Sandra Clark
By Sandra Clark
Senior Project Manager

Agile Australia '17

AgileAus

Having recently come back from #AgileAus, I have been thinking about what I learnt and what actions I can take. It was a great conference, held in June at the Sydney Hilton with over 1,200 Agilists attending. A nice surprise to see a large presence from some big banks and insurance companies who are newly implementing Agile. It was wonderful to have access to so many international speakers over a pretty intensive two day programme. I’ve been reviewing my notes in preparation for this blog, and there are some clear themes emerging: behaviour change, agile leadership and continuous learning.

Behaviour change

Barry O’Reilly was one of the keynote speakers on day one; he shared some of his experiences on how to explore, experiment and improve at an enterprise level.

The technique that I liked the most was “tiny habits” for changing behaviour.

As stated by BJ Fogg: “forget big change, start with a tiny habit”. Start with something small that will become a new habit that ripples across your organisation for others to pick up on.

Barry left the audience with some great advice: “transformations start with ourselves”

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Tatyana Mamut (GM and Head of Product, AWS) talked about the Cultures of Innovation.

What resonated with me was the four S’s to help shift habits and behaviour:

  • Story - create a compelling vision for the future
  • Structure - be clear who holds the power
  • Systems - formal and informal work processes and tools
  • Skills - the talent lifecycle

Thinking about our teams: how can we incentivise, reward and motivate them?

Groupishness…what a great word! Katie Rowett (Thoughtworks) discussed why people (groups, in particular) behave in a certain way. If something odd is happening in your team, she suggested ways to look below the surface to see what might be happening. I particularly liked her description of scapegoating and how this can be avoided with regular feedback. It’s important though to ensure feedback moves from ruinous empathy to direct candor. Feedback is hard and sometimes we opt for the easy way out, but with practice we can get better at giving direct feedback with positive outcomes.

In 2015, Google published a list of traits that its most effective teams shared, with the key one being “psychological safety”. We all want our teams to collaborate well, so if psychological safety is a key ingredient to this, what does safety look and feel like? Andrea Blundell and Pru Gell (Agile Coaches and Facilitators) discussed the Lewis Method of Deep Democracy - an approach to decision making and conflict resolution.

One point I really liked was around making decisions - this can be easier if you draw on the wisdom of the group. A simple technique to help you get good outcomes from meetings is to check in at the beginning of a meeting and check out at the end. Building good habits of sharing and listening, making meetings a safe place to talk and make decisions as a group.

Behaviour change takeaways:

  • Tiny habits have a ripple effect.
  • Start with one small thing, learn, do something bigger, repeat.
  • Use direct candor: constructive feedback with a positive outcome.
  • Create a safe space to talk, share and learn in your teams.

Books to read:

Leadership

Esther Derby, also a keynote speaker, talked about leadership at all levels. Older style command and control leadership is a thing of the past and new leadership models have emerged that don’t reduce staff to a widget.

Leadership at all levels means everyone can be part of each domain as long as there is clarity, conditions and constraints.

A powerful act of leadership is to foster the ability for people at all levels to contribute creatively to solve problems.

We need to create environments where it’s easy for people to do great work.

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Stephanie Bysouth talked about The Frontier to Leadership Agility. I mention her talk again below around learning but her main focus was agile leadership - that an agile leader requires the same learning framework that an agile team does.

“I’ve always had a philosophy that position doesn’t define power. Impact defines power. What impact are you making on people? What impact are you making on your business?”

Leadership takeaways: 

3 key factors for steering - clarity (of work), conditions (team, structure, policies) and constraints (bounded autonomy).

Books to read: 

Esther Darby has contributed to 3 books: Agile Retrospectives, Centre Enter Turn Sustain - Essays in Change Artistry and Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management.

Learning

Any talk that starts with the song “Hall of Fame” is a winner and after hearing Belkis Vasquez-McCall (McKinsey Digital Labs) speak about Continuous Learning, I felt particularly inspired. Vasquez boasts an impressive background, including leading agile transformation in NYC.

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Belkis asked some powerful questions. How can I be ready for the future? How can I become better, be a curious learner? Agile thinking can also be applied to agile learning. Having an agile mindset, continuous improvement, test and learn, collaboration and idea sharing - all of these things can be applied to learning.

NZ’s own Sandy Mamoli (Nomad8) also asked: “what can I learn, what can I teach?” Through skills learnt in her high performance sports career, Sandy knows greatness is never achieved alone but as part of a team.

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Learning takeaways: 

Create a safe to learn environment for yourself: listen with compassion, explore with courage and appreciate your unique mastery. Once you are happy with your own self - you can then help your team.

Books to read:

  • The No Asshole Rule - Robert I. Sutton
  • Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel - Sandy Mamoli and David Mole

I have included some books that were mentioned during the conference. I love reading, but I am bad at reading workbooks, so my new “tiny habit” is to read for one hour each Friday - somewhere comfy, with a yummy treat. Maybe it will catch on and we’ll create a reading circle at Rabid!