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Values driven Impostor or heartless opportunist?

A Month of Being SELFLESS - Bestie's Challenge - Today's the Best Day

In the Commons today Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of being a serial opportunist, this struck a cord with me. When Boris deliberated over whether to join the leave or remain campaigns a few years ago he was accused of the same thing. Hedging his bets to get him on the “winning” team. His main personal ambition was to become the Prime Minister. He is competitive and driven.

Interestingly during my journey of many different organisations I see a similar pattern among those leading the evolution of ways of working. This change in an organisation normally necessitates new roles, strange new job titles, new responsibilities and for some a salary increase and a new found spotlight from those above.

These Agile transformations usually span all aspects of the organisation and often the future prosperity of the organisation depends on it. We often start to discuss how organisations have far less certainty in meeting their commitments to customers and shareholders and as such need to become more experimental in approach; a “learning organisation” is the popular new description i.e. understanding that we will never know everything. Achieving the vision is not guaranteed and even the strategic intent might not be correct. Terrifying.

Given the importance of this change in ways of working and the experimental nature of what’s required, this leap in culture and mindset; why is it so often that the changes made are done in such a fixed and absolute way? A hierarchy change, new roles, methodology roll outs, training and new tooling. Success can quickly become about the tangible output and less about the hypothesised outcome. Less about learning and experimenting and more about time spent, commitments made and cost.

It takes a pretty strong leader to stick to the values and principles, to value people and culture over processes and tools. Which brings me to my point. The role of the opportunist in the demise of the “agile transformation”. The senior or middle manager who notices the importance placed on greater agility, who has no real understanding or care for the principles, or the curiosity to make a change, and the selfless leadership style required. They just see the opportunity for greater importance placed on them, often financial rewards and a further step up the career ladder.

Being a leader in an agile organisation requires increasingly high levels of self awareness and the ability to adapt, to place high levels of trust on your teams. To give away credit when good things happen and to shield teams from negativity and blame when issues occur, allowing teams to reflect and improve.

It’s so very very different to how we have all been trained for years when managing people; it’s less about having direct “reports” , giving orders and being expected to know all the answers and more about having a duty of care over people. A responsibility to make it your mission to help them to be the best they can be and remove obstacles and support however you can.

Without the leader being driven by the agile values and principles, their sometimes controlling behavior can in fact smother the selfless, self sustaining culture you are trying to create. Lots of money is spent on new tools, roles and technology and it can feel that very little has actually changed. The culture remains unaffected.

Leadership has never been more important.

Next time a new role comes up that is aiming to help improve your agility and culture, ponder if it’s simply a promotion, a selfish act or if you truly believe in the values and principles.

I’d sooner have a selfless, self aware leader riddled with the impostor syndrome than a selfish, controlling opportunist.

Remains to be seen which one Boris is.

I’d love to hear about your experiences as leaders through change and how the roles and expectations are evolving. We all need to support each other in what can be a difficult and ongoing transition.

Quotes about Journey to truth (34 quotes)

Stop playing the game and start enabling your people


Having spent the majority of my career in large enterprises I have recently been pondering where loyalty comes from and who really cares about customers, brands and products and who is just playing the game using the organisations rules.


We talk alot about building high performing teams and it being people that make up a company but more and more we see conflict between the needs of the worker and the wants of the organisation and its share holders.


“Far too often the measures of success for the organisation are skewed too much towards the needs of the share holder and not enough for the customer and worker.”


I’ve worked with leaders in the past that had a notion that a high performing team could build any proposition, product or brand.  I do wonder how much we put the reputation of the leader and the brand ahead of the worker, too fixated on how we are perceived within the all too often short term goals and lagging indicators that we have set.


Whilst its not straightforward why we join organisations and has many facets (see Daniel Pinks work on Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – – ranging from career progression, learning opportunities, salary, values, technology etc etc) it is important to understand them. If we assume things incorrectly we may underestimate people’s tolerance for change. I’ve seen people join organisations and the product, team and location get changed assuming they joined for the role, salary and the brand.


“Leaders must become enablers and not controllers.”


With average tenures dropping and mobility increasing, organisations cannot take people for granted, inline with the agile values we must provide an environment where motivated individuals can do their best work.  Leaders must become enablers and not controllers. You cannot suggest that workers are ‘lucky’ to be part of the transformation, challenge at your organisation. It’s a two way relationship that needs clear benefits for both, making goals and objectives and value clear.


Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. The fifth Agile Principle focuses on the project team and emphasises the importance of trust, support and motivation.”


I have worked with teams recently that have done amazing work, caught up in a challenge, problem solving, great levels of team work, energy and creativity.  None of this was directly influenced by the organisation or the brand, the organisation benefited from the excellent work the team produced as customers loved the solutions.  This was tested as the team were not located in the corporate environment, when this changed the teams main comment was, it feels like work now.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”    Steve Jobs

We are in a world where there are so many opportunities in Digital that we need to try and understand what the phrase “it doesn’t feel like work” means.  Shoving brand values and tone of voice down someones throat, company values that clearly most leaders do not exhibit and enterprise bureaucracy will mean your most talented people will go somewhere else.


Professionalism, a desire to learn and loyalty to team mates will only be tested for so long by wider inefficiency and constant tinkering in enterprise companies before your top talent gets fatigue.


A well defined career ladder and impressive job titles remain at odds with alot of the recent approaches to work that focus more on intrinsic motivators, large bonuses where the bonus percentage gets larger the more senior you go will be uninspiring.


“A place where people understand the value they can add, rather than simply adding capacity to the delivery pipeline “


I was inspired in the past by the Virtuous cycle by Appirio, trying to bring together energised and loyal workers, focusing on meeting their needs and making it a place where people understand the value they can add, rather than simply adding capacity to the delivery pipeline

There is no ‘I’ in team but there is in Indispensable


In Simon Sinek’s video – A leader without a vision is a follower he speaks passionately about the leader’s responsibility to make the team they lead feel protected and safe.

Simon talks about the fact we should think of our teams as family – we do not get to choose our family, but we give them our undying love and support.  We celebrate their strengths and do not constantly point out their weaknesses.  Sometimes you let them fail and sometimes you discipline them and sometimes you let them go.  All we want for them is to achieve more than we achieved, we offer them support and protection.

Simon, as do I, strongly believes that this should be the same at work.  It’s even more unacceptable as we choose the people that we bring into our teams.

STOP saying our company is like a family, IT IS A FAMILY.  Make sure your team members can achieve more than you ever did.

The people matter more than numbers and customers.  Take the leap of faith that supporting your teams will mean they feel safe, they work hard, learn and achieve great things.  That in turn will lead to better products and services, happier customers and higher profits.  It just will.

Too often we still demand certainty in outcome in an uncertain world.  If we fail to achieve then we sacrifice our teams.

Stop identifying goals like increased top line growth for next year, start by aspiring to a company that will last 100 years.  We cannot predict the future but we stand a better chance of being around when we create teams that care for each other.  The best teams can create any product and solve any problem, this is very different to ‘any team can build my product’.

My team can build any product……very different to any team can build my product

Speed seems to be more important now than ever given the increased adoption of new technology, but this cannot be at the expense of the people creating and embracing that technology.  Technology will not just keep advancing, it needs people driven and motivated to do so.  Leadership or more specifically, servant leadership, has never been more important.

To go fast go alone, to go far go together

Intrinsic motivation needs to be understood.  With unemployment at a 42 year low and software craftsmanship and digital expertise in demand, the extrinsic motivations of money and competition will no longer motivate the team.  We must look to the intrinsic motivations of purpose, mastery and autonomy (as specified by Dan Pink).

With all that in mind when did it become OK at work to stop caring about each other?  For the task to become more important than the happiness of the person carrying out the task, for it not to matter at all who is even doing the task.  To become so fixated on a goal to complete a task for your business, that the duty of care for the people in your teams to be forgotten or ignored.

I find it unacceptable the so called leaders in large organisations who seem to pay lip service to peoples’ feelings, to people aspirations and desires for support and development, when it becomes clear that the only concern is for the job that needs to be done and for their own survival and reputation.

Once the tribe figure out that the leader will not keep them safe then we are all in danger.  The tribe starts worrying about it’s own personal safety, they even stop looking out for each other.

Don’t let that happen.  Lead by example.  First thing tomorrow, ask someone in your team how they are feeling, ask them what you can do to help them improve.  Ask them what they want to learn.



To innovate or to disrupt?


For years now we have been trying to shock leaders into action with statements such as “innovate or die” or “burning platforms” or “your industry competitors in 10 years time haven’t been founded yet”.

Whilst most still haven’t really grasped what it means to create and foster true organisational agility, we are shifting the goalposts again.

A few years ago, it was enough to do business with a few of the top right quadrant cloud SaaS vendors and setup an innovation hub.  Now it seems the only way to survive and gain an advantage on your competitors is to create the disruption yourself.

I must admit, the most inspired I have ever been is when my CTO stated that if you are expecting to be disrupted, why not seek out and create that disruption yourself?

There seems to still be a kind of arrogance in large enterprise businesses, in particular I’ve observed in retail.  A sense that we are still too big to fail and if we do tomorrow what we did yesterday, then we will still have high spending and loyal customers.

I’m being harsh, there is some great work that goes on under very challenging circumstances.  However, customers care little for legacy infrastructure and high levels of technical debt; they are more interested in software that makes for friction-less and valuable experiences.

So what am I jabbering on about?  I suppose it’s the fact that whilst sat at some recent “IT” conferences, I felt that although there is a world of opportunity out there, we only ever seem to be playing catch-up.  Talking about what could be possible, if only we had the time, money and capability.

Retailers always bemoan being one step behind their pureplay/digital/startup counterparts, in a constant battle to stay relevant.

I would suggest it’s time to be brave.  We need to accept that every single company will eventually go out of business, some faster than others, but all will fall.  Some will pivot business models, some will launch new brands and some will move into entirely new sectors.  Only Trigger from “Only Fools and Horses” would claim that it’s still the same broom.

I think it’s time to start looking at that broom and stop thinking about the process and materials taken to make the broom faster and cheaper.  Stop thinking about sweeping and start thinking about why we need to sweep in the first place.

When thinking about traffic congestion, Elon Musk decided to go down not up.  This took him on a journey to create the boring company, challenging each and every assumption along the way.  He had no real right and no real experience to question long standing rules and regulations, but we are all glad that he is.

We are on the cusp of another wave of change, often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.  Whether you believe it, all or some of it will touch our lives very soon and some already has; robotics, chatbots, automation (RPA), cryptography, block chain, distributed ledger technology, predictive medicine, drones, iOT, platform economy, AI, machine learning, human 2.0, Elon Musk….

As Matthew Griffen said: “Do you want to innovate or do you want to change the world?”

Answering this question in any business is crucial.  I know change is hard, I know transformation is years in the making but as leaders ask yourself this – if our company, our brand, our products did not exist, would anybody be worse off?

Grasp that and turn it into a vision.  Know why you exist, know what problems you are solving and inspire not just your customers but most importantly your employees.  Those teams that work in your innovation hubs don’t (in the main) come into work simply for the money.  They want to do their best work knowing that the work they do is meaningful.

In the same way coming in and playing with cool gadgets will not motivate many for long.  The snooker tables and bean bags are not the main requirement for innovation, they become symbolic of the culture you are aiming to foster.  One of trust, autonomy and experimentation.

The exciting but terrifying thing for most leaders in this new and ever changing world is that we cannot create a roadmap, set deadlines and set teams to work safe in the knowledge we will be successful.  A lot of ideas, however much we validate them, will ultimately not have the desired impact.  The behaviour of humans is changing.  The way we interact with the world and each other is changing.  So we must be open to experimenting and learning.

For those developing eCommerce solutions, voice could completely change the way you do business, it could even make the idea of a brand irrelevant. “Alexa, order me some batteries”.  People won’t ask Alexa for a specific retailer and possibly not even a particular brand of battery.  For those doing logistics, machine learning coupled with autonomous lorries and robotics could change all that you do.  This is no longer just interesting futurology, this is reality.

It’s a brave new world out there and one I am really looking forward to.

So ask yourself this, what’s your product or service equivalent to the broom?  Ask do we even need a broom?  Do we even still need to sweep?

Never waste a crisis.  Now is the time to make change.




Agile Coach or (Agile and Coach)



I recently started thinking about job titles.  Working in Agile and the transformation environment  means you see a lot of differing titles, each with a given objective and sentiment for the role holder…


Scrum Master – Utilise and teach the benefits of Scrum

Delivery Manager – Agile aswell but please just get things delivered and quickly

Agile PM – Erm get stuff done and be agile about it


The most popular currently seems to be that of an Agile coach.  I’ve also got caught up in this craze. Seeing Agile Coach as a promotion from a Delivery Manager or Scrum Master.


I think this was wrong and does the intention and importance of the role a dis service.


Park that for a second.


I also saw a trend 10 years ago in the difference within the unified process between Business Analyst, Systems Analyst and Solutions Architect.  At the time Solutions Architect was not a job title it was a project role. So a BA could take on a SA role for a given project.  This in theory was alluding to the T shape that we seen in agile.  Solutions design and not just a collection of use cases of functional requirements.


Sadly its human nature for us to take everything literally and within a few weeks we were hiring the job title of Solution Architect, this of course unsettled alot of BAs as they saw SA as a promotion.


I also see this now with Agile Coaches, recruiters encouraged to hire Agile Coaches and not Scrum Masters.  Scrum Master is also a role and in theory not a job title, a team should choose the framework and processes that make them most efficient so with that said we wouldn’t have a Scrumban Master or a Xanpan coach.


That all said take the agile word away and you are left with a coach, someone who possesses the skill to coach others.  Coaching is an extremely powerful skill and has to be taught and refined.  I actually do not know very many Agile coaches who have had any real coaching training or experience.  


To me this makes for a dangerous misalignment of role expectation and ability. I have worked with some Agile coaches who whilst they live and breath agile and can help teams deliver from a coaching point of view they have destroyed relationships.  So the process of doing the work is great but the softer human side is eroded as they lack the expertise and self awareness required.


My feeling is that those with an understanding of agile principles and the ability to work with teams to deliver and continuously improve how the work is done is very different to coaching individuals and teams outside of the context of the actual backlogs.  How to be more effective as a group regardless of the domain or product.  Some individuals will want this support some will not.


Perhaps question if your delivery focused team based Scrum Masters or Kanban practitioners are part of the digital/IT/product organisation and your coaches are a learning and development function. Coaching is a fantastic investment if supported and delivered effectively.  Else it’s an exhausting waste of time for the coach.


Approaches such as Management 3.0 and the thinking behind teal organisations have far reaching implications for organsiations way outside of simple IT delivery.  An interesting future lies ahead.


What do you think?

The importance of being human in recruitment


I’ve just had the privilege of going through the recruitment process with a few very different organisations and the experience of each was very different.

I started to wonder if some companies really truly think about how they recruit and how this affects the type of individual they attract, hire and retain.

From the ease at which you can make any written application, through to the medium you choose for the first human contact (email, phone, video call) to how you keep candidates engaged and motivated throughout the process.

The very best experiences I had, and I’m very lucky to say the roles I were offered, kept in contact with me throughout, understood me as a person, my motivations and my personal life and family considerations.

They were clear to keep thoughts, objectives and the process steps transparent. Understanding that any recruitment needs to be mutually beneficial for both of us and I need to know how I will benefit the company and vice versa.

Some HR teams seem very process focused, “we need a [skill]”, here’s 5 CVs, lets do a few face to face interviews and get them in and straight onto the project. In that regard even if you get lucky and get someone with the right mindset as well as the the correct experience this might not be the most engaging start for them.

I’ve also observed how a sluggish process where decisions and stages seem to happen in batches and with long lead times become almost symptomatic of the culture and process of the organisation, a limited number who are available and can make decisions and perhaps too much process and governance to allow agility.

In the worst of these cases the bulk of the recruitment process was outsourced to an agency. It was many weeks before I got to speak to the actual managers within the organisation. Very little was done to introduce the company.

Think in this situation what does this say about your focus on getting the right people? why would an agency understand your culture and required mindset better than your actual teams? if you feel like you are simply jumping through hoops to be sifted you will quickly lose patience.

I am a big believer in an agile approach, bringing the teams into the recruitment process, these new team members are exactly that and it’s fundamental you get the right people with the right attitudes, behaviors and mindset.

Run recruitment as you would anything else, with focus, with honesty and transparency.

Engage teams in the process, be informative, ask candidates what they will do when they are in the role. Make interviews collaborative, ensure the recruitment process places importance on the values of your organisation, if teamwork, ownership and respect are important then test for them.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior…..

London Lean coffee Holborn

Here you can find all the podcasts from our lean coffee sessions and the subjects discussed.
  •  November
Lean & Agile or Lean OR Agile
Agile and Marketing – planning and budgets
Scrum Masters and Stand-ups
Lean – So What!
Collaboration across development teams
Why do we still not talk about projects
  •  October
How to coach teams for true self organisation
Designers working in sprints
Existing research – how useful is it in validating a new problem?
When is it right to do a release?
  •  September
Skills mapping
Waste reduction
Coaching outside the team
  •  August 
Scrum Master or PM
Teams do well with cookies
Test Automation
  • July
Roadmaps good or evil
Measuring distractions
Finding a lean mentor
How to find co-founders
  •  June
PM vs SM vs DM
Reporting longer term progress
Risk Management
Testing regression and coverage
Agile conferences
  • May
Reporting on what has been tested
What is the minimum viable product
How far can we take autonomy
The hiring process within Agile

Standardisation to improve quality and consistency versus waste

Each morning I get up at 06:05.  I need to catch the 06:44 train and sit on the same seat as otherwise this affects my OCD.

To ensure this happens I have the below milestones:

06:05 Woken by alarm

06:15 Finished shower

06:25 Finished crumpets and drank some tea

06:33 Dressed

06:38 Cleaned teeth

06:40 Opening Front door (I live pretty close to the station)

This got me thinking as each morning given this tight time window I never really drink much of my tea.  I think even if I did have time to drink it all I would then need to go to the toilet on the train, this is a whole new world of fear.

So this half drank cup of tea, this always feels really wasteful.

We decided to experiment, what if we only made half a cup of tea?

We encountered several issues.  Firstly making half a cup isn’t standard so getting the right combination of sugar, milk and brewing time to achieve the same taste was very difficult.  Also it was easy to forget this non standard way of working and simply just make a full sized cup.

Even if we had a smaller cup, would it be possible to achieve the right taste.  Making 2 cups of different sizes with differing amounts of ingredients should be possible.  Its simply a case of the manufacturing process being Lean and constantly improving.  I’m not sure my wife yet gets it and thinks im mad but the amount of tea we waste each week does distress me.

What to measure

A great discussion with Eric Ries and Alistair Croll on what things we should measure and how this influences behaviour.  We should be open and honest about failures and successes.  Vanity makes us feel better in the short term but means we will not be able to react, or not know how to react, to changes in our metrics.