Demystifying Agile: “Mo” Hagar

Agile coach, speaker and author Maurice “Mo” Hagar shares what it really does mean to be Agile.

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Being Agile could mean a variety of things to different people. It is a buzz term which seems to be tossed around by industries to demonstrate innovation. Maurice “Mo” Hagar wants to make sure everyone knows the true meaning of Agile and the principles it is derived from. He does this in various ways. Currently, he is a Principal Consultant of Solution-Focused Agile, where he has done coaching and consulting for multiple organizations. Additionally, he hosts the podcast Agile on the Edge and is currently writing a book on the topic.

In this interview, Mo talks about what drove him to this focus on Agile in his career, addresses some of its misconceptions and his own model, the K2 Transformation model.

You focus on Agile coaching and implementation. Why did you decide to focus on Agile?

My journey began as a software developer for the Boeing Company. I’d been there a couple of months when one sleepy afternoon, suddenly, the CEO—of a 140,000-person, Fortune 50 company—appeared in my little hole-in-the-wall cubicle: “Welcome to Boeing!” he said with a handshake and a smile. I was stunned.

“I love to meet the new people because you’re the future of Boeing,” he continued. “You see things we don’t see. You bring new ideas. So tell me, how are we doing? What can we do better around here?” I was speechless. (He said) “Get back to me on that. Seriously, it’s important. Drop me an email anytime. And I wish you a long and successful career at Boeing.”

Of course, the CEO could not visit every new hire. But I later learned that, wherever he went, this transformational leader asked to be pointed in the direction of new employees. It was his favorite part of the job. And it changed my life forever.

Never again did I experience a sleepy afternoon. Because I was busy looking for ideas to include in that email—that I never sent. I spent half my time developing software and the rest of my time working on the business.

The next few years included just about every job you can think of in IT, including PMO Director and CIO. Since then I have served more than 60 organizations, currently IBM, as an Agile transformation coach. My work, and whatever success I’ve enjoyed, is directly attributable to that ongoing passion for continuous learning and improvement.

Agile is a different way of thinking before it is a different way of working. But changing the way we think is a much harder sell.

Maurice “Mo” Hagar

How do you define Agile?

I define Agile simply as delivering business value by collaborating with the customer and responding to change. This is the Agile Manifesto.

What are some common misconceptions about Agile?

The most common misconception about Agile is that [fill in the blank] is Agile: Scrum is Agile, Kanban is Agile, etc. And, by implication, [fill in the blank] is not Agile: Business Analysis is not Agile, Project Management is not Agile, etc. This has been manufactured, packaged, and sold by the “Agile Industrial Complex” (AIC)—as a member of the AIC I recognize the irony here. Agile is a different way of thinking before it is a different way of working. But changing the way we think is a much harder sell. Yet, when we focus on methodology vs. mindset, all we’re doing is swapping old “processes and tools” for new “processes and tools” vs. changing “individuals and interactions,” etc.

Another growing misconception, on the opposite end of the same spectrum, is that Agile is meaningless and, therefore, means anything and everything. In too many organizations it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a trojan horse for “command and control” management: “I know it takes us six months to deliver a new product feature but we’re Agile now so it’s due by Friday!”

For more on this, see my latest article on InfoQ, entitled Maybe Agile Is the Problem.

How would you describe the K2 Transformation model you developed?

In the beginning, Agile was easy: “Can you stand up a Scrum team for us?” Today we’re leading enterprise transformations, and many of my clients are working on iteration two or three. “Here we go again,” I hear often.

“Is anybody a mountain climber?” I respond. “Tell us about K2, the Savage Mountain, the most dangerous climb in the world. Those who survive it will tell you two things: 1) There is nothing more challenging—we’ll work hard; and 2) There is nothing more rewarding—we’ll even have some fun along the way.”

Now that I have their attention, I begin to unpack the model. The two Ks are Kanban and Kaizen: we want to make everything visible and continuously improve it. Then we scale the mountain by exploring various aspects of the organizational ecosystem. And I begin with processes and tools. Because it’s a good way to learn the landscape. The low-hanging fruit here provides quick wins that execs are looking for. And it gives me time to build relationships and trust with the organization. Before we move on to “individuals and interactions,” etc.

So K2 is an agnostic, fit-for-purpose approach to Lean-Agile, built on a mountain-climbing metaphor, that I’ve developed and honed in over 60 organizations. And it scales both top down and bottom up, beginning with individuals, in a fractal way. Finally, because Agile is a mindset change vs. a methodology change, there is plenty of organizational psychology built in, particularly Dialogic Organizational Development, Solution Focused Therapy, Appreciate Inquiry, and Positive Psychology.

Can you describe a specific project or customer which was particularly challenging? How were you able to help in that case?

Agile practices make work visible and manageable. But how do you visualize and manage the all-pervasive attitudes, behaviors, and habits that make up your organizational mindset? How do you operationalize corporate values like “initiative” or team-level values such as “empathy?” How do you visualize and manage Agile values and principles such as “customer collaboration” or Scrum values like “respect?”

I said earlier that we want to make everything visible and continuously improve it. That includes values statements, social contracts, and other intangibles intended to shape and direct organizational culture. But they’re often meaningless because they’re not actionable. Solution Focused Agile incorporates simple psychotherapeutic practices to visualize and manage the invisible.

After a successful pilot, one of my Fortune 100 clients is now scaling these practices across the enterprise—this will be the focus of an upcoming executive brief in the Cutter Journal. Another client has developed a unique approach to Net Promoter Score follow-up conversations with their customers—see my chapter on this in the recent book Sustainable Solutions for Leaders.

I’m always looking to challenge and push beyond the boundaries of who and what I already know, connecting the dots between unrelated disciplines, and experimenting with new and different ways of working.

You’ve recently launched a podcast Agile on the Edge. What is your goal with the podcast? What are other projects ahead?

Frans Johansson’s 2006 book, The Medici Effect, was a transformative influence on my thinking and work. The Medici Effect, named after a 14th century Italian family that sparked The European Renaissance, refers to the breakthrough thinking and disruptive innovation that often bursts out of the big bang collision at the intersection of diverse disciplines, cultures, and industries. So I’m always looking to challenge and push beyond the boundaries of who and what I already know, connecting the dots between unrelated disciplines, and experimenting with new and different ways of working.

That was my intention for Agile on the Edge: an Agile conversation with psychologists, philosophers, scientists, etc., pushing the boundaries of Agile across the enterprise, into the social sciences, and into the future. I did manage to publish one, very good interview with Alistair Cockburn on the future in what he calls the “post-Agile” age. I have another good interview with Esther Derby about her new book on change that I need to get uploaded. And I’ve got a dozen or so other thought leaders, inside and outside the Agile community, who have agreed to interviews, if only I can find the time.

A big project down the road for me is a book or two. I’ve begun writing a couple times but stay so busy that I just can’t find the time right now—a good problem to have, I suppose.

Which resources (podcasts, books, etc.) would you recommend which have helped you in your career?

I read a lot and have been influenced by far more than I can recall or recommend here The Medici Effect I mentioned above. A recent, transformative read for me was Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change by Gervase Bushe (who has agreed to a podcast interview) and Robert Marshak. Other influential books that come to mind are Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline, Don Reinertsen’s Product Development Flow, and The Solutions Focus by my friends Mark McKergow and Paul Jackson. Another good read, which aligns nicely with my own approach, is Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0. And I read anything and everything by Mike Cohn, David Anderson, and my friend Mike Mike Burrows .

I’m a big fan of podcasting; here are a few of my favorites: Soundview Book Summaries (subscription), Freakanomics, HBR Ideacast, TED Business, Agile Amped, and Agile for Humans. In addition to books and podcasts, a primary means of learning for me is Harvard Business Review.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

Creating a Roadmap for Management: Nick Milton

By: Yadira Y. Caro

If you are looking to know more about the field of Knowledge Management, you may often hear the name of Nick Milton. His book The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook (co-authored with Patrick Lambe), is a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to launch an initiative or lead a program to help their organization make use of their collective knowledge for competitive advantage. He also has been blogging about KM, almost daily, since 2009.

As opposed to many others in this field, his background is not in IT. Milton is a geologist, who completed his Masters on Natural Sciences and then his PhD in Geology. Almost two decades ago, Nick and various colleagues from multinational gas company BP, launched Knoco Ltd, a management and training company focused on KM, where he is now Director and Vice President.

In this interview, Nick shared the story about this transition, discusses some of the misconceptions about KM and gives valuable resources for people in any industry.

Why did you choose Knowledge Management as a career?
I made the change to KM while working at BP. Previously I had been a geologist (which is quite a knowledge-based subject) but moved to a role in BP Norway which was called “Quality Manager;” supporting the quality of geological work. It became obvious that the quality of work was directly impacted by access to knowledge, and we build a local KM framework which was one of the first of its kind. Then when the BP central KM team was created in the late 1990s I was invited to join, which is when I formally left Geology behind as a career and moved full time into KM; initially with BP but for the last 20 years as an independent consultant. My KM career has now lasted longer than my geology career did.

There are many definitions of KM. What is your definition of KM?
My favorite definition, which is also the definition in the ISO KM standard (ISO 30401) is that KM is Management with a focus on knowledge. So its not “the management of knowledge” but “knowledge-focused management”. This at first reading seems almost a tautology, but it is really quite profound. KM is how you would manage, if you wanted to deliver the value inherent in knowledge. Then of course you have to define “knowledge”, which is where I (and the ISO standard) follow Peter Senge in saying that Knowledge is the ability to make correct decisions and take effective actions.

KM is Management with a focus on knowledge. So its not “the management of knowledge” but “knowledge-focused management”.

Nick Milton

Is there any misconception you commonly see regarding KM?
There are oh so many of these! For example: KM is a subset of Information Management; KM is information management (or content management) rebadged; KM can be solved by buying software; KM is an end in itself; KM means documenting all your knowledge; build a good KM system, and people will magically populate it. The first 2 are very common, and many times the first discussion I have with a potential client is whether they want KM at all, or whether they will be better served by improved IM or data management. The third has plagued the industry from the start – the idea that software will solve all your KM problems. Software is part of the solution, but software alone is nowhere near enough.

What significant evolution have you seen in the industry in the past decade?
In some ways the industry has not evolved at all. If you look at some of the lists of “greatest KM pitfalls” written 20 years ago, all of those pitfalls still affect KM today. However there are certainly some developments: the creation of an entire discipline for Knowledge Centered Support (KCS). This is a KM approach applied to customer support knowledge bases, which is very powerful and robust.

An increased understanding of, and set of models for, Lesson Management. These address what happens to Lessons after they have been identified, and before they become Lessons Learned. This work is best developed in the emergency services and military.

A plethora of software tools which we did not have 20 years ago. In-house wikis for example. Unfortunately the KM software space is dominated by SharePoint, which is an IM tool rather than a KM tool. At last, an international standard for KM, which should help avoid many of the misconceptions listed above.

You write multiple articles on KM. How do you select the topics for your blog?
I have been blogging for over 10 years now, with a new blog post each weekday, so have written over 2500 posts at www.nickmilton.com. I get inspiration in many ways: from articles I read online and in the press. I have a daily Google Alert for the term “knowledge management” and this often brings me new ideas. Also from questions people (and clients) ask me. When I present a training course, I often fill a whole page of blog post ideas just from the questions I get asked.

I often up cycle previous blog posts, but only if they are at least 5 years old and therefore in need of modernizing. If I get really stuck I open a random PowerPoint, choose a random slide, and write a blog post about that slide

What are key skills or training a person in the KM field should have?
The core skills are people skills. KM is “all about people,” and KMers need to be People people first and foremost. If I were given a KM team, I would train all of them in facilitation skills, and change management skills. The team would than need other skillsets within it: someone with IT skills, someone with IM or library skills, someone with communication skills, and then a whole bunch of people skilled in the business of the organization (lawyers in a law firm, engineers in a construction firm, geologists in an oil company). You don’t need everyone to have all these skills, but you need someone in the team to cover each skillset.

Based on your experience with multiple customers, is there an industry that really “gets” KM?
The ones that “get” KM are the ones which cannot afford to fail – where failure is serious, costly, or endangers life – and therefore where the value of learning and of knowledge is obvious. Therefore you see KM very well developed in the military (as you know from your own experience, Yadira), the emergency services, aviation, Oil and Gas, and (to a lesser extent) construction.

Then there are the big consulting firms, whose only product is knowledge, and who compete on knowledge. Companies such as McKinsey are leading the way with KM. There are probably more KM roles in legal firms than there are in other industries, but legal KM is an unusual variant which has more in common with content management than other variants do. And the development sector also has embraced KM, partly because knowledge has higher relative value in a cash-poor industry.

You’ve mentioned new technology (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) will not eliminate KM. Do you see any major changes in the field?
AI will not eliminate KM but it may eliminate some drudgery for knowledge workers. I think better search will always help – semantic search, natural language search, intelligent search. Also AI will help in uncovering patterns and insights from huge databases, which intelligent people can then turn into knowledge. These will be the power tools for the knowledge worker, helping them to work faster and smarter. But no matter what the toolset may be, its only 1/4 of the solution. We also need the roles and accountabilities, the KM processes, and the KM governance suite if our KM frameworks are to be complete.

AI will not eliminate KM but it may eliminate some drudgery for knowledge workers.

Nick Milton

Is there a particular project in your career you are most proud of? Why?
I loved the work we did with Mars in the early 2000s. It was simple stuff, but it made an impressive impact to the business. Also some of the work we did with De Beers at the same time. I really enjoyed working with Nancy Dixon at Huawei, in China. This was a chance to try western style KM and adapt it to Chinese business, and again it succeeded beyond expectations. Also I am really enjoying the work I am doing now with the European Space Agency. Again just good standard KM, but in such an exciting setting.

What three resources (podcasts, books, websites) you recommend which have helped you in your career?
I will go for books: Davenport and Prusak Working Knowledge, Nancy Dixon Common Knowledge, Hansen Collaboration, Wenger and Synder Cultivating Communities of Practice. Also if I can include my own book, written with Patrick Lambe, The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook. Nothing helps you understand a field more than writing a book about it. You don’t realize what you know, until you try to put it into print!

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview?

Contact me!

Podcasting to Empower Women: Greydaliz Rivera

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Greydaliz Rivera calls herself a “bicha cool” or its closest English translation, a “cool bitch.” Through her daily Spanish language podcast, she speaks and shares daily inspiration to other “bichas cool.” The name refers to a woman who does not care about being nice or expresses unpopular opinions. However, she does enjoy doing good through entrepreneurship.

Greydaliz first recorded her podcast in January 2018 from a closet in her apartment in Texas. Originally from Puerto Rico, she had moved to Texas with her daughter and then boyfriend to find a better future after Hurricane Maria hit the Island in 2017. A year and over 400 episodes later, she is back in Puerto Rico living in a house she built on her own. Surpassing her goal of a year of daily podcasting, she is now able to earn a living from her various passion projects including mentoring and coaching, podcast workshops, and now her own line of inspirational t-shirts.

Just as thousands of women in Puerto Rico and abroad, I also became an avid listener of these 10-15 minutes podcasts. The subjects include tips on becoming an entrepreneur, time management, tools you can use and other topics based on multiple books she has read throughout the year. She also shares her daily struggles of dealing with entrepreneurship and motherhood, relationships and self-care. In this interview, we talked about her experience of empowering women through podcasting.

How would you describe what you do?
I am a researcher and I want people to find what they are a capable of. I am mainly a podcaster now and I want to use my voice and my experience to be a model to other women. For me, the best way to help other people is just showing how you do it.

What made you decide to do a daily podcast?
I wanted to make content creation a habit. I know that if you want to learn something, you have to do it daily. I wanted to create content as a lifestyle, not just as a hobby I do once a month or whatever. I wanted to do it every day because for me that is the best way to learn something.

When I first listened to the first podcast that you did, I loved it because it was not a “perfect” podcast. You decided to just launch it and improve throughout the way. How do you feel the podcast has changed from that first episode?

A lot, I’m more fluid, more real, more spontaneous. Its now part of my day and I have changed a lot in the past year. I adapted the format to my new lifestyle, to my new routine, to my new needs. It has changed a lot but it feels more real, more connected, more me. It involves less planning and more about documenting (daily life).

How you pick the topics for your podcast? It must be a challenge doing it daily.
For me it is not that difficult because I read a lot. I have a big community now: a lot of women ask me many questions and I use those questions to make an episode. I get inspired with my experience as a mom and businesswoman. I mix everything: some days I want to talk about something and I just think of a perfect podcast with the perfect situation and I put it all together for an episode.

What has been one of the greatest challenges that you’ve had in the past year since you started this podcast?
I think the most difficult challenge that we have as humans to overcome is our mind. If you want to do exercise or have a healthy life, want to do a daily podcast or whatever is your goal, your mind is going to say ‘no, not today, maybe tomorrow, you are tired, why don’t you have a cookie.’ You have to control your mind. If you control your mind and you build a habit, you can do whatever you want.

You also have given workshops on how to podcast. What’s a key piece of advice you give to those people who are interested in making a podcast?
The first one is that you have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to be you. You have to take whatever you are, and be proud. You have to speak to the world like you are and then you will be able to be fluid, to express more comfortably. Like me, I don’t speak English! I am not thinking about the pronunciation or the verbs, I try to do it with intention. As a person, I do my best. People love that! Be real.

“You have to control your mind. If you control your mind and you build a habit, you can do whatever you want. “

Greydaliz Rivera

How would you describe what you’re doing in terms of mentoring and coaching?
For me mentoring is that you know some things, that you are ten steps ahead me and you have the good intention to help me and to help out other people. Ultimately is to have some knowledge and just want to share it with the world.

What kind of projects do you have coming up that you combine with your podcast?
I have my t-shirts and I want to do other products like boxes and bags. This is just the beginning because I am a very ambitious woman. I am also working with an application that is taking me longer than what I had planned, but it’s coming this year, and I’m preparing an online course on podcasting.

What are two or three key resources you recommend?
In the podcast area I am always listening to new programs. I just recommend you go to the search bar and put the topic that you are interested in. You are going to have many choices because every day there are more people in this podcasting world. In the book area, I just read three very good books: Profit First, This is Marketing from Seth Godin and The Power of Now.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!