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Catherine Louis & Raj Mudhar on Leadership and Agile in Hardware
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Interview with Catherine Louis & Raj Mudhar by Shane Hastie on Apr 01, 2013 |
13:30

Bio Catherine Louis is an Enterprise Agile Coach & Certified Scrum Trainer. Her current focus is enabling start-ups to build speed, quality, and flexibility in business. www.cll-group.com @catherinelouis Raj Mudhar has 17 yrs experience in the telecom sector as a developer, architect, project manager, R&D leader and chief agilist leading business transformation. Raj blogs at rajile.com @rmudhar

The Agile Alliance organizes the Agile series conference, which bring together all the key people in the Agile space to talk about techniques and technologies, attitudes and policies, research and experience, and the management and development sides of agile software development.

   

2. Catherine, a little bit about yourself?

Well I am a Scrum Trainer with the Scrum Alliance and I also do lots of in-house training, focusing on complex product development like Telecom and Power and things like that.

   

3. The easy stuff?

Yes, I come from 24 years of product development in the Telecom space.

   

4. Yesterday morning you gave a great talk on the Whole Team Dynamic Organizational Modeling. Do you want to tell us a little bit about it? It was a very interactive session.

Yes, we were doing a course in France and there was the inability to see what we could be and I was recalling my dad having little models of army warriors and things like that, through battles and things like that, so we decided to go to toys-r-us and look for some kind of modeling tool. The cheapest thing we could find was a big box of Lego. They had different things but the 60 piece of briquettes is what we ended up using. Doing the model, after the model, what we saw happen was that cameras came out, people were commenting, people were arguing and we realized that this model, being created by the teams and getting feedback from the teams was a huge benefit, just the feedback loop of “This is what we could be” and the discussing it and all the tensions come up as the model comes together.

   

5. What are they modeling, what are they building models of?

Well they are building models of what the organization could look like, as if you were to a model Agile organizations, how you might organize themselves. What would be the most intelligent way to organize your teams, the different roles, the different skills, so that you could build an as healthy or as functional organization as you can. But the big thing that came out, at least for me, was the tradeoffs and the constraints. And that’s where, as Catherine was saying, lots of discussion and debate has often tried to create this perfect Agile organization, but there really is no such thing. It’s really the matter of picking the tradeoffs that give you the best fit for your particular situation. No matter how you organize, you create some kind of silo. So once you’ve organized this way, if you flow through the model, what happens? And we walk around asking questions like “How can you make the decision making as close to the source of the problem as possible?” (within the same team ideally).

   

6. And how do you convey this in Lego model?

Physically you see arrows drawn and things like that for flow work through the teams. And there’s also things like where you have skills that need to transfer so communication and learning that need to happen often it’s just stuck with the connector, you connect two pieces of Lego with a third brick that represents a connector. Well I’m not sure we get your question.

   

7. Why something like Lego, why not just draw it on a process model, for instance?

The physical nature of Lego is where everybody can stand around and move the pieces. I think that invites play. Invites people to get feedback and there’re no names associated with a briquette of Lego’s. So if you make a skill map and say this blue Lego represents some test skill. Then we can move that around and not feel like we’re hurting anybody’s feelings.

   

8. And what are some of the surprising things that you’ve found with using a tactile tool like Lego to model organizations and flow?

Yesterday where we were three or four teams… everyone jumping in is the first thing, you know, this is… instead of someone standing at the white board and everyone around passively watching a model emerge, everyone has hands on, which is the first thing that is very interactive, so draws the whole team into the process, which is really wonderful. So you get a lot of different minds and a lot of different perspectives. The other thing that emerges, we saw this yesterday, when we did it here, is assumptions. You look for things like color and weapons and space drawn. If you see the development team here and you are looking at the model and there’s no customer, there’s no sales, we’re building a team in isolation, why is that? So you could start questioning it. So the product owner with the big weapon, spear- there’s some tension there that you can start talking about.

   

9. And the impact of color?

Yes, so let’s make test red and developers green and all the VPs and executives black, so you can start asking questions about “why is your test colored red, why did you make your executive black ... with weapons”?

   

10. And what do teams then do with this knowledge afterwards?

It Lives in a retrospective room. So it’s never right. If people are allowed to comment, then they take responsibility for making things right. We did one of these in France last year and we presented the model and it was a model for one of the teams that we were working with and what was amazing was a number of people that actually physically jumped on the table and took pictures of the model, as they resonated with it, there was something in it that they wanted to take back and share with their teams, which was really powerful and often that’s the record of it; it’s the photographs and videos that people have taken.

   

11. And how do simple models like that show complex dynamics in organizations?

That’s a good question. I think the conversation around it. Flowing through the model generates a lot of conversation. And it’s also a fair amount of text that the company is a model. So as people start to think about the model and what assumptions they have made, you often find folks writing things down and making arrows, connections, here’s how information will flow from one team to the next team and so on and here’s how the customers connect it and how do we invite the customer in for demos and all those kinds of things. They all get physically rendered. Yesterday in our session, two brave souls modeled their own organization and both of them are proposing a complete change going back to their companies. One guy said ”We need three teams instead of one”.

   

13. An areas I know, both of you are passionate about and interested in is “what do we do with managers”? In the Agile space we talk about getting rid of managers, we don’t need no stinkin’ managers.

So we realized that we have something that is kind of different from most folks. I have to say that in my history of product development I’ve had fantastic leaders, managers, managers of managers, challenging. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the supportive leadership that I had in the past. And beginning this training, I think probably around 2008, starting to do more public things I realized that I’m kind of unique there and Raj is too, he’s had some really great managers. I’ve had some fantastic managers in my career and we often compared notes about the kinds of managers that we had and our experience for whatever reason seems to be unique when you talk to a lot of people. But I know it’s not unique, there’s hundreds and thousands of good managers out there. But the main thing is that if you have good managers, if you have great managers and you could argue whether they are leaders or managers but effectively if you have good managers, they can enable a transformation or a transition happen, they can help make good things happen, they can remove impediments, they can do all of those things that really enable teams to thrive. They can accelerate things happening.

So what happened is we were in France and after explaining the Scrum roles, of course there’s no description of “manager” in a Scrum role, after that section, a fellow came up to me and said “But I am a manager, what am I to do?” and we went into a simulation, the simulation was: imagine you are at a company and the company is an Agile company and you have to talk to your manager. Number 1, what is the reason you might have to talk to your manager and number 2, what attribute of character would you want to see? So within 5 minutes this board was filled with things like “career development”, “I want him or her to have a huge network”, “business acumen” “visionary”, “someone who motivates”... So we thought it was then, after the easel paper was filled and the flipped over and filled again, we thought “OK, that’s it” but that got photographed and then fought over and copied into notebooks and then fought over some more. Some guy said he’s making that his whole career path now, and that’s when we started our leadership boot camp training program.

   

14. And what is that leadership boot camp cover?

Product owner training plus what do you expect in a leader is different for each class, it’s a little bit different and they walk away with actions for delivering on a pretty big impediment. So two parts, essentially the PO part and then this workshop where they actually apply Scrum, they actually build a backlog, they actually go through the process of taking this theory and putting it into practice and one big thing that everybody realizes whether you are a leader or not, when you take a Scrum class, it sounds great, it sounds very simple and when you go to implement it, you realize instantly how difficult it really is to do and so this is very valuable for anybody, is to actually do it and so we try to create that environment for the leaders and in turn what you get is a lot more empathy and understanding about how difficult this must be for the development teams who are under deadline pressure to deliver a product to a customer. And so now you have leaders that are so much more open and much more willing to listen to teams about impediments, about issues that are facing them and as a result, I think that experience, the sessions that we ran throughout 2011 were very successful. And they did deliver on many of the big impediments, so that’s awesome.

Shane: Well thank you both very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today, we really do appreciate it and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Thank you very much!

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