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Michael Spayd on Coaching the Agile Enterprise

Noel Wurst: Hello. This is Noel Wurst with Skytap. I am speaking today with Michael Spayd. Michael's going to be speaking at the Agile 2014 Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Monday, July 28. It had a really interesting sounding session, and I just wanted to learn a little bit more about that session and some of the topics that may come up during it. 

Michael, how are you doing today?

Michael Spayd: I'm doing well.

Noel: Great. 

Michael: Thank you for hosting this, Noel.

Noel: No problem at all. Your session, again, on Monday, July 28, is titled "What would it mean to Coach an Agile Enterprise?" I noticed that the first sentence presents a huge challenge in enterprise level software development today. In your abstract you say, "Enterprise agility is both a hugely popular aspiration and a widely misunderstood buzzword.” That comes up a lot in agile, with the ability to “do agile” in so many different ways. 

Is that the reason that maybe enterprise agility is only an aspiration for many people, and not something they can call an accomplishment? That maybe the phrase is so loose or so misunderstood that, it’s like the difficulty in defining 'done' sometimes, that you get so many versions of it that it's hard to know when you've reached it?

Michael: I think you're definitely pointing in the right direction. I guess, what I'll say about it is that it's an aspiration because people want it. They want what they have experienced on their teams, on their agile teams: more harmony, more productivity or satisfaction, more customer value, and all that kind of stuff. They want that in a big way. They want that everywhere. They don't just want it on their team. They want it with their leadership. They want it in their organization's culture. They want it in the funding process. So that's what attracts people, I think, to it. 

Yes, different people mean very different things by it, from just scaling up the actual software delivery process, as if you could do that in isolation, and maybe to some extent you can, but along with that comes all kinds of cultural assumptions, and cultural beliefs and values, shared values, and organizational structures, and processes and policies and stuff that impact your ability to do that. So you can't just scale, per se, in that dimension, I don’t believe. That's not my experience, so it means a lot of different things. It means all those different things and various ways to different people. It's complex. It's probably complicated, also. It's big, and it's hard.

Noel: Right, it is. That's one thing that no one's ever accused agility of being was an easy process, especially with there not being an end to it. Then to look back at the abstract for this session, again, which I really enjoyed. You talk at one point about the “limits of culture.” I was curious as to what those limitations are. That's not something I feel like I read a lot about is the limits of culture. We hear how about agile, DevOps, and all of these other practices are all about culture. I know one thing we've talked about, here, at Skytap before is the idea that it’s all about culture; you do need that, but at the same time, if you don't have some of the, maybe, collaborative tools or collaborative abilities of your teams to actually do their work and to have access to the environments they need, when they need them for as long as they need them, then you can have all that culture but if people can't get their work done—that there really are some limitations to culture. So I was curious as to maybe what you saw some limits to be?

Michael: Cool. If you'll permit me a digression it would help to explain a little bit of the model that I am developing to answer that question. It's called “Integral Agile” which means a complete view of things, or all the necessary parts. It comes from a field of integral studies or integral theory that is out there in the world, like the agile movement, actually. It's actually a big movement. I'm adapting that into the enterprise agile world. So it talks about four fundamental perspectives that we can take on things that usually we tend to have our bias toward one of them or maybe two of them as being the truth, and we don't pay attention to the others, but to have a complete view of things we really need to take all four perspectives. 

Let me just describe each of them briefly. One of them is what people talk about as being agile, as opposed to doing agile. Those are two of the four perspectives. The being side, what I experience, what I value personally. Maybe my pride in being a software craftsman or my motivation to serve on a team, to not just be an individual contributor, for instance, but to really be part of something bigger than myself. That's one perspective, the being side of things, you might say. 

A different side is what you actually do. The behaviors you engage in. What other people can see from the outside. I may value software craftsmanship or I say I do, but do I really check in code all the time? Do I really pair with people? Do I really write tests before I write code? That's the behavior side. Do we really follow our team agreements of not letting the sun set on conflict, or whatever it is—do we actually engage in those behaviors? Similarly, what actual processes do we engage in? If you were looking at us from the outside, If an anthropologist was looking at our team or our organization, what behaviors would they notice we engage in? That's an outside perspective, a little more objective. 

On a collective level we have the internal side, which typically we call “culture.” What's the experience? What's the feeling of being in this organization or on this team? I've got to be careful what I say in this organization because we have an uptight culture. Or I work at start-up in Silicon Valley, and we bring our dogs to work, and we wear sandals, and we feel really free and open. That's a more feeling kind of thing or experience: what we share together, what we value together. 

The objective side of that, or the outside of that is what organizational structures do we have? What's our org chart look like? Is it flat? Is it lots of layers of bureaucracy and hierarchy? What about our policies? Do we have lots of policies and really detailed? Do we have very few policies and people have a lot of freedom to make their own decisions? How do we structure things? How do we staff things? How do we deal with funding or whatever? 

So if you think about all those different kinds of things, usually we each have a bias. I might say, "Oh, what I want is, or agile would be great…." My business partner, Lisa Adkins, likes to say, "Agile would be great if only individual leaders would get it." Or somebody else might say, "Agile would be great if only our culture changed." Or somebody might say, "Agile would be great if only we visualized the work flow." Or somebody else might say, "Agile would be great if only we actually followed the agile practices." 

So all those perspectives are valid, but they're also partial. So changing the culture, one, is really difficult, but, two, even if you do shift the culture, the feeling, the belief set, whatever—that might not change the structures. We might have structures, a certain level of bureaucracy or layers or whatever, that keep us entrenched the way we are. 

Noel: Your answer leads me into my next question. It's good that you did digress there for a little bit. It helps out with this next question. You talked about changing culture is hard. A lot of times we hear about how, for agile to have any chance of succeeding, you have to have buy-in from the leadership or executive level, especially on the enterprise scale. I was curious as to, maybe even looking at your Integral Agile that you're working on, what are some of the ways that, maybe those who are in the leadership, executive level, then maybe some ways to approach them, and to be able to sell them on this, maybe not just agility. 

Michael: A couple of things. One is that I think that going in with a persuasion mindset, that “I want persuade them about something,” is usually not very successful. I mean, clearly there are exceptions to that. Particularly, let's say you went in there and you started that way, if that works, great, keep going. But when it starts to reach a limit or when they act like they're interested or whatever, but then they don't. Or they say they're interested but they don't act like it, they're not consistent with what they actually do afterwards, then you've got a problem. 

Usually it helps to go in with seeking to understand. Steven Covey's "Seek First to Understand." We teach in our coaching classes a professional coaching idea of asking powerful questions to people, which are not leading questions. They're not trying to get somebody somewhere, in particular; they're trying to help them explore their own values and what's true for them. Approaching executives, you need to understand where they're coming from. What they're motivated by. What's important to them. How they see the problems in the organization, rather than selling them a solution to what you think is a problem, that they may agree that some part of it is a problem but they may not see it in the same way, and they definitely may not share the same values that you have. 

Another part of the book is talking about different levels of cultural development and individual development, different value sets that see the world in different ways. If you're coming from a success-driven, achievement-driven philosophy exclusively, only part of what the agile manifesto says is going to be interesting to you, not all of it. You're really not going to care about people being empowered, particularly, or shared values together. You're going to care about results and customers being happy, but you're not going to actually embrace all of the manifesto, an organization, or excuse me, a leader or executive wouldn't. Then you're going to have a disconnect. 

So part of what my presentation and my book, Coaching the Agile Enterprise is about, and the parts that I've released called "Downloading the Integral Operating System," part of what that's about is about giving people a framework to understand what's going on in an organization, in an enterprise, so they can make sense of it in a different way. 

If you're coming from one kind of motivation and the leader you're approaching is coming from a different kind, that's doomed to failure on some level. So seeking first, like I say, to understand, to go in and understand the mindset, the value set, that the person is coming from, and then decide what to do with that. Are you really trying to change them or persuade them? Are you trying to do it through aggression, through your own ego, in some sense? Or are you actually doing it in a way that's facilitating and that's useful to the other person or to the organization? Or is it just that you think it will be? Those are really different. 

Noel: Yeah, absolutely. I was just thinking that it seems like it maybe hard sometimes to go in there and talk about needing to change a culture if that's not something that that person, like you were saying, has ever experienced or known was a problem, but then being able to show them how, through that change, customers, perhaps, get a higher quality product, and even faster than they were getting in the past, is a good idea. 

Michael: Yeah, you have to connect to what they find to be of value and that may not be ... They may focus on that thing. Let's say it's a faster time to market, but they may not want to bring all the other things along with it, particularly, or they may not value them. Then you've got a disconnect. Then you've got a disappointed agile coach. We see a lot of them. 

Noel: Lastly, to wrap things up, for those who are able to attend your session which, again, is at Agile 2014, in Orlando, Florida, on Monday, July 28. For those who are able to attend it, what's maybe something that you hope that in that short amount of time that you them there in the room, that you can basically give them something small enough that they can begin, on day one, when they return, maybe to their own projects or organizations?

Michael: I think it's really more than something that they would do afterwards; it's a way that they would see the world differently. 

Noel: Oh, wow.

Michael: So that's what I think that the integral perspective has to offer people is a very different way of seeing the world. Seeing its greater complexity. Being able to, at least, start to work with, in a realistic way, the complexity of it, not think that there's easy answers to it, because there's just not. Easy answers are usually ... They sound good and they're tempting, but they usually fall flat after some period of time. 

My hope would be that people would actually start thinking about things differently after my session. That would eventually lead into what they would do differently, but it would really start with, I think, helping them understand why things are happening in their organizations, particularly things that disappoint them about the adoption of agile in a more widespread way.

Noel: That's awesome. I hope the session is a huge success. I'm going to definitely try and be there myself. Sounds fantastic. 

Michael: Okay. Well, thank you. 

Noel: Your welcome! Again, everybody, this was my conversation with Michael Spayd who is going to be speaking at Agile 2014, Monday, July 28, with a session called "What would it mean to Coach an Agile Enterprise." Thank you so much again. 

Michael: You're welcome. Thank you, Noel. 

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Author: Noel Wurst is the managing content editor at Skytap. Skytap provides SaaS-based dev/test environments to the enterprise. Skytap solution removes the inefficiencies and constraints that companies have within their software development lifecycle. As a result, customers release better software faster. In this blog, we publish engaging, thought provoking stories that revolve around agile enterprise applications and cloud-based development and testing.

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