Merry Christmas Everyone – My Personal Retrospective.

The end of 2013 will shortly be upon us and I find myself having my usual mother of all personal retrospectives. There has been some real ups and downs this year, but I guess that is just life and somewhat makes us stronger and more prepared next time around. Here are a few of them;


  • Co-Presenting with Ben Cooke at the Agile Business Conference. This was Bens first conference outing and I was so proud. He ROCKED!
  • Co-Presenting with Mark Summers at Scrum Gathering Las Vegas. Naturally there was fun and frolics. Oh and Mark and Nigel Baker falling asleep in the show!
  • Co-Presenting with Mark Summers at XP Vienna. This is also a lowlight as I got very ill and physically left parts of me in the hotel..seriously, parts will remain!
  • Attending the Scrum Gathering Paris. Great to have the whole RippleRock family out in the corporate colours. I really do love my work family.
  • Attending my first Lean Kanban Conference. Our stand kicked butt with the Lego drive through!
  • Becoming an Accredited Kanban Trainer and putting this into practice. I have made some great new friends in the Kanban world and learnt so much from them.
  • Linked to the above Dan Brown and I refactored and rebranded the KickStart Kanban course. We got presenter scores of 96% on the first outing, I mean, how do we beat that!
  • The Agile Coaching Exchange is going from strength to strength and we are getting awesome speakers. We had our peak at 70 attendees with Roman Pichler! I am very proud of the ACE and want to thank all the presenters for giving up their time for the community, and to Ben Cooke and Duncan Smith who help me to organise the events. Also finally ASOS for letting me host such events in their office.
  • Kicking off the Kanban Coaching Exchange with Dan Brown. Again the numbers for this have been so overwhelming and prove there is a real thirst for knowledge out there.
  • Extended Evolutionary Stages (A reflection tool for teams). Getting to run it with a new client and receiving positive feedback.
  • Loving that my jobs means that I get to meet so many new people and to travel to places I would probably have never gone. There is a whole new world out there waiting to be discovered. I have had lots of new clients this year and made some great new friends, whilst maintaining my strong bond with my teams at ASOS.
  • Being on the organising team for the first European Coaching Event in 2014. Giving back to the community is a real passion of mine. My job is ultimately helping people reach their full potential.


  • I had a difficult engagement this year and it really did knock my confidence and make me doubt myself. It did make me feel quite low and has taken me much time to get over this. I naturally had the fabulous support of Zia Malik, Mark Summers and Dan Brown who coached me though this. That is what makes my RR work family so ‘Awesome’, we are there for each other 24/7. They helped me to understand that it happens to everyone and in life there are just some people you don’t connect with, and that it is not personal to me or reflective on my overall style. So why am I telling you this when it is quite personal and did upset me? Because it can happen to anyone and people are there to support you and so you don’t need to hide away because you don’t want to show perceived weakness. I have learnt from this experience and I want to offer the support to you, should you find yourself in the same situation. You are not alone.
  • After 16 months of hard graft I left ASOS. I miss my boys!!  But friends are for life and having just come from a Christmas lunch with them, they can’t get rid of me that easy.

Overall, good times out weigh the bad and I really have had a great year . I hope that 2014 lives up to my expectations. At the very least I am going to New York in the New Year and so I am starting the year as I mean to go on!

I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For those that have supported me I want to say thank you and you mean a hell of a lot to me. For my readers who I don’t know, I look forward to meeting you!

To quote Vinnie Jones ‘It’s been emotional’

Merry Christmas !

PS:  I have included a few of my favourite photos for your delight  Smile

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The Art of Possibility

It’s been a little while since I have written a blog. I guess I have been off the radar for a bit, but I am back now. Since we last spoke I have been to the Scrum Gathering Paris and had an awesome time. I was so encouraged to hear about the great journey they have had at Spotify, and it shows what the art of the possible really is. My work family (RippleRock) were proud sponsors of the event and we hosted a Marshmallow Challenge on the second night. I love that game! I also love eating marshmallows Smile


I also attended the Agile Business Conference where I presented ‘The Style Challenge’ with my good friend Ben Cooke. It was it his first conference or debutant as I like to call it Smile He did a fantastic job and I look forward to his next submission.

I will be drawing my conference season to an end this week by attending my first ever Modern Management Conference. I am looking forward to seeing all my fellow Kanban enthusiasts and maybe 1 or 2 from my time in Sapanca getting accredited.

On the Kanban front Dan Brown and I have launched the Kanban Coaching Exchange. We had an awesome first session and over 40 people attended. It’s fantastic to see so many people giving up their free time to come and develop themselves and learn more. Don’t forget about the Agile Coaching Exchange also! We had the highest numbers ever come and hear Roman Pichler talk about Product Ownership. From my experiences with Scrum this is one area that many organisations really fall behind on. If you missed the session you can pick up the slides here, and we will shortly be releasing the video. Did I mention we are now starting to record our sessions Smile

I wanted to talk to you today about the art of the possible. I was heavily influenced in the subject by the book ‘The Art of the Possibility’ by Ben & Rosamund Zander. Ben is the conductor of the Boston philharmonic orchestra and his wife is an executive coach.

Even though I am an Agile Coach I still sometimes get caught up in the politics and processes of an organisation, and I found myself in this situation not so long ago. This could be through not challenging the status quo or working around a process that maybe is no longer valid or just getting approval for doing something. The book was suggested to me by a colleague I was working with at the time and did initially think it sounded a little bit like a self-help book. I was so far off the mark because it actually helped me reframe my whole mind-set and look at the world differently. For those working with me at the time will remember my ‘No Regrets ‘mission. For the curious amongst you, it was about challenging everything we do and making the change towards better practices and agility. I was not going to ask for permission. I was just going to do it and if I got my arse kicked, so be it. I had the organisations best interest and goals at heart and so armed with that I was ready with new invigorated ideas, enthusiasm and passion. Did I ever get my arse kicked? As if! No one is brave enough for that.  Smile with tongue out

So what’s it all about?

To explain it all fully here I would need to type out the book, and so I advise you to read it for yourself. To help you all out though I thought I would provide a high level summary of the chapters to wet your appetites.

  1. “It’s all invented” In everyday life we make assumptions about pretty much everything. We make these assumptions many times without really acknowledging or understanding it. By our nature we focus on ourselves. We need to learn how to read and look outside of the assumptions and think bigger than what is in place already.
  2. “Scarcity thinking” – Glass half empty or half full?
  3. Self-fulfilling prophecy – If you assume that people will do well and help them to see how they can, they will. Zander gives every student an “A” in his class, and simply asks them to write a paper to tell what they will do to deserve that A. This gets the students focused on excellence, and takes away the tension that gets in the way of real results.
  4. Mind-set – “being a contribution – you are a gift to others”. How could that change what you do – to focus on the external perspective?
  5. Involve everyone! Zander asks his players to write down how he could improve practices and performances, and pays attention to the suggestions genuinely viewing leadership from all levels.
  6. “Don’t take yourself so seriously – to lighten up”.
  7. ‘Be present to the ways things are’  Many of us are disconnected from reality. By getting back to it, we can see more possibilities.
  8. ‘Give way to passion’  Going with your feelings allows you to be more real, and to go to new heights of accomplishment. Allow yourself to let go.
  9. ‘Light a spark’ See you role as creating a spark of possibility to be lit that others can see. Act as a catalyst for yourself and others.
  10. Be the framework!
  11. Create a vision – “frameworks of possibility”
  12. ‘WE’ – Focus on being inclusive and considering what is best for all.

Final Thoughts

All good systems need to be re-calibrated from time to time and I don’t see us being any different.
I recommend you get this book and read.  it will change your perspective! (note: I am not on commission)

Ask yourself these questions today

‘What assumptions have I made today?’

‘Were they right for the context I used them?

‘Is there a better way?’

Non Violent Communication

It is common knowledge of my dislike of snow, but what’s worse is this heat! Whilst I love going on holiday and basking in the sun,  It is normally accompanied by a pina colada and a dip every 10 minutes in the pool. Needless to say travelling on the central line in stifling heat has not been my preferred mode of travel. Don’t even get me going about sweaty people!

Apart from the heat the last couple of weeks I have been quite happy going about my usual activities. I am pleased to say that I have now completed my first course as an Accredited Kanban Trainer (AKT) and felt it went really well. All the feedback was positive and I got to sleep in a four poster bed for the first time.

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Last week we hosted the Agile Coaching Exchange (ACE) with Bob Marshall as our guest speaker for the evening. The topic of conversation was Non Violent Communication (NVC).

It was the first time we strayed into the more softer skills at the ACE and it seems to go down very well.

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So what is Non Violent communication?

So violence in this context is not about me physically assaulting someone, but it is about me getting others to do my will through fear, obligation or guilt (FOG).

So how many times have you been in a situation where:

  1. You went to the pub with your friend when you really fancied a night in, but they convinced you otherwise.
  2. Worked late or weekends to deliver a project when you really wanted to spend time with your family, when asked by a supervisor.
  3. Done a little extra at work as you are led to believe it will help you to secure a promotion or pay rise.

If you answered yes to any of the above, the chances are you have been subjected to a violent communication style.

It normally is delivered in the following key steps:

  • The Demand – “The board and I have been looking at your report and wondered if you can you get your team to work at the weekend as the project is running behind”.
  • The Resistance – You might ask if you can investigate other options, such as going to back to the stakeholders and reconsidering timescales or scope.
  • The Pressure & Threats – This request is met with reluctance and you are reminded that promotions and pay rises are coming up soon and getting this extremely important project over the line would be taken into consideration.
  • Compliance – If you don’t do this then your lively hood is threatened (even though this is not explicitly stated).

I can honestly say I have never used such as extreme examples as above, but I have used cohesion or blackmail to get others to do what I want. I am a woman of course Smile

I can only imagine though that the person on the end of the example feels as if they really have no choice but to comply.  How about if we had tackled the situation as follows:

  • Observation – “I see from your weekly report that the project is running behind”
  • Feelings – “ I am worried that we have made commitments to a third party and won’t be able to deliver on time. This could impact their impression on the company and it is important to us and our shareholders that we secure further business from them in the future”
  • The Need – “I need to understand how we can get the project back on track and can you help me to understand what the options are?”
  • The Request – Can you work with me to pull some information together to help us make a decision?”

Whilst these are extreme examples, in the second option the decision has not been made already and outside the control of the team. The team might well have decided to work the weekend but that would not have been through Fear, Obligation or Guilt. But through choice.

By using the 4 steps above we can really evaluate our communication style and start to consider what needs do I have, and what are the needs of the other person. When the needs of one person is put above the other, then violent communication is very much happening.

Another example of violent communication is judgement.

How many times have you judged a person by their size, shape, clothes or background?

It’s hard not to in many situations, but ultimately you are projecting your needs and insecurities on others and therefore you are acting violently towards them.

The subject on NVC is so broad and comprehensive, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg here and based on what I heard from Bob last week. There is a lot of literature out there and I know I am certainly going to be looking at this further starting with the founder Marshall Rosenburg.  I can only imagine that Bobs’ blog is a little goldmine as well!

Final thoughts

The term violent communication is extreme and should be used with caution in everyday life. As a coach I know if I start using the  term with my clients they are going to get turned off very quickly. But through subtle coaching I can get them to start thinking about the way they communicate with their people in a different way, creating an inclusive environment where mutual appreciation of needs is considered. Wouldn’t we all want to work in that environment? Productivity, quality and morale would surely follow.

I challenge you this week to think about how you communicate to your family, work colleagues and to strangers.

We have some really great speakers coming up at the ACE for rest of the year,  I recommend you pop by our page, have a look,  and get signed up.

The Goal

I have always had good banter with my girly friends that I am waiting for the right millionaire to come along and build me an enormous shoe cupboard. Alas, after some time I have relented in my waiting and opted to build it for myself, being the independent/impatient woman that I am. (When I say build it for myself, I mean pay some company to come in and do it for me Smile ).

Having a goal is really important to me and so for this particular project I set myself the following:

‘A sliding door wardrobe that allows the storage of all of my shoes, clothes and handbags. The finish will be of high quality and will fit in with the look and feel of the rest of the house’

I didn’t say it had to be a complex goal, but you need to know what you are trying to achieve so that you know whether you have met it when the project is completed. The goal will also dictate my response to impediments that come my way, such as when the carpet in the room needed to be taken up. Now I could have done this myself, but I choose to get a professional fitter in at extra cost to avoid compromising quality and going against my goal.

There have been two events recently that have made me really re-consider my views on setting goals, specifically in the work environment. They are:

  • Reading the book The Goal by Eli Goldratt.
  • Replaying the Get Kanban Game at the Accredited Kanban Trainer (AKT) Course with each team having specific goals.

Firstly The Goal is an awesome book and if you haven’t read it then I would seriously consider adding it to your literary backlog. It tells the story of Alex Rogo who manages a production plant where everything is behind schedule and things are looking dire. He is given three months to turn things around. Remembering a distant acquaintance he met called Jonah, he sets about putting things right in the factory by applying certain practices that we know by the name the Theory of constraints. To do this though he needs to really think about what the factory is trying to achieve. I won’t spoil it!

Secondly during my AKT course I replayed the Get Kanban game, but this time the two teams were both given different goals.

  • Team 1 – To make the most money
  • Team 2 – To have the shortest lead time

To me the goal was very clear, we needed to reduce our Work In Progress (WIP) limit to the lowest figure that was sensible and in this case that was 1. In real life you wouldn’t normally expect a team to have a WIP of 1, but as this was the game then fine Smile

What surprised me is how quickly during the game that people forgot what the goal was. An example being an expedite task has come into the queue and if we complete it by a certain time then we get extra money. Now if I was in team 1 then this expedite task would have been the highest priority for us to complete, however I was in team 2 and so an expedite task would only extend the lead time, therefore breaking our goal. This scenario was thrown at us several times throughout the game and each time the team fell into the same trap. I found myself having to re-iterate.

“ How will this help us meet our goal of having the shortest lead time”

Now in fairness this was a game and we were all excited to be playing it, but how many times does this happen in reality in organisation that we work in every day.

That user story that Spongebob thinks is really important gets argued to the top of the queue, but in reality it doesn’t fit with the overall objective of the organisation or feature.

If I am honest I have seen this behaviour a lot and I am guilty of this myself.

So what can we do about it?

  • Understand the goal of your organisation – Like in the book never be afraid to question whether that is actually the right one. Chances are you could have made the wrong assumption.
  • Understand the goal of the feature that you are working on and how it relates to the organisational goal.
  • Create sprint goals to keep the teams true.
  • Take a whole team approach to challenging when something looks to derail you – never be afraid to say no!
  • Take a personal approach to ask yourself ‘How will this help us meet our goal of X’ .

Final thoughts

It is very easy to be caught up in the moment and go with the flow, but what is the impact of this?

What changes do you need to make to ensure that you, your team or your organisation keep true to what it is trying to achieve?

Now there are 20 plus occurrences of the word goal or goals in this blog and so hopefully by now you know how important they are Smile