MonthAugust 2017

Culture should beat the system

As I have mentioned before, I work for an awesome company with an awesome bunch of people. With all this awesomeness it may seem at times that it’s just that: awesome. And it is. But like every company out there, we sometimes have our challenges. One that has surfaced lately is the balance between the system (the small set of rules that is supposed to keep us in check and healthy as a company) and our culture (which has suffered a bit considering our massive growth over the years).

The challenge

Like I mentioned, we have a small set out rules. One of these specifically is aimed at keeping us financially healthy as a company: the amount of turnover each consultant needs on a monthly basis. Simply put each consultant needs to generate 4 times their gross salary each month in turnover. As long as you comply to that simple rule, there’s technically nobody going to bother you how you invest your time.

Things are more complicated than that though. We don’t really care about individual numbers, for instance, unless there’s a significant, long-term issue. The accumulated numbers of a team are more important and that’s what counts. This means team members can compensate each other, which is great because people get sick, go on holidays, etc.

But the system also has one major flaw: it allows people to work just, say, four days a month, get their required turnover, and do nothing for the rest of the month. Add in the unlimited vacation days we have and you may see where this is going…

The solution

Okay, so we have to fix the system, because obviously somebody could really easily abuse this. Right?

No.

Fixing the system will only remove this issue right now and likely introduce another, it would take away freedom and it would likely introduce a whole bunch of rules making things more complicated. The system is actually fine, because it relies on trust, responsibility, entrepreneurship, teamwork, and honesty. But those things aren’t things that are secured in the system, they are secured in our culture.

We need to fix our culture.

We, as a team, have allowed this to get this far, into a situation where things seem out of balance. So we, as a team, need to have that conversation on how we use the system because our culture is the sum of the culture of each of the team’s members.

While that conversation may be hard, as it could very well involve having a tough conversation, it will fix the problem. But more importantly: it means we retain the immense amount of freedom we have, which allowed us to grow at the pace we have, which we appreciate as a team and which helps us whenever we need it.

Culture should beat the system, and if you focus on your culture and keep fixing it when things go the wrong way, it will.

Agile 2017 (Part II)

So, Agile 2017 is over. It’s actually been over for a while now, but I decided to wait a bit before writing this final blog post about the conference in order to share more learnings.

Closing keynote

The closing keynote was another highlight. Though a large amount of people had already left, there were still plenty around to fill the (very large) room and listen to Denise Jacobs. Banish Your Inner Critic 2.0 was a very open, honest and insightful presentation about the journey Denise has made linked to that inner critic inside all of us.

During the keynote Denise challenged the audience to think about their inner critic and share this with those sitting at the same table. It turned out to be comforting to know that everybody has that inner critic and we all faced the same challenge, a challenge we will have to keep facing, but for which there are plenty of things to do to overcome it.

Conference highlights

The biggest highlights from the conference for me were, in no specific order:

  • The amount of people present that all wanted to achieve the same thing (a more agile, customer-focused organization) and were willing to share that with whomever they were talking to;
  • The vast amount of experience that was represented, both by speakers and conference visitors alike. If you’re in an Agile environment, this event is one to attend;
  • The variety of sessions was overwhelming, with 19 parallel tracks and all those topics to choose from the conference could have gone on for another week;
  • The openness of the people, with some willing to open up themselves beyond what would have been required in sessions, in order to let others learn from their experiences.

Closing

With the conference now over for about 10 days I’m still thinking about what an amazing time I had and how great it would be to go back there. Luckily, there’s videos of part of the conference available on the Agile 2017 web page (some content is only available to Agile Alliance members).

All in all, this has been the best conference I’ve been to so far and I hope to be part of Agile 2018 as well.

Agile 2017 (Part I)

This week I’m at Agile 2017, both as a speaker and as an attendee. Since I’m having such a great time I thought I’d share some of my experiences from the conference.

The conference

Agile 2017 takes place in Orlando, Florida this year and is a 5-day event with agilists from all over the world gathering to share experiences and learn.

I’d like to start off by highlighting what an open and welcoming conference this is. While I haven’t been to hundreds of these things, I have seen my fair share and Agile 2017 is unique in several ways. It’s a big conference to start with, with over 2200 people attending this year. Even with that large number of people, it’s surprisingly low-key. People are open to chat and mingle, are kind and show lots of respect. Finally, even though there’s groups of people from a large number of companies, they’re all very inclusive and open to others joining them. I’ve never before experienced this kind of atmosphere, not even at smaller conferences.

Major highlights

The major highlights from the conference so far were the keynotes from David Marquet and Jez Humble.

David kicked off the conference on Monday when he spoke about his experiences from his book ‘Turn this Ship Around’. It was an inspiring presentation about self-organization and leadership and engagement at every level of the organization.

Jez spoke about continuous delivery and while interesting to see up-to-date facts and figures (like that Amazon releases every 11.6 seconds on weekdays) most of it was familiar to me. Until he started with his bonus material: a 15-minute session in which he totally annihilated James Damore’s “manifesto” and highlighted some of the most important contributions women have made in IT. The audience was in full and total agreement, having given several rounds of applause and leaving some in tears.

Speaking

I am a speaker at this conference, which I consider to be a great honor. Wednesday afternoon (3:45pm) was my turn and even though it was the third day of the conference at the end of the day, a sizeable crowd showed up to my presentation. The presentation went reasonable well (I made some last minute changes which, at certain moments, made it a little uncomfortable for me as I had to look up what I had planned next), interaction was good and I got some great feedback to improve the presentation even further for future speaking opportunities.

After having lived to this moment for months, after it being over me and a colleague celebrated (he had become a PST – Professional Scrum Trainer – that day) with a nice drink in the bar. Major milestone reached, up to the next one!

Closing

The conference is still ongoing with at least two great sessions still coming up. The sponsor area has just closed, which is a shame really as it was a great place to meet people and talk about this, but with the conference party coming up later today there should be no shortage of opportunities to mingle.

Once the conference is over I’ll share part two, so stay tuned for that.

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