Tag Archives: High-Performing Teams

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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A Shallow Dive Into Chaos: Containing Chaos to Improve Agile Story Pointing

In May 1968 the U.S.S. Scorpion (SSN-589), a Skipjack-class nuclear submarine with 99 crewmembers aboard, mysteriously disappeared en route to Norfolk, VA from its North Atlantic patrol. Several months later, the U.S. Navy found its submarine in pieces on the Atlantic seabed floor. Although there are multiple theories as to what caused the crippling damage to the submarine, the U.S. Navy calls the loss of the Scorpion and her 99 crew an “unexplained catastrophic” event [1].

The initial search area stretched across 2,500 NM of Atlantic Ocean from the Scorpion’s last known position off of the Azores to its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia. Recordings from a vast array of underwater microphones reduced the search area down to 300 NM. Although technology played an important role in finding the U.S.S. Scorpion, it was the collective estimate of a group that eventually led to the discovery of the destroyed submarine. The U.S.S. Scorpion was found 400 nautical miles southwest of the Azores at a depth of 9,800 ft., a mere 220 yards from the collective estimate of the group [2].

The group of experts included submarine crew members and specialists, salvage experts, and mathematicians. Instead of having the group of experts consult with one another, Dr. John Craven, Chief Scientist of the U.S. Navy’s Special Projects Office, interviewed each expert separately and put the experts’ answers together. What’s interesting about the collective estimate is that none of the expert’s own estimates coincided with the group’s estimate—in other words, none of the individual experts picked the spot where the U.S.S. Scorpion was found.

A Quick Lesson in Chaos

According to Dave Snowden, Chaos is completely random but if you can contain it, you get innovation. You do this by separating and preventing any connection within a system. And when done properly, you can trust the results. Skunk Works projects and the Wisdom of Crowds approach made popular by James Surowiecki are great examples of how to contain Chaos [3].

Dr. Craven’s approach to finding the U.S.S. Scorpion is a controlled dive into Chaos; preventing any connections within the group, protecting against misplaced biases. Moreover, by bringing in a diverse group of experts, Dr. Craven ensured different expert perspectives were represented in the collective estimate.

To contain Chaos, three conditions must be satisfied [4]:

1. Group members should have tacit knowledge—they should have some level of expertise

2. Group members must NOT know what the other members answered

3. Group Members must NOT have a personal stake

Story Point Estimates: Taking a Shallow Dive into Chaos

Agile software development teams frequently estimate the effort and complexity of user stories found in their product and iteration backlogs. Individual team members “size” a story by assigning a Fibonacci number to a story based on their own experiences and understanding of the user story. A point consensus is not the aim but, unfortunately, is frequently coached and practiced.

To reduce cognitive biases, contain Chaos, and accelerate the story pointing process, AGLX trains and coaches clients’ software development teams to ask the product owner questions using various Red Teaming techniques, to include Liberating Structures. Once all team members are ready to assign points to the story, team members place their selected Fibonacci card or chip face down on the table.

On the “Flip” in “Ready…Flip,” team members turn their cards over and the ScrumMaster rapidly records the individual points. When all points are registered, the ScrumMaster takes the average of the points scored and assigns that number to the story (rounding to the nearest integer, if desired). No need to waste time re-pointing or trying to come to a consensus.

Example. A six-person software development team assigns the following individual points to a story.

Cards

The average is 6.5 (7 if rounding). In this example, none of the individual estimates match the group’s estimate. And, the group’s estimate is not a Fibonacci number.

In some High-Performing Organizations where psychological safety is well established, some development teams will have the team members who pointed the story with a 3 and 13 (using the example above) to present their reasoning using a complex facilitation technique—time-boxed, of course. The point behind this ritual is not to re-point the story but to have team members listen to the story outliers or mavericks for the purpose of identifying possible insights. Caution: This is an advanced technique.

Innovative and Resilient Organizations

Containing Chaos requires expert facilitation and will not happen overnight. However, simplifying your story pointing approach by not allowing consensus or team consultation (Condition 2) when it comes to story pointing is a small step to becoming an innovative and resilient organization—if that is what the organizations desires.

Although the loss of the U.S.S. Scorpion and her 99 crew was a tragedy, by sharing the story of how the collective estimate of a group of diverse experts found the submarine on the seabed floor is a great example of the power of cognitive diversity and containing Chaos.

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 networks of high-performing teams. Contact Brian at brian@aglx.consulting.

[1] Sontag, Sherry; Drew, Christopher (2000). Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. New York:

[2] Surowiecki, James (2005). The Wisdom of Crowds. Anchor Books. pp. xv. ISBN 0-385-72170-6.

[3] Snowden, D.  KM World 2016 Keynote.  http://cognitive-edge.com/resources/slides-and-podcasts/

[4] Ibid

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High-Performing Teams and Complex Algorithms: Things You Don’t Have to Figure out Alone

Personally, I can’t solve long division. I don’t do algorithms, logarithms, or any other “-ithms.” I strongly dislike even having to do my taxes (and I am married filing jointly with standard deductions, no investments, no special circumstances, and no complications). I’ll be the first to admit, I’m just not that smart.

What I am is self-aware. After years of training, learning about, working in, and teaching high-performing teams, I knew there had to be reasons – very good reasons – that our techniques, tools, and methodologies all worked as well as they did. I knew there had to be something about the way we worked and the way we trained which was grounded in something other than wild guesswork, happenstance, and luck.

Indeed, as anyone who’s operated in a high-reliability organization knows, you do the things you do for very clear, proven reasons. Often, you do them because other people have died to teach you the lessons your organization has learned, helping to increase its resiliency and robustness.

Developing high-performing teams is no different!

I encounter – daily – blogs, LinkedIn posts, articles, podcasts, papers, seminars, conferences, Meetups (you get the idea) about various aspects of developing and enhancing teams and teamwork. Some are interesting and useful, but the overwhelming majority are based on personal beliefs, ideas, conjecture, experimentation, luck, a bad experience, or any of a number of other subjective, introverted, well-meaning but ultimately wrong ideas.

Don’t misunderstand – these ideas come from really smart people who are giving their absolute best, but intentions do not equate to outcomes.

Why aren’t we hiring these same people to handle our home renovation projects, build our national infrastructure, or handle international trade and defense policies? Because putting in a lot of effort and working hard is different from knowing what you’re doing.

You may be a very dedicated, hard worker, but I prefer to have an actual plumber working on my home’s plumbing, thank you.

Unfortunately, for too many organizations around the world, this is exactly what they do in building teams. They have highly intelligent professionals who are skilled in management, process and portfolio stewardship, agile frameworks and methodologies, and any number of additional things. Yet what they are not studied, or skilled at, is team-building.

To make things worse, these well-meaning individuals also believe, wrongly, that just figuring this “team-building thing” out on their own is the best, most effective course of action. To those people I want to reflect back to my earlier admission that I know my limits. You need to realize that unless you’ve been raised in a culture of team performance and team-building or have spent considerable time studying it, you probably don’t actually know as much about it as you think you do.

Rather, there is an entire world of scientific research, based in empirical studies, and grounded in human social, behavioral, and cognitive psychology, industrial – organizational psychology, human cognition, sociology, and human evolution which informs us about the social, human-interactive skills which power team behaviors, performance, and effectiveness.

There are an abundance of knowledgeable professionals who have spent most of their adult lives studying, working with, and developing great teams.

However despite that fact, organizations, leaders, and managers continue to struggle through trying to figure these things out on their own. They read an HBR article, a few blog posts, and walk away thinking “I got it.” In technology we have a huge array of protocols, structures, frameworks, processes, methodologies, tools, etc., which are intended to somehow supplant or circumvent the real and necessary process of teaching teams and individuals the social teaming skills necessary to enable them to team together effectively.

Developing great teams is not a secret, miracle, or act of individual or organizational brilliance. The science and practice of team-building is based in the fundamental makeup that accompanies being human. Ensuring teams can develop, survive, and thrive, requires the following:

  • Right Environment. Teams need to have the support necessary to enable execution, which includes clear vision/direction, prioritization, and goal-setting from leadership, a culture which enables and rewards teaming, and the ability to identify and deal with things which threaten the team’s ability to achieve its mission or purpose. It also requires leadership and concerted inputs from other teams, as well, like Human Resources and Product Management.
  • Right Skills. Teams need to be trained in the skills which enable high-performance teamwork, and that training needs to be experience-based as well as knowledge-based. They need to learn from those who have lived it, and they need to be empowered to continually learn, grow, and improve those skill-sets. Training individuals is a critically important – and oft-overlooked – key to success. Most people are not born great team players, however as with any skill, the skills which enable effective teamwork can be developed and improved over time.
  • Right Process. A team is a group of individuals working together – interdependently – toward a common and shared goal. As such, they need to have a product which unifies the team members in pursuit of that common, shared goal, and toward which they can work interdependently. They need to be able to employ a process capable of supporting their product’s domain (simple/routine – complex – innovative), and they need to be able to realize intrinsic motivators through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose (a la Daniel Pink).

Most importantly, you don’t need to figure out how to develop and implement all of these things yourself, and unless you’ve spent your career studying teams, teamwork skills, and team training and development, you probably do not actually possess the knowledge necessary to successfully develop these skills in your teams.

This may seem a stark presentation of reality, and perhaps a bit harsh.

We all want to think we’re great team players and we know everything there is to know about training and developing the skills necessary for teamwork. However, unless you’ve been studying teams, teamwork, and skills, and can name specific social, non-technical, non-process-related skills which enable and enhance interpersonal communication, collaboration, and creativity, you probably aren’t that knowledgeable about what teams and individuals need to develop and enhance their teamwork. As I said in an earlier post – being able to recognize great art when you see it doesn’t make you a great artist!

Instead, you can leverage the knowledge and expertise of others whose professional existence is grounded in building and developing great teams. There are a large number of people across various industries who focus and work in exactly this domain.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel yourself, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk to a car manufacturer who can actually help you get where you’re going?

Rather than devising or borrowing lists of protocols and processes to help you get the behaviors you desire out of individual team members, wouldn’t it make far more sense to simply train them in the skills and behaviors they need to team together effectively, provide them feedback, and enable them to execute and succeed together? The knowledge to do so is out there, resident in professionals across various industries and academia. When you find yourself confronted with these sorts of problems, I’d recommend you do what the best leaders always do…

…find and engage the best people to get the job you need done, effectively.

 

Chris Alexander (that’s me) is a former F-14 Tomcat RIO & instructor, and co-founder of AGLX Consulting, where he co-developed High-Performance Teaming™ – a training methodology focused on teaching individuals and teams the social, interactive skills necessary to help them achieve high-performance. He currently works as an agile coach at Qumulo, Inc. in Seattle, Washington.

This post originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/high-performing-teams-complex-algorithms-things-you-dont-alexander

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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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7 Ways to Hack Your Daily Stand-up to Create Psychological Safety

Data from Google’s Project Aristotle, a multi-year study of why some of the company’s teams were successful while others were not, revealed that psychological safety is the secret sauce behind its highest performing teams. (Psychological safety, according to Julia Rozovsky, an analyst with Google People Operations, is the dynamic that addresses: “Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?”[1])

But the multi-million dollar, 180-team study did not provide details as to how psychological safety is created. Fortunately, this teaming “discovery” by Google is not new. Thanks to human factors research in aviation and health care, creating psychologically safe environments is relatively simple — though not necessarily intuitive.

A psychologically safe environment cannot be established by simply proclaiming: “This is a safe environment.” And, as far as I know, Google does not possess a magic wand. Psychological safety, according to Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, must be created by leaders through simple behaviors and actions. Those leaders include perceived, functional and, most importantly, managers in the middle of the organization.

Before introducing key behaviors and actions that promote a psychologically safe environment, leaders should understand the benefits of establishing this critical condition that enables individuals working in groups to rapidly transition to becoming members of high-performing teams.

Psychological safety[2]:

  • Encourages speaking up
  • Enables clarity of thought
  • Supports productive conflict
  • Mitigates failure
  • Promotes innovation
  • Removes obstacles to pursuing goals for achieving performance
  • Increases accountability

Your daily stand-up is the perfect place to create a high-performance, psychologically safe environment for the team. As a leader, you can accomplish this by [3]:

  1. Being accessible and approachable. (Yes, managers are encouraged to attend Scrum events)
  2. Acknowledging the limits of current knowledge
  3. Being willing to display fallibility
  4. Inviting participation and valuing input
  5. Highlighting failures as learning opportunities
  6. Using direct language
  7. Setting boundaries

These seven key behaviors and actions will help you establish a psychologically safe environment for your team – no magic wand needed.


Practical Application to Daily Stand-ups (Scrum) and Your Typical Ineffective Meetings

Most Scrum teams blindly follow The Scrum Guide’s approach to stand-ups, where each team member answers the following three questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday to help the team meet its goal?
  2. What am I doing today to help the team meet its goal?
  3. What impediments are in my or the team’s way of meeting the goal?

Yuck!

This three-part daily Scrum Q&A is a recipe for a status update — which is not the intent of the daily Scrum, but is its typical outcome. To avoid this, and to create psychological safety during the daily Scrum, the event instead needs to be viewed as a re-planning session.

Below is an example stand-up and script that follows an effective planning process and provides several opportunities to display the behaviors and actions needed to create psychological safety.

Big Picture

“Good morning, team. It is 9:15. Today is May 6, the third day of Sprint. Our Sprint objective is to deliver the grommet and flipperdoodle functions for our elite users so they can bypass the ninth stage of zoom and provide us with rapid feedback. We have 12 stories with 68 points that support our objective. Our team goals are to use ATDD on 70 percent of our stories, practice closed-loop communication using SBAR, and to have at least four different team members other than the ScrumMaster lead the daily stand-up.”

With the big picture approach, we just created an opportunity for the person leading the stand-up to be viewed as approachable. We also established boundaries by starting on time (ending on time is equally important). Moreover, we repeated shared and common objectives and goals — the Sprint objectives are customer-centric and the goals are focused on teaming.

Failure Check

“Does anyone have a quick, individual failure from yesterday or today that you would like to share with the team?”

This is a great time for a manager, product owner, or functional leader to admit a failure, or show fallibility, in front of the team. Keep it short, 30 seconds or less. For a manager who is attending the stand-up, this is the only opportunity you have to talk until post stand-up.

Impediment Share-out

“What impediments, dependencies, or threats are going to keep us from achieving our Sprint objective and team goals today?”

This step invites participation and allows the team to build off of each other’s impediments. The idea is to share impediments, perceived or actual, and park them until all impediments are heard. There should be no discussion about individual impediments until the impediment popcorn stops popping and the team moves to the next step. The ScrumMaster will act as a scribe. Warning: This approach will uncover more impediments than The Scrum Guide’s stand-up process.

Plan of the Day

“What are you doing today to overcome the impediments and move us closer to achieving the Sprint objective and team goals?”

This question invites additional participation, where team members are free to use the information radiator and talk about what they plan to do today and with whom. They will also use this time to quickly discuss what they can do to overcome or remove team impediments. Each member is invited to talk and may include information from what they did yesterday. This is the re-planning part of the stand-up. Realize that this is just the start to the day’s conversations.

Adaptability Plan (or the What If? Plan)

If there are any leftover impediments that the team or ScrumMaster cannot solve, then the team should develop a “what if” plan. For example, Mike’s spouse is expecting and may deliver their first child during this sprint. By definition, this is an impediment to achieving the Sprint objective. The team should build a “what if” plan around Mike’s potential departure. Make sure to invite participation.

When you view the daily stand-up as a re-planning session, you’ll get more than just a status update — you’ll create a psychologically safe space for your team to reaffirm objectives and goals, identify impediments, and most importantly, create a plan for action.

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

References:

[1] Duhigg, Charles. Smarter Faster Better: The Science of Being Productive in Life and Bussines. Random House. Apple iBooks Edition

[2] Edmondson, Amy C. Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Wiley. Apple iBooks Edition.

[3] Ibid

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Psychological Safety is Just One Piece of the Larger Puzzle – Where Google’s Project Aristotle Missed the Bigger Picture

Google recently released the results of a five-year study, known as Project Aristotle, through which they determined that the common attribute – or what Google termed “key dynamic” – which successful teams exhibited was something known as psychological safety.

Unfortunately, Google’s expensive, five-year foray into teamwork is a great example of what can happen when technologists undertake studies in team and cognitive psychology, human interaction, sociology, and complex adaptive systems (among other disciplines), and base their findings entirely on self-collected metrics and their own statistical analyses of that data. What Google found was that psychological safety is a statistically significant attribute (key dynamic) associated with high-performing teams, but unfortunately this doesn’t tell the full story or help other teams or organizations to understand what they need to do to create those same conditions in their own environments.

I certainly do not want to impugn or belittle the considerable efforts or discipline of the team conducting Google’s study. However, I might have suggested beginning with a review of existing research in some of those disciplines (teamwork, sociology, human behavior, cognitive psychology, etc.) relating to team performance and teamwork. As it turns out, there is quite a lot.

In fact, so much that today there are meta-studies covering these topics. Among other critical areas not studied by Google, team performance is directly tied to the number and quality of social interactions between team members [1], the existence of Shared Mental Models within the team, shared expectations regarding behavioral norms (what we call Known Stable Social Interfaces), as well as organizational issues such as the leadership and management culture.

Which isn’t to imply that psychological safety isn’t important; indeed it is. Amy Edmondson in her book Teaming points out that psychological safety is of critical importance to effective teams:

“An environment of psychological safety is an essential element of organizations that succeed in today’s complex and uncertain world. The term psychological safety describes a climate in which people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings without fear of being penalized…In corporations, hospitals, and government agencies, my research has found that interpersonal fear frequently gives rise to poor decisions and incomplete execution.” [2]

Psychological safety is important. Yet psychological safety is not a team skill. For example, we can teach a team and individual team members to communicate more effectively using certain techniques and behaviors. Similarly, we can train a team to communicate in more assertive ways. However, we cannot train teams to simply “be psychologically safe.”

As Edmondson states in the quote above, “psychological safety is an essential element of organizations…” (emphasis added) – it isn’t a team skill or behavior.

This critical fact is where so much of the literature, and Google’s study in particular, come up short. Knowing that successful teams operate in an environment of psychological safety does not enable leadership, management, or coaches to build psychologically safe environments any more than looking at a painting enables me to paint a replica of it.

The real challenge is determining how one can mindfully, purposefully build a psychologically safe environment within an organization. To answer this question, we need to first understand what, exactly, psychological safety is. I define the term slightly differently than many textbook definitions:

Psychological safety is the existence of an environment in which individuals proactively exercise assertiveness, state opinions, challenge assumptions, provide feedback to teammates and leadership, while openly sharing mistakes and failures.

Many traditional definitions of psychological safety make use of the term “feel,” as does Edmondson: “The term psychological safety describes a climate in which people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings. Although it sounds simple, the ability to seek help and tolerate mistakes while colleagues watch can be unexpectedly difficult.” [3] (Emphasis added.)

However, I purposefully make use of the word “exercise.” Although this may seem a semantic difference at first glance, since we’re concerned with factors such as team performance, quality, and effectiveness, the existence of a psychologically safe environment in which no one actually admits mistakes or states opinions (although they feel free to) is undesirable. We need not only the environment, but also the actual actualization of the skills and behaviors necessary to realize the environment’s benefits.

How to build psychological safety in teams and organizations.

Although I’ve only glossed over the considerable amount of theory and research, I also don’t want to try to provide a Reader’s Digest version of decades of knowledge here. I’d rather get right to the point. What do leaders, managers, coaches, and teams need to do to purposefully build psychological safety in their environment, today?

First, significantly reduce the focus on processes and frameworks. The existence of a specific environment or culture is largely independent of the business process employed in an organization’s daily operations. Some frameworks and methodologies are structured to support the types of psychologically safe environments necessary to enhance team performance and effectiveness, but they do not guarantee it.

As Lyssa Adkins, author of Coaching Agile Teams, stated in her Closing Keynote at the 2016 Global Scrum Gathering in Orlando, Florida:

“I thought we would have transformed the world of work by now. People, we’ve been at this for fifteen years…Transforming the world of work is literally a human development challenge. So we are awesome, we are so good in this community at process and business agility. We’ve got that handled people, and we’ve had that handled for a while. What we’re not so good at, what I want to see us become just as great at, is human systems agility. Because that’s the other piece of it…You know, those organizations – they’re all made of humans, aren’t they? So, human systems agility is a piece of business agility. Not the only one, but an important one; and one that we’re not as good at.” [4]

Business processes and frameworks, including Agile systems such as Scrum and Lean, can only help create a structure capable of supporting the ways in which teams and individuals need to work to reach the highest levels of performance, effectiveness, and innovation. What those teams – from executive to functional – need, is a shared mental model, a Known Stable Social Interface for interacting and working collaboratively together, and which enables them to develop and exercise the interpersonal skills and behaviors necessary for psychological safety.

Leadership and management must initiate the formation of a psychologically safe environment by welcoming opinions (including dissent) on goals and strategies from peers and subordinates. People in management or leadership roles who fear questioning or are more focused on their ideas than on the right ideas need to either learn, adapt, and grow, or move on. They are obstacles, roadblocks, and hindrances to organizational effectiveness, performance, and innovation.

Steps leadership and management can take to start to create psychological safety:

  • Establish and clearly communicate expectations
  • Receive training themselves
  • Provide training for their employees
  • Ensure follow-through with dedicated coaching and regular check-ins

Then, learn about and employ the following behaviors and skills:

  • Frame mistakes and errors as learning and opportunities for improvement.
  • Encourage lessons learned to be shared instead of hidden, focused toward helping others to learn, grow, and avoid similar mistakes.
  • Embrace the value of failure for learning by admitting to mistakes they’ve made themselves.
  • Understand the difference between failures and subversion, sabotage, incompetence, and lack of ability.
  • Learn about the interpersonal, social skills which power team effectiveness, including Leadership, Communication, Assertiveness, Situational Awareness, Goal Analysis, and Decision-Making. Those skills include the explicit behaviors necessary to build psychological safety in the organizational environment.

“If I focus on using your mistake as a way to blame and punish you, I’ll never hear about your mistakes until a catastrophe ensues. If I focus on using your mistake as a way for us to learn and improve collectively, then our entire process, system, and business will be better after every mistake.”

Individuals and teams can also help to build and enable psychologically safe environments:

  • Seek training about and learn the interpersonal, social skills which power team effectiveness, including Leadership, Communication, Assertiveness, Goal Analysis, Decision-Making, Situational Awareness, Agility, and Empathy.
  • Advocate for and build a climate in which learning and improvement is possible through open and honest analysis of failures / mistakes.
  • Frame and focus discussions on the plans, strategies, and ideas supporting what is right, not who is right.
  • Assume responsibility for their own psychological safety and proactively help build it as a fundamental attribute of their teams’ work environment.

Psychological safety is a key organizational characteristic which is critical to the growth of high-performing teams. However, it isn’t a holy grail and most organizations, coaches, and consultants do not know how to purposefully create a psychologically safe environment, nor why it makes sense to do so. Yet mindfully organizing to build high-performing teams is not only possible, it is something which many organizations have been doing for decades.

 

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.

References:

  1. Pentland, Alex (2014­01­30). Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – ­The Lessons from a New Science (p. 90). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Edmondson, Amy C. (2012­03­16). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy (Kindle Locations 1474­-76, 2139-40). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  3. Ibid, 2141-2144.
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDKYehwuirw

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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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Agile is Dead! The Rise of High-Performing Teams: 10 Lessons from Fighter Aviation

Software and hardware industry leaders are leveraging the lessons from fighter aviation to help their businesses navigate the speed of change and thrive in today’s complex and hostile environment. The emergence of the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop—an empathy-based decision cycle created by John Boyd (fighter pilot)—in today’s business lexicon suggests that executives, academia, and the Agile community recognize that fighter pilots know something about agility.

For example, Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and entrepreneur, attributes the idea of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop to John Boyd’s OODA Loop [1]. At the core of Steve Blank’s Customer Development model and Pivot found in his book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, is once again OODA [2]. In his new book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Dr. Jeff Sutherland, a former fighter pilot and the co-creator of Scrum, connects the origins of Scrum to hardware manufacturing and fighter aviation (John Boyd’s OODA Loop) [3]. Conduct a quick Google book search on “Cyber Security OODA” and you will find over 760 results.

This fighter pilot “mindset” behind today’s agile innovation frameworks and cyber security approaches is being delivered to organizations by coaches and consultants who may have watched Top Gun once or twice but more than likely have never been part of a high-performing team [4].

So What?

According to Laszlo Block, “Having practitioners teaching is a far more effective than listening to academics, professional trainers, or consultants. Academics and professional trainers tend to have theoretical knowledge. They know how things ought to work, but haven’t lived them [5].” Unfortunately, most agile consultants’ toolboxes contain more processes and tools than human interaction knowhow. Why? They have not lived what they coach. And this is what is killing Agile.

Teaming Lessons from Fighter Aviation

To survive and thrive in their complex environment, fighter pilots learn to operate as a network of teams using the cognitive and social skills designed by industrial-organizational psychologists—there is actually real science behind building effective teams. It is the combination of inspect-and-adapt frameworks with human interactions skills developed out of the science of teamwork that ultimately build a high-performance culture and move organizational structures from traditional, functional models toward interconnected, flexible teams.

10 Reasons Why Your Next Agile High-Performance Teaming Coach Should Have a Fighter Aviation Background

OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide.-Act). According to Jeff Sutherland, “Fighter pilots have John Boyd’s OODA Loop burned into muscle memory. They know what agility really means and can teach it uncompromisingly to others.”

Empathy. A 1 v 1 dogfight is an exercise in empathy, according to the award-winning thinker, author, broadcaster, and speaker on today’s most significant trends in business, Geoff Colvin. In his 2015 book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff pens, “Even a fighter jet dogfight, in which neither pilot would ever speak to or even see the other, was above all a human interaction. Few people would call it an exercise in empathy, but that’s what it was—discerning what was in the mind of someone else and responding appropriately. Winning required getting really good at it [6]” Interestingly, empathy is baked-in Boyd’s OODA Loop.

Debriefing (Retrospective). The most important ceremony in any continuous improvement process is the retrospective (debrief). Your fleet average fighter pilot has more than 1000 debriefs under their belt before they leave their first tour at the five-year mark of service. In Agile iterations years, that is equal to 19 years of experience [7]. Moreover, when compared to other retrospective or debriefing techniques, “Debriefing with fighter pilot techniques offer more ‘bang for the buck’ in terms of learning value [8].” Why is this? There are no games in fighter pilot debriefs, no happy or sad faces to put up on the white board – just real human interactions, face-to-face conversations that focus on what’s right, not who’s right. Fighter pilots learn early that the key to an effective retrospective is establishing a psychologically safe environment.

Psychological Safety. Psychological safety “describes a climate in which people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings [9].” Fighter pilots learn to master this leadership skill the day they step in their first debrief where they observe their flight instructor stand up in front of the team and admit her own shortcomings (display fallibility), asks questions, and uses direct language. Interestingly, according to Google’s Project Aristotle, the most important characteristic to building a high-performing team is psychological safety [10]. Great job Google!

Teaming (Mindset and Practice of Teamwork) [11]. Although not ideal, fighter pilots often find themselves in “pickup games” where they find a wingman of opportunity from another squadron, service, or country—even during combat operations. Knowing how to coordinate and collaborate without the benefit of operating as a stable team is a skill fighter pilots develop from building nontechnical known stable interfaces. These stable interfaces include a common language; shared mental models of planning, briefing, and debriefing; and being aligned to shared and common goals. Yes, you do not need stable teams and you they do not need to be co-located if you have known stable interfaces of human interaction.

Empirical Process. The engine of agility is the empirical process and in tactical aviation we use a simple plan-brief-execute-debrief cycle that, when coupled with proven human interaction skills, builds a resilient and learning culture. The inspect and adapt execution rhythm is the same around every mission, whether it be a flight across country or 40-plane strike into enemy territory, we always planned, briefed, executed the mission, and held a debrief. There is no room for skipping steps—no exceptions.

Adaptability/Flexibility. The ability to alter a course of action based on new information, maintain constructive behavior under pressure and adapt to internal and external environmental changes is what fighter pilots call adaptability or flexibility. Every tactical aviator who strapped on a $50M aircraft knows that flexibility is the key to airpower. Every flight does not go according to plan and sometimes the enemy gets a vote – disrupting the plan to the point where the mission looks like a pick-up game. 

Agility. Agility is adaptability with a timescale.

Practical Servant Leadership Experience. Fighter pilots have practical experience operating in complex environments and are recognized as servant leaders. But don’t take my word for it; watch this video by Simon Sinek to learn more.

Fun. Agility is about having fun. Two of my favorite sayings from my time in the cockpit are “You cannot plan fun” and “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.” If your organization is truly Agile, then you should be having fun.

So, who’s coaching your teams?

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.

[1] “The idea of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop owes a lot to ideas from maneuver warfare, especially John Boyd’s OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) Loop.” Ries, E. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. (Crown Publishing, 2011)

[2] “…Customer Development model with its iterative loops/pivots may sound like a new idea for entrepreneurs, it shares many features with U.S. warfighting strategy known as the “OODA Loop” articulated by John Boyd.” Blank, S. The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Successful Strategies for products that win. (2013)

[3] “In the book I talk about the origins of Scrum in the Toyota Production Systems and the OODA loop of combat aviation.” Sutherland, J. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York. Crown Business (2014).

[4] I do not recommend the movie Top Gun as an Agile Training Resource.

[5] Block, L. Work Rules! That will transform how you live and lead. (Hachette Book Group, 2015).

[6] Geoff Colvin. Humans are Underrated: What high achievers know that brilliant machines never will, 96, (Portfolio/Penguin, 2015).

[7] Assuming two teams with iteration length of two weeks. And 100% retrospective execution.

[8] McGreevy, J. M., MD, FACSS, & Otten, T. D., BS. Briefing and Debriefing in the Operating Room Using Fighter Pilot Crew Resource Management. (2007, July).

[9] Edmondson, A.C. Teaming. How organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Wiley. (2012)

[10] Duhigg, C. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets to Being Productive in Life and Business. Random House. (2016).

[11] Edmondson, A.C. Teaming. How organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Wiley. (2012)

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OODA: The Mindset of Scrum

Recently, a trusted source reported that the Oracle of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland, has proclaimed that OODA is the Mindset of Scrum.  A few weeks ago I tried my best to explain this “Mindset” when I co-coached with Joe Justice during his Scrum in Hardware – Train the Trainer course. It was a daunting task considering I was surrounded by some of the world’s finest Scrum Trainers and Agile Coaches and was asked to deliver the “Origins of Scrum” using Scrum, Inc.’s slide deck. Not easy.

Knowing that much has been written about the connection between Scrum and OODA including Steve Adolph’s 2006 paper, What Lessons Can the Agile Community Learn from A Maverick Fighter Pilot, I decided to spend my limited presentation time focused on two lesser known features of OODA: empathy and fast transients. Before rolling-in on these two features, here is a quick-and-dirty introduction to OODA and Scrum.

OODA and Scrum

Over the skies of Korea, years before Jeff Sutherland and his RF-4C’s Weapons System Operator’s (WSO) flight plans were constantly disrupted by North Vietnamese gunfire, SAMs, and fighters, John “40-Second” Boyd was trying to understand how a seemingly inferior aircraft, the American built F-86 Sabre, had a kill ratio of 10:1 over the nimbler, more agile MiG-15. As an F-86 pilot who regularly engaged with MiG-15s, Boyd realized that it was the F-86’s bubble canopy that provided American pilots better situational awareness (the ability to better observe and therefore process reality) over MiG-15 pilots. It was from fighter combat, a 1 v 1 dogfight (a socio-technical system vs. a socio-technical system) that the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop was born.

According to Jeff Sutherland, Scrum’s origins are in OODA and hardware manufacturing, not software. In fact, for those of you who are Lean Startup practitioners you may want to adopt OODA as your mindset as well considering the Lean Startup is based on OODA. Similarly, Cyber Security borrows from Boyd’s OODA Loop as do several product design approaches.  Back to Scrum.

Scrum is widely practiced by software development teams but is applicable across the routine-complexity-innovation continuum. For example, in the past two weeks, I coached Scrum to a world-class surgical center, an aerospace giant’s flight test team, and a geographical combatant command (GCC). Best place to learn about scrum is the 16-page Scrum Guide. If you happen to fly fighter or commercial jets, then it should not surprise you that CRM is applicable to coaching Scrum…but that’s another story.

OODA: The Mindset…

As I had limited time during my “Origins of Scrum” presentation, I decided to focus on empathy and fast transients, two lessor known characteristics of OODA.

Empathy: Get inside the mind of your customer

A 1 v 1 dogfight is an exercise in empathy, according to the award-winning thinker, author, broadcaster, and speaker on today’s most significant trends in business, Geoff Colvin. In his 2015 book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff proposes that “Even a fighter jet dogfight, in which neither pilot would ever speak to or even see the other, was above all a human interaction. Few people would call it an exercise in empathy, but that’s what it was—discerning what was in the mind of someone else and responding appropriately. Winning required getting really good at it.” (Page 96) In his 1995 briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing, John R. Boyd points out that analysis and synthesis are dependent on implicit cross-referencing across different domains including empathy.

Fast Transients: The organization that can handle the quickest rate of change survives

The ability for your organization to transition from one state to another faster than your competition will ensure your organizations survival. Moreover, “Fast Transients” will bring confusion and disorder to your competition as they under or over react to your activities.

Orientation is Schwerpunkt (focal point)

Orientation is the “genetic code” of an organism and cognitive diversity is key to creating innovative solutions to complex problems.

Focus on Feedback Loops

One feature of complex adaptive systems are feedback loops. Learn how to provide feedback. Effective retrospectives are a great start.

Leverage Uncertainty

We live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Agility is Adaptation with a Time Scale

Adaptability is a cognitive skill found in High-Performance Teaming™ and Crew Resource Management. Agility is adaptability with a time scale and that time scale is rapidly shrinking.

Non-Linear Systems Have Inherently Identical Structures

When looking for solutions to problems, look outside your industry. The future already exists.

I look forward to your feedback and comments.

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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