Monthly Round-Up - July The Story So Far!!!
It was back in May that the Agile Listening Project was first conceived after I was asked to review why yet another business transformation was failing to deliver the needs of an organisation's strategy, after they had pumped millions into what they thought would make the business more "agile" in reacting to customer needs.
This hadn't been the first Business Transformation I had been asked to review, and it was certainly not the first in which very expensive firms of consultants had been engaged to roll out an extensive and supposedly carefully configured framework in which a long list of projects would be delivered by the "sausage machine" like "agile" framework. Project Managers had become Scrum Masters, Development and Production Teams renamed DevOps, Playbooks had replaced Gantt Charts. You get the picture.
The bit they missed out was, for any project to work, the communications between people and teams must be great. Identified and verified customer needs must be communicated to everyone. That the strategy is based on collaboration between all elements of the Value Chain starting with the customer needs first, which creates the design, elaboration, mapping and delivery of products and services, at a competitive price, and that the whole process from beginning to end is transparent.
I sat in product strategy meetings, product design meetings, scrum meetings, sprint meetings, product release meetings and it hit me. Whilst all these executives and employees spent 80% of their time in meetings nobody was listening to each other. Every one made assumptions as to what the other person meant with no clarification. Dominant people drove the agenda. Less dominant people gave up offering ideas for fear of being judged, the majority felt a lack of purpose and many felt despair and a complete lack of motivation for change. Employee turnover was extraordinarily high, and sick days as a percentage of working days off the Richter Scale.
The Agile Listening Project was created to promote Active Listening within groups, teams, indeed throughout the organisation. To demonstrate that Listening is a skill that can be taught, and through its promotion and implementation, change in an organisation can be embraced by everyone enthusiastically, be celebrated and enable the delivery of products and services to customers in an "Agile" manner.
Step 1 - Express the Idea
I was a little concerned that my ideas would be dismissed or just seen as another Agile Coach trying to come up with another marketing plan. I spoke with other well known Agile thinkers such as Mike Burrows of Agendashift fame, and Steve Mackenzie who always talked about creating Wholehearted organisations, and verified some of my ideas by watching Jonathan Smart speaking about delivering projects "Better Value Sooner, Safer, Happier".
The general consensus was that "yes" the idea had legs and should be promoted.
Step 2 - Find a Sponsor
To have the time and funds to develop such an idea, promote it and then develop courses or simple guides is difficult for everyone. I needed a sponsor that would be hugely supportive of the idea and assist in the promotion of the Project.
I didn't need to look too far. Based in Hove, UK, not 11 miles from where I am based in Seaford, was a company rocking the DevOps world and espousing Agile Principles to ensure that DevOps team were seen as part of the creative/design and elaboration processes and not just the bodyshop of developers that implemented other people's ideas. They felt by doing this they added significant value to product and services to be developed for clients.
Broadlight Global supported the DevOps communities by hosting and sponsoring DevOps MeetUps in Brighton and London. Amongst their team was an old colleague of mine (from almost 30 years ago!!) Michael Rudenko, who has been an ardent proponent of Servant Leadership.
Together we have built up what The Agile Listening Project represents today, but knowing that overtime, working with many others, the Project will evolve and improve on the principles and ambitions we started with.
Step 3 - Build a Community
I had recently been involved in a great initiative called Purpose Challenge South Africa, that brought people together from varying disciplines, different cultural backgrounds and different countries. Ten teams were created and they needed to come up with a "disruptive" idea that would be based on the idea of "THE FUTURE OF WORK". Examples of disruptive products and services such as AirBnB, Spotify, Uber, Dyson and Google were produced.
Each Team was asked to come up with an idea in three hours, and then given a framework that would help them develop the components of their idea and how to evolve them through
the ExO process.
One of the first steps in the ExO process is to identify the community that will identify with your idea and will, through their engagement, develop and promote the ambitions of the product or service you are creating. No different to product managers engaging everyone in the Value Chain.
Michael and I presented our ideas for the Agile Listening Project to 2 DevOps Bunker meetings sponsored by Broadlight and the response was overwhelming. The stories of failing projects, organisations crumbling under stressed out employees, people feeling as though nobody listened or cared for their ideas, projects drifting on way passed expected delivery dates and stories of huge expense on large consultancy firms pushing their own version of Agile Frameworks were the norm not the exception. These concerned employees were crying out for help!!!
I presented the same to the other mentors in the Purpose Challenge SA who also saw the benefits of educating people in Active Listening and Servant Leadership skills, many of them from the Banking and Insurance sectors in SA where I had had the privilege to work from 2006 to 2013. Their encouragement has been absolutely fantastic and already offers to work with their organisations is being discussed.
So far so good! Lots of people applauding the idea but nothing that brought these people from different sectors, different skill sets and different countries together.
LinkedIn Group - The Agile Listening Project was launched last week in June and membership to date is up to 76, which I am led to understand is not a bad start but I hope by the time I add some serious content we can ramp up the numbers significantly. The Group page is there for everyone to post ideas, debate best ways in which Active Listening and Servant Leadership skills can be taught, coached and mentored.
As many of you are aware I have already started promoting the goals of the Agile Listening Project via DevOps Bunkers/MeetUps and Facebook Live. The presentation on Facebook Live was to an audience of over 2,000 members of the People of Indian Origin Chamber of Commerce. Further Meet Ups have been agreed on with the next being Agile South Coast on Tuesday 14th July 2020. Promotion posts are going out and it would be wonderful if as many of you as possible would join the broadcast and ask questions.
LinkedIn Live Broadcasts
In addition I am working on a number of LinkedIn live broadcasts to go out once a week. They will last no longer than 30 minutes and seek to deal with one element of Active Listening or Servant Leadership at a time. Those attending the live session will be able to ask questions via Chat and the recordings will be recorded and posted for those that cannot attend. I will publish the time and subject matter of these live broadcasts in the next few days.
There is much to be learnt from professionals outside the Information Technology / Business transformation world. There will be a series of interviews with people for whom Active Listening is a key skill that they have to develop to do their job to their best ability. It is hoped by talking with these people we can learn some very useful techniques to improve our Listening skills.
It seems that in three weeks we have come a long way and it is important that we all spread the word and encourage people to join our community. If we can assist organisations to educate their executives and employees that by employing Active Listening and Servant Leadership techniques they can deliver projects more successfully, in an environment where everyone senses a feeling of purpose and involvement, I have no doubt we will be making a huge contribution to the Business Transformation / Agile Community.