Tag: leadership Page 2 of 4

Leading cause of failed Agile projects? Company culture not aligned with core Agile values

In the 2015 VersionOne state of Agile survey, the top reason for failed Agile projects (46% of respondents) was company culture being at odds with core Agile values.


I’ve experienced this myself. Companies understand they need to get better at delivering software, so they decide to assemble Agile teams and bring in training.

The Agile teams use all the Agile practices, yet leadership sees little improvement. Why is there little improvement? Usually it’s because the company has a philosophy and culture that are at odds with core Agile values.

Below are the core values outlined in the Agile manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Organizations have to have the ability to adapt to change. The advance of technology and globalization have made this an absolute need to stay competitive.

Adopting Agile is not just about improving how a small project team delivers software. It’s bigger than that. Leadership has to get on board with Agile values and principles. Organizations of the future will be dynamic,  fluid, and need leadership at all levels. The days of a static hierarchy org structure will soon be long gone.

The question remains, what should leadership do to align the company culture with Agile core values? My advice is to not try and change the culture head on. Many have tried and failed. Instead, allow the Agile team(s) to adapt their own rules and culture. Think of them as an organization within an organization. Allow them exceptions to old buerecratic processes. Help them remove any impediments that’s slowing them down. Let them develop their own mini culture.

Once you do this and start seeing success, you can then begin to expand out the new culture. The idea is to start changing the company culture in small chunks, one area at a time.

For large organizations, changing company culture is a monumental challenge. You need leadership at the top to champion the change. You’ll need buy in and a sense of urgency.

Once Agile core values align with company culture, product delivery will go faster and changing priorities will be managed better.

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Diversity and inclusion – Lessons learned from the Irish potato famine

It is crucial for companies to understand the benefits of diversity and inclusion. In recent decades most large corporations have made significant efforts to install diversity training.  Unfortunately, many business leaders still don’t grasp the importance of diversity. This leads to discrimination and also hurts the success of their business.


Diversity and inclusion

Inclusion makes businesses better. How? It creates a dynamic environment where every employee can leave a unique imprint. We need people with different views, perspectives and backgrounds. This leads to improved product and service.

Diversity means having respect for the differences in ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, and age. It means embracing and valuing different styles and mindsets.

“Workforce diversity means a workforce made up of people with different human qualities or who belong to various cultural groups. From the perspective of individuals, diversity refers to all the ways in which people differ, including dimensions such as age, race, marital status, physical ability, income level and lifestyle.” (Daft, 2011 p.332)

Diversity and inclusion are good for business. As an example, take the historical lesson of the Irish Potato Famine of the mid 1800s. In the early 1800s almost half of the Irish population lived off potatoes alone. They had failed to diversify in their crops and in 1845 all the potatoes had rotted. This caused approximately 1 million people to die.  The Irish Potato famine is a great lesson on the importance of diversity.

Inclusion and diversity is not just an HR initiative. Business leaders need to build a culture of diverse people, products, and strategies.

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Leadership vs management – The difference and why one is not better than the other

Leadership vs management. Often you will see people writing about how leadership is better than management. There will be comparisons that say something like “a manager controls a team, a leader empowers a team”.

Businessman Standing on Steps Outside Talking Through a Megaphone, Large Group of Business People Listening and Applauding

I am big on the importance of leadership, but I think we are getting this management vs leadership view wrong. Management and leadership are two different things. They both are important and valuable to an organization.

Let’s start with management. We take it for granted, but management is something that we created just over the past century. The core practices of management are planning, budgeting, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.

Management practices started with the creation of the railroads. They gave us the ability to develop and manage large organizations. Management ensures an organization functions the way it was designed.

Leadership is about having a vision for the future and creating a strategy to get there. Leaders create change, and they do so by getting people to buy into their vision. Leaders motivate and they create the systems, or change the systems, that managers manage.

So it’s not that leadership is better than management or vice versa. They are both critical to the success of an organization. Yet, globalization and technology have forced organizations to have the ability to change. For this reason, there is a now a great demand for leadership. Organizations need to have people who can lead, and not just from the top. We need leaders at all levels, from CEO to team member.

Most of our business schools focus their curriculums on management. Going forward, schools will need to start focusing more on the importance of leadership. In my opinion, organizational hierarchy structures will be a thing of the past within the next two decades. We’ve already seen this happening.

Management will still be necessary, but organizations will operate in a more flattened team based approach. Cross functional teams will be autonomous and empowered. This will enable organizations to adapt to change. The team based approach needs leadership at every level. Organization structure will look more like a mind map than a top down org chart.

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The importance of corporate social responsibility


In today’s competitive global market, organizations need to have a long-term strategy and vision. It’s also important for companies to have a positive impact on the lives of people, while also having environmental concerns. This leaves leadership with two goals – grow the bottom line, and maintain corporate social responsibility

McDonalds and Walmart prove how large organizations impact people all over the world. Both are corporate giants that have learned the importance of social and environmental responsibilities.

McDonald’s may be the largest fast food organization in the world. Part of the reason for their success is that they have developed both local and global strategies. The reasons for the different strategies is due to the following: tastes and customs, local competition, government laws, franchise operations, and local service quality. The global products and services provided by McDonald’s are delivered at each individual restaurant (Lynch, 2010).

McDonald’s has had great success, but they also have had a fair share of scrutiny. Low wages, poor working conditions and using non-recyclable products are just some of the criticisms. In the 1990’s McDonald’s stop using Styrofoam for their burger containers. In 2013 they that stopped using Styrofoam for their drink cups.

In 1994 a customer sued McDonald’s after she spilled one of their hot cups of coffee on herself and suffered serious injury. The case was popular and is currently used in many law and business courses. The woman was awarded 2.7 million dollars for her suffering and McDonald’s lowered the temperature of their coffee.

Walmart is another household name. They are the world’s largest retailer and the third largest employer. Loyal customers flock to the Walmart stores to get items ranging from t-shirts to flat screen televisions at a great price.

Unfortunately, while Walmart has great prices, they are known for poorly compensating their employees. The average hourly rate for an employee is $8.81 and at 34 hours a week comes to $15,576 a year. This is below the federal poverty level (UNIglobalunion, 2013). Another down side to employment at Walmart is their health benefits. Employees who work 30 hours a week or less are not eligible for health insurance from the company. These employees, who are the majority, have to rely on government help for medical coverage.

While looking at the negative aspects of Walmart’s public image, it’s important to also understand that it is not all doom and gloom. Walmart is a great success story of an American business which is one of the largest employers in the world. Plenty of employees have enjoyed working for the company and had successful career growth.

The point is that businesses need to not lose focus of how they are affecting people around the world and the environment. In the cases of McDonald’s and Walmart, their mistakes have hindered their public image. They have proven that corporate social responsibility needs to be leaderships top priority.

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Sheridan, P. (2014) Wal-Mart workers strike in major cities. Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/04/news/companies/walmart-strike-day/

Lynch, R. (2010). McDonalds Global and Local Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6coDUDCJ10#t=339

UNIglobalunion (2013) Walmart Supply Chain. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZC4neLax5o#t=91

Knowing yourself and finding your sweet spot

sweet spot

Getting to know yourself is a difficult journey. A lot of people go through life, never discovering their true talents and passion. They may experience it from time to time, but they don’t know what their sweet spot is. Living life like this feels like a constant uphill battle.

Your sweet spot is the intersection of your talent and passion. Once you’ve tapped into your sweet spot, the sky is the limit. A good way to identify people who are living in their sweet spot, is their attitude towards life. These people don’t look at their job as something they dread or just as a means for a paycheck. No, these people don’t even consider their jobs work. They love what they do. They get excited each morning to go to the office.

For those of us who feel like we are not living in our sweet spot, there is good news. Tools like StrengthFinders, CPI Assessment, and others can help.  These tools help us to understand where our natural talents lay. We also have the opportunity to continue our education at any point. Granted, we have to be willing to put in work.

Serving others will also help you get to know yourself. As leaders we need to help others develop and succeed, and by doing so, we grow. The feedback we receive from others will give us a better picture of who we are.

In my personal journey, it wasn’t until I went back to school in my 30s that I started to get in touch with my strengths. Bethel University provided me with the tools I needed to hone in on my sweet spot. My mission is to help organizations and people succeed, and provide leadership based on Christian values.

Do you know what your sweet spot is? If not, you should consider putting in the work to find it. As the saying goes, it may not be easy, but it’s worth it.

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Lean software development, trust and empowerment


Trust and empowerment are the fuel that drives high performing technology teams. Companies like Facebook, Amazon and Spotify have realized this. They all use lean software development principles. They are cutting edge Agile. They have achieved a continuous delivery framework. They deliver quality software to production almost every 11 seconds.

So what does lean software delivery have to do with trust and empowerment? You can’t adopt a lean software development framework without empowering and trusting the teams. Using lean, management tells the team the problem, but lets the team decide how to solve it. Using lean, management let’s teams deploy software to production. This means there is no wait for a release date or a release management team to deploy software.

Can you imagine, as soon as software has passed testing, it’s deployed to production? It sounds like a fantasy, but it is not. Companies like Spotify have been doing this for years. If you want to stay competitive, you need to be moving towards a lean continuous delivery model too.  

Most companies are the opposite of lean. They have long release cycles, maybe delivering new software to the customer on a monthly or quarterly basis. They follow a strict release management schedule, riddled with controls. The whole process is filled with waste that slows down the delivery of working software.

An underlying principle of lean software development is to cut waste. Waste is considered anything that doesn’t add value to the customer. If you take a good look at the software development system within your organization, odds are you will find a lot of waste. Waste only delays the delivery of working software to the customer.  

This is why management needs to let go of control. They need to empower and trust their teams. The real strength of high performing software companies comes from the teams.  Marry Poppendick, author and expert on lean software development, writes: “Top-notch execution lies in getting the details right, and no one understands the details better than the people who actually do the work” (Poppendieck, 2003).

Trust and empowerment are the foundation of great teams.  They are the fuel that propels the team’s forward. Trust and empowerment enable lean software development in an Agile framework. The result of lean software development is satisfied customers. Satisfied customers are the most important aspect of the software development process. When you have satisfied customers, you have achieved quality.

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What’s behind your self-worth and happiness?

mike light

Why is it that more and more people are becoming unhappy? A recent study by Gallup showed that 71% of Millennials are not engaged in their jobs. Studies are also showing anxiety and clinical depression are rising. Part of the problem, particularly for Millennials, is related to the use of social media.

On websites like Facebook and Twitter, people portray a distorted view of their lives. This distorted view gives the impression that everything is wonderful! Another vacation, a new car, a beautiful family always having fun..etc. The result is people feeling envious or depressed because their lives seem less than.

In reality, people do not share the full truth about their life on social media. Could you imagine if they did? Facebook posts would sometimes look something like …”Guess who’s depression is kicking it, looks like it’s time for new meds” or “time to head out to the job I hate” or “looks like alcoholism is rearing it’s ugly head in the family again”.

Social media is not a true reflection of reality. We should not let it have any impact on our self-worth and happiness. If we are allowing social media to affect our self-worth, it could be a sign of a bigger problem. Our self-worth and happiness should be direct result of our core values. Self-worth comes from the inside, not from the outside.

We find true contentment and happiness when our behavior aligns with our core values. When our actions become misaligned with our core values, we become discontent. For this reason, it’s important to take a hard look at your core values and your behavior.

What are your core values? Once you are clear on what they are, take a look at your behavior. For me, faith and family are at the center of my core values. If I find that my work has taken priority over my faith and family, I’ll know I’m out of balance.

With the advance of technology, social media, and all our cool gadgets, let’s keep our priorities in focus. Past generations had much less than we have, yet in some ways they had much more. They understood the importance of core values and family.  They enjoyed all life had to offer, and they did so without the need to escape online.

As we go about our days, let’s take time to be grateful for all that we have. If you have a roof over your head and you are not worrying about where your next meal will come from, you have more than most in this world. In a recent study by the Washington Examiner, 84% of the world lives at or below the US poverty line. This means for most of us, we have it pretty good.

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You may be Agile, but you still need documentation


One of the principles of Agile is “working software over comprehensive documentation”.

I’ve seen many project teams misinterpret this principle. In Agile, working software is valued more than comprehensive documentation. This doesn’t mean documentation is not required. If you start a software project without documentation, you are in for trouble.

Even in Agile, a small set of critical documents are required.

Below are the 4 critical documents needed for software projects:

1) Why (objectives): The Project Charter – All projects need a written document that explains why the project is needed. What problem is going to be solved? What benefits will be had by delivering the project?

This doesn’t need to be a large detailed document. The point is that the team and organization have taken the time to document clear objectives. I’ve seen teams document the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) in the charter. This helps give the team focus on the end goal.

2) What (requirements/user stories) – After creating the charter, the scope of the work needs to be captured. In Agile, the scope is documented in the form of user stories. In Waterfall, the scope is documented as requirements.

3) When (schedule):All projects need to have some form of a schedule. Whoever is paying for the project deserves this. Imagine you are considering paying a builder a large sum of money to build you a new deck. You’re about to sign the contract and the builder tells you he has no idea how long it will take to build the deck. I think the chances of hiring that contractor are slim.

4) How much (budget): The cost of the project has to be estimated, approved, and documented. Through the project, the cost needs to be monitored to ensure you stay on budget.

The act of creating these four documents will force the team to make clear decisions. The documents will also provide direction for the project.

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The Power of Scrum – Adapting to Change


“The Only Thing That Is Constant is Change” – Heraclitus

Unlike Scrum, in a traditional waterfall methodology all planning is done up front. For example, say the objective of your project is to get from Block A to Block B


In Waterfall, all steps will be planned out and base lined up front. Once planning is complete, the team will set off on their voyage to get from Block A to Block B.

Using Waterfall, your up front project plan might look something like this:


Here’s the problem, delivering complex software is a lot like finding your way through the dark. You have to take small steps and feel your way through. You have to adapt and make changes as you find your way.

This is why project teams run into trouble using a Waterfall methodology. They are not ready to adapt to changes when needed, and changes will be needed.

To make things more challenging, using Waterfall customers are only engaged during the start and end of the project. This means all throughout design, build and test the customer is in the dark. This leaves a risk of a system built that is completely different than what the customer actually wanted.

In Scrum, the software teams builds workable chunks of software in short iterations. The team is feeling their way through the dark and adapting to changes as needed. These iterations are called Sprints, and they usually last around 2 weeks. At the end of each sprint, the customer gets to see the built functionality. The below picture represents Scrum iterations:


By building software in short iterations and keeping the customer engaged, you can adapt to change. The final outcome of the project might look completely different than original expected.

The customer may have realized they actually need to get to Block D, not Block B. Maybe they realized Block D provides much more value than Block B.

See example below:

                                                       Original Plan



                                          Actual results using Scrum


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Team building – 3 proven methods to develop trust on Agile teams


All well performing teams have one thing in common, they trust each other. Whether it be a military team, a sports team, or an Agile software development team, trust is key. Team members need to feel that they are in a safe environment so they can do their best. They need to feel that it’s okay to make mistakes.

For software development teams newly transitioning to Agile, developing trust doesn’t come easy. Here are 3 proven methods to help develop trust on your Agile team:

Communicate trust – Let the team know that trust is foundational to success. Empower team members to make decisions and mistakes. Foster a decentralized culture of empowerment. Remember that Agile teams don’t work in a hierarchy structure. There is no project manager calling the shots. It’s the team that has the power. Team collaboration is essential for success and when there’s trust, collaboration will shine.

Now, communicating a team dynamic built on trust is just the start. Just because you’ve let the team know they can trust each other, doesn’t mean they will. The team will be wary of diving into the trust pool. Although they may not be ready to trust, you have planted the seed and the team is interested. Now is the time to walk the walk.

Walk the walk: Show vulnerability and humility – After communicating trust, it’s time to lead by example. We do this by showing vulnerability and humility. This can be difficult for some to do, but it’s absolutely essential. Let the team know when you have made a mistake. Let them know your weaknesses. By showing vulnerability and humility, it lets everyone know they can drop their guards.

If you’re collaborating as a group and a team member is quiet and not engaged, try to pull them in. Let them know their thoughts and ideas are important. Voicing opinions may be new to some team members, so they’ll need a little encouragement. By valuing team members and showing vulnerability, you’ll make great strides towards building trust.

Give it time – The last and perhaps most important need for trust building is time. There is no substitute for time and the positive effect it has on team building. Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 model of forming, storming, norming, and performing still holds true. If you are part of newly formed Agile team, don’t get frustrated when there’s a lack of trust. Just like any relationship, it takes time to get to know and trust each other.

Often, management doesn’t understand the importance of time when it comes to teams. When management shifts people from team to team, it hinders team performance. The best teams consist of people who have worked together for some time. They know and trust each other. Advice to management – Don’t form teams around projects. Instead, form projects around cross functional teams.  

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