Tuesday – Agile2019

What a jam-packed day! Sessions started at 9am, and I wrapped up the day attending Agile Tonight where we had a really powerful conversation about Diversity and Inclusion.

Full Spectrum Norms – Cheryl Hammond

I really enjoyed Cheryl‘s session because of the way that she framed various perspectives and how she provided actionable advice.

She opened with a story of how happy she was at the venue for Agile2018 because in addition to stairs, there was also a ramp. She has a preference for not walking down stairs, so when she’s walking with someone else, and they encounter stairs, having a ramp allowing the conversation to continue seamlessly.

This is one way to make inclusion seamless – something that is part of the system for someone to self-accommodate.

She covered that there are many, many dimensions for our differences, and we as humans have a lot going on – we’re n-dimensional. And, even if we “check the same boxes” as someone else, we’re still diverse because we’ve had different life experiences.

Diversities are a complex, adaptive system – just because we may think we know all the parts, we don’t know the sum of the whole. It’s a process, and we will always be working on it – creating safe spaces, experimenting and getting feedback.

Getting into some of the tactics, it’s helpful to remember that “it’s not about you” and to “not set the terms for someone else entering my space.” For example, let’s say that a team member has Celiac Disease and there is going to be a team lunch. This is not an opportunity for you to share your thoughts on celiac disease, ask about their digestive experience, etc. You don’t have to understand it to respect it. This is an opportunity for you to ask the person how their preference and accommodate it.

Next, don’t try to extend one to all. Let individuals speak for themselves. This is why psychological safety is so important. Create the safe space before it’s needed – for example, a team can begin sharing preferred pronouns now so that as the team makeup becomes more diverse, the behavior is a norm.

Techniques for inclusivity:

  • “Yes, and…” start by saying yes, which helps meet people where they’re at and accept whatever is true for us at this time and move forward together. You don’t need to dig deeper and pry, just take what is offered.
  • User Manuals – this technique is to create your own user manual to help advocate for yourself and help others know your preferences. Managers also create one. It’s a living document that is updated as needed. It’s reviewed and talked about respectfully in 1:1s. Cheryl calls out that this is an area for power dynamic matters – a user manual is not a set of commands or absolutes. It’s meant to be a document that shares, “if you treat me this way, I’ll be my best self.”
  • Strengths – leveraging assessments, like Strengthsfinder to help find strengths, which are also differences so that we can better communities and respect our differences. Strengthsfinder also helps us identify the “culture adds” we need to make to the team because what a candidate can add to the team culture might be something quite different. This is another where power dynamics matter – it can’t be forced because some people have had bad experiments with these type of assessments, it needs to be introduced as a choice.
  • Non-Violent Communication (NVC) – is a technique for how to uncover the other person’s unmet need. “Why do they think they’re asking for it?” “What is her boss asking her to do?” Feeling words usually have a need behind them.
  • Clean Language Questions – these questions have a relationship with NLP, in that we see things differently based on the cognitive model we bring to the conversation. The questions help leave the way that one is thinking intact. The questions are free of assumptions, they are not leading questions. An example is, “what would you like to have happen?”

Continuous Improvement – Let’s Find a Way to Make it Easy – Woody Zuill

Woody kicked off the session by sharing that he thinks a lot about the question “what are things that are getting in our way of effectively getting work done?” He shared a few things that he noticed, e.g. in 2013 when talking about Mob Programming, the approach was to “make it easy,” and “what kind of environment was needed for it to emerge?”

He shared the story of his first job, which was to water plants at a local nursery. His boss said that he had two responsibilities: 1) water the plants/give them the environment to thrive, which was an important job and 2) pay attention for ways to improve and take action. For the latter, his boss would ask him, “what do you think we need to improve?”

Woody then shared the stats from Atomic Habits, where a tiny improvement, just 1% a day, can have a compounding effect of over 37 times after a year. But what makes that difficult? We then did a sticky note exercise to generate ideas as to what are the barriers – responses include: fear, distractions, meetings, unclear goals, WIP limits, life and resources.

Why are these reasons so pervasive? We’ve had the same problems for years? Are they symptoms or are they problems? For example, if you have a cold and you wipe your runny nose with a tissue, did you cure the cold? No, you made yourself more comfortable and presentable, but the actual problem is hidden by addressing the symptoms.

Do we have the wrong focus? Is there a misplaced focus of management? We need to look at the system.

In order to figure out what system we’re in, we need to step out of the system, which can be hard because there are systems of systems.

Serendipity plays a role where success equals talent plus luck. It’s hard to know where the ideas come from, and we have the belief that the successes we have are based on what we did. Our limiting beliefs are necessary, but they can also limit us. We also need to mind the other many biases that we have.

So what can we do?

  • Use the Cynefin framework to figure out systems at your place of work.
  • Recognize that any improvement is good – at the very least, we’ll learn something.
  • We can practice making improvements – if we do it a lot, we’ll get good at it.
  • Turn up the good – instead of always focusing on problems, what’s going well and turn it up. Woody shared that the problems went away when he and his team “turned up the good.”
  • Remember that nobody gets credit for fixing problems that don’t happen, so we need to be careful not to incentivize the wrong thing – incentivizing problem solving, creates more problems.
  • Working harder vs. working smarter – a study found that those who are working harder are losing in the long run because they’re not gaining the skills to keep up.
  • Be the best and make it as easy as possible for everyone to do the best that they can possibly do.
  • Create a lofty, directional goal that can adjust if it turns out not to be a great goal.
  • Take advantage of all the brains that you got
  • Enhance serendipity – be around when good things happen
  • Stumble in the “right” direction – like steering a car, we can go a lot faster if we’re able to micro-steer
  • Take risks – act without knowledge, perturb the system.
  • Increase connectors to enhance serendipity
  • Be calm and model behaviors
  • Pay attention, sense and respond – good things happen if we pay attention

He ended with the paradox, “There is no magic, it’s all magic.”

After Woody’s session it was time for lunch, so I grabbed something on my way back to my room for a meeting I needed to dial into.

Build Your Modern Management Mindset: How You Lead for Agile Success – Johanna Rothman

Johanna led an awesome session on how manager’s need to build their modern mindset in order to support leading teams to agile success. She started with making the point that Managers need to manage themselves first – that we need to balance our needs with other needs and reduce the amount of blame and increase the amount of feedback.

When we blame others, we disregard them, when we placate, we disregard ourself, we believe that we’re super reasonable, yet we consider only the context, and we need to be more congruent of balancing ourself, others and context.

There are a lot of practices – project practices, work practices and technical practices. We as managers, seen to set the vision (the why and the what) and enable team members to figure out the how. We do not need to design the work environment. We also need personal integrity.

Some of the myths, traps and illusions she shared were:

Great managers make others feel great about the work. She shared McGregor’s Theory of X and Y Thinking.

She shared the following myths, traps and illusions for leading and serving others:

When Managers lead and serve Others they:

Great Managers lead the organization:

  • Manage for effectiveness (outcomes)
  • Lead with purpose
  • Create a culture of congruence, integrity and respect
    • Create a culture of trust
    • The social contract the organization (senior management) creates with everyone.

Where do Managers spend their time?

To create a culture of congruence, integrity and respect, a manager needs to 1) recognize that we each want something different from our work, 2) focus on the Why for the organization, and 3) eliminate ranking and comparison. These align very closely with Deming’s 14 points, specifically the ones highlighted below.

What are some of the myths, traps and illusions?

When Managers lead the Organization they..

Johanna then shared that the origin of many of the myths, traps and illusions is based in the “common” management thinking that Knowledge work == Factory Work == Slavery, which leads to problems in managing thinking: that divide and conquer works, inventory is good and cost accounting works for software.

Managers create and refine the culture – how people treat each other, what people can discuss and the reward system that is in place.

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” So, what can we do? We can start with ourselves to build congruence, empathy, integrity and respect within ourselves and the organization, be a servant leader to others and trust the smart people we hired. Also, we can focus on small changes and work on changing behaviors and beliefs, work for progress, not perfection and adapt our management/leadership to create an agile culture.

Agile Tonight – Diversity and Inclusion

Really enjoyed this session of Agile Tonight, discussing Diversity and Inclusion. Heidi Musser kicked us off with opening remarks of the current state of diversity in Technology, and how it’s changed over the last 40 years. Spoiler alert, the statistics are getting worse.

All the statistics can be found on the NCWIT.ORG website, and while the “good news” was helpful, e.g. having a more diverse team led to higher performance, the “bad news” really shocked me to my core.

In 2014, women held only 26% of computing occupations, down from 36% in 1991 (although, encouraging, that number has increased by 2% in the last six years). For women of color, the numbers are even more dismal – only 3% of them are held by black women and only 1% are held by Latinas.

More bad news that workplace dissatisfaction is causing us to lose the limited diversity that does exist. Women aged 24 to 36 are reporting greater dissatisfaction with their tech career prospects, and these women cite unsupportive work environments, a lack of aspiring role models and sacrifices in their personal life that outweigh personal gains.

Even though 74% of women in technology report “loving their work,” women are leaving their careers at a staggering rate. Over half of women leave their careers at the “mid-point,” which is twice the rate of men. Only 2% of women have actually dropped out of the workforce.

The good news is that there are ways to improve this, which is to create an ecosystem that leverages the inclusion advantage where top leadership are supportive and there is institutional accountability, and also improving managerial relationships.

We then participated in an exercise on how to combat our subtle biases and micro-inequities, like mispronouncing someone’s name. We talked about the Stereotype Threat, that actions will confirm a negative stereotype, Tokenism, where a few individuals are singled out, and Gender and Color Invisibility, where the message is “I don’t see you.”

Below are some of the other tips:

  • Ensure productive team meetings where all employees can contribute by soliciting the opinions of quieter employees during the meeting or afterward, intervene when someone is being interrupted or not getting credit by commenting along the lines of, “Let’s let ____ finish, and then we’ll come back to you.”
  • Listen and correct “personality penalties” by intervening asking questions like, “what do you mean by that exactly” to the person who appears to be penalizing. Subtle biases often result in women and people of color experiencing “personality penalties” more often than majority-group members. These include being labeled as “pushy, aggressive, or having a challenging personality.”
  • Share your stories and enlist more allies and advocates because stories, especially personal stories, motivate people to act.
  • Talk to other men (or majority group members) and make it okay to make mistakes.
  • Provide legitimate encouragement, e.g. to apply for a certain position or take on a certain role. It can go a long way to mitigate the stereotype threat.

I really appreciated the conversation and working session with those at the table and for Agile Alliance for creating the safe space to have this conversation.

1 comment on “Tuesday – Agile2019

  1. Thank you so much. Your summaries are excellent and always appreciated

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