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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Sally Elatta on Creating Sustainable Healthy Teams and Agility Health Check

Sally Elatta on Creating Sustainable Healthy Teams and Agility Health Check


2. We know each other but I suspect the fair number of our audience don’t know you yet, so would you mind briefly introducing yourself?

Sure, so my name is Sally Elatta, I’m president of a company called Agile Transformation,, and I’m a passionate enterprise Agile coach. I started this company about 6 years ago and our purpose is to help executives and leaders transform their culture to high performing healthy teams, and I’m putting the word healthy in there because the cultural transformation part of Agile has really been missing, there is been too much focus on the Agile Practices and the Portfolio Management and the stand up’s which are all great and awesome to have, but a big part of what we are trying to do is help organizations with the cultural transformation and then making the enterprise transformation actually stick and be sustainable. So that’s the company, I come from an interesting background, I grow up through the IT World so I was a software developer, engineer, architect, both on the site and then moved over to the world of organizational transformation.


3. So in terms of helping to transform to High Performing Healthy Teams, interesting, tell us a bit more about that.

High Performing Healthy Teams, I mean a lot of people get confused; to me an Agile Transformation is not really about Agile, it really is about creating a high performing culture where there is a lot of, OD for example, experts out there that come in and do a lot of the cultural transformation, they teach you leadership, soft skills, all those different things, and then comes the Agile folks that really teach you about the process side of it, our Agile, Lean and Sigma folks. And our view of it is combination of both, so health for us is a combination of both the process transformation and the people in the cultural transformation brought together, so that we are, and the way that we talk about it is like a triangle that we draw which is organizations need Clarity, Focus. So Clarity is: “Do we know who we are, do we know what’s the most important thing right now, and are we able to clearly articulate that to the company at every level, what is our strategy, what is our goals and where are we moving forward?”

Focus is what we talk about: “Are we able to stay focused until we get something done or do we continue to run after shining objects?”, and again that word “focus” at every level of the company, and it’s funny because a lot of people will say: “Let’s fix my teams, fix my teams” but a lot of where focus is not happening is at the enterprise level, is the strategic leaders, the VP’s, the executives that have so many different ideas, but it’s hard for them to prioritize and rank them and figure out which ones and allow the team to finish what they’ve started.

So Clarity, Focus and then the third leg is what we called Predictable Execution. Predictable Execution is the idea of: “Do we all know how to execute work in a very predictable way, whether is Kanban or Scrum or Lean or whatever way, do we have a process for it or we all know what that’s mean to the product owner, how often do we do our iterations, what does velocity means for us?”, and in the middle of that triangle we draw happy people and we say: “Can we do all those things with the healthy culture?“ So that’s kind of my long answer to your question of what does health really mean, organization health for us is kind of defined and having Clarity, having Focus, having Predictable Execution and having a healthy company in the middle, healthy people, happy people that are doing it.


4. Great. Now one of the things I know that you brought to the conference is your Agility Health Tool, please tell us about it.

Sure, I brought a little picture that were giving up in the conference right now, so it’s the radar, so I will give you a little bit of background, first of all why we created this, because we are definitely not just a tool vendor, we really are transformation company. What we realize as you stand up so many teams within the organization it becomes impossible to see how healthy are those teams, there are some teams that are doing Agile well, there are some teams that is not even about Agile, some teams are not very healthy, and if you’ve got 20, 30…100 teams it becomes impossible to see that and say, unless you are doing manual assessments and talking to the Scrum Master and you are deploying coaches everywhere, and it just become almost unsustainable to answer that question, of “how healthy are my Agile Teams?”, and I think that question needs to be answered, not just for the leaders but I think the teams themselves need to know how healthy are you as a team, are you on the right track.

So Agility Health, this is the name of the tool, Agility Health, is the assessment tool, we call it the “most powerful Agile assessment tool has arrived”; why is that the most powerful because we create it and we are practitioners. We created this to actually serve us and serve people that are truly doing Agile, we are not just, we didn’t sit there and say: “Oh, we are tool vendors, let’s come up with a new tool to sell on the market”, we are Agile practitioners, we developed this because we couldn’t find something to use and we are like we finally need something. So basically the first radar that we are releasing and there are several radars, this is called The Team Health Radar. The Team Health is a quick glance from a team perspective on how are they doing from a Health Perspective. There are five dimensions that we care about, we are defining Team Health as a Healthy Agile Team needs to have Clarity, so you’ll see how those maps to what we just talked about Organizational Health, so I kind of gave you the big Organizational Health picture and this is how it maps.

The team needs to have Clarity on their vision, the purpose of the team and their measure for success; they need to have Clarity on their plan which mean short term, mid-term and long term plan. They need to have Clarity on their roles, so do I understand my role, do I understand the role and expectations of people around me in the team, but also another element is generalizing specialist. As a team do we practice the idea of moving out of our role and helping with other tasks as needed, mature Agile Teams do that, new Agile Teams don’t know that yet, they don’t understand that you need to get out of your role and help. So this is great but a Healthy Agile Team need to show performance, and performance for us is measured in two different ways: Confidence and then Hard Metrix. Confidence, who do we need to ask about the Confidence, so there is product owner, so one of the questions that we ask over here is: “As a product owner are you confident and satisfied that this team has the tools, the knowledge, the ability and desire to meet your current goals?”.

We ask the same question to the team, we say: “Do you believe that you have the necessarily skills, tools and desires to meet the current goals?” but we also ask the Stake Holders because we want the outside view of the team, and so Stake Holders when they complete this they only fill out that part, they don’t get the rest of the survey because it will be too overwhelming. But we want to ask them because sometimes the teams are kind of sitting in a bubble and they might not be doing that well but they think they are, but the outside Stake Holders want to tell them: “Look, we are not getting enough communication”, it could be a lack of collaboration between the product owner and them, the Stake Holders group.

From a performance perspective there are 5 things that we look for: Predictable Velocity, time to market, so predictability is measured in how, what’s the variants, if you say you are going to get a hundred points done, are you within ten percent. Time to Market is how quickly are you delivering for your product owner, are you delivering quick enough? Value Delivered, a lot of teams don’t measure value and we are trying to help nudge the teams toward value measurements, so the questions that we ask over there is: “First of all do you even talk about value at the feature level, and then do you associate business value points or whatever measure you want to have with it and then do you actually measure value post release, do you even spend the time to do that?” This is really to me the maturity of the product owner because I think teams will be fine but the product owner has to take the lead on this.

Quality and then Response to Change. Those are the biggest drivers for Agile, when people tell you why are we moving to Agile, we are moving to Agile because we want to get more predictable, we want to response to change faster, we want to improve our quality, so all these things, we want to improve our time to market, those were the five reasons why you are moving to Agile, we want to start saying: “Ok, have we really done that or not?”

A Healthy Agile Team needs to have a Healthy culture and leadership team, so sorry not culture here but leadership team, and the leadership team we’ve kind of selected the four that we want to asses and it’s the Scrum Master who we are calling the team Facilitator, because honestly we are trying to stay away from a specific methodology within this assessment.

The Technical Lead or Technical Leads, the product owner and the managers of the team, we found that some people say that my manager is a chicken, they are not part of the team, yes, it’s a very important chicken, if you consider them they can influence the team negatively or positively and I’m just going to emphasize this a little bit because the manager role has changed so much in Agile, so what we are assessing is servant leadership; people development, you want managers to start focusing on developing the people as a post to the task management and we want managers to focus more on process improvement. So a lot of the stuff that they never had time to do, managers were very much task managers and impediment removals. Well now the Scrum Master and the team has taking over that, so what do managers do? Well the new role of managers is to process improve in people development in edition to be a servant leader.

So Culture, does this team have a Healthy Culture? Culture is measured in happiness, we ask them the pure question: “How happy are you?” being part of this team. Collaboration, trust and respect, creativity and accountability and then the other really important part, (I’ll put it this way so you can see it) is foundation, and a Healthy Agile Team has a strong foundation, and we now actually find that without a strong foundation and strong culture performance gets impacted, so we now have some correlation. But the foundation is Agility and then Team Structure, so under Agility we are looking for sustainable peace, self-organization, technical excellence which has its own radar, we have a technical excellence radar, planning and estimating effective meetings, size and skill so this is under the structure. Does the team have the right size and skill, do they have the right allocation and stability and there is the working environment, whether is physical or virtual, is healthy? So, pretty comprehensive.


5. That’s a very comprehensive big picture, so what is it? An online tool that people go in there and rank themselves and rank the teams and…

So this is, we thought about it and we really wanted to be very quality and one of the models was just put it online and have people purchase it and then we said: “You know what, that just not going to be what we want”. We have been administrating this right now as a retrospective tool, so it is a two or three hour facilitated retrospective session by an Agile Coach or an Agility Health facilitator. The session start at the beginning in the first 30 minutes with covering what those dimensions are and then engaging the team, so dimension by dimension, talking about the dimension, clarifying so everyone is on the same page and then the team immediately on their mobile phone or on their laptop, they begin to answer the questions from the survey.

So this is a 360 Survey, the team begins to respond to during that retrospective and so once they respond to it and have submitted for all of them the radar shows up in front of them immediately, it’s real-time. I’m showing you right now the summer review, there is a detailed view which is more intriguing. The detail view shows you where they actually plotted their answers and that actually gives you way more insight than these few because where they plotted tells you if there is convergence or there is divergence, if there is consensus around it. That takes probably the first 30 minutes of this retrospective and then the rest of the time is spent analyzing the radar, talking about really honestly facilitating open honest conversations about what the team is actually seeing and then the end of it is probably for the last 30-40 minutes developing a growth plan, and the growth plan is what are we going to do, actionable, from now until the next quarter or until the next release for us to get better as a team, it’s the beginning of a growth backlog basically.

We recommend that you do this strategic retrospective once a quarter, or once a release, so if a company has 6 months cadence releases or 3 months releases or whatever they do, like one company that uses SAFe has 10 week PSI’s. Whatever you’re using, whatever your cadence is, kind of match the strategic retrospective to the cadence because you want to improve that next iteration, whether it’s a quarter or … So that’s how it’s delivered, it’s basically a facilitate retrospective facilitated by an Agile Coach.

Now typically Shane, we would do the first few just so the people understand how we do and how we deliver it, our ultimate goal, we have two certifications, we have an Agility Health Facilitator and Agility Health Coach, and so we want the internal coaches within the company to take this over because we are not in the business of doing every team health check, this is becomes an enablement tool for organizations to continuously improve based on what they are seeing.


6. Well, that’s a really interesting picture and I can see it used very powerfully in retrospectives and providing that tool for conversations. So wait you from here, is it a matter that just people come and signup and use it?

Yes, so I mean obviously to get started with a tool you can go to and click on the Agility Health tab and request more information or even just contact us directly and we could do a pilot, so pick 5-10 teams, 3-4 teams whatever you’ve got and we’ll basically come in and deliver it. What we want companies to know is that we’d like to know immediately who are the internal facilitators that they want to certify, so that they can begin to do it internally.

We are piloting the idea of having public certification courses, so we have our schedule online, we were kind of leaning towards only doing private certifications for different companies but we are like let’s see could we really do a public certification workshop, have people come and learn how to do this without us doing it in front of them; so we do have a couple 2 or 3 workshops right now listed. So that’s the way to get started, it’s really that simple either engage us to delivering the first few and then show us who to certify or come to the public workshops online and be certified to use it.

From a strategic perspective this is just the beginning, this is the first radar and we have other ones, we already have a SAFe release train health assessment, that one we’ve developed and we are working with the SAFe folks for companies that have adopted SAFe that want to see what is the health of its release train.

There are many more that we are about to create, our ultimate vision is now that you can see the health of all your teams. Now let’s take it one level up, what’s the health of your program? Or what’s the health of your product line? You know combine those ten teams together and show me a picture of the product line health radar. What about your portfolio health? Now that you’ve got 5 portfolios within your company, what’s the health of that portfolio? Enterprise health, which is our ultimate goal, how can you through seeing the health of all of your teams, Shane, understand the health of your organization. So in the future that’s where we were moving towards, that will be a score, an Agility Health score at the team level and at the enterprise level, and organizations can aim in their roadmap to say this is what we want to be and in order for us to get there we need to have healthier teams obviously and so how do we create healthier teams, well let’s just see where are the gaps and what can we do to move forward.


7. An interesting and exciting tool; it’s going to be available in the marketplace?

Yes, we hope it will be the most powerful, no, we don’t hope, we know this will be the most powerful Agile Assessment tool ever created and we are excited about it.

Shane: Sally thank you very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today, look forward to see where this goes!

Thank you so much Shane, I appreciate you invited me!

Sep 03, 2014