Enterprise Agile Transformation with Tamara Runyon
Recorded at:

Interview with Tamara Runyon by Shane Hastie on Jan 16, 2013 |

Bio Tamara Runyon is an Enterprise Agile Coach with Intel, working as part of a small team of enterprise level coaches. She is a Certified Scrum Trainer who has worked for a variety of organisations over the years, working with teams small and large across many countries. She was a board member of the Agile Alliance for four years.

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. She is also a retiring Agile Alliance board member having served four years on the board. Tamara would you mind just telling us a little bit about your Agile Journey?

My Agile Journey actually started in 2003, I had recently got my PMP certification working on software projects and I was looking for a better way to build software, a better way to our meet customers’ expectations, a better way to meet expectations of costs and schedule and I was lucky enough to go to the first Agile Conference in 2003 and a light bulb went on for me, this is a better way to build software. Took some of those practices back to the company that I was working at that time, we did one of the classic faux-pas where we said: “We know better and we use this piece and this piece from this and that” and created a hybrid of our own, which was a complete mess but was still better than what we’re doing before.

You know they eventually evolved into using Scrum for the Project Management portion, Scrum wrapped around XP for our engineering practices and I loved it, and from then on worked as a Scrum Master, became a Coach moved from Florida up to Seattle, Redmond area, worked as an Internal Coach and Scrum Master and got my CST, my Certified Scrum Trainer in 2006, and from then I’ve been traveling the world, training and coaching teams and I’ve just recently come to rest, last October joining Intel as an Internal Coach, working from inside the organization rather than an external consultant working far deeper within the program of Agile Transformation. I’ve been doing this for a while, it’s been an incredible journey, I learned a lot and I continue to learn every day.


3. At the conference you are giving a talk with a really interesting title: “Traversing the Canyon of Anarchy”.

The title actually came from something that one of our team members said to me, he said it was “crossing the canyon of anarchy” as they were moving to the Agile Transition, and I just loved that phrase and it’s so apt for what happens to people when we first start an Agile Transition, we seem to go into this canyon of change and chaos and stress and confusion and so my talk is about how do we cross that canyon, how do we move, make sure that we come through that canyon of change and come out on the other side so that we can get lasting change. This is really a continuation of work I was doing earlier on trying to figure out how do we make this change stick, because too often over the years I’ve worked with clients, we were going great, everything was wonderful, go off work with another client, and when I come back to check-in with them, I find that something has changed and they are not longer doing Agile or the Agile that they are doing is in one small part of the company or things have falling back into their old patterns, it’s either blown-up imploded or faded away, and some of them were very successful and continue to be successful.

So what are those things that help those companies have a successful transition and what are those things that we can learn from that help keep people from having a successful transition, what can we learn from that so we can move forward? So we can use this, things that we can actually do, and so I’m looking at 3 key aspects of transformational change, it’s not enough and I believe that we know this now, it’s being talked about for a number of years now where it’s not enough just to adopt practices, we really need to have a transformational change, a change in the mindset, a mind-shift change, change the mental models that people are working with.

So looking at 3 key aspects: people and different models, ideas, theories and things around people because at the base it’s all about people, and organizational culture which is people compounded, lot’s of people and how they all act together and behave together, what they believe, what they focus their attention on, and leadership, leadership is not necessarily by title but as a change agent, what can you do to help support folks to this change, what can you do as a titled leader, what can you do within a Scrum Team to help support, these are kind of things that I’m looking at, and I’m using examples from what we are doing at Intel as part of the talk to illustrate, to demonstrate that this is very hands-on stuff, is not all airy-fairy, is not fuzzy-bunny, it’s hands-on this is what we can do and explaining why it helps based on several theoretical models by other social anthropologists and what they’ve done. I’m very interested in it and it’s been a study for me for a number of years, I’m continuing to learn and right now I’m just sharing some of the key learnings.


4. And what are some of the practical things that people can do when making this Transition to traverse that canyon, so to go from doing Agile, to being Agile?

Doing Agile to being Agile. For example, no two transformations are the same so these are just examples only but for example we are making sure that this is a pull model, there is no “thou shalt be Agile” fiat, or declaration, or commandment ; it’s people who are looking for help coming in and say: “Can you help us?”. We make sure that we communicate, and we communicate often and we communicate honestly about what was really happening, we celebrate successes and we take a look at some of the failures, not Agile Teams are successful the first time and why not, what can we change, we look for that continuous improvement, we do things like we have an Intel Agile Conference every year, so we help spread the word, we have 5 pillars that we are basing the strategy around, so we have a very clear vision of what we are looking to do and we have a clear strategy that we communicate but we don’t try to “Boil the ocean”, we don’t try to do it all at once.

So the pillars that we are using, there is “Gravity” where we are looking to pull people into the gravity of what we are doing so they were interested and they want to do this. This makes change much easier, if they are coming to us and say: “We’d like help”, there is going to be much more receptive to ideas. And then there is “Scale”, so we need to grow our own coaches, we cannot sustain this by continuously bringing in outside experts, there is certainly a role for outside experts, but we’ve got to be able to grow our own to be able to sustain this as well as to uplift. And so we need to have a level of training and so part of what I’m working on is to, deepen the level of training.

We’ve got the basic training down great, and we have a quite few people that do this but we want to improve upon that, we want to get more intermediate and advanced level training because as more people are doing it; we’ve got teams that are being doing this for six and eight years, those are the people that are giving the training now but the folks that are coming along as their problem set changes as they get better and better, so we want to be able to address that and support that with training.

And then we have “Environment”, so there are programs that are happening within Intel and this is a big thing within Intel to change the physical structure, the way it works, building some Team Rooms, so we’ve got Team Rooms we’ve built - so we’ve got one in particular that is a pilot project for an Agile Team Room in Oregon where I’m based, and it’s working out beautifully, it’s working great, so we are hoping to replicate that. We are hoping to take all these different things and because we are a geographically dispersed organization, our strategy includes creating Agile Competency Centers in different regions, so it’s not going to be a one size fits all solution, each region will have their own solutions, we will support all of the regions, we’ll help them to get started and then we will continue to communicate and share ideas and knowledge as we learn as an organization or different parts of the organization that work together, then we can all get better together.

We are very clear about communicating this, we have our site that people can go where they can look up all of the Agile training cross the organization, and this is a hundred thousand person organization, this is a big company. There is a lot going on and there is a lot of different initiatives going on, there is some deep, deep knowledge with Agile, they are doing some really fantastic things, but one part of the company may not know what another part of the company is doing or has done, so we are helping pull that knowledge together into one central spot. It’s been a blast, I’ve been having so much fun working with these teams and with these programs at the program and the portfolio level and putting in programs to help grow coaches for example. So for example we just started our pilot Agile Coaching Circle in Oregon and we are making it face-to-face, it’s a group of Agile Coaches that is a self organizing group, that set their own purposes, their own vision and works toward helping to better our skills, mentor others, to act as a seed bed for the original competencies centers that we want to create , that we are in the process of creating and to help us remove some impediments like mapping ”what’s an Agile Coach carrier look like at Intel” for example? This is a new area we don’t have that yet so we can map that out and different things like that so it’s exciting.


5. Why is Intel going Agile?

There is a lot of reasons why, and different organizations have different reasons - faster time to market for example, better response to our customers. Our market is changing rapidly and we as an organization we have to change with it, so it’s really about competitive advantage, but underlying that, in our transformation efforts, what we are looking at, what we are focusing on, because we are keeping the message simple and we are working within our core culture, and in the Intel culture is a competence culture. I feel very safe in saying that because it’s been looked at and published and quoted and it’s there, but working within our culture and we are looking to get predictability; we want to get predictability across all of these teams, we want to help them get to predictability, so they can then take that and get the results that they want to get out of it. The “why” is enormous, almost as many different whys as that are different organizations within. But it’s all leading towards better customer support, faster time to market, competitive advantage.


6. Which is a pretty important driver?

Very important, you got to have that business value. Agile as, and I know I’ve heard this, I can’t remember who I heard say it but I loved it, it really is a strategy and not a goal, if you don’t have the business value for doing it, you’ll never going to be able to make it stick, because there is no “Why”, you have to know the “Why”.


7. Sounds like it’s going to be a fantastic talk and looking forward to seeing it. Moving on from there talking about your role in the Agile Alliance Board, you’ve been a member of the Board for the last 4 years, how is that gone?

It been an amazing experience, I mean working with the top notch group of people, of thought leaders in my field and helping to broaden and change the community, to help support the community, it’s been an amazing experience, I’ve learned a lot over the last 4 years. I had some key-goals that I wanted to help create and one of the key-goals was helping the Alliance form alliances with other organizations in the Agile Community, help us become that linking organization that I feel that we should be and also to help us form international linkages, so to help us become more of an international. Four years ago we were very North America focused, the majority of the focused is North America, but we are growing and Agile spreading and growing across the planet and we need to be there with them, I really see the role of the Agile Alliances holding the space for the Agile Community, holding the space so that people within that community can continue to grow and evolve. New people will be coming in and learning and continue to move up that learning curve and it will be moving up faster than those who came before and those who are at the edge of the field, that have been out there, those thought leaders can continue to innovate and evolve and spread where we are going as a community.

I truly believe, I’m going to take a step back: years ago I predicted and continue to predict that Scrum as an Agile Project Management Framework, will be absorbed into the Project Management Body of Knowledge, the PMBOK, and that has happened and I continue to see where what we are doing is more and more mainstream, so there will come a time when, this is just a way we all work, I firmly believe that and I work towards of that because it is making work more sustainable, productive and humane.

Shane: Well that really wraps up everything that I had to ask you about, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today, it’s been an absolute pleasure!

You are very welcome, thank you for asking me!

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