Becoming agile

Agile, through the storms

Archive for the tag “Leadership”

On Leadership, Humility and Independence

Today is Independence Day in Israel, and I want to share a short story on leadership. It is a story my dad told me many years ago.

My father served during and after the War of Independence under the direct command of General Sadeh, by then a highly acclaimed military officer. Following the war there was a major military exercise, and, as army exercises go, there was a recess for lunch. A temporary camp was set up; large tables were set with big vessels containing food. Soldiers queued up, mess-tin ready in their hands, and, when reached the large tables, those on duty served them.

Military Mess-tin. Credit goes to Collectors and Collections Forum in Tapuz (Hebrew)

Nearby another table was set up: chairs on either sides of the table, soldiers on duty serving the people sitting at the table. These were the officers, in charge of the exercise.

And then the command car arrived. General Sadeh, along with the rest of the people in the command car got out of the vehicle, and went, mess-tin in hand, to queue with the rest of the soldiers.

Needless to say that the rest of the officers, the ones being waited by other soldiers, did not know where to hide.

To this day I recall the sense of awe when my father told me the story. Not the kind associated with fear, rather with respect and trust.

General Sadeh did not stay with the army much longer afterwards. The story goes back to 1948, and Sadeh left the army in 1949, possibly due to some kind of political disagreement. He remained a much respected leader until and after his death in 1952.

There are many kinds of leadership, matching various conditions. It is often said that in the military a coercive, command-and-control is typically more suitable. Here’s one example of a leader that combined many styles of leadership, at times counter-intuitive, and yet has won the trust and respect of many, with unquestionable achievements. No doubt his opponents had much contribution to his retirement from the army service. Maybe even to his early demise. His legacy as a leader remains long after some of them.

This story tells me that it is not enough to sit at the officer’s table to become a respected leader. Sometimes, the opposite is true.

Got lost? Try stopping

One of the anxiety provoking situations working in organizations is getting lost; not knowing what to do next.

Let’s face it, imagine your manager entering the team’s room, when none of you really know what to do next? Not a pleasant moment.

Photo by brewbooks, at

Reflecting on the famous verse from Psalms 121: “A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?” and the answer immediately follows: “My help comes from the LORD, …

This text is translated literally from Hebrew:

שִׁיר, לַמַּעֲלוֹת:
אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, אֶל-הֶהָרִים– מֵאַיִן, יָבֹא עֶזְרִי.

(תהילים קכא פסוק א’)

But it could be translated differently. Those of you, who are not Hebrew speakers, may find this strange. I encourage you to check it out, if you sense any doubt:

A song, for ascents:

I lift my eyes, lord of the mountains– From void, comes my help.

Now there is no question. So the next verse is not an answer for the above, it is the next statement: “My help comes from the LORD, …“; maybe the LORD will help me find my way through the void.

Ok, so the manager enters the room, and you are lost. You have no idea what to do next. What do you do?

There is a tendency to come up with a solution, any solution, as long as we are making progress.

Further in the psalm we learn that:

“…indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

Once again, the original suggests an alternative:

הִנֵּה לֹא-יָנוּם, וְלֹא יִישָׁן– שׁוֹמֵר, יִשְׂרָאֵל

This interpretations suggests: “…indeed, Israel will neither slumber nor sleep, watching over”

There is, of course, the option of getting help from the manager, from books, from an expert, from The LORD. Those options are always there.

But, hey, from time to time allow yourselves to just Get Lost, watching over yourselves from whatever lies outside.

A few more words on the context: Psalms 121 is about Jacob (aka Israel) running away from his bigger and stronger twin brother Esau. In despair he lifts his eyes to the mountains. Instinctively we imagine what he might think: from where do I get help?!

I guess this is more for you, managers, than it is for teammates. Your team is lost, facing a problem that seems as big as mountains for them, maybe even for you. Yes, they do need your help, but possibly not the kind you are used to. Sometimes they need the space to get lost and build their own help from void, from nothing; to learn from their own mistakes and from their own experience.

There is learning without teaching, and there is teaching without learning. If you notice that you teach your team the same things time and again – try another way. For example, let them learn their own way. In the process you will also learn to contain the team’s anxiety and refrain from automatically offering your help.

Many thanks to my mentor at my studies, Haim Deutsch, staff member in the program, for turning my attention to this notion

To the team, and beyond!

For the second year in a row, the Agile Practitioners 2013 conference is on its way, scheduled for early next year.

For starters, save the date! On January 29-30, 2013, at Kfar Hamaccabiah near Tel Aviv

The theme of this conference is “Agile Beyond the Team”

Hyde Park Corner tube station, photo by Mike Knell

We give much focus to the team in our work. Sometimes we call it development team, and at times implementation team – to refrain from making assumptions on the team itself.

This time, during the conference we wish to explore the teams’ eco-system: what do we need to provide within and outside our organisations to get teams to thrive in an agile culture.

Do you feel you have a say? Would you like to share your expertise? Maybe you have a view on management or on leadership or on software architecture or on people skills or on complexity of human systems that you wish to share? Any other related subject is, of course, also welcome

We have opened a Call For Papers for people like yourself, who wishes to spend up to 45 minutes influencing people for make this agile world just a little better.

Got you interested? Follow the link, fill in the form, and tell us what you want to talk about!

As a speaker, should your idea make it to the programme, you will be entitled to a free admission to the conference 2nd day, and to a 50% discount on the workshops during the 1st day (Details of the workshops will follow soon).

If you wish to follow and get updates on the conference, you can register via the conference’ main page.


What does a butterfly say at the end of the day?

Hindsight is a strange thing. In hindsight it is easy to criticize. It’s unimaginable to find someone still convinced that the world is flat. It’s easy for us to say ‘how didn’t the US see Pearl Harbor coming?’

Of course, we have something that those that didn’t see all this didn’t have: hindsight.

Photo by AntoGros

Quite naturally, there are things for which we do not have hindsight: will this release be successful in marketing terms? Will this new product live to its promise?

Within a given time period, we will be able to say whether the release was successful, or whether this new product made the impact we anticipated for it. But then it will be easy – it will have become a past event, and we will be able to do nothing about what happened prior to the event.

This is a problem that can never be solved. No one will be able to tell you with certainty what will happen in the future. On the other hand, you could get a good estimation of it.

Say that the release is scheduled for one week from now, and we have not even gone through 50% of the progress, and we have been working on it for 8 weeks already, and nothing is working. One can say, with a fair degree of certainty, that marketing success is somewhat not plausible.

If, however, we would have checked after two weeks whether the work we have done so far is working. And we will have continued every two weeks to make similar checks, we could, quite reasonably have reached 80% progress after 8 weeks. Knowing that these 80% worth of software is working according to the customer needs, we would be more comfortable to say that we might be successful in marketing terms. Right? Well we cannot be certain, but we will have a better chance.

The same with the new product; if we have a group of business users having a look at the product every two weeks, we will be better positioned to estimate whether it will live to its promise. Right?

This is not hindsight. Not even close. But it provides a better starting point at the time we need to provide such estimates.

This is what agile is about. Getting shorter feedback loops, so we can make decisions earlier, so we can prepare ourselves and gear ourselves with relevant empirical data.

Meticulously planning ahead of time provides nothing except having theoretical plans. Redefining the plans according to the future, as it changes it shape due to current event, will help us face this future more prepared.

Therefore planning is good, as long as you don’t overdo it. In contrast, Reacting to events will prepare you better for the future. This is counter intuitive for many of us. But think of butterflies – if they plan their day, it will be a disaster for them. They only need the grand plan; No details. Then observe the environment and react.

In the language of the Agile Manifesto: Responding to Change over Following a Plan

So what does a butterfly say at the end of the day?

If only I know this morning what I know now!

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