Joshua L. Roberts

Agile / Lean Enterprise Transformation Coach

Week Three – Tactile Approach

By Josh Roberts | June 22, 2014 | 0 Comment

This week I saw a manager that I worked with during our last Agile transformation. He had just attended his first Limited WIP Society of KC meeting and shared, “I couldn’t believe how many organizations in the room were struggling with their Agile rollout… It really made me feel good about the maturity of our Agile processes and I was able to contribute valuable experience.”

So, why do some organizations struggle, while others succeed?  Yes, it takes executive support along with an investment in training and coaching, but is there another missing ingredient?  What makes an Agile transformation stick?

I believe success lies in what I’ll call The 4 V’s of Transformation:

  1. Vision – Show a better way of working by telling stories of firsthand, real-world experience
  2. Visualize – Use collaborative learning exercises and physical boards to teach abstract concepts
  3. Vocabulary – Speak a new language to reinforce and evangelize new concepts
  4. Values – Establish your culture’s new value system and encourage behaviors that support it

You’ll quickly learn from Bob Schatz (A.K.A Scrum Bob) of Agile Infusion that “tools are weapons”. So, why is it that most process rollouts start with the implementation of a tool? Aside from a vendor trying to make a sale, is it supposed to make the transition easier? From my experience, this approach can be very dangerous.  Especially in the case of an Agile transformation; you’re not just implementing a new process, but also changing the organizational culture.

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” – Agile Manifesto

My first exposure to Agile was like that of many others. The Development Managers bought some books for the team and sent a few people to ScrumMaster training. There was management support, but no coaching. Thud… The next attempt was to get some initial coaching from a product vendor, then jump right into their tool. That didn’t work so well either… We were so focused on figuring out the tool that we never truly developed an Agile mindset. Like most, we received some benefits from the new practices, but the team never really bought in.  Let’s just say it was a Cargo Cult culture.

So, what was different about our last Agile transformation? What was the secret ingredient that made for a mature and sustainable Agile implementation?

Unlike other transformations, we didn’t move the teams into an Agile delivery tool for over 6 months.  Yes, it’s hard to convince programmers to stay out of a tool, but I believe our initial use of collaborative learning games, 3×5 sticky notes, and physical boards was key.  In fact, there’s a timely study that shows people remember better when taking notes by hand versus typing them on a laptop.

writing sticky notes

A tactile-kinesthetic approach to learning helps an organization change via:

  • Mental stimulation through sight, feeling, discovery, and action
  • Learning through emotions, touch, movement and space
  • Grasping abstract concepts through role-playing and hands-on practice

“Game-like activities are often seen as valuable teaching tools, because they foster engagement and can also encourage teamwork and self-directed learning” – David Parsons, Massey University

This week we are learning about managing a delivery portfolio with Kanban.  We’ve used collaborative learning games to introduce new concepts and vocabulary such as limiting Work In Progress (WIP) and reducing batch sizes (i.e. feature-driven development).  You can visit for some great game ideas.  We’ve even started to design our physical Kanban boards to visualize our work.


These collaborative learning exercises and physical boards are key to changing pre-conceived notions about software delivery. Not only do they get us out of a tool, engaged with each other and visualizing our work, we are also benefiting from tactile-kinesthetic learning.


Josh Roberts

Agile / Lean Transformation Coach - Passionate About Delivering Value!


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