3 things I learned from Big Apple Scrum Day

This was the second year of Big Apple Scrum Day (#BASD2016), and my first year in attendance.  I had been chasing bringing a conference to life for a few months, and was curious to see what the New York City Scrum User Group could put together in only their second year.

The one-day conference attracted some heavy weights including Esther Derby (BASD keynote), Jason Yip (from Spotify), And Tim Ottinger (Industrial Logic).

While the cost of the conference was attractive (under $150), the fact that some of my colleagues (Mariya Breyter, Gene Gendel, and Aakash Srinivasan) were presenting or hosting sessions, was one of the primary reasons I wanted to attend.  I enjoy supporting these folks when I can, and posit that the support this community shows for each other is unlike any I’ve ever encountered.IMG_20160516_105404

My struggle with every conference I attend is trying to manage my schedule.  There are always sessions happening concurrently that force me to make a tough decision – which I suppose isn’t so bad in the long run.

Beyond coming up with my superpower (the conference theme) and sharing with neighbors (RetroMan, The Runway Creator, & Mr. Relaxed Under Pressure), I wanted to share some insights I walked away with, that provoked thought and pondering.

  1. “Big changes feel like a threat.  Little changes do not.”

Esther discussed this in her keynote, and talked about how change can be perceived as chaos when first introduced.  As Esther highlighted, “change is not a hockey stick” – meaning change does not just breed productivity or efficiency by virtue of its presence.  If you can imagine a flat line, and then an incredible ascension due to “coaching”, you can picture the hockey stick image.

Far too often I’ve seen top tier consultancies violate this tenet by providing the “Top 37 things we need to change”, and it truly does become overwhelming for both teams, team members, managers, and organizational leaders.  These same folks want to tell “companies” what they have to change, without leading by example, and showing how to promote sustainable change.  Its a post for another time, but coaches that don’t feel like its their role to get their hands dirty, are a pet peeve of mine – both as a client, and now as a peer.

2.   “Come yourself, or bring no one.”

This quote came from W. Edwards Deming, and was highlighted in Mariya Breyter’s session “Anna Karenina Principle”. Mariya’s session was about patterns found at the transformational level (across many types of Enterprises), as well as one of the most important aspects:  The NEED for Transformation.

From an engagement perspective, we work with leaders who want to support efforts, as long as it doesn’t require their time to actively manage.  They volunteer direct reports, and say things like “if anyone doesn’t cooperate, I need to be the first to know”.  Yet these same people, do not feel compelled to make themselves available.  Change is great, until it impacts “us”.   Or in this case, “me”.

I personally love Deming’s approach.  It breeds accountability.  It sets a tone.  It illustrates that transformations cannot only start at the team level.  Some people refer to this as organic, or grass roots transformations.  Support from leaders cannot just be telling other people to support the effort.  They must be present and engaged.  Being apart of the transformation helps to build strong roots within the organization.

At one point in the day, Esther brought up the idea that:

“people don’t resist change, they resist coercion”

The Executives that coerce engagement without embracing themselves, are simply doing a disservice to the entire effort around change.  People will not become invested because they are told they should be.  When they begin to experience the benefit, and see change as a positive, necessary outcome – that’s when they become invested, and good habits begin to take root.

3. The “5 why’s technique actually builds walls – it does not always get to the root cause

Jackie Vanover’s session, titled “Sticky Change: How to Create Transformations that Last”, really opened my eyes to an entirely different set of principles I will immerse myself in over the coming months.

Jackie gave us a view into the human brain.  She referenced the book “Power of Habit”, and shared that the brain is made up of 3 parts:  the new brain, the middle brain, and the reptilian brain.  The reptilian brain is our instinct to “React first, analyze later”. It prefers patterns, and is the part of our anatomy that must be reprogrammed if we are to rewrite patterns.

In her session, she demonstrated that the “5 why’s technique” actually doesn’t always produce the right outcomes.  With this technique, we ask an initial question, get an answer – then ask the person we are talking to “why”.  By the second or third why, the conversation goes beyond eliciting information, and the person being asked why begins to question your motive.  Its not something they do intentionally, but it does begin to breed a defensive posture.  It forces them to choose a side.

Here’s a script:

Why do you want to change?  A: Because we want to promote quality in our team

Why do you want to promote quality?  A: Because we haven’t always done the right things in the past, and this is a chance to start fresh

Why haven’t you done the right things in the past?  A: I don’t know, we probably wanted to, but now we are just looking at this differently.

Why are you finally looking at things differently?  A: Are you questioning why we are even doing this?  What’s your point?

That’s 4 why’s.  We didn’t even get to 5.

I’ve actually come to realize I ask why a lot.  I don’t always interrogate people with this technique, but I do ask why.

Jackie illustrated that re-framing your question using Who, What, When, Where, and How – can often be far more effective at building relationships, and getting real answers.

New script:

What value do you think change will bring to your team? A. We think quality will be one the areas we will benefit from the most.

How will quality improve your team’s outlook?  A. It will help us understand what we can improve, and also deliver better solutions for our customers.

How could we improve customer satisfaction?  A. We should probably ask users if features we deliver are useful.  We could also find ways to see which features are being accessed by users through usability studies.

You get the point.  This is a contrived script, but feel free to experiment.  I have seen a huge difference in how I approach interviews with clients, and the subsequent outcomes from our conversation.

As a final from this session, there is also something called the “Amygdala Alarm” which governs how we initially react to a certain situation.  This alarm is governed by past experiences and memories, as well as controls your body’s response to anxiety.  The point of exploring this concept is simply awareness.  We often do not have context clues for all the experiences someone has had in their life, and illogical responses from someone very grounded might be influenced by a memory deeply ingrained in their mind.

Fear of change may be an subconscious response that is not easily re-programmed.  Its just another tool as a consultant to explore and address.

Jackie also cited a book titled “Crucial Conversations” as well as another titled “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most”.

These sessions are the kind I live for at these conferences.  Something completely different than your typical Agile talk, but also supremely useful in every day application.

Final Thoughts

Its tough to beat a 1-day conference for under $150 that attracts good people, good discussion, crowd sourced session topics, at a historic location in New York City.

If the agenda next year is anything like this year, I will guaranty I’ll make this a “must attend” every year for the duration its held.

Feel free to comment, or provide additional insights if you attended.  I know the folks that volunteer would love to hear feedback.