Agile Articles

Agile’s Great Schism

Agile hasn’t died, but the community is fractured. What’s the way forward?

With the seemingly never-ending news of layoffs in tech, and some of those targeted towards Agile groups, people ask, “Has Agile failed?” Indeed, we have been treated to many articles urging us to retire the term Agile, informing us that the revolution failed or, conversely, that Agile has actually won. Recently, Agile coauthor Jim Highsmith announced an effort to reimagine Agile. It’s clear that the Agile ecosystem is in turmoil, but why? I submit that we’ve lost our common story and beliefs, and we need to find new ways to align across the agile world lest we miss out on helping with the next great revolution – Artificial Intelligence. 

The Agile story is nothing short of a bottom-up revolution in business. I was part of the first wave of Agile and was faced with the challenge of applying it to some of the largest companies in the world. I’ve seen the evolution of business and product development, especially in the software space. It is difficult to communicate the impact of the Agile revolution during the last two decades to those who didn’t live through it. My first coding days in the ’90s were faced with Old Testament-level legalese. Requirements would map, screen by screen, field by field, in terse language. Testers sat in different buildings and had no say in estimates. Business analysts would translate all the requirements since developers were shielded from customers as if they were radioactive. Project managers would float estimates, inflating budgets. Changing code late in the process would cause havoc, and if something went wrong, all hell broke loose. The spec would be pulled up, and arguments would ensue. “That’s not in the spec.” Or “You can’t change that after we sign off on this spec.”  Thus the line in the Agile Manifesto “…working software over comprehensive documentation.” Creating software before Agile was torturous. 

We’ve come so far since then. An entire ecosystem of Agile tools and solutions was born from  XP, Scrum, Kanban, ScrumBan, Crystal, LeSS, and SAFe. Consultancies grew up, positioning themselves across the spectrum. We all repeated George Box’s mantra, “All models are wrong, but some are useful,” and cruised toward the future. That is our story, and with it, we changed the world. 

So what happened? I hypothesize that our community grew too large for this short manifesto. Our community comprises thousands of companies and tens of thousands of Agile practitioners. It’s difficult for a community to retain cohesion when it gets too large. Coaches are undoubtedly familiar with the Dunbar number, named after the British anthropologist. Dunbar suggested that the number of social relationships a human can maintain is limited by the amount of time and cognitive resources available for social interaction, putting that number at around 150 people. As groups get larger and subdivide, they lose cohesion; yet, other communities, such as doctors and lawyers, find ways to coordinate actions across their vast ranks. How do they do it? 

I recently came upon Yuval Noah Harari’s bestselling 2015 book Sapiens. Although I questioned several of his positions, I found his take on the importance of a common myth or shared story useful. Harari states that a common story can create a bond that helps humans scale beyond the Dunbar number. Harari is big on the words “myth” and “legal fiction” when talking about companies, agreements, and even the law. To me, the better phrase is “common story.” One only has to violate a nation’s or a company’s laws to see that the consequences of that “fiction” are very real. 

What is Agile’s common story or set of beliefs? To scale our institutions, modern society has created structures and stories that help bind their actions to a standard, regardless of context. A doctor from Texas will likely employ the same techniques and knowledge and ascribe to the same general codes as a doctor from New York. There will be disagreements and varied approaches, but if a doctor strays too far, he or she will be disciplined by the community. A doctor could lose their license. A lawyer could be disbarred. 

If we accept that a key to creating a functioning culture is a common story and the enforcement of its principles, what happens when those principles are violated? There are currently no enforcement mechanisms in Agile, Software Engineering, or product development. The closest we have are certifications, but even then, there are disagreements. Which cert is the best? Do they really prove anything? We talk about an Agile mindset, but how do you enforce it? Or do you? 

When I started in Agile it was easier to define who we were by contrasting our beliefs, as laid out in the Manifesto, with the prevailing control-based processes of the day. Our conferences were filled with excited people practicing their interpretation of these codes, modernizing business from the ground up. Our story and mission: “Waterfall was bad, control-based processes are too much, and we are looking to uncover better ways of doing software.”  

As the Agile community tried to tackle the big companies, the techniques diverged more and more, and some practitioners were and are accused of heresy against the Agile mindset. The Great Schism has occurred, and we’ve all retreated to our sanctuaries.

The problem is that transformations are challenging. They take time, executive buy-in, and, most of all, lots of cash. Now Agilists have a new challenger for these precious funds: Artificial Intelligence. AI has crashed the gates, and our fiddling time is over. Countless dollars are now being routed to the AI revolution, with over 70,000 companies at last count. Like the Internet revolution, everything will be sprinkled with AI holy water, regardless of whether it’s necessary or not. Our refrigerators, toasters, and washing machines no longer simply connect to the Internet (how quaint!) but will use their AI brains to tell you to restock the milk, to ensure that your toast is the perfect shade of brown, and to alert you to the red sock in your load of whites. 

“AI everywhere” is the story shared in the C-suites of America and beyond, driven by both the opportunities of this great tech and the fear of being left behind, similar to what drove the Agile revolution years ago. Yet, Agilists are still wondering how we will leverage an even more complex technology stack with outdated IT systems and overly complex processes. 

“If you failed at agile, you’ll fail at AI”

Jim Highsmith, Agile Manifesto Co-author

Defunding Agile transformations (among nearly ever other previously initiative) might score funding for AI projects, but those projects are every bit as likely to succumb to market misalignment, poor execution, and team morale issues as traditional software projects were in the last two decades. 

Agilists would do well to get out of their camps and come together to form a different story and to create new structures and beliefs to unite us. I welcome the efforts of Highsmith and others in re-imagining agility. The technology landscape remains an increasingly complex domain, with business leaders searching for ways to survive and thrive. Agilists are in a perfect position to assist and shine in an AI-dominated marketplace if we can put down our arms, end the internecine War of Models, and re-discover the common story we share. With that compelling story, we can get back to doing what we do best – helping people uncover better ways of humanely creating awesome products and services.

Agile Articles

Travel is Back…but should it be?

We have reached the rubicon of this pandemic: the world of travel has returned. have the return to travel. I’ve certainly travelled more in this last 3 months than the two years behind them. My first travel this year was to Minnesota. Let me provide some sage advice. If you want to do release planning in person, don’t choose Minnesota in January.

Picture this: myself and another coach were flying into Minneapolis. Things were going well, though we had heard of some diceyness on the ground. The landing time came and passed, and I and another passenger realized that this wasn’t going well. Then the announcement – we can’t land because ice on the freeway. Now I don’t need to go into the whole circus, since so many of us have had this experience of late. In short, I was redirected to the even colder metropolis of Fargo, North Dakota. Despite the wonderful people, the IT systems of Delta Airlines (yes I’m naming names) caused even more issues with our hoteling (where IS that voucher? Still waiting). Half of the group didn’t make it to canceled flights, but we saved the event by some skillful pivoting and use of the incredible Mural tool. Moral: don’t travel in January to a winter climate. Pick another location. The cash-difference won’t be that significant, and you’ll get everyone there, and you’ll have a morale boost due to location warmness. Can you say Florida? Maybe California?

So the pattern seems to be leaning back into travel, but the copious inefficacies of that mode of meeting were brought back to me in spades. The amount of time I spent, the client spent, and my company in missing my time around, plus some recuperation time as I did acquire a cold during this sojourn. Add to this the environmental cost of numerous plan trips and Ubers and the return on investment plummets quickly.

I do hope that the “New World” we’re in does not crave to return to the ways of old. Commuting extracts a terrible toll, and while it is indeed much nicer and effective to be with your teams, there’s simply no call for it day in, day out, for 40+ hours a week. I support a hybrid model, where teams can gather where they want quarterly with monthly gatherings. These planning events, such as release planning, portfolio planning are high bandwidth, high stakes events that benefit from in person. However, even that has limits considering the importance of outsourcing to other geographies. Flying people to or from India on a frequent basis is obviously cost prohibitive, and yet what are we to do? I suggest every few years getting together with folks outside of your country. these sorts of trips are wonderful and add a benefit of cultural exposure that domestic travel doesn’t provide. I’ve been to India twice, and Sweden for work, and on all of those trips picked up a lot more than I could have over the phone.

Regardless, the need for multimodal communications and solutions is the new need. Those companies that adapt have a competitive advantage for the foreseeable future, improving their employees life’s and reducing the impact on the environment.

Agile Tips and Tricks

O&D Cards

I recently found a deck of cards with great Organizational Development techniques from a previous company where I was employed. I think they were used for workshops, but since so much is online now, I thought I’d share them here since they’re not copyrighted and pulled from public materials. I’m missing a bunch of them (thus the discontinuous numbering) so I’ll add if I find them or make up new ones:) Enjoy!

3. Causal Loop Diagramming – Causal Loop Diagramming is a method that provides teams with a framework for productive conversations about recurring business problems or issues. This technique allows us to see dynamic interrelationships rather than linear cause0and0effect events. Typically, most causal loop diagrams are combinations of reinforcing and balancing loops. here is an excellent example:

Causal Loop Diagram [CLD] | Agile Pain Relief Consulting

4. Community – A community is a group that exists for the sake of a common goal, value, or interest. A community has an identity, a common purpose, and guiding principles that serve as the orienting philosophy for the community.

5. Compelling Story – Compelling story is a narrative that relates an irresistible and necessary reason for the change. For instance, the compelling story might be getting to Mars, we need a 1000-year vision. What research and development do we need for a 1000-year timeline? Will Technology increment X get us closer to that? These are great vision questions.

8. Feedback – Feedback is the return to the input from the output of a machine, system, or process. A feedback loop is one in which each element is both cause and effect ( is influenced by some and influences others) so that every one of its effects, sooner or later, returns to roost.

10. Four Levels of Listening – The Four Levels of Listening is a practice that exercises the tools of reflection and inquiry and the discipline of Mental Models, Team Learning, and Systems Thinking. It is a model and tool that moves groups in conversations from nonlistening, to openness and learning, to listening without judgment to see the world from someone else’s perspective to innovation and generation of new ideas.

20. Network thinking – Network thinking is a perspective focusing on the use of roles and the exchanges between them to define and/or analyze how work is accomplished. It addresses both tangible (i.e., decisions by the documented process ) and intangible ( i.e., decisions by tribal knowledge ) transactions. This can help teams discover and understand roles and optimize the relationships and processes required to accomplish work.

21. Personal Mastery – Personal Mastery is one of the five disciples of a learning organization. This discipline is about the practice of clarifying and deepening our personal vision with an objective sense of current reality. Creative tension fills the gap between the desired future and current reality. It is observing our behavior to see hour our actions support or hinder our ability to attain our personal vision.

24. Shared Vision – Shared Vision is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization. This discipline is about the practice of unearthing shared “pictures of the future” that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. This practice generates more enthusiasm for their vision and their leaders’ vision.

29. Systems thinking – Systems thinking is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization. This discipline is about the practice of using a conceptual framework that integrates the other disciplines (Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Team Learning, and Shared Vision). Thinking systemically is used to see the”Structures” that underlie complex situations and to discern high- from low-leverage change

30. Team Learning is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization. This discipline is about the practice of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire.

32. Value Network Analysis (VNA) is a method through which roles, relationships, and exchanges (transactions) are identified and analyzed for understanding and possibly redesigning a network. Formal (tangible ) and informal (intangible) exchanges are part o the method. VNA is a powerful method of analysis that helps teams have quality conversations.

33. Value Network Map – A value network map shows the flow of transactions from role to role throughout a network required to produce a deliverable. One Network Map typically shows many deliverables.

Agile Whitepaper

Agile in the Nebula

Hey folks, happy to announce that our whitepaper titled “Agile in the Nebula” has been officially posted! The team, credited with the work, has been terrific to work with and I’m looking forward to the next version.

Synopsis of the work:

Helping teams become Agile is tough work even in person, fully collocated, never mind when you’re all thousands of miles apart. This whitepaper describes the seven tips the internal Accenture team uncovered while working towards our transformation of the Accenture Talent organization. This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have other tips, please share them in the comments. Thanks!


An Agilist at WIRED25, Part 3

This was first published on By Joseph Fecarotta on February 6, 2019

Drones, Robots, and Flying Cars (Finally!)

Welcome to the third and final installment of this blog series about the WIRED25 festival last year. This series has been my reflections as an Agile coach and Technologist on that event, which happened in October in San Francisco. The event was part retrospective and part vision of the future. Part 1 was all about big tech giants like Google and Blue Origin and their visions of the future (read: spaceships). Part 2 focused on social media powerhouses, such as Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, who promised to leverage AI to make our online experiences better. I delved into the true agility of these companies as exhibited by their relentless pivoting and striving to be more valuable to their customers, which has gotten more difficult, not less, as time has gone on.

And now Part 3. I’ve saved the best for last – drones, robots, and flying cars (finally).

Let’s start with Zipline’s humanitarian drones.

Drones for Life

These photos (right) tell the story. On the left, we see how a car delivery of medicine to a village in Africa has gone wrong (how could it not?). In the end, they barely get the delivery there in time. Today’s innovation is on the right: the Zipline solution – autonomous drones that deliver medicine within minutes.

Zipline employs specially designed drones to deliver blood in remote regions of Africa in minutes rather than days. Interestingly, these drones make the round-trip journey autonomously. The worker puts the blood into the drone from a centralized hospital, scans the barcode which tells the drone which field hospital to go to, and they launch it from a catapult-like device.

Zipline CEO, Keller Rinaudo, was emphatic in saying that his business was first a real business, not “merely” a social good. He assured us that the company is a viable business model based on making logistics easier, one that could compete some day with big players such as UPS and FedEx. Importantly, the business model includes local jobs, which increase adoption and acceptance where they’re used. You can check out their video gallery here.

Flying Cars

The biggest surprise to me this entire festival was the flying cars. I had given up on any Jetson-esque future promises a long time ago, but that was before Kitty Hawk, a company with Sebastian Thrun at the helm. Thrun believes that “2D travel” – ground-based transportation – will never solve the problem of urban traffic: “…as long as they’re stuck in two-dimensions building enough paths is impossible. If there is a lot of traffic for flying cars, it is effortless to bump up cars to another level.”

Mr. Thrun was so excited about it, he wouldn’t talk much about the specifics, at least not while sitting next to Sam Altman, of the VC investment house Y Combinator, but there is a prototype that he flew himself. See here for a great video of that.

Robot Overlords

Meet Knightscope, easily the most intimidating of the robots I met. This in-production bot patrols malls and such, in California mostly. It’s kinda like a Roomba vacuum with cameras and security features. I saw the control screen for this bot and let me say – it sees everything. The person I spoke to at the Robot Petting Zoo (more below) talked about working on making the robot more autonomous and seen more as a resource than a threat by the public. This made me wonder – is there something inherent in humans that freaks us out about robots? Is it too much science fiction? The fear that Frankenstein stirs in us – the fear that our own creations will rise up and destroy us – seems to run deep.

In stark contrast to the Knightscope, we have Pepper (standing next to my son, Ryan). This was easily the cutest robot there and with the best personality. This in-production bot had responsive voice integration despite a noisy environment, and responded vocally as well, with accompanying hand gestures and some meaningful light changes (e.g., green means it understood you). The bot would track your face as you spoke to it and even gave me a high five when requested. The presenter said Pepper was used for welcoming customers and providing visitors information in stores such as Microsoft.

I had the privilege of going to the office of Marble, the creator of the third little bot. This fellow is intended to be the “last mile” delivery service, say groceries or meals, that are around you for less money and labor than other “human-based” delivery services such as Uber eats. I thought it was interesting that these bots can move on sidewalks to avoid traffic and are battery-powered, meaning fewer emissions. They’re targeting local service delivery to those who might have challenges getting out of their homes to run errands, for example, single moms, those without transportation, and the elderly. One of my favorite parts of my visit to Marble was being a source of the innovation, where these robots are built. I saw soldering stations, circuit boards, wheels, servos, and Nerf-gun darts laying about. It gave me the feeling of being part of one of these startups, reminding me of my college days getting my Electrical Engineering degree, where I was burning my skin off with a soldering iron.

And finally, not all robots are on wheels. This little fellow, named Hexa, is from China, and could climb over barriers and was about the size of my hand, which is impressive miniaturization. They say that Hexa could help deliver goods and services in areas with poorer terrain.

However, the most impressive bot overall has to be the four-legged SpotMini, by the famous Boston Dynamics.

CEO Marc Raibert and some of his technicians took their robot out into the street right outside WIRED headquarters, showing us their confidence in the product. This is one of their first offerings that you can actually purchase, starting in 2019. SpotMini is customizable and can be fitted by the customer with different connections, arms, cameras, or whatever. SpotMini was controlled by a person nearby during this demo, using a PC and an Xbox controller, which onlookers were also allowed to try.

Conversely, owners will be able to programmatically instruct the bot to run around on its own. The machine is surprisingly quiet, weighs only 66 pounds, and is all-electric. They showed one demo of it taking photos of an enormous skyscraper autonomously for an architecture firm inspection. Even more impressive were SpotMini’s dance moves. That’s right, it dances! Make your day by watching that here.

As I scrolled through my bevy of photographs, this one stuck out.

The kids showed so much interest and fascination, and what I could only think of as a cautious joy. The question on this young one’s face was, “Can I trust this thing? I want to play, but is it safe?” Which summed up how I was feeling about this near future I was staring at.

This little girl is going to be the generation that has to create and define how we use robots. It was almost as if she were confronting her future – and ours. There are many things that went down in this conference that I’ll sprinkle into future writings. Those of us in tech would benefit from these sorts of conferences since it brings the future with it. Those who are placing time and capital at risk to move the human race another step forward.

My overall takeaway is that there is a lot to look forward to. I left the conference optimistic for the future and what tech can do for us, if we are intentional with it, in our lives. Delivering medicine by drones or by robots to alleviate traffic through personal air travel, things will get better.

Thanks for reading!

Read Part 1, Big Tech & Techno-Optimism.

Read Part 2, Social Networks and the Power of Emergence.


An Agilist at WIRED25, Part 2

This was first published on SolutionsIQ by Joseph Fecarotta on December 5, 2018

In Part 1 of this series, I described the recent WIRED25 Festival that I attended in San Francisco. Part celebration, part keynote, and all geek, this festival covered four days, Friday – Monday. For a working weekend, it was among my favorites.

As in Part 1, I’ll review how the big social media companies like Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn view the past, what they might see coming in the future, and highlight what lessons Agilists might glean from them.

Logistically, this event was much different than the Agile conferences I’ve been to. First, it was over a weekend, which made the overall vibe more relaxed. Secondly, rather than vendor booths or an expo hall, there were site visits and activities that took place all over the city. I’d never gotten this much practice using Uber!

Friday was mostly site visits, starting at WIRED Headquarters and then moving on to the offices of a host of innovative companies. I was able to see where the magic happens in the offices of, HP/WeWork, and our own Accenture. Saturday and Sunday included panels on topics like “Networking for Introverts,” and the first ever Robot Petting Zoo, which I’ll cover in Part 3. Monday was Summit Day, where leaders from across Silicon Valley and beyond were interviewed by WIRED staff.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the social networking companies were asked about their impact on society, as opposed to the space exploration or military contracts that Google, Amazon, and Microsoft were asked about. So, what are the leaders of LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube doing to make the Internet a better place and how are they “responding to change” over “following a plan”? Read on.

What are the leaders of LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube doing to make the Internet a better place and how are they “responding to change” over “following a plan”?

Part 2 – Social Networks and the Power of Emergence

LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner


The CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, spoke about diversity in the workplace and expressed concern that his own company could be “reinforcing self-fulfilling networks” that enable companies to hire people only like themselves. For example, when you get a LinkedIn request, the algorithm indicates whether or not you know people already in their network. To counter this, LinkedIn created the Career Advice Hub, which “enables any member of LinkedIn to raise their hand and ask for help, and others to volunteer to mentor them.”

The conversation moved in a new direction when Weiner asked the crowd, “What are the most sought-after skills from employers?” The answer was not the obvious one. While people still require basic digital fluency – how to send email, work a spreadsheet, and do word processing – it isn’t the technical abilities that are missing, but the soft skills. Business leaders claim a deficit of skills in, “written communication, oral communication, team building, people leadership, collaboration.”

Agilists might recognize or even cheer that many of these are skills we teach through our coaching and training. For example, when discussing the structure and purpose of user stories, we leverage the three C’s – Card, Conversation, and Confirmation. (For more on this, check out this Agile Amped podcast on “User Stories.”)

If we’re to make our teams and organizations better, we need to focus on the soft stuff. As Mike Hammer, author of Reengineering the Corporation, said, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.”


Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey

No one had a more challenging interview, in my opinion, than Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. WIRED’s Nicholas Thomson started with this: 

“I want to start with free speech, which is one of the issues that will divide this room. There are people who believe that Twitter has abdicated the role that it used to stand for regarding free speech… Others think that there are tradeoffs between safety and privacy… and that Twitter isn’t in the right place on this issue.”

Fastball! Mr. Dorsey handled the challenging question with nuance: “One of the most interesting things about Twitter is that everything we benefitted from – the hashtag, the retweet, threads – have been invented by people that aren’t us… It’s interesting to see what Twitter wants to become. Our superpower is around conversation and to serve that public conversation.” 

Notice what Mr. Dorsey said: the hashtag, among other things, was not a Twitter innovation. It was suggested by a user and only when it “stuck” did Twitter support the functionality. It was emergent, driven by users’ need to tag content. Even more than pivoting, the hashtag is an example of emergence and of harnessing change for competitive advantage. Imagine if Twitter pushed back against the hashtag or decided to develop their own tagging system? It would likely have been slower and less effective. 

The hashtag is an example of emergence and of harnessing change for competitive advantage.

Twitter lived up to its “superpower” of enabling conversations by allowing the hashtag and other features to emerge out of their communities’ actual behavior. Guided by that vision, leadership showed business agility by allowing the solutions to emerge, and then “amplified the attractors” in a positive direction. In the case of the hashtag, the result was enormous – a major addition to the world’s Internet vocabulary.


The co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, who recently left Facebook, stated that they were not free of the toxicity of social networks, despite the perception that they are the “friendly” social network. However, he did claim that the company worked hard on the issue. “[Instagram] developed some machine learning algorithms to identify bullying. We’ve also allowed people to turn off comments, despite its negative effect on engagement. Give people tools to do things, and generally they make the right decisions.” 

Instagram is one of the few social networks that allows the disabling of comments, which I found an interesting way to differentiate their platform from others, and a gamble that seems to have paid off. Comments drive engagement, which is the bread and butter of social networks, yet this company bucked the trend to create a whole new user experience.


YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki

Instagram and LinkedIn were not alone in leveraging AI to make online experiences better. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who owned the garage Google started in, was upfront about the challenges of keeping people safe on a video-based platform. With 400 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, you would have to watch for 2.74 years to catch all the videos uploaded in one hour! According to Mashable, more video content is uploaded to YouTube in a 60 day period than the three major U.S. television networks created in 60 years. Not surprisingly, many of the videos uploaded are not for broad consumption.

“Google is committed to… trust and safety [for our users]… In Q2 we removed ten million videos. 70% of that is with machines [artificial intelligence]. Of that, 75% very quickly, without a single view… Openness has to be balanced with the right level of responsibly.”

Closing Analysis

YouTube’s Wojcicki said that they’re “no longer a child” and are now in the growing up phase. And this seems an appropriate way to sum up social media in general, as well as many Internet giants. The scale of these companies is so vast and beyond what their creators could have possibly imagined. This future we’re living in, 25 years since the creation of the WIRED Magazine, is not a grand vision of some super smart technologists, but an emergent new world that we collectively create, for good and bad. 

Much needed meditation chairs

These social platforms have morphed and changed, moving far away from their initial intention. Instagram was to make photography better. Twitter was to share messages with each other easily, YouTube for home videos, Facebook (first called facemash) was created (infamously) to decide if a person was “hot or not,” and Google was a research project that they tried to sell for a mere $1 million dollars to Excite. (Remember them? Me, either.)

The message that emerged for me is what responsive product development and business agility looks like. One of the reasons these companies are still around is that they were incredibly attentive to their user base. Twitter, for example, allowed their user base to invent the “hashtag.” Facebook moved quickly to realize that everyone wanted networks, not just college kids. YouTube promotes content creators with good incomes, clearly not the same as sharing videos with friends and family.

One of the reasons these companies are still around is that they were incredibly attentive to their user base…

How can more organizations learn quickly like these ones have?

How can more organizations learn quickly like these ones have? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is your organization leveraging big data and good product ownership to listen and understand their customers? What about your internal users? Are you allowing your users to innovate with you? If your customers had a great suggestion, how would you listen? What’s the mechanism? How long would it take? Finally, is your vision grand enough, and specific enough, like Twitter’s “Enabling Conversations,” to inform what you do and do not do for your users? 

I’m reminded of an old Danish proverb: “ It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” If companies are to live to see the future, they’ll need to continually hone their product management strategies and skills and leverage business agility to develop 21st century solutions.

Read Part 1, Big Tech & Techno-Optimism.

Read Part 3, Drones, Robots, and Flying Cars (Finally!).


Agile Goes Virtual

By Joe Fecarotta

First published on March 24, 2020, on

Virtual work has recently received a lot of attention for obvious reasons, but the truth is remote work has been hot the last few years. Check out this quote from HBR:

“Despite a few high-profile retreats from remote work policies in recent years, data on the U.S. workforce suggests that remote work is increasing. A 2017 Gallup poll reported that 43% of employed Americans had spent at least some time working remotely, and U.S. Census data released in 2018 reported 5.2% of U.S. workers being based entirely at home.” – Harvard Business Review, Aug 2019

Remote work is trending higher and benefits both employer and employee. Employers are able to attract talent from all over the world, and employees enjoy both the diversity of multinational teams and the flexibility that comes with working remotely.

So what should Agilists keep in mind while doing their job remotely, perhaps all-of-a-suddenly? How can you “read the room”? And what about Gemba walks? Alistair Cockburn has a graph that I’ve been using in my training for years, enumerating the benefits of co-location:

How can we as agilists – for whom “remote” has been kind of a dirty word – make remote work?

Over the last year, I’ve been privileged to work with Accenture Learning as their Agile Coach. During that time, while they’ve learned the ways of agile, I’ve been able to hone both my remote coaching skills and my knowledge of the training space. In this post I’ll share some of what I’ve learned.

But first, let’s take a tour of some of the comments on remote work I’ve gleaned from my peers at Accenture | SolutionsIQ.

Janel Lanza encourages people to spend time with their teams virtually, even more than usual. Which may prompt the question: “Do we need to revisit our work agreement for virtual purposes?”

Emila Breton gives this advice: “Keep it Short!!! Yes, that means more sessions, but there is much more energy expended by the learner online: avoiding all the distractions is hard [and] just sitting or standing in one place makes it hard. Video as much as possible: disembodied voices make connection and collaboration much harder.”

Micheal J. Tardiff offers these tips:

  1. Everyone in the same boat (doesn’t mix local attendees with networked attendees); creating two situations means that the temptation and tendency to treat one differently than another is great.
  2. Don’t try to copy what works when everyone is in the same room. Invent or use different exercises that are focused on small-group collaboration instead of large-group coordination.
  3. Have excellent connectivity: nothing loses attention more than poor-quality audio or video. Spend money to ensure that you have the closest equivalent to speaking one on one, one to many, and small groups to small groups. Have good headsets or microphones – rarely are built-in PC mics up to the task.
  4. Iterate and learn. Just as in classroom workshops, some particular skills and aptitudes are necessary to learn, [that are] not innate, and this goes for participants along with facilitators/trainers.

Looking for remote agile experiences?


Tips Based on My Own Experience

During my eighteen months of coaching and consulting at Accenture Learning, I’ve realized that remote agile looks different than “regular” agile, and that’s okay. Agilists can find ways to bring value to their organizations or clients if they continually experiment with what works in their location.

In a way, I had an unfair advantage: Accenture Learning is an experienced organization in extreme remote work. Almost everyone works from home, enabling maximum time-zone flexibility. My colleagues in Accenture Learning are patient with technology issues and adaptive in their approach to remote learning, so they were naturals when it came to remote agility.

Consultants learn from their clients and Accenture Learning is no different. Relevant to this discussion, I’ve learned the concept of durable learning – tools and techniques to make training, remote or otherwise, stick:

Durable Learning Tips:

  1. Relevant – Training is at the right time.
  2. Engaging – The experience gets and keeps the learner’s attention.
  3. Contextual – Instruction includes the big picture, connects to existing knowledge.
  4. Effortful – Challenging the learner demands emotional investment and thus makes it durable.
  5. Generative – Learner reflects and elaborates in their own words
  6. Social – Opportunity to engage at the group level solidifies learning.
  7. Practice – Learning is varied by interleaving activities and exercises, i.e., not death by slides.
  8. Spaced – Distributed over time, requires retrieval.

More ways to get more value out of virtual work

Make it Interactive: While driving into each of these principles is beyond the scope of this article, it’s essential to modify the training for the format of online training, which for me, means multimodal. I engaged guest speakers in my events, folks who had domain knowledge. I leveraged pop-quizzes in PowerPoint or Mentimeter, the latter being an excellent way to gamify learner feedback in real-time.

Make it Fun: I created a fictional case study and executed each week of training as a different episode of the narrative. The narrative was designed to be compelling and give us a common discussion point. I released an episode each week to emphasize that week’s teaching. This reading also became part of the homework. By spacing the work, the opportunity for review, and understanding increased.

Make it Real: I introduced real work into the course as soon as possible. The team was working on their agreements, role definitions, and backlog creation before the training was over. I built into each session a review of the homework, the case study, and the previous session. This repetition and practice assisted teams in establishing a solid understanding of Agile.


Current collaboration tools have advanced significantly. Zoom, Slack, Teams are all effective, and Agile Lifecycle Management tools such as Jira, VersionOne, and Rally are outstanding. However, these tools are proxies for being there. Even online video is lacking. People act differently on camera, so the non-verbal clues are missed.

To address these shortfalls, we’re coordinating the development of virtual reality experiences and applications that will bring training and coaching remotely ever closer to that ideal of co-location.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can collaborate more effectively remotely, or have ideas to contribute, please comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@agilejoe1) or LinkedIn (JoeFec).


What is Agile Coaching?

I’ve been in the coaching business for a while, and every time someone asks me what I do for a living I have to pause. What do I do?

Agile Coaching is a special blend of process plus personality, with education and experience. Do you enjoy helping people? Have you done the work they’ve done, or close, and understand the pains and trials that those folks are going under? What sort of self-improvement strategy do you have, for if you can’t help yourself, can you help others?

Every coach is different. Some are more to the letter of the law and will remind you that you need to have the courage to do Scrum (one of their values) or any change. Perhaps counter-intuitively, change is even more difficult if you’re successful. Everyone can see the need for change when things are going poorly, but when things are going well it’s harder.

Other coaches are more incremental in their change approach, and see improvement as the win, regardless if it adheres to the letter of the law of whatever process you’re up to.

Then there’s the interpersonal work. Agile coaches that have a high emotional quotient, who have empathy, and possess training in coaching tend to succeed. The art of Agile Coaching, then, is to decide when to use the “coach” inside of you, vs. the “consultant”.

If you want to read more about the types of coaching out there, from team coach to enterprise coach, please check out this great article, written by Vytas Butkus. A good quote here:

If you run into any problems related to Agile in your team, an Agile coach is one of the best people to consult with. Maybe you feel that daily standups are not providing real value or maybe the team finds it hard to understand why they should use story points for estimation. An Agile coach has seen many situations throughout their career and should be able to guide you in the right direction. Ask them to do a workshop or a lecture on a particular Agile topic that is relevant to you.

Vytas Butkus,

If you want to read a more in-depth treatment of what an agile coach is and how to become one, Vytas’ article is a good one and maps closely to my own experience.

As always, if you have any questions let me know at or find us on LinkedIn.

Stay Agile out there!


Agile Virtual Reality

The Coming Virtual Reality Revolution for Agilists

It has been a difficult time for Agile coaches and agilists everywhere. Indeed, 2020 and COVID have forced many of our practices – much in-person – to become virtual. This creates many questions: how do we create connections? How do coaches build trust? How do you form agile teams that are high performing when everyone is at home in their pajamas?

Right now, traditional tools have helped: Mural, Muro, Teams, and Zoom. These are useful tools that help us do things together. We can see each other’s faces (cameras on!), and we can draw things (assumes some computer skills honestly). Indeed, I recently taught an innovation class for a week, and it was great (ask me for details).

These tools have one serious downside: they’re not interactive. Almost all agile folks have been to class have done some sort of arts and crafts. We create brochures, and we pass little golf balls around, and maybe even do the helium stick. All of these are great team-building and good metaphors, and fundamentally impossible using the traditional tools.

In the future, I’ll be posting articles on specifics, but for now, let me leave you with these few tidbits:

  • Engage software is currently my favorite when it comes to immersive online environments. It’s a University online. They need more content and better tools to create it, but the basics are there and at a very affordable price. Check them out at
  • Oculus Quest 2.0  has just been released by its parent company Facebook. Get this, this Quest is 100 dollars LESS than the original, with a better screen and other improvements. It’s clear what Facebook is trying to do here – make the Quest mainstream. Check out this video if you don’t believe me.
  • What happens when a $2T company enters the market? That’s what’s going to happen very soon. It’s been bubbling about for a while now, but it looks like Apple is getting into the game. A few years after Google’s challenging Glass experience, Apple is moving in with their own, probably with care to avoid similar difficulties. Those who pay attention know that Apple has been harping on their Augmented reality apps on their traditional devices for some time now. It’ll be game-changer if these are well-designed glasses that make the world pop without spending a fortune (I’m looking at you hololens!) 
  • Speaking of Microsoft – I wouldn’t sleep on those folks in Redmond at all. Check out this video about their education offering – amazing! Now, what can we do about that $3500 price tag?

Look, we all know this is going to happen, and its time. It’s past time. Virtual work is here to stay, and how can we call ourselves agilists without adapting to change? Admittedly, the “VR craze” has died a few times. but its a zombie – keeps coming back to life. I started using this tech way back in Second life and VRML (ahh, the days of rotating 3-d logo awe). What’s different this time? Well, thanks to Moore’s law and significant advances in display tech, we don’t need a unique computer, a massive pile of dollars or coding skills to create, sell, and enjoy immersive experiences.

I’m currently co-creating some amazing Agile VR experiences. Who’s with me? If you are, hit me up at


How do be Agile in a pandemic

There’s a great article by Forbes recently that I wanted to echo with my own sentiments. The title is How To Be Agile In Tough Times written by Jen Shroud.

At first her advice sounds like a normal post for agile transformation:

1. Set the right tone 

If an organization’s leaders believe in the importance of digital workflows in achieving agility, and if they demonstrate this by aligning resources to corresponding initiatives, this is a critical first step. 

Leaders must not give up on Agile during this time! It was news when Google offered each employee a $1000 bucks to set up their home environment. This is enablement!

2. Embrace design thinking

“Agility is a baked-in component of design thinking. By rapidly executing small experiments, ideas can quickly be made tangible.”

This is great but I wished she’d indicate that we could us: How might we question, a staple of Design Thinking, address Remote Agility. How might we feel that we’re all in the same office when we’re not? How might we build team dynamics? etc. etc.

 3. Empower employees 

The bottom line is that leaders who allow their employees to co-create their work experience will do better than those who don’t understand the power of employee choice. 

I love this comment. The 9-5 was notional at this point anyway, prior to COVID, so we need to let that expectation go. I work with folks from India to Argentina, from New York to Seattle, so I have to be up all the time and might take a walk or a nap during normal “working hours”. We’re not in the 1800s people!

Returning to a better way of working 

Are we willing to offer our employees more choices when it comes to how, where, and when they work? 

Ms. Stroud has an excellent set of points that wrap up the article, but this one really summed it up for me. We’re in the time where we can re-examine, nay we must reexamine our businesses. From restaurants to movies, all vertcals are looking at new ways of not simply reutrning to work, but how can we do it better, for employee, employer, and the customer.

I see this challenge laid bare for Agile coaches. We can’t anticipate when and where it’ll be permissible or business-smart to do 30 person agile workshops, nevermind the 125+ person Program Increments Plannings that SAFe requires. Fortunately the fine folks at SAFe have created many guides on how to do such things remotely. I think all Agilists can learn from that, be agile themselves, and pivot to the new future, that could even be better than before.