Where the Rubber Hits the Trail

Tires; worth having good ones though at the end of they day they're still just hoops of rubber.

Tires are important. On any wheeled vehicle they are the contact point with the road or trail. It's important to have good tires; the appropriate size, tread, and rubber compound. The right tire can make a lot of improvements, though it's not a panacea.

Communication is also important. It is the way that organisms interact. For we humans, particularly in the business world, verbal communication is one of the primary contact points between each other. And like tires, it's important to have solid skills; skills can make a lot of improvements, though they're not a silver bullet.

Just as effectively riding a bike is about a lot more than just tires, effective communication is about a lot more than just the words or strategies we use. In both cases, it comes down, once again, to the rider; to the speaker.

As a rider, I achieve the best flow through a give and take, letting the bike find its own way, letting the trail dictate to an extent where the bike goes. It's a dance, really. Highly dynamic. And, when I cannot do this, when I exert too much control or am not strong enough to pull the bike back when it goes too far, my riding becomes rigid; in many cases it's the precursor to a crash.

As a collaborator, the same pattern is required, giving a sense of space to those I am conversing with, riffing off each other to create a highly dynamic, engaging conversation. When one party begins to exert too much control; is not practiced enough, the interaction becomes rigid. In some cases resulting in the interpersonal equivalent of a crash. And when a conversation crashes, you better hope there's some team armor in place to take the hit!

Though back to the rider; I practice riding my bike. Build specific skills, strength, flexibility. Yet when I work with teams on how they are together, there is often the expectation that by simply gaining some new tools; changing to new tires, they will achieve drastically different results. And it's just not true. Communication is a practice built on the cornerstones of deep listening and asking powerful questions. I can, in about 30 minutes teach the "what" and "how" of each of these. After that it's up to each individual to practice, practice, practice until he can foster interactions that flow.

A Question of Choice

Mountain Bike Equivalent of Scrum vs. Kanban vs. Waterfall vs. ????

For several years there has been a debate raging in the ranks of mountain bikers about wheel size, though first a bit of history. For most of their history, mountain bike wheels came in a single size: 26". For over 30 years those wheels carried riders and their bikes. A few years ago, the industry introduced a new, larger wheel size: the 29 inch wheel. And a last year we started seeing yet another standard applied from road to mountain: the 27.5 inch wheel.

See, it turns out that one sized wheel is, in fact, not well-suited for all types of riding, terrain, or preference. It turns out that by choosing a wheel and corresponding bike geometry designed for the intended type of riding, that riding can be a whole lot more enjoyable (or lucrative for professional racers).

The thing is, at the end of it all, we ride for the love and fun of it. Riding fills us up, and makes us better human beings. Since each of us and each trail we ride is different, we should expect a wide variety of need. Yet when we don't give each other this space and instead get hung up on internet threads and in-person debates ripping apart what works for someone else simply because we make a different choice, all that goodness that is mountain biking loses a bit of its soul; we lose sight of that shining piece of just how amazing riding a bike is.

There is also currently a debate raging about agile practice, specifically about Scrum versus Kanban. I've been told by Scrum practitioners that Kanban is a waste of time, that it doesn't work, that it can't apply to software since it came out of manufacturing. And I've been told by fans of Kanban that Scrum is just a waste, with its roles, ceremonies, and prescribed time boxes; that's it's bloated and outdated.

See the thing is, organizations and software applications are a lot like terrain; there is massive, and I mean incomprehensibly complex, variety. From our single perspective we simply cannot know what practice will work best for an organization until we get into it and listen to where it is starting from and what it is attempting to become. Only then can we have a possible shot at making a suggestion that will help get the organization there.

As a rider, I've experimented a bit with both larger wheel formats, and while they absolutely smooth out our incredibly root and rocky Maine trails, for me they also remove part of the playfulness of the bike. I don't prefer them for the kind of riding I enjoy and that fills me up. This conclusion is not shared among all of my riding buddies, and that's fine with me.

As an agilist I work with both Scrum and Kanban, depending on the needs and structure of the team and organization.

In riding and agile, one size does not fit all; and that's a good thing. I, for one, strive to keep in full sight the amazing gains that agile practice can bring, and to serve the teams I'm privileged to work with to realize that value. Sometimes it will be through introducing Scrum, some through Kanban, some through just getting started working more closely and building relationships until clear needs emerge.

Breathe Deep

Trubridge Ascending

I was thinking about my favorite videos the other day and remembered Hectometer, the short film documenting William Trubridge's record-setting 101 meter freedive. That's 101 meters straight down into a blue hole in the Bahamas.

No air tanks, no fins, just a thin wetsuit, pair of goggles, nose plug, and whatever breath and sanity he brought with him.

Turns out this sort of thing requires a bit of a special mental space, I would suggest altered state is not an exaggeration, in order to simply survive the ordeal. And lots of practice, and lots of support. Going that deep is dangerous; there is absolutely no margin for error and the sport takes the lives of its athletes with some regularity.

To be honest, I cannot come up with a metaphor or connection from the film and its subject back to agile, other than to be deeply moved by William's commitment, courage, and to see yet another example of a human being pushing against the limits of what we have agreed is possible.

If a man can take a single breath, dive 303 feet into the ocean, and return to the surface with nothing but his own strength of body and mind, most of the challenges I face in my world seem pretty simple.

Here is Matty Brown's Hectometer featuring William Trubridge.

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus will recognize this post's title as the segway from one outlandish sketch to another. This post isn't about gravity at all, though to simply share a short video that Lyssa Adkins put together of a conversation we had about the Competency Framework for Agile Coaching.

If you've not been to the About Me page, I've implemented (at least for non-mobile devices) an interactive version of it there.

I post it here for a couple reasons: to give visibility into an amazing tool that greatly informs my thinking and approach to agile, to help spread awareness of the framework, and well, because it's my blog and I can :) Also, I was pretty nervous at the beginning of the video and thus a bit smiley; it's not every day I get to make a video with a personal hero and someone I respect as much as Lyssa!!!

Reading Water

Mavericks by jurvetson on Flickr

Surfing really isn't that hard. Truly. Beginner boards are stable and easy to paddle. Wetsuits make even the coldest summer waters comfortable. However, learning to catch a wave, now that's tricky. Moving water is shaped and directed as it interacts with features we cannot directly see. The shapes of waves at surf breaks are created through a complex interaction of tides, winds, swell period and direction, shifting sand, and reefs. It requires endless hours of water time to be able to read waves; when the surf gets big it becomes a necessity to stay safe.

Rivers are similar; they have their own language that takes time and experience to read, though moving water is still moving water. After many years of surfing, my knowledge of ocean waves translated directly into the rapids, currents, and eddies of river white water.

Like water, as humans our personality and behavior patterns are created by features we cannot directly see; a complex interaction of culture, personal history, belief, and social context. Though I believe that by getting to know these features in myself and how they shape my presence in the world, I can map that understanding onto others.

I've been told I'm extremely perceptive, though I'm not so sure; it's all there to be read. I need only sense the underlying structures just as I can discern what the bottom of a surf break or rapid looks like by the shapes of the water. Like water, the hidden structures give shape and motion; with people it might be the tone of someone's voice, the words they choose, or just as often what is not said and how they sit. And with the right communication tools, and the right approach, working with teams and individuals becomes not unlike surfing, or whitewater; riding the emergent results of what is hidden though ultimately true. For me it all shares the same essence: a dance, a dance to invisible music. Can you hear it?

Spinning Out Eddies

As a Scrum Master I worked with two teams, as an enterprise agile coach, I'm working with the entire organization, one or two teams at a time. More than ever before, I need the changes in behavior and interaction I bring to a team to stick, to become self-sustaining.

When a paddle is drawn through water, the craft moves forward, and the blade moving through the water spins out vortices that continue to whirl. As an agilist I strive to be like that paddle: moving the craft forward, spinning out eddies of change as I go.

I hope the teams I have the amazing opportunities to work with will do this once I have left the room. So far this has been the case. Though for teams, like fluid turbulence, the initial input is not yet a self-amplifying loop; I still need to return and help them spin back up.

My ultimate goal is that each of them will progress to the point where they are their own input, and that positive feedback loop lifts them to entirely new patterns driving unimagined value.

Go To The Mountain

In gravity sports, there's simply no faking it. If I show up to the parking lot with a bike and talk the talk, at some point, I'm gonna have to back it up and walk the walk, or more aptly, ride. And as a rider, mechanic, and trail builder, I've earned the respect of my peers; they're the ones that can tell if I can pass the bullshit test or not. And getting there has been years and years of effort and practice.

Agile is a set of patterns and approaches that simply does not tolerate mediocrity or the status quo. As an agilist, I cannot simply spout off about all the incredible improvements agile adoption will bring. It's just not that simple. I have to be in it with the individuals and teams I work with as they struggle to figure it all out.

This month, I attended participated in the Scrum Alliance Global Gathering in Las Vegas as a volunteer coach in the Coaching Clinic and also presenter of two sessions in the Open Space. And I found that everyone I talked to that's in the trenches is, well, in the trenches. Like that squiggly line, the path is absolutely not straightforward.

Because it's not enough to know agile. I have to live it. I have to breathe it. I have to be willing to bleed it. Agile is a bit primal like that; once people get a taste, a glimpse of what is possible, they simply cannot and will not go back, squiggly line or not.

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the edge, as one of my co-workers said "you manage to get yourself into some interesting situations." I am most alive at the edge of possibility, for myself, my family, for the teams I work with.

I went for my fourth mountain bike ride of the season this morning. The climb sucked. Kicked my ass. I ended up pushing my bike the last quarter of the way up the hill as my legs just didn't have the strength needed to pedal; I burned through all my excuses, though the question lingered: "is this biking thing worth it?"

And I had to ask myself, as I'm pushing 40 years of age (and the first rides of spring get harder each year) if I'm still in the game. I honestly couldn't give a clear answer on the way up (though I remember that I ask the same thing every year and it's always been worth it). However. And this is a big "however" to me: as soon as I pointed the bike back down, and what took me close to an hour to climb flew under my tires in mere minutes, the answer the entire time was a resounding "YES!!!" even more "FUCK YEAH, IT IS!!!"

Is agile worth it? Is it worth removing impediment after impediment? Is it worth coaching and witnessing and meeting teams and individuals where they are so they can follow that squiggly path to where they want and need to be? So far, the answer is "YES!!!" even more "FUCK YEAH, IT IS!!!"

Sitting With Grief

It's hard to know the words to put down, when there are no words, really. I listened to the news of the tornado today in Moore, Oklahoma; a town of 27 square miles in the middle of a tornado that devastated 30. I cannot imagine.

Later I received news of a friend with terminal cancer, a father of two very young boys and a husband to an amazing woman, he's back in the hospital.

And I remember the bombings at the Boston Marathon last month, the violence in Syria, Hurricane Sandy, so many places, so much suffering.

I spent extra time with my kids tonight, spent luscious lingering moments with my wife. In some ways, that's the best I can do. It's easy to post on FaceBook, easy even to send money. The hard part is to see, truly see: we are all this fragile. Our lives, as easily as any of these, could be shattered in an instant.

Last week I said goodbye to the team I've led and coached for over two years through this crazy world we call agile. And I openly wept and one by one each one of them gave me a hug and thanked me; a very short chapter in the story of what is real.

So as we sit together in our grief, our hearts reaching out to those whose lives have been broken open, remember to also sit in appreciation and reach out to those you love. Tell them that. Show them that. It is all so fragile...

River Safety

A few weeks ago I was invited on a river trip out in California; it was an amazing time, especially having not been on whitewater for 13 years. I spent the weekend in an inflatable kayak; that's my boat flipped just downstream from a river feature called a hole. I myself, well, I was deep in the river having been pushed under by the hydraulic forces. As one of the more experienced kayakers told me afterward "you were down there for awhile."

The interesting thing is, I didn't really think twice about putting myself and boat into the situation that would almost certainly result in me swimming. Partly because as you can clearly see, the river is deep and wide there, and there's a long stretch of flat water to recover in. It was also my third time through; each time I took a progressively bigger line. And there are boats all over the place, each one has at least one professional guide in it, and all eyes are watching the person in the rapid. Both for the pleasure of watching a friend play in the river, though also to come to my aid if needed.

As the days progressed we took turns doing this: watching each other, making sure there was always a boat on safety at the bottom of each rapid, and also one waiting at the top to respond if needed. It's just a basic part of being on the river: keep each other as safe as possible.

Great agile teams are like this, too. The members look out for each other and for the business; this type of support directly enables progression and healthy risk taking. Though it doesn't just happen; it requires conversations, agreements, skills, and practice, just like on the river. And it takes trusting each others' competencies. In some cases there are artifacts, such as written team values and conflict protocols that are in place to support a team's evolution (see Team Armor for more details on these).

There are so many ways that agile, well life, really, is like a river. Entering wild running water is its own risk, reward, and story. What kind of safety do teams you work with have to progress and evolve?

Riding With Flat Tires

Wheels. They are an astounding invention. The modern bicycle is a stunning feat of innovation and engineering. Light. Strong. Capable. Efficient. And to a degree, complicated: it only really works with some baseline of mechanical integrity.

Around the world, people have figured out that bikes get them from point A to point B faster and more efficiently than walking. In addition to increased speed, the efficiencies of bicycles enable effort to be leveraged to carry more weight than a single person could. To do all these things, bicycles need regular attention by someone with at least basic mechanical skills.

And if you give a person a bike with flat tires these promises will not be fulfilled. In fact it might be just the opposite.

Agile practices are also an astounding discovery, ideally shifting the focus from tools and process to the people using the tools and engaging the process. Productively used, agile leverages the best of an organization's people and continuously develops them into better contributors and collaborators, which in turn creates more innovation and quality.

The key is "productively." Simply giving a team improved engineering practices or agile processes without a corresponding attention to the people and how they come together is a lot like giving someone trying to get between two points a bicycle. Especially if that bike needs a few basic things, like air in the tires, to make it rideable. And not giving them any knowledge or understanding about how to maintain the bike itself.

Organizations that adopt agile without sufficient knowledge is akin to that person. The bike will be given a try, though shown to be frustrating and inefficient in its mechanically deficient state, and tossed aside for walking.

All for lacking some simple knowledge, and a willingness to learn, how to just pump up the tires.

Over time, excellent agilists teach and lead just enough to have those they serve pick up new skills and awareness. They take the time and effort to show how and why to use the tools and process to deliver value. And eventually, those they work with are able to ride all on their own.


Cam Zink dares greatly dropping in at the 2012 Red Bull Rampage.

Last week I finally watched Brené Brown's TED talk on vulnerability, which stopped me in my tracks. I've since made my way though much of her book Daring Greatly; both have affected me deeply. Agile, at its deepest root, is about relationship: Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools. And relationship, at its deepest root is about being vulnerable.

In my last post I talked about body armor enabling me to enter realms of riding otherwise prohibitively  dangerous. Cast in a different light, it's an expression of vulnerability, of facing what is true (that I could get very, very hurt) and then doing it anyway, not out of reckless abandon, though out of passion  and at its deepest root: love. I'll come right out and say it: being in gravity is an expression of love. Being an agilist is also an expression of love. The deep love that is only found through facing what is true, what is real.

On my bike, what is true and what is real is every breath, every turn of the pedals, every jump, every high-speed turn, and every miscalculation. The ground is always harder than me. And always unforgiving. And I ride anyway, because quite simply, I love it too much to stay home.

I've stopped worrying now, about what the people I work with think; I trust them to call me out if I'm full of shit. And once that worry is out of the way, I can hold an entirely new realm of space for them, and enter an entirely new realm of agile practice.

It is my own expression of daring greatly. And soon, the snow will finally be gone from our trails, and the earth will have settled from the winter's frost releasing, and once again we'll put tires in the dirt, and ride, and that too will be it's own great daring.

If you've not seen it, here's Brené's talk; how are you daring greatly? If you're not, what is holding you back?:

Team Armor (or Armour, if that's your thing)

POC's VPD 2.0 Jacket: bike-specific armor that
 exceeds EU motorcycle standards
I'm a fan of protection; I've always worn a helmet when riding bikes or snowboards. On the latter I also wear back armor and wrist guards. I recently acquired a full-face biking helmet, always wear full-finger gloves, and will be purchasing pieces of bike-specific body armor for the coming season. All have saved me substantial injury on many occasions. And even with all of this I've still managed to get pretty banged up from time to time.

I used to think of body armor as a defensive thing; a manifestation of fear. Something to be donned against being afraid of getting hurt. However my approach to protection has shifted in the last couple years as my riding has progressed. I now find myself drawn to new realms of riding; progression always brings higher levels of risk.

What I've found though, is that the risk can be at least partially addressed with the right equipment; it is not that I fear injury as much as I desire to stay unhurt. And this is a subtle, though important distinction.

If I ride and operate out of fear, I hold myself back. To be clear I'm not suggesting ignoring my fear  in the moment, though I'm talking more generally as an approach to my riding as a whole.
Troy Lee's Carbon D3: a favorite lid among
the world's biggest hitting, fastest riding pros

Proactively seeking to protect my body on the other hand, is an opening, a way to evaluate risk and decide from a place of possibility rather than the limitations of fear.

How does this all apply to teams? To truly progress, teams need an analogue to body armor. They need structure to protect them when they go sideways and crash. Structures such as: working agreements, conflict protocols, and explicit shared vision and values.

And these structures are not static; crafting them and then never coming back to them is akin to buying armor and then never putting it on to ride. Kept alive these structures will serve the team as they strive to deliver the highest value to their organization, particularly when they are in conflict.

When a team armored by structures that they've created and committed to crashes, in effect that team is much more likely to be able to get up and ride away rather than be broken.

What kind of armor do the teams you work with   or on create? How has it affected their growth and process?



In Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart Mary Beth O'Neill writes about the need for an effective coach to maintain a grounded presence. Of course, this isn't a static state; we are all constantly interacting with the surrounding environment:

"The goal is to decrease the amount of time we are reactive and to recover equilibrium more quickly."

If there is a single prerequisite for gravity sports, it is a sense of balance. One needs to stay upright in what is essentially a controlled fall down a slope. To do so, the muscular and neural loops that detect and correct imbalance must be tuned and honed, and we also must be willing to commit.

And the reality is, even the best athletes lose their balance. Constantly. It just looks a bit different than we might expect, because they also know how to correct in a fraction of a second.

Speaking for myself, there is magic to be found in defying gravity in this way. As I am in a state of being pulled down the slope, yet staying upright, living in that paradox there is something that happens. And it feels amazing.

As practitioners, the truth for us is that it's less about not losing our balance. It's about understanding that we and those we work with will be constantly pushed and pulled by a chaotic stream of inputs; we are already in falling across the slope of business realities. Our job is to do all we can to move with those forces and stay upright, and seek that paradox, for there is magic there. And as we practice that, the loops that detect imbalance tighten and improve; it requires less effort over time.

It's also a good idea to carry a first aid kit and know how to use it...part of learning to balance is, at times, failing. Wearing a helmet's a good idea, too (see my Team Armor post) :)

As a practitioner, how do you balance? How do you know when you're slipping, and what helps you re-center?

The Joy Of Air

I'm working on a couple posts though want to really dial them in before I put them up. In the meantime, I just found this short film narrated by Jackson Goldstone, who at 8 is already expressing a level of riding bikes far beyond his years.

And I will say this: there is a distinct pull at the lip of a jump, a yearning to fly skyward. It is something I've only begun to heed myself, though I can report back that taking to the air is sublime; a sensation beyond words. This film attempts to give voice to it.

Agile is that lip. And it calls us to fly, to strip out all the bullshit and crap that impedes us and our organizations, to discard the stories we've woven and retold about how things are and what is true. It is shedding comforts, and a sense of safety, and committing to a new way of being that relentlessly pursues delivery of value and respect for people.

And it serves us to be mindful of the landing as we progress; "what comes up must come down."

As an agilist, what calls you to fly?

What Is Possible?

Brandon Semenuk sends a line with zero margin for error

Roughly every other year for the last decade or so, Red Bull has been producing Rampage: the premiere big mountain freeride contest. Unlike most races, where everyone competes on the same track against time, each Rampage rider chooses his (still a mens-only event) own line between a set start and finish and is judged on a variety of criteria; speed is not one of them.

The venue, or arena, as it's come to be known, is a tangle of canyons, ridges, drops, gaps, and jumps in a corner of the desert near Virgin, Utah. In the mix of wooden jumps, rider-built features, and natural drops, the riders redefine what is possible on a bicycle.

What does all this have to do with agile? For me, it comes down to this: these are professional riders. The best in the world. This is what they do: push the limits of possibility. I am a professional agilist, certainly no where near the best in the world, though I still look at these riders and ask: am I doing this? Am I inspiring my teams to this? To push the boundaries of what we believe is possible?

We are professionals. And, I believe there is a whole lot to be learned by watching and being inspired, awe-struck even, by others so committed that they put their lives on the line to express their passion. Now *that* is going big.

The following video is a recap of the event produced by the gravity riding enthusiast site pinkbike.com. I hope you enjoy, and even more, I would love to hear how your work is progressing the boundary of possibility for yourself and those you work with.

The Beginner's Paradox

Some time ago I watched a video short featuring NPR's Ira Glass talking about how beginning something is difficult. Not that the task is necessarily hard (though it might be), more the idea that when we start something, we are motivated for some reason, and that by definition of being a beginner, we will fall short of what we're motivated to do. Typically we have some idea of what competence looks like; in the world of creativity this can be considered taste. In the world of gravity sports it looks more like accomplishment.

Regardless, there is a disconnect between when we begin something and our ability to deliver this thing with any degree of grace, and what we know is possible, or for a true visionary, what we can only imagine and have been told is impossible. We won't write amazing code, we won't ask excellent questions, won't lead a team session that blows minds. Not right away.

I can vividly remember the first time I laced up my first pair of snowboarding boots, tightened the bindings on the used board I'd just bought, and realizing "holy shit this is going to take a long time," promptly fell on my ass.

It was intimidating; I knew there was no way to learn this sport without falling. A lot. So I asked for help from buddies, and practiced the same basic forms over and over again, one little step at a time. And slowly, I fell less and rode more. And as I improved I stopped asking other people for help as much and started paying a lot closer attention to the board and how it moved through the snow. Noticed the parts that took a lot of effort or caused me to be unstable. And the sublime sensation of flying down the mountain on the board's thin steel rail became its own reward, and its own pursuit.

Starting agile is hard, too. So is progressing. And we must be willing to fall without fearing failure, must be willing to ask for help without fearing stigma of incompetence. We must pay attention to the results and be willing to closely examine those areas where our effort is not fully leveraged. We must answer powerful questions about improving these. And we begin to cross the inflection point where our work becomes a joy. And the only path there is persistent sustained effort.

What are you or the teams you work with beginning?


"You can't switch on if you haven't switched off" -Rachel Atherton, 1st place: 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series

Rachel Atherton switching it on at Fort William.
Image © Atherton Racing
Dan, Gee, and Rachel Atherton are arguably the world's most accomplished family in professional cycling. Certainly so in the past few years' gravity riding disciplines of Enduro, Downhill, and Big Mountain Freeride.

So what can we learn from this family about agility? Quite a bit, I would suggest. The three siblings have chosen to live in a rural area of Wales. They choose to come home to a world where their status as top-tier professional cyclists is essentially meaningless to the local population. A place that for them is summed up in Rachel's thought that it's a place to recharge, and for Dan and Gee to push the limits of their trail building on their own terms and riding skills. And that as a result, enables all of them to perform at the highest levels of international competition, and win. Often.

As an agilist I strongly value continuous improvement. That is my professional territory; and as part of my commitment there I apply intense effort and discipline to improve, to constantly look for the next angle, the next unfinished area. I would even go so far as to say I am relentless, ruthless, in that pursuit. I learned to be that way by putting it on the line in gravity.

And that's not enough. It is not enough to constantly drive to push the envelope, it is not enough to only look forward. I have to rest. I have to look back. Inspect and adapt. I have to find create the spaces to switch off. Even Red Bull, the multinational corporation selling energy drinks on the moniker that "it gives you wings" by expanding possibility, recognizes this: we must find ways to switch off.

It ties right into the concept of sustainable pace, of finding our rhythm. Of finding the leverage that boosts productivity that also creates an eddy to rest in. Switch on, switch off, switch on. As coaches we must model this, and we also must teach it; the best athletes in the world build their careers, their business, on it. I would suggest other businesses should, as well.

In the realm of software that so frequently has people working endless hours, how do we support individuals and organizations to switch off? How have you implemented a sustainable pace?

You can watch the both the Atherton family and Atherton Racing Team on their home turf, courtesy of Red Bull:

First of Many Videos

I can waste endless spend a lot of time looking around for great videos. And there are plenty to be found, though unless you're a hardcore bike/snowboard/surf geek for the most part they're pretty repetitive.

So I get extra excited when I find one that transcends the others. I'd like to start sharing them, starting with this stunner of a whitewater film. I've been on river trips, though honestly been too scared to ever get in a kayak.

Though I love the beauty, power, and metaphor of rivers, and appreciate those that make them their passion. Hope you enjoy Cascada. And please leave a comment if you enjoy and see the benefit of me sharing these.

Start (Over) Where You Are

One of the premises of Kanban is to start where you are. To begin to more deeply examine, know and understand where you are. Or your team. Or your organization.

Since I essentially hang up my bike each winter, I have to do this same process each spring. And I can tell you, it sucks. It hurts. Sometimes I puke on my first few rides because I want to override my body's need to slow down; to push too hard. I can say from experience that for me, that threshold is crossed very quickly and I'm pretty sure it doesn't gain much other than feeling bad the rest of the ride.

As an agile coach, I have access to a tremendous breadth of knowledge about what is possible. And of course, I want to give that to my teams, because I believe it will make their lives better.

However, I can't just stand at a whiteboard and talk it to them. That's not how knowledge transfer works. They have to live it. They have to earn it. And I have to be there with them. Just as every season I have to build my body back up and have to believe that this sucky part is worth it. They have to take it on faith, which really is another word for trust, that we'll get there, that whatever they're working on will get better.

When working with a team, or a coaching client, it is like this as well: I have to meet them where they are and help them find their pain points, and help them identify the solution and how they'll get there.

And it always has to begin with where they are, right now. And I'm not sure it is ever easy.

What have you found valuable in starting where you are or a team is?


Cam McCaul flying through both fears Image © 2012
Christian Pondella/Red Bull Media House North America, Inc.
One major reason I'm passionate about gravity sports is that while riding, it's real. I don't know how else to say it. In that moment of sensation of flight, I am acutely present and committed. It's a rush, not in the adrenaline way, though in the damn-this-feels-so-good, soothing sort of way.

Sort of the way it felt when I was on a scrum team for the first time, and we hit our stride both in work and in inspecting and adapting; finding what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi termed "The State of Flow" (and there's a whole other slew of topics waiting in there!).

Progressing into that space requires a couple things:
  • honestly assessing competence against the challenge
  • practice
  • hard work
With this we expand our limits. And when we get to our edge, there is something waiting for us there, a sensation letting us know we're officially out of our comfort zone: fear.

And most often, that's all it is, it's not indicative of any real physical threat, it is, as an old friend and Teacher of mine once said "False Evidence Appearing Real." Let's call this the first fear.

When we meet this fear, the best thing we can do is give it a nod, and then carry on. We ride the line, hit the jump and heed the call to fly, or speak our truth to the team. And we learn that in fact, we haven't died, on the contrary we feel lighter. And the edge progresses; goes a little further out.

This all said, fear serves us, for it can warn of actual danger, as another friend once said "Fuck Everything And Run." Let's call this the second fear.

Continuing in the face of the first fear is a powerful route to growth. Knowingly continuing in the second ranges from slightly risky to all out reckless. And here is the critical importance of that first bullet point: honestly assessing competence in context. Alternatively this could be an accurate assessment of risk.

There is a huge difference between the two fears, though the thing is, they both feel very similar in body and mind; learning to discern can mean saving substantial bodily harm, or in the business realm, money.

Agile fits into this equation in its constant pursuit of empirical evidence, frequent inspect/adapt loops, and open communication channels. If any of these were the default operating state, we wouldn't have a suite of approaches carrying the agile moniker.

In short, agile practice requires individuals and organizations to change, sometimes drastically, which can be scary. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. The best riders in the world, talk about their fear, about how terrifying it is to stand at the top of a line before dropping in. And then they do it anyway and ride through it. As agilists, we should strive to do the same.

How do the two fears fit into your work?

This Friggin' Thing's Warped! How Come I Always Get a Warped One?!

This is a only a tool.
That's one of the best lines from the film Blazing Saddles when Mel Brookes, playing the governor, can't get a paddle ball set to work. Of course we can see how silly this is, akin to blaming the hammer when we can't pound a nail straight into wood.

However when it comes to agile, it's all too often that the tools, process, or artifacts get blamed when desired results don't materialize: "The acceptance criteria were missing," "We could have finished more if we weren't in timeboxed sprints," "Things aren't working and we think agile will help."

As long as the focus remains on the tool it is more difficult to see what is causing pain.

I think it comes down to a simple test, and I tell my teams this: if fault is being assigned to a process, ceremony, or artifact, that's a clear indication that something went wrong along the way with a conversation. You know, that whole "individuals and interactions" thing.

As agile coaches, we can support those we work with by holding our Coaching Stance and shifting the focus from the problem to the underlying cause and solution using powerful questions: what interactions do we need to have, and what kind of individuals do we need to be, to prevent this? That is something we can work with.

Avoid The Trees

A few years ago my snowboarding had progressed enough that I began riding glades. Slowly. I would watch other skiers and riders seemingly effortlessly float past me, winding through the hardwood trunks. And I would wonder how they could do that; all I could see were the trees.

My second season in the glades something clicked, and rather than focusing on the trees themselves, I began to see instead the spaces between, and to plan the line I would ride. A snowboard goes where the rider looks and focuses; it makes a lot of sense that if I’m looking at trees that’s where I’ll end up.

Inspecting and Adapting is a lot like riding glades; there are always things that can be better, that have impeded us. They are the trees. As facilitators we can either focus on those things and thus continue to have them block us, or alternatively we can acknowledge their presence while at the same time looking for the spaces between and helping the team go there instead.

The balance point is to spend enough time close to the problems to know them, to surface the pain they bring. Hopefully we don’t have to smack right into them to experience it enough to change, though that is always a risk ;)

What glades are you or your teams moving through? How can you refocus on the possibilites rather than the problems?