Category: Agile Social Enterprise


Cross-posted from www.openagile.com, this is an interview I conducted with Mishkin Berteig, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting, about the world’s need for an open source agile methodology. Along with Mishkin and myself, there are 20 other dedicated people who have arisen to serve the OpenAgile Community as champions. They’re applying OpenAgile to many different environments and sharing what they’re learning so we can improve the methodology.  For example, Barry Turner of Turner Agile Project Solutions is implementing this approach at a small town museum, and Jim Heidema of Professional Sales Plus has been active in using OpenAgile in the financial services industry. Everyone is welcome to get involved and contribute.
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Another in a series of articles intended to briefly explain how to apply different agile practices to the work of social innovators, today’s topic is Progress Meetings:

Over the past few days, I have had some great conversations about Progress Meetings, also known as Daily Standups. While there is much more that can be said about these short meetings, I wanted to give a quick recap of the three questions along with a bit of guidance about how to make these meetings effective.

Progress Meetings take place in the context of a Cycle Plan. Members of the Team start their day with a short meeting that intended to keep the team aligned, focused, and constantly adapting. Generally, Progress Meetings cover three basic questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday (or in the last work period)? – the length of the work period depends on the length of time that might elapse until the Team can get together to update their status again, such as a team of volunteers
  2. What am I going to do today? – this question orients the Team member to the tasks of the next work period; consider it mini-planning
  3. What did I learn/observe in the last work period that might be helpful for others on the team? (Alternatively, you can ask “Were there any obstacles preventing me from getting work done?”) – this is intended to carve out a moment of daily reflection, sharing, & learning that will aid the Team to become high performing

Some Guidance about Progress Meetings

Remember that the Progress Meeting should be short. That’s why it is useful to have everyone standing up. Once people start to fidget, you know the meeting has gone on long enough. Keep the meeting simple and focused on answering only the three questions. Most importantly, avoid having discussions about any particular points that come up. If more discussion is needed, you should schedule a separate meeting for discussing that specific issue.

Would you like help becoming more agile?

If you would like help implementing Progress Meetings or any of the agile practices in your organization, please post a comment on the blog. I am certified to provide OpenAgile training, coaching, and consulting, and I would be happy to aid your enterprise to realize the full benefits of being agile.

Another article in a series intended to briefly explain how to apply different agile practices to work in social purpose organizations, today’s topic is: The Agile Workspace

Agility requires that we create an environment that is conducive to fruitful interaction. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a value delivery team is face-to-face conversation. Team effectiveness increases as barriers to communication decrease.

An agile workspace is anti-cubicle farm. It provides a mixture of collaborative, social, and private space. The collaborative space at the hub of activity is the “team room”. The ideal team room can be easily reconfigured based on the team’s needs. Team members face each other, usually at tables in the center of the room. Walls are used for posting notes, displaying charts, graphs, and the results of brainstorms. There should also be space for writing or drawing, such as a white board or chalk board, so that team members can creatively express and capture their ideas and progress. Social space in an agile work environment should include things to make the team members comfortable, such as a kitchen with snacks and a good coffee machine. Finally, it is helpful to have a nearby room for private conversations or to allow team members to “check out” if they need to focus or clear their head.

The folks at Sustainability Studio in Toronto have a beautiful agile workspace. The architects used modular walls that can be reconfigured as needs change. There is also a ton of natural light and the freedom to open a window for some fresh air. Take a look at the pictures. Just throw some sticky notes on the wall, and you would have what I’m talking about.

One question that inevitably arises is “what do we do if we can’t get everyone together?” Remember that learning is the means by which you achieve agility and deliver value to your stakeholders.  It is okay to accommodate distributed team members as long as you do your best to adhere to the principles of collaboration and consciously learn from the process.  For instance, if you usually have a weekly team meeting by phone, try getting a webcam and do a video Skype chat instead. This way the distributed team members of your team can have that extra visual connection. After trying this tool, reflect on its use and see what you learned from the experience. If you find something that works well, don’t change a thing. And if something didn’t work, try something different.

For more reading on agile workspaces, and plenty of pictures to inspire you, I recommend:

MIT School of Architecture + Planning The Agile Workplace: Transforming Work and the Workplace

The Ideal Agile Workspace | Mike Cohn’s Blog – Succeeding With Agile

The “Best Agile Work Space” Contest | Analytical-Mind

Would you like help becoming more agile?

If you would like help transforming your space to an Agile Workspace, or assistance with adopting any other agile practice, please post a comment on the blog. I am certified to provide OpenAgile training, coaching, and consulting, and I would be happy to aid your enterprise to realize the full benefits of being agile.

Part of a series intended to briefly explain how to apply different agile practices to the work of social innovators, today’s topic is Using Self-Organizing Teams instead of Groups:

In a traditional work setting, there is a manager who oversees a group of people with specific role definitions. There is a one way reporting relationship. If you can imagine a pyramid-shaped org. chart, you’ve got the basics.

Agile works on the principle of self-organizing teams.  In an agile work setting, the members of the team organize the work tasks among themselves.  They volunteer for tasks and hold each other accountable for completing the work. The manager, who is not necessarily on the team, is responsible for giving the team the support they need to do the work. The trust invested in the team has a huge payoff for the individual team members and the organization in terms of productivity and satisfaction.

There are two primary reasons I believe social innovators would be attracted towards self-organizing teams: efficient use of people resources and creating a culture of empowerment.  It is more efficient to have a team of equals who have a unified vision and who produce valuable results for their stakeholders instead of a group of individuals with a singular view defined by their job description that produce results for their manager.  An organization with a culture of empowerment draws on the capacities, experiences, and motivations of impassioned individuals and gives them the tools required to produce valuable results and change the world for the better.

I wrote about my experiences applying this approach to the work of a volunteer-driven charity in the article Agile Approach to Volunteer Management

Would you like help becoming more agile?

If you would like help building Self-Organizing Teams in your organization, or adopting any other agile practice, please post a comment on the blog. I am certified to provide OpenAgile training, coaching, and consulting, and I would be happy to aid your enterprise to realize the full benefits of being agile.

There are numerous resources on the web that cover traditional ways of looking at volunteer management. However, there is very little written about how one might create a job description for a volunteer at an Agile non-profit organization. Here’s a little comparison of the two perspectives:

The traditional human resource approach puts volunteer job descriptions in the context of the organization’s strategic plan. Proponents essentially say:

  1. develop a strategic plan
  2. decide and document the tasks needed to carry out the plan
  3. decide if you need volunteers to do those tasks given your constraints
  4. create a job description of those tasks
  5. recruit the volunteer to fit the job description
  6. train the volunteer so they’re clear on your expectations
  7. monitor to see if the volunteer is meeting your expectations

The traditional human resource approach says everyone should have a job description that lays out the organization’s expectations and the person’s specific duties. The underlying idea is that people are more likely to give their time when they know what they will be doing. People also want assurance that their work is important and contributes to the goals of the organization. Without this comfort and confidence, they will be unsatisfied with the volunteer opportunity and will do a poor job, leave the organization, or worse, do some damage to the organization’s reputation.

An Agile Approach

Thanks to OpenAgile, Agile is not just for software development anymore, and many of the practices seem to be a strong fit for maximizing resources at a non-profit organization, especially when it comes to managing volunteers. Some of the principles underlying an Agile approach are to avoid excessive bureaucracy, long-term planning, and static role definitions. Proponents of Agile think of job descriptions as guidelines rather than requirements. An Agile process to managing volunteers could look something like this:

  1. the organization starts with a goal
  2. begin working toward the goal with anyone who is committed to doing the work (the “team”)
  3. as the team works through successive iterations (cycles of action, reflection, learning, and planning), the team learns what they need to be more efficient and effective
  4. if the team learns that they need specific skills, the team makes obtaining those skills a priority and they learn the skill themselves or seek someone with those skills to contribute to the work
  5. if a volunteer is interested in contributing to the work, the team can decide if the skills that person offers matches what the team needs to do their work
  6. welcome the skills and interests of the new team member and continue working towards the goal

Agile encourages organizations to use cross-functional teams composed of people who are committed to doing the work and willing to experiment by trying and learning. In an Agile environment, the team focuses on the goal, not their personal job descriptions. Team members are free to complete any task they want. For example, imagine a task for doing some work on a website. I may not have experience to complete the task easily, but if I’m free to try. It’s possible that I’ll learn something new that will make it easier to complete the task the next time. As they work, volunteers develop competencies and skills that complement those of the other members of the team.

Template for creating a job description for an Agile volunteer:

Position: Team Member

Purpose: To provide value to the stakeholders of the organization (ex. staff, community members, constituents, frontline workers)

Primary Duty: To aggressively learn and experiment to improve the ways the organization does work. This applies to all aspects of our work, including: stakeholder relationships, organizational effectiveness, process and tool efficiency, skill and capacity building, and underlying conceptual framework.

Secondary Duties:
To work jointly with all team members to help achieve the organization’s goals
To engage with the team members to create and commit to a Cycle Plan
To use your knowledge, interests, and skills to help the team complete the work in the Cycle Plan
To participate in regularly scheduled progress meetings with the team
To help the team to keep its commitments to the organization and its stakeholders
To make sure that the work done holds to the organization’s standards

Interesting Resources for Further Reading:

Agile:

OpenAgile – The OpenAgile Primer

Scott Ambler, Agile Modeling – Generalizing Specialists: Improving Your IT Career Skills

Mishkin Berteig, AgileAdvice – The Wisdom of Teams and”generalizing specialists”

Susan M. Heathfield, About.com Guide – Are You Ready for an Agile Future? An Agile Organization Embraces Change

Traditional:

Community Services Council Newfoundland and Labrador – Volunteer Management Resources

Joanne Fritz, About.com Guide – Before You Recruit Volunteers

Mary V. Merrill, World Volunteer Web – Developing volunteer job descriptions

For the past several weeks, I have been helping a small charity solve a dilemma. Because the charity is well-recognized for their good work, they regularly attract volunteers who want to help. Unfortunately, the two overworked staff members are too busy to recruit, train, and manage them. My approach has been to use OpenAgile, an open source system for delivering value to stakeholders, to implement a few simple techniques to help them.

There are several aspects of OpenAgile that fit very well for managing volunteers:

1. Self-Organizing Behavior

This means people “volunteer” for tasks instead of doing them based on a tightly defined role or having someone tell them what to do. This frees the staff from having to assign work. Instead, they identify priorities and rely on the volunteer’s creativity and personal motivation to do the task in their own way.

2. Shared Responsibility for the Workload

When there is more than one volunteer, they work in a team and share the responsibility for the workload. The team of volunteers discuss the priorities of the organization, and decide among themselves what tasks need to be completed. Then, they create and commit to a 1-2 week short-term plan that will deliver those results. Finally, they come back after the 1-2 week period and reflect on what they accomplished.  This pattern of action, reflection, learning, and planning is one of the Foundations of OpenAgile.

3. Visible Tasks

This means that all people doing the work should be able to see what tasks needs to get done, what is in progress, and what tasks are done. One technique that co-located teams often use is simply posting tasks on a wall using sticky notes. (Check out my OpenAgile Task Wall Prezi) Another cool idea is Card Meeting which works on the same principle, but it can be useful for distributed teams.

4. Learning Manifesto

The emphasis on learning is perhaps the most important aspect of OpenAgile that aligns with the needs of volunteer management.  The Learning Manifesto states that “Learning is the key that unlocks human capacity.”  Volunteers are drawn to an organization because of its vision but can get pushed away when they feel they’re underutilized or not able to contribute in a meaningful way.  By making it explicit that the volunteer is primarily accountable for learning, the organization creates a safe space for experimentation and innovation.

I am helping Berteig Consulting give a free information session at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto.  The topic is: How Social Innovators can take an Agile approach to achieving their mission

Here are the details:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Centre for Social Innovation
Toronto
215 Spadina Avenue – 1st Floor Boardroom

What business practices do companies like Google, Toyota, and Research in Motion have in common? They all follow an approach called Agile, a unique way of looking at business that:

  • Encourages innovation throughout the organization
  • Delivers valuable work quickly and frequently
  • Continuously improves quality
  • Eliminates traditional siloed processes
  • Teaches teams how to manage themselves
  • Creates a flexible work environment that produces dedicated employees

Fundamental to the Agile approach is the strong conviction that individuals and interactions are more valuable than processes and tools, that truthfulness is the foundation of success, and that generosity of spirit is the foundation of prosperity. Berteig Consulting, the Canadian leader in Agile coaching and training, has developed a systematic framework to help individuals, teams and organizations assess their capacity to implement and benefit from Agile practices and then to build on their own strengths to become more reliable, hyper-producers of value for their customers, communities and society.

In this introduction to Agile methods, you will learn:

  • how Social Innovators can use Agile practices to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity toward achieving their mission
  • the difference between Agile methods and traditional project management
  • how to introduce consultative decision-making and self-managing teams into your organization

Since its inception, Berteig Consulting has been at the forefront of learning in the realm of Agile methods, practices and disciplines. We are looking for partners who are interested in contributing to a case study on Agile in the environmental and social innovation sectors. Selected organizations will receive substantial free management training and coaching in exchange for participating in the case study.

Admission is free and open only to innovators in the social and environmental sectors

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