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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd on the state of Agile, Enterprise Adoption and Intergal Agile

Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd on the state of Agile, Enterprise Adoption and Intergal Agile


1. [...] What is the, dare we say, the state of Agile or the state of organizational adoption of Agile as seen through the eyes of the coaches that you are teaching?

Shane's full question: Good day, this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ and I’m here at Agile 2014 and we are talking with Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd. Lyssa, Michael welcome, great to see you again, thank you so much for coming along. You’re both with the Agile Coach Coaching Institute and you both giving talks at this conference, but before we enter into your talks, one of the things I’d like to get from you, given the fact that you are coaching the coaches, you are training many of the coaches that are going out there, what is the, dare we say, the state of Agile or the state of organizational adoption of Agile as seen through the eyes of the coaches that you are teaching?

Lyssa: We do have a birds-view; cats eye view?

Michael: That’s a joke because our coaching Agile teams we abbreviate as CAT. It feels like it’s varied on the one hand depending on the organization but there it’s also decidedly themes about that. Well, coaches care about teams obviously, that’s their focus but that’s such a well understood, how to start up a team, it’s not a very well understood and they have challenges there for sure and they pain there, but it’s more management not even my manager, management doesn’t get it, we can’t, or finance the budget process doesn’t support that.

Lyssa: It’s much more the organizational impediments that seems to be the things that they really want to know how to work with, where is I think 4 years ago where we started teaching this class it was much more almost like, I don’t know how to do this at the team level as you were saying, the patterns, the tools are kind of well known for that now.


2. You wrote a book on it?

Lyssa: I wrote a book on it, “Coaching the Agile Teams”, and now it’s really kind of like you know, Agile is a foregone inclusion, people aren’t fighting Agile anymore; that used to also be part of how do I convince people to do Agile, how I convince people to stand up and we are not hearing that. What we are hearing now is Agile is gone big, my organization is thinking about scaling or conversely my organization needs to scale and they are not thinking about it, how do I influence that, so they are looking out for how to influence the ecosystem more.

Michael: Yes, because they are in a bigger context of that, that everybody; it’s not a question of whether to go Agile at this point and most companies are struggling with how to make it work, everywhere how to scale or have organizational agility or have agility in HR, in finance, not just on teams.

Lyssa: So it’s more like how do we have Agile for whole value streams not just for us, so yes, that’s a really different proposition that we are dealing when we first starting teaching Agile coaches 4 years ago.


3. So what are some of the answers that you giving those people?

Lyssa: Ones that don’t satisfy them immediately for sure; no doubt about that.


4. You mean that is no magic wand?

Lyssa: There is not magic wand and the complexity is so much more as we move up from the team level to departments, to whole organization.

Michael: I mean in general when you are not just teaching the basics; when you are teaching the basics there is really clear patterns for how to do it, how to start in special. There is not clear patterns for how to be in the middle, I mean the middle is always different and depends so much on the circumstance that you can’t give somebody an easy satisfying answer that they want, but that’s just real.

Lyssa: So what you focus on? Helping your leaders become Agile leaders, do you focus on creating a culture conducive to Agile or at least living within the culture is not conducive to Agile, so where do you focus, it’s a hard question.

Michael: We try to give them like basics skill sets to solve lots of problem like facilitating; facilitating is like a very basic skill set that enables you to do all kinds of things that empower and create self organization and professional coaching, likewise it helps people get into, what I really care about what’s important to me, what difference will that make.

Lyssa: I was talking to a woman today, who is a project management office director at a really large company and she was saying: “The leaders want this stuff and they have a vision and I’m going to talk to the teams, the vision is totally different down there and they are not meeting in the middle” and she was taking on the role of intermediary or mediator between those two things and trying to do it, and when I was standing there with someone else who said: “What’s happening, you’ve got this coming up from the top and you are in the middle and then you’ve got this one going on the bottom” and I say why don’t you think about the role of being a facilitator to bring those 2 worlds together rather you having to be in the middle of it. And that’s a huge shift for everyone in organizations and people who are managers, Scrum Masters, Agile coaches, but anyone doing Agile Coaching, it’s a huge shift for them to think of themselves as I need to connect the system together and have the system hear each other to come up with a great solution versus it’s my job to solve it.

Michael: Because the organizations drive them to be the ones to solve that, that’s the old management paradigm, you are accountable for this team and we need to take a step back and see it from a bigger perspective, such a different set of leadership skills, mindsets, what I take satisfaction from.

Lyssa: And those are all the sorts of, I would say, identity crises that people go through when they do training with us.


5. Coming to the talks that you’ve delivered at this conference and I think there’s a large overlap here, but one of the things that Michael yours was “what would it mean to coach an enterprise”, so what does it mean to coach an enterprise?

Michael: Well part of that talk was to point out, discuss, give articulation to it and distinctions around enterprises are really, really complex things, on one hand you have individuals, you have all kinds of individuals, that’s the basic level that we think of - lots of people with different personalities, with different needs, with different values, etc, but then we have teams and there are lots of teams and each team has its own personality, just like people, and then you put teams together into programs or departments or whatever, and that has a certain different kind of quality, maybe they have to, they all have one boss and they all have a little bit of a culture together, a charge center that drives them in a certain direction and whatever, so that’s creates another characteristic, and then you have business units or organizations or something that have a culture, they have ways of doing things.

Lyssa: They have leaders that they may or may not be Agile leaders.

Michael: And you put all that stuff together and that’s a fair amount of different things going on that you can’t not just attack or focus on one piece of that, it’s all going on simultaneously, it’s like a much a three rings circus, it’s like five times that, a twenty rings circus.

Lyssa: Tell them your Albert Einstein quote. We only paraphrase it, we actually don’t know the exact quote

Michael: You can check this on Google, I’m sure I’m not exactly right but I think it captures more or less the essence of it, Einstein said: “I don’t care about, I wouldn’t give a whip for the simplicity that’s on this side of complexity” meaning the over simplified, the one page diagram, “but I would give my life for the simplicity that’s on the other side of complexity”.

Shane: Working through the complexity to get that

Lyssa: Something that doesn’t dumb that down

Michael: Do not dumb it down, do not reduce it to a simplistic thing, but also not to make it so complex that I get overwhelmed by that, so what’s a model or a way of thinking or being with that that actually does simplify the complexity but not in a way that makes it overly simpler or …..

Shane: Trivialize it?

Lyssa: Trivialize - that’s a great word, that’s exactly what it is. And so he has, he’s been, what I love about what Michael is doing is that he’s bringing us this wisdom from a group of people outside the Agile Community called the Integral Community into grow, and incredible philosophers and other people are working in that community and there are wonderful models, the Integral model and the Spiral Dynamics model that go together, that he’s bringing into our community and helping people who are working in this more complex situation, he’s helping them see more holistically and see them not only from their own bias, which most of us don’t know we have a bias, therefore we don’t know we are not seeing the whole thing. Having people kind of get clear about what their bias is, so they can open more windows and see more of the picture. To then have a way of working with the complexity without dumbing it down but without having it be overwhelming, to be better informed about what action would help the organization become more healthy in its use of Agile.

Michael: Which is an example of what our place seems to be in the Agile Community, which is bring stuff in from outside the Agile Community, you know, professional coaching, facilitation, Integral now, conflict, to apply it to the problems that we face as Agile coaches.


6. Conduits of knowledge , conduits of wisdom?

Lyssa: Conduits of knowledge, I like that, connectors maybe too.

Shane: Lyssa you spoke on Intense Conversations, what to do when it gets hot.

Lyssa: Yes, I spoke for probably 15 minutes and then we did a live demonstration where 6 people from the audience who were willing to take on different like polar opposite kind of views on a topic, came up on stage, and we set in a circle and we ignore the 286 people out there.

Michael: Well you did.

Lyssa: He didn’t, me and the other people having the conversation did, and I show what’s possible when you facilitate a conversation where you are allowing people to actually be real to have them stay with they really think without turning themselves off or numbing out or just being dominated by a louder voice.

Michael: Well, into also not trying to get to resolution of conflict, damp it down, you know we tend to want to oh my gosh it’s kind of scares us, freaks us out or we are not going to be productive or whatever, I’m not going to get our deliverables done and we just try to manage it, tamp it down and stuff.

Lyssa We go for the easy, clear path, and it turns out that most of the time people don’t agree and there are still ways forward while they are not agreeing, and so that’s we were showing in that demo, and it was new skills that again I brought in from outside the Agile World because I find myself not being skilled enough in those intense conversations.

Michael: And it turns out another Integral practitioner, a Zen Priest.

Lyssa: Her name is Diane Moser Hamilton, amazing woman, she’s not only a Zen Priest, she is a mediator, so she’s got those two coming together and I’ve been, we both took a class over this year and I’ve been in a telecourse around her book called “Everything is workable “, a Zen approach to conflict resolution, which has been really great. And of course the good news-bad news of it is really I didn’t need anymore skills and knowledge around how to do this, I needed to expand my own ability to hold their conflict and to not, as Michael said, try to move toward the easy path or say let’s take it off line or any of the other ways that we try to have it not be uncomfortable.

Shane: So accepting and working ….

Michael: Creating a bigger space for all this stuff to happening in a container, facilitating a big space for that to happen without that being a problem.

Lyssa: And so my job was actually to keep their differences alive, because what we tend to do, we were so used to conflict not feeling good and when we have opposite points of view or contentious points of view, we were just used to saying our point of view once and then if we don’t get everyone on board then we just kind of retreat.

Michael: Or we try to keep convincing them with the same arguments and gets into a …………..


7. So what happens then, how do you get, so if you are allowing that disagreement, that hot conversation to continue, how do you help people get to perhaps a shared consensus, do you want that?

Lyssa: I’m not looking for a shared consensus necessarily, I am looking for a way forward, so as they’re stating their points of view, part of what I’m doing is using a facilitation tool called Reframe, a skill called Reframing. I’m looking for the values or the beliefs that underlie their position. And so let’s say that we get 20 minutes in this conversation and it’s clear that these 4 people want to go this way, they want this outcome and then 2 people are overridden, they don’t want that outcome but they are outgunned So then a way forward there is to ask, to actually reveal it to the group so seems like Shane for example is suggesting this, who or who resonates with that idea, 4 people raise their hand, 2 people don’t, then you look at the 2 people and say: “Ok, so what’s a way for them to keep your X and Y value”, whatever it is I’ve heard, “your value of autonomy or your value of cleanliness“. What’s a way for them to keep that alive as we move forward together? So see how they are, it’s a way of honoring that we are still in this together, and that’s not what happened in this case. In this case we use to, an organization system coaching skill called Alignment Coaching, where we said: “The problem has been between you all for the last 20-30 minutes and I’m going to take that problem and move it outside of the circle, I want to move your chair so we can all look at that problem”. And as soon as that happened, the entire group relaxed, because they were starting to get pretty intense on that point, entire group relax like: “Oh, it’s so nice that’s out there”. And so I said: “So while we are not agreeing ”, and I put them in a context so they are in an Agile transformation team together, they are advising their executives about scaling options actually. “So while we are not agreeing, how do we want to work together?” and they came up with 3 amazingly great ways forward, “so I don’t agree with you that we should use this particular scaling methods, but I’m willing to work with you to find what measures we should use and then we can run an experiment for some period of time where we can actually measure” and then the whole group went: “Well that’s reasonable”. So a couple of ideas like that came up, so even while they are not agree they are still away forward. And that’s the whole idea behind Everything is Workable, we don’t have to come to consensus and I think as a community we’ve relied a little bit too much on this idea of coming to consensus, and we have giving away being respectful, so that we can be polite instead.

Michael: All of this is part of what we’re both studying and bringing into the Agile Community right now, we just call Integral Agile, that’s the framework behind my book, “Coaching the Agile Enterprise”, I just actually this week, I’m excited to say, released 6 chapters of that book.

Lyssa: With chapter 0.

Michael: With chapter 0, the last one is 5, but the first one is 0, and what Lyssa is talking about is a team level application of Integral Agile, with a specific methodology and whatever, and it is an operating system and in that you build applications on top of that, you have to first change your mind literally…

Lyssa: Like upgrade your operating system..

Michael: ….and then you can see differently, you can do different kinds of things, that’s the appeal of this Integral Community throughout the world, which is by the way sort of like the Agile Community and it’s a big community, multi disciplines, all kind of things and that’s what we are doing all together, is looking at that on team levels, on organizational level, on individual level, and how can we make that accessible, usable by people in the whole community.

Lyssa: So we’ve actually started a group, called the Integral Agile Toolbox Group, and so these are people who’ve learned from us, we’ve been running these deep dive study groups in these first 6 chapters of Michael’s book, and so they’ve learned the models, they kind of internalized it and now they are practicing in their own real Agile coaching scenarios. Ok, what’s an assessment tool that I can build on top of this model for the situation I’m in, what’s an app that I can use for myself to decide to coach in this moment should I do an intervention or not, and so looking through the perspectives that are offered in Integral Agile, they are creating these tools and try them out. Is cool and that will be a way of how that be accessible and immediately usable by the community.

Michael: The thing that we think as people deal with team issues but also with bigger organizational issues, we are shifting our teaching, we are still going to be very much teaching at a team and whatever level, but we are also moving into the enterprise coaching level because that’s the issues that people are facing right now, people constantly want to know about organizational change and stuff in our class, we haven’t taught that because we thought it was important to teach the fundamentals first that you can’t run before you crawl, kind of a thing, but now we feel like we’ve laid ground work on our competency model, the coaching Agile teams class, the distinction between professional coaching and mentoring.

Lyssa: We’ve trained a few thousand people at this point, and a lot of what we were just starting to bring to the community 4 years ago it’s just is now, it’s part of what people inherit. So I think we are more ready as a community also to move into this territory and also to honor not only the tangible side of it, patterns and tools and stuff like that, but the more intangible side of it, how do we help leaders increase their emotional intelligence, how do we help teams have more conflict capability for example, that kind of stuff actually now does have technology, it’s just human technology.

Michael: It reminds me of a, we were in Australia about 6 months ago at the YOW! Conferences and it was with all geek technology people, all heavy developers, it was really cool, it was totally outside of our norm, It was not what we usually have but it was really fun, and we said to them: “We are geeks just like you, but we are human technology geeks, not computer technology geeks” and we are trying to introduce human technology stuff into the Agile Community, because you don’t look to us for technical geek stuff.

Shane: Just a final point, Michael you mentioned you are writing another book called “Coaching The Agile Enterprise”.

Michael: It’s called “Coaching The Agile Enterprise”, it would be published by Addison Wesley whenever the heck I get it done, and it’s going to be in the Mike Cone series where Lyssa’s book Coaching Agile Teams is, but I have released the foundation piece of it.

Lyssa: Which is plenty for people to absorb, I mean let me just tell you, this stuff is already really changing the Enterprise Agile conversation and people can get it on, we have a link to it.

Michael: And hopefully they will be able to get it on Safari at some point and they sometime this year.

Lyssa: On it’s free.

Michael: But if you have a Safari subscription…

Lyssa: Not for your company but it’s free for you.

Shane: Lyssa, Michael thank you very much for taking the time, it’s been really good to talk to you!

Thank you Shane!

Nov 27, 2014