Engagement Is Everything


Self-organization in the enterprise context is self-management, and self-management is primarily the management of decision-making. There is no self-management without decision making. Self-management IS decision-making.

Decision-making is engaging. As more and more engagement is created, more and more of the “cognitive capacity” of the group becomes dedicated and focused on the work at hand. All of the KPI (key performance indicator) measures tend to improve when levels of engagement improve. Results and engagement are correlated. You cannot have one without the other.

This means the central concern of the executives (and the coaches they hire) must be the question of how to raise levels of employee engagement. This is the central concern. All other concerns are secondary.

The primary way to get more engagement is create more opportunities for employees and teams to be making decisions that affect them directly. As it turns out, making decisions is very engaging.

The Gallup polling organization issues a report every year that the workforce is about 20 to 25 percent engaged while at work. This is the same as saying that 75 percent of the payroll expense is a complete waste. That money is up in smoke. Poof. Gone. Raising the level of engagement at your company might be worth tens of millions of dollars per year in new productivity. Engagement and productivity are correlated.

The primary way to raise engagement levels is to do three very specific things:

  1. Very clearly define what decisions the teams are authorized to make. Be blunt and very clear and specific about this.
  2. Always trust them to make those “authorized decisions;” always encourage these decisions and never interfere from outside.
  3. Whenever and wherever you can, look for spots where you can invite the team to make additional decisions.

Item (1) is easily delivered when everyone in the situation (stakeholders, team, etc) agree to work under the rules of Scrum.

Failure to achieve item (2) is a primary reason why most Scrum implementations have BIG problems. Failure here is the cause of a very common Scrum-implementation problem, namely: executives and stakeholders do not play the Scrum game according to the rules. They routinely override team decisions, or even worse, they authoritatively make all decisions for them. To “help” them. This kind of “leadership” behavior KILLS self-management and engagement. It’s stupid. It works against your goals. Don’t do it. (NOTE: If you are not using Scrum but you have “authorized” teams to make certain very specific decisions, you cannot later interfere, and expect anything good to happen.)

We can push Agile practices on teams without respect for what they think or feel about. This is the standard way “Agile transformations” are “rolled out” today. This is a terrible idea. It does not work. It never did.

Can you see why?


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“Just Say No” to Platitudes

There’s this common pattern of behavior from some outspoken people in the Agile industry. And the consulting firms, of course.

And it’s all particularly subtle.

If goes like this:

1. A highly desirable ideal is identified. For example, “motivated individuals” or “flat hierarchy” or “self-organizing teams” or “self-management.”

2. Flowery language is be used to describe the ideal, and it’s wonderful effects on teams, on organizations, the virtue of it, etc.

3. Absolutely ZERO guidance is given in terms of how to actually achieve the objective in the real world.

In other words, there’s quite a lot of saying and not much guidance (if any!) on the actual doing.

If you are paying attention, you can see it in various quips from various outspoken consultants.

And it all sounds so good!

And then, there is zero discussion of:

4. How to achieve the ideal;
5. What specific impediments are in the way of the ideal, and how to remove them

From my point of view, it’s very good PR and a total non-starter to:

6. Extol a virtue,
7. Not name the impediments to that, and then
8. Offer absolutely nothing in terms of tactics to achieve the virtue.

Here’s an example:

Description of highly desirable virtue:
“Teams need to be able to do their own planning, make their own commitments, and organize their own work.”

Description of organizational impediments: none
Description of tactics for impediment removal: none



See what I mean?

And now, the summary question:

Question: Who are the Agile leaders that routinely offer all 3 pieces of the puzzle?

Here are the 3 pieces:

1. Description of the virtuous ideal,
2. Description of the typical impediments to that ideal, and
3. Specific guidance on how to remove those impediment(s).


Moral of story: (1) without (2) and (3) is just a platitude. It’s not actionable and as such, it’s not very valuable. It’s useless. It’s not actionable.

Because truth be told, we got the “why” and the “what.” Now we need some guidance on the “how.”

So here’s my guidance: “Just say no” to platitudes from Agile leaders.

When a virtuous ideal is described, ask them how to actually get there.

Demand a description of the common impediments, and then the specifics on how to eliminate them.


If you are growing weary of do-nothing platitudes and want genuine actionable guidance, you might want to investigate OpenSpace Agility. Because truth be told, it’s offers you the keys to success: all 3 pieces of the puzzle: the ideal, the impediments to the ideal, and how to remove them.

Related Links:

OpenSpace Agility (link)

The Agile Industrial Complex (link)

Saying One Thing Doing Another (link)

Saying One Thing, Doing Another

Agile leaders routinely extol the virtue and value of “self organizing teams” and “motivated individuals.” As well they should, since these exact phrases appear in The Agile Manifesto.

The primary impediment to both of these wonderful ideas is the imposition of Agile practices on teams without their consent.

Without their voluntary engagement.

Without actually manifesting “respect for people,” you know, that “very small aspect” of Lean.


Let’s unpack this.



“Self Organizing Teams”

Self-organizing teams are self-managing teams. Specifically, these teams manage decision-making, at the team level, on their own. Self-organizing teams know how they make decisions. The process of deciding is usually all very explicit and well understood by all team members. Teams at this maturity level often have explicit rules they use when making a decision that affect the whole team.

It’s very easy to see how the imposition or “push” of Agile practices on teams without their consent can make the “self-organizing teams” ideal just about impossible to achieve. It’s self-evident: external authority is calling all the shots with the “do these Agile practices until further notice” decision. There are no decisions for the team to “self manage,” let alone “self organize.”

“Motivated Individuals”

Pushing a solution (“do these Agile practices until further notice”) on a solution provider is a fundamentally dumb idea. Developers tend to be intelligent, creative, independent-minded, and introverted. Developers identify as “solution builders” and “solution providers.” With the imposition of Agile practices on teams we can expect some real disengagement and resentment from the most independent-minded developers.

We could threaten the developer’s job in response. Question: is that “motivating?” Are people who are afraid of losing their jobs the “motivated individuals” the Manifesto is referring to? Very doubtful indeed!

Agile leaders

Agile leaders routinely say all the right things about motivated individuals and self-organizing teams. Then they say and do absolutely nothing in protest of the Agile-industry’s standard of pushing Agile practices on teams. This is all very misleading!

Agile leaders cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim solidarity with Agile principles and also say absolutely nothing in protest about the deplorable pandemic of “imposed Agility.”

To remain credible, these Agile leaders need to be sounding the alarm about the harmful push of practices on teams. These leaders need to be issuing protective warning and protests about imposing practices on teams. It’s harmful, it makes “self organizing teams” next-to-impossible to achieve, and it makes “motivated individuals” much less plentiful, or even nonexistent.

Moral of story: Agile leaders who sing the praises and extol the virtue of  “self organizing teams” and “motivated individuals” while remaining silent on the #1 impediment to manifesting both is a kind of deception.

If you are an Agile leader, and you engage in this pattern of rhetoric, it strongly implies you are for something that you are really not.

If Agile leaders actually want “self organizing teams” and  “motivated individuals” to manifest worldwide, we will hear them loudly sounding the alarm about the deplorable status-quo of forcing Agile practices on teams without their consent.

As of today, protective warnings and protests on this topic from Agile leaders are very hard to locate. Hard to come by. Nearly nonexistent.

To learn more about the worldwide scope of this insidious problem, please examine the essay “THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.”


The Agile Imposition (link)

The Agile Manifesto (link)

Align Teams on Values with the CV-1 Exercise

The individuals on most teams usually have only one thing in common: they work for the same employer.

When you work with teams, they often need something more, “some thing,” to help them genuinely cohere. “Core values” is that thing. An explicit and short list of core-values that are explicitly agreed-upon can and will accelerate team-learning, by creating an environment that actually encourages it to happen.  It is essential that everyone on the team has a hand in creating this core-values list. That’s all I’m telling you about it for now, except for this one last thing: if you do not focus your teams on core-values, nothing truly great is going to happen right away.

After 10++ years of coaching teams and studying core values and culture, I’ve boiled it down to the essentials. I’ve created an activity I call “CV-1” or the “Core Values #1” exercise and activity. With this very fast 90-minute exercise, any team you coach can and will know, and understand, the actual values they actually share.

Here is how it goes:

Core Values #1 Exercise: “CV-1”

Setup and Materials: someone who is not a team member (like a Coach) facilitates this for the team. You want privacy for this exercise. You’ll also ideally want these materials and this setup:


  1. A big white board the whole team can stand in front of. Use flip charts on tripods if you must.
  2. Flip chart pad. The team will be making art on some of the sheets at the end of the exercise.
  3. Juicy dry-erase markers in several colors. Make sure they are juicy. Dry markers are the sign of a mediocre coach and facilitator.
  4. Optional: Sharpies in various colors for Step #8 (see below.)


  1. Get everyone in one place without distractions for 90 minutes. Team members only. Find and maintain privacy.
  2. Explain what core values are, and why they care.
  3. Make it clear you are facilitating and not participating. If you are a team member, you are prohibited from facilitating this. This is for them, not you.


  1. Have them stand up and stand in front of a blank white board, as individuals, shoulder to shoulder. Make markers available.
  2. Ask them to write down in one word the things that truly PISS THEM OFF. Really irritating things. Everyone knows what irritates them. Ask them to write those things down as one or two words. These are the things in life that the individual DISLIKES when they see it or experience it. Examples include “pushy people,” “blowhards,” “bureaucracy,” “laziness,”  “repetitive work,” etc. There are no right or wrong things to put down here. In all cases, instruct them to write down things that truly IRRITATE them. Make sure they write one word per line, and make a list in one big stacked column of words, one column of words (on the white board) per person. Make sure there is white space on one side or the other of each item in this list.
  3. When they are done, ask them to write THE OPPOSITE of each item, next to each item. This is what they actually value as an individual.
  4. Notice and eliminate duplicates, so only one of each item remains on the board.
  5. Now give everyone 10 votes (or whatever number of votes can reveal what’s what.) Have them look at everyone else’s list and apply their votes, 1 vote per item.  They are voting on what values they hold in common. Use initials or just “tick marks” to vote for the items that they are most willing to most strongly hold as a value in this group. The items with the most votes are the items held in common as values. As “value-able.”
  6. Now harvest the top 4,5,6 or so. The items with the most votes. These are the TOP and common core values, shared by the group. Copy them to one clean spot on the white board. No more than 7 is a good idea. Ten is a lot and may be too many.
  7. Now invite them to write a single sentence that explains the value, using some of the words that were voted “up” but did not have enough votes make it into the final list. Words that were not voted are also OK. Have them just kind of self-manage this step. It might take awhile. You the facilitator can mostly stay out of it, unless they get stuck. Try to stay out of it. Hold your fire. Don’t try to speed them up, or otherwise manage them. Just supply the steps and rules. Then shut up.
  8. Now they have N core values and a brief sentence describing each. They are almost done. Have them render this list to 1, 2 or 3 flip-charts sheets. Try to get everyone to participate in the creation of the art. Tell them that these hand-drawn sheets are going up on the wall in a prominent place on the team-room wall and/or work area. Position them prominently on one of the walls in the space.

The CV-1 or Core Values #1 exercise is the fastest way I can think of to identify a team’s common, shared, “core values.” It goes really fast. I hope you give it a try.


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Engagement Is Everything

Most all the KPI (“key performance indicator”) improvement from Agile methods come from engaged people.

Yes, you can get 15 to 20 percent improvement from just doing a few things better, and actually paying attention. This is the normal pattern in typical “push style” Agile adoptions.

But– to get beyond that, to and real 2X, 3X and real improvement– that comes from engaged people. Same people, far better results. What has changed?

What has changed is the people who analyze, design and then build software are actually more engaged than previously. Paying more attention. Engaging with each other and in the work itself in a more focused way.

To engage people, ask them to make a decision. Deciding is engaging. Making a decision requires thinking, and engagement in the thinking and deciding. It requires some attention.

Just sitting there waiting to be told what to do, and then doing it, does not.

A primary way to encourage people to engage is to ask them to go somewhere, or do something. To invite them.

A legitimate invitation is one that is OK to say “no” to. A real invitation prompts a decision, a “yes” or a “no” to what is being proposed. In this way, invitations prompt decision-making and at least a little engagement in thinking about how to respond. For those who say “yes,” the engagement continues.

Everyone who said “yes” is agreeing to something. This tends to encourage feelings of control,  membership and belonging.

Everyone who said “yes” is in charge of that decision. This tends to encourage feelings of control.

Everyone who said “yes” is now a member of the group of all the people who also said “yes.” Everyone who said “yes” is in fact agreeing to something. It is useful to pause here, and reflect on this important fact.



The whole group has membership in the “yes”– in agreeing to say “yes”– to the invitation.

Everyone who said “yes” has membership with all the others who also said “yes.”

This tends to encourage feelings of belonging and membership.

A sense of belonging usually feels pretty good. Same thing with a sense of belonging. It feels good.

Inviting people delivers these feelings of control and belonging, and tends to generate real engagement.

So if you want real improvement in every KPI you are measuring, start engaging people because that is where the improvement comes from.

As a coach, learn more about the dynamics of invitation and start doing more inviting if you want more engagement.

Because that’s where all the improvement comes from.


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Leaders Go First

In a real adoption of Agile, formally authorized leaders go first. They do the very thing that they ask their direct-reports to do. They do their work in an Agile way. They craft a backlog. They have a short daily meeting. They do a formal demo. They use a Kanban to display work in progress.

If they do not do these things, and also mandate the use of Agile practices, we can expect cynicism. We can expect some resentment. We can expect more than a little dis-engagement.

If, on the other hand, the formally authorized leaders go all the way, and do these things, and go first, then we can expect enthusiasm. We can expect appreciation. We can expect more than a little engagement in the work of figuring Agile out…up and down the organization.

We can expect the feeling (or spirit) of community. Of communitas.


If and when leaders go first, a whole lot of enterprise-wide alignment can and will begin to take shape. And  show up. And be great.

So: If you are coaching, it is your job to get this done. Leaders, specifically the formally authorized leaders, go first.

This is step number one.

If you, the so-called “executive and Agile coach,” cannot help formally-authorized leaders to go in this direction, the Agile adoption and the so-called “transformation” is probably dead in the water.

It ain’t gonna happen. Can you see why?


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Agile Trance Formation

Most Agile adoptions are “roll outs” or “push” of Agile, usually by higher-ups with plenty of formal authority. The C-level folks. In an entirely well-meaning manner, execs are often encouraged by “Agile transformation firms” to push a specific framework on the organization. This has the effect of creating an enterprise-wide “trance formation.”

At every level, people in the org wonder what is going on. They have no part in the creation of the story, even as they are expected to do “what the story says.” To do what leaders say. Or else. Without much respect for what the people who do the work want, or think or feel.

Up, down and across the organization, the people in it have defined a game…a situation within which they are comfortable. Some spend years fine-tuning the design of their job and position.

Now when Agile practices are forced, it forces triggering questions about:

  • My status and position
  • My role
  • My career
  • My current authority
  • How much money I make
  • My kids college education

These are triggering questions. Unsettling feelings about survival and fight-flight become predominant… up, down and across the organization. These are feelings triggered by fear, by  a focus on what is feared. This can happen at the enterprise level as more and more people begin to feel fear and get triggered. When this happens, the result is a very counter-productive,  enterprise-wide “trance formation.” An entire organization full of worried, triggered, fearful people, behaving unconsciously.

And after a while, more than a few resentful people. At every level of authorization. People who never agreed. People with good ideas! People who know what can work. People who are now consciously and unconsciously slowing it all down. Some of these folks have substantial authority. And they are now RESISTING.

This is exact opposite of what you say you want.

What to do? The remedy is very simple. If you are a coach, encourage formally authorized leaders to define a very clear Agile direction, and INVITE everyone into the process of getting there. INVITE everyone. Open Space (and other tools and techniques) can help.

This is how to get a genuine and lasting transformation, instead of the typical outcome: a zombie-like, unconscious, triggered, fear-based, enterprise-wide “trance formation.” A triggered state of being, one that leads to enterprise-wide trance, resistance, resentment, lower morale, weak results… and eventual backsliding into the old way to doing things.

If you are an Agile coach, and you say you are coaching transformation, then you must learn the dynamics of invitation, and teach these dynamics to those well-intentioned higher-ups that are signing your checks.

To do otherwise- to “leave out” or omit this teaching about invitation–  this is the same as valuing transactions over transformations. If this is what you are doing, stop.

Stop right there.

Because, truth be told, you are an enabler. Your unwillingness to teach invitation to those executive leaders is part of the problem.


(Note: This is sample text from CHAPTER 8 of THE CULTURE GAME BOOK, available on Amazon here)


Facilitated meetings tend to be focused, organized, and well defined. When you clearly describe who qualifies to attend, what the goal is, what the boundaries are, and how you will manage the meeting, you create an invitation to explore the topic or issue. The convener has the luxury to participate more fully and observe without the additional responsibility to run the entire meeting. Facilitators are there to keep meetings flowing and to end on time. A facilitated meeting requires you to organize yourself in advance of the meeting.

Facilitated meetings are essential if you intend to become great as a group. Meetings are useful only when the objectives, agenda, and duration are all clearly stated and in alignment. Use facilitators to stay organized, complete meeting agendas, and learn faster as a group. Leverage facilitation to attain group focus while pursuing greatness inside your teams as well as in the wider organization. Develop a norm of focused meeting greatness.

History and Origins of the Practice

Scrum is the world’s most popular framework for high-performance teams to build software and other complex products. Someone facilitates every meeting in Scrum, and there is a clear reason why. Facilitated meetings tend to encourage learning and the mixing of ideas, because facilitated meetings tend to create a space where everyone gets a chance to be heard, even the genuine introverts in the room.

How This Helps

By establishing a clear goal, a clear set of rules, and a clear way to track progress, you make any game enjoyable. A good game makes for good learning, and meetings are no exception. Facilitated meetings tend to be well planned, have the right participants, and a clear set of rules. Meetings for brainstorming and dialogue are especially well suited for facilitation. The facilitator can defer any movement towards the premature end of a discussion and too early a decision, and keep the space open for inquiry. When the time is appropriate for the group to decide, the facilitator can assist in moving in that direction.

A good meeting serves a stated purpose through its structure. To structure a meeting to be more divergent, focus primarily on generating ideas. Meetings focused on the need for decision-making tend to be convergent. A good facilitator helps by structuring a meeting to match the purpose. When one meeting needs to accomplish both purposes, a good facilitator can help deflect premature movement of the group from dialogue to decision-making.


There are no hard-money (cash) costs for this step. You can choose to start using facilitated meetings formats immediately. A good practice is to have a person from outside your group to facilitate your meeting. Later you can return the favor, and send over one of the people from your team to facilitate the meetings of the other group. The net cost is zero in terms of time, as you will be swapping people to perform facilitation services for each other. This technique begins to generate a facilitation culture and creates a mixing of people and ideas and information. This mixing is a form of socialization that further increases sharing of information across departments. Search the web to develop your organization’s facilitation skills inexpensively, to get familiar with facilitation techniques, and experiment with them. The International Institute for Facilitation offers facilitation certification credentialing for those who want to dig deeper into specific facilitation competencies and practices.

Results and Related Delays

A well-facilitated meeting tends to have a clear purpose, stays on track, and is productive with just the right level of structure. Facilitated meetings tend to be enjoyable and productive. These benefits tend to manifest immediately.


Facilitated meetings are generally better than meetings that are not. Participants learn to enjoy having someone besides the convener in a role that is responsible only for steering. Breaking out the responsibility for facilitation from the sole authority of the convener will smooth out a meeting and free up the convener to listen and observe.

A decent facilitator can smooth out a meeting by making sure everyone is heard, making sure that loquacious people make space for others, and managing a meeting’s sense of progress and tempo. A facilitator can also encourage greater respect inside a meeting by creating and holding space for dialogue. A facilitator can handle making sure that the convener honors scheduled breaks, as well as the start and stop times. This also supports respect, commitment, and focus on the part of all participants.

A skilled facilitator can also make small adjustments that help the group more easily achieve objectives. Sometimes a group of people meeting to make decisions are actually not ready, and are better off continuing with the dialogue a bit longer, before moving to decision-making and action. A skilled facilitator can sense this situation, and encourage dialogue during that meeting.


Results can vary based on the skill of your facilitator and the complexity of the meetings you are trying to streamline.

Meeting conveners need to be willing to delegate responsibility to the facilitator to run a meeting. When conveners do this, they are not giving up any authority. You may need to elaborate on this theme with some conveners. Facilitators serve meeting conveners, not the other way around. The convener needs to meet with the facilitator to make these boundaries are explicit and well understood.

The facilitator is serving the authority in the room rather than being the authority in the room. A heavy-handed facilitator can unintentionally limit the space for dialogue and turn people off. In general, do not choose an organization’s central authority figure to serve as a facilitator.

Steps and Options

Implementing this practice involves the following steps:

  1. Socialize the idea of facilitated meetings. Send out some emails about the advantages of facilitated meetings. Purchase some books, and make them available and visible.
  2. Identify a facilitator. The best facilitator candidate is a person who begs you to try it. Facilitation is an art form and a skill grounded in sociology. Listen and watch carefully for the people who willingly opt-in to try facilitation. Watch out for those who seek authority – the facilitator role is that of a servant-leader, not a boss or autocrat. An overly authoritative facilitator can unintentionally limit the space for dialogue and turn people off.
  3. Gather some resources for learning. The book GameStorming provides a great set of meeting facilitation ideas and tools. This and other resources can help you develop facilitation skills and ideas. Investigate the International Institute for Facilitation website and related resources.
  4. Experiment by convening a facilitated meeting. Start facilitating some of your meetings and inspect the results. Let those who express interest in being the facilitator give it a try.
  5. Inspect the results. Periodically inspect the results and find out if the participants at these meetings are finding the meeting more valuable. Do not assume they do. Inspect the results.
  6. Develop a culture that includes facilitated meetings. Offer other managers a facilitator from your group, and then switch. Swap facilitators. If you work in a larger organization, develop a community of practice around facilitation.

Takeaways: Facilitate Your Meetings

  • Facilitated meetings help increase learning by creating and holding space where everyone can be heard
  • Meeting conveners who delegate to facilitators can engage in observation and participation more freely without the burden of running the meeting
  • Facilitated meetings tend to have a clear goal and well-understood ground rules and working agreements. This increased safety transforms a meeting into a good game, and increases levels of engagement.

[1]       Learn more about the International Institute for Facilitation at: http://www.inifac.org/


[2]       See Gamestorming: A playbook for Innovators, Rule breakers and Change makers by David Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo

On Invitation

The act of invitation is fundamentally respectful.

Respect for people is a core, bedrock value of Lean and Agile thinking.

Invitation is therefore fully aligned with Agile and Lean.

We feel good when we feel a sense of control, and a sense of belonging.
Control and belonging make it easy to get (and stay) engaged.

Engagement is good.

When we are invited, we are in control of what happens next. The basic responses are some variation of YES or NO. Either way, the receiver is in control of that response.

In this manner, invitation delivers a sense of control to the receiver.

When we are invited and say YES, we experience a sense of belonging (and membership) with everyone else who also says YES to that invitation.

A sense of belonging is an important aspect of well-being.

Feelings of community (membership and belonging) are associated with health and wellness.


The Story

Almost every invitation is an invite to be in the story, and be an author of that story. If I invite you to a dinner with others, you are invited into that story and also invited into writing how that story goes.

Likewise for your Agile adoption. When your Agile adoption is based on invitation, you are inviting others to be characters in the Agile-adoption story and also to be an co-author of that Agile-adoption story.

Inviting others creates engagement, the very fuel of a genuine and lasting Agile adoption.


In Light of the Foregoing…

Does engagement actually matter?

Is engagement a critical success factor in Agile adoptions? Is engagement the “secret sauce?”

Is engagement essential?

If it is, you might consider invitation over imposition of practices.

OpenSpace Agility (OSA) is one way to do this. OSA provides a starting point for bringing invitation into your Agile program.

OpenSpace Agility actually works, and it works with what you are doing now. It is used to start new Agile adoptions, and address the issues of ongoing Agile adoptions that are in trouble.


Related Links:

OpenSpace Agility explained

OpenSpace Agility testimonial videos (15 minutes each)



The Virtue of Coercion

The following is a session submitted to the Agile2015 by one Timothy Turnstone. The session was not selected.

Even so: I find the session more than intriguing. I have submitted the following “Lightning Talk” about this idea of coercion. It has been accepted to the conference and I hope you can attend!

I promise you a most interesting experience as we unpack the assertions of Timothy Turnstone and his dubious-at-best “VIRTUE OF COERCION” session.

If you are going to the conference, I hope you will attend.

Here is the schedule link:




Where: Agile 2015, Washington DC

Date: WEDNESDAY, August 5

Time: 345PM

Here is the session:

Someone named Timothy Turnstone submitted this intriguing talk to the Agile2015 conference.

I am eager to comment on it in some detail.

The proposed session and related comments follow….please note the intriguing comments from Tobias Mayer, Ron Jeffries, Harrison Owen, and many others…..


The Virtue of Coercion

Presenter: Tim Turnstone

Track: Enterprise Agile

Source Link (for reference):



management, leadership, Enterprise, Enterprise Agile, manage, coercion


There is almost no chance of Agile transformation without the imposition of Agile practices on teams. Pushing Agile practices on teams is the primary way to obtain lasting enterprise-wide Agile adoptions.

…in this session we present 4 years of data proving that employee engagement actually has nothing whatsoever to do with successfully scaling Agile. Rather, the right underlying conditions for agility have more to do with buy-in (and appropriate funding) at the C-level. We show how the crushing system dependencies found across typical enterprise IT systems actually make the imposition of Agile practices essential.

During this session we also present data that proves that “Agile-at-scale” is seldom if ever achieved without a well-planned and coercive mandate (or “push”) of specific Agile practices on teams. We present and detail the data behind seven successful “push oriented” Agile adoptions, at scale (30 teams or more in each sample, across multiple locations and time zones.)

Inside this session, we present the very strong correlation between the imposition of Agile practices on teams, and successful Agile transformation at scale. We back this up with case data. We also debunk some of the more common myths. Specifically, we systematically dismantle the well-meaning (yet dangerous, and even misleading) essay written by Martin Fowler in 2006, “The Agile Imposition.”

Information for Program Team:

Please reference the following essay from Martin Fowler for an idea of the dangeous myths we will be dismantling during this presentation: http://martinfowler.com/bliki/AgileImposition.html

Prerequisite Knowledge:

Knowledge of Agile, Agile-adoption failure patterns, and Agile coaching techniques

Learning Outcomes:

Understand the subtle differences between effectively mandating, effectively coercing and effectively pushing practices on teams.

Understand how and why the imposition of Agile practices on teams actually works at scale.

Gain access to a Agile-at-scale “framework” for helping you get great results with “Agile push” across your entire enterprise.

Presentation History:

We have developed and refined an Agile-coercion framework over the last ten years which we plan to share and distribute to all participants who attend this session.


Public Comments

Wed, 2015-02-25 17:43—Tobias Mayer


Well… this is either a brilliant tongue-in-cheek effort to take us into the land of the absurd in order to understand the opposite message as being valuable, or else it is serious, and the presenter actually believes that Agility must be mandated (and has real data to “prove” his case). Either way, I endorse this session, as no matter if absurdist or serious it has to be one that will challenge Agile group think—shake us off our our comfortable couch. Thumbs up.

Fri, 2015-02-27 12:05—Harrison Owen

Absurdity Confounded!

This is so absurd it just has to be worth while! Might just open up some space for useful learning.

Fri, 2015-02-27 14:16—Harold Shinsato

Enjoying the commentary

The session proposal sounds so serious, it’s hard to see the satire at first especially as the Virtue of Coercion seems so much like the way “Agile” is forced down people’s throats. If this is satire – I wonder if the presenter would be willing to come in dressed like Emperor Palpatine with a dark flowing cape and hood, and say things like “feel your anger”. Either way if this is serious or satire – if Harrison Owen and Tobias Mayer say yes, I feel in extraordinarily good company asking that this session be accepted.

Sat, 2015-02-28 08:15—Pablo Pernot

Hats off

Oh such a pity we do not have sessions like this one in France. Hats Off to US.

Sat, 2015-02-28 10:32—Richard Saunders

The SERF Framework actually works!

I am a manager in a large company in the USA. Lately I have been drawn to the ideas of some of the more outspoken and leading Agile coaches out there.

These ideas make lots of sense to me:

Self organization is not impeded by the presence of team-external managers. (plural)

Agile practices absolutely should be mandated.

If people don’t like it, they can always self-organize into another job.

For Agile to work, we have to learn to tolerate an organization’s established, outdated worldview and practices until it can change into an agile organization. So we do have to force it. That’s what people actually expect and want. Especially senior managers like me that sign the checks and make the whole thing go in the first place.

I used to work in human resources and now I work as a Senior Director in IT. A lot of what I learned in HR applies here. Agile obviously works when coercion is applied thoughtfully. In 2013 I was looking for a simple way to force Agile across the enterprise without a lot of discussion about what people want. And this is it. Tim Turnstone is a leading agile pioneer in this space.

I’m eager to see people learn more about the SERF (Scaled Enterprise Resources Framework). Disclosure: We have employed some (many!) of the ideas of Tim at my company. That’s how I know the name and details of his framework. Tim’s SERF framework actually works. We are getting AT LEAST 11% improvement in everything we are now measuring. You can also! Two thumbs up. We need to get the best ideas out there.

Sat, 2015-02-28 11:14—Michele McCarthy

What is obvious?

Everyone knows that I just can’t say enough about coercive techniques. It would be wise to watch this one.

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:40—Tricia Chirumbole

Let’s get real about our relationship with coercion and control!

This is a hot topic that looks like it has already started to get good! No matter where the presenter actually stands, or where you or I say or think we stand, the conversation is worth bringing to the fore! How many of us would swear up and down in public, and even quietly to ourselves, that we do not in any way endorse coercion, mandates, or the attempt to manage self-organization, but in reality we can’t let go of these practices and even believe they are necessary? Is this you? Is this me?! Let’s get real and be honest with ourselves and dive into why people still regularly lean into coercion, mandates, and the seductive desire to manage and control ourselves into a comfortable stagnation!

Tue, 2015-03-03 10:55—Martin Grimshaw

About time…

At last, someone speaking my mind. It’s time to counter all this new age namby pamby touchy feely politically correct nonsense about choice and ‘co-creation.’

Every good boss knows that the way to get things done is to tell your staff what they have to do, and threaten them if they don’t obey. After all, it’s the bosses who know best about everything in detail that all staff are doing and what they should do better. That’s why they are bosses. Let’s welcome this session with open arms and stop this ‘self-organisation’ flim-flam before its dangerous malintent causes irreparable damage.

Thu, 2015-03-05 15:04—Andrea Chiou

I am confurious!

I was both curious and confused and responding to a tweet about this session, when I mistakenly typed ‘confurious’…

It seems COMPLETELY INSANE and good that avowed members of the Open Space community are raving about this session – to say nothing of attracting the likes of Michele McCarthy of the well known ‘Core Protocols’ – where checking in, checking out, pass, decider and other protocols provide the safest system for getting to effective team products!

By all means, bring this on! I’m sure more folks will sign up for Agile2015 now – esp. in DC – where agile-by-mandate is hot business!

Fri, 2015-03-06 09:44—Daniel Mezick

An “Agile-coercion framework” ?

Is coercion Agile? Is there a certification?

Mon, 2015-03-09 16:54—john buck


I do not think this session is tongue-in-cheek as one commenter speculates. We do a lot of very successful software development. We would not be so successful if we had not forced the introduction of our Agile practices. Organizational change initiatives are typically met with initial staff skepticism and resistance. We skipped all that by simply mandating. We watched carefully for any signs of passive resistance and squelched it in the few cases it appeared. Once staff grasped that they actually had more freedom with Agile, all resistance disappeared. It may seem ironic that we can push people into freedom, but it really works! Try it!

Mon, 2015-03-09 17:08—Richard Pour


The proposed session is ridiculous and offensive. The soul of Agile is voluntary self-organization. I am outraged by the obvious mockery of our sacred values. I hope that the conference organizers will reject it as simply in bad taste and poor. – Richard

Thu, 2015-03-12 11:55—erik blazynski

What is this about?

Is this about getting people to do what you want them to do without them knowing that you you are getting the to do it? Sounds interesting.

Thu, 2015-03-12 13:00—erik blazynski

I have an idea for this topic

Change the name of this session to “Foie Gras Agile” Bring some feeding tubes so it can be demonstrated how to jam process and procedure down people’s throats until the human resource value bloats and can be extracted.

Sat, 2015-03-14 18:15—Ron Jeffries

But Seriously …

I am no fan of coercion. However, imagine the following scenario:

We impose some practice, say TDD. A bunch of people say “bite me” and quit. Others, being all WTF, give it a go. Some come to like it. They begin doing it more. Good results happen. People say “How are you getting those good results?” People reply “The jerks upstairs actually had a good idea with this TDD thing. They didn’t have it quite right but look how it’s working for me.” Voila, imposition worked.

Hell, if someone made me exercise 3x a week, I might come to like it. Maybe. It could happen.

I don’t know whether this is serious or not. I don’t know whether he has a solid experiment or not (I doubt it, solid experiments are hard to do.)

But if he has data we need to look it in the eye.

I recommend acceptance of this session, and some guidance from a mentor so as to present substantive material in a way that won’t cause people to shout it down before they know what is being said.