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.

When They Say No, Reduce The Ask by Half


In an earlier lesson (1 or 2 back from this one) I told how to keep reducing the ask by 1/2 until they say yes.  I was indirect there. So, let me me explicit here..

In general, teaching in a formal classroom is overrated. You are set up as the authority, and doing most of the talking. Most good learning comes from direct experience.

Most good classes have loads of experiential learning.

So: Why not go all the way, and just stop teaching? Why not just put them on an experience? This is an extremely fast way for you to create results fast. But wait: first they have to be willing.

Once they are, and they try whatever it is you are suggesting, the skip the 1st 20 steps…and go directly to learning… and integration. Voila.

This technique works with any Agile coaching audience: teams, executives, stakeholders.

When you use it, you are leveraging the following powerful concepts:

  • Invitation
  • Opt-in participation
  • Experimentation
  • Direct experiential learning

Invitation is extremely powerful. When you invite a team or a group to try something, they must first all agree as a group to say “yes” to the experiment. Or “no”. Or “maybe.”

This process in itself tends to tip them into a group-learning, agile orientation.

Even if they say “no” they are saying that together. That’s membership. That’s control. That’s progress.

And you got to watch them make that decision. That information about how the group is currently making decisions is very useful for you as the coach who is helping them out.

Here are the steps:

  • Describe an experiment that is to be inspected later, an experiment that is completely temporary in nature, with “low” or “no” long-term commitment. For example, with executive team, ask the team to try doing a daily standup meeting.
  • Define the exact time-duration of the experiment. Be specific. So for example you might suggest “I wonder if you all might be willing to try doing a daily standup meeting, as an experiment to be inspected, for ONE MONTH or FOUR WEEKS. Do you think you might be willing to do that?”
  • Watch. Observe.
  • If they say “no” reduce the ask by about half. Ask again, and define the exact duration of the proposed experiment as TWO WEEKS instead of ONE MONTH.
  • If they say no AGAIN, repeat that last step until they say ‘yes’ or just refuse to do any experiments at all. (they usually will agree to try something.)


This is a very simple way to help them learn stuff really, really fast.


  • By the time we are done talking about, we could have done 2,3,4 experiments. They learn this is actually true, and learn to stop arguing….and just TRY THINGS…and inspect the experience
  • By inviting them, you get to continuously gauge their level of willingness to try new stuff
  • They are choosing and therefore “in charge of” what happens next
  • They are trying something that has no big commitment attached
  • They are getting direct experience (no lectures from you)
  • Big surprises often ensue (via direct experience) leading to “a convincing learning experience” without any “logical arguing” or convincing required.
  • You are not arguing “for or against” anything. Instead you are testing their willingness to try this or that, to learn something.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Example 1: You are coaching a team and facilitating some estimating using planning poker. Invite them to time-box each item to 4 minutes. If they say no, ask them to do the 4-minute time-box for the next 6 items. If they opt-out ask them to do 3 items this way. If they say no ask them to do JUST ONE ITEM this way, and then inspect the results.
  • Example 2: You are coaching a team and you want to show them how to make their meetings better. Suggest that “for the next 4 meetings, how about we start them at 10-past the hour instead of the top of the hour, to allow people to commute from their last meeting, etc?” If they refuse, ask them to try this for just 2 meetings. If they say no again, try to get them to give it a try for just ONE meeting, and then inspect the results.


So: put them on lots of invitations, and when they say ‘no’, reduce the ask by half. Keep inviting. Keep reducing the ask.

Make invitation an essential part of your Agile coaching style. To make your invitations easy to accept, make them very-low-commitment. The best way to do this is to “not ask for a lot.”

If they say “no”, then reduce the commitment by 50%….. and ask again.


WARNING: This technique may severely reduce the number of coaching days needed to get lasting change.


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I Want To Write the Story


If you impose a framework- ANY framework– on a team, you can expect weak results and disengagement. No one wants to play a game that they MUST play. A game where the beginning, middle and end of the story is written, by…someone else.

If, on the other hand, you explain that the story is yet-to-be-written, and invite everyone to help write it…that gets you some mindshare. That gets you some engagement.

You explain that the the story of the Agile adoption needs to be written…and that many chapters need to to be written…and that the beginning, middle and end of the story are in fact “under construction”…with an unpredictable and unknown ending…that creates an intriguing invitation to come and play.


OPEN SPACE is exactly like this. When is starts, there is no story. Just a blank wall. And the facilitator explains the game…1 law, 5 principles, a couple of funny roles, 1 slogan…that’s it. Everyone understands that the beginning, middle and end of this story are by no means defined. By no means prefabricated.

And then the Open Space participants are invited to write the emerging story, the one that can only happen there… and then. At that time. With those people.

“Whoever comes are the right people.”

And: “Be prepared to be surprised.”

And: “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.”


If you are starting to think that Open Space provides a model for how your Agile adoption is going to ACTUALLY be successful, how it is actually going to scale.…you are getting much, much warmer.

If you show up with a pre-fabricated, imposed “scaled agile” solution, you can expect a lukewarm reception. Lukewarm results soon follow.

If you show up with a pre-fabricated, imposed “Scrum” solution, a game no one agreed to play…you can expect disengagement. The exact opposite of what is essential for success!

If you show up with a pre-fabricated, imposed “Kanban” solution, you can expect trouble. And trouble often shows up as a total lack of interest.


Because the very people who can make your enterprise Agile adoption “take” are the independent thinkers. This is true at every level: team members, managers, architects, directors and executives.

Your pre-fab “solution” leaves them cold. You repel them with your pre-fabricated “story.” The one with the prefabricated plot. The one with the preordained destination.

Scaled enterprise agility runs on engagement. You get engagement by inviting people to play the game, and be in the story, and be an author of the story.


So: as a coach, you better figure out a way to invite everyone to be part of the story, and figure out a way to invite them to be a character in the story, and figure out a way to invite them to write the story.


Anything less will not win the game.


Because: if you present them with a process-change ALREADY created, already written, already “baked“…and you do not get their consent….you are going to lose the very people who can (and want to) actually make your enterprise Agile adoption go.



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Encourage Executives To Encourage Experimentation


Your executives are the “always on”, constant emitters of extremely important signals, whether they believe this is true or not. Every little signal gets scrutinized and interpreted. Every little signal, intended or not. Welcome to leadership.

The “higher-ups” are higher-ups because they have more formal authority than others in the group. Anyone with substantial formal authority must pay attention to the signals they are sending. Those signals get received. And quick.

The higher-ups can make good use of this delicate situation. They can convert it from a “bug” to a “feature.”. How? By signaling intentionally.

By signaling that “experiments are good.”

By encouraging experimentation.

Enterprise agility is about learning fast…and of course that means conducting frequent experiments. Perhaps your executives need to experiment with sending strong and clear signals about agile.

If the higher-ups are doing experiments of an agile nature, the signal is clear: agile experiments are important. There is no better way for the executives to encourage frequent experiments, than for them to be doing some experimentation with agile practices as an executive team.

Repeat: experimentation with agile practices as an executive team.

And so I challenge you… to challenge them to do some agile practices… as an experiment, for 6 months or so. How about working with the leadership team to set up and execute their work in an agile way? They might for example:

  • Work from a prioritized backlog
  • Work in timeboxes
  • Arrange and execute a short daily meeting that uses a protocol
  • Depict work visually
  • Limit work in progress

Invite sincerely. See what they do. If they balk, stop right there and reduce “the ask” by half.

Here is how you do it: Start by asking them to experiment with some agile practices for 6 months. If the executives are unwilling to try 6 months, stop right there and invite them to try 3 months. Three months too long? Invite them to try some agile practices for 6 weeks then. Six too long? This is getting comical. How about 3 weeks? How about 3 days? How about THREE HOURS?

If your executives are unwilling to experiment with agile practices, the signals are very clear:

  • Experiments with agile practices are for other folks– not for the higher-ups. They have better things to do
  • Agile is important here, but not to the people with lots of authority in this company

Ideally the executives will try some agile practices and then expose the results of their work to the rest of the people in the company– in the form of a monthly, all-hands demo. What kind of effect do you think this would have on your agile teams, if the executive team demonstrated each and every month exactly how they were also struggling with the transition to agile practices?


Your job as a coach is, in part, to experiment with encouraging executives to encourage experiments.


Question: What are you doing about that?



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Problem? What Problem?

Here is a list of Tweets I sent out on Sunday March 15 2015. I posted these in response to some Agile coaching folks, folks who expressed serious doubt that “imposed Agile” or “mandatory Agile practices” actually represents a serious, pervasive, BIG problem for the Agile movement…

You can click through each Tweet, to see the actual source of the quote…..there’s some good stuff here, including quotes from very notable Agile authors, like Martin Fowler, Mike Cohn and Alan Shalloway.

…is “forced Agile practices” a problem? Apparently yes, it actually  is…….


NOTE: You can investigate my Twitter feed here.


Problem? What problem?


“… I quit my last job because ‘Agile’ was rammed down our throats.” http://t.co/WOMbnpSbZI #scrum #management #leadership #lean #kanban


The 1 constant in typical #agile adoptions? The mandate. What if this is the main problem? What if you fixed it? http://t.co/BrQ1pyT6ST












The Virtue of Coercion

Is coercion a VIRTUE?

Someone has proposed a session for the Agile2015 conference entitled:

“The Virtue of Coercion” …it goes like this….quoting:

…There 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.”


Is this blasphemy….or just good business?

…if you elect to add a comment this session, you may be in good company!

Others (besides myself) who have commented include:

  • Tobias Meyer, author of THE PEOPLE’s SCRUM
  • Harrison Owen, formulator of Open Space and author of OPEN SPACE: A USERS GUIDE
  • John Buck, expert on consent as applied to Sociocracy, and co-author (with Sharon Villenes) of WE THE PEOPLE
  • …and many more !

Can a genuine process-change take root in ANY organization WITHOUT THE CONSENT of the people affected?

Has this EVER worked?

Consider the American BILL OF RIGHTS. Here is how it starts:


“…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

And so…here is THE question: Do you care to comment?



Kind Regards,