Tag Archives: Agile

Planning is Everything… If You Know How To Plan (Part 1)

In the next two minutes, you will learn what planning is and why it is a critical enabler in today’s VUCA world.

The above General Eisenhower quote and similar ones by Perter Drucker, Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, and Mike Tyson, are peppered in leadership and team-building presentations at conferences, company off-sites, and in blog posts. Although powerful—just as strategically hanging posters of your company values above water coolers does nothing to change your organizational values—sharing a planning quote at the beginning of your planning sessions does nothing to improve your organization’s planning capability.

Background. As an Agile Coach with a military strategic and operational planning background, I’ve noticed that very few organizations and coaches know how to plan. A common planning mistake organizations make is throwing a group of people into a room for one, two, or three days to “plan” without showing them how to plan. As a trained and experienced military planner, I know that the science and art of planning (knowing how to plan) must be learned, practiced, and reinforced at every level of an organization.

Knowing how to plan is a human interaction skill and when combined with other cognitive and social skills such as closed-loop communication, the emergence of a collaborative and innovative organization becomes possible. 

What is planning? 

  • The primary goal of planning is not the development of detailed plans that inevitably must be changed; a more enduring goal is the development of teams and organizations who can cope with VUCA
  • Planning provides an awareness and opportunity to study potential future events amongst multiple alternatives in a controlled environment. Through planning, we begin to understand the complex systems we are trying to modulate.
  • Planning is an anticipatory decision making process that helps teams and organizations cope with complexities
  • Planning is continuous.
  • Planning is Fractal. A stand-up is a fractal of a sprint planning session. A meeting should be a fractal of a strategic planning session.
  • Planning is part of problem solving.

Why Plan? 

  • Builds individual and team situational awareness and the organization’s sensemaking capability
  • Helps build leadership skills
  • Planning helps individuals, teams, and leaders anticipate the future
  • Planning helps organizations navigate complexity
  • Planning helps individuals, teams, and organizations understand the system (operational environment) 

How to Plan?

For how to plan, I will save that for another day. There are great planning processes out there that an organization can start practicing today. In Part 2, I will provide a Rubric that will inform your planning how.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

References 

Norman M. Wade. The Battle Staff Smartbook: Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making & Tactical Operations. Lightning Press, 2005

JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011

Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), March 2015. http://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/15-06_0.pdf

Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

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Planning is Everything… If You Know How to Plan (Part 2)

In Part 1, I provided the “What” and “Why” of planning. The intent of Part 2 is to provide organizational leaders a planning Rubric, one that organizations can use to evaluate the adoption of a third-party’s planning process or to help leaders in the development of their organization’s planning “How.”

Based on my experience, training, and education in iterate planning, here are 10 criteria I find essential for any planning process:

  1. Context
  2. Goals | Objectives | Commander’s Intent
  3. Anticipate the Future
  4. Mitigate Cognitive Biases | Challenge Assumptions | Reduce Risk
  5. Low-Tech, High-Touch
  6. Contingency Plan
  7. Retrospective… Part of the Plan
  8. Simple
  9. Iterative
  10. Designate/Rotate the Facilitator

1. Context

You must understand your operating environment (system). Is your operating environment ordered, complex, or chaotic? Not sure? Use the Cynefin framework to help make sense of your context before developing your mission goals, objectives, or Commander’s Intent.

2. Goals | Objectives | Commander’s Intent

If you are operating in an ordered system, then you should be able to establish clear, measureable, and achievable objectives (SMART goals/objectives are okay if you like redundancy). However, this is an unlikely scenario given the amount of VUCA in most operational environments.

For organizations and teams that operate in a complex system—which should be most organizations and teams—using a defined outcome such as SMART goals is not so smart. Why? You cannot predict the future in complex environments. Since complex environments are dispositional, we need to start journeys over stating goals. Vector-based goals are fine—wanting more of X and less of Y is a good example of a vector-based goal and also serves as a decent Commander’s Intent.

3. Anticipate the Future

Complex adaptive systems anticipate the future. Your planning process should include a step that allows team members to identify potential threats to the goals, objectives, or Commander’s Intent. Threats include things such as holidays, days off, system availability, weather systems, outbreak of the flu, multiple futures, etc.

Anticipatory planning also includes identifying resources and people—both available and needed.

4. Mitigate Cognitive Biases | Challenge Assumptions | Reduce Risk

Use Red Teaming, liberating structures, or complex facilitation techniques to mitigate cognitive biases, challenge assumptions, and reduce risk. These tools also help identify weak signals—where innovation comes from—and serve as a check against complacency.

5. Low-Tech, High-Touch

Use a large canvas or board to plan. Sending PowerPoint decks back and forth is a horrible way to plan (Conway’s Law). PowerPoint is a presentation tool, not a planning tool. A high-touch, low-tech approach to planning requires people to be present, both physically and mentally, in a room or rooms.

6. Build a Back-Up or Contingency Plan

You cannot plan against every contingency—those items that you identified as threats or impediments—but your planning process should include a step where the team looks and plans against some of the known unknowns from the complicated domain. Do not spend too much time on unknown unknowns—an organizational adaptive mindset, partially developed from learning how to plan, is a great tactic for protecting against risks in the complex domain.

7. A Retrospective… Part of the Plan

Planning is part of problem solving and building situational understanding; however, a retrospective is far more important than planning and must be included in your plan. Daily re-planning sessions (stand-ups) should also be included in your plan.

8. Simplicity

You should be able to use your planning process as a way to lead a meeting or a stand-up (a re-planning session).

9. Iterative

Planning is not sequential, it is iterative. It is okay to go back and revisit a previous idea, assumption, objective, etc.

10. Designate a Facilitator

If your team and organization knows how to plan, you can eliminate the need to follow a coach who is an expert at putting planning quotes on the board. Leading a planning session builds leadership capability. It also creates team and organizational accountability.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

References

Norman M. Wade. The Battle Staff Smartbook: Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making & Tactical Operations. Lightning Press, 2005

JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011

Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), March 2015. http://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/15-06_0.pdf

Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

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To Build Great Teams You Need a Plan, Not a Picture

Take a look at the painting below…

Vincent Van Gogh - Cafe Terrace at Night

Notice the way the painter (van Gogh, of course) uses color to create light and shadow, which helps add contour. He draws with perspective, which creates depth. Brush strokes create the illusion of texture, such as cobblestones on the street, or wood on the frame of the doorway. Figures and shapes create the impression of movement, action, and build a scene which our minds can easily interpret.  Now you understand some of the most critical elements in painting, right? So… now you should be able to paint a replica of this masterpiece, or at least be able to create something similar which is just as impressive and iconic.

Can’t do it? Neither can I. We can probably almost universally agree that one cannot simply be shown a great painting, told what techniques, brushes, paints, and colors the artist used in painting it, and then be expected to reproduce it.

There is a fundamental difference between knowing what one needs to do, and actually developing the skills and ability to do it.

Yet we are currently living through exactly this sort of coaching fallacy every day. All around us, thought-leaders, authors, managers, coaches, just about everyone – are deluging the internet with just about everything they can image about the characteristics and behaviors of great teams. For example:

High-performing teams deliver amazing results with high quality.

High-performing teams collaborate together to solve the most difficult problems with ease.

High-performing teams have a common purpose. They work toward shared goals.

High-performing teams manage inter-team conflict and are balanced.

High-performing teams celebrate diversity.

In fact, let me share a little collection of just some of the various attributes, characteristics, and skills found in various articles and publications about “how to build high-performing teams.” Spoiler alert! Like looking at a piece of art, this information doesn’t tell you anything about the things you need to do to start developing your teams toward high-performance. It just shows you a pretty picture of what awesomeness looks like.

characteristics_behaviors_and_skills_breakdown

So what? We, as individuals, managers, leaders – as a culture – are often far too focused on what things look like – great teams, great cultures, great companies, great innovation – and in trying to explain how incredible, amazing, wonderful, efficient, or effective that greatness is, we fail to consider or share with people the more important knowledge about how they can actually start to improve, themselves.

It’s the difference between showing someone a great painting, instead of helping them develop into a better painter. Or to use a sports metaphor, watching Messi and Ronaldo score goals doesn’t help me to become a better soccer player. To improve, I have to develop my own skills.

I suspect the harsh truth is that most of the enthusiastic authors who blog about and are so excited about high-performing teams have never worked in one, never led one, and never built one. Maybe they’ve seen one or two up close? I don’t want to detract from their exuberance, and I applaud the enthusiasm. Yet I also acknowledge the fact that people need more than pretty pictures to help them improve their own situations.

Fortunately, the skills that high-performing teams and organizations use to normalize greatness are skills that every individual, every team, and every organization can develop, too. Communication, collaboration, situational awareness, problem-solving, agility, leadership – even and especially empathy – are all highly trainable skills which empower the dynamic, human interactions and cooperation upon which great teams are built.

The knowledge and information needed to build effective, powerful teams is out there. It is grounded in decades of experience and scientific research in a multitude of fields across a diverse array of work domains spanning every industry. The teams which employ those skills work in the most demanding environments on (or off) our planet, solve the toughest problems, innovate, collaborate, and perform at incomprehensible levels.

To build great teams you need more than pictures and descriptions. You need a plan to train your teams and based on knowledge, research, and experience. That plan starts with the skills which fuel every kind of team, everywhere. Skills which are transcendent and universal because they leverage one powerful fact:

we are all human.

 

Chris Alexander is a former F-14 Tomcat RIO & instructor, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, High-Performance Teaming™ coach, Agile coach, Scrum Master, and is passionate about high-performing teams, teamwork, and enabling people to achieve great things.

This post originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/build-great-teams-you-need-plan-picture-chris-alexander

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High-Performing Teams: Built from the Basic Skills of Human Interaction

I’ve struggled my whole life to connect the dots. I’m the smartest dumb person I know, and I at times amaze even myself with the brilliance of my own insights, which generally occur simultaneously alongside my forgetting to turn off the stove, or turn on the dishwasher (which I’ve just finished loading).

I recall quite vividly sitting in Instrument Ground School, well along my way to becoming an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), and learning about Crew Resource Management (CRM) for the first time. My overwhelming thought at the time was, “why do they insist on teaching us things we already know?”

Of course, they weren’t. Instead, once again, I was both intelligent enough to recognize the value of CRM for what it meant to my situation immediately, but not smart enough to appreciate, in any sense whatsoever, the importance of its formation and history, nor its incredible potential to help people everywhere to work together, in any environment or on any problem; from operating rooms to oil rigs, from ocean floors to outer space.

High-Performance Teaming™, one of Crew Resource Management’s successors, leverages those same skills which have been proven to help teams perform and succeed in High-Reliability Organizations across cultures and industries to include NASA, surgical teams, nuclear power stations, civil and military aviation, and special forces units, to name just a few.

The simple reason that these tools work across such diverse types of teams is not because they are based in the newest or most proven processes, or the latest in business operating frameworks or methodologies. Rather, these tools work because they focus on building the skills which enable dynamic, positive, and powerful human interaction.

By leveraging our shared human abilities to learn and improve, and targeting the skills specifically connected to the human capability to effectively function as part of a team, we can develop high-performing teams regardless of functional level or the domain of work.

Take, for example, rock climbing.

I know – “whaaaat?” Stick with me. I was recently asking one of the teams I work with what they would like to do to celebrate our successful (and early) completion of a software feature. Typically I would expect the standard answers: go to a team lunch, after-work drinks, trip to the pinball museum, Friday-night pool – the usual things teams choose to do. Yet, as is becoming standard, the team surprised me.

“The weather Thursday is supposed to be beautiful. How about if we do a team rock climbing day?”

Now I’m a climber and so are a couple of other people on the team, and going climbing together is something we’d half-joked about plenty of times, but this was a real suggestion. So I asked around, gave it some thought, and realized we could use the experience to not only have fun and bond further as a team, but to actually train with the skills we’d been talking about at the office in an entirely different context. My hypothesis was that a team of individuals climbing together is still a team, and the same skills which drive human interactions within teams in an office environment, an operating room, or in a cockpit, should be congruent.

So we went rock climbing, and discussed the litmus test. Here’s how I set up the day and the High-Performance Teaming skills we discussed in the context of our day on the rock.

Communication. As it was actually quite windy at the climb site and we were a few hundred feet up the side of a hill beside a busy interstate, the conditions for clear and easy communication were not good. Yet communication is critical to good team performance. Personal tendencies, culture, speech, choice of words and a standard vocabulary, not to mention overcoming environmental challenges (wind, noise, etc.) were all critical to our performance.

Assertiveness. Given the challenges already acknowledged to our communication, combined with the fact that we had a few new climbers who hadn’t done this sort of thing before, we recognized the need for everyone to assume an assertive role in helping the team ensure that we achieved our goals. We needed everyone to speak up when something didn’t look right or make sense, or when they did not understand anything about what they were being asked to do.

Goal (or Mission) Analysis. I asked the team at the parking lot to state what they believed was our goal for the day. “Go climbing,” “have fun,” “enjoy the outdoors,” “bond as a team” were a few of the responses. All noble and understandable goals, to be sure, but I offered another: “come back safely.” Understanding what your primary goal or goals are isn’t always intuitive, obvious, or easy, but getting it wrong can create a cascade of mistakes due to your team being misaligned on the very fundamental issues around why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Situational Awareness. Understanding that we’re going to have to make decisions about which routes to climb, who will be climbing belaying, whether we need to clean routes behind us, and a host of other potential situations (what happens if someone is injured?) requires us all to constantly re-assess and evaluate where we are in our day, what we are doing, and what we are trying to do. We need to ensure that we are fully aware of what is going on around us, and what is supposed to be going on around us.

Decision-Making. Early in the day our ability to decide on which routes to climb and which partners would climb/belay in what order was affected by stress, but as the day wore on and the stress of working together in a new team diminished, fatigue and the potential for complacency set in. Our ability to make the right decisions in important situations such as who climbs next, when to clean the route and move, who leads, where and when to relocate, when to take a break, and when to stop for the day, hinged on our ability to communicate well, maintain our situational awareness, and maintain focus on our primary goal – a safe return.

Agility. Many people talk about being Adaptable, however I prefer the term Agility. Agility, I’ve heard said, is Adaptability in a timebox. We had no sooner hiked around the corner to our climbing site to begin execution of our plan to climb the first two pitches (which were not challenging by design), then we had to adjust our plan due to the fact that both routes were already being worked by the local fire department, also out for a day of cliff rescue training in some gorgeous weather. So we quickly re-planned and moved to an alternate site.

Leadership. In a team of peers, leadership is often a revolving position. In a team with three experienced climbers and three beginners, we needed to rotate leadership responsibilities at different times based on the situation. Yet what most people get totally wrong is what the leader actually does. The leader isn’t there to make decisions and pass out orders, rather to pull the team together, ensure everyone understands what is occurring and what the plan is, solicit feedback and invite constructive dissent, to support assertiveness, and to leverage the collective wisdom of the team in analyzing goals and making collective decisions. Leadership is not about being right, it is about what is right. As each of us moved through moments of assuming leadership, our interactions were all similar: does everyone understand and agree with the plan? Does everyone understand what is being asked of them? Are you ready to move forward? Are we all ready for the next step?

Empathy. The ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotional state of others is a fundamentally human skill which powers every other social interaction skill. Looking at my climbing partner who is about to start on the route, I ask “ready?” The novice climber looks back tentatively and responds “ready.” However I see in his stance, face, and eyes that he is struggling with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. I encourage him to begin the route by pulling the rope tight and responding “on belay – I’ve got you.” This gives him some confidence. I don’t want to take his fear and uncertainty away – I want him to work through it on his own, which I know he can. This is empathy in action.

The skills required to enable and power high-performance teamwork are grounded in our fundamental ability to interact with other humans. This statement will continue to be true until the day arrives when we need to team with robots or aliens, at which point it is conceivable that other skills might be required. However for the entirety of human existence, people have needed to work together and have, unsurprisingly, evolved to do just that. The amazing thing in our growing technological age is that some of those natural, instinctual, basic social skills are incredibly difficult to recall and apply. Yet train, learn, and apply them we can, and in doing so we can actually help build and become the incredibly high-performing teams we’ve always envisioned.

 

Chris Alexander is a former F-14D Flight Officer, the co-founder of AGLX Consulting, High-Performance Teaming™ coach, Agile coach, and Scrum Master, and has a passion for working with high-performing teams. Learn more at https://www.aglx.consulting.

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17 Ways to Stop Your Organization’s Agile Transformation

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), now known as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), published the Simple Sabotage Field Manual which provides organizational saboteurs—let’s call them managers and employees who are on the wrong bus—a guide on how to interfere with organizational development and transformation.

As an Agile and High-Performance Teaming™ Coach, I have observed the following 17 tactics found in the Simple Sabotage Field Manual skillfully employed by managers and employees who clearly do not want their organizations to survive and thrive in today’s knowledge economy:

  1. When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
  2. To lower morale and with it, productivity, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers, complain unjustly about their work.
  3. Hold [meetings] when there is more critical work to be done.
  4. Demand [documentation].
  5. “Misunderstand” [documentation]. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such [documents]. Quibble over them when you can.
  6. Make “Speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great lengths.
  7. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  8. Insists on doing everything through “channels” [and email].
  9. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible–never less than five.
  10. Spread inside rumors that sound like inside dope.
  11. Contrive as many interruptions to your work [and team] as you can.
  12. Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment.
  13. Never pass on your skills and experience to anyone.
  14. If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.
  15. Give lengthy and incomprehensive explanations when questioned.
  16. Act stupid.
  17. Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™, an evidence-based approach to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams.

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What Agile Teams Can Learn from Flight Crews

Small, cross-functional teams working together with devices, focused on a shared objective, surrounded by complexity and frequently changing conditions. Welcome to the world of software development. And commercial aviation. Think the similarities between software development and aviation end here? Think again.

Aviation continues to have a profound influence on software development, organizational agility, cyber security, and transforming managers into leaders. For example, the complexity-busting framework, Scrum, used by technology companies to build complex software, comes from fighter aviation and Lean manufacturing. The Lean Startup, a popular business-model framework used by today’s hottest Silicon Valley startups, is based on John Boyd’s OODA Loop, an empathy-driven decision cycle that captures how fighter pilots “get inside” their opponent’s decision cycle to gain a competitive advantage.  Similarly, OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) is used to rapidly design products and in the burgeoning business of cyber security. On the management front, aviation is reported to be the inspiration behind the Holocracy movement, a social system where authority and decision-making are distributed throughout self-organizing teams. But you already knew all of this, right?

Next Time You Fly on a Commercial Carrier…

Commercial aviation flight deck and cabin crews follow the empirical process of plan, communicate, execute, and assess on each leg of their assigned trip (mission). Similarly, software developers around the globe follow the same empirical process found in Scrum—Sprint Planning (plan), Standups (communicate), Sprint Execution (execute), Review and Retrospective (assess). A sprint or iteration is a time-boxed mission (one to four weeks long) where potentially shippable software is delivered. With empowered team members and solid execution, Scrum builds a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

There’s more?

The human interaction skills needed on the flight deck and on software development and business teams are exactly the same; these cognitive and social skills include empathy, collaboration, discipline, communicationleadership, situation awareness and teamwork. Moreover, the silent killer found in the cockpit is also the top threat among software development and business teams.

Slow and insidious, poor Workload Management is the silent killer. However, software developers and Lean experts refer to Workload Management as Work in Progress (WIP). When business and software teams try to do too much (too much WIP), or do not have a shared purpose or objective, rapid value delivery (effective productivity) and quality decreases—detriments to business survival.

Prioritization of work in and out of the cockpit is an imperative but flight deck and cabin crews have a marked advantage over software and business teams: flight crews are trained on the effective use of all available resources needed to complete a safe and efficient flight; software and business teams are not. The non-technical skills training flight crews receive is called Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Threat and Error Management (TEM).

CRM, affectionately known as “Charm” school, teaches the cognitive and social skills individuals need to be part of high-performing teams in complex, rapidly changing environments. TEM is a human-system approach to building habits and skills team members need to manage threats and errors within complex operating environments.

What if technology teams applied the cognitive and social lessons learned from CRM and TEM to the world of software development?

Instead of “Scaling Agile,” what is needed is a Crew Resource Management- and Threat Error Management- influenced Agile Operating System–a system that builds leaders and empowers teams and individuals at every level. This operating system should enhance Scrum through a simple, repeatable, proven, and scalable set of interconnected and interdependent planning, communication, execution, and assessment processes that drive innovation, create leaders, and build a continuous learning culture. Think of this human operating system as the non-technical skills teams need to overcome complexity—those skills that flight crews have burned into muscle memory.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering Naval Aviator and Commander in the U.S Navy Reserve. He is the co-founder of AGLX, LLC, a Seattle-based Agile Leadership Consulting Team, and a ScrumTotal Advisory Board Member.

(c) Can Stock Photo

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High-Performing Teams: Four Lessons From the Blue Angels

What do Seattle area technology companies and the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels) have in common? Aside from the fact that Seattle’s tech community and the Blue Angels continue to “Crush It” when it comes to delighting their customers, there is a deeper, relatively unknown bond that connects Seattle’s techies to the six Boeing F/A-18s they will see performing over Lake Washington this weekend.

Software and business teams including those at Capital One Investing, Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Tableau, Expedia, Nordstrom, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Qumulo, REI, Starbucks, Boeing, Getty Images,  and Wikispeed are using Scrum, the complexity-busting, productivity super weapon inspired by fighter aviation to help them rapidly deliver products to their customers in today’s turbulent market.

So how does Scrum connect to the Blue Angels? That’s easy. According to Dr. Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, “Scrum is based on [his] experience flying F-4 Phantoms over North Vietnam.” Furthermore, Scrum is not about software development but is a simple framework designed to fight complexity. Dr. Sutherland recognized the cognitive challenges faced in the technical and near chaotic environment of fighter aviation are the same as those faced by knowledge workers. Just as the Blue Angels plan, brief, execute, and debrief each performance and practice, Scrum teams in Seattle follow the same empirical process in each of their sprints.

So what else can Scrum and other small teams learn from the Blue Angels? The list is long but here are four lessons to consider over this airshow weekend.

1. Unstable Systems (Teams) are the Most Agile 

The Blue Angels are not an unstable bunch, as far as I know, but the Boeing F/A-18s they fly are inherently unstable. Unstable aircraft are highly maneuverable (agile) but require a skilled pilot and onboard flight computers (a management system) to coordinate the movement of the various flight control surfaces during routine and dynamic flight. Similarly, according to the authors of Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations, unstable or volatile teams (the central paradox of teams) are the most productive and successful when held together by a skilled leader [1].

Bottom Line: Diverse teams, when led by a skilled leader, are the most agile. 

2. Team Size

The two pizza rule made famous by Jeff Bezos is a nice heuristic to describe the ideal team size—usually around 6-8 people. The Blue Angels fly in a formation of six but have eight customer-facing core members whose combined appetite will break the Amazonian two pizza rule—naval aviators can eat a lot. The optimum team size, according to current research, is 5-7 members but effective teams have 4-9 members [2].

Bottom Line: The ideal team size is 4-9 members.

3. Pairing

Imagine losing 50% of your team each year…all at the same time. Will you be able to deliver at the same level your customers are used to?  At the end of this season, CAPT Tom Frosch, the current Blue Angel #1 and team leader will be replaced by CDR Ryan “Guido” Bernacchi.  In addition to having a new leader in 2016, the team will add a new #3 and #6 while the current #3 moves to #4 and current #6 moves to #5. So how does the team deal with this much change? They have smaller pizza parties.

Early in the season, before the team flies in a Diamond (four-ship) or Delta (six-ship) formation, the team will break into smaller teams, or pair-teams. Blue Angel #2 will coach his boss on how to lead the formation. Blue Angel #4 (the old #3) will coach his replacement while learning a new position. And Blue Angel #5 (the old #6) will train the incoming #6. By pairing, veteran team members serve as advisers and transfer knowledge to new members through open and honest criticism in and out of the debrief.

Bottom Line: Pairs are the “basic bricks from which the edifices of larger teams are built [2].”

4. The Power of Proper Debriefing

The most important event in any continuous improvement or innovation cycle is the debrief (retrospective).  At the end of each and every flight, the Blue Angels follow the same debrief process where they leave their rank and egos at the door and focus on what is right, not who is right. You will not find Post-it notes or a ScrumMaster facilitating their debrief. Instead, team members will follow the same proven debriefing process they have been using their entire careers. This complex team learning process (debrief) builds culture, team resiliency, and improves future execution.

Bottom Line: Learn how to conduct a debrief and stop playing retrospective games.

Conclusion

Fighter aviation has a profound influence on how Scrum and high-reliability organizations approach their day-to-day work. Unfortunately, some people who want to build high-performing teams using Scrum (or other agile frameworks) continue to deny or discount that the many lessons learned in fighter aviation can and should be applied to their practice. According to a recent BBC report, psychologists recognize that human behavior is the same across technical environments, and applying the lessons learned from aviation will help mitigate group cognitive biases in any organization.

Ready Break. Ready Roll.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering Naval Aviator, a 2003-2004 F-14 Demonstration Team Member, and Commander in the U.S Navy Reserve. He is the co-founder of AGLX, LLC, a Seattle-based Agile Leadership Consulting Team, and a ScrumTotal Advisory Board Member.

References:

[1] Rich Karlgaard & Michael  S. Malone. Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (Harper Business, 2015).  Pg. 74

[2] Rich Karlgaard & Michael S. Malone. Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (Harper Business, 2015).  Pg. 97

BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02x3vwh

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