Category Archives: Agile

Optional Conference impressions

This week I attended the Optional Conference organized in Budapest. Below you can find my notes.

My talk on the Agile Mindset

I gave a talk at the conference comparing the agile and the traditional mindset. It’s the stuff I’ve written about in a paper earlier this week. Here’s the presentation from the conference.

Notes from other talks

Here are some notes I jotted down during the talks:

  • Budgets don’t work because they force two different numbers into a single one: the estimate and the target budget.
  • It’s hard to manage people in Generation Y, because their parents made sure they have everything. As such, they can’t be threatened or bribed. Instead, they must be inspired.
  • There are two types of stress and we want to avoid the second. When we start adding pressure, at first eustress kicks in, but with enough additional pressure we become distressed:
    • eustress is good, it helps achieve results
    • distress is not good, because it triggers the limbic system (our primitive brain)
    • agile helps because it generates mainly eustress
  • If you want to get into a state of flow, you need the right balance between the difficulty of the problem you are solving and you own skills. This model of flow illustrates the various combinations between difficulty and skill.
  • Ericsson is doing agile in a 112.000 persons organization. The R&D department is more advanced in terms of adoption, and they have a massive 24.000 people involved.
    • The program manager for a product being developed by 450 people told the story of trusting too much in incremental architecture and being bitten by it when they had to make significant investments to switch from a simpler database to a more scalable one.
  • Deutsche Telekom is another massive company who is transforming to agile. In one city, they have 100 teams who are organized using agile concepts: long lived, cross-functional, collocated. To ensure a constant flow of ideas, periodically one person is rotated between the teams.
    • The team members rate their managers on how well they embody the company and agile principles.
    • Teams have veto rights on new hires.
  • Rational arguments are not that useful for convincing people. What works better is storytelling.
  • Boris Gloger had the closing keynote. He advocated for an agile management style based on strong leadership skills. He emphasized four: clarify the purpose, give positive feedback, listen and use appreciative inquiry.
  • I need to learn more about holacracy, human system dynamics, radical management and appreciative inquiry.

Agile and HR

More and more people are asking me about how to “marry” agile and HR practices. The performance review is one of the most pressing concerns for HR professionals, and they want to align the practice to fit with agile principles.

Jurgen Appelo advocated during dinner for dropping the practice altogether, but my feeling during the Open Space was that most managers were afraid of this perspective (I ran a session on this exact topic). Boris Gloger gave me an interesting idea to chew on when, after discussing various alternatives, he said “So, are we thinking that the HR manager should be like a ScrumMaster for the organization?”

I’ll have to clear up my thoughts on this, but I feel that’s an interesting direction to explore.


Is your mindset blocking your agile transformation?


In the last few years I’ve been involved in several agile or lean transitions. Some of them went smoothly and for others we had various challenges.

Upon reflecting on the main causes that slow down or even kill transitions, I became convinced that the prevailing mindset of the organization is one of the key blockers. To fully detail my view, I’ve written a paper called Mindset as barrier (PDF, 9 pages).

Give it a read and tell me what you think.

(Image from:

2013: the state of agile


If you’re considering adopting agile, or have already done so but wonder how your adoption is going relative to other companies, you’re in luck. VersionOne has recently released the results of their yearly survey titled “The State of Agile“. For companies transitioning to agile or considering it, the report provides valuable clues on how to maximize the results of their change initiative. 3501 responses were collected for this survey.

Going over its contents, some things stand out:

  • Scrum is still the market leader and seemingly the only choice at the moment. Teams that have adopted vanilla Scrum, Scrum + Extreme Programming or Scrum + Kanban account for 73% of the total. Kanban-only implementations are at a low 5%. [1]
  • Agile passed the early adopter phase. 19% of all companies have been doing it for more than 5 years, and 53% for 2-5 years.
  • Agility is scaling past the individual team level. 57% of the respondents said they have at least 5 teams doing it and 38% have more than 10 teams.
  • Not all agile practices are equally popular. Some numbers I hope to see increasing in the future: 50% of respondents integrate development and testing, 47% do refactoring, 30% pair program and only 15 % measure cycle time. On the flip side, there’s a 10% increase in the usage of retrospectives in the last 2 years. This is good.
  • It seems we’ve found a scenario where agile seems to be difficult to implement: outsourced projects. Plans to run that type of project using an agile approach dropped from 77% to 39%.
  • There are still many misunderstanding regarding agile. The biggest concerns people report are related to a lack of up-front planning, loss of management control and lack of predictability. In my experience however, it’s often the opposite: teams and managers report they feel they have more control and optimized predictability after adopting agile. Expect a blog post on this soon.
  • I imagined everybody would report a faster time-to-market as a result of going agile. After all, that was the whole point of agility, wasn’t it? The percentage, 83%, while still good, indicates that more change is needed across the organization to reap full benefits. If I had to guess, I’d say it is at the portfolio and program management level or in the marketing or sales departments.
  • If you want to succeed, the most important recommendations are to involve senior management and to properly train everyone. At the same time, you must be ready to face the biggest barriers to change: company culture and reluctance to change.

In closing, I want to thank VersionOne for making the effort each year to make this happen. I’m sure it does wonders to their sales, but it’s also a very valuable resource for us agile coaches.

[1] It’s likely that the results of this survey are biased — after all, the majority of the replies comes from VersionOne customers. The report even indicates that 2/3 of the respondents are from the US and 3/4 are from companies with 100-1000 employees. As such, you might want to take the results with a grain of salt. I especially suspect that smaller companies and startups aren’t accounted for all that well. However, the general findings match my experience with companies adopting Agile.