Choosing an Agile Consultant

How can your company that is rife with waterfall and top down management choose an Agile consultant? Not to just teach Agile. You need to find one that will help your company with the mindset change and the organizational changes that need to happen to sustain Agile. There are many consulting firms and you need to sort through them all and find the right fit for you.

The first question the consultants should ask is, “Why do you want to move to agile?”  They need to also ask if you are willing to make the culture shift to an Agile culture and organization. In other words, do you want to Agile in your organization for the long run.

Be wary of companies that want you to make a long term commitment for classes and coaching. It is true an Agile transformation needs coaching but it should be on an as needed basis.

Do you have any red flags or go ahead signals to pick a consultant? Let me know!


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Why is it that some agile adoptions succeed and others fail?

To me it is clear. “Ownership.” Teams take ownership of the delivery, the processes, and their own effectiveness.

Unfortunately, under micromanagement regimes, teams develop a bad case of learned helplessness. And after a while, they find it’s not so bad. They can’t be accountable. They don’t fail, the process didn’t work. They come to work, do a bit of work, and go home. Not everyone likes this and they don’t stay long under such management. Those that do stay are operating at 50% productivity or less!

Getting such teams to take ownership takes good leadership. Leaders must create a culture of trust, be trustworthy, not take ownership away from the teams, and be consistent. They must also help teams to take ownership.

The best thing a leader can do is to not give answers. Once a leader gives an answer, the leader haves the ownership and just took it away from the team or individual.

Ask questions! Such as, “How do you want to solve that?” “What do you want me to do?” “How on the team can help you with this?” “What options have you tried?” and there are many more.

Ownership. When teams take ownership of delivering high quality, working solutions to customers and refining the process to improve their own performance, then we have the beginnings of an agile mindset.

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Interview Questions

By now you all know I am a collaborative leader. I trust my teams and help them take ownership. I feel all the decisions should be made by the team. My job is to own the decision making process: to make sure the team makes the decision but NOT make it.

Many people ask me how to find the best people. I follow the guidelines from Dee Hock:
Hire and fire first on the basis of integrity, second, motivation, third, capacity, fourth, understanding, fifth, knowledge, last and least, experience. So often we seem to get this backwards. How is that working out for you?

Many people ask me what questions I would ask to interview for Integrity. I ask the following:

  • How do you define integrity?
  • What is the difference between integrity and ethics?
  • How do you define trust?
  • Can you ever trust someone who has broken your trust? Why?
  • What would you do if your boss asks you to compromise your integrity? Has this ever happened to you?
  • How do you define compassion? What part does this play in leadership?

Well, I have many more but these are a start. Yes, there are no correct answers. Watch to see if people begin the “interview dance” where they begin to search for what you want to hear. Listen for the ring of authenticity.

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Feedback vs Criticism

“There is no such thing as constructive criticism. After all, when was the last time someone asked you if you wanted some constructive criticism and you knew it was going to be good news? However, feedback is valuable when it honors the relationship.”

I have gotten a lot of push back on this statement. What is the difference between criticism and feedback? Mainly it is how the receiver feels after the message is delivered. Feedback makes us feel we did a valuable bit of work and with a few additions, it will be better. With criticism, we feel defensive, defeated, and demotivated. AS if everything is wrong.

Ok, it is up to us on how we will respond to feedback but I find it hard to hear the message when I feel my effort was a “waste of time”.

How do we give feedback that honors the relationship? Do you like and respect this person? Do you think their work has value? If yes, make sure you message expresses this. Ask questions such as, “What do you mean when you say, xxx?” Not, “Are you saying yyy?”

The best feedback is when it helps us discover a new view and learn something.

This takes integrity, truth and awareness. If you give feedback when you think you have to or when it is your job or you think someone is wrong, people will be resentful.

As a consultant, I have learned not to give feedback unless someone asks for it. Then, they might be listening.

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Trust and Ownership

I have been thinking a lot about the subtle ways we take away ownership and display lack of trust. They seem to be tightly coupled. Here are two examples.

What about getting estimates from your team. I see this scenario often. “How long will it take you to build this?” managers ask. “Three weeks,” comes back the reply. And what’s the first thing out of the manager’s mouth? “Can you do it in less?” And since they are the boss, and the developer might worry about his job, he says, “Ok, two weeks.” Now who has ownership? The boss. Is the developer going to spend late nights getting it done? Not likely. Most people, when they are asked for something and commit to it themselves, they will do all they can to make it happen, because they have ownership.

When Paul retired from IBM, he worked with us inside IBM as a consultant. One day we were in a conference room with our client taking a break. “Pollyanna,” Paul asked, “how do I get reimbursed for my expenses? Do you have a form?” “No,” I answered, “Give me a dollar amount and we pay you.” “No receipts?” “No, I don’t want you wasting your time filling out forms or collecting receipts. Give me a number.” Our client shook her head thinking about all the forms she had to fill out, all the corrections, all the receipts she had to justify. She didn’t have ownership of company expenditures.

What other ways can you think of? Send me your stories. Thanks!

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Performance Reviews

I have to go and do the performance reviews for my team,” said a colleague at dinner. We had met up at a conference and she felt she had excuse herself early.

“Why are you doing them?” I asked. “Did they set their own goals?”

“Yes,” she answered. “But HR expects me to do the evaluation of whether they met those goals.”

“Let them evaluate themselves,” I replied. “They know best how well they reached their goals, not you.”

“I’ve been wondering why this was bothering me. I wonder what HR will do but I’ll give it a try.”

Weeks later I saw her and asked how it went. “Great. One or two of the team rated themselves a bit lower than I thought but I gave it all to HR just as they wrote it.”


This is one case of how to avoid independent performance reviews – an activity that takes the ownership way from the team. If we stack rank the team members in a review, then we reduce the incentive to collaborate.

Find your own alternative to this demotivating practice! Ask your team for a solution.


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Our Biggesst Challenge: Culture Change

“We can’t do agile until there is a culture change.” How many times have we heard that? The culture is the largest barrier to agile adoption. At worst, agile methods fail. At best, agile has a very painful growth.

Every time I talk with agilistas they say culture change is hard. And it is. Over the past years, we at Accelinnova have developed some tools to help you lead the culture change – creating a culture in which agile methods thrive.

In this blog, I will begin the dialog on what they are, where and when to use them, and the expected outcomes.

More to come!



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