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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Sandy Mamoli on Kanban for 1

Sandy Mamoli on Kanban for 1


3. You’re from a company called Nomad8, that’s your company that you run with some people in Wellington?

Yes, that’s a company I started five years ago and originally I started it just to contract through that company, and when you’re independent and you just work for yourself it’s quite easy to get lonely, and I kept meeting great people who I really wanted to work with and very often they were independents too. And I was looking for a way to make a home for Agile coaches and consultants and one of the things that I found was, I came across a blog post written by Henrik Kniberg and he runs a company named Crisp.

Craig: And well known for the “Lean from the Trenches” and “Scrum and Agile from the Trenches”.

Yes, two of my favourite books, a long time ago I learned a lot by reading them and they have a really interesting model that I got interested in and modelled my company against.

Craig: Excellent. So you’re here at the Conference and you actually have a talk here at the Conference about “The Evils of Multi-Tasking through Personal Kanban”. But before we talk about that, what is your journey, where did you start out in Agile, it’s been going for a little while. So you started back in Europe somewhere I believe.

Yes, I started about in 2003 if I remember correctly and I used to work for a web agency and we worked a lot with Sonny Ericsson and at the time we started Agile with the black book because the old ways didn’t work that well anymore and we tried to figure it out. Three years later, in 2006-2007, I moved to New Zealand and found out that not many people were working in an Agile way and I decided well there is no way I can go back to the old ways of working and decided I had to do it myself, I started to create a little world just for myself and that worked out ok and did it again and at some point other people asked me if I could create the same worlds for them and then they started paying me money for it. And that’s how I got into Agile Coaching.


4. [...] Firstly how have you found the difference between the early days of Agile when you were in Europe to down in this area of the world?

Craig's full question: Your journey as an Agile coach and I guess a Scrum Master before that, has taken you across a lot of organizations first in Europe, Sony Ericsson I think is one that stands out and then I looked through the list of organizations in New Zealand that you’ve worked for and I think it’s pretty much all the top ones. Firstly how have you found the difference between the early days of Agile when you were in Europe to down in this area of the world?

I think by now it’s mainly a difference of time: the Agile I did five years ago or I did three years ago looks very different to what I’m doing now and I think as a field we have learned a lot, there is a lot of other disciplines that have added to the Agile knowledge, we have all tried new things and I think the field has developed and as well as I could I have kept up with it and I’ve contributed as much as I could and it’s a really interesting development.


5. [...] What sorts of interesting things, is there a necessity in doing Agile just because of the size of a country like New Zealand or what’s the feel like in that part of the world?

Craig's full question: As I said you’ve worked in a lot of organizations in New Zealand. New Zealand being a much smaller country to something like Australia and even more so to our counterparts across the other side of the world, in North America and Europe, where most of the Agile leaders come from. What sorts of interesting things, is there a necessity in doing Agile just because of the size of a country like New Zealand or what’s the feel like in that part of the world?

That’s a very interesting thought that, so what you’re talking about is basically if you are smaller you need to be more Agile, more nimble. I hadn’t thought about it that way but I think it’s something that suits very well for us smaller countries, for all your smaller organizations and also people of a certain mindset I think it goes very well with a New Zealand and probably also an Australian mentality.


6. [...] What’s the state of Agile in the government in New Zealand right now?

Craig's full question: You’ve worked at a lot of government departments and I think New Zealand is one of those countries where the government did get on the bus relatively early probably compared to other parts of the world notwithstanding there are some good examples. What’s the state of Agile in the government in New Zealand right now?

We are not there yet and what I have seen and done is created pockets of Agile within larger government organizations and that’s possible, I have never seen it entirely followed through, that an entire government department was Agile. So at the moment I think the maturity is actually quite low but with enough patience we’re going to get there, I hope.


7. I guess a lot of the early adopters there, it’s in pockets depending on the types or the needs, you’ve worked for some pretty interesting places like New Zealand Sound and you’ve also worked for places like the National Library and things like that. Is there any sort of correlation between the types of things those departments do, and perhaps their adoption?

I think so and I think New Zealand Sound, that’s NZ on Screen, it’s an archive of New Zealand film and television and music. I think that what they do it’s a lot in the archive, in the art space but there’s also I think smaller government departments are really good at it. NZ on Screen, they are I think ten people and they’re funded by an organization NZ on Air, who are very Agile themselves and they’re twelve people. National Library, the pocket is quite small so I think the government departments or government agencies that have enough autonomy to decide how they want to work, they work Agile and it works really, really well for them, and it’s only when lots of process gets in their way that government departments can’t do that.


8. [...] What was your experiences from working in a bank that had a parent company in a different country but was able to extend the boundaries a little?

Craig's full question: You’ve also been through some other organizations like Snapper, which we’ll talk about in a minute, and Bank of New Zealand. Bank of New Zealand is an interesting one given that it’s a bank that’s got a parent company here in Australia, but has had much more Agile success than its Australian counterparts, at least early on. What was your experiences from working in a bank that had a parent company in a different country but was able to extend the boundaries a little?

I think we didn’t actually feel too much about the parent company. I think what happens very often is that nobody really pays attention to the smaller part of the organisation and if they did it’s nothing they told me about. So we did have freedom to implement Agile and I think that went quite well, now three or four years into the process they are still doing really really good work at the BNZ, and I think it has actually influenced what NAB in Australia are doing, and that’s a great thing. I talked to, I think, the Digital Manager for NAB yesterday and it seems that now are doing great stuff here too.

Craig: So, it’s kind of evidence that the small pockets can achieve things that can then make their way into the whole of the organization over time.

Yes, it’s very muchh the bright spot principle, that we have something that’s really cool and other people will get interested in trying to copy it and that’s a great thing.

Craig: Now there is two claims to fame when anyone searches for you on the internet: one Agile and one not, so I believe you come from a sporting background. Tell us a little bit about that just quickly.

It’s a very long time ago, I played handball which probably nobody in New Zealand or Australia has any idea about what it is. It’s quite popular in Europe; it’s a team sport with a ball, you shoot goals. I started when I was twelve-thirteen and made it to the Austrian national team, went to the Olympics in ‘92 and at some point decided that I don’t want to be 35 and unemployed with no education so I went to uni, turned to Computers and IT and at some point I discovered my love for Agile.


9. [...] Personal Kanban for those who maybe haven’t seen the works of Jim or read some of your things in the past, can you quickly explain what that’s about?

Craig's full question: Cool, so we have an Agile Olympian in our midst, that’s awesome. But your other claim to fame, the one I really want to talk about is, you’ve been doing a lot of work in the Personal Kanban space, obviously people like Jim Benson are the kind of leaders there, but you’ve been doing some interesting things around that, in Personal Kanban and also Kanbanfor1, so firstly Personal Kanban for those who maybe haven’t seen the works of Jim or read some of your things in the past, can you quickly explain what that’s about?

Yes, it’s a very simple method to organize your own personal work, where you take some of the principles from Kanban that you visualise your work, it works for example by writing what you’re doing on sticky notes and then have a work flow where it goes through an example of something you want to do, are doing and then you are done with it; and you limit your work in progress: meaning you stop the multi-tasking, work on one, maybe max two things at a time and that gives you a really good feeling of flow and you get more stuff done.


10. What causeed you to come into contact with this? Was this because you were having those problems yourself or was it something you were noticing as an Agile coach with your colleagues? What was the brain wave for you on this?

It was pure coincidence. I wish I could claim to have had this brain wave, but it was a coincidence. Actually I was coaching at Snapper and I was coaching on a team level and we had some people who were across teams, like a designer for example or sales people. So I had a huge interest, people who were not on a team necessarily and they loved the visual task wall that we had, and then took that, scaled it down and put it onto the desktop. So they had an Agile team wall for one and that’s how it started and we started work on it and iteratively improved it over time.


11. Snapper is a payments company in New Zealand, right?

Yes, they do contactless payment systems.


12. And I guess having seen your presentation at previous conferences; you have these pictures of these cubicle farms where everybody has these little Kanban walls for one and it wasn’t really the software developers or technical people who typically pick these things up, it was actually other people in the organization who wanted a part of it, is that right?

Yes a lot and I think one of the reasons is that if you are on a team you have the team wall and you don’t need it that much but I find that it’s a very easy, non threatening way of doing something and improving your personal productivity, where you don’t need to ask anyone for permission, you can just do it yourself and see if it works for you.


13. How does it actually work? You have a board and it has little post-it notes on it?

Yes, it’s a little A3 board, and there’s a work flow painted on it and we all kind of decided on the same work flow because we all ended up with the same work flow after experimenting. You have a column for backlog or things to do, a next column for things you want to do next, a little area for things you’re doing and an area for things that you have done. And you use little post-it notes and they flow through that system and at the end of the week it’s very nice to see what you have actually achieved.


14. How do you figure out then, your personal work in progress limit? Is it just because of the sheer amount of post-it notes you can fit on the board or can I stack them on the top of each other and do lots of things?

Yes, something funny happens because on the board there’s room for two sticky notes and yes you could totally stack them and just break the work in progress limit. Funny thing is people don’t do that and I’ve also observed myself there is some kind of barrier to doing that so I find myself instead of stacking stickies, I find myself really finishing one task and moving it to done before I allow myself to put the next one in.


15. And that’s pervasive, that’s something you noticed across lots of people using it

Yes, in fact for some strange reason I’ve never ever seen anyone stick stack post-it notes.


16. And do people fall into, maybe because the space is a limitation, do you find people have started things that aren’t in the progress column, or are they actually pretty good about that as well?

They are actually pretty good. There is also an area which is a waiting area, because sometimes you can’t finish something because you send out an email, you’re waiting for someome else to come back to you, so you can put that in the waiting area and you can pull the next item into the doing column and start doing that.


17. [...] Because most people watching this, from an Agile perspective will probably get Kanban but your average person on the street, like how do you get your mum to do it?

Craig's full question: So what sort of training? Again, if you see the pictures and we will put a link to these, if you see some of the pictures in some of your presentation, all these people have these boards and it’s a massive cubicle farm of people. How do you train them, or how do you even Infect that, is it just something you just give them a board and say copy that and go for it, or do you have to give them an hour long PowerPoint: “sit through this and then you are qualified to use the board”? How do you get every day people like project managers and personal assistants to understand that? Because most people watching this, from an Agile perspective will probably get Kanban but your average person on the street, like how do you get your mum to do it?

Well, it’s not particularly complicated. What I’ve found to get people to do this is to lose a lot of our Agile terminology, of our lingo, and use normal, human, understandably words. And people either pick it up, our kanban boards come with a little information sheet, of why we are doing this and how people can use this kanban board. I find I have huge success with a one hour kanbanfor1 presentation after which people are either built their own Kanban boards or get one of the prefabricated ones. I think the barrier to entry is really really low and once people hear a little bit about it they get interested and start doing it and experimenta with it.


19. But if they don’t want to do that there’s a bit of a novel way they can approach getting started, is that right? You’ve got this product called kanbanfor1?

Yes, it originated from the fact that we had people at work making nice kanban boards, most of us didn’t want to have the homemade kind of ugly ones and started making nicer and nicer ones, started prototyping and then it ended up it is too much work for us, we could actually have proper design, get them printed and make really nice ones. And personally at my desk, especially at home I want something that looks nice and pretty and good rather than something I’ve made myself.


20. How big on average is it? It’s like a piece of A3 tha type of size?

Yes, roughly that size and it comes with two struts in the back so it can actually stand up.


22. Awesome. And what do you useis it just sticky notes or can you use other things to write on the board?

Sticky notes work best and if people order one on the web site we deliver the board, ticky notes and an instruction sheet and we have recently had quite some success with branded boards for different companies.


23. Great. So, electronic tools are kind of the flow. People walking around with phones and iPads and things like that. Have you had people resisting, I want to use this on a phone and what’s your experience in people trying to use electronic versus the old school?

I have had people, some people just don’t like it; personally and many other people like the tactile element, but I find some people just don’t like it, they like iPad, they like iPhones. We do have an IOS and Android versions in the app store and they either use our kanbanfor1 app or try out one of the other systems. I find that people who travel, who don’t have a desk at work for example, very often consultants for example, it doesn’t work for them to have a board because you lose all the stickies when you travel. They need an electronic version and that’s good.

Craig: Basically what you’re saying is that what you need to do is find something that works for you and if you’ve got a static environment and that tactileness is good, then go for that. But you’ve got the option of the electronic board either in your app or ones like Trello that are like it.



24. [...] If I’m an Agile coach and all these Scrum Masters are going to take my role what does it mean?” So where did that come about, what’s your thinking in that space?

Craig's full question: The last thing I probably wanted to ask you about is a recent post we were talking about before. You were talking about the different types of coaches, it was called “Coaching is the New Black”, which was an interesting article and people should probably go and have a bit of a read of it, but I think what I really wanted to ask you about is the reason that post came about. You were saying that you were talking to someone in an organization and they wanted to get rid of Scrum Masters because this whole thing about is it a full time job and what they exactly do was a bit blurred and they wanted to call them Agile Coaches. And for those people who are Agile Coaches kind of watching this its like “now what do I do? If I’m an Agile coach and all these Scrum Masters are going to take my role what does it mean?” So where did that come about, what’s your thinking in that space?

Yes, I remember having exactly those thoughts and I remember having coffee with my friend Nathan and Nathan runs Boost New Media, an agency in Wellington and he’d told me that he had renamed all the Scrum Masters to Agile Coaches and my knee jerk reaction was: ”Hey, they are encroaching on my porch, if they are Agile coachers what am I?”. And we’ve talked about it and I’ve realized that few do a Scrum Master job properly, there’s a huge coaching element in any good Scrum Master, it’s predominantly a coach and that’s when I started thinking about different type of coaches because this is not what I do, it’s what I used to do in the past, but at the moment or the last five years I’ve done different things. So what I came up with through this identity crisis was basically: there’s the Scrum Master type of Agile coach and I think it’s fair enough to call them Agile Coaches but there’s also other type of coaches and there are two dimensions for me: one is are you going to stay or is there an end of your job or are you going to leave? So one is coaching that is more of consultancy, you introduce Agile, you improve Agile, you change behaviors but then you hand over to someone who is permanent. And that would be for example be some of those Scrum Masters / Agile Coaches. At the end I think there are different levels: there are some people who focus on Agile transformation, organizational transformation, I do that a lot, team coaching, I’m doing that too and then there’s technical coaching.

Craig: So finding your expertise really and also probably your permanence. I guess for coaches like yourself, your job is to kind of get in and coach them on something whatever it is their problem and then move on to the next thing and leave them to their devices. Because a coach at least in my mind, someone who is at that expertise level, probably isn’t needed as a full time employee in an organization whereas people who are getting their hands dirty but doing some coaching, is typically for what Scrum Master is doing, tend to be the more permanent.

Yes, personally I think if I start a job and I’m still there after three years, I’m probably a bad coach unless it is a huge enterprise but I don’t want to create a dependency, this is enabling and then handing over to people within the organizations who can carry on.


25. Now, you obviously have got kanbanfor1, you’ve got your company we talked about before, Nomad8. One of the things when I spoke to you last, I think it was when I was in Wellington, you have a novel way about the way you approach consulting where you don’t work a five day week and I think that’s pretty awesome. Can you briefly tell us your sort of philosophy on how you approach coaching and I guess just running your business in general?

Yes, sure. I think if I work five days a week, paid work, if I’m billable five days a week, then I don’t have time to develop myself, I don’t have time to read blogs, write blogs and talk to people and just try out things that I want to do. I don’t have time to learn that much so I’m trying to or I am keeping to three, max three and a half days of work a week and I spend the rest of the time doing unpaid work. And I use that both for myself learning but also helping the Agile community in Wellington, I run a user group in Wellington together with some other people and where our goal is to or my personal goal is to make Wellington Agile.


27. Which is actually an achievement because Wellington is a much smaller city than Auckland further north right?

Yes, I’m quite proud of that.

Craig: It’s actually bigger than a lot of the Australian groups too in its own right, which is actually also an achievement in its own right.

Yes, thanks. I think there are two things. One is it’s a compliment for us doing something that people are interested in, on the other hand I think it’s probably easier to find people who are interested in small space, such as in Wellington because there’s not that much else.


28. Yes I guess I like that model you essentially with the three and a half days and doing all those kind of things, because you actually opening up your WIP, so that if there is unplanned work or expedites you can plan those in right?


Craig: And you kind of got your own built in Google 20% time.

Yes, and a bit of a slack so I can react to other things. I can totally recommend it.


29. So if people want to find out more about you and Nomad8 where can they go?

They can go to our website which is If they are more interested in kanbanfor1, it’s


30. And that has the links to the electronic as well as to being able to buy the boards?


Craig: And we can follow you on Twitter as well; you have always got interesting things to say there.

Yes, I’m @smamol on Twitter and people can just contact me, via Twitter, drop me an email or just talk to me at Agile Australia.

Craig: Well thanks for flying the flag for New Zealand Agile here at the Agile Australia Conference. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Thank you very much.

Oct 04, 2013

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