I was recently asked by the Adelaide Agile community to give a talk at their Scaling Agility meetup. I had a lot on my plate the last few months with adapting all of my training to the virtual world and running some TKP and KMP sessions, but I thought this is a topic that I’d like to address. I think that many organisations have been doing “Agile at scale” in the wrong way so I hope that the folks from Adelaide – and others around the world, got something out of this recent talk.

I’ll start with what I think folks have been doing wrong. Firstly, the whole “we need to reorganise first” is completely wrong. There are a number of organisations doing this to implement things like SAFe and “the Spotify model”. I think this is completely unreasonable because it puts people offside in the organisation from the start and guarantees that for about the next 12 months your organisation is going to be massively internally focused and lose track of customers and purpose. If I were a competitor and you announced you were going to go down this path I’d be smiling away in the background knowing that I’d have a distinct competitive advantage for the immediate future that I should capitalise on.

Also, when it comes to things like the “Spotify Model” – not even the folks at Spotify think this is a thing. If you think the benefit is there, then go right ahead, but you’re missing the point that each of these organisations is unique and has particular needs. What was going on at Spotify was based upon their culture, their domain, their market – so a variety of factors that you likely don’t align with. I’ve always believe that organisations should find their own path to agility that is unique to their context – sure there may be patterns that you can apply, but don’t do so blindly.

Which is really my key point – understand the problems you’re trying to solve, understand your customers and understand your purpose. There’s no such thing as perfect and you’ll need to continually adapt. Models like SAFe are more internally focused and don’t put these things at the forefront – it feels more like a solution looking for a problem. I’ve mentioned this before in posts like “Focus on core problems“.

Scaling with Kanban is different because you focus on problems facing your customers and your teams. You look to understand purpose – customer and organisation, and evolve towards it in a humane way. There are different ways you can look at scaling such as height, width and depth. These are the kinds of things I cover off in my Kanban Management Professional courses. If you really want to go deeper as well, I’d suggest checking out the Kanban Maturity Model which has gone through many evolutions and is now packed full of useful, pragmatic advice.

Many thanks to Jason Cameron for reaching out to me and asking me to do this talk. It might be somewhat different than what your group is used to, but I hope that everyone got a lot out of it.

Here are the slides:

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On Thursday 9th July 2020 the Melbourne Kanban meetup, the Sydney and Wellington Limited WiP Society meetup groups got together to conduct a Kanban Unconference.

In conjunction with my co-facilitators Ben Hogan and Silke Noll, we undertook to do a virtual unconference on Kanban with our meetup groups. An unconference is quite simple, we make up the topics on the day and there’s a few basic rules to it:

1. Whoever shows up are the right people.
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
4. It’s over when it’s over.

Remembering the “Law of two (virtual) Feet” which means if you’re not getting or giving value in some way, you’re free to continue to move around.

Here’s the schedule we came up with:

Here’s a great shot of Ben facilitating the session:

We’ve done this before in person in the Melbourne Kanban meetup, but never done it virtually. We used VideoFacilitator and Mural for the tools and they were perfect for this kind of setup. If you’re thinking of doing an virtual unconference yourself, you should check these out.

I really enjoyed the session and I think my co-hosts also got equal enjoyment from it. Our attendees also responded positively to this. It’s more personal than a regular conference, and with everything being remote lately, we’ve been doing a lot of presentations in the meetup, so small conversations were a welcome change. It was so good, we’re thinking of doing this on a slightly larger scale in the future.

Here is a link to the output from the session:

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On 29 August 2019, the Melbourne Kanban and Cynefin meetup groups held a joint meetup for the first time. The Kanban meeup group has done this a couple of times before with other groups, but I thought it would be a good time to try out a combined session with Cynefin. There are a number of overlaps between Kanban and Cynefin, so I wanted to get together and see if we can explore these to see if they really exist or not.

In choosing the format for the session I was inspired by a number of the conversations I have with Kim Ballestrin (@kb2bkb). Kim has been running the Cynefin meetup group since its inception and over the years we have had a number of discussions about cynefin and agile practices – I often leave the conversation having shifted my viewpoint or at the very least have something new to think about (thanks Kim!). Thus, I thought that this kind of approach would be something worthwhile for the combined meetup.

So, the idea of the “Debate Night” was formed with the purpose being that we’ll try and explore these areas to see if there is any overlap. We figured that we’d use a method for exploring the complex domain or areas of uncertainty and debating had some really positive reasons for doing this, such as putting people in a safe environment to explore things that might be counter to their own current beliefs.  

Kim and I enlisted the help of her meetup co-host Helen Palmer (@helenmpal) to help organise the event. I must take my hat off to Helen (thanks!), she did a wonderful job helping to set things up for this session. Helen’s “snowstorm” idea that we used at the end of the session for summation / feedback is something I haven’t tried before and having seen how she did it I’m sure I’ll use it in the future.

There were 3 topics for the evening, we broke everyone up into randomly organised groups for the affirmative and negative for each topic. Participants were given 20 minutes to discuss and come up with some arguments for their particular side of the topic. Once the preparation was done, each team selected one person to present the arguments / things that they discussed. Due to the time constraints, we couldn’t organise a full debate, but I think we got a lot out of hearing what the discussions provided.

The Topics

Discussing the Topics

Splitting people into their separate groups to explore the domain
Lots of fun had in the discussions

Going through one topic at a time, we heard the arguments for and against each topic statement. Then the audience were given a chance to decide whether they were swayed by one group or the other – and if they had changed their thinking as a result of the presentation. I must admit, that even though I have a strong bias towards Kanban, I did take onboard some of the arguments that were presented and started to think more critically about things.

Amanda Varella arguing in the negative on the topic of “Metrics for 21st century knowledge work need a major overhaul”

As I mentioned earlier, the “Snowstorm” was used to sum up and give feedback. Here are the many points of feedback:

The topic of the use of Kanban for the complex domain generated quite a lot of discussion – we may take this back and run another meetup session on that in the Melbourne Kanban meetup. Also, I believe there may be spin off sessions in the Cynefin meetup group to discuss how each of the domain might / might not apply to a given topic. Watch this space for further developments.

All in all, I think the night was a great success and perhaps it would be a good format to use for future meetups. Special thanks to Elabor8 who provided the meetup venue.

For anyone wanted to get more information on the meetup groups, here are the respective links. Note that the Melbourne Limited WiP Society has been renamed to the Melbourne Kanban Meetup.

Melbourne Kanban Meetup (Limited WiP Society)

Melbourne Cynefin Meetup