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Aug 21, 2018

Tammy Gretz and Wendy Jacobs discuss their talk "From Self Obsession to Self Selection: A Scaled Org's Journey to Value Reorganization" at Agile2018.



Tammy Gretz Wendy Jacobs ‑ Agile2018


Bob Payne:  "The Agile toolkit."


Bob:  Hi. I'm your host, Bob Payne. I'm here with Tammy Gretz of [inaudible 0:25] ...


Bob:  ...and Wendy Jacobs. We've chatted a bit before this, but this is the first time you guys are doing a podcast, I think.

Wendy Jacobs:  A live podcast, yes.

Bob:  A live podcast.

Wendy:  Correct.

Bob:  This is recorded.


Bob:  You still have had to come.

Wendy:  This is the first live or recorded podcast for me. There you go.


Bob:  You are doing a talk and it's related to team self‑selection, From Self‑Obsession to Self‑Selection. What's that all about? How do you two work together? What's your back story? What's the talk?

Wendy:  I work at AEP, American Electric Power ‑‑ this is Wendy ‑‑ and Tammy and I work together there. She is a Scrum master on one of the teams working through our Agile partner, Cardinal Solutions. We started working together when she joined the team that we actually talk about.

Tammy Gretz:  I was coming from it from a prospective of, it was a new team and I was there to teach them Scrum. They had never done it before.

Bob:  Is this new to the whole organization or just to this team?

Wendy:  We are in a multi‑year Agile transformation. The self‑selection and scaling, which is another aspect of the talk that we're doing, is new to the organization. This was the experiment.

Bob:  How long have you been running Agile teams before you hit scaling and self‑selection?

Tammy:  Before I came to AEP, I had been working about two or three years in an Agile environment. The AEP transformation, I believe, has been between seven and nine years.

Bob:  Usually teams don't get to self‑selection until they've been doing it for a while.

Wendy:  The group of teams that we're talking about, one of them was new when Tammy came in, newly into Scrum. The other two had been Scrum teams for a couple of years.

Bob:  What was the self‑obsession portion of the program?

Tammy:  [laughs] My team specifically was new to Scrum. The intention wasn't to go to scaling or do this whole self‑selection when I first started. It was teach this team Scrum and figure out how to get them working with the other two teams.

We quickly realized that there were a lot of moving parts that need to have some kind of an organization or some framework to work with.

Wendy:  The self‑obsession aspect is just human. We're worried about ourselves. When we're talking about having to all come together and do self‑selection event that involves trying to figure out how to deliver the most value to the company, you have to shed that self‑obsession, that selfishness and become selfless, because you have to see, where can I help most?

This was a journey to take the individuals into teaming, into the ability to do self‑selection. That's where the...

Bob:  Also, there's team identity, which you blow up with self‑selection. What is the event that caused you to say, "Hey, we need to kind of shake the snow globe here?" [laughs]

Wendy:  We took a scaling class with a very experiment‑tolerant manager, we like to call her Andrea.

Bob:  Because that's her name.


Wendy:  Protecting the innocent, whatever. Anyway, there was a kernel of it in there. One of the gentlemen on my team, he had a white paper on self‑selection for teams. We had begun talking about it. He sent her the white paper. We like to call him Greg. He sent her the white paper to just wet the whistle.

Get the juices flowing about what does it really mean to do that, and she loved it. She loved the empowerment to the teams to be able...

Bob:  It wasn't by Amber King was it?

Wendy:  I don't recall. We can check.


Bob:  That would be interesting. She's a good friend of ours and she did a white paper on self‑selection at Cap One. It's possible.

Wendy:  Very well possible. That was the kernel of it. She got a hold of that and really embraced it, and thought, "This could..." We were in a scenario where we wanted to make sure that the teams were formed in a way that delivered the value best. We were focusing on the value delivery.

She worked with her business partners to define what those value streams were.

Instead of just saying, "OK, you're on this team, and you're on this team, and you're on this team," she decided to let the teams decide, "Where does your value heart sing? Where do you want to put your focus?" thus lead us to self‑selection event.

Bob:  How many people?

Tammy:  Thirty‑four.

Bob:  How many teams did you end up with?

Wendy:  Six squads. That was a very critical word in this. We went from three teams to six squads because we're all part of one team. In a scaling event, you're really part of one team. She was really very specific about wanting to call these squads up to the general team.

Bob:  How did it go? I'm sure some people were the Cookie Monster characters for the self‑selection. Some people...

Wendy:  People were people. [laughs]

Bob:  ...wanted to be told where go. "Tell me where to sit." [laughs]

Wendy:  Exactly. It's all human. Think about being here at this conference. This is something we're going to talk about tomorrow, is that, how do you even select what session to go to? How do you figure out where you're going to sit? There's all sorts of reasons in your head.

Tammy:  Nobody has the same two reasons. People pick things for weird reasons. They pick them for very specific, concrete reasons. You can't plan for that.

Wendy:  The event went well. It was a two‑day event. The self‑selection took place the first day. We had some teaming main events on the second day to try to make sure that they were ready to go. Team agreements and let's talk about the definitions.

During the actual self‑selection event, Andrea took care to really plan this. We helped her. We met for a couple months to plan this event. She made it fun. She made it seasonal. [laughs] It was right near Valentine's Day. There was a Valentine's Day theme to the whole thing. I was very impressed with what she came up with. Just the creativity that came out of her.

Tammy:  For me, I was more of a participant during this. I was embedded in the team and Wendy was a coach with the team. She was working with the manager. It was very interesting to experience what maybe my other coworkers on the team, my other teammates, what they were experiencing, even though I knew what was coming.

I still had that knee‑jerk reaction to be a human, and be like, "Oh, you want me to...? Oh, I got to do this? I don't care. Just put me wherever." [laughs]

Bob:  Did you end up with any value streams that were starved of folks and then have to re‑negotiate?

Wendy:  Interesting you ask.


Wendy:  Have you seen our talk? No.


Bob:  I've seen self‑selection events.

Wendy:  That was actually the exciting moment. One of the exciting moments of this experience is that there were five total iterations to get to our final teams. It was after iteration four, and we had a starved squad.

There wasn't anyone on one of the value streams. The managers stood up and said, "Hey, how are we going to deliver this? How are we going to deliver this value?" It was there that the Scrum value, courage, popped up its head.

A couple of people were like, "We want that. We can take that on," and got up from where their friends were, where they felt comfortable, walked over that table and planted themselves, and said, "We got it." It was awesome.

Bob:  Was it just Andrea?

Wendy:  Yeah. [laughs]

Bob:  Was she the advocate for each of them, or were there value stream owners that were...?

Wendy:  The product owners were there and they come from the business. They were participating in this. Their management was there, too, watching, helping, and answering any questions if we had any, but Andrea was the manager of most of the people in the room.

The answer is she advocated for all the teams and wanted to make sure that we came out with something that would benefit the company overall.

Bob:  Is this a one‑time event or are you periodically revisiting as the demands on value streams change?


Tammy:  Actually, part of the agreement was that if they didn't like where they were, they had a chance to do it again in six months. We're right about at six months right now. They have come back and said, "Maybe we didn't think about this in the right way, necessarily, and we were still self‑obsessed a little bit."

Now they're starting to see where, "Oh, maybe it might have been better if these two people were flopped," or, "This value stream might be a little better tweaked." They're learning from it. We're hopeful that they'll get to do that again here shortly. Interestingly enough, we have another group here that is going to be talking about another way that they did it.

I've moved on to a different team and I've just completed another self‑selection there [laughs] with that team because they were growing. They were a smaller team and they realized that they needed to hire more. They hired four more people, which made them a massive team. We had to have discussions around the same kind of thing.

We learned a lot from the first one, [laughs] applied it to this one. This one went really smoothly. It didn't take quite as long, but it was...

Wendy:  The whole company's very supportive of continuous improvement. That's part of our culture, we're a continuous improvement company. I've helped with another self‑selection event not long after the one we did in February, and it was different. We've done it a couple different ways and we're learning each time from it.

Tammy has the benefit in her current team to apply all the learnings we had and munge some of that together so they would have a very smooth event.

Bob:  One of the things that I've seen in some places, as the business demands change, certain value streams will become higher in priority, where more work needs to flow through them. Have you guys experienced that yet or is that a future event?

Tammy:  We might be going through it pretty soon. [laughs]

Wendy:  With the current team you're on?

Tammy:  Yeah.

Wendy:  The current team that she's on, they are going to be sized a little differently based on the amount of stuff that's going to come through them. It is possible that that team may split again, the larger team. We're really looking at what makes the most sense. We're doing these experiments to try to understand what's working, what's not working, how can we tweak it?

The managers are just very open and very wanting to try these things to make it the best place that they can.

Bob:  One of the things that I saw one client do is quarterly, when they would do the equivalent of a cross‑program planning event, would then allow people to swap chairs, or they would shuffle demand, and say, "We need more folks over here, who would like to come join?" Then people would come, and they were like, "Oh shoot, we're too short over here."

I don't know if they did five rounds. I don't remember exactly, but some number of...

Tammy:  It's funny you said shuffle chairs, because that was almost more important than which team they were on, is where they were going to sit.

Bob:  Oh yeah?


Wendy:  "I want the window. No, I want the window." They're, again, human.


Tammy:  It's all about the humans. It wasn't about the work. It was...

Bob:  The soft stuff is the hard stuff. [laughs] Agile's easy, people are hard.


Tammy:  It's especially the different personality types. Even if we go really high‑level, introvert, extrovert, some of these things could be very hard for introverts, I think. You're speaking up and saying, "I want to go there." There's that shyness that they don't want to ruffle any...make any waves or do anything like that.

All of these events, we've been very purposeful in thinking about that, making sure that there's no one really uncomfortable to a point where...

Bob:  They could be uncomfortable, but not really.

Wendy:  Self‑selection is uncomfortable.


Wendy:  We don't want to push them so far.

Bob:  I wouldn't pick me.


Tammy:  You should always pick yourself.


Bob:  That's really exciting. Hoping that you'll get a good run of folks at that talk. It'll be very interesting. What else has been exciting about the conference? I know it's only day two. I believe you were at the Women in Agile. Did you do any of the camp before that, or just the Women in Agile?

Wendy:  I actually didn't know about the camp before. Now that I know that they happen...


Bob:  They don't always happen.

Wendy:  I know there's one happening, I believe, in Chicago in October or something like that, I was told. Now I'll be looking into this because it sounds like an interesting place to share ideas, get some new thoughts about how to do some things. Improve the toolkit.

Tammy:  I'm really enjoying the Audacious Salons.

Bob:  Good.

Tammy:  Really enjoying them, a lot. [laughs]

Bob:  Were you there yesterday?

Tammy:  I was there for the leadership one, Agile Leadership. Today is The Next Big Idea.

Wendy:  We did hear the afternoon session was quite interesting. Quite charged.

Tammy:  I missed that. [laughs]

Bob:  George said they went hours over the slot. I know Lisa and George very well. George has been on the podcast many, many times.


Wendy:  We are in good company.


Bob:  We have the "Tips and Advice" series on Agile Toolkit Podcast. How was the Women in Agile event? I know you met Amanda there, my colleague.

Wendy:  Yes.

Bob:  Big Pete was there. I don't know if you met him?

Wendy:  I did not meet Pete. Did you meet Pete?

Tammy:  No.

Wendy:  Women in Agile, I enjoyed it. I like meeting people. I like meeting all kinds...

Bob:  You seem very shy.


Wendy:  Believe it or not. [laughs]

Tammy:  She's the connector. She knows people, and she's like, "Hey, you guys should know each other." [laughs]

Wendy:  I do. I make sure everybody meets each other. I liked hearing people's stories about where they were in their Agile journey. The table I was at was a table that had no question to answer. We got to make up our own question that we wanted to answer, which was nice.

We had a couple of folks at the table that weren't very far in their journey at all, and wanted to understand, what's the benefit of Agile over Waterfall? Those types of things. It was really very enjoyable to hear their perspectives on where they are and to try to share where I've been and where my enterprise is. It was a good event.

I really loved hearing the new voices. There were two speakers that came in. They were reasonably new speakers. They had such wonderful stories.

Tammy:  They were really great. The two new speakers, the new voices, that was a great element to that conference piece of it, is having these new people get up and speak.

Bob:  Do you remember who they were? I wasn't there. No?

Tammy:  I talked to them last night.

Bob:  [laughs] They're super new voices. Real super nice people as well. [laughs]

Wendy:  Their story was really great.

Tammy:  Their stories were amazing. The things that they went through and now the places they've been, it's inspiring. I wish them all the best of luck and hope to get to do some of the...they've gone internationally and spoken, and that just sounds really cool and really fun. Just listening to how they did that was neat.

Bob:  There's a decent conference ‑‑ Agile India is quite good. The European conferences, I've not actually gone to those either. I'm looking forward to going internationally.

Wendy:  Maybe we should all go.

Tammy:  Yeah, let's go.


Tammy:  What time does the plane leave? [laughs]

Wendy:  Let's do it.

Bob:  It's a red‑eye.


Tammy:  That's what she's on tomorrow.

Wendy:  Yeah, I've got to take a red‑eye back.

Bob:  I'm sorry to hear that. I can't do it. I'm staying till Friday morning.

Tammy:  I'm staying the weekend. I wanted to get a couple extra days in just to enjoy the beautiful weather.

Bob:  The farmer's markets are actually fantastic if you like that sort of thing.

Tammy:  Absolutely.

Bob:  We had the Scrum gathering out here. I had my favorite breakfast ever, which was a sea urchin shell that had been cleaned out with micro‑greens, tuna pokÈ, more micro‑greens, and then the sea urchin laid out.

Tammy:  That is a very specific breakfast.

Bob:  Yeah.


Tammy:  It's not waffles.

Bob:  It's not waffles. I had an iced coffee with it so that made it breakfast.

Tammy:  She wants waffles.

Wendy:  I'm obsessed with waffles right now.

Tammy:  She is, yes.

Bob:  I don't know that they make sea urchin waffles, but they might someplace.

Wendy:  I'm not sure that they should.


Wendy:  Just saying.

Bob:  They should.

Wendy:  You do?

Bob:  Maybe a keto egg waffle with some sea urchin on would be good. What else are you looking forward to at this conference?

Wendy:  Speaking. [laughs]


Wendy:  Actually getting through that. [laughs] Yes, the speaking would be a number high on the list. Honestly, I'm just looking for new ideas. I'm focusing more into the product space, the talks that are going on. I'm looking for some of those new things that I can take back.

In my role, I am the product owner coach and I focus on the business side of things. I look for new tools I can use with them to help them understand why to do some of the things that we do, or just ways that they can do it better.

Bob:  The product discovery space, it takes almost a completely different tool set. The mechanics are relatively straightforward, but it is the divergent thinking. How do we winnow down these many ideas? How do we get it into that convergent process? Agile is a delivery process and it's a convergent one.

I love that interplay of when you can get it going. A little bit of experimentation, divergent thinking. Let's build it, test it. Let's get some data out. Let's have that drive our next set off experiments or experiences. I'm assuming you've looked at Business Model Canvas and stuff.

Wendy:  Yep. [laughs]

Tammy:  Yep.

Bob:  Impact mapping.

Wendy:  Yep.


Tammy:  It's all good. When I approach the coaching of product owners, I don't just dump, "Here. Here's all the tools. Try all of this at once." I layer it in, where, "Hey, I'm having a real problem with trying to figure out how to prioritize. Hey, I'm having a real problem deciding what should be our far‑afield thing? Where should we be heading towards? How do I lay it out for my stakeholders?"

Things that people are probably listening to this and saying, "Well, duh." When you're new you don't know about this stuff. You can't overwhelm. Trying to find new tools that make it easier to embrace it and understand it, and may play on things they've done before, that's the things I look for to help them out.

Bob:  I'm sorry, you were...

Wendy:  No, go ahead. [laughs]

Bob:  Do you guys have user experience embedded in with your product teams or are they a separate agency kind of model, or a little bit of both?

Wendy:  A little bit of both. I'll say a little bit of both.

Bob:  That's great.

Tammy:  I was just going to say that I really like the Audacious Salon stuff because it's talking about a lot of the things we've already talked about in a new way or in a new light. I appreciate that. For me, working with the teams that I'm working with, I think they have been inundated with Agile and Scrum.

How do we talk about it in a way that they can hear it, and not that stance of, "This is the only way."

Bob:  I've always thought that was a ridiculous notion that Agile was a thing to concentrate on. It's a tool. Toyota Production System wouldn't have rested on a single process for very long without changing itself. [laughs] It's a means to great product outcomes.

Tammy:  I try to break it down for them as much as possible. Obviously, we care about the frameworks that we're using, but I try to break it down into simple questions. Answer these simple questions and that will help you get to that thing you're trying to produce, your vision.

That'll help you develop that vision. That'll help you develop that, "what's the next big thing?" I look for trying to, using Agile principles, break it down as small as possible to help them break through.

Bob:  Thank you very much. I really appreciate you guys coming in and chatting. I hope you have a great talk.

Wendy:  Thank you for asking us on the show.

Tammy:  Thank you.

Bob:  Although I think it's right at the same time as mine.

Wendy:  It is exactly the same time. [laughs]

Bob:  I hope it is not terribly well‑attended.


Tammy:  Wow, I was going to say I hope you have a full house.


Bob:  Thank you. Me, too. [laughs] No, I'm sure there are so many folks. We've got 2,300 people at this conference. We're both going to have the right...whoever shows are the right people.

Wendy:  Are the right people.

Tammy:  Exactly.

Bob:  It's open space principle.

Tammy:  Thanks for inviting us.

Bob:  Yeah, no problem.

Wendy:  Thank you very much.

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