Saturday, 16 April 2016


I hope by now you know that one of the fundamental beliefs of Agile mindset is Empiricism. Being empirical is about learning by doing, by testing, by experimenting. Agile practitioners are the ones that usually are avant-garde when it comes to working like this. Or at least this is what we expect.

Well, just like in other areas, even here we have groups. Some Agile Practitioners (AP for short) love experiments. They can generate multiple a day. They love building hypothesis, they love collecting feedback and they love analyzing what they find. I have noticed that when people like these are on a team, focus is mostly on innovation AND creating relationship within stakeholders.

Some other APs are cautions. They support experiments but they make sure to bring up risks and any electric fence we might face ahead. They make sure everyone hears all of these so that some adjustments are made to the hypothesis/experiment to add some safety around. When people like these are on the team, focus is on delivering value AND create alignment within stakeholders.

And then there are the other APs, with a high level of caution.Their experiments are usually big, well analyzed, verified on google after hours of research, and with many metrics to measure success. When people like these are on the team, innovation will not happen any time soon and team values rules and tools. Yes, the team will achieve expected results but will not break new ground. After all, most of what they did was found on google as something that others had tried before.

So, personally, I have started looking at the team behaviors to understand what kind of agile practitioners are in the team, starting with the coaches. This helps me to understand where these teams are strong and where they have room for improvements.
Yes, I can hear you saying "Yeah but... ".
Let's consider some of these "but-s".
  • Team is not in an environment where experimentation is supported 
  • People on the team are worried about consequences they might have individually
  • Why experiment if someone has done this before?!
  • People on the team are not agile practitioners
  • There is too much regulation around what we do
  • Our client is not a StartUp, is an old, established business
  • We like to experiment but our manager doesn't
  • I don't like experiments. Tell me what to do
  • ...
If you try to understand the root cause of each of them, we will end up in tow big groups
You can hear Linda Rising about the Fixed mindset, so I will talk more about Fear here. But there is one thing I want to mention. Fixed mindset has a hard time with experiments and will pull back others on the team that do have a Growth mindset and want to experiment. Try to keep them limited on the second group of APs. Listen to their concerns, adjust when needed, but don't hold back on trying something new.

Can be of losing job, losing credibility, losing a bet, losing a client, losing a deadline, losing relationships, losing money, losing opportunity, losing control, losing time....
It's all about losing something. And this is on all levels. Individuals are feared to lose any of the above. Same for teams, managers, organizations, enterprises. At some level, someone has fear to lose something.
There are 3 zones we can operate.

The Safe zone, where we are compliant, where everyone agrees, where we are "covered" on all sides.

Warning zone is where we start pushing boundaries and we do things that are risky, experimental, might fail or might win, test relationships. It is called Warning zone because what you are doing might piss-off some people around you but you will not lose your job, you will have other chances even though they might come with more surveillance and control.

Danger zone is where we have pushed our limits a lot and we have made a lot of people uncomfortable with the new system we have created, where we are trying things that were not imagined could happen and where we might lose the job.
The bigger the fear the more we stay in the Safe zone 
As you might notice, Safe zone is the smallest zone. Because we are safe, we do achieve results but everything is under control, soundly managed, practices followed to the dot, tools trusted and everything is supported with proof that someone else out there has done the same and is working. We are used to put this category in "waterfall" but I think this is visible on Agile teams as well. These are the teams where scrum is done by the book, where any idea that comes up needs to be googled and find support before using it, where there is value on doing things right until we find that we were doing the wrong thing.
From my personal experience, this zone is where I learned the least and I was scared the most. It might sound counter intuitive, but that one company I worked where I played on the Safe zone all the time, was the company where I was fired after 1 year. I did everything Safe, and when the first change came up, I was the one that lost the job. Not the ones that were trying. And that was the last time I worked on the Safe zone in my career.

And then is the Warning zone. This is where we TRY.
This is where we start questioning things. This is where we try to do things that are not found on google, where R&D begins, where discovery is the way to achieve goals. We discover what will the manager say if we try something new, we discover how the product will look if we try something different, we discover if the client will like our suggestions, will discover which one is more important between time and money.I believe this is the zone where most successful Agile teams operate. They do go sometimes on Safe or Danger zone, but Warning is their comfort zone. This requires courage, purpose, desire and support. I can tell you many stories about being in the Warning zone but it might take a while. What I will tell you, is what I have found when being in the Warning zone:
Warning zone is not as scary as it seems when you look at it from Safe zone!
The more comfortable I have grown to be on the Warning zone, the more I have grown to learning, creating new relationships, have integrity, face challenges, create proofs rather than search from others and, GSD (Get S&!t Done). Yes, I do analyze, I do research, I learn from others but I do not limit myself to that. I create. I do work that others will search on google and repeat after me. I will ask for forgiveness and will try again with more knowledge.

What about the Danger zone? This is where we go to the Moon and back!
This is where fear has no place. This is where innovation thrives and where fixed mindset feels threaten to death. The only place they might go is Warning zone. Safe zone is the least preferred one. As you can see, this is the largest area. There is room for so many things to do here. But with more Power comes more Responsibility. To be comfortable in the Danger zone, you need to be comfortable with the possibility of losing big or winning big.
This is where the "crazy ideas" come from.
And we know that some of them have shown us that they were not that crazy. This is not a zone where majority of individuals or organizations hangs-out. This is for the brave and for ones we call "anti-social" because they work for a cause, not to be nice. If you are there, use it with care and with responsibility, and love every minute of it.

Still with me?

If you are or want to be an Agile practitioner, EXPERIMENT!
If you are not experimenting, stop and ask yourself why.
If you have a Fixed mindset, start working on creating a Growth mindset.
If there is fear that stops you, TRY and push yourself to Warning zone.

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