True Agile Teams and Trains

This is the fourth post in the Practice Makes Permanent series. You can get caught up by reading the first, second, and third posts. 

Any SAFe® implementation relies heavily on one of the 10 Critical Success Factors: Real Agile Teams and Trains. Let’s break this conversation down to make it easier (small batches, right?) and talk about the “Real Agile Teams” part (the next blog in this series will address the “and Trains” part). The “Agile Teams” article does a great job of describing cross-functional, high-performing teams.  

What is a real Agile team? In this post, I hope to avoid the standard message about “what is a team?” and instead share some thought-provoking ideas about what a true

is. 

True Agile Teams

I came to a discovery a few years ago: there is no such thing as an Agile team.

Think about it. The Agile Manifesto Principle 12 states, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” To me, this means that a team never arrives at true agility, but is constantly striving toward agility. Sure, you can call your team Agile. But, as soon as your team believes they have “arrived,” they have begun to stagnate. True agility is only found when we’re eager to learn what’s next to improve, and when we realize how much room for improvement still exists.

If you’ve ever rowed a boat upstream then you know what happens when you stop rowing—you go back downstream.  There is no steady state. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. This is the reality of relentless improvement and of the spirit of Agile Manifesto Principle 12. Your team(s) may have made incredible progress towards agility, but until you realize it’s a never-ending journey, your path forward will always be in jeopardy.

Agile Teams

Empowered Teams

Leaders often tell me that they want to empower their teams because they believe that empowered teams can deliver more value. That’s a valid belief, but leadership often doesn’t understand that our natural state is empowered. In his book Turn the Ship Around Captain David Marquet stated:

“We’re taught the solution is empowerment. The problem with empowerment programs is that they contain an inherent contradiction between the message and the method. While the message is ‘empowerment,’ the method—it takes me to empower you—fundamentally disempowers employees. That drowns out the message.”

In other words, to empower teams (and team members), we must first acknowledge that we have disempowered them through the systemic constraints we have created. If you want true Agile teams to constantly strive toward agility, the secret is to get out of their way. Create an environment with complete clarity on what needs to be done, then trust the competency of the people you have hired to do the right thing.  As Marquet stated, “We realize that we don’t have the power to give these talents to others, or ‘empower’ them to use them, only the power to prevent them from coming out.”

So how do you empower teams?

Remove Constraints around Team Members

In Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal observed, “For people who perceived themselves as skilled workers, being recast as mindless cogs in a larger machine was degrading.” Businesses hire the best and the brightest they can possibly find, but in many cases, these skilled people are used as the “mindless cogs” in a machine. They’re asked to do small, separated components of work without being allowed to see or add value to the system overall. In many cases, this is due to a lack of clarity. The teams are given only enough information to solve the task at hand, but not enough to apply their shared intelligence to solve the overall problem in the best way possible.

To begin correcting this, apply SAFe Principle #9: Decentralize decision-making by providing clarity of mission. Here is an easy way to get started:

  • Select a decision that typically requires sign-off or approval by management or leadership. Deploying to production is a common example.
  • Ask the person that approves this decision what they are using as criteria to make the approval decision. 
  • Work with the teams to create a framework that will give the approver the confidence that the decision is being reviewed correctly.
  • Provide the information that the approver has to the team so that they can make the decision by combining what they know (local context) with the approver’s vantage point. 

Let the team make the decision but allow the approver to see and hear the decision as it’s being made. I like using  Marquet’s approach to this practice by having the team state something like: “We intend to deploy this package to production. All functional, security, and compliance tests are passing. All code has been checked into version control.  Appropriate code reviews have been completed. The rollback process is in place and has been tested.” Using this statement of intent is a great way to allow teams to make the decision while keeping the approver in the loop. Over time, the approver will gain confidence in the team’s ability to correctly determine this decision.

Now you can move on to the next decision.  And the next, and the next…

Change the Culture

Apply SAFe Principle #8: Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers by building a culture of psychological flow. 

Psychological flow is a concept stemming from a 1975 study by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who measured test subjects’ happiness metrics at random times throughout their days. Csíkszentmihályi discovered that people are at their happiest when they are in an environment of:

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  • A distortion of temporal experience, as one’s subjective experience of time, is altered
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding also referred to as autotelic experience

Boiling this down, people are most happy when faced with a clear challenge that’s not too difficult to achieve and is intrinsically rewarding. 

If you read my previous blogs, then you know that I’m also a motorcycle road racer and instructor. I have experienced psychological flow many times when in a really good battle with fellow competitors. We all know the finish line, we all know the risks (some better than others), and we are hyper-focused on achieving our goals. This is my happy place. And one of the best parts of this flow is the ability to talk with my fellow racers, who previously wanted to beat me to the finish line but now want to share the experience, after the race. 

There are many ways to improve team culture, but incorporating psychological flow is a critical component.  We all hear about “self-organizing teams” in Agile, but this doesn’t mean the teams self-form. It means they are formed with a purpose and given specific challenges to overcome with minimal guidelines. Leadership’s motivation is to remove impediments from their team’s path even if the leaders are the key impediment. 

If you want to have real teams striving toward agility, one of your first steps is to ensure they are properly challenged. Don’t bring them long lists of requirements. Instead, bring them a problem to solve or an opportunity to embrace. Then step back and watch the engagement begin. Culture changes every day. Take purposeful steps to create the culture needed for real Agile teams.

Crave Fast Feedback

We’ve all heard the need to “fail fast.” At this point, it’s almost cliché. But does it mean we set the teams up so that they will fail quickly? That sounds very demotivating. What fail fast really means is to create an environment where it’s safe to fail. We set out on paths that seem valid, but we continue to look for qualified data that helps with the pivot-or-persevere moments. 

Two things need to happen when we hit those pivot decisions. One, celebrate that we were able to truncate an invalid path before pursuing it too far. Two, incorporate the learning from this pivot so that we’re better prepared to find more successful paths and narrow in on the right specifications. For more on this topic, review SAFe Principle #3: Assume variability; preserve options.

Real Agile teams crave feedback that’s accurate, timely, and useful. Teams need fast feedback to quickly fail and invalidate paths; otherwise, they begin to lose focus and validated direction. Do you want to see your teams striving towards agility?  Create an environment where feedback continuously flows to the teams.

“Team Leader” Is an Antipattern

Well, at least in the conventional sense.  Team leads typically have one or more of these traits:

  • They’re the person who has exhibited the most skill
  • They’ve been with the company the longest
  • They have the most application or product knowledge

But are those the right reasons to look to this person for leadership? 

All of us have worked with the “rockstars” of product development. They always have the answer, they can solve just about any problem, and they seem to know how everything works. But why don’t the rockstars create a rock band? Shouldn’t those with that much skill, experience, and knowledge try to bring others up to their level rather than continuing to stand out from the crowd? Solos are great, but we all want to hear music from the whole band. 

safe for teams

Let’s look at a much more successful team lead approach, the Kaizen leader. In my experience, the whole team thrives when its leader is focused on continual, relentless improvement. Since leadership should be a role that is held as needed (rather than a title), team leadership can switch from one person to another as new improvement opportunities arise. Create a team environment where this is part of the culture and becomes part of the team DNA.

Getting Started

When talking about enterprise transformation with internal change agents, I often hear “that won’t work here” or “our culture just doesn’t work that way.” You know what? They’re right. Not with the current culture or reality.

However, remember that culture changes every day. Our job is to implement some of these team approaches to create a culture where transformation can really thrive. Teach, learn, and focus on the fifth lean principle of Pursue Perfection: “Perfection is like infinity. Trying to envision it (and to get there) is actually impossible, but the effort to do so provides inspiration and direction essential to making progress along the path.” To pursue perfection in a team is to be more excited about the journey than the destination. Teach your teams to view the pursuit of perfection as a worthwhile but never-ending journey of improvement.

I hope this post helps you to look at things through a different lens. Look for the next post coming soon that will add some of the same thought-provoking concepts applied to the ART.

About Dwayne Stroman

Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe Program

Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in SAFe – Business Agility Planning

Safe Business Agility Podcast Cover Image

When people think of intelligence, most associate it with IQ. But emotional intelligence is actually a better indication of how a person will succeed in their career. In this podcast episode, Jennifer Fawcett, SAFe Fellow and semi-retired Agile coach, consultant, and speaker joins us to discuss emotional intelligence, how it can help individuals and organizations to succeed, and the role it plays in SAFe for an effective business agility transformation in an organization.

Click the “Subscribe” button to subscribe to the SAFe Business Agility podcast on Apple Podcasts

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When people think of intelligence, most associate it with IQ. But emotional intelligence is actually a better indication of how a person will succeed in their career. In this episode, Jennifer Fawcett, SAFe Fellow and semi-retired Agile coach, consultant, and speaker joins us to discuss emotional intelligence, how it can help individuals and organizations succeed, and the role it plays in SAFe.

Melissa and Jennifer discuss topics including:

  • Where to start with emotional intelligence
  • Soft skills versus hard skills
  • Coaching people around emotional intelligence
  • How emotional intelligence affects flow and outcomes in a SAFe implementation

Follow these links to Jennifer’s blog posts:

Hosted by: Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile, Inc. In this role, Melissa guides the marketing team, helping people better understand Scaled Agile, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), and its mission. Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn.

Guest: Jennifer Fawcett

Jennifer Fawcett - empathetic Lean and Agile leader

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner, coach, speaker, and consultant. A SAFe Fellow, she has contributed to and helped develop SAFe content and courseware. Her passion and focus have been in delivering value in the workplace and by creating communities and culture through effective product management, product ownership, executive portfolio coaching, and leadership. She has provided dedicated service in these areas to technology companies for over 35 years. Learn more about Jennifer on LinkedIn.

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Looking for the latest news, experiences, and answers to questions about SAFe®? You’ve come to the right place. This podcast is for you, the SAFe community of practitioners, trainers, users, and everyone who engages SAFe on a daily basis.

Melissa Reeve:

Welcome to the SAFe Business Agility podcast recorded from our homes around the world. I’m Melissa Reeve, your host for today’s episode. Joining me today is Jennifer Fawcett, SAFe Fellow and semi-retired Agile coach, consultant, and speaker. Thanks for joining me today, Jennifer. It’s so great to have you back on the show.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Ah, thanks, Melissa. It’s always great to be back.

Melissa Reeve:

So in this episode, we’ll discuss emotional intelligence, how it can contribute to success for individuals and organizations, and the role it plays in SAFe. Let’s get started.

So, Jennifer, most people associate intelligence with IQ, a number that represents a person’s reasoning ability. But you wrote in your blog post on scaledagile.com, that emotional intelligence is actually a better indicator of how a person will succeed in their career. Help us understand that.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. Well, let’s start with the “what.” What is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence represents a series of emotional competencies that manifest in how you show up in the workplace, how you show up in personal life, and in society. It’s your ability to recognize and control your emotions. And given that every enterprise is impacted by massive changes in the marketplaces these days, these emotional competencies and behaviors affect the human aspect of change—that natural resistance to change and the ability to inspire everyone around the shifts and direction, visions and value. And even more important, they impact our social networks: those Agile Release Trains and the complex interactions that happen within those networks that help grow your career and the careers of those around you.

Melissa Reeve:

So where do you think the most important place to start is when we’re talking about emotional intelligence?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah, I think the most important emotional intelligence place to start is, in my view, with self and self-awareness. Now, once you intimately know yourself, who you are, and you’re able to reflect and manage and grow your self-awareness on how you show up and the impact that your words and your behaviors and your moods and your actions have around all the humans that you interact with, you create the ability to not only positively advance and succeed in your career, but you can also help those around you as well.

Melissa Reeve:

And I can really see how self-regulation and self-awareness can contribute to emotional intelligence. What about things like your ability to relate to others? I tend to think of emotional intelligence as the ability to also read the room and respond accordingly.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Well said, and so true. And this pulls on the empathy aspect of emotional intelligence. This is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and truly understand what’s happening from their perspective. What are they feeling? What are they thinking? What are they seeing? And what do they care about? And what don’t they care about? So reading the room is part of that. Watching for body language, a tilt of the head, your eyebrows furrowing, or the shoulders sinking or leaning in. So back to knowing-of-self, in order to be able to read the room and show up with empathy, recognizing and managing your own emotions creates that foundation for you to be able to show up with empathy and really understand from others’ perspectives.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s the ability to hold this space for others’ perspectives too to really come in. So some people might say that these emotional intelligence competencies are soft skills, but you call them hard skills. What do you mean by that phrase?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. Well, for one, these skills are tough to embody, because you have to be vulnerable as well as emotionally transparent and available. And not everyone wants to lead from the heart or become vulnerable in leadership. Now, Brené Brown says this well in her Dare to Lead book. She calls this our armor. It’s that armor that’s based on fear and how we use our thoughts and emotions and behavior to protect ourselves rather than help others.

And even more difficult is that some folks aren’t even aware of how their lack of emotional intelligence and their own personal armor is directly impacting those around them. It’s this lack of awareness that creates an even more challenging situation, because if they’re not aware that there’s even a lack of emotional intelligence, then there’s not much desire to work on anything. This, in my mind, creates a very powerful coaching opportunity.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah. I can really see that. And as somebody who probably needs coaching, I would really welcome the opportunity for somebody to coach me. And then as somebody who’s also seen other people who could use coaching, I can see why it could be a coaching opportunity. Having said that, it seems like it could be very delicate. How would you go about clueing somebody into the fact that they’re not leading with authenticity?

Jennifer Fawcett:

It is very delicate. And thanks for saying that you’d be open for coaching. I need a coach every day.

Melissa Reeve:

We all do.

Jennifer Fawcett:

And I think we all do. So where to start? Well, I’d start with helping them be more self-aware and reflect upon their behaviors. Now, having them understand where they are from both an emotional standpoint and a physical standpoint at any given moment is part of the skill. That skilled coach can help coach this in quite a few ways. If that person, being you or me, is open to coaching, one opportunity is to use a method called the “Red Zone, Blue Zone” method. This is from Joe Jurkowski’s and Jim Osterhaus’s book, Turning Conflict Into Opportunity. Now, this method asks the person to stop and call a timeout, take a deep breath, and remove themselves from the situation, or do whatever it takes to recalibrate.

Now, obviously, this happens in a one-on-one environment. It could happen on a break or a natural pause to the event that’s happening. The more real-time you can make this, the better chance you have at the person recognizing what’s happening. Now, the next step would be to help them locate themselves and their emotions at that moment. Are they in the red zone of being focused on themselves and closed off and defensive or opinionated? Is that armor up? Or are they in the blue zone of being open-minded, curious, listening, and showing up with humility? Reflect, ground, and learn from those moments. They create that foundation for self-awareness that can help with how they can regulate their emotions.

Melissa Reeve:

I hadn’t heard of the “Red Zone, Blue Zone,” but it’s very much similar to something called conscious leadership. And in that context, they say something’s either above the line or below the line. And above the line is exactly as you described; it’s open, honest, and willing to connect with others. And below the line is closed, defensive, and committed to being right. So that seems like a really powerful technique when somebody’s open to that. What happens if somebody isn’t aware of what’s going on?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. This is where the magic of coaching comes in as well. If the person is perhaps not aware, I like to use a technique called “the mirror and the window,” and you’ve probably encountered this in your work or your personal relationships as well. Now, the mantra is always to pick up the mirror before peering through the window. In this scenario, the coach can model vulnerability and authenticity and perhaps say, “Hey, I have never been in a situation like this, where I didn’t personally contribute problems like the ones we’re seeing here. It’s easy to look out the window and say, ‘The problems are out there,’ but perhaps we can reflect on this situation and recognize how we are being part of that system and we’re helping create this problem.”

Now that was a little role play. So, the reflection being the mirror, you might get all kinds of resistance with this role play. You might get denial; you might get comparison blame. But it also creates an opportunity to continue to reflect and unpeel the behavior until it becomes recognized. And that person begins their self-awareness journey. Now, don’t always expect immediate results. Just like changing our organization takes time, coaching a change in someone else’s behavior takes time as well. Now, once they know that folks are advancing their emotional intelligence is when they genuinely ask for help and they’re open for feedback.

Melissa Reeve:

Well, I’m glad you mentioned the part about not expecting immediate results. I was just talking to somebody in a coaching position the other day. And he was really discouraged because he was trying to do some coaching and he was getting a lot of resistance to the coaching. And the discussion we had was, this does take time. And interestingly enough, that same day I was on LinkedIn and I saw a little meme, I guess, is what you call it. And it said, “No really stands for next opportunity.” So, if somebody’s giving you a no, just think in your mind, “Well, alright, there’ll be a next opportunity for me to bring this up again.”

Jennifer Fawcett:

There always will be. Yep. Thank you.

Melissa Reeve:

So this all sounds absolutely amazing, and it sounds like you’ve done this in the field. Can you share with our listeners an experience from the field on how showing up with emotional intelligence can impact success or inhibit a digital transformation?

Jennifer Fawcett:

I’ve seen it from so many different aspects. And I can think of many emotional intelligence experiences that impacted or inhibited that change. Now we’ve all had that colleague that walks into a room or meeting with their own agenda. And because of that agenda and the lack of emotional intelligence represented from that agenda, everyone in the room or that meeting suffers. Either that agenda changes to the person’s agenda, or they bully their way out, or they bully their way in without respecting, hearing, or opening up to the other diverse views in the room. And this leaves others feeling lost and neglected and disrespected, and most importantly, not heard. And also the feeling that that precious time that they had allotted for that meeting or event had been wasted and hijacked.

Melissa Reeve:

I recognize that. And I describe it as almost feeling like the air gets sucked out of the room. There’s only room for that person and their agenda.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. Energy vampires.

Melissa Reeve:

There you go. So where else have you seen this?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Well, I’ve seen it a lot at PI Planning, where that single Business Owner or stakeholder didn’t accept the plan. And it’s terrifying because, after two and a half days of passionate planning over five time zones, the teams came up with a plan to deliver against the vision. But, that plan didn’t seem to match what that stakeholder’s personal objectives or goals were. Now that stakeholder started to ask things like, “Hey, it looks like these features are just going to land a week or two or an iteration or two after the PI boundary. Can’t you just pull them in?”

Now, this could have been better if there was a negotiation around scope, but prior to that moment, there wasn’t. Now this frustration and that lack of trust and overwhelmingly helplessness and disappointment in the room were really obvious with the teams, and it caused a lot of delays. Now they re-planned and they eventually renegotiated and got to a plan, but in reflection, there was a huge opportunity for that Business Owner to be more involved, interact directly with the teams and the other stakeholders during planning, and most importantly, trust that the teams did everything they could based on what they knew to deliver against that vision.

Melissa Reeve:

Oh, that sounds painful [laughter]. So what about leaders? And leaders, I feel like have a special role when it comes to emotional intelligence, because they have that positional authority, but they also have a responsibility to not use that in a harmful way.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. With authority comes responsibility. So here’s another one that might sound familiar, that you could relate to based on that little conversation. Now, many of us have seen a leader or Business Owner that has made a commitment on behalf of an organization without effectively socializing that commitment and equally important, doing effective capacity planning or road mapping with their teams. Or even worse, they come in sideways with a new direction, without the opportunity to effectively collaborate on cost-of-delay and that ultimate value to the business with the other stakeholders.

Now, this generates somewhat of a top-down, pathological or bureaucratic leadership model that makes the people who are creating or developing the value feel like they’re in a no-win situation. Feels like they have no control over their destiny. It’s constantly going to change. Somebody’s always going to come in sideways. And that everything’s a lost cause. And guess what? Most of those initiatives either fail to deliver, or they miss the mark from a customer perspective because that type of behavior causes a whiplash. Employment motivation gets low. It creates waste in the system because people start to complain; they start to gossip; they start to commiserate with each other; and the goal becomes uninspiring and disconnected from the values to those social networks. And this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah, you can’t see me, but I’m sitting here nodding my head because I’ve just seen this play out so many times. And it just feels like the trust starts to erode, especially in an Agile organization, because you are saying that you value the input of people and you value their capacity. But what you’re demonstrating is something completely different.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Right. And those social networks are so delicate. It’s the emotional intelligence that I like to call the glue that keeps people together, that keeps people wanting to work together and evolve towards the highest level of value that they can deliver to their customers.

Melissa Reeve:

So these are all just amazing examples. And you talked a little bit about PI Planning. I’d love to hear how emotional intelligence and that competency applies to other aspects of SAFe and how they can affect flow and outcomes.

Yeah. All of emotional intelligence relates in some ways to SAFe. But let’s talk specifically about some of the SAFe competencies and some of the constructs and how they connect. Let’s start with a Lean-Agile Leadership competency. Leaders set the example. They enable the evolution of emotional intelligence and they model all of the emotional intelligence competencies so that our development value streams can evolve. Both their business agility competencies and their emotional competencies. Now, if we don’t consider the human emotion, the inspiration and motivation aspects of change, we can inhibit flow, and people shut down and lose their motivation. And thus, that jeopardizes providing value to our customers.

Melissa Reeve:

Well, I could see that for sure. And while we’re on the subject of our customers, it seems like emotional intelligence is vital in connecting with customers.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Absolutely. Connecting to the customer involves all of our Agile product delivery and enterprise solution delivery competencies. Plus, the design thinking skills to listen, reflect, empathize, and connect with the people that we’re designing those solutions for. It puts the customer first. And this means going deep into the empathy competency of emotional intelligence to use our service orientation mindset to foresee, recognize, and exceed our customer needs. Now, if we can evolve the empathy competency in all aspects of product and solution delivery, then we have the opportunity to excel beyond our competitors in delivering value and continue to thrill our customers.

Melissa Reeve:

So, it seems like there’s a lot here, and I know I’ve read your blogs out on the scaledagile.com website. Do you want to talk for a minute about your blogs?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah, there’s more, and I do explore some of the additional elements of the connection between emotional intelligence and SAFe in part two of my emotional intelligence blog series on the Scaled Agile website.

Melissa Reeve:

And I’d encourage anybody to go out and find those two blogs. They’re great reading for anyone. So these are amazing perspectives to apply to the whole organization. What advice do you have for individuals like myself who are trying to evolve their emotional intelligence competency?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Just like we said from the beginning, start with you. Really cherish yourself, allow time for self-reflection, self-work, and to recharge yourself. Tap into the outcomes of your retrospectives and your team activities and take feedback and show your gratitude for those giving you feedback. So integrate emotional intelligence workshops with leaders and teams and start with self-awareness and self-regulation. This will help build trust so that you can go deeper and go deeper into those more sensitive competencies, like empathy and those social skills.

Get a personal coach or find a practice that helps you reflect and learn from your behaviors. Practice “the mirror and the window” technique with your folks and yourself; role-play it. Personally, I like to spend time in nature. I like to hike. I like to play music and practice yoga. I also rehearse. I videotape myself so I can see how I show up. It’s horrifying, but it works.

Melissa Reeve:

I get it. [laughter]

Jennifer Fawcett:

Now, these are some of my self-awareness techniques that help me reflect and grow. And others might have different practices like religious practices or our belief networks and coaching groups that can help them with self-awareness and growth as well.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah. And I want to take a moment here, just a pause because as I hear this, it makes intellectual sense to me. And I’m putting myself back into a time where I had meetings nonstop from 8:00 in the morning, till 6:00 at night. I was maybe working from 6:00 in the morning till 9:00 at night. And this whole part of self-awareness got lost. It got squeezed out. And so, I’m just curious if you have any guidance for people in that situation. How do you make this a priority?

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. You do have to make the time. Block out your calendar, grow that internal and external coaching network. I tend to use a lot of friends and family in that internal and external coaching network and colleagues from the past. Now, coaches can help with all aspects of emotional intelligence and they can help provide the tools and techniques for self-awareness and self-regulation and for practicing empathy. Now, all the coaches I know bring their own unique self to their environments. So ensure that you’re investing in coaching for yourself and your people. Now in a previous career, I was a release manager and my leader brought in a release manager coach for me. And at first, I was really taken aback. I thought, “Well, why do I need a coach? I know what I’m doing.”

Melissa Reeve:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer Fawcett:

But after a few sessions, I realized that she wasn’t there to help me with the practice of release management. She was there to help me reflect on all the other aspects of my behavior and help demonstrate how everything I did impacted the environment and the social network that I was in. I’m so grateful for that leader for investing in me.

Melissa Reeve:

Prior to this recording, I was in a meeting and we were talking about feedback, and most people in that meeting were so hungry for the feedback. It is that balance of vulnerability, yet, wanting the feedback in a safe way. I can see why you’re grateful for this leader who invested in you and provided a safe way for you to receive the feedback you needed to hear.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Yeah. Creating that type of network provides the power of that safe space so the people can always come back and practice and share ideas and concerns and grow without being judged or having fear of getting that feedback.

Melissa Reeve:

So it seems like creating a community of practice would really also create that safe space.

Jennifer Fawcett:

You bet. Creating that community of practice around the emotional intelligence competencies is a beautiful way to get going. In the latest Leading by Example module that Scaled Agile released, one of the most cherished outcomes was a cohort that trusted each other and was willing to share their deepest challenges with authenticity.

Melissa Reeve:

I really admire the work that’s been done in the Leading by Example class. And I have firsthand seen a palpable shift in leaders who’ve taken that class. So, Jennifer, you have done an amazing job here today just sharing your perspective and your advice on emotional intelligence. I feel richer for having spent this 20 minutes with you and hope our listeners do as well.

Jennifer Fawcett:

Aw, I do as well. Thank you, Melissa. It’s always a pleasure to be here.

Melissa Reeve:

And thanks for listening to our show today. Be sure to check out the show notes and more at scaledagile.com/podcast. Revisit past topics at scaledagile.com/podcast.

Speaker 1:

Relentless improvement is in our DNA and we welcome your input on how we can improve the show. Drop us a line at podcast@scaledagile.com.

Practical Tips for the New RTE – Business Agility

Safe Business Agility

Release Train Engineers (RTEs) play an important role in aligning the organization and maintaining it during PI Planning. In this episode, we talk to Kimberly Lejonö and Carl Starendal, both former RTEs and experienced Agile coaches, who share their tips for RTEs just getting started in their role. And we’ll dive into some questions we hear from RTEs in the field around inspiring change across teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and managing the flow of value.

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Release Train Engineers (RTEs) play an important role in aligning the organization. In this episode, we talk to Kimberly Lejonö and Carl Starendal, both former RTEs and experienced Agile coaches, who share their tips for RTEs just getting started in their role. We’ll also dive into some questions we hear from RTEs in the field around inspiring change across teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and managing the flow of value.

 Topics that Kimberly and Carl touch on include:

  • PI Planning preparation and execution
  • Maintaining alignment during the PI
  • Supporting cultural change
  • Metrics, and what not to measure

Hosted by: Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile, Inc. In this role, Melissa guides the marketing team, helping people better understand Scaled Agile, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and its mission.

Guest: Kimberly Lejonö

RTE, project leader, and scrum master

Tapping into her background working as an RTE, project leader, and scrum master, Kimberly brings a high-energy and curious mindset to affect change in others. She loves connecting with the people around her and unlocking their potential to help organizations move in their desired direction. Connect with Kimberly on LinkedIn.

Guest: Carl Starendal

Carl Starendal

With a background in game development and a decade of hands-on experience at the center of global Lean-Agile transformations across multiple industries, Carl co-founded We Are Movement, an Agile and Lean advisory team based in Stockholm. A highly regarded trainer, advisor, and facilitator, he is a passionate advocate and resource for organizations throughout all stages of the Agile journey. Carl is recognized internationally as a speaker on leadership, Agile, and product development. Find Carl on LinkedIn.

We’re Giving More Than a Donation for Pride Month

I wanted to share a learning moment I and my colleagues at Scaled Agile had recently. June is Pride Month, and some employees requested that we modify our logo to include the rainbow. This request led to an internal debate about whether altering our logo was a trivial act or a meaningful symbol.

People raised valid points. “Others are doing it. Why aren’t we showing our support?” and, “We don’t do enough externally to support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) community, so changing our logo feels like an empty gesture.” Ultimately, we decided not to modify our logo but instead encourage an employee-driven campaign that the company could share on its social channels.

Personally, I saw the request to alter our logo as a non-issue. Here’s why: As an openly gay male executive at Scaled Agile, I lead one of our largest global regions. No one has ever questioned my capabilities and I’ve always felt accepted. As a leader here, I have opportunities all the time to lead by example. And I consistently get feedback from employees that they appreciate my approach. People who know me, professionally and personally, know I don’t have a “work Brendan” that’s different from my “personal Brendan.” My customers know this too. I’ve always been proud of this and I feel totally supported in this regard at Scaled Agile. 

Scaled Agile participates in Pledge 1% Colorado, and every year we donate a significant part of our time and profits to lots of good causes. While we haven’t yet focused on the LGBTQIA+ community, we do give back to many other underrepresented communities through volunteering and donations. Few companies of our size have matched our commitment to giving back. Our company was founded by a strong team and we’ve never wavered in our support for the gay community.

Early on in Scaled Agile’s existence, we chose to hire the best talent. And we ended up with a large and enthusiastic LGBTQIA+ employee base. I’m here to say that you can find a place to hang your rainbow hat here with us. Fostering a welcoming workplace where LGBTQIA+ people feel safe, supported, and trusted is giving back, and it’s worth getting loud about. I’m fortunate that I’ve always found these qualities in my employers; I vet them in that regard. Providing an environment where LGBTQIA+ people can grow their skills in a welcoming way is worth more than any donation we could make to an LGBTQIA+ organization. 

Many young LGBTQIA+ people struggle and wonder whether they’ll have a safe future. Showing them that we can thrive and choose whatever career path we want is very important to me. There are LGBTQIA+ adults who go to work every day living a tale of two selves: they are fearful, and rightfully so. When people are forced to hide who they are, they miss out on the right to be their authentic selves, and out of preservation, they show up as a different self. I’ve seen the pain this causes. I’m committed to continuing to play a strategic role in growing this company so that more people can enjoy a safe, fun, and respectful workplace. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I think this is the best giveback we can provide.

I’m a big proponent of providing donations to communities in need. You hope your money goes to the right people, at the right time for the right reasons. And you trust that the organization is using your funds wisely. But controlling your contribution to the LGBTQIA+ community by hiring us, no questions asked, and providing us with an amazing, supportive team of colleagues and customers, elicits a tremendous feeling of pride in me.

It can be risky for leaders like me to pen posts like this because they’ll stick with you forever. But leading by example means being vulnerable. We should celebrate who we all are, together, as well as the fact that our company is having a big impact by offering more than just words or donations. I’ll participate in developing our more concrete LGBTQIA-focused initiatives, and in the meantime, we’ll keep on giving.

About Brendan Walsh

Brendan Walsh

As an active member of the Colorado tech startup community, Brendan has enjoyed growing some of the most successful Colorado-based companies for 25 years and counting. He lives in Denver, along with his partner of 16 years, Aaron. The two have had the privilege of living abroad for several years and always looked forward to bringing their life experiences back to Colorado. Their four-legged, rescued son, Rex, rules the house—just to be clear.

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Next: Three Lessons I Learned in My First Year as a Product Owner

Scrum Master Stories: Improving Team Dynamics for Better Productivity

Scrum Master Stories

I’m the scrum master for several teams at Scaled Agile. Throughout my time here, we’ve had team members leave the company. We’ve hired new team members. And we’ve reorganized around value, forming and re-forming new teams. During these times of change, we’ve needed ways to keep the teams motivated and working well together. 

I’m pretty fortunate as a scrum master in that my team members will tell me what they need—and they’re very vocal. There were certainly some direct conversations where they said, “Hey, we’re losing out on the interpersonal connections with other team members. The dynamic is changing. We feel like things are changing.” I appreciated the team giving me those very direct cues for what to focus on and how to find ways to maintain our team dynamic.

We have to know each other. We have to trust each other. We have to have good communication. It’s like a relationship; it takes a lot of work. It’s not something that just happens in a week. We made it through those times of change. The team sort of stabilized, which is nice to see, and now we’re in a place where we want to try and push a little bit further. So, we observe relentless improvement. We never just sit back and say, “We’re done getting better.” There’s a lot of giving and take and push and pull, but it’s important to make sure that your team members know they’re being heard and listened to. And that we’re all working toward a common objective. Those elements have been really crucial to getting the team’s buy-in and making sure they’re motivated.

Patrick Lencioni talks about vulnerability-based trust as being foundational for a high-performing because it gives team members the ability to ask for help and admit mistakes. For team members to trust each other, they need to be seen and heard. As a facilitator, I can create opportunities for that to happen. I lead by example to show a genuine interest in the lives of our team members and try to understand what motivates them. When preparing for a team meeting, I like to reserve 5 to 10 minutes in the beginning when there’s no pressure to make progress on the purpose of the meeting. Rather, it’s time reserved for maintaining our team dynamic. I’m not into American football, but I’ll ask my teammate questions about the team in her Zoom background. Recently, we heard a funny story from a teammate telling us about his “I turned 50” trophy on the shelf behind him. These moments help us see and hear each other, which in turn strengthens our trust and ability to work together as a team.

There are lots of things we can do to promote a sense of pride in our teams. During a recent reorganization, we allowed team members to choose their team names. One of our graphic designers was so inspired by the new team name, he created a badge that we include on any documents that our team uses.

Friendly competition is great to bring a team together (games are also a sneaky way to check your team’s understanding of a topic). We’ve played trivia, Family Feud, Jeopardy, Kahoot games, and even had an Olympic-themed PI Planning where teams could compete to win points. We gamify our hackathons and have competed in cultural diversity simulations. Each of these activities is designed to give the team something to rally around other than their day-to-day work and reminds them that they can accomplish more when they work together.

About Sam Ervin

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC)

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC) and serves as the scrum master for several teams at Scaled Agile. His recent career highlights include entertaining the crowd as the co-host of the 2019 and 2020 Global SAFe® Summits. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Sam lives in Denver, CO, where he enjoys CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting.

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Next: Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe

Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe – Benefits of SAFe

Welcome to the final post in our series on learning networks. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the power of informal learning networkshow informal learning networks emerge, and how to uncover these networks in your own organization. In this post, I’ll explain how to connect your learning networks with SAFe®.

Benefits of SAFe

I like to think of these learning networks as essential tools in the toolbox of a SAFe enterprise as it works to create a continuous learning culture. Formal events are valuable, intentional, and complement a shift from formal to informal learning opportunities. Creating learning—or serendipitous—moments catalyze a change in mindset with curiosity at the forefront.

A Learning Mindset

Everyone is always learning, all the time, and creating a continuous learning culture is paramount to acknowledging that. 

The informal learning networks I’ve been describing align nicely with the three dimensions of a continuous learning culture.

  • Become a learning organization. Formal and informal learning networks can help you get there. Informal learning networks are a grassroots-level way to create a learning organization, without anyone actually realizing it. 
  • Create an innovation culture. Do your teams have the time and space to work on different, unique things and learn from each other? People in these networks are meeting, learning, and innovating together.
  • Cultivate a relentless improvement mindset. People in these informal learning networks are curious and always looking to get better at what they’re doing. Relentless improvement is how they think and part of who they are, and they’re meeting, learning, and improving together. 
Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe

Creating a continuous learning culture is about more than learning how to code in a new system. People want to learn how to coach their leaders, how to mentor people, how to share what they’ve learned, and how to become lifelong learners in the process. And this culture enables people in a Lean-Agile enterprise to solve challenges behind the scenes. In my last post, I wrote about how people in informal learning networks aren’t interested in recognition. They’re passionate about learning new things and applying what they’ve learned to the enterprise. They seek out others with the same mindset, and that’s how the learning mindset and culture grows which is better for any organization and its success without doing much.

How SAFe Promotes Learning Networks

The fact that an organization has adopted SAFe in the first place is a catalyst for promoting these learning networks. So, where in SAFe do these learning networks appear? And where are the opportunities for informal learning networks to emerge as enterprises adopt SAFe, business agility and sustain their transformation over time? Let’s do some exploring.

Communities of practice

The best communities of practice (CoPs) I participate in don’t have a full, formal agenda. Instead, they leave space for thoughts and ideas to surface. CoPs don’t exist for people in similar roles to get together once a month with a guest speaker. Rather, they exist to organically create tremendous learning opportunities and thriving social networks. 

Before I left my last enterprise, I was an SPC at the time, and I started a CoP for all the SPCs across the organization. There were a lot of us, and I’m still active in a few informal learning networks that started from this CoP, as well as other CoPs that crossed organizational boundaries. Many informal networks start from the most casual conversations and events, some with just a few people, and expand from there—within and outside the organization.

Benefits of SAFe

Continuous learning culture

Fostering a continuous learning culture isn’t about checking boxes, bringing in external trainers, or transactional learning. It’s about tying these elements together from formal and informal events. And I remember being part of an organization that was great at this. 

One time in particular, there was a fairly large internal Agile conference organized in one of our Texas offices. As a speaker for this event, I got to meet so many other coaches and agilists from business units that I didn’t even know existed in our enterprise. It was an amazing experience. The event launched numerous social networks that turned into learning networks for me—many that I’m still part of. Other times, less-formal events would just emerge. Events like unplanned coaching clinics we’d spin up to help associates discover growth areas that they could focus on within their role. A lot of mentoring relationships even grew from some of these. Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of available learning networks to lean into. Once I joined them, my traditional perspective about having to go outside of my organization to learn just disappeared.

IP iteration

The innovation and planning (IP) iteration is a perfect opportunity to build and expand informal networks. People typically have more time and space to explore and focus on something other than their day-to-day work. Oftentimes, we see leaders try to take this iteration off the schedule and go directly from one PI to another. There isn’t a pause for innovation or learning or preparing for the next PI. This is why I think the IP iteration is non-negotiable and should be a promise that all leaders make to their ARTs.

I’ve seen so many learning networks emerge during IP iterations, including from hackathons. After the hackathon demo, people that are curious about the outcome and want to lean in and help take it forward, often (quite informally) start a learning network.  Maybe they put some stories on a backlog. Maybe they decide to extend the network to more people outside of their teams and ARTs. That’s exactly how these networks start and grow.

What’s so great about learning networks is that you can meet with anyone from anywhere internal and external to your organization. You can create a protected space where people can connect and find new ways to improve their skills. Everyone can learn together from practicing SAFe.

Informal Learning Networks: Find One. Join One. Start One.

I participate in a number of informal networks. Some of them originated from past enterprises where I worked. Some of them originated from Agile conferences. Some of them originated from other formal facilitation groups that I’m part of. But they all share a key characteristic: the only constraints that exist are the ones that we may place on them ourselves.

At one time, I had four mentors that emerged from my learning networks. And from each one of those relationships, I created new, informal learning networks. I couldn’t wait to keep sharing what I learned, including practicing new skills. I wasn’t the only one who had external mentors, so I got to learn from others in the networks too. By joining all these learning networks, I sharpen my skills, and extend them in areas where it used to take me twice as long to do something. But now that I’ve learned from others, I can work smarter. The biggest benefit? It doesn’t actually feel like work when you’re part of a learning network.

In the first post I wrote for this series, I described the moment when I shifted from being a transactional learner to a lifelong learner after my leader told me to, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” In your quest to be a lifelong learner, I expect that many of you are already part of an informal learning network—you probably just didn’t have a name for it.

I challenge and encourage you to find someone in your enterprise who’s interested in the area that your learning network is currently exploring. Invite them to collaborate with you. Although these networks are informal, they’re still open to everyone.

Here’s my advice around finding, joining, and creating a learning network:

  • Be curious.
  • Seek out a learning network. Find out how it started and what members are learning about. I can almost guarantee you won’t find a calendar entry for it.
  • Join a learning network. But not the first one you come across. Find one whose members are exploring and learning something you’re passionate about.
  • Start a learning network. All of us have topics that really excite us. What’s the one thing you spend your weekends learning more about? And how can you contribute your knowledge, expertise, and experience to help others learn? Start a learning network by bringing what you know into your daily collaborations at work. Chances are once you start sharing what you’re learning, people will come to you.

I truly believe that learning networks are a best-kept secret in organizations. Primarily because they catalyze learning and help organizations cultivate a continuous learning culture. What will you learn next?

About Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile and an experienced SPCT, Lean-Agile coach, trainer, and facilitator. Her work focuses on continuous learning, building fundamentals, re-orienting around principles, and helping clients—from senior executives to developers—build networks and communities that support their transformations.

View all posts by Audrey Boydston

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Quarantine and COVID-19: Beware of Burnout

Quarantine and COVID-19

COVID-19 has affected all of our lives, and I’m sure its impact will be felt for quite some time. Working from home part-time is not so new for many of us, but working from home while sequestered full-time is something a lot of us have never experienced—and it’s forcing us into a new way of working.

Initially, I found myself wrestling every day with this new way of working. For example, when does the work day end?

Here was my routine pre-COVID19.

First, I had a policy that I would check my email three times per day: once in the morning, just before lunch, and just before leaving for the day. This way I could stay focused on my work, but still have a good cadence for anything new that needed my attention and synchronization. When I first sequestered, I had moved away from that and was always checking and immediately responding to my email. I then jumped around between tasks or requests without focusing and completing anything: very wasteful. I have since corrected that.

Second, when I left work, I would physically shut down the computer, write some notes down about what I had accomplished that day, write down a few more notes about what I would like to accomplish the following day, and perform an introspective on what I completed that day.

Finally, I would shut off the lights in my cubicle, say good night to my coworkers, physically leave the building, get in my car, and drive home.

In January of 2020, I left my role in the federal government and started working as a consultant, and in March, COVID-19 quarantine set in. The ritual I was committed to suddenly stopped. No traveling every day to work, no consulting or teaching face-to face classes, nada.

I had no routine for this new way of working.

Then I happened to come across an article, “5 strategies for combating WFH-based burnout.” I realized I needed a new routine.

It made sense: I needed to get back to what I was doing and bring some order back to my life. I realized that if I treat the end of each day as I did when I commuted to work, it becomes easier to define my workday.

So, here are my recommendations for building in some work from home (WFH) routines:

Work From Home
  • Set up an office area that is your work area.
  • Set up office hours and have the discipline to adhere to them.
  • Set up a commuting-to-work routine before you go to work.
  • Put on your professional persona (work clothes, etc.) during your time at work in your work area.
  • Set up a leaving-work routine as you transition home.

I now mimic my routine at the beginning and the end of each day.

Fortunately, I have an office space at home with a door. That door is a very powerful signal to my brain, and I use it to help begin and finalize the end of my workday. I open the door in the mornings to start the workday, and close the door in the evenings to end it. In our new working world, find a metaphor that signals the beginning and end of your workday.

Leaders and managers, please take note: set up the same type of routine to preserve your sanity, and exhibit that lead-by-example behavior for your knowledge workers. Better yet, solicit and publish quarantine agreements from your teams. This will help shape the environment for them to be successful. Let them know it’s OK to be away from work during non-work hours.

I know everybody has a different situation in this crisis, so try to find what works for you. The intent here is to find a personal routine where we can mentally leave and arrive at work. I believe this way of working will be the new normal for many of us, and we need to balance life and work for the foreseeable future.

We’re all in this together.

About Joe LaTorre

Joe LaTorre

Joe LaTorre is a Senior Enterprise Agility Coach at Agile Rising (a Scaled Agile partner) and a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) candidate. He’s a proactive leader experienced in integrating enterprise vision and strategy with effective deployment of Lean-Agile teams.

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Agility and Corporate Culture – Value of Predictability – Agility in Business

Safe Business Agility

Learn how to weave agility throughout your corporate culture, why predictability is even more important than increased production from the Agile Coach and Trainer in this podcast episode and answer listener questions around DevOps and assigning business value.

Click the “Subscribe” button to subscribe to the SAFe Business Agility podcast on Apple Podcasts

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SAFe in the News

How to Weave Agility throughout Your Corporate Culture

By Marco Nink

Full article
Most listeners will be well aware of the benefits of adopting agile. According the Version One’s 12th Annual State of Agile report::

  • 71% of companies have used agile to manage changing priorities
  • 66% use it to give initiatives better visibility and
  • 62% have seen improved time to market

While most business leaders said agile is a crucial method of delivering products to market and staying ahead of the competition, a recent Gallup survey indicated that most companies don’t appear to have the culture to support this.
The survey interviewed over 5,500 American and 4,000 and asked them about the tools and processes as well as the mindset in their organization. Organizations who responded affirmatively to an agile culture rated high in eight cultural attributes:

  • Cooperation
  • Speed of Decision Making
  • Trial Tolerance
  • Empowerment
  • Technology Adoption
  • Simplicity
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Innovation focus

Getting a shared mindset is key to any SAFe implementation. Learn how to get started building a shared mindset at scaledagile.com/mindset.

SAFe in the Trenches

We discuss why predictability is even more important than increased productivity in a SAFe transformation.

Audio CoP

The Audio Community of Practice section of the show is where we answer YOUR most frequently asked and submitted questions. If you have a question for us to answer on air, please send it to podcast@scaledagile.com
The two questions we answer in this episode are:

  • Why is DevOps is toward the end of the implementation roadmap?
  • Why is business value assigned during PI Planning and how is it helpful to the business?

Hosted by: Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile, Inc. In this role, Melissa guides the marketing team, helping people better understand Scaled Agile, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and its mission.

Hosted by: Joe Vallone

Joe Vallone is an experienced Agile Coach and Trainer

Joe Vallone is an experienced Agile Coach and Trainer and has been involved in the Lean and Agile communities since 2002. Mr. Vallone has helped coach several large-scale Agile transitions at Zynga, Apple, Microsoft, VCE, Nokia, AT&T, and American Airlines. Prior to founding Agile Business Connect, Joe Vallone served as an Agile Coach at Ciber, CTO/CIO of We The People, and the VP of Engineering for Telogical Systems.

Scrum Master Stories: Building Relationships

Scrum Master Stories: Building Relationships

Not that long ago, we had a transition in leadership on our team. Our product owner at the time was taking a sabbatical and we were in the process of finding a new one. It was challenging for me as a scrum master to make sure that the team felt grounded and engaged during that time of transition—oftentimes teams lose their sense of direction when big changes happen. But that challenge was then rewarding when the team came together to meet our PI objectives, which included releasing two new courses to market and updating others and having fun in the process.

To keep us on track, we focused on our shared goals. We co-created our iteration goals and reviewed them consistently throughout the iteration to remind ourselves what we were working toward. To keep the team dynamic healthy and strong, I filled a treasure chest with prizes to use during our daily stand-up. The team member who could act out the best emoji animal of the day got to open the treasure chest and pick their prize. This game helped keep things light during the transition.

There’s more to being a scrum master than facilitation, process, and team efficiency. We have the ability to make connections with our teammates and our team members and help them through difficult times. To make sure the team had what they needed, I leaned heavily on the great group of scrum masters that we have at Scaled Agile and pulled from their different viewpoints about team engagement, leadership through uncertainty, and healthy team dynamics. I really cherished those relationships during that time—they inspired me to stay strong for the team and served as my support network in  keeping the team moving forward.

One of my key takeaways from that experience was to trust your intuition. Trust that the relationships you’ve built can impact people in a positive way and get them through something that’s really hard.

About Madi Fisher

Madi Fisher - scrum master for the Information Technology and SAFe® Collaborate team

Madi is the scrum master for the Information Technology and SAFe® Collaborate teams at Scaled Agile. She believes in the power of people and what they can accomplish as a team. And she loves being the glue that helps teams stick to a common goal—all while having fun. Madi’s secret sauce mixes the spirit of collaboration, a shared vision, and being customer centric.

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From Boots to SAFe: A Veteran’s Career Move

From Boots to SAFe - A Veteran’s Career Move

In 2006, I enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Forward Observer. Basically, that meant I spotted artillery rounds to ensure they landed on targets. Every time I neared the end of my contract, I reenlisted to avoid facing the fact that I had no idea how to translate my experience outside of the military. What was I supposed to do: walk into a prospective employer’s office and say that I was really good at land navigation, and ensuring close air support and artillery rounds hit targets? Yeah, not so much.

So, I changed my job to a Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent—think Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), FBI, or Secret Service but for the Army. I figured that my expertise in areas like interrogation, crime-scene examinations, digital forensics, crisis negotiation, protective service operations, and undercover and surveillance operations would definitely transfer directly to non-law enforcement jobs in the civilian world. Again, not so much.

So, time for plan B. I took what I knew, retired from the military, and got a job at a bank making just about minimum wage. With 10 years of leadership experience, I was barely providing for my family. When my 401k was just about empty, I decided I needed to find a career that could help me give my family the life they deserved.

Making the transition

This isn’t a unique story. Servicemembers looking to get out of the military face two big challenges. Either they can’t commit to leaving or—if they do commit—their roles in the military don’t translate to civilian occupations. Which means they end up in dead-end jobs. The stress adds up: veterans holding cardboard signs asking for help and money appear on every corner, substance abuse/recovery facilities are filled with green duffle bags, and even worse, veterans are committing suicide. There’s a scary statistic cited in a recent report that in 2017, nearly 17 veterans died by suicide each day. It shouldn’t be this hard for transitioning freedom fighters. 

But here’s some good news: shifting to a position in an Agile environment can help open doors for veterans, relieve some of that stress, and provide a lucrative career. Remember that dead-end bank job and my determination to find something better? I found it as a Scrum Master at Scaled Agile, and the skills I’ve learned here translate almost perfectly to military roles.

In this blog post, I’ll explain how the roles within the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) correlate to military positions. I relied on my background and experience to translate the roles into terms aligned with the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and the Special Operations community, but veterans worldwide can relate to this.

Agile teams

When you mention Agile teams, most people think about software developers congregating in incubator garages across Silicon Valley. While these folks can be pretty Agile, I personally think that U.S. military teams are the most Agile because they’re on the ground making life-changing decisions instantly. These teams take the most up-to-date information and intelligence and iterate on the plan. Likely, this plan started with a conversation, moved to some sort of slide deck, then to the teams who practiced it using mock cities, sand tables, shoot houses, and other high-speed planing techniques—all to all be derailed by an IED, small arms fire, or chasing terrorists down an unexpected tunnel system. It makes me think of the famous quote often attributed to Dwight Eisenhower: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

In the military especially, we need Agile leaders who don’t get stuck by analysis paralysis, but rather who can prioritize, execute, and coach their team to get the job done. Aside from the life-and-death implications, the only big difference between working in the military and working in an Agile environment would be that Agile encourages working at a sustainable pace. We want to ensure predictability—always burning the midnight oil creates an unstable and unpredictable environment.

Within SAFe, Agile teams are the foundation of and critical to any Agile transformation. Fortunately, Agile roles translate easily for transitioning veterans in part because Agile teams are essentially a patrol. Using the basic makeup of a patrol, you have a radio transmitter operator (RTO), team leader, pointman, and the gunners on each side. 

From Boots to SAFe - A Veteran’s Career Move

The RTO is essentially the Scrum Master. This is the person who provides clear and concise communication organization-wide, and removes impediments for the Agile team if it can’t on its own. The Scrum Master has a wider role as well, but I’ll cover that later in this post. 

The pointman is most compared to the Product Owner. This person represents the customer on the team and helps the team prioritize its work, guiding it to deliver value that’s aligned with what customers want and with the organization’s goals. 

The remaining members of the patrol are considered the Agile team. Because they’re the folks with the intel on the ground, they know what needs to be done to achieve the mission—similar to what’s called the Program Increment (PI) Objectives in an Agile environment. The Agile team can take the priorities from the Product Owner, provide realistic feedback on what is actually achievable, and complete the mission. 

To be successful, Agile teams and fire teams need leaders who can put the team/mission/people above themselves. Leaders provide the intent, the motivation, and the way to get people on the team to act.

Frameworks

In military environments, leaders are responsible for defining the concept of the operation in time, space, purpose, and resources (ATP 3-21.8). The Operational Framework greatly supports that by defining associated vocabulary and a way to organize. 

In a civilian workplace, leaders are responsible for the same successful outcomes, especially in Agile environments. SAFe is one approach enterprises use to support their transformations and provide full transparency across the entire organization. There’s definitely a learning curve associated with SAFe, and understanding the colloquialisms and jargon is key to a veteran’s transition in any workplace.

To illustrate this, I labeled applicable areas of the SAFe Big Picture with common military terms. Use your mouse to zoom over each image for a closer look.

SAFe 5.0 for Lean Enterprise

The SAFe Big Picture has three configurations—Portfolio, Large Solution, and Essential. These translate to Division, Battalion, and Company levels. 

Within Essential SAFe, there are key positions on the left side of the Big Picture—the Agile Team (which consists of 5–11 people) and two specialty roles: the Scrum Master and the Product Owner. Correlating these to military roles, the team is the squad or team, the Scrum Master is the RTO, and the Product Owner is the pointman. 

SAFe 5.0 for Veterans

Also in Essential SAFe, above the Agile Team layer, are three additional roles: 

  • The System Architect/Engineer, which is your S2 or company-level intel shop
  • Product Management, which is your Company Commander
  • The Release Train Engineer, who’s in charge of keeping the Agile Release Train (ART) on the rails, closely relates to the Executive Officer (XO) 

Multiple Agile Teams are part of the ART, which is a company-sized element of people navigating the Agile world. The ART has many mandatory events. To kick off a Program Increment (PI) or deployment—which is a set duration of time, usually a quarter of the year—all members of the ART attend PI Planning. This is where all teams on the ART provide the PI Objectives to the company and plan each of their iterations. 

In the context of an Operation Order (OPORD) within the US Army, here’s how Agile works:

  1. Situation can be rolled into the PI Objectives
  2. Mission can be rolled into the PI Objectives
  3. Execution is how the Agile Team operates—it can use Scrum, XP, Kanban, Design Thinking, and other techniques to satisfy the Customer (taxpayers)
  4. Command & Control happens throughout the entire delivery pipeline by means of Daily Stand-ups, Scrum of Scrums, Product Owner Syncs, and other meetings, which focus on consistent communication and updates.
  5. The Sustainment phase of the OPORD directly relates to Built-In Quality and the Architectural Runway.

The double diamonds representing Design Thinking on the Big Picture basically represent sand-table planning and shoot house for the actual mission. Design Thinking allows team members to diverge and converge thinking to release the right product at the right time. 

On the bottom right of the Big Picture is the SAFe Program Consultant (SPC)—the change agent who leads all levels of an organization through a Lean-Agile transformation at scale by training, coaching, facilitating, and mentoring. This servant leader plays a critical role by applying expert knowledge of SAFe, and most closely aligns to a Warrant Officer.

Why SAFe?

One of the biggest reasons to go from boots to SAFe is the doors it can open. There are more than 300 Scaled Agile partners, and countless veteran-friendly enterprises undergoing agile transformations—including government contractors and U.S. government entities. As a veteran, once you understand the terminology, your opportunities in the Agile space as a Scrum Master, Product Owner, Agile Coach, Release Train Engineer, SPC (and many others) are virtually endless.

Get started: paying for SAFe Certifications

Taking a SAFe course and earning a certification are the first steps toward jump-starting your career in the Agile space. And there are ways for veterans to get financial assistance.

VR & E program

Through eBenefits associated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), eligible Veterans and Service members can apply for either Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) benefits or Education/Career Counseling. It’s simple to apply; just follow these steps on the VA website:

VR & E program
  • Log into your eBenefits account.
  • Select “Additional Benefits” from your dashboard.
  • Select “Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program.” Be sure to read the program information, update your contact information, and apply for either the “Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program” or “Education/Career Counseling.”
  • If you’re deemed eligible, you’ll be invited to attend an in-person orientation session at the nearest VA Regional Office.

Servicemembers with a disability that began or became worse during active duty and who haven’t yet received a service-connected disability (SCD) rating, don’t need to wait to apply (see VA Form 28-0588 for further instructions). Additionally, ill or injured Servicemembers who haven’t yet received an SCD rating don’t need to wait to apply. Servicemembers expecting a discharge other than dishonorable and who possess a VA memorandum or Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) rating of 20 percent or more—as well as Servicemembers currently going through a Physical Evaluation Board—may be eligible to receive VR&E services.

Just ask

Many of our 300+ Scaled Agile partners that provide SAFe training also offer military discounts. All you need to do is lean forward in the foxhole and send an email to these trainers to find out. Remember, you can catch more bees with honey, so be nice and polite when asking for a discount.

Check out these other helpful links to learn more about SAFe, courses, certification, and partners:

About Clint Gershenson

Clint Gershenson

As a Scrum Master for the Learning and Certification team at Scaled Agile, Clint thrives at enhancing capabilities across teams by combining his expertise as an Agile coach at multiple technical companies with his experiences as a 10-year U.S. Army veteran. He’s also a family man who’s had the pleasure of watching Frozen 200+ times and the Grinch 100+ times with his young son and daughter.

View all posts by Clint Gershenson

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