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Reflections on AgileNZ 2015

Some SilverStripers attended the 2015 Agile New Zealand conference 1 - 2 September in Wellington.

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Some SilverStripers attended the 2015 Agile New Zealand conference 1 - 2 September in Wellington. Today our Senior Agile Project Manager, Gavin Coughlan, reflects on this event and what Agile means for us at SilverStripe.

For a relatively small conference, AgileNZ managed to get a lot of great speakers. We had international speakers who are famous in that niche way that famous Agile people are, and local stories from a range of New Zealand-based speakers. This gave us a great mix of information and perspectives, but there was one theme that seemed to bubble to the surface no matter who the speaker was. What was that theme? People over process. Oh, and teal, there was lots of talk about teal. But let’s talk about the people over process side of things first.

Many conferences and talks I have seen in the past concentrated on a process - Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, XP - the list goes on. While most of these were referenced at the AgileNZ conference, not one person focussed a talk around any of these processes. The focus was very much on ‘being Agile’ rather than ‘doing Agile’, and more specifically about organisations with a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, which looks something like this:

This emphasis on a growth mindset and having the right culture in place is a very positive thing to see, and something that people need to hear. Applying a process across a company without truly understanding why, and changing the environment to allow it to flourish, will result in some minor benefits but ultimately fail to bring about a meaningful change.

Obviously, this makes the conversation around working in an Agile way a little more complex. It’s (relatively) easy to change a process, and far more difficult to change an organisation’s structure and culture.

Ahmed Sidky’s talk focussed on the culture aspects of organisational transformation. In his words, “Agile is a mindset described by 4 values defined by 12 principles manifested through unlimited number of practices”, and it seems that most of the time organisations focus on the practices when they decide to “adopt agile”, because that’s the easiest approach. However, it’s more important for all parts of the organisation to take a small step forward together than for some segments of it to become “fully agile” (e.g. development teams) while the rest of the organisation is stagnant. For organisational agility to become a fact, there needs to be a comprehensive culture transformation alongside it.

This got me thinking about how our own company grows teams and practices. At SilverStripe the Agile values and principles are held above any prescribed process, but how do we fare as an Agile organisation from different perspectives? I used some information from Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd’s talk at the conference, and from their previous Agile Welly talk, to run an internal exercise that could help SilverStripe reflect on where we are now.

Lyssa and Michael talk about looking at situations through four different quadrants, or windows, which very basically boil down to:

The “I” quadrant: You tend to look at the individuals and how they respond in any given situation first.
The “we” quadrant: You look at the team and how they interact as a whole first.
The “it” quadrant: You look at the processes in place first.
The “its” quadrant: You look at the whole organisation and its systems first.

They suggested a health check measured against these four quadrants. For example, what traits do an unhealthy team have and what traits do a healthy team have? Once you have a good shared understanding of what healthy and unhealthy looks like in each quadrant, you can then try to measure your teams and organisation against these.

We ran the first part of the exercise, and now have a shared understanding of healthy/unhealthy that we can add to if needed. The next step is to have an honest look to see if how we are doing in each quadrant.

And that brings me to teal. Lyssa and Michel spoke about measuring company’s levels of Agility and using a simple colour index to reflect the results. The colours go from red to teal and mean:

Red: Fear-driven organisations. You are a drug Kartel.
Amber: Tradition-driven Agile. You are actually pretty waterfall-ish.
Orange: Results-driven Agile. On the right road, but you are probably ‘doing Agile’ rather than ‘being Agile’.
Green: People-driven Agile. Give yourself a pat on the back, you are way ahead of the curve.
Teal: Adaptive Agile. You are one of only 5% of the world’s organisations, you have probably forgotten that the word ‘Agile’ exists because it is simply what you are. There are none more Agile!

The SilverStripe team managed to get some one-on-one (or four-on-two) time with Lyssa and Michael. We discussed the fact that everyone at the conference wanted to be part of a teal company, which isn’t realistic in most cases. They suggested that rather than aiming for the unachievable, try to be a better shade of orange, or a light shade of green is possible. Personally, I think green is a wonderful place to be. You’ll have a flat structure, empowered teams, great customer partnerships and be focussed on creating real value.

As for SilverStripe, we’ll see where we think we stand, and what our aspirations are. Watch this space!


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