No decoupling of reason and feeling

This is the first part of a blog series on what the author considers the most important learnings he wished to have had when he started working in software industry, roughly a ten years ago.

The series target to make you think what it takes building great teams, from vision to practical execution, but not anchoring to any particular industry, let alone technology.

Let’s start from what we are as humans. Are you ready?

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Know that feeling of falling when you are just about to enter asleep?

Right, hypnic jerk or sleep twitch, but more often we just call it falling asleep. For a brief moment we feel like we are falling into the void before we start sleeping. This nowadays seemingly unnecessary feature prevented us from falling down from trees, back when we still used to sleep in those. Our bodies adopted this feeling because it was useful in terms of surviving.

Our survival is based on striving for persistence. Persistence in a world which is constantly shifting in pieces, more or less regardless of us. These pieces move in ways we are not even today very good at predicting. To persist in this kind of world we had to change with it, eventually come down from trees.

We had to move to unknown areas when we ran out of food or we wanted to find love. It surely felt not too safe at first, but when we got there we felt rewarded. Our bodies adopted this feeling because it kept, and still keeps us, hungry for even more rewards.

We had not to do it alone though but as a team. But first we had to put shields down within the group so we would not kill each other before we even got moving. The first one to put the shields down usually ended up being the leader. Either did or got killed first.

All successful entrepreneurs have a thing in common

They decided what they want and then they tirelessly went after it. They kept their brain wired for wanting whatever it was, so long that they eventually had it actualised in front of their eyes. But it became so in smaller pieces, each of which provided a smaller reward as they were achieved.

Anything that gets us closer to fulfilling what we consider to matter makes us feel rewarded. We keep going after what we want, even if there is a possibility of not succeeding. Do you know what you want?

When you want something enough, all the things that prevent you achieving what you want, stop being obstacles. They become challenges, which can, and are to be, tackled. This is also the moment we start to think how we will in practice do it.

You want to make the world a better place?

You must know your passion. You want to invent something new? You must have a vision. You want to have it built? You must hire people. Eventually drilling down to more and more concrete steps, steps that are then executed as part of the big goal. Taking big steps too fast gets us killed, too fast.

What were you thinking when you got where you wanted to be? What were you feeling before you got where you felt succeeding? You want to stay where you are right now? Go ahead, we cannot hope anything but that you will not starve, too fast.

When we wire our brain for wanting something, whatever it is for us, we are already on our way to get there. Knowing this is one the most powerful tools you will ever have in your life. But knowing is not the same as being ready…

You know that feeling of irritation you are not yet falling asleep?

Your mind is racing, worrying if you are ready to achieve what you want. But considering whether you are ready for it, means you are already thinking if you have picked up all the necessary things to get where you want.

So are you ready?

The next part of the series reminds us that time is the most valuable asset we have in life.

Don’t Fear the Agile

When truly Agile, we developers are involved less in projects we don’t believe in. We can influence on what the outcome will be. But it demands courage and will to live in a constant change.

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Agile and billiards – or pool – has things in common. At the beginning of a game the balls are in neat, predefined order. During the game however their position on the table changes in unpredictable ways, ways that nobody could see. The best action is chosen according to the new situation. This is the idea behind Agile too. Details are decided as the development progresses instead of heavy planning at the beginning.

Back in the days project managers tried to plan software projects from start to finish with all the details. This worked in those rare occasions when own people made no mistakes and other players acted completely according to ‘the script’. One can count these with his or her middle fingers.

Planning a software project beforehand with all the details is practically impossible. Especially if you want to create an outcome, that fills users needs and produces significant value to the customer who pays the bill. Something unforeseen always comes up during the project. Something that needs responding. In agile these situations are solved by changing the game plan.

Agile Gives You Better Solutions

During my 15 year career as software craftsman I’ve been involved in hundreds of bigger and smaller development actions, projects and ventures. I have also seen that agile methodologies scares some people. They feel the development, though falsely, a lot safer, if all things can be planned precisely.

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The Agile way is a huge opportunity for us developers. Yes, it demands skill and will to regenerate constantly. But with it, we can create solutions that exceeds the expectations.

I was working in a software project, where we knowingly skipped planning of an uncertain part which were to be implemented only after few months. During these months the customer scoped that part completely out of the product. Being agile and co-operating with the customer we avoided redundant design and work. These decisions also prevented creating unnecessary complex system. We saved customers money and created a better outcome.

Sometimes also totally new requirements emerge. Depending on their size, they might even paralyse the traditional software development process. At least they will delay it significantly.

Agile Necessitates Continues Learning

Agile has enabled me to try out new tools and techniques and learn new stuff constantly. Sometimes experiments have not produced the expected outcome, but they have never been useless. So called failures also provides lots of information for the next steps to take. As in billiards, learning how the spins work in general and in different situations, I can rectify errors in previous shots in the upcoming ones.

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Continuous learning and improving is part of developers DNA. Without running experiments and learning, you can only achieve a good solution to a single problem. And that is already in the past.

Don’t go to conference!

The title is from a pitching session in Continuous Integration and Testing -conference (CITCON18) by Open Information Foundation. The announcer of the pitch wanted to create discussion about benefits of traditional conferences versus Open Space events. CITCON itself represents an Open Space format event, which is an awesome way to share ideas and networking for IT professionals.

CITCON gathered in the spring of Vienna, Austria, this time with around 60 people, of whom six were Hedgehogs from our Software Automation Tribe. Open Space events are most effective with 50-100 people, since the sessions are organized on the spot in an agile manner. The participants are mostly software and testing specialists, but the topics contain more human sciences than you’d find in traditional IT conferences.

The event starts with a quick introduction of participants. Followed by inventing short pitch talks about the topic for upcoming discussion sessions. You are allowed to present one pitch at a time, but can you join the line of presenters again after you are done with your first pitch. People are also encouraged to ask clarifying questions if the idea is hard to grasp. Post-It notes with the topic candidate are added on a whiteboard after a pitch is made. Each session is meant to last one hour.

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Tommi Oinonen pitching his session topic

When the line of presenters had finished, the amount of Post-It notes had grown up to around 50. Next, everyone could vote on the topics their are interested in with a pencil, but only one vote at a time. There were five time slots and five rooms booked for the sessions next day. Hence, there were 25 sessions in total. When all the voters had visited the whiteboard, the most popular topics began to move to a timetable chart. This happened also in a self-organizing way, meaning that everybody could move the notes and the most voted ones found their time slots. Similar topics could end up bundled into the same session. The final timetable might not have been formulated earlier than just before the sessions the next day.

The time table is then used by people to plan their attendance to different sessions. However, the most important rule with Open Space sessions is the law of two feet: If the current session isn’t interesting, leave it.

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Agile timetable

The sessions were held in classrooms, where chairs were organized in a circular form in order to maintain best possible connection between participants. The classroom also contained a white board for demonstrating purposes. The topics varied from more technical software problem solving in IT to sea shanties (!?). The most popular topics were about communication skills in work life. These sessions were facilitated by professionals, who also solve those issues in their everyday work. The session I liked the most was one where communication related challenges were asked from the participants and then solved via a role playing style dialog.

As an example of a more technical session topic, Tommi Oinonen from Siili wanted to obtain insights about his master’s thesis pertaining to metrics of software test automation and version control. Tommi truly achieved some good philosophical conversation and opinions to bring home from CITCON.

If I had to list some negatives about this Open Space event, I felt that people were even too eager to create session topics. Some general level subjects without deeper focus on some strictly defined problem ended up leading conversations into an academic monologue.

Open Space events encourage people to create sessions of their own kind where everyone can have interesting discussions. Compared especially to lecture-liked conferences, interactions between even shyer engineers increases. As an organizer encapsulated in his opening speech: If you did not get what you were looking for here, blame the organizers, that means yourself!

Pekka Rantala

Snips and Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails, is that what Agile Leadership is made of?

Let’s face it, we are all doomed. But it’ll take some time before this madness ends. And during that time the world is becoming increasingly complex. The speed of change is faster than ever and more and more is demanded from the leaders. Managing actions and expecting results won’t get you there. Leaders who affect on experiences and beliefs are creating culture that welcomes change. It is quite easy to change those in present and in the future. Have an open mind, search for positive exceptions and find positive explanations. You will create more positive culture for learning and creativity. And by using techniques from NLP it is possible to even change the meanings of one’s experiences and beliefs in the past.
And this is why Agile Leadership is needed. These are some of the topics we went through on our two and a half day course of Certified Agile Leadership by Agile42.

Cynefin – Embrace the Suck

complexity-cynefin.jpgI’d like to return on one word from the past chapter: complex. It is the most interesting domains of the Cynefin Framework. The field of unknown unknowns is where one can

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deduce cause and effect only in retrospect. There are no right answers. Thus we as leaders need to create safe to fail experiments. We cannot solve complex problems with best practices. Software development is very much in the complex domain. Agile offers many tools for solving problems in that domain: reflection and improving, collaboration and continuous delivery. If you’re good, you will push many problems to complicated or even obvious domain for example by utilizing automation. Welcome the complex and do some magic!

Giving Your Team the AMP up

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Motivating your team is sometimes difficult. Relying on extrinsic motivators such as money or using the good-old carrot and stick approach does not work when your tasks call for even rudimentary cognitive skill. And even when they do work – the mechanical tasks – you are using a shrinking pie. Offering teams the AMP – Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose – utilizes intrinsic motivators. And they do work! And yet again Agile has tricks for this one too. It introduces pull and self-organization for autonomy. It offers collaboration, feedback, and trial & error for mastery. And it gives you holistic responsibility for purpose. And there are many factors in this growing pie of motivators. Listen to your team and you will learn what will make them tick!

All Hands on DECK!

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Self-Organization is extremely important. The more responsibility the team has the more flexible, robust and innovative the team will be. As a leader one should make sure that the teams has a right direction and suitable environment. Removing unnecessary constraints is equally vital. The team will increase it’s own knowledge base as it goes on. And this will speed up the development. Aiming to Self-Designing Teams should be a standard in any agile organization. This means for example that team itself designs who belongs to the team and who does not. Of course those teams also manage their progress and process. And execute their tasks.

When Your Heart and Brain Are Happy Together

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To be a successful leader in an agile context one needs to have emotional intelligence. It falls into self- and social oriented parts. It also splits into how aware one is of oneself and how one handles things. So, emotional intelligence consists of self and social awareness, self management and social skills. Does things like self-confidence, empathy, self-control, initiative, visionary and good communication skills sound like the qualities of a great leader? Another wonderful thing is that one can develop each of these attributes.

Agile Meets Antifragile

Let’s step onwards from the team level to consider the whole organization. We should think more on what happens to the organization when risks realize or some crisis emerge. A fragile organization worries nothing and acts in a naive way. In an emergency it breaks, even in a catastrophic way. A robust organization can resist known stressors, and it should be a minimal level for any company. In a contrast, a resilient system reforms itself during disturbances. Finally it retains the same identity than before. Antifragile systems are the sovereign champions in the organizational map. They can increase their capabilities and grow stronger in response to stress. They are the truest of agile and learning organizations!

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To achieve this, there are some things one could experiment. Engage people more. Be empirical and apply local validation. Introduce teams to iterative & incremental development. Have some defined metrics. Create emergent standardization when you can. And this is basically what Agile Leadership is made of.

But Wait! There’s More!

Ok, say that you agree on all the above. But to shine and thrive as an agile leader you need good knowledge and understanding of agile values and principles. You need to deal less with things that are going wrong and help things go right more. Systems thinking will be useful. You should:
“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
You should know at least three different leadership styles and be able to choose the right one for each occasion. Practice Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. Follow simple advice of Michelle Eileen McNamara “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

 

12 Crucial Skills for Remote Leadership

I participated in Remote Forever Summit last week. There were many good sessions. But Charlie Birch’s (@BurnoutBunisher) talk about Celebrating Human Connection in a Digital World ticked the most boxes for me . In this session she listed 12 skills needed for successful remote leadership. I spent few days thinking them from my perspective and decided to share my thoughts.

Remote Mindset

Working remote is not about location. It doesn’t have to hinder collaboration, instead offices hinder independent work. Of course, you need to collaborate but collaboration tends to happen in short bursts. Then it’s time for independent work such as writing this article. To be a great tribal lead for 20 remote working people I need to trust them. Which is quite easy since they’re all such professionals.

Overcoming Obstacles

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Yes, there will be obstacles in remote work. How do I maintain my focus? How can I be sure that I’m productive? As a leader one of my biggest goals is to inspire my tribe members. If I want to work remotely more often, I need to find a way to be an inspiration without constant face-to-face communication. Using Slack and mobile phone are good ways of reaching out. And most of them work at the customer offices so for me they are always “remote”.

Company Culture

Company needs to understand the value of remote work. It has proven to increase productivity and satisfaction. Open communication and feedback are key elements to foster culture that enables remote work. I value transparency high and luckily so does my employer. Leader who wants to encourage remote work needs also to set clear goals and manage expectations.

Cultural Competency

Effective interaction with people who have different cultural influences is necessity also for remote leader. That’s because you’re not working only with your hypothetical identical twin. So you need tolerance to difference. Only then can you match your coaching with the person you are serving as a leader. Same applies also when your people are working remotely. There might be even more variance in their needs. And I see great opportunities in this. I can gain cultural competence by traveling. And I love to travel. So it’s a win-win-win situation!

Social Support

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Socially supporting remote workers at least the same level as those working colocated is hard. It is one of the biggest challenge I’ve faced as a leader. I’ve solved this by paying extra attention to people online. I have also used enablers such as technical solutions to strengthen social interactions. Also, making sure that everybody gets enough 1-on-1 time from the leader is very important in creating trust.

Role Clarity

Making sure that everybody knows their role is one important task for the leader of a remote team. This does not mean that the leader should tell them how to organize. It means supporting them in their self-organization by communicating goals and targets clear. My tribe members don’t work in a single team or even at the same customer. But what I can offer them is coaching and mentoring in their obstacles. And many time it’s about how to bring the most of their competence in to use in a challenging environment. To me, that is clarifying their consultant role.

Communication

There is one thing that rises up many times when discussing communication in remote teams: asynchronous communication. It’s the backbone of effective remote leadership. But people need synchronous communication as well. So yes, I do use Slack or mail to send messages but I try to concentrate on phone calls or meeting face-to-face. The more important thing it is, the more “live and present” way of communication I use. Making sure that each conversation has a purpose is important, because people don’t want to be bother for nothing when they are working remotely.

Technical Management

Coaching and being an example. Those are my main tools as a leader and manager. Coordinating my tribe members and sales activities is closest to the actual managing I need in my work. This is due to the fact that our company is very Lean and trusts it’s employees. Finding ways to plan and design activities that makes the company go

Collective Knowledge

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

Developing the whole group is important. In my tribe we share experiences and learnings in our projects time to time. We also try to generate insights and generalisations which can be again applied to other projects as well. And after such sessions we put those findings available so people can read them whenever they have the time. This way they are available also to those who were not online or at the same location. Investing in life long learning is something held in great value here at Siili. Enhancing collective knowledge enhances collaboration – especially with remote teams

Self-Management

Each person should take responsibility in one’s own behaviour and well-being. And encouraging this is one crucial task and mindset for a leader. Remote leadership underlines this need mightily. I see coaching as a good approach. Setting goals and helping tribe member achieve those goals is a process where the coachee learns self-management.

Self Care

This is very close to self-management in my perspective. One needs to have a healthy body and mind to succeed. And to be a good leader for remote people you need to be in shape both physically and mentally to be there for your team. One thing you can do this is to go to the woods with your team – remotely! Using modern technologies you could all go in the nearest trees and have a walk. Calm down and meditate a bit, if you like. Keep on finding ways to look for the heal and cure.

Lifestyle

Remote mindset tends to go together with a lifestyle supporting remote work. But the correlation is not clear to me. But I see that making time for your close ones and yourself is very important. People with both personal and professional goals have been the most enthusiastic folks I have been coaching. So balance is the key.

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So, I will continue coaching people to take responsibility in their own goals and to find meaningful ways of working and learning aside.

Winning the Competive Edge with Learning Organizations

A learning organization encourages individuals and teams to continuous learning and improvement. Strong values and clear vision head those organizations. And their direction is to work closer to the customer and responding to the change quicker. They tend to learn from others and question their own behaviour. Learning organizations also tolerate flaws and even learn from them. This should be the reality for any agile team and organisztion.

Learning is the lifeblood of organization

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People face change all kinds of changes in their work life all the time. This means that learning continues in different forms through out the whole career. Also the life cycle of an organization include constant learning. They face new things, operating models, situations and so forth which needs adaptation. And that requires learning. Changes in information technology has increased the need to react faster to change. Real competitive edge comes from that the organization learns faster than its competitors. Thus importance of competence and know-how to success has increased.
Succeeding in fast changing and unpredictable environment demands constant change and recurrence, learning. Only innovative organization can produce better services and end up beating its rivals. Organization’s results must improve all the time. And so the performance of organization and its employee must get better. So effectiveness is dependent on learning. Learning faster than competitors wins you the Competitive edge!

Learning within the team and the organization

Learning is a process where individual gains new skills, competences, experiences and contacts. Learning is in fact creating knowledge by shaping experiences. The process starts from the will to learn from experiences. Then, one should have time to ponder different opinions and facts to gain knowledge. Finally one should understand and apply new knowledge to generate new experiences. And so the learning process starts again.
Let’s look all this from the organization point of view. By following this process, it has the ability to renew itself. This happens by transforming its values, processes and ways of working. In practice this happens by acquiring new competence and make use of it immediately. Organizational learning is also a process that integrates individual and team level learning. Individual learning is often intuitive and interacted to team level as shared knowledge. This can again solidify as practices within the organization.
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The learning objectives must derive from the strategy. This ensures that organizational learning is more than the sum of individuals’ learning. The organization should encourage and support employees to experiment outside their job description. It should also increase supportive interaction. This can happen by removing focus on single department results and hastiness. Making small everyday insights and improvements beats big radical inventions!
Good contact networks between individuals and teams contributes to whole organization’s learning capabilities. Individuals facilitates continuous learning. Teams enable sharing knowledge. Shared vision and values of the organization guides learning towards something great.

Is the Learning Organization too much asked for?

Every organization learns. But successful organization learns, adapts and changes faster than its competitors. It also allows mistakes. Learning organization guides itself: reduce, crystallize, simplify, focus and see the whole. It balances efficiency, learning and wellbeing.
Learning organization has ten theses:
  1. Learning organization is a whole
  2. Learning organization needs values that support learning
  3. Goal-oriented action requires goal-oriented learning
  4. Learner crafts own motives to learn along the the organizations goals
  5. Knowing and mastering are important. Learning and learning to learn are more important
  6. Give people opportunity to engage – change will succeed better
  7. Management’s mission is to build frames and to support learning in organization
  8. Value the past, but help abandon it
  9. Training is important, but one requires other means too
  10. Don’t start changes if you can’t finish them
The learning organization has many definitions:
It is an undivided whole, led consciously. It’s key organization and individual level factors affiliates into common direction. It focuses on identifying impediments, applying and evaluating means.
A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future. That assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members. A process that develops, adapts, and transforms itself. It responses to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself.
What should we learn within the learning organization? Learning to learn is in the essence. And that leads to reflection, using retrospectives to gain insight on improvement actions. Every task should appear as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learning from everyday tasks links new insights into concrete actions. Ten most valuable learning skills for organizational learning are:
  1. Systems thinking
  2. Models leading internal action
  3. Strategic learning
  4. Feedback systems on individual, team and organization level
  5. Self-management
  6. Team learning
  7. Dialog
  8. Shared vision
  9. Benefiting from information systems
  10. Sharing of knowledge

Mental-model

Want your organization to rock at learning?

Superstar learning organization needs new dimensions to leadership. You need builders and trendsetters. Questioners and facilitators. Provokers and assessors of whole. You need to enable cooperation and collaboration to create lean and progressive organization.
So as a leader introduce principles from Lean to your organization. Remind individuals and teams about relentless reflection (Hansei) – even daily. Show them secrets of continuous improvement (Kaizen) on small steps. Create pattern of retrospectives to support both of these. Consider applying Shu-Ha-Ri into your organization. We in Siili Solutions have done this for example with our Master & Apprentice programs.
Remember to learn daily and that learning should be fun.

Thoughts on Tampere Goes Agile 2017

Last weekend (27th-28th October) I had the honour to attend Tampere Goes Agile as a speaker and guest. This was my first speech in agile conference and I was of course a bit nervous about it. On Friday night we met with other speakers to discuss about next days conference. We got an unfortunate information that the closing keynote will be cancelled. During our dinner we planned the ending of the conference to be a panel discussion around the topics that we found controversial among us. That decided we chose panelists and yours truly was also included. Well, I was anyways going to be nervous the whole day so why not.

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Saturday started with opening keynote from Mika Turunen on gaining speed for teams. After that I headed to hear what Artur Margonari had to say. His talk was about using and customising existing frameworks and models for agile transformation. Interesting talk how he had applied SAFe®, LeSS with bits and pieces from Spotify’s ways of working. He stated that using best fitting parts for the problem at hand. In his work that worked fine and added transparency between teams and management.

Another interesting speech was about fixed price projects by Teemu Toivonen. He underlined the fact that even within the fixed scope projects can be done in agile way. A lot of the effort goes to managing expectations. You can’t predict the future and the further you go the harder even guessing goes. Or can you tell what is going to happen in next 10 months? If you keep your time for development short your guesses have better odds to be right and responding to changes is possible.

My topic was how to turn negative emotions within the team to a positive goal. Starting from individual level. Starting with finding your problem from distant feeling that something is off. After that working our way towards a happy productive team that wants to develop and move forward. I talked about avoiding the problems that occur when going through this process. There are many of them and I cant say that I included them all to my speech. Well, it’s still a start.

 

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In total Tampere Goes Agile was a pleasant experience. I met a lot of nice folks and was surprised that many of the themes that used to be ignored were actually a subject to a true discussion. Not just for shouting opinions pro and against.

What can we expect in future? In the closing panel I said: I hope something new and better comes and clears the table. This does not mean that everything old is bad and must go. But as we are constantly changing and improving, there should be new way just around the corner. And of course, we want to be a part of it. Hopefully we can help. At least I don’t want to be the one who holds back change.