Best Agile Articles 2018 is a collection of the articles from a variety of authors published on topics of all things Agile in 2018.
The Best Agile Articles book series collects the best agile articles published during a calendar year into a single volume.
On April 6 the authors of the best agile articles published in 2018 came together for a workshop, giving their talk on topics such as Agile Leadership, distributed teams, and others.
If you would like to subscribe to the soundcast of these talks, head to Soundwise.
Today Tandem Coaching Academy publishes the talk Kathryn Maloney gave during the workshop on the topic of managing and dealing with the stakeholders.
About The Speaker
Kathryn Maloney has coached, consulted to, and advised leaders for 20 years, positioning their organizations to compete and thrive amidst the pace, demands, and complexities confronting business, social, and political environments. Her objective has been to enhance the way organizations co-create, leverage progressive structures, embed dynamic processes and practices, update mindsets and thinking, and build systemic resilience. Structure (organizing), behavior (habits and patterns), and mindsets (narratives and cultural norms) inform potential and possibility. Equipping people and teams means braving an environment of making bets and applying continual insights in order to position the system to see ahead and along the periphery and ground modern systems with the tools needed to continually navigate and adapt.
Kathryn Maloney I work with large government agencies, large global enterprises, small boutiques…and…I, sorry, I’m trying to fix the noise in the background…and in many ways, I do the same thing across all sizes of organizations; the scale and objective sometimes is different. But I find it interesting how, at this point in my, in my work that I enjoy large systems because I enjoy the complexity of them. I also enjoy small systems because obviously, there’s things you can get done much faster. But I’m intrigued at this point in my practice and my career and the applications are the same. And that’s been something I’ve been playing with and scrutinizing for the last 15 years. Scale is really the difference but how you apply change doesn’t really change very much. And so I’m always very interested in setting the conditions up for people to lean in to doing change work in a system that says it wants to change. And I continue to sort of research and play around in that space to see what I discover about how change actually works, both from a practitioners standpoint and organizations adopting change, if you will. So I thought I’d do a check in to see who’s in the virtual room here. And I had three different prompts to give you all if you’ll type it in for me, are you a practitioner or something else? I would love to know. What’s a single word describing what you want to learn coming to my session and having maybe read my article? Um…and it’s a single word articulating where you’re at at this point in the day in these rather dynamic and challenging times. So I’m just watching you guys as you type in; see where everybody is.
Kathryn Maloney Agile coach, agile leader,learning about agile and Scrum, product owner, team coach, coach disguised as a project manager learning perspective, Boston cool. Alright, you guys can keep going, I guess. Thanks, I appreciate it. It’s cool. Keep going, then everybody else can- I don’t know if you guys have done this to see who’s in the room, but that’s awesome. Happy to have you.
Kathryn Maloney Um, so a little bit about where this article came from: It…I…when I write just a little bit about my writing, my writing tends to sort of come out of me at funny times. I don’t exactly write it myself. Something else happens and it’s written out my hand and this… this article came out. We are- We had been developing a methodology for three years and I was in a large organization and I was one year in at that point to a two year, what- what became a two year, project inside of a large consulting company in a function inside a large consulting company… and which is- was a wild environment, because we were a consultant, see consulting to a consulting company. So you have like, you know, lots of force fields with that dynamic. Although, we do a very particular type of work and we were brought in by a function-head to help disrupt his function and help it move into sort of a more progressive organization adopting ways of working that would move them into being more responsive, more agile, more nimble, more dynamic in terms of how they did their work in coordinated and there are large and I was working with a marketing function. So large function dep-
Host I think she may have gotten disconnected. Let’s see. Yes, I think we did lose her. Um Okay. She jump right back in now, now that she’s officially disconnected.
Host We’ve been doing pretty good. This is the first time today we’ve had connection issues.
Host Christine- Oh! All right, there you go. We’ll Hand it over.
Kathryn Maloney Okay, great. I’m sorry, everybody. I’m working with the finicky internet connection, apparently today. So where I left you was I was telling you the history of where the article came from, in year one of a two year project and in the course of that project, I would get asked a lot of questions about – sort of – “Is this the right change work?”, “What exactly are you all doing?”, “Is it the same as agile?”, “Is it different because we’re doing agile?”, or “I have experienced in this area versus that area.” And it was always so…um- fine questions, but also it became such a large group, a large element of the background chatter of the project that, I found it… just, interesting. And as an organization that does or transformation work, we’re always up against that question that can seem like a really smart question, but behind the smart question is always this disguised resistance or work around to actually doing change. And so after several years of, of being in the space and doing the work, this article about, “Dear Beloved Clients, please start by doing…” came about.
Kathryn Maloney So just to extract from the article three, there’s a couple different themes going through it, but three of the key ones that I was talking about- and I talk a lot about still in my work. 2018 it’s like 100 years ago, as as was February this year. So I, this is alive and well in my work now also. So, it just happened to be them that I wrote about it- but debate inhibits progress, right? Like if we’re sitting around debating, which change, what type of change, if change, should we change, should we not change, and everybody talks about change all the time. Debate gets us nowhere; debate is just about debate. Doing is progress, right? Change is all about doing; like, we cannot change and stay the same. So we have to actually do something in order to trigger/catalyze/make change actually happen. So debate is inaction; action actually looks like doing particular things and it’s in doing those things that we get into some forward motion, and then we’re in the exercise of change, and we can let it show us what it’s going to show us. And then the other thing in my article that I wrote about a lot inspired by Dave Snowden’s work, because he’s just a go to, for me, I could name a lot of people, but, you know, ideology isn’t a method. So I’m always very uncomfortable as a person who has been in the change business for a long time of anybody proselytizing, or, you know, trying to anchor to anything too tightly because it’s a warning flag, right? Because change doesn’t look like that; systems don’t take to that. And healthy change is never going to be fully realized if we’re trying to follow a step-by-step process. So those are- those are three principles that are very important to me; my practices that were threaded in, in that writing.
Kathryn Maloney Too much time and money is spent considering change versus doing change. That is a brilliant way for a lot of people to make money and organizations and particularly large ones- and people do that and it’s frustrating- and I talk about it in sales conversations all the time. Because, you know, if we’re talking about change a lot, or we’re teaching an ideology about change, we’re not doing change, but we’re spending money either way, and then it’s very hard to turn that around, because we actually get somewhat attached as adults to that… “non-doing” because that somehow seems like it’s doing something; it’s a lot easier. It’s a lot easier not to do change than it is to actually do change. In in my work right now, in the readies work we, we use a lot of tools and practices. We teach operating rhythms, we teach a lot of how to do things in small ways to instigate large change. And so leveraging tools, practices and rhythms to route things strategically, we turn around the idea of thinking strategically, because we do not.. um… we do not think about planning as a strategic tool we think about doing as a strategic tool and getting people into rhythms, operating rhythm, meeting rhythms, different ways of communicating, that helps people think strategically. So it’s the doing that then helps thinking, which is a bit counterintuitive. Leveraging tools and practices and routes working dynamically and iteratively.
Kathryn Maloney So we anchor to just doing things/starting something and allowing that work and the dynamic nature of being a team or group of people thinking and doing in real time to iteratively show us what we’re discovering. And then we use what we discover to do more and discover more. I know I’m preaching to the choir in a lot of ways here, so bear with me. And then learning constantly, right? So we’re constantly looking at what we’re doing allowing it to inform and teach and give us insights and slivers to see through to then push forward more behavior; more doing to get at more change. So the continuous change process is – and living in organizations today that will never not be and we’re living in one of the most dynamic moments in time right now that illustrates all of this quite poignantly – that change is always upon us, always happening, and it’s how we actually anchor in the work of the day to day that enables us to healthfully work in constant change, enables us to anchor in chaos when chaos erupts, enables us to be responsive and adaptive with the winds of change happening regularly. Again, commoditizing any method or practice as a whole system change ideology, versus a method of intervention will quickly create limitations on the application in complex perpetually changing ecosystems. So again, this is that-that hazard that I find myself up against in talking about frequently, which is, you know, we can-we have to apply words to an intervention method does work *Connection Difficulties*
Kathryn Maloney the relationships *Connection Difficulties* because they are binding and people want things that are much more tangible than most true change processes enable us to execute on. So it’s a bit of a…uh, an interesting paradox there. But again, the commoditization of change is and it’s quite loud nowadays it’s it’s a real hazard and being able to facilitate people in the process of change is more of where the artistry and the mastery lives. Follow our ways in McGann, we can design pretty pictures and talk about things that enable people to begin the change process and those are good and positive and gets people sort of to the door. But selling an end state is… is somewhat snake oil. There are no fixed systems to learn and apply if you’re selling an ideology and an end state. It’s a hardware practice and it’s not really good practice to do. So getting into the work quickly as a principle, rather than talking conceptually as part of the the challenge of doing this work, which I’m sure many of you can appreciate, that…it’s, again, as adults, we are in patterns. We have narratives in our head, we… we are somewhat fixed in our thinking by virtue of age, wisdom, and experience and it’s harder for us to actually step into a new experience for many reasons. The unknown, ambiguity, discomfort, wanting to actually understand what it will be at the end before going through it, which is another anomaly of change process. So it’s disorienting and can be scary and challenging, which then puts a lot of groups and organizations back into where we sit around and we discuss it more than actually doing it. So we let the doing show us what the experience might be. And let us show us-let it show us how it’s actually exciting, and interesting, and fun, and invigorating; which is what I love to put people into because the moment people experience the difference, then you have the hook – healthy hook – to keep going. So again, attributing to the doing.
Kathryn Maloney Then there’s the piece about, you know, as I said, I spend a lot of my time teaching, meeting structures, designing meeting structures, designing workshops, designing events, designing planning sessions, designing strategy sessions, teaching decision methodologies, moving people into new technologies to leverage better communication in a system, talking about different ways that groups can come together and team and the structure of that or how an organization is structured and, you know, doing change work in those spaces. And it’s always interesting there too because those things are what we ask people to get into and start doing, to be in the experience of, and so there’s that, that barrier to just getting people into those. And then there’s a secondary barrier, which is you as the recipient of that; the doers of those… people have to actually be willing to give up something and oftentimes a lot of things because we give up what we know in order to step into these new ways of being and doing… um…and that is loss and there’s grief that comes with that, and there’s emotion that comes with that. And so there’s also holding people in that space as we, as we use these processes to move people into the experience of change. I said it’s impossible to change without changing. We, as change practitioners, can show people the structures and the ways of doing new things in new ways. And the reality is, is that’s the first step of just start doing rather than talking. And then it has to be taken by the folks who were – actually it’s their change to do; that they have to take it from there, we can’t do that part for them. And that’s oftentimes something I’m articulating early on with folks to make sure that they understand that both as buyers and – then and I’m in a system, there’s people who aren’t the buyer and they just receive us – but it’s, you know, people have to be willing to take it and do it themselves because I can’t actually deliver the change. The change is owned by the group, or the team, or the organization itself. So then a couple – a couple principles out of the article: experien-experiencing is believing.
Kathryn Maloney We’ve seen time and again that the transition from debating and cognating, about change or different methodologies, or, “Is this the right one for us?”, or “Is that the right one for us?”, or “Is it-does it apply to this organization but it doesn’t apply to another organization because we’re special?” Like, we’ve seen it all… and the difference between just moving into experience and seeing what adopting simple principles and practices does is worth so much time, and money, and effort. That it’s just… show don’t tell. Don’t wait for permission. I’m in a lot of systems, whether it’s leaders in a system or teams in a system, everybody’s waiting for someone to give them permission to do change or to be different or to try new things. And the only way to activate change in a system is for someone to start. And that someone can be anywhere in the system. It doesn’t have to be a leader, it often doesn’t need to be a leader and sometimes ought not be. So permission is a big conversation we have in terms of getting the doing going as well. Prepare to lose in order to gain the reality is is doing any kind of change work, whether you’re a coach, whether you’re doing teamwork, whether you’re doing systems work, it comes with loss, and that’s really important and hugely realistic to understand what we hold in terms of bringing people into the change because we have to hold the loss in order People to create the space for people to step into and that that dialectic is always in play. And again, I tend to speak to that directly because that can help minimize whatever anxiety people tend to have around doing change and actually again, being willing to step in.
Kathryn Maloney “Mind your ego” I had written about because more… it’s the monkey mind, the ego monkey mind that, you know, a lot of the cognate eating and debating comes from the reptilian brain; the monkey mind basically feeling threatened. And the loop becomes like if I, if I just debate it, I avoid you know, I keep it away and then the risk is lower and so that often that coming from a certain part of the brain, the ego, whatever your anybody wants to call it, so mining your ego because there’s always the loop of changed, you know, it’s going to create chaos, it’s too much it’s going to disrupt, it’s going to be too crazy. And, you know, meanwhile, we’ve usually are in conversations where things are crazy. And that’s why we’re in the conversation to begin with. And so risk and the ego and not wanting to actually step in and do or are hugely a part of this scenario, doing work, as experiencial work
Kathryn Maloney “Stop planning and start doing.” Again, planning is a lot of a cover for delaying action. And we’re very conditioned, you know, change management is rooted in a planning process, it’s rooted in a linear progression, it’s rooted with the beginning and a middle and an end. And so when you come in as change practitioners in 2020, or 2018, probably even 1997. It doesn’t matter. You’re, you’re coming in to do change in this way, you’re-you’re disrupting an entire framework from which people have been deeply conditioned to think what change looks like Even…like I’m talking to a group of Agile people like if you think you know waterfall to agile and how old that conversation even is… still a very new conversation. So same difference with change management, I really come more from the-the change side of the world than I do from the Agile world. So planning is a big one. What are you guys doing? What is the plan for the change? How are you guys going to take us through the change? What is-what are the steps? What is what are, you know, what outcomes, what deliverables are you delivering? And the always the answer is what you’re going to find that out, you’re going to be the ones showing up to the change and doing the change. And how you show up and do the change is going to be what you deliver to your system about changing it. And so that’s a real that’s a real different type of conversation than what most folks are used to and what most folks are used to in terms of selling and buying change.
Kathryn Maloney So I’m, I love what I do, I love partnering with them, and have had amazing partners in my professional life for all these years. And to do this work… deeply and in its purest, most authentic form takes being in strong relationships with people and oftentimes they have a bit of depth to them, and they require a lot of courage to show up as human beings to do this work together. So gratitude and presence are just another huge, huge part of doing this work. And what makes it fun and worthwhile in my humble opinion. So, conclusion. I’d love to hear some other voices rather than my own right now. The choice is always about braving learning experiencing oneself differently both as a practitioner and as the people we bring the change work to.
Kathryn Maloney Sorry. Can you hear me? Did I get as far as the slide?
Host Yep. You were, you just popped out for just a second.
Kathryn Maloney Okay, great. It’s, it’s not up to me. It’s up to somebody else when I’m on Zoom and when I’m not here. So yeah, braving learning, experiencing oneself differently, really being in the truth and understanding of how systems work and how change works – and that study in and of itself is highly valuable, which is my, my background is natural systems and the biology of change – and then using tools and practices and methods to enable those things, not the opposite. And then no tool or method as a panacea, most are opportunities to, to with growth and change. And again, that’s a bit of a paradigm shift in terms of how people think about it. Most of the time, it’s holding all of those spaces I just talked about the tools are our helpers and our friends in the process. So that’s some backgrounds. Now that I’ve taken 40 minutes to get cut off of zoom twice and try and talk about what the article was about. I’d love to engage you guys in a conversation with me or with one another, happily with one another as well, to hear sort of what that elicits, in your minds, what kind of questions that brings up what stories you all have to share with one another about delivering change and the ideas of, of doing over… talking? We have, I think, what 10 to 20 minutes sharing to chat if people feel like it.
Host Yeah, we have about 10 minutes left to chat. So if you have questions, you can put them in the chat box. I did go ahead and give everybody the ability to unmute yourself. So if you’d like to come on and share your answer, that’s fine. I do ask that you take less than one minute to say what you are wanting to share. That way. We have time for multiple
Host Any questions or thoughts about this question?
Host Sometimes it takes a minute as people are writing/typing out their questions. So we’ll just get-
Kathryn Maloney It doesn’t have to be about that question that was just a prompt to help if there’s any questions on anything else. Are
Attendee 1 You were talking about Dave Snowden and his work? Do you use tools like sense maker to make sense of where an organization is before as part of the work that you do?
Kathryn Maloney I don’t. I don’t and I don’t – I don’t practice Dave’s methodology either but I love Dave’s talking and his-and his writing. But no, I don’t do sense maker but also I don’t do a lot of that assessment work of a system before I start work. Like I go in, I engage with a particular part of an organization, whether it’s a function or a team, or, you know, I come in in different ways. And I actually have some tools that we use to quickly get people reflecting on what’s in their way. And then get them to sort of self diagnose into trying new things immediately. So as a – my practice and the readies practice, we don’t do a set like… assessment is not a part of what we do. So there is not there’s no judgement about that tool. I just that’s not that’s not part of how we practice.
Attendee 1 Actually, I’m looking forward to reading the ready. So I’ll come back to you offline. Thank you.
Kathryn Maloney You’re welcome.
Host We have two questions. First question he is working with engineers that quickly need to turn around projects. They use hackathon as a paradigm. To do quick iterations. What is your experience in getting quick iterations for change?
Kathryn Maloney So, we again – funny enough, I’m going to tell you guys about how we practice – so we don’t go in…I mean-I-we could design a workshop, that’s not totally true. We could design a workshop that would like get people into such a thing as a hackathon. If it was a very specific workshop, so I think it’s a wonderful tool to use if you’re trying to teach people how to just think and create and design real fast and ideate to get into iterating on something. I think that’s wonderful. We also go in with large transformation projects and we teach iteration as a way of working. So which is that’s really easy to say and not as easy to do. If you work with engineers, you know that well, so like, it’s getting people to move into that, you know, more agile loop of identifying something, testing it, figuring out what the test and the data is telling you to then move to the next, you know, stage of it is something that we teach teams to do in function as a way of working. So sometimes we’re doing an event type thing, but other times we’re actually embedding to teach over the long term how to move a system to actually thinking and working in an iterative way as a way of working. So, change – quick change is also an anomaly. You know, right? Like, if we all knew how to, like teach people quick change, we would, you know, probably all be billionaires, I always say that I’m like, that’s how I’m gonna become a millionaire. Like there’s always these things. So quick changes, like, I don’t know if there’s such a thing, right. But there are there are six constructs and designs and methods and tools that certainly help people to think in tighter frameworks in tighter timelines, to design and iterate more quickly, to take that data and to put it back in to keep going right to be in that loop of change. So it’s more like where my qualitative researcher brain comes from, of, you know, trying to identify things in extract and then put it back into redesign and do it again and teaching that as a way of working is not… it’s not quick. It takes a lot of it takes a lot of discipline, and it takes a lot of attention, and it takes a lot of commitment from a team and an organization to do that.
Host Yeah, change is definitely not easy. So we have one last question; we might have time for one more after that. But this question is, “When doing this change work, what do you do when people are actually unable to execute within the framework that you’ve sent out/set up?
Kathryn Maloney Alejandra, that’s an ind-I’d almost want to know a little more behind your question. Let me try and take it but and then if you want to clarify…
Kathryn Maloney Here’s my… I might-I might be shooting incorrectly with your question here. So…just hold that lightly. I don’t know if it’s maturity because I-I work with so many different ages and cultures and, you know, genders and ethnicities, and, you know, I work across so many types of humans to include younger ones. And I often think it’s not. If you’re running into people not embracing change, oftentimes the question has to go to the practitioners it has to go to the structures, it has to go to the constructs, because that’s part of the artistry and the dance is figuring out how to find the inroads so that people can make it work for them and sometimes an Agile approach from what I hear, because I’ve never delivered one like in that way, but sometimes an Agile approach can be too rigid in what you’re asking people to do. And that’s where you – people run into because I run into this in every organization I work in, right? Because I’m very close all the time to people doing agile transformation work and systems. And so oftentimes, it’s like, I always-it’s like, “Where can you give breathing space for people to actually find their way because people need to muck about.” It’s one of my favorite expressions. That is, you know, obviously very academic. People need to muck about in change, they have to find a way whether it’s an individual working with a therapist and individual going to the gym and individual that you can think of all sorts of changes individuals, yourself of like, how do you sort of find your way to like the place where you’re in the flow and it can work? You have to do that with groups of people as well. And of course, I like small groups. So because it’s mucking about is a thing and it takes time and you have to allow people to make muck about enough to find which, which of the tools or practices actually resonate? Like is the retrospective working for a team that’s adopting an Agile approach and just focusing on that, letting people get into the rhythm of that so that they feel into that experience and have some success to then add other things.
Host Aweome. Well, okay, well, thank you very much for taking a few minutes to answer questions. Katherine, this was a great presentation.
Kathryn Maloney You’re very welcome
Host Love to hear your, your information and background that you have as a change agent, not necessarily like as just an agile coach, but how do you do change an organization, change is very complex. So definitely appreciate this perspective and appreciate your time here today.
Kathryn Maloney Thank you so much