Geoff Watts [@geoffcwatts] (founder of Inspect & Adapt Ltd) is an authority in today’s Agile world. His books (now on audiobook format too) Scrum Mastery and Product Mastery can be found in the library of everyone involved in the world of Agile and/or product development. Geoff, decidedly focused on bringing out the best in people, is also a professional coach who wants to promote the use of coaching techniques in the everyday life of organizations and future leaders.
We have had the opportunity to interview him and ask him a bit of everything to understand what motivates him, his key ideas and next goals, among them, his new and recently launched application Agile Coaching Cards, a whole pack of cards and resources to facilitate agile in organizations.
Geoff, when talking about setting up Scrum in a new environment, in your opinion, what are the first steps to take? How to start?
That’s an interesting question because there are a few common ways that things get going. Quite often organisations find that there are already pockets of agile within their organisations and so the first step can be finding them and supporting them, nurturing their growth.
If there aren’t any existing pockets of capability, then I am a big fan of “starting with why” and a lot of my work is helping leadership understand not just the theoretical rationale for Scrum but their specific rationale for Scrum – if indeed Scrum is the right answer for them because it might not be.
Assuming that they discover that Scrum is the right answer for them then my suggestion would be to find the most important piece of work that the organisation has going on and find whoever is needed to get that done then giving them the environment and support to enable them to succeed. Sounds simple, right? 🙂
Based on your experience, can you think of any situation or context where it is very complicated or even impossible to use/set up Scrum?
I’m not a big believer in the word impossible. I believe almost anything is possible but EVERYTHING has consequences. Trying to use Scrum in an inappropriate environment can be disastrous so it’s worth knowing what the point of Scrum is and when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t. I created a short video on this because there are so many people, teams and organisations that adopt something because it’s trendy or because they feel they should.
In short, though, if the future is unpredictable, likely to change and complexity is high then Scrum could be a very good idea. If the answer of what to do is obvious, little collaboration and exploration is required and repeatability is possible then Scrum is probably not a good idea.
Because of this, Andrea Tomasini of agile42 and Dave Snowden (creator of the Cynefin framework) and I have created ORGANIC agility (™) which is framework agnostic and helps people take a sensible approach to how to approach work, and leadership, based on the degree of complexity they find themselves in.
You have been involved in multiple transformations. Which one do you feel more proud about?
I have come to realise that transformation is a misleading word. The goal of organisations now is not to transform but to become able to constantly reinvent itself in order to survive to the ever-changing conditions of the domain and industry. The places that I have been who own their process and have shown not only a willingness and ability to inspect and adapt what they do and how they do it but to continue to do so are the ones where I feel I have been successful.
Geoff Watts is a speaker in forums such as TEDx and author of books such as Scrum Mastery, Product Mastery and The Coach’s Casebook. He has also launched his Youtube channel: Inspect & Adapt Ltd.
There is a lot of information about Agile world nowadays everywhere. What would you suggest to a reader that is just taking his first steps?
It’s quite a daunting book to look at but The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt is a great introduction to the theory behind the need for many of the principles of agile. And despite its daunting size, it is a very easy book to read – certainly one of my favourites.
What do you think about the current Agile market (consultants, trainers, etc) health condition? What would you suggest to the Agile community about it?
I think there are two things in your question there. The agile “market” and the agile “community”. I think the former has significantly taken over the latter. In a market everyone is thinking about their next pay check. In a community everyone is thinking about how they can contribute. It’s completely divorced because there are a number of people out there who are responding to needs and innovating as a business. The short term rewards however need to be sacrificed for the long term and that is the difficulty for many.
As an example, Paul Goddard and I realised ten years ago that the CSM (while good) was not giving the practitioners and organisations everything they needed to be successful. Despite the market incentivising us to offer CSM, we decided to create a new unprofitable offering – advanced training for ScrumMasters. Eventually this became supported by certifying bodies and it became more helpful to both the market and community.
We frequently talk about motivated teams and individual, but which techniques would you suggest to help Agile Coaches’ and/or Scrum Masters’ self-motivation? any particular practice that you use on a daily basis?
Mindfulness is a very valuable and under-rated tool and, in particular, a gratitude journal can be very motivating on a day-to-day basis. I’m also an advocate of coaches practicing what they preach. If your coach doesn’t have a coach themselves what does that say to you about them? I have regular coaching myself and this helps me reflect on how I can improve but also on what I am doing well.
You dedicated a lot of time and work to help people working/managing product. In your opinion, which is the most common mistake companies make when they start designing/implementing product? Any tip they should be keeping in mind every morning to try to avoid it?
This is an easy one to answer: People assume. They assume they know what problems people have, they assume they know how to solve them, they assume their solution will work for others the way it works for them. The easiest way to avoid that is to run experiments. Don’t design solutions, create hypotheses and run experiments.
As one of your loyal audiobooks consumers I wonder, how did this initiative help your work as an Agile coach and Agile evangelizer? Have you received feedback from this initiative?
Thank you for listening! This was a classic example of me assuming something. I assumed that audiobooks aren’t in that much demand. I assumed that people would prefer a professional narrator reading my books to me. However I tested both of those assumptions and I was wrong on both.
How has it helped me? It has helped me feel good because more people are able to access what they need from me in a way that is convenient to them. I’ve been really pleased with the feedback I’ve got from the audiobooks so I’m really glad I did them.
Based on your knowledge and experience, which scaling framework do you think helps more to set-up Scrum keeping in mind its essence?
None of them. This is why Andrea, Dave and myself created ORGANIC agility. Believe me, we would rather have just supported something that was already there if we thought it would work. However, from what we have seen, the scaling frameworks are contradictory. They encourage agile in a waterfall way. They undermine empowerment and collaboration. They don’t take account of the context that teams and organisations are operating within.
In a few words…
From 0 to 10, how mature do you feel corporate world is (in terms of Agile maturity) in average? (0=newbies and 10= intrinsic agile mindset in all people and companies)
If you had to choose a fictional character to describe you as an Agile Coach, which one would you choose?
Funny you should say this. I have recently been called 3 different characters by different groups. I have been called Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings), Mr Miyagi (from Karate Kid) and Nanny McPhee.
Which is the most important “Agile Manifesto” principle from your point of view?
12 (At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly)
Our organization values (solidarity, continuous improvement, leadership, transparency) are truly important for us. Which values would you say should be part of every organization DNA and its members?
Curiosity, reflection, empowerment, safety, bravery.
To conclude, what are your professional plans/goals for this 2019?
I have three main goals for 2019. The first is to effectively offer Geoff at scale. To help more people through increasing my digital presence. This includes my Agile Coaching Cards app that I am launching imminently and expanding on my YouTube channel where I am continuously publishing free content.
The second is to offer more flexible certifications and in particular help more people progress their professional certification pathways through coaching instead of training
The third is to offer leaders a more appropriate pathway to creating the kind of culture that will thrive in today’s world. We call this ORGANIC agility and is a big change from scaling agile.
What do you predict are going to be the main highlights/trends in the next few months (within the Agile Community)?
I’ve never been good at predicting things which is why I don’t gamble and my children repeatedly beat me at things like fantasy sports!
I would like to think that leaders of organisations start to notice they have an option to the scaling frameworks on offer and staying as they are. The responses we have had from the organisations who have gone down the ORGANIC agility path have been amazing. We ask a lot of the leadership teams but they see the results really quickly.