I love Agile, I hate Agile

I am in an agile project. I love it.

I am working in an agile HR/IS software development project right now (as a team member). It is the first time for me. I love it. We changed our way of working from waterfall to agile a year ago in this project, since we realized the entity is too large for us to plan ahead, and changes just keep coming. It has developed our team enormously, we have let a collaboration tool (Basecamp) evolve to support our communication and work, we have let a meeting structure evolve to support our work. We have iterated and changed both the tool and the meetings structure according to our need. There would be NO turning back to waterfall. One of our process specifications is going through its 25th revision. Read this HR’s: Twentyfive changes into a process, because we identify new connections and requirements as we go. We could never have foreseen them. If we had asked the developers to develop the software on the first specification, we had ended up with a pile of pure bollocks. We have, in our team, found out how to deal with uncertainty, how to re-iterate, re-design, re-prioritize. There is a flow in our collaboration, that I never experienced in traditional project work. I am not in the project in a coach role, but sometimes stepping back and observing it all is so intriguing. I just purely love it.

I am in an agile project. I hate it.

I am in an agile software project. I hate it. Instead of keeping the workflow healthy, this project has turned into deadline driven delivery, where we as a team are pushing our limits in performance, endurance and collaboration skills. We still want to take most changes in consideration, since they are essential to make the damn software work. I find myself irritated when there are delays, because my own work is delayed. Delays are frequent. Delays are due to my own workload is too big, some of our team’s workload is to big, customer brings in new requirements or we have misunderstood something, an IT-partner is delayed with providing something (outside the project, but they still affect delivery, because it is their task in the chain of tasks that might be delayed). There are just so many detailed things happening simultaneously, and I do not seem to read the complex entity that well. I feel insecure.

Oh My Goodness, This is exactly like handball – it is the semifinals and time is running out.

This is where I realized, I have been here before. This is exactly the same dynamics as happens in team sports on the field. Time is running out and the game is really tight. You feel like your team is not performing too well. You become afraid of loosing.  Once that thought hits you, and you are not too experienced, you start protecting your own ego. “It is not me, it is that person who is not passing the ball”. “I did my best defense, but that other person let that goal slip through”. “I’m not the crucial player here, if our star is not performing on top, then how could we win?”. That is how I was thinking in my junior years as a not-too-important player. I also could not see the game as an entity, but as a series of small events (all to be controlled). I did not have the experience to tell which were the things to focus on in the game, and which details are irrelevant.

Right in this exact moment, during this difficult time when time is running out and you are not performing too well, is where real team players and experienced players bring in their calm, winning spirit.

The best thing can be to stop, very briefly. Breathe. Identify your thought patterns, and choose the high road. That is what I learnt to do when I was a senior player (not-at-all-that-important-gamewise) I was given play time when the mental going was getting tough, to calm down the talented players. Instead of nagging or ignoring, I helped people concentrate on the next offense. And then on the next defense. One thing at the time. I helped them communicate on what they want to do together in the field. And I took effort in showing my appreciation and spirit, anytime someone did something in the positive direction. You know what? That is contagious! Others started doing that, too. I knew which of the opponents players to disturb to get them mentally unbalanced. With failures, I made perfectly clear to just leave it behind, and concentrate on your next task. As a senior player I had seen most situations before, and knew which the focus points were, with the biggest leverage. Most of what happened in the field is irrelevant and natural, let it flow. Growing from watching detailed small events (inexperience) to unconsciously processing a large flow with identifying only the cues with the biggest impact (experience). That is the difference between being a Junior or a Senior.

When today, tired from last nights work, I recognized my thought pattern – “Damnit, they are delayed again, and made a mistake because they did not read my instructions correctly” – I realized “This is exactly as in the semifinals!” I can draw from my handball years. Instead of writing an angry message with what I felt in that moment (Junior behavior),  I changed my thinking to how a senior in the field would think. “I should call them more often to check up with them, communicate better”. So, I wanted to send them a message, which would reflect what I did in my senior years in the field.

“There are a lot of details hanging in the air right now, I understand if some of them are missed. I appreciate you are stretching so much to get this thing working”.

I love handball. It has taught me so much. (I did not love handball all the time. Frequently, in my junior years I hated it). The IT partner’s CEO called me up to communicate around how to take the next few steps forward. We also discussed these things are all normal in SW projects. Misunderstandings. Delays. Insufficient communication. I thanked him for having a calming effect on me. Let’s just concentrate on the next important things to get those done.

This CEO is the Senior player on the field now. I am a Junior, luckily with some senior experience from another field.

I guess I am going to love and hate the Agile world just as much as I have with handball, but in the end I will turn out to be a Senior in this field, too. And what a ride it will be!

Thanks for reading!

PS: I’m talking about the teamsport Handball (see Handball federation’s video of it here)

The SVPHR’s to-do-list for creating an Agile organization – Part 1

From an executive’s or a SVPHR’s point of view, it may seem “easy” being a consultant talking about how things should be, what the trends are, and what could be done (on a high level) to start with Agile HR. I don’t want to be a person who charges for bullshit bingo, that I hand out for free. In addition to the bingo, I try to get real, concrete, and help you take some real steps. So, I tried to put myself into the shoes of a newly appointed SVP HR with the challenge of building an Agile organization and HR within a somewhat “traditional” corporation.

What does all this agile, lean, “fail fast”, transparency etc. mean in reality? What should I do?

Here’s what I came up with so far.

Preparations:

  1. Change is too rapid. Accept the fact that the world is changing too rapidly for you to know everything yourself.
  2. Start from zero. Accept the fact that you cannot go on old experience and thinking patterns. Embrace the modern paradigm as a challenge, and really think you will start from zero. Yes. From zero. You will need a blank mind not to be too “primed” by experience, thinking you have the solutions. You don’t. Solutions will evolve. (OK, so knowing neuroscience I know you can’t undo your old “frames”, but what you can do is start recognizing and asking questions about your habitual thinking patterns).
  3. Ongoing journey. Accept the fact that it will take a lot of effort and learning to create the Agile organization. It will be an ongoing journey, not a project. You cannot plan it. You will not finish it.
  4. Give up control. Accept the fact that you won’t be in the drivers seat, ever. (The system you are creating will be mostly evolving with help, not implemented with control). Be prepared to give up control and trust the boundaries.
  5. Don’t copy-paste. Accept the fact that you won’t be able to copy processes from other agile organizations. (the era of copy-paste-HR is over!)
  6. Cross functional group. Gather a group of smart, trusted and competent people around you to start creating this together with you. Include business-, communication- and IT-“punk-rockers” in the group. Their most important traits are their adapting and learning capabilities and great social skills. Build trust within the group, because the discussions are going to be wild.
  7. Traditional vs. punk-rocker. Include one person who is hard-core professional in traditional HR administration and law (who is able to bring the real hard HR boundaries with respect) and one person who is a real “punk-rocker” within HR, able to question most “truths” of the existing system (with respect).
  8. Work councils. Include the employee representatives of your company (works council etc.) Do this early and keep them in the loop. Offer them coaching and listen to their views. Negotiate. Experimental means you don’t know. It means you’ll find out. Together.
  9. Social media. Start writing an open blog/vlog/twitter/instagram/LinkedIn/Intranet blog/magazine/TV-show (you get the point…)  about the journey.
  10. Don’t plan. Resist the urge to plan more than 2-4 steps ahead. Do not, I repeat, do NOT make a power point plan to the exe group of how HR will be agile in X years time.
  11. Exe involved. Get the Exe group to insert a “Agile Journey” agenda point on top of their agenda, 20 minutes biweekly to discuss their learning. Not the results, but the learning.
  12. Do your own thinking. The longer you are doing your own thinking around the Agile system without looking at any other organization’s Agile HR practices as such, the stronger the understanding and ability to design Agile HR that suits your company. Don’t start with reading about “Agile HR”.
  13. Dive deep to understand. Start learning about the Agile system and pinpoint the differences of ideology and paradigms to the system you are in now. Really do focused thinking to gain common understanding of the full turnaround of the underlying principles. Recognize where your organization is at now. Accept that. You are here. This is the starting point.
  14. Go mingle! Read about Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Systems thinking. Network with other Agile organizations’ business- and HR-people. Go to Agile conferences. The agile scene is all about management, leadership and people processes nowadays, you should be there.
  15. Forget “HR best practices”. Resist the urge to develop your HR function with polishing the existing processes.
  16. Take a professional coaching class. Your whole team will need hard-core coaching skills. (I recommend the brain based coaching, and I am extremely biased saying that!)
  17. Talk with people from all over your organization and with customers. And with customer’s customers. Really get to know the interaction between customer and your organization. Hunt to understand the value creation in the business value chain. Also hunt to understand the speed of change.
  18. Follow agile team’s work. If there are agile teams in the organization already: follow an agile team’s Scrum cycle from backlog refinement to increment delivery and customer feedback.
  19. Library of inspiration. Start gathering a library of different examples of Agile HR processes, e.g. performance support, working time, development, learning, training, coaching, job selection, communication, recruitment etc.
  20. Executive agreement. When the team knows enough you will need to set some strict agreements and basic guiding principles with the Executive team, because if the management starts sabotaging the evolving of the Agile system, there is pretty much nothing you can do. After learning about the agile system’s fundamentals, you will know the difference between the “top down paradigm” and the “agile paradigm”. Care for the Exe group’s uncertainty and status thinking when presenting all this.

The following has to be agreed in the Exe group:

  • Exe team must have common understanding and identify the paradigm differences in the two systems; traditional and agile. May need deep facilitation & coaching, since it boils all the way down to their view on a human being. (uh? must it be this deep? Yes, it has to.)
  • No long-term plans, no long-term budgets. (Painful? Yes!)
  • Stepwise, iterative investments. (Complex? Yes!)
  • Stepwise incremental development, where decision-making power is NOT with the exe team. (Tough one!)
  • Sharing the learning weekly in the Exe team, (also any painful and frustrated experiences). (New kind of communication? Yes!)
  • Transparent communication. If something cannot be communicated transparently about this journey, then don’t decide that. (Ooooh, ouch… This will be difficult!)
  • Exe group understands and agrees that this is experimental, and what experimental means. (Are you crazy, woman?! Should we experiment in business? Yes!)

OK, this is what I came up with as a preparation stage. You know that this list is only estimation, and I also estimate that about 60% of what I wrote in this list would change once started.

Please don’t follow this as a “how to create an Agile HR” plan. There is no such thing. This list was just a consultant trying to be credible. Well, 40% Credible.

Part 2 will be about the real action when there is buy in from the exe team, and agile competence in the creation team…Stay tuned!