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InfoQ Homepage News Highlights from JAFAC 2019 Day 2: Leadership, Cultural Readiness, Self Care and Growth Mindset

Highlights from JAFAC 2019 Day 2: Leadership, Cultural Readiness, Self Care and Growth Mindset


This is a summary of the highlights from day 2 of JAFAC (Just Another F&#k!ng Agile Conference) which was held in Wellington, New Zealand on 5 & 6 September, 2019. Hosted by Nomad8, the conference aims to bring new and different voices to the fore, avoiding the "usual suspects" and highlighting ways that agile ideas are being applied in a wide variety of contexts. Important themes that emerged on day two were leadership, cultural readiness for change, the importance of self care and the need for a growth mindset at all levels of an organisation.

There is no central theme for the event; rather, the organisers invite "people we would like to hear from" and give them carte-blanche to present on whatever topic they are passionate about. The conference was structured with invited talks in the mornings and Open Space talks in the afternoons on both days. InfoQ’s coverage of day one can be found here.

Charlotte Walshe, CEO of Jade Software, opened the second day sharing her experience as a leader in agile environments. She humorously used the example of the Borg from Star Trek as an exemplar of agile teams and teamwork, saying that they are holacratic, self-organising, obsessive learners with self ownership and a fully distributed organisation.

She discussed leading the transition to "all in" agile adoption at her previous organisation, and the changes they needed to make as a leadership team to enable the transformation. She emphasized the need to move away from command and control towards a coaching style of leadership, which was very challenging for much of the executive team, as they struggled to find their own purpose in the new organisational style. They went so far as to replace their executive team with a fully cross-functional senior leadership group that was working in two-week sprints using the agile principles to guide their way of working, doing what is right, and not blindly following an agile dogma.

An core lesson she took from that experience was the importance of cultural readiness for successful adoption of new ways of working. In order to lead and guide a transition, it is important to have a clear understanding of what values-based leadership really entails and what the impact will be on the organisation. For instance, to enable high performance is there a readiness in which some people are "on the bench", not working at full capacity but ready to step in where needed (as is done with sports teams)?

Sharesies co-founder Sonya Williams told the story of how they founded a financial services company with a clear goal "to create the most financially empowered generation". They identified the challenges that exist to investing, and designed the platform to cater to the needs of the Millennial generation who often have little spare cash for investment and are not well-educated about what is needed to invest.

They took a very design-centered approach to building the platform, starting with deep ethnographic research to identify the barriers that prevented people from investing. Things they identified were:

  • Starting to invest requires too much money
  • Available solutions are not suited to the millennial demographic
  • Barriers to entry are high due to jargon and poor communication

They built a platform focused on overcoming these impediments, and now have over 60,000 people investing with them.

Key messages she shared from their experience include:

  • There are no shortcuts to understanding your customer
  • Ensure that everybody in the organisation is very aware of and aligned with the purpose and goals: what are we doing and why are we doing it?
  • Focus on solving problems, over being perfect: have a "minimum loveable product", and grow that incrementally

James Magill, executive general manager, retail markets at Genesis Energy, told the story of how they transformed a "trusted but old and staid" energy retailer from an environment of releasing a new product in two years, to a dynamic customer-focused provider of digital services to electricity consumers. An important aspect of the journey was moving to cross-functional "squads" with all the disciplines needed to deliver customer-facing products.

Sam Laing changed the audience’s focus from looking at how other organisations were doing things to challenging their own personal vision and self-care. She told her own story of building a successful consulting business, moving countries, changing jobs and getting burned out, and what she learned from working through those experiences.

She introduced the idea of crafting a personal vision and using the concept of "Minimum Viable Feedback" to design experiments to validate that vision and adapt it based on what you learn from the experiments. For example, she and her wife had a goal of living on a farm, but had never done so. To run the experiment they rented a lifestyle property outside of Auckland and lived there for six months to learn what the farming lifestyle really meant. She explored the idea of "limiting beliefs" - the things we tell ourselves and that others tell us that become barriers to our goals.

She left the audience with two key pointers:

  1. When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Be kind, be curious and be grateful to that person -- they’ve brought you to where you are today, and will be with you for the rest of the journey
  2. Shift your power, shift your energy towards who you really want to be, run the experiments and make the changes you need

Sandy Davey, founder of ProductSpace and board chair of CHOICE, a consumer advocacy organisation in Australia, told the story of how the board of CHOICE adopted an agile approach to the governance of their organisation. She started by explaining the history of the organisation, a 60-year-old advocacy group which conducts product research and publishes a (now digital) magazine. This single focus was recognized as a significant risk (she referenced Jason Fox and the inevitable Kraken of doom which feeds upon the sweet nectar of your impending irrelevance), and the board needed to challenge the organisation to adapt to modern realities and change the business model.

She explained how they led the changes from the board level, prepared to take on risk and trade off short-term gains for long-term sustainability. The directors clearly exhibited a growth mindset and the ability to lead the changes. However, "the legacy machine is designed to stamp out anything not like itself", and the resistance was substantial.

They brought in a number of changes that supported and enabled genuine transformation in ways of working across the whole organisation. She identified specific tools that have helped with the changes:

She concluded by talking about the benefits the organisation has achieved from the new ways of working:

  • Better discussions leading to better decisions
  • Maximizing the work not done, enabling them to spend more time on what matters
  • Speed that contributes to faster learning cycles
  • Focus on outcomes, resulting in being more responsive to user needs
  • More transparency which allows people to be more open about the real challenges facing them

The afternoon of both conference days was run as an Open Space event. The summary posters from those sessions are available here.

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