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Next event will take place online, on 20 - 22 October 2021.
When or where did you first come across “Agile,” and what was “the thing” that drew you to it?
Marcin: I came across agile first around 2006/2007 when I was working in the UK, and I just entered my first experience of an agile transformation. As you can imagine, that was happening quite a lot at that time, and I guess it continues until today.
The thing that drew me to it was in reality, something that one of the new managers that came into the company suggested. And as I started to learn more and more and meeting people that have started practicing agile, I realized that what really draws me to it is familiarity.
So in the ’90s, when I used to run my own software company and had lots of customers, the way I would work with these customers would be through a lot of od iterations and quick feedback cycles. And very quickly, I’ve recognized that this way of working, which was pretty natural, or the only thing possible at the time, has gotten a name and a lot more ideas around it. So that’s what drawn me to it.
How would you connect agile with balance? What do you think we have to balance the most for creating organizational agility?
Marcin: I like this perspective a lot. The thing is, that when people look at the Agile Manifesto, they look at the left and right side, and are very ready to throw away everything that is suggested on the left. But in fact, the Agile Manifesto only created or highlighted solid preferences for one side. And I think it is important that we keep that in mind and always ask ourselves what is the thing that really gives us value in our organization. So I like to think about organizational agility as a way of integrating - you may say balancing - many points of view and bringing lots of different needs together.
For example, we need to balance the local team view of an individual team and the broad organizational view. What does the team need to be successful, but also what does the organization need to be successful? Sometimes these things are different. We need to balance and integrate the short-term view (the view of the individual sprint, for example) with a long-term sustainable pace view for the organization as a whole.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, we have experienced tremendous shifts in all aspects of our existence. How did you adjust (if you did) your professional and personal life?
Marcin: I think we all have adjusted our lives, and the shift has been tremendous. I don’t know anyone who has not felt the difference in some way. For me, the most obvious and the most eminent reason for adjusting my way of working was that very early in the pandemic, my organization decided that everyone would work from home. And, of course, work from home came with a lot of new realities.
Until then, I have always been working in the office, so first of all, working at home meant organizing the physical space - finding some space at home that I could turn into an office. It turned out that the most accessible place to do that was the kitchen table, which has not been very popular with the family - you can imagine. :). But throughout the pandemic, I was fortunate to be able to change homes and find a place where there is actually space for working.
The other thing that I’ve changed, which was very important and I really missed at the beginning, was creating new and very deliberative routines like commuting to work, meeting with colleagues, going to lunch with them, etc. So I had to create very deliberative routines around how and when I start and end work, and most importantly, how I take good breaks throughout my day. One of the things that helped me with that was engaging in a practice of mindfulness. Taking that time to stop and reflect and then plan my day, putting very deliberative breaks throughout, was super important.
The final thing that comes to mind in terms of adjustment has been physical activity. Like, being very, very careful about how much physical activity I get. In the beginning, it was really easy to get stuck at the desk for 8 hours without any breaks. Something that really helped me with that, and I was able to practice it throughout the pandemic was taking as many meetings as possible outside doing walks and talks. I’ve walked many more kilometers, and that really paid off and made a difference for my well-being.
What did you miss most during the lockdowns? Or maybe still miss?
Marcin: Well, I live in Sweden. While we haven’t had any strict official lockdowns, of course, everybody has been careful to keep distance, so social distancing and working from home meant that I stopped meeting people. And while I spent more time with my family, which was fantastic, all social interactions, the two-way communication, and interaction with people was something that I missed a lot and still do. Even though we have great online tools to do it, it’s not the same.
And of course - and this conference will be an example of what I miss - is meeting people abroad, traveling to new places, and learning from people that I usually don’t bump into.
Have you noticed any significant changes regarding agile transformation or lean innovation because of the pandemic?
Marcin: I usually don’t take part in any explicit agile transformation, but having seen a little bit of what is happening in the industry, I definitely see a big acceleration. More and more organizations have realized that the pandemic basically caught them by surprise, entirely not ready. They were not prepared to embrace the digital ways of working, a distributed ways of working, people being away from the office. And that has genuinely prompted a lot of organizations to rethink how they’re structured, how they’re operating, and what they’re relying on.
And one of the things I’m so happy to see is that many organizations had to stop relying on control. When the manager’s not around and can’t see what people are doing, there is a natural need for much more trust. And hopefully, with this distributed world, where we no longer see what people are working on, you kind of have to trust them. So I hope that we’ve realized that that trust pays off and there is no need for as much control as we used to think we needed.
If you would describe non-agile and agile companies with a metaphor of an animal, what would they be and why?
Marcin: I’m going to cheat with this answer a little bit because I don’t want to go with any particular species and make any obvious comparisons there. But for me, a non-agile way of working could be thought of as a single animal, as a single organism with one brain, A-centre, and coordinates everything within its own mass. And a more agile way of working for me, we could compare to a herd of animals. Especially animals that flock, like birds or ants, that do not have one apparent central point of control or coordination. They follow a set of fairly simple rules, but those simple rules that are non-locally around interactions and behaviors result in very complex behaviors and outcomes. And I think that’s what agile organizations should aim for. To allow that set of complexity to emerge with the right set of constraints.
What is one main change you think we are headed to in our work culture in the next ten years?
Marcin: It looks like you’re asking for a prediction :) and one of the things I love about agile is that it tells us is to stop predicting the future but instead accept that the future is unpredictable and get ready to react to those constantly changing circumstances. So I’m not going to try and predict what will happen in the next ten years. Still, I’m sure that in order to be able to react to what happens, what we need to change in our work culture is the ability to get every single person’s voice heard and the ability to get everyone to be able to contribute to the decisions and directions that the organization is taking. The time is over for the CEOs to make all of the most important decisions on their own. We have to embrace collaboration much more. So I hope that, over the next ten years, more and more organizations will realize that this will have to happen for these organizations to be successful and survive over the next ten years.
If any of our participants are flirting with the idea to become agile coaches - what are three personality traits you find important for this kind of work?
Marcin: I’ve met a lot of agile coaches and what is fascinating to me is that people tend to be successful coming from many different walks of life and with many different backgrounds. So I don’t think there is a single recipe and I’m going to pick three random bits that come to mind - the ones common to the agile coaches I’ve seen be successful. That is enormous curiosity, kind of open-mindedness, wanting to understand the system they are emersed in.
Second, successful agile coaches work with people, and they tend to be more successful when they’re sociable. You have to like spending time with people, engaging with them, asking questions, listening to them.
Third, I think it pays off well to be observant. Being able to look and absorb the information as it’s coming and then reflect on what that observation teaches you about the environment and how you can try and influence that environment.
What is your favorite (business) book and why?
Marcin: That’s such a hard question because there are tons and tons of fantastic books that have influenced the way I work and the way I think about work. So picking just one is almost impossible, but I’ll do it. :)
I’ll pick a book that I think is most relevant for the talk I would like to share at the conference, and this book is called Leadership is Language by David Marquet. Some of you may find the author more familiar by his other book, Turn the ship around. He tells the story about coming into a submarine as a captain, taking it over, and changing it from the worst performing submarine in the US navy to the best performing one. So the Leadership is Language is a book that follows that story and is built on more reflections that David had about how to be effective as a leader.
Let me drop a quote directly from the book and I hope it’ll be enough of a reason for other people to read it: “In a complex fast-changing world, long term survival is more about adaptation than achievement.”
The author gives a lot of practical examples about how we can foster adaptation and how leaders can influence that adaptation. How they can particularly do that by deliberately using language and choosing what to say and sometimes, more importantly, what not to say.
Final thoughts (optional)?
Marcin: I am looking forward to the conference, so see you all on October 20th!
One of the things I love about agile is that it tells us is to stop predicting the future but instead accept that the future is unpredictable and get ready to react to those constantly changing circumstances.
As a Director of Engineering at Spotify, Marcin is working to identify, diagnose and remove barriers to execution across a 400+ technology organization, critical to Spotify success, in order to facilitate a predictable and sustainable delivery of value. He sees engineering teams as complex adaptive systems and thus works by applying principles and practices from the domains of agile, lean, systems thinking, and similar to allow for the desired outcomes to emerge in presence of sensible guiding constraints.
After experiencing Scrum methodology in many wrong ways, Matej's wish is to help as many teams as possible to improve the understanding and practical execution of this widely used agile method.
"Balance not only plays an essential role for human beings throughout their lifetime. But the way we grow business models and nurture organizational culture only thrives from a balanced kind of intervention and management."
We chatted with Mike Leber, a host workshop facilitator at Agile Slovenia about his views on agile, the effects of the pandemic, and forecasts for the future.
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