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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Sanjiv Augustine on Scaling Agile, No-Management and Agile 2015 Executive Forum

Sanjiv Augustine on Scaling Agile, No-Management and Agile 2015 Executive Forum


3. Excellent. So what was the basis -- I mean, what's your Agile journey and how did all that sort of come about, very quickly?

My own Agile journey started with Ron Jeffries coaching a team of mine back in the early 2000s. Then we got engaged with a lot of fairly large implementation which turned out to be maybe the largest Agile implementation of its time with Capital One. Since then, I've sort of specialized in a large scale transformation of Agile and this is probably my 15th year with Agile.

Craig: Just on the book, what was the title of that, "Managing--"

Managing Agile Projects was the title of my first book.


4. Ten years since then, have things changed in the Agile community or even around what is in that book in your opinion?

What's interesting is that some things have changed but others haven't, right? So there are some fundamental principles, let's say, "Well, here's how you manage a project. Here's how I, as a manager, can put myself. Here's I, as a manager, manage a team. This is what we expect."

Now, some of the techniques have changed. Kanban wasn't around in those days that has come. Crystal was mentioned or in those days, we don't hear that much, sadly, about Crystal but when it comes to teams and and it comes to managing a team and it comes to individuals leading a team, we're probably talking about the same things.

So I can go back ten years later. In fact, somebody just mentioned this, they said, "Hey, this presentation that you did on the book, it's held up pretty well. I went back and looked at it and validated and didn't intend for it to turn out that way but it has. So if you were to go back and read that first book, you probably still get a lot of stuff from that. I certainly go back and remind myself about that. There's some things that obviously have changed. Ten years is long time, after all.

Craig: Excellent, and more recently you have founded LitheSpeed.

Oh, LitheSpeed. Yes.

Craig: As part of that, here at the conference, you're launching, I guess, this new --

The second book, yes.

Craig: Second book called "Scaling Agile: A Lean Jumpstart." So tell us a little bit about that.

Which one first?

Craig: The Scaling Agile.

About the Scaling. So is it okay if I hold up the book? All right, can you get a little zoom in over there? All right. So the title of the book is “Scaling Agile: A Lean Jumpstart”. Just as with the first book, I tried to demystify project management or Agile management for managers.

With this particular book, I'm trying to demystify the whole sort of movement of Scaling Agile for upper level managers and executives, in particular. We are at an interesting inflection point with scaling matters. So we have the Scaled Agile Framework, we have LeSS Large-Scale Scrum, Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). It's coming to the point that managers and executives have, certainly with 15 years of Agile adoptions behind them, they want to find the best Agile framework. They want to take them and implement these frameworks successfully.

My approach or my contention is that before they can do that, they probably need to know a little bit about the frameworks but they should also know about some certain building blocks, what I call lean building blocks, that's why it's the Lean jump start, a few essential principles, a few essential ideas and if they start practicing those, if they start focusing on those and building some core disciplines on those, not only will they be successful in implementing any framework that they should choose later on but it would also help them to prepare and make the right choice because, ultimately, finding the right framework is about the size the organization, the number of teams, the type of business goal you're trying to achieve. All of those things have to be built up to.

So that was the idea and it seems to have come out well. So far the early reception has been very positive, so I'm very happy.


5. [...] I assume your intent was to make people think about the underlying principles, the lean principles, to help you choose the right one?

Craig's full question: I guess, so just having flipped through the book earlier, it's only just been released, is that that yes you've got those lean principles in the front but then you go through some of the frameworks that, I guess, maybe as leaders there’s sometimes, the want or need or just feeling to cherry pick and say, "We're going to do SAFe" or "We're going to do LeSS," or "We're going to do Spotify." I assume your intent was to make people think about the underlying principles, the lean principles, to help you choose the right one?

Exactly. Not only to help you choose it, to make sense of it, start building the foundation to help you implement it but then also once you do choose to build, implement it, better. So sort of a win-win-win, if you will.

Craig: Is that something --

Business buzzword thrown in there!


6. Is that something you've seen in your travels then as a consultant and as a Coach that people are perhaps not understanding those core underlying principles?

Oh, certainly, right. So when you have one or two choices, it's fairly easy to say, you can close your eyes and make a binary choice. If you have one, then it's great, then you have no choice, you can just -- you can have any car you like as long it's black, kind of thing. Once you've go beyond a few choices, then it becomes difficult, right? Then I find that people are starting to become paralyzed like, "Which framework should I choose?" and "Which one is big? Which one is best for me?" What I'm trying to do is just kind of demystify all of that and say, "Here's a simple way to get started," because what none of us want is for our leaders and managers and executives to get caught up in a sort of analysis paralysis and not move forward.

So we want to have them understand at least the basics so that they can move forward, make the right choice, start building the core disciplines and then just essentially start implementing, start scaling quickly. So jumpstart, if you will.

Craig: Excellent. So I alluded to before, LitheSpeed is your company. Tell us a little bit about what you bring to the Agile community.

Sanjiv: All right. So we chose the domain name because, well, we chose the name a little bit based on domain availability, so Lean, Agile -- but we also chose it with a long view, if you will. The term "lithe" means flexible, speed, obviously, speed. So we said we want to be flexible and we want to be fast. Not only did we want to be that but we wanted to work with our clients and customers and help them be flexible and fast.

I believe what we bring to the community is a unique, pragmatic view of how to achieve those business goals of being flexible and fast and doing it in a common sense pragmatic way. I'm a fairly religious person myself but I tend to keep that at home and not introduce that into my professional life. I find that within the Agile community, there's a little too much fanaticism, right? And it doesn't serve anybody well.

I was talking to a lady today and she said she was actually discouraged about some of the strident-ness of the tone that she was hearing here at the conference. Happily, there were other presentations that were more sort of uplifting, if you will. But I think within the Agile community, we tend to get fixated on one matter, one practice and we tend to get so zealous about it that we turn people off.

If you remember that our business goal, our clients, and our customers should come first and our business goals should be their business goals, then we should be able to help them implement Agile methods and frameworks in the least controversial or the least zealous way possible.

So what we try to do, we attempt to do at LitheSpeed is to give cutting edge solutions. We try to be on the leading edge of these solutions, of scaling, of back 10 years ago with Agile methods and then provide that same cutting edge experience to our customers in the most pragmatic and common sense way possible.


7. [...] That's something that you're experimenting with yourself?

Crai's full question: I think one of the interesting things having sort of learnt more about your organization here at the conference is you practice what you preach, I guess, or live the values. One of the interesting things we were talking about earlier, there's a movement going around the Agile community around no-management, about reinventing organizations. That's something that you're experimenting with yourself?

Yes. That's one of our core principles that we never advise or propose anything that we haven't not only done for ourselves but also done with a core customer group that we've worked with for a while.

So in the last year, what we've done, what we've started doing is implementing the work of Frederic Laloux and his work around Reinventing Management. For those of you who are interested out there, there's the book, there's the YouTube video. In particular, what Laloux has started to do is to identify some core levels. There's a green level, there's an amber level below that, and a red level. The most self-managing level that seems to lend itself best to us in the Agile community is something that he calls the "teal organization," the color teal, which incidentally, it seems to line up well with our logo! We didn't design this this way but sometimes things work out.!

So what we're saying is teal is the new, or at least, the new orange. Orange organizations are traditional command and control type organizations. Teal organizations, as Laloux defines them, are ones that have self-management wholeness where people feel comfortable enough to bring their whole persons to work not just keep your personal life outside or your personal passions outside and then work, work, work at work. Also, what he calls "evolutionary purposes." So the three fundamental pillars, if you will -- self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.

What we have started doing within LitheSpeed is to experiment with those because there are some things in the book and there are some examples outside, in particular, the Zappos implementation is getting a lot of press and some of it is bad press. So we're saying, well, fine, the people at Zappos are implementing Holacracy as a way of going teal but what we want to do is to actually disrupt ourselves.

One of the things that -- one of the goals that I've set for myself as a leader of the company is to remove myself from my job. So what does that mean? That means that my goal was to remove myself as president of the company but to remove myself as the chief bottleneck or the chief decision-maker.

So what we've done within the company is to establish three self-managing business units, we're a small company. As we go along, experiment with what that means. So an example over here would be something as simple as compensation. Most compensation schemes -- there's a couple of people talking about it in the Agile conference but I don't know that they have actually played it out.

So what we did a few months ago was said, well, people are going to have their base salary. Over and above that, we, as a company, will feed a percentage of our net profit back to the employees. Well, sounds straightforward. So Arlen Bankston is my business partner. He and I would decide the net profit percentage and we said, "Okay. Here's the profit sharing that's available to the rest of the team."

Then what we did was we turned things a little upside down. We said, "You guys decide how much profit-sharing each person will receive and it's going to be fully transparent." So this is fairly, I don't know how radical it is but it's not something that's easy for people to accept because now, everybody knows what everybody else is getting in terms of a level of compensation. Not only that, you have to convince your peers, if you're going to get more, you have to convince your peers that you have to get more.

So that's one aspect. The way we make decisions has been under an evolution about how if there's a decision for -- previously, any hire and fire decision had to come up to me. Now, I've devolved it down to the tribe leaders. We have these business units called tribes and they, along with their teams, are empowered to make hire and fire decisions.

So just a couple of things like that where we've been going through an evolution and we hope to be sharing more of that journey and story. I'll probably start blogging about it or maybe the next book in the series will talk about that.


8. I guess it is early days but, I guess, even being a small company, what's the reaction like from the people inside the organization? Is it positive or have there been road bumps?

How honest can I be?

Craig: This is an Agile conference.

Yes, it is. I can be very brutal, yes. Thank you. Well, most people love it and some people are okay with it and some people don't like it.

Craig: Change resistant maybe?

I don't know that it's so much of a change resistance. Besides being an Agile company, there are folks within our company who, there's a spectrum of how Agile people are. This is taking Agile and now applying it to yourself. We have to eat our own dog food. I have to give up my own inclination to manage things and I have to abide by the decisions of my team.

Well, on the flipside, within the company, people have to say, "Well, I'm not that comfortable being teal, if you will. I was recently comfortable about being Agile but now we've been going teal, I'm not that comfortable." So we have a spectrum. There's a adaptability spectrum, if you will. I'd say, the good news is that most of the folks in our company like it. There's some that are okay with it and some that are saying, "Hey, we're not ready for this. Within our particular business unit, we're not ready for it." One thing that I want to do that's different from the folks at Zappos, because I know that Zappos is getting a lot of bad press over here, they decided to just to say, "It's a mandate. Everybody has to go teal."

Within our company, we're saying, we will let our business units choose. So one business unit has chosen to go express teal. They've gone teal, like yesterday. One business said, "Yeah. We'll take our time." One business said, "We're not ready for this. We'll do this in the coming years." So there's a disparity between the levels of acceptance, if you will.

That's natural, I think. As a leader in the company, I just want to play out. I don't want to ram it down the throats of the people in the company.

Craig: Well, we look forward to hearing more about this experiment as time goes on. One last thing I wanted to ask you before we wrap up. Here at the conference you were the chair of the Executive Forum, that is an event that runs parallel to the conference. Tell us a little about that event and how it went this year.

Well, I had a lot fun. This is my first year as chair of the Agile Executive Forum. We have run executive summits at LitheSpeed. I've hosted a couple of executive summits here within the Washington, D.C. area and I guess that's why Phil Brock and the Agile Alliance had asked me to help out with the executive forum.

Well, the Agile Alliance has a wonderful organizing team between Linda Cook who was my co-chair, Phil Brock was the Managing Director, Pam Dyer who helps us with marketing and Sharon Cooper who is also working tirelessly behind the scenes. We had an awesome team.

Yes. I think we had a fair amount of time but there's a lot of work to be done, to decide the structure of the program, to market it, to put it together and get all the speakers. The event was held on the first day of the conference, so on August 3rd. We had speakers from -- Mark Schwartz who is the CIO of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Randy Salley, who is the Senior VP of IT at Walmart, and others like him, Gill Haus from Capital One. They all came together and they shared their transformation experiences around scaling.

Then in addition to that, what turned out to be, a high point of the event was that we had a Scaling Agile panel and we had Jeff Sutherland, the inventor of Scrum, Dean Leffingwell, creator of SAFe or Scaled Agile Framework, Scott Ambler, Discipline Agile Delivery, and Craig Larman from Large-Scale Scrum or LeSS.

All of them got together and, Dot Tudor, who actually came in from the UK, she came and moderated the panel. She's an ex-DSDM Board Member and very sort of active in the community in Europe. She came in and it turned out to be a sort of, for me, it was a moment of magic to see that come true, all four of the greatest minds in Scaling Agile. Well, one of them is missing, Ken Schwaber from Nexus was missing but we were able to get four of the five of the greatest minds in one room in one place talking Scaling Agile.

So it turned out to be really good. We're hoping for another great event next year.

Craig: That's excellent. I guess one of the things about that forum is it's a safe place for executives to really talk and share about their experiences.

Yeah. A lot of the exchanges and meaningful conversations actually happened offline. So there were the presentations, we actually pulled off an open space and then there was the panel. Then people are just connecting, talking, meeting, and getting to meet face to face some of the greatest minds in the Agile community.

On the flipside, we in the Agile community were getting to meet some of the most senior leaders who are leading very successful transformations and getting to speak with them one on one and hearing from them firsthand everything that they're doing, all the good stuff and the warts and all.


9. Well, thanks Sanjiv, for spending time with us. If people want to know more about you or LitheSpeed, where would they go on the internet to find that?

Pretty straightforward. Go to lithespeed, so that is L-I-T-H-E, speed, one word, .com and you can learn about us or just Google LitheSpeed. My name is Sanjiv Augustine. That's Sanjiv with an I and not two Es. Sometimes, it is phonetically spelled that way. Google is the best way to find any of us.

Craig: And the book? Where would they find that?

The book will be on Amazon in a couple of weeks. It's on Leanpub. So they can go to Leanpub and there's an eBook. They can go to Leanpub and get the eBook and also the physical copy will be available on Amazon in a week or so.

Craig: Thank you for spending the time with us today.

Thank you very much, Craig. I appreciate you having me.

Sep 27, 2015