May 22, 2022
Full episode video available here: https://youtu.be/gWWkD9hQVtA
Uloaku (Ula) Ojiaku is a Business Agility Strategist, coach, mentor and trainer with a focus on helping leaders and their teams in large organisations embrace a Lean-Agile mindset and adopt its associated ways of working to improve how they operate, effectively respond to changes in the marketplace and ultimately deliver value to their customers.
With nearly 20 years of professional experience, she has worked in multiple countries, in a variety of technical, business and leadership roles across industries including Oil & Gas, Telecommunications, Financial Services, Government, Higher Education and Consulting.
A certified Technology Business Management (TBM) Council Executive, SAFe 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC 5.0) and ICAgile Coach, Ula has a Masters degree in Computer Science from the University College London (UCL) and a Bachelors degree in Electronics Engineering from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
She is the Founder/ Principal Consultant of Mezahab Group Ltd (a UK-based Lean Agile Innovation training and consulting company). She also currently serves a multi-national retail organisation as a Senior Agile Coach and is a guest lecturer at Coventry University.
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Hello and welcome to the Agile Innovation Leaders Podcast. I’m Ula Ojiaku. On this podcast I speak with world class leaders and doers about themselves and a variety of topics spanning Agile, Lean Innovation, Business, Leadership and much more, with actionable takeaways for you the listener.
Hi everyone. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Agile Innovation Leaders Podcast. I had the privilege on the 30th of March 2022 to speak at the Agile Coach Conference organised by Gladwell Academy. My talk was focused on the SLoMoSH Canvas, which is the tool that I had developed to help with facilitating conversations amongst teams, to clarify roles and responsibilities. The SLoMoSH Canvas has other use cases, however my talk was just focused on the clarification of roles and responsibilities and how it could be used in that situation. Without further ado, my talk at the 2022 Agile Coach Conference in Amsterdam.
Thank you, it’s a great privilege to be here, live and in person. The last time I attended and participated in a face to face conference was back in 2019, December 2019, San Francisco, so you can’t imagine how refreshing it is to be out here.
So I’m here, all the way from the United Kingdom, I’m here to speak to you about the topic ‘Set up for Success: Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities using the SLoMoSH Canvas.’ I know, ‘what’s that word SLoMoSH’? I made it up, as you’re going to come to realise. But without further ado, let me tell you about myself. I have about 20 years of professional experience. I started off in engineering, hands-on engineering roles in telecommunications, oil and gas industry, and then kind of moved on to that more business-facing, interfacing type of role with teams where you’re kind of translating the conversations, and my first foray into agile ways of working was about 16 years ago as a field engineer, with Schlumberger as a field engineer. We had standups, we had kanbans and all that, but we didn’t use the term agile, it wasn’t a buzzword then. So as coaches, and I’m sure as we’re predominantly agile coaches in the audience here, I’ve noticed. And we do have those… part of our satisfaction that comes from our jobs is when the teams, the leaders, the people we’re coaching, have those ‘aha’ moments, and I love what Lyssa (Adkins) said in the morning, it’s really about taking a holistic view, building those relationships, meeting people where they are, so that’s what I love about being an agile coach. I host a podcast, Agile Innovation Leaders, and I’ve been privileged to have people like Jeff Sutherland, Steve Blank, Alex Osterwalder, but that’s not why we’re here.
So, we’re going to do an ice breaker. I have two children, I have a son who’s 11 and a daughter, Kiki, who’s 9. So one day Kiki comes back from school and says, and I’m busy working and in the zone, and she says ‘mum, I have something for you, I have a game I have to play’. And I’m like, in my mind, I don’t need this right now, but I have to be a loving parent with my children isn’t it, so I say ‘all right Kiki, what do you have for me?’ All right, so I’m going to teach you that. I don’t need to tell you the story, but the key thing is now, I’m going to mention three words in succession, and after each word, you know, you use A, shout out A and raise your left hand if it’s an A, if that word matches with an A, so if it’s an animal, you raise your left hand, if it’s a food, the word that I call, raise your right hand, you can also shout it out if you feel like that, and if it’s a place, C, then raise both hands and say C. Does that sound clear enough? OK, let’s do a trial run. So, A, well, you did it. So I was going to say ‘poodle’, A, awesome. Burger! B. You guys are rocking it. And a castle. C. OK, awesome, you guys have gotten it. Now let’s do the real thing. OK, so, I’m going to mention it in a random way. I know you’re watching and wondering what I’m doing. Yoghurt. B. OK, B, good, good. Lion. A. Are you sure? Yes, it’s an animal, lion is an animal. All right, third and the last, Turkey.
That was exactly what my daughter did to me, you know she said, Turkey and I was like OK, where does it go, because mine was more like, A is stand here, B is stand here and C is stand here. But I will take the blame, as a responsible agile coach I will say, if I had wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better. That is the words of the famous Johan Cruyff. And I should have explained it better because, you know, I kind of, hands up if you know, you didn’t quite go into the outliers, because you didn’t, because the impression based on the instruction was the, you know, the words would fit into one box. Either it’s going to be A, or B, or C. Hands up if that was your impression? OK, the rest of you could see that two, three steps ahead, awesome, please call me, because maybe we have a business to start because you can see into the future. But that’s the case with transformation initiatives. There are lots of moving wheels, it's about change on a massive scale, and the fact is, with all the changes happening, and people are complex beings, and as Lyssa mentioned again, in her talk earlier on today. I was taking copious notes for all the speakers, when you all were speaking. It’s really about moving from that mindset of an organisation and people as machines to an organisation as a complex eco system.
And I don’t know about you, but for most transformation, and no matter where you are on your transformation journey, whether you are very mature or whether you are just at the beginning of the journey or somewhere in between, the fact is there are always going to be moving parts, and we change, and we need to change and adapt as we go on.
So, again, Lyssa, by now you all know I’m a massive Lyssa fan, but the key thing is how work has really impacted a lot of the things we do as agile coaches and the agile coaching competencies that she and Michael Spayd developed, you know has kind of helped with clarifying, what are those multiple hats, those balls that we need to juggle as agile coaches as we support and lead and help the teams as they move under transformation, the journey towards ways of agile working, and developing an agile mindset. Now, usually it would start with some sort of training, you know, to train people into the roles, to understand, because people need to be trained. And I think it was, you know, and I think it was during the session with Marcel, there was something about needing to combine education with coaching. So, in terms of like the initial starting point of training people, let’s say classroom-based training, there would be, if you, as an agile coach, are the one running that training, you need to have your teacher’s hat on. Lyssa, am I correct, or am I bungling it up?
You’ve been beautiful, I’m overwhelmed.
Ok, well please correct me, because you are the expert, and that’s your work there. Anyway, so you have to have that teaching hat on, but the main message today that I want to bring to you here, the key point it this, more often than not, just classroom-based training or training of any sort isn’t quite enough for the teams to start adapting or applying their learnings to their context. Even within the same organisation, you’ll find out that no two teams are alike, and you might have a product owner in team A and a product owner in team B. They are on paper, they have the same role, the title, however, the nuances of what they do with it, it might mean that there are other things that they would need to take on as a result of the nature of their work and the team that they belong to. And so, in what I’m going to be sharing with you in terms of the case study, I’ve also had to become a neutral process holder, you know, to facilitate conversations with the teams. And this is with the purpose of helping them to connect the dots. OK, just to help them to connect the dots, because they need to get to a shared understanding of whatever topic it is that they are having. So I picked this graphic from the internet. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the author, the original originator is, but credit to them, it kind of beautifully illustrates the concept. You might have the same people in the room, listening to this talk right now like we are, you know, if you look at this picture here, there are three people looking at a picture of a truck, but what you can see is something, different elements of the picture is coming out, jumping out at them. But you need to make sure that they also have a joined up view, you know, to have the bigger picture in mind. So how does that apply to us as agile coaches? It’s not about having lots of different frameworks, and we don’t want to go into that rut of being like the proverbial person with their hangman seeing everything as a nail, it’s about taking the time to understand the context. And as Sharon and Yasmina said in their talk, you know, you need to have tools in the toolbox, but you also need to know that it’s not about the tools in the toolbox, it’s, according to my colleague Scott Henault, who says the power of the tool is in the conversation it creates. It goes back to the people, it’s about helping them to have a conversation so that they have a shared understanding to work together more effectively.
And so, a bit of the case study in my case. So I am currently a senior agile coach with a multi national retail organisation, if you read into my LinkedIn profile, you’ll know which organisation that is. So there is this, there were these teams and when the organisation started its agile transformation about four years ago or something like thereabouts, for that team they were pivoted into agile, single agile team like team level team teams, OK. And then over time some further analysis was done and the leadership decided, that’s a story for another day, but go with me here. So they decided they wanted it to be a SAFe ART and so the team was now being pivoted into the combined SAFe ART. Now I had joined the organisation after the initial, the first, you know, pivot to agile teams, and what I noticed interacting with those teams was that they, the teams, already struggled, because they were moving from a traditional projects management waterfall based approach to delivery into agile, and as agile teams, you know, scrum teams, Kanban teams, they were already struggling. I mean, they were delivering, it’s almost like, have you ever had a toothache where you’re able to eat, but how you ate and enjoyed your food when you had a toothache versus when your, when everything is OK, is much different. So they were delivering all right, but it’s almost like you’re chewing with a toothache, or hobbling with a bad foot, you’re moving, but you’re not moving in the most effective way you could. So I realised they had this problem, and just waving, if I could be a fairy godmother and wave the SAFe wand over them with all due respect, it wasn’t going to make the problem go away. There was something we needed to get to the root cause. So, sometimes, yes, it’s all about trying to make a light touch and as simple as possible reduce the cognitive load as Mariëlle said in the workshop earlier, but there are times that, you know, the hard things have to be done. There are times you have to strip down, get into the weeds, get into the detail, and based on the conversation with the RTE, I designed a session for the key roles, because those were the key points, if you know the theory of constraints, it’s about looking at where the bottom leg is and then addressing the bottom leg to improve the flow, and of course you know as the system, because, you know, there would definitely be something else to improve, but right now the key bottom leg was with the Epic Owner roles, the product management roles, the product and scrum master roles, so those were the areas we decided to focus on, because you can’t boil the ocean.
So, the SLoMoSH Canvas. Now I wouldn’t say that it all was original, but it’s more of a synthesis of ideas , concepts, mental models that I’ve been exposed to over the past 20 years, but the main influence for this SLoMoSH Canvas was the work of Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, the business model canvas, and of course when I last spoke with Alex Osterwalder, you know, I had him as a guest on my podcast , he said it’s really about making things visual, it’s important, it makes it easier for conversations, it helps people to get on the same page. And another influence in developing this was from the work of an executive coach known as Tony Jeary, Jeary with a J, and he wrote this book ‘Strategic Acceleration’ and he had the MOLO matrix, which is like 'more of, less of'.
So based on that I kind of developed this, which I was using as well for personal reasons, you know, in terms of thinking where do I want to be in the future, how do I get there, what do I need to do more of, less of, what do I need to stop entirely, hand over. And I kind of, as I was thinking about this in the middle of the night, I thought, this might work for the teams we’re talking about. So let me explain the SLoMoSH Canvas. Has anyone figured out why it’s named SLoMoSH? OK, here you go.
Audience member It’s the first letters
OK, yes, so the first letters, Start, Less of, More of, then Stop and Handover. So that’s where the SLoMoSH came from, and I’m still thinking of, is there anything better to call this, so if you have any ideas, please let me know. But that’s what it’s called. Now, the key thing, how does it work? It’s more in the centre you have the core responsibilities, that would be, let’s say, common to all the roles, it’s better when you do it role by role, so if it’s about a particular role, it’s something you’re facing, you have those responsibilities and tasks in the centre, and there’s no change, no action needs to be done, and usually that would be a starting point, OK, for the conversation. Now, the actions that will come out in the conversation will be when you’re now looking at those key things, you kind of have a conversation about it, as we’ll look at it later, and then you find out, are there things that you need to, that you should be doing that you’re not doing that you should start, you put it there, and the other thing is that you should be doing as part of your role that you’re not doing as often as you should, maybe put them in the ‘More of’. You know, ‘Less of’ would be the reverse of ‘More of’ and then other things ‘Stop’. This part is really important, because as human beings we are adverse to, you know, kind of losing things and taking things out, kind of losing things, we’d rather pile up things without taking off some other things consequently and that is a mindset that we, you know, because there should be the art of maximising the work, the amount of work not done. So it’s also important to challenge your teams, are there things that you should stop doing, and stop means stop. Don’t hand it over to anyone because it’s not adding value now, it wasn’t adding value then, it’s not going to add value in the future. And then, just as important, is the Handover part. Are there things that you’re doing in your current role or in the current context, which in the new role, in the new structure, which don’t necessarily apply to you, what your role as you understand it now, but someone needs to do it or else things will fall through the cracks and it’s going to impact on delivery, and that would be in the Handover space. OK. So, this if for you now, two minutes, can we all take the time to pause and reflect, and I acknowledge it might not be applicable to you, we all have different situations and contexts, problems that we’re solving right now. So if it doesn’t apply to you, that’s fine. Can you pause and reflect individually on what you’ve heard so far. Think about scenarios in your current context, your current work, where you could use the Canvas, or where you have, you’re needing to have the conversations that this Canvas could help you with. What are those scenarios? So it’s an individual pause and think.
Can anyone share the result of your conversations?
We were just discussing challenges that we have in multiple teams and the conclusion of the challenge was the team motivation and the relationship with the team members started deteriorating due to the moving to remote working, right. So, there were misunderstandings about what the team lead needs to do, what the product owner needs to do, what the scrum master needs to do, or even every single member of the team. So, what we did, we did different kinds of workshops, but now, when I see this, it perfectly fits into the, what I think we could use, or what we could benefit a lot from this. It was not structured like you did, but this is more clear and straightforward, yeah.
Wow, thank you for that, and yes, I’ll be sharing my context, so thank you for sharing that. We have just enough time for you.
I think we can use this in our organisation. I’m working for the government, for the POVmark we call that, the Product Owner Vakgroep Manager and agile coach, it’s like, we talk about the teams, but not about the individuals, but not about the teams, but what are we talking about? Because we say the product owner is there for the product, and the manager is there for the people, and the agile coach is there for the team. But sometimes it feels like no one has the responsibility so we can use this very wise to, hey, what can we stop talking about?
Awesome! Well thank you for sharing. Right, thank you. So, what did I do? Let’s move on. So, a case study with the very team that I was talking about, a team of teams in this case. Now, something else I didn’t share about the challenges they were facing was this, you know. Having gone to the training, because, let’s say for example some of them were previously project managers and as part of the transformation pivot, you know, they were now set, OK, the way it was done is another conversation. And it was more of a combination of OK, where do you think we fit in now that, you know, this is what this role does, and that’s what that role does. So it was a combination of that and, you know, my management kind of making joint decisions to give people new roles. And so as a traditional project manager, you’d expect that you’re making sure things are on time, you budget and schedule, you liaise with third parties, maybe vendors as required to make sure everyone is cooperating. That’s the traditional project management role. You’re also, you’d also be monitoring the spend, how much are we spending on this project? You know, the financial reporting, the compliance, to make sure you’re being compliant, and being a publicly traded organisation, you also have to make sure that, you know, on the straight and narrow, it’s not directly giving value to the end customer, but it needs to be done if you want to operate as an organisation, if you want to be legally trading. So, these things still need to be done.
But in the new roles, you know, the new product owner role generally, it doesn’t have anything about managing compliance issues, it doesn’t have anything about financial reporting, and so when we’re operating as that agile team, these things were falling through the cracks. You could have said, yes, I used to be a project manager but now I’m a scrum master, there’s nothing that says, you know, as a scrum master, that I need to do that same thing with the product. So, who does it, because it needs to be done. OK. So in this simplified example, let’s assume we’re doing this session with product owners. Now, I populated the core area, or the continuum area with the generic responsibilities that a product owner would do. Of course, this is not exhaustive, this is only for illustration. And then at the start of the session I’ll be like, OK, now these are the things, you know, generic things that the product owner would need to do. But are there other things that you currently do that’s not in the box? Feel free to create a sticky(note) and put it there, because we need to have a conversation, we need to make it visible. Because most people have what they do in their heads, and other people, remember the picture with the, you the bus and all that, and three people are looking at, one is seeing the driver, the other one is seeing the cargo, the other one is seeing the vehicle. So, let’s all visualise it and talk through it. I told you sometimes you need to get into the weed of things so that everyone has a shared understanding. So, imagine that the ones or the items in the bold italics are the ones that I can’t add in, oh, I also manage compliance issues, oh I also participate in release value, oh and I also produce reports for the senior management. Let’s put it there.
Now, after having the conversation, sticky by sticky, let’s assume in this hypothetical session, this is what we came up with. So, remember in the core part it’s more of whatever it is that you’re doing and you’re happy with it, you think you’re doing OK, there’s nothing that needs to change, that’s fine, you leave it there. So, for, let’s assume, that the product owner group you know, you already create to start the stories. We prioritise our backlog and we also participate in release planning and we think it’s relevant to where we’re going so we have to keep stay there. But there might be other things that they have, you know, had a conversation about, and they say OK, you know what, we haven’t really been conducting backlog refinement sessions and we need to do that a bit more, thoughtfully and, you know, we need to just start doing it basically. That goes in the start place. And maybe they say something about contributing to the product vision and roadmap, and say it’s been someone else that’s been doing that, the product manager has been doing that, but we feel like, you know, the, it trickles down to us and it comes as a surprise, we need to contribute earlier so that we can also give the team perspective into things, so we can put that in the ‘More of’ etc etc. But the key thing is, it’s about facilitating those conversations. And it doesn’t stop here. Once we’ve done this part, it’s now about focusing on the elements in the outer rectangle to identify what’s the action that’s required for this. So, if you said you don’t facilitate or you don’t do backlog refinement sessions, what action needs to be done and who’s going to own it after this session?
And they, as a group, you know, there’s this saying, if they write it, they won’t fight it. As a coach, as an agile coach, it’s not about being the sage on the stage, it’s about being their guide by their side. So you ask them, OK, so you have, and of your own free will, I didn’t tell you to start doing it, but you said you do need to start doing it, so what are you going to do about it? Because, you know, if you tell them, then the ownership for following up with that action is going to be on me if I told them, but if they said, this is what we think we need to do, and this is who, I mean, I think I’ll own it, then they’re more likely to follow through with the actual action, so they will, you know, identify who owns it, what they’re going to do, and the writing of the same happens with the rest of the items on the board. So for this case study, some of the outcomes were, there was an improved visibility and shared understanding of what people were doing. And of course, during the session, the fact that it was visual, it wasn’t like a spreadsheet or a long Word document, not that there’s anything wrong with it, but most people process, you know we all process information differently and having it visually on stickys helped with, you know, bringing or bridging that gap in communication and giving us a point of reference that we all could zone into. So, it helped with relevant conversations, both as a group and after the session they were also able to show this to their line management, and have necessary conversations with them.
And for some of them, the product management group, they were able to demonstrate, because they would say, I had a lot on my plate, and the line management would be like, she’s complaining again, but by the time we did this, and they showed an electronic copy of it to the line management, they said, oh, you actually do a whole lot, right, and that meant a case for an additional set of business analysts to be added to the team to help them with those sorts of things, to invent the responsibility on their plate. It enabled them to identify actions to move from their current state to the desired future state and, you know, they have also role descriptions that takes into account the context of the work they do, that they can share with their stakeholders, because there was a confusion about who does what.
So, some facilitation tips as I round off this. It’s more effective if you do it role by role. You know, don’t try to boil the ocean, there are instances you can do it as a whole team, but my focus right now, on this case study, is more about, you know, on a role, so if it’s for scum masters, within a team of teams, then bring them together so they have a joint understanding. If it’s a product management, or product owner etc etc, but do it role by role, because that helps with focusing the session. And don’t start with a blank slate. Prepopulate the centre of the board with generic responsibilities and then have them add things or remove things as they see fit. Now it’s really about being a neutral facilitator in this process, because it’s now them having conversations. Now, encourage conversation and debate whilst keeping focused on desirable outcomes and then remind them that, you know, this is not a once and done activity. Things will change, and as they do, you don’t have to do it often, but as things change, and you feel they’re significantly changed that you need to have another of these conversations, you do so, and inspect and adapt as required. So, before we summarise, what would be your key takeaway from this talk? Anyone? OK, I’ll walk to you, I’m not throwing.
Thank you. Maybe we all recognise, because I also saw it in your model, that stopping and handover are mainly the most difficult topics to discuss. How did you handle those things? Because if you look at the model now, it doesn’t seem a lot went off their plate. More or less it shifted or put on their plate.
OK, I was asking for key takeaways, but you know, you’ve given me a question so I will answer that. No problem. So you said stopping and handover are the most important aspects, and how did I get them, keep them focused on that conversation? It’s all about asking questions but I can’t tell them you have to stop it, you need to have them come to a realisation and sometimes it’s a conversation that you might have with them a few times before they come to the realisation themselves, but it’s not about telling them what to do, so I, when I facilitate these sessions, I don’t tell them what they need to do, I just ask questions to clarify, OK, what you are doing, do you think you still need to keep it? Yes, OK. Is it adding value to your stakeholders, your customers, does it make it more efficient, no? So why do you think we should keep it, because it’s the way we’ve always done it. OK, so I leave it there and it might not be the right time to pursue it, but I try to encourage them to, you know, consider things that they can stop and handover. So it’s a interfaced question and it’s also like there’s no one-size-fits-all-approach. But thank you very much sir for that question. So, I’ll just round up.
Classroom based training is almost never enough. We need to support them to kind of, make sense of whatever they’ve learnt, and teams, because they as teams and individuals sometimes, I personally sometimes struggle to apply what I’ve learnt in the classroom, on a course, into my real life context. So sometimes that additional support is needed, sometimes we have to roll up our sleeves and help them to have those conversations. And my humble submission is, would you consider using maybe the SLoMoSH Canvas for these sort of conversations, would that help you? For me, for the team that I’ve used it with, it’s made things clearer for them. I wouldn’t say it’s a Fairy Godmother. You know, I wave the wand and they lived happily ever after, but that hobble has definitely gone. I’m now going to find a dentist to go help me on with the toothache, because there are always going to be problems to be solved. So, with that, that’s all I have. Thank you so much for listening and for not falling asleep on me.
That’s all we have for now. Thanks for listening. If you liked this show, do subscribe at www.agileinnovationleaders.com or your favourite podcast provider. Also share with friends and do leave a review on iTunes. This would help others find this show. I’d also love to hear from you, so please drop me an email at email@example.com Take care and God bless!