Category Archives: Coaching

Edits to my Personal Manifesto

I documented my personal manifesto originally in this link.  It was useful to get it down on paper rather than a tacit understanding.  I think I should sharpen it up a bit.  It’s the same mostly – some wording has been modified.  I’m asking people to call me out when I err.

G(enuine) – Be honest, forthright and fair rather than vague, fake and invulnerable

R(espect) – Actively listen and respect (not necessarily agree with) the views of others rather than jump to hasty conclusions

I(ntegrity) – Uphold good human values and principles and avoid situations that are opposite to these

T(ransparency) – Be open about why, what and how rather than obfuscate, obscure or opaque

S(incere) –  Mean what we say via actions rather than being glib, hollow and lack of follow through.

Whilst we try and be all things on the left we sometimes recognize we fall into the poor behaviours on the right and seek to correct that.

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Ok to be Mediocre, Ok to want to Improve

Last week I posted the following to twitter, somewhat inspired by Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk on the Pecking Order and also by my own experiences in being interviewed and interviewing applicants for jobs (some ideas captured here in a earlier post/rant on broader dysfunctions).

Elitistism preventing New Hires

Some questions in interviews are valid but when it takes a demeaning, condescending tone – that’s when you know you’re in trouble.

Friend and colleague, Ryan Musgrave, in response, posted this video from Jacob Kaplan-Mosson (a self confessed mediorce programmer), which is related to the subject.  Those 10x programmers that some dream of hiring just aren’t as thick on the ground.  In fact hiring them could also reduce the through put of your team (read Five Dysfunctions of a Team to get a real life account of this).

We mostly fall in the middle for talent

We mostly fall in the middle for talent

We mostly fall in the middle of a normal distribution as the video explains.  It’s time to stop dreaming of hiring superstars and look to develop the skills of high potential applicants.  They needn’t know the Agile Principles off by heart or recite every little bit of Object Oriented doctrine that could easily be memorized anyway.

Look to test applicants on more meaningful questions about how they deal with technical problems, how they learn, how they deal with people problems.  Again these need not be perfect answers but should give you a feeling of potentiality.  Ultimately a good applicant wants to develop mastery in what they do.  Think of questions that will give you clues to this and give you a feeling of genuineness.

Ultimately Values, Principles and Philosophy should align best they can.  If your own Vision is strong then finding those who want to follow should not be hard.  As those looking to hire, perhaps starting there and looking inwards is the place to start.

Those feeling belittled by by the superstar programmer, take solace, also look inward and look to get the best out of yourself.  If your a superstar programmer and maybe not as generous to others in the team, you can improve as well by helping others to improve technically.  Collaboration is hard but does reap many benefits personally and for others and for the bottom line.


Ask Why – To Understand

This is a follow on post from my post called Ask How (Don’t say No). Sometimes in some situations it makes more sense to Ask Why to increase understanding.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a passionate conversation about a topic.  Someone says something, perhaps in a strident tone, this can force a reaction from others that implies that what has been said is wrong.  The response can stop conversation dead in it’s tracks as processing of the remarks take place.

Now a facilitator can help keep the conversation going and relieve the tension and let the point carry on to it’s final conclusion.  We don’t have a facilitator all the time though, so we can train ourselves to react quickly still but thoughtfully as well.

I suggest the first response is ‘Why?’, ‘Why do you say that?’  This could help create a response that helps the person retrieve an important item that adds further context.  Sometimes excitement causes that person to forget to mention that important piece of context.  Asking Why is an Open Question and keeps the conversation going rather than perhaps escalating into an out and out disagreement.


Moving to the United States

An opportunity has arisen for me to travel to the United States to help out with a large transformation using Scrumban (combining Scrum, Agile and Lean Kanban).  CodeGenesys a company that specializes in consulting in this area has invited me to come over and help out with the transformation at a large Health Insurance company.  CodeGenesys also make a online visualization board called ScrumDo which I have written about in the blog articles Managing work with ScrumDo – Part 1 and Managing work with ScrumDo – Part 2.

About Agile still operates and the courses and training are still available.  They will be available on an as needed basis in Australia and elsewhere and will be subject to my availability.  So inquiries are still welcome. I hope to give training in the United States as well.  I will look to schedule public classes again after settling down in the US and the picture becomes clearer.

My relationship with CodeGenesys will be a symbiotic relationship.  I hope to learn a lot from my secondment to the US  and spread new knowledge on my return back to Australia.  Training from CodeGenesys will be combined with the About Agile courses to offer a greater suite of courses.

These will combine with consulting and coaching to provide a full array of services to help out with transformations and ongoing improvement efforts.

My time in the US will be at least 6 months and depending on conditions could go on for longer.

Please stay in touch through my email address info@aboutagile.com.  I tweet through the handle @n_zdunic.


Some Causes of Dysfunctional Workplaces

dyswork
Here are some real observations over 25 years of working in software development and in volunteer organisations as well.  I can give specific anecdotes for each and every one of these listed anti patterns.  I can be contacted privately to share only via a voice conversation.  I also wouldn’t want to be recorded for fear of retribution or legal action (in fact it should be the reverse, should be illegal to allow these behaviours).
Many people relate to these issues because they tell me them also and the research confirms that with 9 out of 10 people unhappy at work .  They are afraid to voice an opinion and rightly so.  They want better but are fearful because they have families to support and can’t risk losing a job or going backward.  Those unnamed people should be acknowledged and this is their anonymous voice through me.
The issues being raised mean that people suffer and when people suffer then the company as a whole will suffer.   Ill performing teams means work is not done to the best of everyone’s ability.  Absenteeism goes up and is a further cost impediment to the company.  People take their work problems home and take it out on their family making for a inharmonious home life.  They bring this feeling back to work and the cycle continues.
 Note some of these are similar but are stated again to imply a subtlety that ought to be acknowledged.  I regretfully acknowledge that I’ve been a perpetrator of some of these wrongs driven by what I’ve observed in the workplace – that is it appears to be condoned behaviour and some don’t even realise that it’s a problem and that it is normal.
Some or even all of these apply to employees as well, but we single out management as they need to lead and should be leading through actions otherwise why be in this position.
 I’m sorry to say that some people marketing themselves at Agile Coaches and Consultants exhibited these (anti-)patterns.  But I guess we all need to learn including myself.  That includes standing up for what is right and just.
 Now, you may not agree with the list, parts of it or the whole idea of it.  To that I point you to another blog post entitled You don’t have to agree, You have to take notice –  and is my response to this.
After this list I’ve provided some resources on how you can improve.  It’s not just a rant but a rant with proposed solutions.  It’s a small starting but it’s a starting point.
 Finally I will use this to help myself improve. Knowing is the first step. If you attend an interview with me expect some of these to mentioned as questions framed as either have you experienced this and what did you about it or have you been guilty of any of these and what did you do correct it.  They way you answer will determine if I use you.  It will filter out a lot of people but then again I only want the best.

The List (which could grow)

  1. Asking for estimates and then taking them as commitments
  2. Providing estimates for work they aren’t going to be doing
  3. Taking estimates and applying a factor either up or down.  That’s right I don’t trust you.
  4. Publicizing an arbitrary deadline without asking anyone else first.  Especially prevalent in companies listed on the stock market.
  5. Playing the blame game when a publicized deadline like the above is not met.
  6. Asking employees to cut corners in favour of an ill-conceived short term goal mostly in their own self interest
  7. Telling employees who know how to do their job how to do their job, especially when they aren’t the expert
  8. Asking someone to do something knowing that they may not have the right skills or fall just short and then chastise them when they do in fact come up short
  9. Related not creating a learning opportunity with it’s accompanying expected failure points that allows someone to increase their skills
  10. Providing an unsafe work environment: physical, psychological and emotional
  11. Using expletives/profanity during a meeting to cover over a weakness or to feign a form of bravado
  12. Not apologising for using expletives/profanity as if it were a right that no one else holds
  13. Permits and/or uses slurs (racial, sexual, social background) assuming that everyone is Ok with that
  14. Seeks others to ‘cheer them on’ when they have an axe to grind further encouraging base human behaviour in others
  15. Willingly treat outside contractors and suppliers with contempt.  Permits others to do the same.  Used as a tactic to think a contractor can come on board full time because they will then get better treatment in return
  16. Permits others to treat outside contractors and suppliers with disdainful behaviour and slights.  Almost the same as the previous except they didn’t really start it but still happy to condone it
  17. Instilling fear into employees such that their only way of expressing issues and problems is to whine about during a break when management isn’t present
  18. To meekly acknowledge an issue but not follow up.  Lip service to better management.
  19. Seeking to put themselves forward at the expense of their team, which encourages subordinates to think that this is just the way it is for it to be repeated elsewhere
  20. Condoning less than civil behaviour amongst employees.  For example allowing attacks either aggressive or passive, reasoning that this is just the way it is.  Refusal to acknowledge this as bad behaviour
  21. Reflects bad behaviour by using it as a lever to coerce others to fall into line
  22. Allowing a culture of intolerance to differences
  23. Resorts to firing of employees rather than discussion when a problem arises or a personality conflict occurs
  24. Hiring someone and then when they don’t come up to expectations are immediately marched out and humiliated.
  25. Refusal to defend employees against an unreasonable customer
  26. Making false promises to coerce compliance.
  27. Exuding a power persona, that they laud over others.
  28. Wantonly flaunting privileges of a position.  It’s visible to others and they know it.
  29. When subjected to false promises themselves do not follow up with the promise.  Talks behind their back about the false promise.
  30. When hearing of a false promise not offering to follow up on behalf of the aggrieved party – the complaint is actually a request
  31. Make (what turn out to be) erroneous or fake gestures/claims.  Not following up to explain hoping it ‘blows over’
  32. Not attending to the needs of employees to grow and feel that they are appreciated
  33. Making employees the villains when problems arise
  34. Happy/relieved to let good employees go as they were a threat anyway
  35. Overriding the thoughts and decisions of employees because ‘you know best’ and ‘you need to be seen to exert your authority’
  36. Bosses of bosses condoning and allowing bad behaviour because they are needed to be seen to support who’ve they’ve put in place
  37. Preferring to make snide comments sometimes the other party is not present rather than provide meaningful feedback.  It’s more funny and others may get a chuckle out of it
  38. Make comments/gossips behind people’s backs rather then confronting the real issue
  39. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating this is how you should have done it
  40. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating that you should have know this already
  41. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating that your not ready to be considered part of the group
  42. Not providing a welcome for a new employee – ignoring them, not offering to take them out if from out of town
  43. Allowing a contractor to be treated as a second class citizen and condoning derogatory comments about the contractor and to the contractor
  44. Believes their emotional well being is more important than employees and therefore it’s Ok to go off, get mad but not allow the same of employees
  45. Does not see that a complaint is really a request.  Will portray the complainer as just another moaner and whinger
  46. Says they will do something but actually using it as a tool to better their own position because it will cause failure for others
  47. Does not provide information.  “need to know basis’ is an anti-pattern
  48. Thinks nepotism is a good thing.  ‘My brother, my wife, my girlfriend can do this job’  implies arrogance and self interest
  49. Believes dissent to be a bad thing.  Can’t have employees injecting another opinion
  50. Believes a quiet meeting is a good meeting.  They are doing what I tell them
  51. Will use sex as a tool.  e.g. Women will use alluring and sometimes even crude gestures (touching) to cover weakness.  Men will resort to innuendo in a passive aggressive stance.
  52. Intolerant to failure.  Will not accept failure and will record it as a negative against an employee.  Promotes a culture of ‘It’s better to not be wrong’
  53. Encouraging a complaining culture by complaining oneself and not seeking to address the complaints of others and themselves. Laizez Faire attitude
  54. Congratulating bad behaviour like saying ‘They handled that tricky situation well’  ‘He’s a real political animal, not many can handle themselves like that’ – hiding an impediment actually
  55. Don’t think they need to get any better.  Doesn’t read books, attend seminars or give seminars.  ‘I’m a manager because I now this stuff already’
  56. Disrespectful use of nicknames without a rapport established, e.g. Hey Davo, Paulo.
  57. Brazenly takes credit for what others have found or created. Take it as their own and doesn’t acknowledge others.
  58. Will not thank someone for their work when they leave because they don’t like them.
  59. Worse, do not organise a leaving ceremony like everyone else gets to send a message.  Rather it says your heartless
  60. Not standing up for a colleague when you and others know that a wrong has been committed against that person
  61. Failing to be learn lessons and apply learnings from those lessons.  Often reviews are performed but it’s a lip service.  No tangiable outcomes arise
  62. Failing to maintain an improvement backlog.  A tangible way to track improvement rather than lip service and hope for the best
  63. Not being accountable to team goals and seeks to blame others when things go wrong
  64. Happy to perpetuate a blame and recrimination culture because that is the way it is and it’s normal
  65. Adept at performing the Cover Your Ass Manoeuvrer and then openly celebrating it and accepting plaudits for it
  66. Failing to be of service to employees, that is not practising Servant Leadership.  That is we need to look after the needs of others so that we may all succeed as well
  67. Allows a situation to fester out of a misplaced loyalty.  Related to the HiPPO syndrome.  Meanwhile ideas and alternatives are ignored.
  68. Casts those who provide suggestions, ideas and alternatives as disloyal villains of the HiPPOs
  69. Allowing the HiPPOs to take on jobs or roles for which they are lacking skill when others have the skills required
  70. Allowing HiPPOs to bury other ideas and accepting flimsy reasoning for allowing it to occur
  71. Allow traditional requirements knowing they are wasteful to the client because it means more billing hours. This creates disharmony for the client and the workers. Should use an Agile Contract.
  72. Using the requirements to shoehorn another product that isn’t needed. Taking advantage of customer ignorance, but it comes back to bite when the budget is absorbed and it doesn’t work.
  73. Assuming others do not have the ability to manage and condemning them for it
  74. Failure is Ok as long as it vindicates my own position
  75. Maintains siloes of information.  Doesn’t allow information to be shared between groups.  Doesn’t share information with team members.  Prevents good information from reaching others that could help them achieve their goals.
  76. Thinking that every problem needs to be solved by them negating/nullifying the capability of the team.  Arrogance.
  77. More generally thinking that employees have to be told what to do and must always ask what to do next.  Same theme as the previous, arrogance and assuming the team will not function without them
  78. Thinking burnout is a failure of the employee rather than a symptom of a bad system of work
  79. Thinking that keeping everyone busy by overloading is more efficient.  The busy work paradox.  Not Limiting WIP
  80. Thinking that employees do not need slack to learn new stuff, to recharge and to reconnect.
  81. Working longer than 8 hours a day thinking that your effective.  This is only short term, long term you’ll feel it
  82. Claiming that reading a document at home over dinner is chargeable to the client – greedy
  83. Resorting to snide comments as a way of dealing with a comment or suggestion that you don’t like
  84. Causing the health of employees to fail due to overwork or emotional exertion.  Some even result in death.
  85. Immediately criticizing the detail of a suggestion and therefore negating the validity of a suggestion as a whole. A Fear Response.
  86. Holds a meeting looking for ideas but then focuses on those that align with their own
  87. Admonishing in public rather than providing feedback in a private yet positive setting
  88. Maneuvering to covertly remove someone from a team via meetings and conversations and to then spring it on the poor unfortunate person.
  89. A derogatory comment designed to support a superior who feels challenged by someone else’s question.  Suits them better for their own goals and purposes.
  90. Sidelining or worse ostracizing introverts making their input appear less valuable
  91. Complaining about introverted behaviour, they should be more outgoing, rather than accepting people as they are and helping them grow and helping them to utilize their natural talent
  92. Related but more general, immediately discounting the thoughts of others because the opinion of the HiPPO counts more
  93. Upon seeing someone not tapping on a keyboard automatically thinking that they are slacking off.  I’m paying you to code not think.
  94. An employee doesn’t immediately understand a new concept or instruction and conveys this.  Subsequently this is held against them, they must be below par.
  95. Upon receiving new information or a new concept, silence is taken as acceptance.  Later on when something goes wrong as a result, it’s the always the employee’s fault.
  96. Not providing training and support for an employee who needs to improve in a weak area.  Better to move them on.
  97. Using and emotional release or outburst from someone against them, speaking ill-will of them
  98. Encouraging a Hero culture.  Heroes get stuff done.  Actually the reverse is true and teams get things done faster than Heroes.  Teams mean there is no weak link
  99. Similar yet different to be mentioned, playing favourites which results in others being favoured over others for the wrong reasons (mostly)
  100. Again similar, protecting some from consequences whilst others are not.  Overall, protection from consequences is not good.
  101. When listening we are actively looking to refute
  102. Doesn’t ensure a there is no weak link by neglecting to create an environment of cross pollination, cross training, knowledge sharing and mutual support amongst team members
  103. Confusing uncertainty with weakness.  Being certain implies arrogance and does let other opinions exist
  104. Thinking that talking to oneself (e.g. Rubber Ducking) is a weakness and saying something that will stop someone doing it like ‘Your going mad’.
  105. Admonishing others when they appear to show ‘weakness’
  106. Creating a stressed environment by stating at the start that you’ve only got one chance or your out
  107. Confusing silence with harmony.  Silence can mean artificial harmony and absence of useful conflict.
  108. Forcing consensus even when consensus is not really present therefore ignoring potential showstoppers
  109. Not committing to removal of obstacles like lack of information about requirements, not having the tooling to perform a job effectively, quickly and with quality
  110. Committing to performing work when you and everyone knows that something is not needed and is a wasted effort
  111. Committing to performing work when you and everyone else knows that there is not enough information to perform the work
  112. Disallowing others to seek information when information is lacking
  113. Is vengeful and seeks retribution when told something that doesn’t agree with them.
  114. Delivers information in a way that will invite a vengeful response in the future, generally untraceable to the previous incident(s)
  115. Barring employees from talking to customers because its seen that there should only be one funnel of information
  116. When hearing of a new improvement seeks to hide it or discount it because it would not suit their own purposes or damage their perceived standing amongst others.  Cites reasons to cover this up that ring hollow.
  117. Brings in outside consultants to tell them what the insiders have already told them and then chooses to ignore or rubbish the findings.
  118. Using email to relay news. Email is a copout for direct communication.
  119. Allow oneself to be exposed to Insider information (listed company) which results in strange decisions that favour personal gain at the expense of others.  Strangely congratulated if you can achieve this.
  120. Use of the excuse ‘Too busy’ – means there is a root cause being ignored
  121. Finding an excuse rather than a reason
  122. Related – using the excuses for not following up in a timely and respectful manner
  123. Creating excuses to create a barrier that prevents the real problem from being seen.  Other need to deal with the emotional obfuscation.
  124. Having the perpetual blind eye.  As long as it doesn’t effect me then why bother.
  125. Saying that we are running an Agile project but then carrying on like a traditional project manager and handing out tasks instead of allowing self organisation.
  126. Publicizing a project as being an Agile project and even writing articles about it when events like the previous dysfunction and many other wastes occur.
  127. Saying that they are Agile but not stating against which benchmark or not demonstrating principles from the Agile Manifesto.  Egocentric self assessment designed to validate oneself in front of others.
  128. Superficially labelling people causing them to be pigeon holed and not able to grow, they wont last long as employees and will move on by themselves.
  129. Using the above a tactic to passively remove someone who’s getting in your way
  130. Thinking the best way to change someone is to command them to change
  131. The second last one and almost the best, not apologizing for any of the above mentioned behaviours
  132. Finally, the best one, recognising any of the above and not doing anything to correct it.
 Here are some resources to help correct these.
  • Read Books – Marquet, Lencioni, Agile Literature on Coaching, Management 3.0, Emotional Intelligence
  • Coaching Courses – Esther Derby, Lyssa Adkins, Linda Rising
  • Training/Transformation Companies – Adapt By Design
  • Websites:
    • Lolly Daskal – good example on not being a sycophant from LinkedIn.com, she posts on inc.com as well
    • Christopher Avery writes on everyone taking responsibility
    • Juergen Appelo, inc.com, mile.com, HappyMelly.com
  • A fantastic video from Joshua Kerievsky on Anzeneering
  • Use twitter and follow these people
  • Use LinkedIn/Twitter to ask for help
  • Act your way to better behaviour.  Pick some items to improve on and recognise when those behaviours occur and try to take the right track rather than the old wrong track
  • Provide Life Coaching to help you and employees deal with life’s little struggles at work and at home


Best Posts for 2014

Reflecting back on this past year of blogging I’d thought I’d summarize the best posts of the year.  Some have been controversial and some have garnered a lot of interest.  I find the act of blogging helps me think through mental models.  They may be wrong and putting them up for scrutiny helps correct them or reinforce those models if mostly correct.

There was some 80 posts created this year.  Some of them are long at 2000 words or more and take a few hours to create.  Getting started on those can be difficult but then satisfying in the end.

The Most Popular

My review of L.David Marquet’s book Turn the Ship Around was the most popular mainly because my review was heartfelt.  The book really connected with me and the author also tweeted it and refers others to it for a summary.  My series on Personal Kanban was quite popular as well.

Best2014

My Favourites

Again, my review of Turn the Ship Around is a favourite. My review of a Lean Enterprise presentation by Barry O’Reilly and Gary O’Brien was more controversial but still earned a like from Barry O’Reilly.

The Controversial Ones

The review of Lean Enterprise got at least one visceral response.  I also wrote about my feeling of dysfunctional teams after seeing the Hangover Picture constantly posted on LinkedIn.  I feel this got criticized for the wrong reasons as those criticisms ignored the feeling’s of myself and others and negated them by saying that those feeling were not valid.  This is in fact poor leadership and disregards the role of dissent in correcting incorrect behaviours.  It reminds me of my policy on listening, in my Policies section, which I feel many people struggle with.

The Unloved Ones

I really enjoyed interviewing Tadhg McCarthy of Adapt By Design.  Culture eats strategy for breakfast as stated by Peter Drucker.  This interview should have received more exposure.

Honourable Mentions

There are some more reviews in the Reviews section of my blog.  Reviews of Slack by Tom DeMarco and Scrum Product Ownership by Robert Galen deserve a mention.  My blog also paid more emphasis of the human side of work.  This article at the beginning of the year is one my my personal best, admitting that we all need to be better.

Some articles on improving work practices were included this year.  I quite liked this one on the role of the Business Analyst in the Agile Team.  Being prepared to fail and recognizing that this is a valuable thing was touched on in this article on my experience with Test Driven Development.

Looking forward to a new year of blogging in 2015.

All the Best – Nick


Agile Journey Index Assessments now Available

My company, About Agile, is now offering Agile Assessments using the Agile Journey Index.  If you’re interested in starting your journey or just improving along the journey this is a great way to start and About Agile can help you along the road as well.

More information is available at the Agile Assessments page on the About Agile website.