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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Sandy Mamoli on Self-Organising Organisations and Personal Kanban

Sandy Mamoli on Self-Organising Organisations and Personal Kanban


1. Good day, this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ, we are here at the Agile 2014 conference and I’m talking to Sandy Mamoli. Sandy welcome, thank you for taking the time to come and talk to InfoQ. You and I know each other pretty well, but I suspect most of our audience haven’t heard of you. Would you mind briefly introducing yourself?

Sure, first of all, thank you for having me here, it’s a pleasure talking to you, and my name is Sandy Mamoli and I live in Wellington, New Zealand. I’m originally from Austria and I have spent most of my life in Denmark. I moved to Wellington 8 years ago and by the time I had done, I worked in an Agile way for quite a while, move there and couldn’t find any Agile work so I decided to take things into my own hands and help as much as I could to make Wellington and New Zealand Agile.

Shane: And today there is a thriving Agile Community, you lead the AgileWelly group, don’t you, or one of the….

I’m one of the Co-founders and organizers and we have almost a thousand members and I read somewhere, is the highest number per capita in the Southern Hemisphere and actually we are quite proud of that.


2. You are at the Agile 2014 conference and you’ve given a talk on the self-organizing organizations, can you tell us a little bit about that?

That’s something that I’m quite passionate about because the last year and a half I spent working with Trade Me, Trade Me is New Zealand’s biggest e-commerce site and it’s quite a big deal and in New Zealand we count for two thirds of New Zealand’s internet traffic, most New Zealanders have an account on Trade Me and do their commerce there, but I was talking that we did have a very large Agile Adoption at Trade Me and at some point we had created so much of a bright spots in some part of the organization that we have 5 or 6 teams that were going really, really well and everyone else gone really envious and wanted to work in the same way and we needed to find a way to speed things up and decided to go Big Bang from that moment and we had 2 options either managerial selection where your manager points out “I think those people have the right skill, those people will work well together” or we could really push decision making to the people and seeing that people know best who they want to work with and who they can work with, so we had a huge exercise in self-selection that went really well. [Sandy's note: I don’t actually work for Trade Me but they are my client. I am an Agile Coach at Nomad8.]


4. How did that happened?

We got very inspired by having a FedEx day or a ship-it day at it’s called now and you’ve got 24 hours to deliver something and the way we ran it, we had a list of projects that people could sign up to and fundamentally people could chose who they wanted to work with and what they wanted to work with and that worked really, really well, and I remember sitting there thinking this is absolutely awesome, I had organized FedEx day or ship-it day before, but never been part of it as a product owner and I loved how enthusiastic people were, how joyful they were, and started wondering so what if it could be ship-it day every day and I’m not talking about 24 hours sprints, I’m talking about the principles of what happens if you lets 80 people self-organize and chose who they want to work with and what to work on, and we did a trial in Auckland to test the hypothesis that people could actually figure this out and then did a huge big selection in Wellington where we had 80 people and it’s the largest self-selection that has been done in the world. What we did was we had very few rules around constrains, around the self-selection, we told people that they had to be 3 to 7 people in the team, they had to have all the skills needed to deliver something end-to-end and they had to be collocated. That was it and we got them into a room and played several rounds of self-selection until we had a number of teams that were fully skilled.


5. Did those teams have clear projects or products that we are going to work on at that time?

They did. We started out with; I need to go back in time a little bit to what we started out with: Trade Me is an organization that has always been Agile, and there is a difference between being Agile and doing Agile and Trade Me has always has a very Agile Mindset, but at some point if there is not enough process, you get to a point where adding more people doesn’t necessarily produce more output, and that is what happened. We’d kind of lost projects, we did not always work to priority and we had when I started, we started out with limiting our work in progress for projects and I had a huge prioritization exercise to find out what are the most 10 to 15 most important projects within Trade Me and once we had decided that, a while after we could combine that with our strategy and we had a number of teams where what crystallize was that these were actually themes more than projects, that was product themes and we could create teams with a purpose, with a more stabile purpose around that and the next step for us was to select, or for the business, was to select product owners for each of those teams that we were going to form and then we filled that with people.

Shane: So 80 people, how many teams?


Shane: Eleven teams, so about 6 to 7 people in a team.

And we even needed to hire some, it would have been too much of a coincidence to say take 80 people in Wellington and say we have exactly the number of testers or BA’s or any skills that we needed, so we were quite happy that we aim for a living squads and got ten fully skilled squads out of it and for the last one we needed to hire people, so we introduced imaginary friends where people had hire cards and put those into their squads.


7. Now you have a gap in the squad, how do you fill that gap?

There is a combination of things, there are people who really know about recruitment like our H/R people and our line managers or chapter leads, so they have a huge say in that, but also we don’t hire anyone without the squad being asked, so the final interviewees, they come to the squad, they talk to the squad and the squad makes the ultimate selection of who they want to hire into a squad.


8. One of the things that you are also known for, is you work on personal Kanban. Would you mind telling us a bit more about that?

That is something I started working with couple of years ago and I did a session at Agile 2012 that was quite successful and it’s a system that I’ve used myself for several years now and I find it really, it makes me a lot more productive and less stressed, a lot more stress free to limit my own work in progress, and I use is as what I call an Entry Drug for Agile Adoptions. I found that for people using personal Kanban, it’s a training ground for good habits, for working in a certain way that benefits people on a team level and at the same time I can also see people when they do introduce Agile in an organization, when they run Agile at a team level, there is a feedback loop to personal habits and I think it works really, really well to support an Agile Adoption and it’s also really, I really like it that even with people working in an organization that is not Agile is something that everyone can do and it will be helpful.


9. How do you set that up?

I push as little as possible, I do have a story about how we used personal Kanban at Snapper and how it helped people and I do tell the story, it’s a fourty-minute presentation, and after that lots of people make their own Kanban boards, we also sell them for people who are a bit more into design and want nicer boards for the desks and I just offer people to get one of those boards and sometimes companies buy them and people can get them for free. I don’t usually push this in any way but there is a lot of pull - people to see this popup on one desk, they see and they might use it and decide to give it a try themselves.

Shane: So it’s the pull based, I love the term Entry Drug. Sandy, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today, it’s been really good to have you and look forward to see how things go with Trade Me and with your work down in Wellington!

Thank you very much Shane!

Jan 04, 2015