Lean Startup: It’s Not Just Technology, Lives are at Stake (Keynote)

I am in Belgrade today, where I was invited to give the Keynote address at the first Serbian ICT conference on Technology and Entrepreneurship. Its nice to be back in Belgrade, and great to see the growing technology sector here. The degree of innovation and entrepreneurship is impressive, and I’ve had some great conversations with people.

Understanding Your Customer

I was invited to talk about Lean Startup, Agile Development and Lean Product Development.

One thing I did in preparation for this conference was try to understand the attendees better. Basically, I wanted to treat my talk as a product, and the conference participants as my customers. I saw Jason Little do something similar at LESS 2012 last week in Estonia, using Twitter, and thought the ideas was cool.

I wanted to know some things about them, so I could tailor my talk to match their background and interests. I created a short survey using Survey Monkey, and asked the conference organisers to distribute the survey URL to all registered participants. Then, the morning of the conference, before I left my hotel room, I took a snapshot of the survey data and made some changes to the slides in my talk. I’m glad I did it. It was an interesting experiment for me, and something I would like to tweak and try again at future conferences. I’ve been getting some great feedback on the talk, and I’m sure that’s at least partly related to taking the time to understand the participants better.

The full survey results are in the slide deck. This one in particular helped me choose the appropriate clothes to wear (a few more CEOs and Execs and I would have had to put on a tie 😉 ):

And this one told me a lot about where they are coming from:

About the title

I took inspiration for the title from the famous Bill Shankly quote when talking about football:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

Those of us who are passionate about technology and creating great teams and organisations, can relate to this. The separation between work and life starts to become blurred, because, if we are successful, our work is an enjoyable, fun, an enriching experience. There’s too much at stake for it to be otherwise. Jurgen Appelo has been writing lately about a similar theme. One of the messages of my keynote is that life is too short, and time too precious, to waste on something that you don’t enjoy and that is not having some positive impact in the world. Hence the title.


I knew from my survey that I could spend less time focusing on the basics of Lean Startup, Agile and Lean. That left me free to explore some topics in more depth.

This is what the survey revealed about the participant’s areas of interest:

The main themes of my talk today were:

  • Startups
  • Overcoming challenges, and not blaming “macroeconomic conditions beyond our control”
  • Myths of Product Development
  • Lean Startup, Agile, Lean Product Development
  • The importance of an Agile Mindset; Being Agile
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • The Fastest Learner Wins
  • Customer Development
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Lean Canvas
  • Perspectives on organisations as you grow and scale
  • Technical Debt
  • Portfolio Thinking
  • Value Streams
  • Waste, Value, Quality, Flow
  • PDSA
  • Lean Thinking and A3
  • Creativity; Innovation; Fostering Innovation

That’s a lot of things to touch on in 75 minutes, plus there was a video and a couple of songs, but it seemed to go down well and feedback was positive. I’ve been working more and more on incorporating stories into my talks, and relying more on visual images and much less on bullet points.

I wanted to emphasise the roll of Lean and Agile, not as ends in themselves, but as means to a better end. A means to creating great products and services that touch people’s lives. And, of course, creating a Lean organisation or fostering an agile mindset is a challenge.

We invest our lives and our lifetimes in the companies and ventures we get involved with. Life is short and time is precious, so let’s make sure its worth it.


The slide deck is available from my Slideshare account here:

Side note about SlideShare: My original slides had a black gradient background (and looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself!). When I uploaded them, SlideShare replaced the background with a white one. I could not find a way to get around this (in the limited time I had to try) so I created a version with white background, and tweaked some of the text appropriately. I would be grateful to hear if you know of a way to fix this in SlideShare. On the plus side, now I have two versions for different lighting environments.


LESS 2012 Conference on Agile-Lean Leadership and Management

The Lean Enterprise Software and Systems conference is a very special conference series that I have had the privilege to be involved with as both speaker and organizer since it began in 2010. LESS is the Lean and Agile conference with a specific focus on Leadership and Management. I am part of the organizing committee planning to bring the conference to Galway in 2013 – more on that later.Lean Systems Society Recognized Event

In the meantime, LESS 2012 is just around the corner, and will take place in Tallinn, Estonia from November 12th to November 14th. LESS 2012 is a Lean Systems Society Recognized Event.

Discount for Irish Community

If you are part of the Agile – Lean community in Ireland, contact me for a discount code that will get you a discount on conference registration. The final program will be announced in October. Already there are confirmed keynotes form Jurgen Appelo and Esko Kilpi. By registering now you will have the opportunity to shape the direction and content of the conference.

About LESS 2012

I am posting the following text at the request of the LESS organization group:

This year we have selected 5 main core topics for our learning journey:

  1. Lean/Agile product development: what are the latest developer in Lean/Agile? What have we, as a learning community experimented with in the last 12 months since we met in Stockholm for #LESS2011? This track will answer these questions and bring concrete examples of Lean/Agile product development from software and other industries.
  2. Lean Startup: an exciting new way to look at product and business development that brings together Lean and Agile approaches. How can Lean Startup revolutionize how we manage our businesses or develop our products?
  3. Beyond Budgeting: innovation comes in many forms. Beyond Budgeting started as a learning journey for management communities in Europe and is now a major active movement seeking a different approach to the management of organizations. In this track we will hear about the latest developments in the Beyond Budgeting community.
  4. Management Innovation: the world is changing fast, but management of organizations has been standing still. There are communities dedicated to changing how we view and understand the role of management. This track brings ideas from different communities with the focus on radical new ideas about managing organizations.
  5. Management Frameworks: often large changes start from specific problems that lead us to develop a specific tool or framework. In this track we intend to cover those practical steps in applying new ideas from several different communities.

The call of sessions is now open http://bit.ly/LESS2012_cfs.

We have also opened the preregistration for #LESS2012: http://bit.ly/NOOV0g

By preregistering you will get a chance to directly influence the format and content for the conference. Preregistering is your Real Option to have a say in how the conference is shaped. Preregister now and get a discount of 100eur in the final conference ticket. Preregistration ends on July 31st.

You can help spread the word about #LESS2012 by tweeting or posting on Facebook with the hash-tag #LESS2012 and linking to the conference web-site at http://www.less2012.org.

The #LESS organization group


Kaizen Games: Identifying and Managing Waste in Agile Teams

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means ‘continuous improvement’. Creating a culture of continuous improvement is one of the cornerstones of becoming an agile, lean-thinking organization.

It is generally accepted that the first step towards creating a truly lean organization is to identify and manage waste. I prefer to say ‘manage’ rather than ‘eliminate’ because you may choose to live with some waste in your organization, because the cost of completely eliminating it would be prohibitive, at least right now. Discussion of waste can be an emotive topic, so we need techniques that allow for a positive and constructive discussion, while also unearthing some of the deep issues that prevent teams and organizations from reaching their potential.

We can use serious games to identify and manage waste in a constructive and positive way. Games also help to engage people as part of an overall continuous improvement effort.

Workshops for Playing Games

I run workshops based on these techniques. I ran a variation of these workshops at the Agile India 2012 conference in Bengaluru, India this weekend (February 2012). Feedback for the session was very positive, and people were very engaged in the session, so thanks again to all who came along. We had over 100 people in the workshop, which felt a bit daunting at first, but turned out great. There was a lot of energy in the room.

The slides from the Agile India 2012 workshop are here:

The workshop generally runs in three parts. In the first part, we talk about some basic concepts and why it is important to look at waste in teams and organizations. In this part, I talk about the eight wastes of product development, influenced largely by the work of the Poppendiecks, Liker, Womack & Jones, etc.

Depending on the number of workshop participants, we usually split into smaller groups of 6-8 people.

The second part is an exercise to identify waste. I like to use the Speedboat Game for this. Although traditionally used as a means of understanding what customers do not like about our products, I have found it to be a very effective tool over the years for understanding what is not working well within a team or an organization.

The third part is an exercise to manage waste. I present a number of tools, including Value Stream Mapping, Value Network Mapping, A3 Problem Solving Reports, and a Waste Matrix. Each has a different purpose and are presented as complimentary tools in a tool set, rather than mutually exclusive options. Participants then choose a tool, and we play a game to take one or more of the wastes from Part 1, and show how the tool can be used to manage the waste(s).

Post-Game analysis is an important part of the session, giving people a chance to reflect and learn from each other.


Agile development aims to make the process of software development more effective and efficient for teams. However, agile product teams operate within a broad and complex system, and the scope of what the team can control is often limited by constraints imposed by the system, hence adopting a systems perspective is useful. Waste can and does occur in agile teams. Sometimes that waste is within the control of the team to manage; sometimes the broader system of which the team is part causes the waste. Using serious games provides a productive and constructive way of dealing with what can otherwise be an emotive topic. Used alone or with more traditional lean tools such as Value Network Maps, 5 Whys and A3 Reports, the combination of multiple games can engage stakeholders and contribute to a Kaizen effort in the organization. Serious games can be just as effective in creating a continuous improvement culture, and creating a more lean thinking organization, as they have been in product marketing. The Speedboat game in particular is very useful for generating large amounts of practical data about the wastes that are holding back a team. It is critical to follow up on the wastes identified using Speedboat. Turning the creation of A3 reports and Waste Matrices into collaborative activities helps with that.

Try it out with your team. Have fun fighting waste!

What We Did at The ALE2011 Retrospective

Olaf and I were chatting on the first morning of the first ever ALE conference when he suggested I facilitate the retrospective at the end of the conference. Facilitating a session with 200+ very smart and very vocal people, many of whom are expert retrospective facilitators, and all of whom would have high expectations, was a pretty scary thought. But also a great opportunity to have some fun and do something that would be an experience I would not forget.


In Open Space sessions, hallway discussions, the bar and other forums, I tried to talk with as many people as possible about how they felt about the ALE Network and what comes next. At least three of the Open Space sessions focused on improving the ALE Network. Ivana Gancheva hosted a session on improving the network, and making the conference better. Vasco Duarte and Eelco Rustenburg both had sessions related to getting managers more involved in the community, and in agile and lean generally. I had some discussions with all of them, and with Jurgen Appelo and Olaf Lewitz about their goals. We all agreed that the retrospective should focus on the ALE Network, not just the conference. We also wanted to come out of it with some concrete milestones and actions.


Opening Activities

Rain Dance

I wanted to open with something that would be memorable, a little unusual and also fun. The Rain Dance is a game I learned many years ago at a Pattern Writing workshop, and have used it in a few workshops since. I had never used it in such a large group, but, if it worked out, I thought it could be a lot of fun. This game is used in many different settings. It is a traditional Native American game used to teach children (fortunately I was with a bunch of people who enjoy games!) about rhythms, art and culture. It has been applied to many different settings including workshops for improvisation, music, software patterns and other group settings.

The idea is to simulate the sound of a thunderstorm, creating the sounds of rain that build up to a thunderstorm, and then calms down again as the storm passes. The effect can be quite powerful.

To start, everyone stands in a large circle. With 200+ people the circle took up the entire circumference of the large conference room. One by one, everyone performs the following actions:

  1. Rub your hands together.
  2. Tap two fingers of your right hand against the palm of your left hand.
  3. Snap your fingers on both hands.
  4. Clap your thighs.
  5. Stamp your feet.

These actions are performed in a circle, starting with the facilitator (me!), and moving to the left, going around the circle one by one. The next action is introduced when everyone in the circle is performing the first. Participants keep the previous action going until the new one reaches them around the circle. You then repeat the 5 steps in reverse order. This gives the effect of the storm building gradually, reaching a thunderous climax, and then declining gradually.

The Rain Dance was recorded on video so if it turns out OK and we get permission, I’ll try to post it or link to it when it becomes available.

Project History

We wanted to focus the retrospective on the ALE Network itself, not just the ALE2011 conference. The conference is an important milestone – an intersection in the continuing story of the ALE Network. We thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone up to speed with the history and origins of ALE before looking at how to take it forward. Jurgen talked about the history of ALE, from early discussions and ideas, to discussions at Play4Agile, starting the LinkedIn group, the gathering at XP2011 in Madrid, and up to the present day.

Data Gathering Activities

I used two main exercises for data gathering: Speedboat and Starfish. I split the 200 or so participants into 8 groups. All groups got to take part in both exercises.

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective


Speedboat is a game from Luke Hohmann‘s Innovation Games. It is a great way to understand what your customers don’t like about your product. I often use it in other settings too, e.g., at retrospectives to help teams or organizations understand what about the way they are working is holding them back.

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

The speedboat acts as a metaphor for your product or organization. In this case, the speedboat acted as a metaphor for the ALE Network. We wanted to understand what was holding us back from achieving some of the targets we had set ourselves earlier in the year, including in Madrid.

A Group Playing the Speedboat Game at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Speedboat Game


The Starfish is a retrospective technique I learned from Nick Oostvogels and Pat Kua at XP2011. You can read Nick’s Blog post about it. It was great that Nick was at ALE2011 and participated in the retrospective. I’m always looking for new techniques that will help add a different dimension to retrospectives, or help teams break out of a rut of using the same techniques over and over again. I love the Starfish exercise, and have used it several times since XP2011. I have used it in Sprint and Release retrospectives with teams, and also in workshops with managers, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and program managers.

For ALE2011 I wanted to use it get data about

  1. What we’re doing as a community that’s working well
  2. Things we need to do more of
  3. Things we need to do less of
  4. Things we should stop doing
  5. Things we should try
A Group Using the Starfish Exercise at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Starfish Exercise

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Data Analysis

Each group had 30 seconds to present the output of their Speedboat exercise. 30 seconds might not sound like a lot, but it does force you to be concise. I asked that subsequent groups to not just repeat what previous groups had already contributed. We started with group 1 and went through to group 8.

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

After group 8 presented their Speedboat output, I asked them to present their Starfish output – focusing mainly on things to keep, things to do more of and things to try. We did the same with all of the other groups, ending back at group 1.

Reporting Back to the Wider Group at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Reporting Back

By now we had heard from each of the groups about some of the major obstacles holding us back as a community, some of the things that were working well, things we want to do more of, and some new things to try. It was time to turn this into something concrete we could act on.

Creating a Plan

Remember the Future

Remember the Future is a great technique for creating a vision of what you want to achieve. However, instead of thinking about it in terms of what you want to do or what you will do, you move your thinking forward to a point in time that comes after the time period you are considering, and look back at what you actually did. The difference in perspective is remarkable.

The time horizon we considered was the coming 12 months. What is it we want to have achieved when we look back after 12 months? So, we looked to a point in time 13 months out and talked about what we achieved.

We created the timeline on one wall of the conference room, with milestones at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months. There are different ways to get the data  you want for this exercise. In the interests of time I asked everyone to act as one group, write their item on a Post It note, step forward and describe it to the group, and then place it at the appropriate milestone on the time line.

Remembering the Future at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Remember the Future

People were then asked to put their name or Twitter ID on a Post It if they wanted to contribute to achieving that goal. If you weren’t there, or you forgot to add your name, don’t worry. You’ll have an opportunity to sign up to lead or contribute in an area in the next week or so when the output gets published.

Roadmap for future ALE Conferences

We wanted to create a roadmap for the next three years of conference locations. However, the conference attendees are a subset of the ALE Network. We wanted to make sure that as many people as possible from the ALE community had a chance to provide input on the location. What we decided to try wast this: create a shortlist at the conference and then use the LinkedIn group to decide the final locations.

The only constraint on location, same as for ALE2011, is that it must be a reasonably central European location (which unfortunately rules out Galway) that is relatively easily accessible from a majority of ALE Network countries.

Creating a Shortlist for a Roadmap of Future Conferences at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Conference Roadmap Shortlist

I’ll publish the shortlist over on the LinkedIn group. Let’s see how the voting goes.

Closing Remarks

Jurgen closed the retrospective, and encouraged everyone there to sign the ALE Network book that he started in Madrid.


First, a big thank you to Olaf Lewitz for encouraging me to facilitate the retrospective and for trusting me with the responsibility. Thanks to all of you who were there and who contributed so enthusiastically. And finally, thanks for the kind feedback on Twitter and elsewhere. It was an honor to facilitate the first ALE Unconference retrospective.

Next Steps

I need to transcribe all the wonderful data produced by the ALE2011 participants. I’ll publish that in a separate post, either here or on the ALE Network site.

Call for Help

I’ll be looking for some help with the transcription. I want to make sure I don’t become a bottleneck for getting the retrospective output published. There are about 20 photographs that capture the core output of the Starfish and Speedboat. Each photo captures lots of Post It notes. We need to transcribe the text in these photos. It would be cool if we could Crowdsource the transcription. If a few people take one photo each we’ll get it done pretty quickly. Let me know if you’re willing to help out and I’ll send you a JPEG.

Happy Memories of the ALE2011 Spouse and Kids Program

I was having lunch with Jurgen, Olaf and others at XP2011 in Madrid earlier this year. The details for what would become the first ALE conference would start to be worked out later that week. Jurgen asked me if I had any thoughts about what we could do that would be a little different. I thought it would be good to find a way to include spouses and children in the conference program – not just bring them to wherever city the conference was going to be in, but actually integrate them into the conference.

The Spouses and Kids Program

Monika Konieczny, Olga Woronowicz and Christiane Lewitz took on the job of leading the Spouse and Kids Program and did a great job organizing the program. Mornings were filled with games and other activities in the conference hotel. There was a trip organized for each day after lunch. On Wednesday, there was a visit to Berlin Zoo. On Thursday, it was the Berlin Communications Museum. On Friday they had a dinosaur tour at the Natural History Museum.

Post-It Art

Last week I wrote about Post-It Wars, and how we tried it out at work. I had the chance to hang out with families of other conference attendees (and my own family) at ALE2011, so I got them all to play too. We started off in the room that was reserved for families. The kids had a great time. After some negotiation, they quickly agreed on the music, picking out the Beatles and Bob Marley. Music blaring, they got to work. It was amazing to watch as a group of kids who had never met until a few hours earlier came together to create pictures using Post It Notes.

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

While the other conference attendees were in one of the sessions, we broke out into the coffee break area (bringing music with us) and used the windows there too (top left). The parents got in on the action too, and had fun with it. I got some pictures of the work-in-progress from outside the hotel (top right), and their work attracted the attention of some passers by (bottom center).

ALE2011 Post-It Art Collage 1

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

The hotel windows provided a great canvas to work from, and fortunately the hotel staff were very understanding 🙂 Here is what their work looked like from outside the hotel:

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

Afterwards, we went outside to admire their great art work. Never one to pass up on some fun, Mike came too 🙂

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

Some of the kids put their new skills to good use at Thursday night’s dinner.

Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a fun game that I often play with teams. You can play it with friends and family too. At ALE2011 I played it with the ALE families. This time they picked Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Bon Jovi and the Beatles. Rock’n’Roll!

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

Other Games and Activities

Oana Jancu, whose kids were also there, taught everyone ‘Where Are Your Keys?“, an amazing game for learning new skills, particularly new languages. The kids used the game to learn some Portuguese, French, and Irish. Monika played lots of games, arts and crafts activities.  Christiane spent all day Wednesday and Friday with the families. She taught them origami and brought them to the Zoo and Natural History Museum.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour -The Elephants at Berlin Zoo

Learning About Elephants at Berlin Zoo

That’s an elephant’s tooth the tour guide is holding.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Why Include Spouse and Children in a Conference?

There are at least three big reasons why I think its important to include a Spouse and Kids Program in the conference:

  1. Some of us attend a lot of conferences. That’s a lot of time away from home and family. Being able to bring them with us and hang out during and around the conference is a good thing. Even if you go to only one conference, it’s still nice to be able to bring your spouse and kids. Of course you can bring your family on any trip; the difference with ALE2011 is they were an integrated part of the conference. I like that my wife and children could meet some of the people I have come to know and consider friends. It’s fantastic that my kids can have the opportunity to make friends with other kids from around the world. Vasco tweeted that it made his quality of life better; I concur.
  2. It gives our families a chance to see what we do at conferences. It can be hard sometimes to explain to our families what we do for a living. This gives them some insights.
  3. It is an opportunity to inspire kids to consider a career in our industry. Many countries are struggling to find people with the right skills to fill job vacancies, and there is a growing shortage of children (particularly girls) taking science, maths and engineering courses in school and university. This is a real crisis for our profession. Attending a fun conference can leave them with positive feelings and memories. If they can see that what we do can be a fun and rewarding path, and spread the word to their friends, that can only be a good thing for the future of our industry.
ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

Looking Ahead

It was a great pleasure to meet and spend time with the families of Oana, Vasco, Kurt, Andrea and others. I hope this is a tradition we can continue at ALE conferences, and maybe even extend to some other conferences. Based on feedback so far, including the retrospective output, it seems to have been a positive experience overall. Let’s see how we can make it even better for next time.

Post-It Wars Day 2: Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?

Yesterday I wrote about how I discovered the fascinating world of Post-It Wars. Today I enlisted some willing and enthusiastic program managers and an engineer and we made this:

Post-It Wars - Spongebob - Inside

He looks like this from outside the building:

Post-It Wars - Spongebob - Outside

The owner of this office had left early for a long weekend break. He’ll be back on Tuesday 🙂

Post-It Wars - Pacman

We got the inspiration for these ones from this Web site. I think the next challenge is to start creating some new designs. This one in Paris, for example, sets a pretty high bar:

Assassins Creed in Post-It Notes

What does this have to do with software development?

It’s amazing what a group of intrinsically motivated people can do when they get together, find a sense of purpose and are given the opportunity to unleash their creativity and talent. Maybe there’s a lesson there for how we build products?

ALE2011, here we come!

There’s been a great uptake today of people interested and willing to play in Berlin next week at the ALE2011 Conference. It’s going to be fun!

Beyond Transition: Establishing An Agile Office

Agile transition takes time; it is not a discrete event. When transitioning to agility it is important to put in place structures that will ensure that agile survives long after the initial transition period. One way to create such a structure is to establish an Agile Office (and I’m not referring to furniture or desk layout). However, an Agile Office is not the same thing as an Agile PMO (more on that another time).

We established an Agile Office in our Business Unit in September 2010. Our Agile Office is responsible for the organization’s ongoing agile adoption and continuous improvement through agile practices and lean thinking. We accomplish this through direct engagement with the organization’s senior leadership, management, and product teams.

Agile Office at Agile 2011

I will be talking about the concept of an Agile Office, and our experiences, at this year’s Agile 2011 conference in Salt Lake City. My talk (Wednesday August 10th at 10:00 am) is part of the Insights Stage and describes the experiences of Cisco’s Unified Communications Business Unit in establishing an Agile Office. I’ll describe the history behind establishing the Agile Office, the governance model, where it fits in the organization structure, engagement model, primary activities, challenges faced, and the stakeholders with whom we operate.

There is an accompanying paper too, that will be published as part of the conference proceedings. I was very fortunate to have Johanna Rothman as my shepherd for the paper. Working with her, and benefitting from her guidance, was a fantastic experience for which I am extremely grateful.

If you’re in Salt Lake City, come along and say hello. I’d love to share experiences and discuss how other organizations are dealing with the challenges of sustaining agility and leanness after the initial transition period. What support structures are you putting in place?



International Conference on Lean Enterprise Software and Systems (LESS 2011)

Marketed as the only Agile and Lean Leadership conference in Europe, the International Conference on Lean Enterprise Software and Systems (LESS) began in Helsinki last year with the first conference in the series, LESS 2010. This year the journey continues in Stockholm with LESS 2011, from Sunday October 30th through to Wednesday November 2nd. The LESS conferences bring together diverse communities and influences, including Agile, Lean, Complexity, Systems Thinking, Organization Transformation and Beyond Budgeting. Last year’s conference in Helsinki was a great experience. The range of sessions and topics was amazing, as was the quality of the speakers and the general organization of the conference as a whole. They set a high bar. I’m very much looking forward to Stockholm this year.

Organization Transformation Track

I am this year’s Chair for the Organization Transformation track. This is a topic close to my heart (and my day job). We’re planning to put together an exciting full-day program that showcases some of the great work in industry and research. We’re interested in case studies, success stories, challenges, lessons learned, practices, models, techniques, and topics generally related to the theme of organization transformation. Cases where the desired transformation did not work out are also valuable and welcome. This track will be of real benefit to anyone undertaking agile and/or lean adoption in their own organizations, or to those guiding the transformation of other organizations.

Call for Papers

The Call for Papers is open until Monday August 15th. You can submit regular talks (50 minutes), workshop proposals (50 + 50), research reports (20 minutes) or scientific papers (20 minutes).

If there is a short topic you are particularly passionate about but is not long enough for a full talk, then consider submitting a 10-minute lightening talk proposal. Lightening talks are a great way to inform and inspire other people, and can be a great catalyst for hallway conversations or Open Space sessions.

You can submit talks here: http://less2011.leanssc.org/call-for-papers/

Tracks and Themes

There are four tracks at this year’s conference. From the conference Web site:

  • Lean and Agile Product Development – A growing community with active researchers and practitioners world-wide
  • Complexity and Systems Thinking – A variety of topics that bring a completely different perspective into the world of business and management. Cutting edge ideas that the community is starting to apply to daily work
  • Beyond Budgeting – A novel approach to company management and strategy. Because the world changes constantly, companies, not just projects, must adapt to the new conditions
  • Transforming Organizations – Agile and Lean adoption leads to changes in our organizations. How to support the needed organization transformation? What is the state of the art when it comes to supporting and encouraging transformation?


You can register to attend here http://less2011.leanssc.org/register/ and it is still early enough to avail of the very generous early bird discount. I hope to see lots of you there!

ALE Conference 2011 – Submit a Talk, Bring Your Family

The ALE Network, brainchild of Jurgen Appelo, is rapidly gaining momentum. What started as an idea has grown into a movement. Jurgen writes about The Birth of a Network over on his Blog.

The first ALE Conference will take place in Berlin from September 7th to 9th 2011. Olaf has written about how he got into ALE, and all about organizing the conference here and here.

The build-up is very exciting. Already there’s a great lineup of keynote speakers. The quality and content of the proposed talks promises to be very high, with a real diversity of input from across Europe. Plus, there’s an Open Space that Mike Sutton will facilitate – not to be missed!

Industry Sofa

I am part of the Industry Sofa (although Andrea Heck from Siemens is really the main Industry Sofa person, and does all the real work 🙂 ). See ‘Why Sofas?’ for more.

You can submit talks here until July 7th: http://ale2011.eu/call-for-speakers-and-review-process/

You can register to attend here: http://ale2011.eu/registration/

Program for Spouse and Children

Just one of the many things that sets this conference apart is the inclusion of spouses and children in the program. There is a dedicated ‘Spouse and Kids’ organizing sofa, and there will be special activities organized to help them feel part of the conference. For those of us that go to a lot of conferences it’s great to have something that acknowledges the important contributions our families make. As far as I know this is the first conference to have such a theme.

Looking forward to Agile Coach Camp Norway 2011

It is important to take time out every now and then, away from the demands of the day job, to focus on developing your skills. Agile Coach Camps provide a great opportunity for practicing agile coaches to come together to share experiences, ideas and insights. In January 2011 Norway is hosting an Agile Coach Camp for the first time. This is an event for people involved in coaching, training, mentoring and leading agile organizations. The Web site has a list of people who are organizing and attending the event. I registered earlier today, and I’m very much looking forward to attending.

Event structure

The event structure will have two main parts – an agile coach dojo and an Open Space. The Agile Coaches Dojo concept was developed by Rachel Davies, and I first came across it at Agile 2010. Open Space is a powerful approach to hosting conferences and other events without a predefined agenda. I have both hosted and attended numerous Open Space events and really enjoy them.

Position Paper

As is common now with unconferences and Open Spaces, people must submit a position paper to register. For Agile Coach Camp Norway, the position paper consists of four questions:

  1. What is your superpower?
  2. What’s your experience coaching teams towards being agile?
  3. What do you plan to learn/explore at this conference?
  4. How do you plan to contribute?

The set of position papers give a nice overview of who is attending and what they are interested in.

My Agile Coach Camp Position Paper

The conference Web site has the position papers for everyone attending. Here are my answers to the four questions.

What is your superpower?

I am good at seeing the otherwise invisible connections between things.

What’s your experience coaching teams towards being agile?

I have been working with agile methods (first XP, then Crystal, Scrum and others; more recently Kanban and Lean) since 1998/1999. In that time I have introduced agile to lots of teams and multiple companies. I currently work for Cisco as an internal coach, working with multiple teams and organizations.

What do you plan to learn/explore at this conference?

I am open to learning new techniques, practices and ideas that will help me on my journey of becoming a better coach. Specific topics that currently interest me, and I that I would like to explore, include:

  1. Coaching organizations – creating the right environment so our agile teams can thrive; helping the entire organization to become more agile;
  2. Stakeholder engagement and agile coaching – how to effectively engage with broad communities of stakeholders
  3. Coaching from a distance – working with distributed and dispersed teams;
  4. Creating coaching circles, coaching dojos and other learning environments within an organization

How do you plan to contribute?

I plan to propose a session from the ones I listed above, and fully participate in as many other sessions as possible. Also happy to help in any other way that’s needed.

Refactoring the Organization Design – LESS2010

I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the First International Conference on Lean Enterprise Software and Systems, 2010, in Helsinki last week. I presented on the topic of organization change, as part of the Scaling Agile to Lead track. More specifically, on the type of change that is implied when an organization decides to adopt agile and/or lean.

The main theme of my talk was in support of applying concepts from Stakeholder Management to support agile and lean adoption. I used the concept of refactoring to talk about some of the changes that can be made to organizations, and showed some examples of how Martin Fowler’s classic Refactorings can be re-purposed to talk about organization design rather than software design.

The main topics of my talk were:

  • Using Dan Pink’s Motivation 3.0 Type-I toolkit for intrinsic motivation as a guide for what we should be refactoring towards
  • Refactoring applied to Organization Design
  • Agile transition journeys
  • Designing a process: core framework versus toolbox
  • Refactoring toolshed
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Stakeholder Mapping applied to Scrum teams
  • Stakeholder Management and the challenges of Product Ownership for large organizations
  • Stakeholder Management and the role of manager
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • The power of metaphors for organizational learning
  • Jazz improvisation as a metaphor for organizational learning and stakeholder engagement
  • Artful Making as a metaphor for software development and stakeholder engagement
  • Organization Patterns

Paper Abstract

The following is from the abstract of my paper that was published in the conference proceedings:

Every organization has a design. As an organization grows, that design evolves. A decision to embrace agile and lean methods can expose weaknesses in the design. The concept of refactoring as applied to software design helps to improve the overall structure of the product or system. Principles of refactoring can also be applied to organization design. As with software design, the design of our organization can benefit from deliberate improvement efforts, but those efforts must have a purpose, and must serve the broad community of stakeholders that affect, or are affected by, the organization. Refactoring to agile and lean organizations demands that we have a shared vision of what the refactoring needs to achieve, and that we optimize the organization around the people doing the work.

The full conference proceedings are available form Springer.

Presentation slides

My presentation slides are here:

Understanding who our stakeholders really are, and how their stake changes over time

When we use the term stakeholder in software development, we often take too narrow a view of who our stakeholders really are. Classic stakeholder management defines a firm’s stakeholders as those people and groups that influence, or are influenced by, the activities of the firm.

To successfully ship a product or deliver a service, it helps to understand who has a stake in our product, our services, and our organizations. It also helps to understand that the nature of that stake or claim changes over time. Applying principles of stakeholder management helps our agile and lean organizations to be successful.


If we understand who our stakeholders are, and when their claim takes on a higher degree of salience, then we can, among other things:

  • Better plan for how and when to engage with the diverse community of stakeholders that influence, or are influenced by, our products and services
  • Avoid surprises as we innovate, design and ship products
  • Reduce risk, or at least identify risks that we might otherwise miss
  • Take a more holistic view of the people involved in our product development, or service delivery
  • Avoid the need to revisit issues because the right people were not involved in the decision-making process
  • Create whole teams that create and deliver the right products

We can use 3 attributes (Power, Legitimacy, and Urgency) to create a simple model that helps us to understand our stakeholders’ salience. We can apply this model from multiple perspectives, e.g.,

  • from the perspective of the managers of the firm
  • from the perspective of the product team
  • from the perspective of the product itself
  • from the perspective of users of the product

Open Jam at Agile 2010

At this Open Jam session at Agile 2010 we will

  • Explore who the wide variety of stakeholders are in a product development effort.
  • Attempt to understand these stakeholders in terms of Power, Legitimacy, and Urgency, and how that helps us know which stakeholders we need to pay attention to
  • Attempt to understand how the salience of stakeholders changes over time, by looking at different stages in the life of a product, and therefore understand that we need to pay differing levels of attention to different stakeholders at different times.
  • Anything you want to talk about…


We will use a simple map that correlates stakeholder engagement with time, highlighting various phases of a product’s or feature’s life cycle.

Using a whiteboard, flip chart paper, markers and stickies, we will work together to understand which stakeholders have a stake at different times in a product’s life cycle, and how that stake changes (or has the potential to change) over time.

Where and when

Open Jam session at Agile 2010 on Thursday August 12th at 5:15 PM in the Genie Open Jam area.

Refactoring the Design of the Organization

Every organization has a design. As the organization evolves, the design may or may not evolve to support the needs of the organization’s stakeholders (including the agile teams, managers, executives, customers, etc.). Sometimes we may wish we had the opportunity to start again with our organization design, and may even have some solid ideas about what we would do differently. However, few of us have the luxury of actually starting again, unless perhaps we build a new company.


Organizations that decide to ‘go agile’ or adopt ‘lean development’ are often not prepared for the sort of organizational issues that are implied by such a decision. Even those organizations that, with the greatest of intentions, tell their teams to “go, be agile”, do not set their teams up for success unless they provide the right organization support structures that create the right environment for their teams to be successful. Sometimes, fundamental is required.

For established companies with an established design, if we want to change something, then we need to refactor the design of the organization.

Managers, executives and other leaders have a crucial role to play as designers of the organization.

Open Jam at Agile2010

I’ll be speaking in greater detail on this topic later this year at LESS2010.

This Open Jam session at Agile 2010 will explore a number of questions, e.g.:

  • What refactorings would you apply?
  • What are we refactoring towards?
  • What is our measure of success?
  • How do we make sure we don’t break the organization while refactoring?
  • Should we be refactoring towards yet another fixed structure, or should the new structure accomodate, expect, and support ongoing change?
  • What structures do we need so that we build teams that are truly whole, cross-functional, and empowered to build the right thing?
  • What tests can we apply to ensure the refactorings are successful?
  • How do principles of coupling and cohesion apply to organization design?
  • Who are the key stakeholders in the organization design?
  • How does the current organization design serve it’s stakeholders, and how will the new organization design change that?
  • Do we really need to change anything? Can’t we just patch the current organization design?
  • What about skill specializations? Can communities of practice within our organizations replace functional silos?
  • What about HR issues? Reward structures? Compensation?
  • How can we build more autonomy into the organization?
  • What’s the relationship between organization vision and organization structure?
  • What are the implications for decision making?
  • How can we apply the Type I Toolkit for Organizations, so that we create an environment where intrinsic motivation can thrive?
  • Anything you want to talk about…


Using whiteboard, flip chart paper, markers and stickies, we will work together to understand how we might go about refactoring an organization.

We can take an example of a typical, large matrix organization with functional silos and discuss what refactorings we would like to apply.

Where and when

Open Jam session at Agile 2010 on Thursday August 12th at 12:30 in the Genie Open Jam area.