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Dominic Price on Why Agile is Not Always the Answer

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In this podcast recorded at the Agile 2018 conference Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Dominic Price from Atlassian about his opening keynote at the Agile 2018 conference.

Key Takeaways

  • Agile is an answer to teams working together effectively, but it is not the only answer
  • A lot of large-scale “transformations” are about AGILE being thrust around as a compliance regime where the measures of success are the following of rituals
  • The example of an organisation who moved from “agile transformation” to “new ways of working”.  The difference is that “agile” is not the only answer and in a “transformation” there is an expectation of an end-state whereas new ways of working are continually evolving
  • Many of the things we call “soft skills” are in fact very hard and they are the key to success in making change in organisations
  • The need to focus on the mental health and wellbeing of people in the organisation – we believe we are custodians of our people

Show Notes

  • 00:24 Introductions
  • 01:14 The reincarnation of agile – taking on a new form
  • 01:34 The future of work is about teams working together, and we don’t do that very well
  • 01:40 Agile is an answer to teams working together effectively, but it is not the only answer
  • 01:56 If you focus too much on agile as the answer, you won’t fall in love with the problem, and if you don’t fall in love with the problem then you won’t solve it
  • 02:23 A lot of large-scale “transformations” are about AGILE being thrust around as a compliance regime where the measures of success are the following of rituals
  • 03:09 You can’t just plug in agile as a solution; this results in a veneer of agile over completely non-agile thinking and culture
  • 03:23 What is missing is agility – nimbleness; the ability to respond, adapt and change
  • 03:54 Reframe the conversation with senior executives to ask “why” and “what for” – to get to the real underlying reason for the real business problem
  • 04:28 Often the decision to “transform” is not linked to the real business issues they want to address
  • 04:48 The example of an organisation who moved from “agile transformation” to “new ways of working”.  The difference is that “agile” is not the only answer and in a “transformation” there is an expectation of an end-state whereas new ways of working are continually evolving
  • 05:44 There are organisations who are getting the agility/nimbleness/ability to change mindset right, and they are paying a huge tax in unlearning the old approaches to “transformation”
  • 06:22 Organisations need to evolve at the same pace as their customer base
  • 06:42 Stopping doing something adds no direct value to the organisation, but it gives the space and freedom to allow change to new ways of working
  • 06:55 You have to unlearn to provide capacity before you can learn new things
  • 07:20 The story of how to start the unlearning process with a leadership team – the 4-Ls
  • 09:51 Compare and contrast the old with the potential new – continuing the story
  • 11:05 When leaders complain about the people in the organisation:  did you hire idiots, or did you create them?
  • 11:46 Many of the things we call “soft skills” are in fact very hard and they are the key to success in making change in organisations
  • 12:12 We live and work in a “do-ocracy” – it’s not the knowledge you acquire, it’s what you DO with that new knowledge
  • 12:28 With the “soft” skills you must do them rather than just know about them
  • 12:40 Openness at Atlassian is the default stance, and there are some things which, for a variety of reasons, remain private
  • 13:35 A common problem in organisations is the apparent demand for predictability and certainty which results in putting more and more process in place, whereas the reality is that it just creates the illusion of certainty
  • 14:05 The way to remove process is to use an experimentation approach with constraints as guardrails
  • 14:15 A complete blank piece of paper can be paralyzing and a seven-page process is soul destroying, the ideal state is somewhere between the two
  • 14:32 An example using an expense policy
  • 15:18 Another antipattern is the idea that forming larger teams will address complexity; rather use small teams in a team-of-teams structure
  • 14:42 Applying the same measures to teams doing different types of work is another mistake
  • 16:03 Picking the right approach for the specific context is really important
  • 16:24 We have a perceived sense of urgency which by itself can be catastrophic ; urgency with purpose is useful in the right context
  • 16:40 It is possible for a team to form and start work before the purpose is clear, and the purpose can to emerge through doing the first small slice of work and getting customer feedback
  • 17:42 At Atlassian there is a focus on the mental health and wellbeing of the people – we believe we are custodians of our people
  • 17:58 Helping people build the muscle and discipline of looking after yourself
  • 18:14 In the industrial age, if you worked hard you got calluses on your hands; in the information age you can’t see the calluses on people’s brains
  • 18:24 Creating an environment where people are able to be their complete selves at work
  • 18:52 How do we make sure that our people get to do the best work of their lives, and not just today but every day
  • 19:57 Obesity of knowledge acquisition is a problem; we’re acquiring more and more knowledge, but are we able to apply it – slow down the rate of acquisition and do things with it
  • 20:23 Teamwork is hard and it’s OK to struggle with it  - if you want to achieve something you need to be a diverse team with many different perspectives and that can make working together hard, but really effective
  • 20:48 The Atlassian Ways of Working (Team Playbook) has been published and made freely available for people to use
  • 21:13 One of the keys to the Atlassian way of working is the cadence of team self-assessment and deliberate practice to improve
  • 21:33 In the automation era, humans being humans is our super-power – leverage that

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