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Agile, Scrum and Talent Management not only for IT professionals

The growth dilemma - how to scale success?

Lately I have met quite a lot of business people that have the same dilemma: they are great at what they do, they have a special skill to offer and they do it great, but they don't have time to grow their business as they would like.  Why? They are busy... meeting with lawyers, going to the post office, searching for a solution with their new email server, updating their software... and taking care of all kinds of administrative stuff they happen to be not the most effective at.

But even when you make others take care of the non-core stuff (that would be wise), an even bigger dilemma could happen to you:  A lawyer that is a specialist in the GDPR topic is experiencing the most busiest time ever...  he said to me: you know it is good there is interesting work to do, but I started on my own because I wanted to offer certain quality of service that others don't.  Now I start to neglect my clients and I suffer because I know I cannot manage all my accounts as I would like to.... it is getting difficult...I cannot say no...  but I don't enjoy it the same as before.

There is a key question professional independent workers shall ask themselves: Do I want to earn money with a just a few clients or do we want to expand to all potential clients out there?  What is my differentiating value? Can I keep the service levels I committed to if I expand this business?

This is not a new dilemma.  Businesses from all sizes face this situation sooner rather than later if they do things right.  And as they scale their model, they start to face a different challenge: People.  How to attract the best people that wants to help you scale your vision to something bigger?  How do you avoid to have employees that will not care after 18:00 if a client calls?  Seems it all goes down to a single question:  Do you want a follower or a leader?  Are you prepared to co-create and share success with a partner?  Sometimes the answer is not outside.  What do you think?

How to deal with critics and cynics when talking about Agile?

The first time I dared to speak to my team about Agile and Scrum way of working it was appalling.  It was during one of our retrospective meetings, at the time just called "team meeting".  As good analytical people they are, all possible weaknesses and missing conditions were highlighted when I suggested to start working Agile. 

They just concluded Agile was not possible because the organisation was not prepared and not willing to do it.   They were of course right because we did not met all check boxes.  Therefore I asked them what they considered was feasible at the time to implement. 

If you want all or nothing with Agile, it could never start.  There are various opinions on whether you can call Agile something that does not follow the "rules".  Nevertheless, my aim was not to be recognised as an Agile pioneer, or receive a medal for implementing Agile in the company, I just believed in the overall principles and documented results in other organisations and wanted to get the benefits.

So my experience is that Agile starts with whatever your organisation and its leaders allow you to start with.  Is like they say of babies: each baby let you be a parent (you cannot plan which type of parent you can be until you get to know your baby, right?).  So How to "deal" with criticism? It is just feedback from your primary group of stakeholders.  Dig on it, understand it, embrace it.  What we could perceive as negativity or pessimism might only be constructive input expressed in a terrible manner. 

If you are a believer, you just need to overcome emotional responses and try to remove specific barriers, starting with the people you trust the most.  If you don't have a team yet, build one.  Only after that you can really start receiving criticism and cynic comments from people that will help you grow.

How to introduce Agile to your team

The way I starting applying Agile was very informal.  I invited all team members to a meeting where I set the agenda to talk about our personal values, asking them to bring the most important for each.  Values are a tricky word, as people would name a lot of values that they agree with in principle, but we really needed the key ones... so I gave the following criteria to choose them: select those behaviours or beliefs that if not existing at work, you would really feel uncomfortable and willing to leave.   

Once on the meeting we worked to identify which were the common values as a team.  No Agile theory... not even the word was mentioned.  My aim was to build trust.  And trust requires transparency and alignment with our values.  Each one of us explained the values chosen as the most important  and what it meant for us.  It could be that the exact same "Honesty" word meant different things for one and another and we clarified that giving specific examples on how exactly we would consider someone "honest".   It is surprising to see how many different meanings or expectations a single word can have.  

After listening to each other I suggested to choose 5 values from the total and it was great to see how people tried to reach a common ground finding links between values... 

I performed as a moderator in this meetings, and tried to give my opinion later whenever possible. I really recommend trying out this exercise.

How to start with Agile in a traditional company?

This is a question I gave to myself 4 years ago when I started leading the Digital Distribution area within my former company.  Legacy IT systems, people that have been there for 30 years who don't want to change and a really small budget to play with.  No money for coaching, for consulting or anything because the high level management buy-in of "Agile" as a new way of working was not in the top priority list.

My answer to the question at the time was: I will try on my own, in my small circle of influence and see how far I get.  Starting a digital transformation process in a corporation with more than 6000 employees and more than 50 years of success doing exactly the same is not a quest for one person, but if you are lucky to be a leader and have a great boss behind you, it is not impossible.  The first thing I invested in was my own knowledge and skills: I paid for the best training on Agile and Scrum Certifications, made a Coaching course and started practicing coaching sessions with people I did not know out of office hours. 

I did not wait to finish the course to put into practice the theory as soon as I had the chance.  My Scrum Alliance trainer said something that I will always remember and has been a key for the success of all the projects I led since then: You can forget everything about Agile and Scrum but don't forget retrospectives.  They are a must.  If you don't want to continue learning more from me, that is the only thing I would suggest you to master: learn how to lead a retrospective session with your team.  It is a powerful tool and if you have the right people, it is also empowering for them and yourself. 

After that, I took advantage of my position as Head of Online Distribution to change the way my team understood their roles and their approach to work.  We had sessions on vision, sharing our personal values, our personal goals (including leaving the company if that was the case) and receiving feedback from each other.   Transparency is a value I was born with and I embed it in any meeting with my direct team of reports.  Call it Agile or just a different way of working, those were my keys to building a real team.