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Agile 2014 Second Keynote - Best Job Ever


Diana Larsen gave the second keynote talk at the Agile 2014 conference. Titled “Best Job Ever” she gave the audience advice on designing their careers to enable fulfilling and engaging work.

She danced onto the stage engaged the audience with a series of stories which illustrated the important points of her talk. The overall theme of her talk was how important it is to be able to have joy in work, and provided advice on ways to achieve that state.

She asked the audience to consider situations in which they had worked on tough problems and to reflect on why doing so is often enjoyable. She talked about her experience in organizational and process design, working in organizations to design work environments and processes around self-organizing teams doing knowledge work.  She then spoke about her experiences meeting some of the pioneers of the lightweight approach to software engineering (which became agile).  

She discussed how those pioneers truly cared about creating collaborative, sustainable, high-performing trusting work environments. This inspired her and she changed the direction of her own work to focus on the software world. (She said “I found an open door and danced right through it”).

She pointed out that having a great job is not a matter of chance, it is something that you have to design for yourself, it won't happen by accident, you need to make conscious choices. These choices need to happen in three areas

  • Do work you love to do
  • Do work with a purpose
  • Find and care for your tribe

She gave advice on how to achieve all three of these.

Do work you love to do

Find the source of your passion – what is the thing that you couldn't imagine yourself not doing.  

To do this you may need to use some tools –

  • Self assessment tools (many do which are available online)
  • Share stories and ideas with friends, colleagues and coaches
  • Perform a personal retrospective, remembering the things you did when your time truly was your own; during your childhood what were the games you played, what would those games extrapolate to in today's workplace?

Do work with a purpose

What would you do if you were to win the lottery, where would you focus your energy?

Find the types of stories that inspire you, they will provide a pointer to the type of purpose you want to align with.

Do a personal root cause analysis, use the 5-why’s technique with a friend to really examine what motivates you.

Once you’ve found your purpose you can find the organizations that align with that purpose.

Also consider purpose beyond the individual, teams need a purpose too.  A shared purpose inspires and motivates people to work together effectively in teams.

One technique to articulate and clarify your purpose is to describe your work in five words, doing so will expose the essence of the work you do.

Find your tribe

She discussed the value of being a part of a community, find the team and the larger groups you want to be associated with and a part of.

She presented a team communication model which uses the metaphor of a tree growing in the ground. 

Team Communication Model

The bedrock of the model is Trust – without trust there is nothing to rest on and build from. 

The next layer is Commitment – commitment to the work and commitment to the health of the team.

The layer on top of that is Conflict – in environments of trust and commitment it is possible to have healthy conflict, to disagree about topics without disrupting the relationships.

The topsoil of her model is Creativity – when teams have the other four elements creativity can emerge, good ideas can be debated and improved. Innovation and creativity thrive in an atmosphere of trust, commitment and healthy conflict.

The five elements together lead to the formation of high performing teams.

She ended by reminding the audience that the way to have the best job in the world you need to

  • Do work you love to do
  • Do work with a purpose
  • Find and care for your tribe

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