob Payne: [00:13:50] And you know some people say What if I don't like peaches and cream when the holaocracy revolution comes, You will like peaches and cream.

Gabe Weaver: [00:14:03] I will say it's not perfect but it's better than what alternatives there are. They are well documented and easy to adopt an organization. Yeah it's certainly a little bit heavy handed and it feels that way. But once you do it for a while you realize the intent behind the heavy handedness is to protect everyone from waste and it's almost like a kind thing where you have efficient meetings instead of it being nice human you have very human interactions. But when you go to like a tactical meeting which is basically a stand up is very quick fire very rigid about the process because you don't want to have 20 people cross talking in a room

Bob Payne: [00:14:41] And when you just starting out like scrum you need rules. Yep yeah I mean I see that those sorts of structures as supportive of instantiating the first first steps.

Gabe Weaver: [00:14:55] I think the most important thing about it is there's no rule in the Constitution which is kind of what we adopted. You can't change the constitution. Right. So. So the board of our company ratified the Constitution and basically ceded their authority to governing the organization according to the rules. Right. But it can be updated and changed and evolved over time. And I think that's the whole intent behind it just like it's continuous improvement in software. You apply the same principle as the organization and you can change it to how you need needed change but we're trying not to do that until everybody understands the responsibility of self-management.

Bob Payne: [00:15:33] Yeah until you can do it well until you can demonstrate that you can execute it's what qualifies as an I'm not pointing at you guys... You can take a you know what qualifies you to say this way who would be better until you've least tasted what you know the ability you can't deliver. You can't improve your delivery. Right. So but I don't think you need to go too far down the line. You know you don't have to be the perfect scrum team before you start making minor macro level changes to the process that takes you off scrum so be it or it takes you out of the official official ocracy. You know you've got to make contextually appropriate choices and and it's your your team your company. This period of time this competitive landscape and assume that it will evolve in the same way that Toyota evolved and maybe they're at some plateau. But I suspect they'll have disruptive change that they'll want to adopt. I will say it was not perfect. 

Gabe Weaver: [00:16:44] We had our our company wide meet up a couple of weeks ago and I reiterated the fact that everybody in the company is considered a partner. Yep and everybody's empowered to make changes and improvements. And it's actually the responsibility of every partner within the organization to do that and that's the evil that is.

Bob Payne: [00:17:03] And That's the thing that's sometimes difficult for folks they don't want the responsibility of changing the system.

Gabe Weaver: [00:17:09] But we've been pretty good about hiring to let people know what they're coming into. And the interesting thing is we haven't had any voluntary turnover in three years.

Gabe Weaver: [00:17:18] And it's not just because of velocity but I think it's more because of the shift in how we're approaching people and putting people first and organization like we made it clear we're happy to ditch it if it doesn't work but only do it if there's something better to go to that keeps the same spirit of putting people first in empowering people and allowing people to become their ideal selves.

Dan Fish: [00:17:40] Yeah and I see some of the things that have really resonated with me and with hypocrisy is transparency. Yeah you know that's one of those things put people put on a white board or a slide. It's hard to actually do right. How do you give transparency to organizational strategy and performance and things like that

Bob Payne: [00:17:56] And gain alignment in a non-centralized system.

Dan Fish: [00:17:58] Absolutely. Particularly if things aren't quite maybe baked right that idea that there's a kernel of an idea that needs to be developed a little bit more and that's when you know if there's too much sort of transparency to it it can die or die quickly before it's ripe and so getting that right balance you know that's not easy either. That's not some idyllic paradise that we're swimming in every day. Right. So that's something we we've been spending a lot of time in the last six months to really figure out OK how do we get enough transparency to things that are happening on decisions in progress or big strategic shifts. And I think that's really important when you want an engaged team and you treat your people as good or better as your customers. I think that's that's an important piece.

Bob Payne: [00:18:34] Great. Well I am excited to see companies going down this path we're.. at LitheSpeed we're kind of you know thumpin away and taking maybe more experimental using some techniques from some from Buurtzog and some from Morningstar. But yeah congratulations and it's going to be fun.

Gabe Weaver: [00:19:00] I appreciate that

Bob Payne: [00:19:01] Will not be peaches and cream. May you live in interesting times. 

Gabe Weaver: [00:19:04] Maybe some vanilla ice cream on the side.

Bob Payne: [00:19:06] Yeah. Excellent. Thank thank you very much for coming in. Thank you VERY much.

Gabe Weaver: [00:19:13] I see what you did there.

Dan Fish: [00:19:13] Yeah.Thank you. It's a pleasure.