Tag Archives: agile

Bonus Round – A few more insights for attending Agile2015

I was asked at Agile Coach Camp in DC (prior to Agile2015) if I had any “runner up” items for my Top 10 list of insights for maximizing your conference experience.  It turns out I did, so for fun here they are (you can let me know if any of these should have been on the original list):


What to do if you forgot your business cards (or run out or want to save them or a tree)

I predict that not too long after Paul Hammond welcomes everyone to Agile2015, he will probably remind everyone to “Wear your badges” (necessary for security & access control) – this is good as snapping a quick badge photo is a quick way to capture the name of someone that you’d like to follow up with – once you have a badge photo, you can look your new colleague on LinkedIn or Twitter.  Think of all the trees you can help save!


Please Please Please take a moment to leave session feedback

One of the greatest value that presenters (either on the formal program or in OpenJam) receive from participation and sharing ideas at the conference is feedback to help them improve their future sessions.  While you can give direct feedback to the presenters (some may include a feedback door or wall in their session and ask for input), you’ll also have an option to leave feedback for any session you attend via the online conference schedule (use your mobile device or access via the web).  In advance, all of the presenters will thank you, as it helps them improve.


Thank (maybe even hug) all the volunteers you see (and don’t see too)

The agile conference is made possible largely by the efforts of volunteers who are there to assist presenters and handle all of the behind the scenes logistical tasks.  The volunteers are easy to find (usually wearing a nice bright colored T-shirt – at the time of writing, I don’t what the color is this year) and they will answer questions you may have.  Without volunteers donating their time to support the planning and execution of the conference, the event would not be feasible without significant additional cost.  Also ask around if anyone you meet was a “Submission Coach” or “Track Reviewer” – these are people that donated their time in late 2014 thru early 2015 to help presenters improve their sessions, and then gave input to help select quality sessions to create the conference program – please thank all of these people for their efforts!


Be transparent about your needs

I’ll forgo the various metaphors between the complexity of planning, building, integrating and releasing a conference and running an agile release train (trust me they exist), but executing a 5-day conference with 200+ sessions is a complex task and some things are bound to go wrong – sessions run out of handouts, rooms become over crowded, etc.  Here’s a tip, if you end up missing a handout or can’t make it into a crowded session, connect with the presenter (Twitter works best for most) and more than likely they can accommodate your need – handouts can be sent electronically and each year, I know there are always several “popular” session for which the presenters offer “encore” presentations in the OpenJam if requested.  Control your destiny – make your need / request / idea known and be prepared to be surprised.


Use the Law of Two Feet

From “Open Space Technology” the Law of Two Feet, provides the freedom to people that if they are attending a discussion or session for which they are not receiving value, you are empowered to leave and go elsewhere to find value.  While Agile2015 is not a full open space event (it does have an Open Space component via OpenJam), I would suggest that the Law of Two feet is in effect.  If you head into a session and it quickly pivots into something that you aren’t interested in, don’t be afraid to exercise your option to leave and head to another session where you might receive greater value.  You are responsible for maximizing the value you get out of the time you invest to attend a lengthy conference such as Agile2015 so you should exercise your empowerment to maximize your return from time invested (ROTI).


Try Out The “Surprise Rule”

I learned this trick from a colleague attending conferences in another industry – since Agile2015 is a week-long conference, give yourself a treat at least once or twice and go to a session that has NOTHING to do with what your normally do (exposing yourself to new ideas so as to perhaps learn about a future career pivot) – you’ll know if you’re picking a good session since you may even feel a bit anxious walking into the room (how on earth am I going to relate to anything that is discussed / presented in this session) – example: if you’re a scrum master, go to a session about coding and refactoring (hands on keyboard) – if you despise budgets, financials and Enterprise Governance, go to a session on the Portfolio track – specific for this year, if you work at a startup or a private-sector organization, go to a session on the Government track.  Sometimes hearing information and ideas that is tangentially related to what you normally do will give you greater insights on how to improve vs. listening to ideas in your current area of focus / expertise.


Don’t be afraid of friendly agile people

Conference attendees have achieved nearly 100% occupancy for all the hotels in National Harbor for the entire week so you will be surrounded by community members – I dare say that we’re a highly inclusive and welcoming group, so don’t be shy to make friends and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at the bar or at a restaurant.  Many resort to Twitter to look for people who are “hanging out” but from personal experience the old fashion “just show up” techniques work just as well.


Silence is Golden

I’ll describe the annual Agile Alliance conference as a “loud” conference – first, there’s a ton of people attending (SOLD OUT), there’s lots of chatter between sessions, dialogue during sessions, and of course after hours socialization, and even BEFORE hours socialization for the Lean Coffee crew (which everyone should check out).  Believe it or not, the physiology of your brain determines your tolerance for prolonged exposure to “loud” (yet non-deafening – less than 90 dB) environments.  Your brain will appreciate some quiet time and some people need more of this than others, so don’t be afraid to seek out some quiet time – your choice to refrain from conversations (or even socialization) will be respected.


Go Outside

This insight is of particular importance for people staying at the Gaylord – with all of the conference sessions behind held on premise this year (including the party), it is possible to enter the Gaylord on Sunday and NOT exit the building until Friday.  This is not recommended!  Fresh air rejuvenates your brain, and taking a break to go for a walk outside (along the river) will provide some of the “Silence” mentioned above to balance against the overall “loud” environment of the conference.


Twitter is useful even if you don’t post – #agile2015

While not everyone is a frequent poster on Twitter (nor do you have to be), many attendees and presenters at Agile2015 use Twitter extensively, it’s highly recommended and useful to follow the #agile2015 hashtag.  You don’t have to have a Twitter ID to follow along, and you can even just use a browser without needing to install a Twitter app (just go to www.twitter.com/hashtag/agile2015) – this is your best stream for up to date information about what’s going on and late breaking ideas or sessions that you might want to check out.


That’s all for now – Enjoy the journey!

10 Insights for Attending Agile2015

Recently I shared some insights with a few colleagues attending the annual Agile Alliance conference for the first time – I picked up most of these myself attending prior Alliance events.  The 2015 conference is coming up in Washington, DC – Agile2015 (August 3 thru 7, 2015) – the group mentioned these were helpful so I thought I would share them with anyone else who was interested.


The conference organizers do present a few first-timer orientation sessions (Sunday evening, 8/2 and Monday 8/3), which I’m sure hit a few of these things, but here’s my Top-10 list of things other than attending the regular 75 minute sessions at the conference:


#10 – Lean Coffee in the morning

If you’ve never tried Lean Coffee don’t miss your chance to experience it at Agile2015 – Look for the time and meeting location to be announced on Twitter with #agile2015.  Yes, you do have to wake up a little bit earlier, but you’ll get to meet people and discuss a variety of agile topics (and there’s coffee there to help you wake up).  Lean coffee is a small group discussion which is focused on the questions & topics participants share by writing on Post-Its – listeners are welcome, but anyone sitting at a table has an opportunity to contribute.


#9 – Check out Open Jam

Think about checking out or sharing an Open Jam session – Open Jam allows anyone to convene or present a session on a topic of their choice – all you have to do is attend the morning “Huddle” (see the program for time and location) announce your topic, sign up for a space and time on the board, and then be present to convene your session (very much like an Open Space).  In Open Jam, you’ll find sessions that sometimes focus on emerging topics, and it’s pretty common that a “rough” idea you see at Open Jam this year, may return in a more “polished” form at Agile 2016.


#8 – Stop by the Coaching Clinic

If you currently have a coaching problem, puzzle or just looking for coaching insights, the Scrum Alliance is hosting a Coaching Clinic that runs throughout the conference.  You can sign up in advance for a short session with another coach to discuss and share ideas – they also typically have capacity for walk-ups, although preference is given for people that sign up in advance.  Don’t miss your chance to get FREE advice and coaching from experts in the field.


#7 – Great Keynotes

Don’t miss the Keynotes at Agile2015

  • Monday: Luke Hohmann talks about using games to solve “SuperProblems” #AWESOME
  • Wednesday: Jessie Shternshus will have us doing Improv (high probability of a flash mob) #FUN
  • Friday: Jim Tamm closes out Agile2015 challenging us to look inside ourselves to enable better collaboration #REFLECTION


#6 – Lightning Talk Sessions

Scattered throughout the program there are Lightning Talk sessions on specific topic areas.  Lightning talks are quick 3-7 minute presentations (there are a couple different formats the presenters can choose from ) – so if you are looking for a variety ideas on a topic like “People” or “Process at Scale” – you’ll walk away from a lightning talk session with 6+ new ideas on that topic all presented real quickly.


#5 – Stalwarts

Also scattered throughout the program, the Alliance invites well-known members of the community (Dean Leffingwell, Ron Jeffries, etc) to convene a session to answer questions submitted by the audience – this is your chance to submit a question and have it answered by a well-known expert in the field.  A moderator facilitates the Q&A and works to manage time to address as many questions as possible in the time allotted.


#4 – Agile Alliance Annual Membership Meeting

Want to learn more about what the Agile Alliance does in addition to the conference, and how to get involved, run for the board, volunteer, etc – attend the annual membership meeting late Wednesday afternoon.  There’s typically food and drinks provided for those who attend.


#3 – Evening Entertainment Rundown

Here’s the summary of the evening activities, where you’ll be able to redeem your coveted drink tickets for fun beverages:

  • Sunday evening – Very Brief “Welcome” reception (1 hour)
  • Monday evening – Ice Breaker Reception – held in the Expo Hall with food & beverages available – also some kind of entertainment too.
  • Tuesday evening – The Alliance organizes a “Dinner with Agile Friends” event – sign up to go to dinner with people from the conference at a restaurant located in the resort (great option of “evening Lean Coffee” for those that don’t want to get up early) – Tuesday is also typically VENDOR party night – some events are on-site, some events are off-site, and at least one is on a boat this year (anyone renting a bridge that the boat can go under – if you were in Nashville you might remember).
  • Wednesday evening – Sponsor Reception – get stamps from the vendors in the Expo hall on the card in your program, then enter it in the drawing for a prize – food & drinks available – also, please remember to PRINT your name on your card BEFORE you submit it, last few years, they always pull out a few cards without names, so don’t miss your chance to win a prize.
  • Thursday evening – Conference Party – this year it’s super-hero themed and held on premise – food and beverages available.


#2 – Make A Post It Reflection for each session you attend

The Agile conference is like a marathon – it’s 5 days long, and only happens once a year (it can be overwhelming to some) – why does that last statement make me think of something that Winston Royce used to describe software development in a 1970 whitepaper which I seem to recall was the antithesis of agile.  Regardless, maximize what you get out of the conference by taking a minute to summarize 1 or 2 things on a Post-It note for each session you attend – you’ll find the act of writing a few quick notes on a Post-It helps your brain digest all of the information you’ll learn while attending.  Your brain (and boss) will thank you when you leave DC and want to share what you learned, you’ll be able to pull your 20+ Post-it notes (1 or 2 for each session you attend) and tell them about your experience, and/or take a picture and say “here’s my conference report”, if by chance you have to submit one of those.


#1 – Take a break

Related to the “marathon”, I have to thank David Anderson for this one – the 2015 Lean Kanban North America conference was held in Miami Beach on the beach – each afternoon David Anderson gave everyone a 3 hour break and told us to go to beach (he even gave us Flip-Flops).  Now we don’t have a beach in DC, but if you do take a “break” sometime you’ll find yourself able to attend sessions refreshed and ready to learn & your brain will thank you as well.

There you go, 10 Insights for Agile2015 – enjoy!

Live from New York, “It’s 30+ metrics for agile & Scrum teams” . . .

BASDNYCIn June 2015, I had an opportunity to share insights on advanced metrics for agile and Scrum teams at Big Apple Scrum Day in New York City.  The metrics I highlighted were all aimed at allowing teams to better assess the impact of changes and improvements they put in place while creating and delivering software.  My motivation behind sharing additional metrics for teams was based upon positive experiences where I have observed that having data from metrics improves team self management as teams can make decisions based on upon fact rather than opinion.

The presentation included a disclaimer, whereby teams need not track all 30+ metrics highlighted in the presentation, but rather teams should track sufficient metrics to have a full understanding of their process.  Since there is a cost to gather and review data for each metric, tracking 30+ metrics on a team may be a bit too much – my intent in the presentation was to show options and ideas on what you can measure on a team / software development project that those attending may not have thought about before.  Since all teams are different (since they are composed of different people and have different areas in which they are working to improve), it can be expected that different teams will track different metrics and this is OK.  Moreover, a team may start tracking a new metric to assess a specific challenge or improvement; however, once the team improves in that area, they may find it no longer necessary to track that metric – the metrics a team tracks should change over time.

In the presentation I highlighted 5 different categories of agile / Scrum metrics and recommended that teams track a few metrics across each of the following 5 categories to be able to assess software development, delivery and continuous improvement activities:


  • Process Health Metrics – Assess day-to-day delivery team activities & evaluate process changes
  • Release Metrics – Direct focus to identify impediments to continuous delivery
  • Product Development Metrics – Align product features to user needs
  • Technical / Code Metrics – Determine quality of implementation and architecture
  • People / Team Metrics – Promote sustainable pace and team engagement


While highlighting various metrics across these 5 categories, several questions did come up which generated insights not included in the presentation and reference materials below:

Someone asked – “How can you figure out Business Value Points for the items in your backlog?” – Two activities / games I recommended and have used:

Both of these games allow for business value to be assigned to the items in your backlog in a collaborative manner.

Someone asked – “How do you get test coverage data?” – The best way to do this is to setup your continuous integration (build) server (Jenkins or equivalent) with the appropriate plug-ins for the language that you are coding in – as an example go the Jenkins wiki on “Build Reports” (https://wiki.jenkins-ci.org/display/JENKINS/Plugins#Plugins-Buildreports) and search for “coverage” and you’ll see a variety of plug-ins you can integrate with Jenkins to capture test coverage for every build.

Someone asked – “How do you collect Happiness metric data?” – Two techniques I recommended and have used:

  • For co-located teams, put a shoe box in the team area along with a supply of Red, Yellow and Green note cards – at the end of each day, team members put a card into the box to capture their happiness for the day (Green = Happy; Red = Not Happy; Yellow = Everything else), then open the box, review its contents, and discuss ideas/insights at your team retrospective.  With this technique, some teams find it interesting to write the date on each colored note card as it is submitted into the box – this will allow you to correlate happiness with specific days during a sprint.
  • For distributed teams, you can achieve the same outcome by creating an online survey (SurveyMonkey) or Google Form and allow people to enter their happiness for the day – then create a graph of the data for discussion during your retrospective.

Something to add – Additional insights on cycle time – When we talked about cycle time we focused mainly on capturing the time required to complete development and testing of a story; however, many groups I have worked with found value in measuring the cycle time required to create and refine stories so they are ready for development.  I have worked with several teams that track stories as they are being created on a separate board so they can collect the cycle time of story writing & refinement.  Reviewing the cycle time of the activities to write / review stories has allowed those groups to identify impediments that were slowing down story writing activities.


Thanks to the organizers of Big Apple Scrum Day for the opportunity to insights on advanced metrics with conference attendees.


Presentation Materials

Check out the links below to download the presentation and metrics reference sheet from Big Apple Scrum Day (June 2015):

Presentation Slides:

Presentation Handout – Metrics Reference Sheet:

Agile coaching via “office hours” . . .

I am getting ready to try a coaching experiment and see what happens when we take a trip back to college and see if the idea of “office hours” can be used to provide effective agile coaching for teams.  Since this is an experiment (and I have no idea what will happen), I figured I would write something about it first, then I can write a recap about what actually happens.  Of course no cheating is in play, where I alter my hypothesis knowing what the outcome is.  For reference, my first office hours session will be on Tuesday, 1/21/2014 (so this post on 1/20/2014 is before the truth is known).

A bit of context:

  • Office Hours (from college) is a scheduled time when professors or teaching staff make themselves available to answer questions, review assignments, go over problems on sample exams, etc – basically, if you need help, you can go to your professor’s office at a set time and receive assistance – assistance is typically provided in a first-come, first-served manner – although good professors and teaching staff have been known to do something to survey if there are common questions when there is a large group, for which discussion or review topics may be prioritized.  As a former teaching assistant in college myself, I will propose that office hours (in the collegiate sense) are event-driven – at the beginning of the semester, nobody shows up; however, by the end of the semester just before the final exam, the line can be all the way down the hall.
  • In my professional context, Daniel Pink (in “Drive”) mentioned the idea of hosting office hours as one of his 3 steps towards giving up control – rather than summoning people to come and meet with you, provide an open door and allow those who are interested or are in need to seek out guidance.  I like this parallel for coaching self-managing agile teams – rather than management assigning a coach to work with a team because management thinks that a team is struggling, make a coach available and then allow teams to decide if they want or need to seek out advice to help them improve.
  • At various agile conferences, I have been to a variety of coaching clinics and been impressed at the quality of discussion and information that can be obtained in a short coaching session (either small group or 1-on-1) – suggestions of experiments to try, or perhaps a metric you can use to measure the effectiveness of your own experiments – bottom line: effective coaching and guidance can be provided without a complete understanding of one’s context.
  • In terms of environment (since that’s a component of the experiment), I work in a development office that has a few dozen projects and development teams – not every team has easy access to a coach – I have a strong suspicion that a few folks are going to show up, but I don’t think that the entire office will show up (if that happens, we will have a problem) – then again when I was a teaching assistant for a Computer Science class with 200+ students in it, office hours rarely had more than 20 visitors (even right before final exams).

A few motivations:

  • “Agile office hours” is an attempt to make coaching available to any and all interested teams, knowing that not all teams have easy access to a coach.  It is unknown how effective the information and guidance provided will be since it will be based on a very limited set of information (the questions and information people bring with them to office hours) and the complexity of work being done in our office is much greater than that of a course curriculum grounded in a common syllabus that is well understood by the professor and teaching staff.  I think some topics like metrics to measure team risks and/or progress could be common topics that will be easy and effective to discuss in a mixed group; however, challenges related to specific teams, and coaching on how to handle conflicts of opinions within teams will be more challenging in an open group setting.
  • My intent with “agile office hours” is two-fold seeking to provide some benefits to both myself and also to those requesting guidance.  I get a lot of questions and requests for coaching help around the office – I receive these requests in varied and ad-hoc manners (some spoken, some Email, etc).  From “lean systems”, I’m hoping agile office hours will allow me to better control the inputs to my coaching queue, as it encourages inputs to the system at a time when I will be able to respond immediately.  I also hope that office hours provides better customer service to those seeking assistance – folks who come to office hours can receive information and guidance right away, vs. sending me an Email and having to wait for me to see it and respond (which can take a day or two – I get too many Emails).

How things will work – I hope:

  • Folks interested in assistance (with current challenges) will show up – office hours are focused time to discuss challenges and how to overcome them within team.   I hope that others who come to office hours for guidance may also be able to provide some guidance to those in attendance.
  • We will have a quorum, but not a crowd (I don’t have that many chairs and/or space) – if we have a bit of a crowd, I suspect we’ll use a Lean Coffee board to identify questions and then use dot voting to find the highest priority topics to focus discussion and time on the topics that provide the most value to the group.
  • If we get into a specific discussion for a project or team, we’ll table that discussion from office hours (unless those are the only folks at office hours), and rather setup a focused coaching session with that team for a deep dive on the issue.  I also hope that full teams don’t come to office hours (again, I don’t have that many chairs) but rather send a representative or two for a preliminary discussion to get a few initial ideas and which in turn perhaps sets up a focused team coaching session (where the whole team can participate without the chair restriction).
  •  I’m hoping that office hours could work well with retrospective outputs – perhaps a team had a retro and identified an issue or challenge – office hours could be used to help brainstorm an experiment to work to overcome the challenge, ideally so there is something to reflect on at the next retro.
  • Most important, relevant and useful information is provided to those that have questions allowing them to improve.

That’s enough ideas and hypotheses to get started – next we’ll see what actually happens (to be continued . . .)

Southwest Airlines Seating – Effective localized governance & lean systems thinking for self-managing agile teams

As I was recently reflecting on my activities in 2013, I shared a metaphor that I experienced frequently during the last year and several have commented is perhaps one of the better examples of effective localized governance in action (applicable to self-managing teams) – imagine an effective system where the organization has defined system-level boundaries allowing for participants to make decisions at the last responsible moment to maximize customer value based upon the most accurate and relevant data at the time of the decision – could the Southwest Airlines system for open seating provide some parallels to emulate within the leadership of self-managing agile & lean teams? I think so.

Residing in St. Louis, MO and traveling extensively throughout 2013, I found myself frequently choosing between Southwest and other carriers mainly due to available flights and airfare (working to optimize that travel budget), this provided an interesting opportunity to examine the different levels of service and systems employed by different airlines, for which Southwest has certainly embraced many elements of lean thinking.

Southwest’s lean and self-governing approach

Let’s examine the Southwest experience from a systems perspective (and to familiarize those that might not have experienced it personally).  Southwest offers a single class of service (open seating) – they minimally enforce the system-level boundaries in accordance with the seating capacity of their aircraft and FAA policies (all passengers must sit in a seat, you can’t sell a ticket to sit in the lavatory).  Southwest’s system assumes a minimalist approach as they only govern the number of tickets issued per flight and they cannot issue more than 143 or 175 tickets per flight (based on the type of aircraft used).  Southwest’s system does not include any additional complexity (or associated costs) to assign seats ahead of time, rather this complexity is delegated to individual passengers as they board their flight and can pick whichever seat they’d like and isn’t already taken.  Southwest’s system empowers passengers to select whatever seat they would like based upon each passenger’s unique and complicated preferences (which perhaps Southwest has realized are far too complicated to track in any database or CRM tool).  Passengers are enabled to make decisions seeking to maximize their personal utility at the last responsible moment based upon the other unique factors (the other passengers) that happen to be on your flight with you.  Since Southwest chooses to not involve itself in the complexity of the seating assignment process, customers are observed to take greater personal responsibility for their seating decisions – they can’t complain to the flight crew that they don’t like the seat they were issued and demand to be reseated, rather Southwest passengers make the best decision they can by understanding and accepting the well-defined constraints of the system.

Can increased complexity provide greater value?

Other airlines opt for a more complicated, costly and rigid system to address the same basic problem of airline seating – many have opted to layer on additional complexity to their systems in an attempt to offer more personalized services.  It is up for debate about how personalized the services are and whether or not they provide better customer value.  Beyond selling tickets in accordance with aircraft capacity and adhering to FAA regulations, complexity and costs are increased as options are added allowing customers to choose their seats ahead of time.  Before we even get to value, this increases complexity and cost – think about all the complicated software that needs to be deployed and supported to allow passengers to choose their seats (Southwest avoids the need to run and maintain this additional software) – think about all the inbound calls airlines receive in their call centers to handle seat requests and/or changes (Southwest cuts down on their call center volume, which lowers costs, by simply not having to deal with seating requests).  As for opting to increase the complexity of the system for the purpose of providing greater customer value, I hypothesize that greater value isn’t always achieved.  Let’s consider a flight where you are able to reserve your seat in advance (of course, you rarely know who will be sitting next to you), only to find out when you board the plane, that you’re sitting next to someone who perhaps you’d rather not be.  And of course as luck would have it, that intriguing and attractive person you were talking to in the gate area before boarding that you wouldn’t mind continuing to talk to for the next few hours happens to have been assigned to sit by someone else.  In this instance, the customer received minimal additional value by being able to choose their seat in advance.  Even worse, suppose you attempt to change your assigned seat (Southwest style) and self-negotiate an opportunity to sit next to your new intriguing friend from the gate area – if you’re successful, all of the costs associated with providing the ability for you to select a seat ahead of time become pure waste.

What about “Respect for People”?

Lean thinking says that by not troubling your customers, you show respect for people – designing systems that promote respect for people is a foundational principle for successful lean systems – I’ll propose Southwest has an advantage here.  Consider this example: try booking six seats for an unexpected family trip with 3 weeks of lead time – since you are traveling as a family with small children, it would be nice if you could all sit together (plus I’m sure someone traveling on business really wants to sit next to my 4 year old).  On Southwest, you are able to book your tickets on your desired flight, and then show up at the airport where Southwest provides a specific time for family boarding (between the A’s and B’s) that has been strategically placed within the boarding process seeking to respect all of the different groups of people that fly on Southwest.  Family boarding occurs after the A-group, allowing those A-group frequent travelers to claim the coveted seat that they feel they have earned, meanwhile families are guided to board the plane at a time when there are still plenty of seats together so their desire to sit together can be easily accommodated without additional hassles or fees – family boarding is a standard part of the system that was implemented at minimal cost and without complicated software or processes to support it.  On other airlines (if you try this experiment, I have), when you book multiple tickets with a short lead time, you’ll find that you may have to pay premium seat upgrade fees to be able to reserve seats together, and even if you have elite status (where the seat upgrade fees are waived), single travelers typically reserve seats with ‘empty’ seats around them, so good luck trying to find a block of seats together.  A 30-minute call to the customer support center (costly to both you and the airline) may result in the agent being able to work some magic and find seats together – regardless having to wait on hold to attempt to resolve a seemingly simple request may make some question just how much the system “respects” them as customers.

Negotiating with the system vs. with the people

Perhaps the most interesting observation from my travels of 2013 is how Southwest’s strict adherence to only governing the system level boundaries (putting up to 143 or 175 passengers on each plane) promotes more effective self-governance and respect amongst its passengers.  If you are traveling on an airline with an assigned seat, ask fellow passengers if you can swap seats with someone to sit next to a colleague or family member.  You might get lucky and get a yes, but more than likely you’ll get a “No” since many feel entitled to sit in the seat they reserved.  Furthermore by the system governing seating assignments, passengers exhibit a preference to negotiate with the system rather than with their fellow passengers who actually can provide better data to make more effective and relevant decisions.  On Southwest, since the system is not involved in seating assignments, passengers are more open to negotiate with the other actors in the environment (their fellow passengers) and are willing to accommodate and respect the needs of their fellow travelers – those seat swaps to accommodate requests to sit with family members, colleagues or those attractive and intriguing new friends from the gate area are more frequently respected and accommodated.


Before anyone goes there, this isn’t intended to be a slam on any airline, nor is it a glorification of Southwest – Southwest has definitely adopted some elements of lean systems and localized governance that are interesting to discuss for application in other contexts (self managing software development teams).  Southwest offers a unique and high quality travel product, as do other airlines, and while I do my fair share of travel on Southwest, I’ll opt for first class with Mimosas and other tasty beverages for long-haul flights on any day of the week.

Takeaway for managers/sponsors of agile teams

The takeaway from this metaphor for those sponsoring or managing agile development teams is to focus on defining the minimal number of constraints that form the boundary within which teams can self-manage.  Work to make those constraints as simple and explicit as possible (the plane has 143 or 175 seats, everyone must sit in one of them), then trust in and provide autonomy to your agile development teams and allow them to figure the rest out without your direct involvement.  If self-managing team members struggle to reach consensus or resolve internal conflicts, perhaps you can point out where a few of the open seats are on the plane, but ultimately ensure that you allow the team members to decide where they want to sit.