agile42 Community Launch

We’re excited to announce the launch of our new agile42 Community! Our coaches Regina Martins and Rochelle Roos shared what this is about in a live webinar on the 29th April. 

We’ve trained and coached many people over the years that we’d like to continue supporting in their growth and development. One of them may have been you. Some of you have also been active in the PathToCSP Slack group and we’ve enjoyed interacting with you in that way. Many of you have also returned for more advanced training. But much more is needed to help you in your career as an agilist. 

In order to take learnings beyond the classroom, we’ve created 2 membership options.

Free membership

  • An exclusive safe forum with thousands of other agile professionals to discuss new developments and challenges
  • Monthly Lean Coffee
  • Discounted rate for exclusive webinars
  • Monthly newsletter with a “How-to” article to help you improve your effectiveness with your team



Premium membership

All the benefits of the Free Community Membership PLUS:

  • Access to self-learning content to help you be more confident, competent, and effective in your role
  • Access to exclusive webinars by the agile42 coaches on topics chosen by you, the community
  • 1 mentorship session monthly
  • Ready to use facilitation templates for the most common sessions faced by Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and Agile Coaches

This is an inspiring new place where we want to continue supporting you in your growth and development as Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and Agile Coaches. Each month we will have a theme around which we’ll create events and activities, and stimulate discussions. The idea is that you learn from the community as well as get support from our agile42 coaches and trainers. 

People who join communities, surrounded by other like-minded people, are more likely to get the results they want because they get the help they need when they need it. By learning more from other people in the community is a way to broaden your perspective. 

We want to make this a safe space for everyone to participate in and thrive. As such, we’ve created a Code of Conduct that everyone needs to agree to; and it will be a moderated space.

The theme for May is Product Ownership. So, join us, and let’s get the ball rolling on your growth and development. You can already sign up for the next webinar on this topic. 

If you missed out on the live session, don’t panic! We have the recording for you here to share around with your network, friends, and colleagues, so that everyone can benefit from the Communities. 

For any questions, you are always welcome to contact us!
Hope to see you again next month, for a new theme and new discussions! 

Meet the Coach: Magnus Kollberg

For our series of interviews, we sat down with Magnus Kollberg, a Mid Sweden University graduate who has recently joined the agile42 Sweden team as an Agile coach. He is a Certified Scrum Professional and a Certified GDQ consultant who has educated hundreds of people in agile methodology and has mentored and coached individuals and teams for several years. Magnus is also the host of the Meet the Coach webinar series aiming to support individuals working in an agile context who wants to grow their understanding of agility and related methods and practices.

What was your path leading you to Agility and to agile42?

After university, where I graduated with an MSc in Computer Engineering I spend some years as a software engineer in the pulp and paper process industry, did a lot of traveling as well as some teaching, all in all very interesting times. I then consulted in the telecom industry for a couple of years before I started at a software developer at a company called Stoneridge Electronics in 2002.

Stoneridge developed embedded systems for the automotive industry and in 2006 I was working as a project manager and developer for a team developing a graphical platform consisting of electronics and software. We come across the book Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck and started to apply the practices. This turned out to be very successful, and I was amazed about the productivity this team achieved, as well as the satisfaction of the customer and the team. 

I think what appealed to me was the human-centric approach and the focus to continuously improve which is in line with a growth mindset, that you always can get better on what you do.

I continued working with development of different products at the company, formally as project manager for multi-team projects but acting as a Scrum Master coaching teams, other Scrum Masters and Product Owners. Every assignment added pieces in my learning puzzle, different practices and methods, multi-team setups, team dynamics and how to deal with hard deadlines, all with an agile mindset growing along the way. I spent the last two years coaching a product development unit of 40 software, hardware and production engineers to shift from a waterfall approach to an agile one. The result from this shift was substantial and still serves me as an example of performing teams and a great Product ownership.

Eager to continue to grow and share what I had learned, I joined Swedbank in 2013 as the first Agile coach and over the years we grow into 15 coaches. We supported all levels in the organization through training, coaching, facilitation and mentoring teams and individuals. We developed a training portfolio and over the years I conducted 1200 hours of training for around 700 people. Along with already great colleges, we got support from two coaches from agile42, Martin von Weissenberg and Giuseppe De Simone, and I worked together with the latter for three years which developed me a lot. I started to think of what company that breaded those people and in September 2019 I decided to join agile42.

Have you read or discovered something great recently?

A lot of things and they tend to keep coming more frequent the more I learn, which is pretty interesting in itself. I think one experience is about flow and it started out three years ago when I attended a Professional Coach training and one of the course literature was a book called The inner game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey. Last year I participated in a training where we applied some of the ideas from the book on a tennis court and I suddenly realized the connection between flow and performance and how coaching help achieving this. I got some keys to why my performance, both in sports and profession, sometimes has been good and other times less good even though the preconditions were the same. I found this very useful when coaching individuals and teams, both in my professional life and also as a football coach for children, which I have been doing the last six years.

The agile world is growing and evolving, do you see a clear direction for future years?

For natural reasons, the ability for companies to respond fast to changing market conditions including unexpected events will be more and more important. This will put the spotlight on how to grow this capability as well as the competence needed to help them do so, I am not convinced that the scaling frameworks out there today will help out with this. This is one of the reasons I decided to join agile42 which I think has an approach for guiding organizations to improve this capability through ORGANIC agility.

Do you have a favorite recommendation for the teams you coach?

I would ask them how is it going with the retrospective actions they have decided on. Secondly, I would ask them about their goal, what they are trying to achieve as a team. For the team members to have a shared understanding of their common goal is crucial for their collaboration and ability to be productive. Having a productive team conversation about work-related things, for example, refining an item in the backlog, is difficult if the underlying team dynamic is broken.

What is the main inspiration for what you do?

I would say to make work fun! We spend a lot of our time working and it would be sad if the majority of that time is not enjoyable. Happy people do great stuff which makes this important from an effectiveness point of view as well, workplaces should provide the environment for people to enjoy what they are doing. Leaders have a big responsibility here to nourish such an environment, work with the intrinsic motivators of individuals and help them grow.

Another version of that, a bit more egocentric perhaps, is to improve the workspace of companies so that my children do not have to work at uninspiring places. This goes hand in hand with my eagerness to learn, and get better on what I am doing so that I can help out even better.

Meet the Coach: Elrich Faul

How did you first start your agile path and end up coaching with agile42?

After leading a set of software development teams from 2006 to 2008 using traditional methodologies I came to the insight that there had to be a better way to deliver high-quality software and create more opportunities for innovation and creativity in teams.

I was introduced to Scrum by one of my mentors and started doing experiments immediately after. By implementing the Scrum guide to the letter, I learned not only the ‘How’ but I also discovered the emergent value and the ‘Why’ behind the mindset. The change in the lives of the people, as well as the organization, convinced me that Agility and the mindset associated with it was indispensable in inspiring positive change.

I moved away from the typical management mindset and started focussing on Scrum Mastery and implementing healthy DevOps principles. This perfectly aligned with my passion, talents, and background. I came into contact with agile42 which opened up the door to wider involvement in the Agile community. The way I think, approach and choose to live life naturally aligns with the ideals held dear by agile42 and the wider community.

The natural way for me to propagate these ideals and values is to, more in-depth, get involved in the coaching of people, teams, and organizations. It’s been 11 years and the adventure is still in its infancy.

What is the main inspiration for what you do?

Perhaps a story can illustrate this best.

Two years ago (2017) I was starting up a new team in a company that made use of ancient practices and had endless red tape. This made software delivery, communication and organization-wide collaboration almost impossible. It put a lot of strain on the team and they were almost at breaking point.

By growing incrementally, the team started delivering which in turn empowered them to take more initiative and grow personally as well. One of the team members made the comment that he had never had the opportunity to discover himself, his passion and the possibility of being happy until joining the team.

This is what inspires me. Seeing people change and embracing their true selves, unveiling their potential and discovering that happiness can and should be a constant.

What have you seen lately that is interesting and new in the world of Agile?

What excites me is to see the draw that is created by practical display of the value that Agility can bring. I am seeing more interest from non-it related people at public gatherings. The realization by the general marketplace that Agility can not only bring value to software development teams but also to other disciplines is picking up more momentum.

Although this is not necessarily something that is new it is definitely a wave of change that I would like to ride in order to see organizational structures change for the better.

Meet the Coach: Giuseppe De Simone

Following the announcement of the public launch of agile42 in Sweden, we bring our series “Meet the Coach” to Stockholm to meet Giuseppe De Simone. Born in Italy, Giuseppe is a Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Team Coach and his relationship with agile42 goes way back. We exchanged a few words while he plans for busy weeks ahead.

How did you start as an Agile coach and how many times did you cross path with agile42?

I attended my first Scrum training is 2009 and encountering Scrum has been a life-changing experience for me. The trainer of that class was a guy called Andrea Tomasini, so you can understand what was my imprinting into the agile world!

Then at beginning of 2010, I had the luxury to kick-off the Agile transformation in a big development organization of around 2000 people at Ericsson consulted by agile42. I got to spend 3 months in Greece, together with other 18 apprentice trainers and coaches from all over the world and 9 international Agile coaches and trainers, including many CEC/CSTs (Andrea Tomasini, Richard Lawrence, Bob Sarni, Dave Sharrock, Brad Swanson, Ralf Kruse, Björn Jensen, Roberto Bettazzoni and Paolo “Nusco” Perrotta). I had always believed in a more human work environment where colleagues could embrace each other as persons, collaborate and focus on doing the right things. I got so inspired by all of them and learned so much in those three months that I realized that Scrum could be a concrete actualization of my beliefs in a humanized and productive personal and working life.

After that experience I have always stayed in touch with agile42, considering them not only my mentors but a group of friends. In 2014 I became a Certified Enterprise Coach and joined Andrea as the only 2 Italian speaking CECs in the worlds: one more reason to stay connected. In 2015 I was invited as a customer to speak at the first agile42connect conference and there I met many of the other coaches and realized once more that this company could be the right professional community for me to belong to, contribute and grow together.

How is different coaching at a large corporation from freelancing or helping smaller teams?

There are commonalities and differences as well as learning on both sides. By working as an internal coach in a large corporation I definitely learned the practice of patience but especially the ability to dance with the system to help things move forward.

An organization is a complex network of people: it is extremely important to know the organization you are working with very well and look at it as a whole system:

  • Learn not only about the official and visible structure: learn much more about the invisible networks, the inner relationships among people, who is friend of whom, who is most sensitive to certain subjects and who counts more or is more decisive on certain tables, whether he has a formal power or only a subtle influential leadership. You cannot imagine what competitive advantage this will give to your effectiveness.
  • Act on different levels. Challenge the status quo and don’t limit yourself to the most obvious actions. Prefer actions who affect the environment around or the process to do things, instead of addressing directly a specific problem: they will have more and lasting impact.
  • Talk to people, with a preference for informal chats – coffee machines are a perfect place sometimes :). Try to find initiators and innovators to help you and sponsors to support you in difficult situations. And, whatever level you want to affect, consider acting also one level up.

These are abilities which I still find essential, especially when working with leaders at medium-sized or big clients.

On the other side, when you work as an internal coach, the risk is to find yourself soon become too embedded in the system and lose the outside perspective and the clarity of distance which are necessary to stay effective as a coach.

This is instead one of the benefits of working as a consultant and maybe on multiple clients at the same time, which also accelerate learning about different domains and meet a wider diversity of people and cultures. In the new endeavor, I have learned how to make an impact in a very short time.

What are the plans for the new Swedish market?

Our plan is to establish agile42 as a well-known brand in Sweden, a role model of customer collaboration and a synonym of high-quality education and high impact enterprise and team coaching. A growth in the market should just be a natural consequence as we are already observing in the first months of operation.

More long-term, my vision is to make agile42 the preferred partner for whoever wants to upgrade their organizational culture to something more fit to the challenges of 21st century and develop the leaders these companies deserve. In that way, we can contribute to change the world of work by helping individuals have more productive lives and organizations create more human workplaces.

You recently wrote a nice blog post about Agile Education at a primary school in Italy, what did you learn from that?

The blog post is about an experiment I did with my brother who is a primary school teacher in Italy.

During my years as an Agile coach and trainer, I learned that people find it difficult to pick up the agile principles and I know that this is a common experience for every Agile coach and trainer. This is because adults have many assumptions about work that have to be unlearned before they can take in new paradigms. By working in non-agile environments and cultures, we start taking things for granted and form mental models of mutually reinforcing components. Neuroscience tells us that it is basically impossible to break these models.

So my question was: What would it look like instead if you could educate people who have no preconceptions? And what if we create a more “agile friendly” brain wiring from the beginning, starting with school kids? How would they react? Does agile thinking resonate better with their mental models of the world? And what do they think about this all?

At the same time, my brother was interested in ways to innovate the school experience for his students and make their learning more effective.

So we used Scrum to create a learning environment which encompassed the following:

  • Being more adaptable to a kid’s specific learning needs
  • Being a meaningful experience involving feelings and physical emotions
  • Fostering self-development and co-education
  • Training skills which are crucial in the 21st century but schools and companies are not good at teaching

We managed to have a first-hand validation that using Scrum and teaching agile practices and principles in a primary school class is doable, that kids positively enjoy it, that they can learn skills they normally don’t in a traditional classroom environment but which are essential in modern organizations (e.g. self-organization, leadership, ability to replan, imagination, self-reflection, dealing with uncertainty and the unknown). And, most surprisingly, that their parents like it too.

I will speak about the experiment and the results at the upcoming XP 2018 conference in May in Portugal with a talk called “Growing Agile minds”.

Meet: Marion Eickmann

A special guest in the “Meet the Coach” space, we interview Marion Eickmann who knows a lot about Agile coaching. Based in Berlin, she is the co-founder and CEO of agile42. The agile42 Connect event just ended was a personal goal and also a celebration of the path that the company has walked in nearly ten years. We checked to discuss the agile42 approach to Agile.
What is your professional background and how you ended founding such a peculiar company as agile42?

Marion EickmannBeing a marketing and business development person I got the chance to work for a company who developed software for software developers. You can imagine that it was quite difficult for me to write articles or press releases about SW-Development topics without a technical background. The funniest question I asked myself in the very first week of this adventure was “What the hell does a bug do in the software.”

It took me nine months stressing all my colleagues at the time to understand what requirements are, how UML is supposed to help and why projects are often out of time and budget, just in order to write my first article about software development. While my insights in the topic grew I understood that the biggest issue existing in product development is the communication between customer and developers. At the same time I saw that the creative job of a developer was not really recognized as such.

And then I met Andrea. We had the same idea of working, of collaboration, of fighting and standing for principles and we had the same vision that work should be fun, motivating and should enable people to be successful. Both of us have seen many environments and we just wanted to make a difference. This was 10 years ago and that’s when agile42 was “born”.

You always stress that agile42 is a coaching company, what is coaching at an enterprise level from your point of view?

Coaching means to help people to get the best out of themselves. To enable them to learn and change and not to fear to ask or doing mistakes. It does not matter if we are talking about an enterprise or a little startup, creating a work environment which is based on trust and transparency will support the success of every organization. I believe that the Agile Principles are a very good base to build such an organization. On the other hand the reality is that we all learned to work and act differently. Coaching helps people to change and if they change personally the environment and the culture changes with them.

Obviously you spend a lot of time talking and writing to clients or potential ones, what is your opinion about the adoption of Agile in Germany and the rest of Europe?

From what I see the Agility has different phases. The first phase is about doing the practices. Scrum for example looks easy so many companies just try it out, which is good :-) Still at a certain point they realize that doing Agile by the book does not really help, that there are issues they can not fix. Sometimes it’s just about having the feeling that this could be better, but they do not know how.

A bigger organization tries in this phase to train all teams and putting an Agile Process-Plan together… Unfortunately that does not work. Agile works, but only if an organization (of any size) is able to move to the second phase. And this phase is about culture, about people and about change. Goals like efficiency, higher productivity, faster time to market can be reached but it requires a different way of working and Leadership.

In the past year agile42 has expanded in Turkey and in South Africa (through the merger with the well-known Scrum Sense team), which are the next markets you see for the company?

agile42 cannot grow as fast if we would like to. The reason is simple, we are able to make a difference to our clients because we have very experienced people and we have a high level of quality regarding our services. People who have the capability to become a good coach are rare. Still, we want to grow and we are open to new challenges. We do not have concrete plans for next year, but we have already some ideas which are too fresh to publish yet. :-)

Meet The Coach: Dave Sharrock

Q: Can you summarize for us your career path and how you came to be an Agile coach?

I’ve worked in product development for over 15 years, continually looking for the best way to help software development teams develop awesome software.  I’ve re-structured countless production teams, and scaled productivity many times, project and program managed projects and teams to deliver on time and on budget.  I finally found myself as a product manager for a startup in Munich.  

At Christmas time, after months of frustration, I wrote a memo to the COO/CEO explaining why IT was such a problem and outlining in detail what I saw was wrong and why we needed to improve IT.   I was called in over the Christmas break and informed that the CTO was moving on to another startup (a decision made before my less-than-diplomatic memo) and that, since I had such a big mouth, I would now be leading the IT group.  

And so began my agile journey…

I learned a lot of things of things about tact and diplomacy (how to have some for a start) and recognized that the IT group could not improve without some help. Searching for process improvement specialists, we came across an agile coaching firm, and the rest as they say is history.   To be fair, we felt we were a long way from being in a good enough position to become agile.  So agile, though a distant goal, was not considered an option at this early stage.  However after talking to Andrea Tomasini, the founder and principal coach at agile42, we decided to move forward with them, and turned the IT group around.  The only thing I did right was bring in the coaching firm and stay out of their way.  

We started from a place in which we had painful releases every 3-4 months, with anywhere between 8-12 hours of downtime and innumerable hot fixes.  Six months later, the engagement had a positive ROI.  Eighteen months later, the group was the best performing department in the company, with a release every two weeks, with one hour of downtime, two if there were major database changes.  Following the 2008 crisis, when the startup had to scale back, I chose to leave the company and was the only executive to do so, leaving behind a smoothly running IT group that delivered what was needed quickly and effectively. I later joined agile42, the agile coaching company we hired, to head up North America, launching my coaching career.

Q:  What are your top 3 tips for Agile managers?

Fight the urge to intervene.  Managing any team is hard and leading is often interpreted as stepping in and showing teams how it’s done.  Actually leading teams is the opposite.  It’s not about intervening, but about nurturing the latent skills of the team.  Asking clarifying questions and creating an environment with lots of feedback mechanisms to help guide the teams.  
Get used to uncertainty.  There is a comfort in having a solid, well-defined plan in front of you.  It’s easy to stand in front of stakeholders, and point at it and talk confidently about delivering to plan.  But software development is riddled with uncertainty and the plan is little use in the long run.  Getting used to a level of uncertainty takes time, and is hard to achieve.  Once you’re there, you probably can’t remember why you ever thought well-defined, locked-down plans were helpful.  
Only accept working software.  The key to working in a rapidly changing environment is to have regular stops to review where things are.  And what is reviewed is important.  Partial delivery does nothing to mitigate the changing environment. Partially completed work still carries risk when things change.  Only completed, working software has any value in these checkpoints.  Insist on regular reviews of finished, integrated product.  Activity has no value – we know the teams work hard. Only completed work counts.  

Q:  What is the main inspiration for what you do?

Making work rewarding.  I believe work should be something you do because you love it.  Being paid for what you love to do is much better than being paid for what you have to do, and makes leading teams an inspirational responsibility rather than a chore.  Unfortunately, I think we have lost decades in which software has been managed or controlled rather than nurtured and inspired.  Applying agile principles and seeing the dramatic difference in productivity and fun on truly agile teams is a powerful motivator; seeing the light return to someone’s eyes, and getting pulled aside to hear stories of how much more motivated and interesting work is.  

Q: What have you seen lately that is interesting and new?  

Managing agile teams and organizational leadership structures.  The practices and application of Agile and Lean principles and values are important and continue to morph and grow.  From the Lean Startup to agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban to DevOps and continuous delivery.  But where I see the most new and interesting thought leadership is in agile management and agile leadership.  It won’t be called that, but there are exciting developments for what it means to lead agile organizations.  First, managing agile teams and agile product delivery requires different thinking to that of our traditional managers, epitomized by MBA-trained executives (speaking as an MBA graduate myself).  Value delivery requires more than paying lip service to accountability and customer value.  Second, leadership of the most creative and powerful organizations is increasingly moving away from hierarchical structures.  What it will look like is still open to interpretation, but things are definitely changing.  

Q:  Favourite non-fiction book and why?

I’m going to go with two here.  I read all the time, and revisit some books and use others to get a leg up in understanding.  Here are the two I’m taking off my bookshelf the most at present.  

Current reading for a leg up – Reinventing Organizations. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different company structures holds the key to the next generation of successful corporations.  In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux takes us through the history of organizations and their leadership structures, painting a picture of where the most enlightened leaders and entrepreneurs are going.  This book is one that challenges me to sit and think about how this changes how we work both within agile42 and with our clients.  

The book I revisit the most – The Principles of Product Development Flow.  Agile may be hitting mainstream, but still hasn’t begun to be explored.  I liken it to the discoveries of the African continent in the 1800s.  A good understanding of broader geography and some of the potential of the subcontinent, but no real detail.  We knew about Victoria Falls and the Congo, but little else.  Well, if agile is the African subcontinent, Don Reinertsen’s book is the closest to providing a detailed map of the interior and of how Agile and Lean might develop in years to come.  Essential reading.

Meet the Coach: Andrea Tomasini

Andrea Tomasini is a strategic coach, one of the founders of agile42, and one of the few Scrum experts who are both Certified Scrum Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer by the Scrum Alliance. He’s also a prolific public speaker, talking often at technical and managerial conferences. In October he will deliver the keynote at the annual Manage Agile conference in Berlin, titled “Stop scaling… Start growing an Agile Organization”.

Can you summarize for us the career path that led to founding agile42?

Well, that is a pretty long story… once upon a time, I was thinking that mechanical engineering would have provided me with a good basis to start a successful job and make a wonderful career. Well half way through university, I decided to turn toward Electronic Engineering, which looked more promising, and finally I moved toward Software Engineering. I started working on shared projects with the University and some local companies, and then grew in one of those till the point where I was leading a large development team.

I have always been fascinated by how fast software engineers could mess up very simple things such as “working agreements” and informal processes. I have also experienced over and over again how hard it was to get highly skilled and specialized people to think in a non-analytical way for social and group problem solving. I always felt like the human factor was missing, and that working with well defined processes in a creative and problem solving world, wasn’t really a good idea.

So I started looking at different ways and approaches, System Thinking (with Peter Senge at the Sloan School of Business), Process Reengineering with Michael Hammer and even CMM from the Software Engineering Institute seemed to fall short of solving the problems which really mattered… Clients are people and they often don’t know what they need. Even if they can articulate what they want, it doesn’t mean they are always right! So how could we communicate better? How could we find way to cope with that level of uncertainty without actually ending up blaming it on the clients?

A bit of light on these questions was shed in my ever-enquirying mind, when I started reading about Lean Product Development. I was immediately attracted by the innovative idea of involving the client in the product development and seeing the process of creating something new. I saw this more as an exercise of creating knowledge – with a by-product – than as something mechanical. The admission that delivering fast helps to learn fast, and that trying to get things right from the beginning is foolish at best (since that is the moment in which we know the least about the problem that we are trying to solve), really hit home for me. Then, i looked into agile methods and experienced many ways of organizing teams and working towards integrating different organizations. From my experience, a lean approach focusing on simple metrics to measure delivery of value and related indicators such as lead time, throughput rates and variation rates have proven much more effective than the attempt of squeezing or tailoring a defined process into another organization.

It felt way to often like trying to fit the “glass slipper” on the foot of a lady other than Cinderella. While people seem to be willing to fit it, as they have been fascinated by the beauty and the clarity of how the slipper looked, they still had to cramp their feet to even try to get into it… with incredible and sometimes unbearable pain. So after some years in the capacity of CTO, trying to integrate different parts of the organization in a more seamless way of working and being constantly hindered by politics and changing priorities, I decided to move on.

Luckily I have been able to find other people that like me are passionate about helping others: to work more effectively, to be more engaged, and to have more fun in their everyday working life. This common passion and the idea of sharing it with the rest of the world allowed us to formulate a vision which brought us to found agile42.

You probably always need to explain the name?

The name was quite a challenge, we all loved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (by Douglas Adams) and we needed to have “42″ in the name. The meanings are multiple: – 42 is the length of a Marathon in Kilometers, signifying that even working agile, we need to think at the long term goals, and not just at the short sprint level… – 42 is obviously the “Ultimate answer to life, the universe… and everything”, which turned out to be pretty useless as people realized that after 7,5 Million years, the original question went forgotten! So as we wanted to focus on coaching from the very beginning, we appreciate the value of the “questions” more than the answers themselves. We truly believe that through questioning and other coaching techniques we can help people to initiate a change which they will own, and by doing so, will nurture indefinitely.

So that’s it and at about the end of 2005 the idea of agile42 was born…

What is an “Agile Transition” for a large company or organization? Is it ever possible to change mentality and the company culture?

Not an easy question at all… First things first: we like the term “Transition” as opposed to “Transformation” because it helps valorize where we start from, and projects the idea of an evolution rather than a complete radical change. It even sounds less dramatic to some extent. Moreover as we have learned through many years of experience, changing has to do with people and culture much more than it has to do with processes and tools.

We all know that when it comes to vote for change, everyone is on board, till the they have to change… We also know that culture has a strong inertial pull and most of it is happening whether we want it or not, as we often hear: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. So how can we help a company to identify what they want to become as well as what culture would best support their business goals? How can we understand what is the predominant culture today, and plan a smooth transition toward that target culture that will work as a cradle to consolidate the right structure and organization to achieve the business goals? And finally how in this process can we make sure that people will be treated respectfully and will feel fulfilled in their profession, and will act as enablers rather than resisting the change?

The answer to all these very specific questions, is what we call an organizational transition, and specifically we try to add as many Lean and Agile ingredients to the pot, as possible. I have been a promoter of “being agile vs doing agile” for a very long time now, and there isn’t any better way of making people understand that agile and lean are simply different way of thinking about value, the client, the knowledge and the problem solving, and are not even specifically limited to software development.

More often than not, organizations come to us because they want “to do the agile thing” in their development department, so that their productivity will increase. This is the reality we are dealing with every day, the adoption of “agile methods” is not a change of practices and tools, as much as it is a change of the way of thinking about everything. The best way to learn this different way of thinking is by internalizing the principles behind it, which is what we try to teach during our training sessions. The difficult thing though is that to be able to internalize the principles deeply, you need to practice them. So simply put, agile and lean are simple in principle, but not easy in practice.

So company culture is not a secondary goal of an Agile transition but rather the main target?

The company culture is a very important thing, it is what makes a company different, unique and many times successful, because it entails “the way we do things around here”. It is the embedded codex that is transferred to every new employee joining the company, and it takes quite a long time before people get used to it, comply to it, understand it, internalize it, and finally live it as their own way of doing things. This very individual process is often the blocker of many change management initiatives. Organizations are pushing changes through their ranks, often disrespecting the individuals needs and values, forcing them to step into unknown areas, and losing trust and confidence in the process. In some cases this can even be a very disorienting experience.

So often, people in large corporations have learned to “cope” with the change, by complying very quickly, keep on living their own way, and waiting for the next change to happen, because it will happen, as the results of the first one won’t be as good as expected. The truth is that we will never know, because every organizational design in principle sounds and seems fit to fulfill the purpose, but miserably fails in the implementation. What really fails though is the way we are driving the change, and not the change in itself. In our many years of experience in helping small startup, medium enterprises and large corporations, we have came to value some fundamental driving principles, that are today embedded in what we call the Enterprise Transition Framework (ETF). It is not really a product, as many think, and no, you can’t buy it, because changing is an individual journey and everyone needs to go through it. This is why we talk about growing agile organizations, instead of scaling agile delivery, or implementing agile scaled models, or even doing agile.

Video from the presentation of “Stop scaling… Start growing an agile organization” at Scan Agile 2015 in Helsinki

One of the core of agility lies in the capability of continuously improving based on empirically validated knowledge. Simply put, try and fail or succeed, and learn from it. So an agile organization is an organization that grows around a core of values and principles which are supportive of a continuous improvement attitude. To achieve this attitude, we need a culture that is suited for collaboration, shared responsibility, servant leadership, maybe innovation, experimentation and is allowing failures to happen as one of the best way to learn fast. This culture needs to be grown and fostered, and then the agile and lean tools will provide the values they are supposed to and contribute to support the organization and the people to continuously evolve to more and more optimal ways of delivering value by learning how to solve ever new and challenging customer problems.

So yes, it is possible to change the culture and the mentality of people, it is actually the ultimate goal of coaching to be able to change the behaviour of a person for the better, indefinitely. Long lasting and sustainable change is at the center of the ETF, and needs to be supported by a culture which needs to be designed and nurtured, and can’t be left to chance. Understanding this is the very first step toward starting to draw a strategy (for this we have created the Agile Strategy Map) to transition the organization towards the most appropriate culture to fulfill the goals it is aiming at.

The concept of “fitness for purpose” which is very strong in the Kanban community is a good metaphor to understand why the organization is nothing more than an instrument to achieve whatever purpose a company wants to fulfill. We need to learn to be more resilient to change, which is one of the reasons why many companies are moving toward a more lean and agile approach today. The change in the market rules, the globalization, the time to market expectations are all factors which are emerging in every market, and push corporations to their limit, sometimes it is too late when they realize that they needed to change faster.

The core to faster change lies in the speed at which an organization can reinvent itself to fulfill the new purpose. This itself doesn’t lie on the level of alignment towards a common goal, which if changing frequently isn’t providing a very stable bearing, but lies in a cohesive and explicit culture, which will reinforce a set of common values and principles which in turn will support a consistent and common behaviour. So it isn’t only possible to change the culture of an organization, but it is the only way to make sure that that very organization will be able to survive the ever more demanding market requirements. Looking at very successful companies on the market today, that have been on the market for 10 years or more, we can learn how much they needed to change and reinvent themselves in order to continue to excel, and we should be humble enough to look beyond practices, structures and tools. If we don’t understand culture, and we don’t learn to foster it, we won’t be able to grow and compete in tomorrows marketplace.

Sometimes “Agile” is treated like a recipe book for a new process to pick and implement. You seem willing to break this assumption anytime you have a chance…

Very true, as mentioned before, I do hate statements such as “doing agile”. To be even more specific “agile” is not even a methodology, but was the best way to “sell” it as it is what people at the time understood better. Agile it is more an umbrella encompassing a set of values and principles, which have been implemented into practices in different frameworks such as Scrum, eXtreme Programming, Feature Drive Development, Dynamic System Development Method, Lead Software Development and even Crystal Methods. All of which share very few practices, and have different focuses, but still share all values and principles which are in the Agile Manifesto since 2001. So to close it very bluntly, “either you are agile or you are not, and the fact that you are practicing Test Driven Development, or you are standing up in front of a whiteboard full of post-it’s, ain’t going to cut it!”.

The Agile world is growing and evolving, do you see a clear direction for future years?

This is an interesting question, yes the agile world is growing, and the agile community has a great responsibility in supporting that growth. Agile is mainstream, today almost every market sector started experimenting with agile and lean approaches, because they provide a stronger adaptability and a great foundation for continuous improvement.

As a consequence of agile growing, and its marketability expanding, we see more and more people and companies jumping on the agile “band wagon” because they see it as a business opportunity. This is nothing new, it happens all the time any idea is reaching a market understanding which is deep enough to justify an economical venture, so no surprise here. Where we need to pay attention, and keep on using our passion and dedication to the agile and lean way of thinking is in being supportive and tolerant of this phenomenon, and focus on being inclusive rather than exclusive.

Our own agile42 vision is about helping as many people and organizations out there to learn, understand and use agile and lean to their own advantages, because we want people to unleash their potential, because we want organizations to be successful, so everybody will be better off. We invest an immense amount of time in creating intellectual properties which are consumable by others, and focus on transporting the right agile mindset across, to people who might not be so lucky to be coached by one of our excellent coaches (no pun intended, just self pride).

We create tools such as: Agile Strategy Map, Coaching Structure, Business Value Game, Enterprise Transition Framework and even the new Team Coaching Framework which are available under a Creative Common license. All we ask people to do is to use them, and provide feedback out of their experience so that we can improve the tools and have a wider impact on the community. We also developed a lot of games such as: LEGO Extreme Scrum Game, LEGO Cynefin Game, Kanban Pizza Game, and more so that people can learn about new powerful frameworks in a playful and safe to fail environment which is the ideal way of learning by failing fast and repeatedly.

So where is the future going, I can’t really tell, but the clear trend is toward bringing agile beyond practices, more and more large corporations are expanding their agility beyond the teams and there are very few tools in that space, and it is a whole area where new frameworks need to be developed. Recently there has been a big fuzz on the media about Zappos adopting Holacracy which is nothing more than one attempt of filling exactly that space, how does an agile organization work? Why do we stick to the traditional form of organization which have been working in the past, but where the market challenges were completely different from what they are today? So the future of agile is to be able to grow in that space, and support organizational culture and growth beyond processes and tools, scaling delivery is not the challenge, there are more than enough models out there, that work.

The real challenge is to grow an agile culture which will make an organization resilient to changes, and very quick to adapt to whatever else the future will reserve us.

Meet the Coach: Roberto Bettazzoni

Following up on our semi-monthly agile42 newsletter feature titled “Meet the Coach”, we asked some questions to one of our coaches from Italy, Roberto Bettazzoni. Thanks to his solid programming background Roberto often coaches development teams starting with Agile or DevOps techniques. He is one of the leading figures in the Italian DevOps community, and he recently co-organized IDI 2015, a one-day event sponsored by agile42.

What is your background and how you started with Agile techniques?

I have a technical background: I started programming in high school, I wrote my first commercial program when I was a freshman at university and since then I’ve always coded for work… and I like it. In the years I discovered that I appreciate teamwork and help others to code. What I like most in my work is learning new things.

Regarding Agile techniques, I don’t have a clear answer, because at the end of the 90s, or maybe first years of 2000s, the techniques that we now call “Agile” were not seen as linked: we used unit testing, refactoring… because they were the most efficient programming practices. The first time I heard the adjective “agile” applied to software development has been in 2002 or 2003. In particular I remember the XP2003 conference in Genoa where I discovered eXtreme Programming (XP) and Lean software developments practices from the authors in person. So I decided we needed to test XP as a methodology and I persuaded an Italian firm to try it while developing a solar electrical plant monitoring tool. It was a success and that software is still operational.

Roberto Bettazzoni at IDI 2014

You have recently helped kickstart a new team at a startup, what do you think it’s needed for a proper Agile approach on a new project?

Now, as in the past, what is needed are knowledge and team effort. Development of software, especially modern software, requires a variety of skill sets and, even if members of your team hold a number of them, it’s nearly impossible to deliver something when you’re less than 4 or 5 people. When you have very skilled people that work together, efficient communications become fundamental, and misunderstandings and tensions inside a team are very dangerous. In this light, my opinion is that nothing is more important than transparency, everything should be accessible to allow a real “informative pull system”: everyone should have access to all informations in order to check, discuss or edit.

DevOps and Agile, is it a perfect match or something that needs to be further developed?

We are just at the beginning. DevOps is a movement, started from specific needs but so far it doesn’t have a clear identity, also because, in my opinion, such a definition could not exist. There is a technological common thread between virtualization, parallel testing, continuous deployment, microsservices, low-cost scaling IT infrastructure, SaaS, PaaS or IaaS … the technological links are quite clear, but I don’t see yet some “value” or “method” that can glue together this technologies and practices.

Moreover, the DevOps world needs to overcome cultural barriers originated by the prevalence of individual work over team-based efforts. Anyway a community is forming, gathering around practices and tools. Somehow it reminds me of the Agile movement at the beginning, because at conferences you can feel a sharing spirit, looking for working solutions and the “what is needed to solve our problem” attitude, that is a bit lost now in the Agile community once the movement got mainstream and started to be adapted to different needs (and I should stop here because I don’t think it’s politically correct to say “corrupted by incompetence and by big companies”). Price of success, because currently Agile is the only sensible way to develop software.

What is a recent technology, or development, that you got interested into?

In the Agile area I’m interested in how to optimize the Continuous Delivery practice in Scrum. It’s not so obvious when you have teams that continuously deliver value directly to the customer. The testing and the review phase is challenging, but it works and it gives a great advantage to the customer. On the tech side, I am constantly interested in development techniques, at the top of my list right now I have [micro]services orchestration and functional programming.

The orchestration of services rose some year ago as a need due of the great number of processes and services running in the enterprise level software. I first meet the problem 4 years ago with a massive parallel testing environment. Now the virtualization and Docker allows to have hundreds or thousands of  small and specialized services (microservices) to form a complex, scalable and reliable enterprise system. The problem is the orchestration of all the system. 

Functional programming is something quite dated and an old passion of mine that never died. Nowadays, thanks to new efficient languages with high-level powerful semantics, it has become very interesting and ready for mass adoption. I find it a very good solution especially for designing the microservices I mentioned.