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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Sally Elatta on the Agility Health Check Tool

Sally Elatta on the Agility Health Check Tool


1. Good day folks, this is Shane Hastie for InfoQ and we are at the Agile 2015, and I am talking with Sally Elatta. Sally welcome, good to see you again

Nice to see you too Shane, thanks for inviting me.

Shane: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Now you have the Agility Health Radar which is a tool for organizational assessment and growth, you are a sponsor at the conference and you went along to the executive forum.

Yes, that’s all true.


2. Cool, let’s start with the executive forum, how did you find that? How did the event go?

We’ve sponsored every year for the past several years, I think the Agile Alliance did a great job this year, I think it’s matured and it has evolved quite nicely since the other sessions, or the other years that we’ve sponsored. I feel like there is a level of maturity generally that is happening in the Agile space, especially at the executive level, just meeting, there were different companies represented, different executives and leaders that spoke, Walmart had a good story about they’ve been doing Agile, they’ve been going very quickly, very fast, so they talked about that and the different level of maturity, and I liked when he spoke about servant leadership and all of that. One of our CIOs with Paychecks he shared his transformation story, I loved the panel of the scaling Agile they had Dean Leffingwell and Scott Ambler, Jeff Sutherland, and LeSS, all of them were talking about the various scaling models. It was cool I enjoyed it.


3. And as a sponsor how is the conference going for you here?

Again this year better than most of the other years, I think that the level of people that are coming the executives, the decision makers, people are becoming more strategic, they are really thinking not about Agile adoption anymore, but scaling and enterprise transformation. The conversations are turning into more mature conversations, and I think we’ve met a lot of really great people and feel like we’ve had a very unique value proposition, with the Agility Health Radar assessment and measurement, so I feel that the conversations we had have been different, we are not just talking about training and coaching anymore, we’ve had a different conversation around measurement and how do we know if we are healthy or not with this transformation.


4. What does healthy mean in terms of an Agile transformation?

Sure, we always say that with an Agile transformation the ultimate goal shouldn’t be about Agile itself, it’s not to adopt Agile practices, it’s really to achieve business agility, and that’s what organizations are going after. And I think sometimes us the Agile evangelists and thought leaders and even the Agile coaches we get too stuck into the methodology of Scrum is this way, Extreme is this way, Safe is this way, those are all solutions to problems, and no executive cares so much about the details.

Organizational health for us, enterprise agility, we believe starts with healthy teams, so if you ask me what makes an organization healthy, I would say that all of their teams are healthy. And if their teams are not healthy then the organization isn’t healthy. And team health for us again and we talked about this last year, it’s really that they have clarity, we’ve very influenced by Patrick Lencioni’s book called “The Advantage”, it’s a great book for leaders to read, if they are adopting this transformational model. But he talks a lot about the importance of clarity at every level of the organization, and over-communicating clarity.

We thought if clarity is really that important, we have to measure it at the team level. Performance obviously is extremely important, the interesting thing that you’ll see here is we have a confidence rating in performance which is the gut check, how do we feel we are doing as a team? How does the product owner feel we are doing as a team? How do the stakeholders feel? That’s kind of a unique metric here. Leadership, the healthy Agile team should have a healthy leadership team, Scrum Master, Product Owner, we don’t actually call them Scrum Master, we are trying to be methodology agnostic. Product Owner, Technical Lead and Manager. And that’s a very important one, managers can make or break an Agile team.

Shane: “We don’t need managers in Agile” – everyone tells us this.

The manager’s role is one of the biggest one that shifts in the Agile transformation, and I feel really bad because I feel like for too many years we focused on teaching the executives, teaching the teams, and it’s like we haven’t won the middle layer, and we want to clarify to managers that we want you to focus on right now is being servant leaders, developing people and improving processes. Task management, fire-fighting, and problem solving at the team level is not really necessary anymore. And we’d like you to raise up a level and become more strategic. So we wanted that to be part of the health radar. Culture, what is the word, culture will eat strategy, what’s that famous quote?

Shane: Culture eats strategy for breakfast or lunch.

If the team doesn’t have a healthy culture and you can see that amongst many many teams, then you are not healthy as an organization. So culture and happiness and respect and trust and all those things. And then every team should just have a solid foundation which is really are they structured correctly, do they do basic estimating and planning, do they have a sustainable pace where they are burning out? Are they letting people stay within the team? Are they constantly shuffling people in and out? So organizational health for us is really how healthy are all of your teams and then rolling that up to a program health view, product line health view, and an enterprise health view.

Shane: Ok, so your tool helps organizations, teams, individuals to measure these things, and I am guessing it consolidates the information and it produces what looks like a very pretty radar chart.

Yes, and the tool itself isn’t the magic trick, it’s the facilitators behind the tool. So one of the things we talk about is, in order for you to do the team health retrospective assessment, we basically certify agility health facilitators and we teach them how to facilitate really deep conversations around what they are seeing. When the team sees the radar, and it doesn’t look like this, it’s got dots, every individual will be a dot and you can see where people are, what was their opinion on each area, that in itself is very interesting to see the spread, “I thought we were really high here, but you think we are low, let’s have that conversation”.

I think the power of the facilitator is to facilitate the conversations the teams are not having. We have really experienced break through moments, teams are having conversations that are much more strategic, that they normally don’t have in their normal retrospectives, because retrospectives today are very tactical, last iteration, next iteration, so they are going and going; but this is a chance for them to stop and have a strategic retrospective and say “Let me lift my view a little bit higher, what can we do, what is the lowest hanging fruit that we can really get better?” One of our coaches that did this, Doc List, he shared a story today on video and I am like “I could have paid you for that” but he said that one of the teams identified an impediment which is a bottle neck with one of the database architectural teams and they all agreed to it and because they had data and they put it in their growth plan they took the report, you get a nice pdf report, they went to that team, they talked to them about it and that team, because of the data and proof that this was a team problem, actually changed their processes, to accommodate that team, and that team tripled their velocity in three iterations.

And I was like “Doc are you serious - show me proof?” and he is like “I am serious Sally there was a real bottleneck, but the team never stopped to talk about it in a strategic way, and that was a conversation”. So I want to say it’s not the tool, the tool gives you the data, in a very immediate way, but it’s that facilitator that’s capable of leading the team through that conversation. And yes of course we have consolidated the data, we allow you to look at it in a lot of different ways.


5. Great, you’ve got a program for coaches to get on board, for organizations for teams, where is it going? What’s happening with the product?

Sure, this last six months all sorts of exciting things happened, so SAFe (the Scaled Agile framework), some companies are adopting that and they actually have metrics and measurements around the release train health and the portfolio health, we’ve partnered with SAFe and basically added those assessments, trying to be obviously agnostic to scaling methods, but that’s a very popular scaling method and people really do want to start measuring if we are adopting SAFe how is the release train health and how is the portfolio health, so those were additional radars that we’ve added.

Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd they are great partners with the ACI, Agile Coaching Institute, and we are experimenting with their Agile coach health radar, and the Agile coach health radar has four quadrants and I will let Michael and Lyssa take the lead on talking about them, but I think it will be a very exciting way for a community coaches to get feedback on how they are doing, and develop a growth plan and get better, so that’s also very exciting. And we’ve built out the individual health assessment which is role based so Scrum Master health, Product Owner health, Technical Lead health, Developer health, so we are kind of experimenting with this idea of changing the performance appraisal systems that exist today instead of managers kind of assessing me, as an individual person on the team I should get a three-sixty assessment from everybody. The manager has a voice but it really is that collective feedback, and the goal from the feedback really is not to reward or punish but to grow; so I now have concrete feedback on how I am doing and I can actually develop a growth plan to get better and we recommended doing that about twice a year, once every six months. So lots of exciting things.

Shane: Pause and reflect and examine thyself.

Examine thyself, exactly, we all have room to grow.

Shane: We do indeed. Sally thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, it’s been good to catch up, and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Thank you so much Shane.

Oct 07, 2015