Interview with Lynne Cazaly on Agile Thinking

Lynne Cazaly – a speaker, author, facilitator, trainer and mentor carries perfect combination of being engaging, inspiring, creative and effective. She helps leaders to lead their team through transformation and change for stronger engagement, clarity and improved performance.

In our recent conversation with Lynne, we discussed about Visual Sensemaking, Future of Agile, Challenges in writing a book, and her vision of Change. Here is our interesting conversation which brought about valuable information for our readers;

Q1. Tell us something about yourself. What was your educational background? How and why did you come to choose Agile as profession? What were some of your biggest careers challenges?

Lynne: I’ve always loved and enjoyed creating and making things… not in an artistic way, but in a way of ‘getting it done’ or ‘making it up’. While Agile may not be my actual profession, I have done a lot of work with Agile teams and Agile leaders to help them lead collaborative environments, help them communicate with each other better and work with other parts of their organisation more fluidly.

My background was in communications. I studied Arts and worked in Public Relations and Communications roles in health, sport, art, government, training, and education. About 20 years ago I started my own consultancy and began working to facilitate communications for clients; I’d facilitated their strategic planning or communication or team days and found that I really enjoyed working in helping a team to be more productive, collaborative, creative and effective.

Some of my biggest career challenges involved being a lone voice or a ‘the first woman to…’. I headed up a sporting association and was frequently the only woman at every meeting. I had to work to get my voice heard. As a result of these challenges I’m deeply focused on inclusion and on helping people contribute in team sessions and workshops.

Q2. What is Lynne Cazaly’s vision of ‘change’? How would you describe it succinctly and definitely in your language.

Lynne: My vision of change is more incremental than transformational. I like the idea of being able to tweak, to adjust and to make smaller changes ongoing, rather than a big massive shift in one stage. People are able to get used to a little tweak and shift and it’s not as earth shattering for them. While they may be change weary with lots of little changes occurring constantly, a shift is possible. This occurs over time rather than trying to make one big sweeping change of everyone all at once.

Q3. Describe Lynne’s process of interacting with Business Leaders whilst bringing about change. How receptive are the leaders to newer approaches in your experiences ? And what do you advice to curbing possible friction?

Lynne: I’m most often contacted by a business leader who is trying to introduce, shift and make changes in their team, organisation and culture. While a few of the key stakeholders might be interested and in agreement, there are always people who aren’t. Even if they say they want change, when it comes to the workshop or session that is about designing that change and then doing the work to implement that change, you’ll see people’s resistance to it.

Sometimes people disagree at a high level, around a philosophy or a bigger belief. Other times they’ll disagree at a more concrete or detailed level, down in the details about a story or an event or something that’s happened to them before. Friction, debate, feisty conversation… all of these things are natural human interactions. Not always, but we need to accept that some of it is going to be healthy to tease out the truth and to work through the genuine concerns people have. As a facilitator and having developed models and training programs in facilitation, I’m a big believer in letting some of the issues come out. Stop trying to contain them or hide them or sweep them under the carpet. One of the best things to do as the meeting leader or facilitator is to mention the issues or concerns you know that people have. This is a great technique I learnt some years ago from the Groupwork Institute in Australia. They call it ‘naming ghosts’… and it’s about saying the things that you know people are thinking but perhaps they are too fearful to raise them or they’re waiting until later in a meeting or workshop to shake up the agenda. Mentioning them very early on in a meeting, workshop or project is a great way to get the theme and topic on the table. I find that progress is always easier once the ghosts have been mentioned.

Q4. What is ‘Visual Sensemaking’? Give an overview of the benefits this offers to people and how they can get started?

Lynne: Visual Sensemaking is a way that humans can make sense of complex information in these times of uncertainty. It’s not art… it’s smart. It involves mapping out visually, say on a whiteboard or in a notepad, what you know, what’s going on. That doesn’t mean it has to be pretty or clever or correct or artistic. It could be three circles interlinked like a venn diagram, or it could be a box with two arrows pointing into it with some text in the middle. Whatever you do, you’re helping other people make sense of it. We’re all sitting here with these mental models in our heads and we never know if we’re thinking alike. The only way we can work that, usually, is to talk and talk and talk and talk until we think we’ve worked out what each of us are thinking. But Visual Sensemaking takes that talking and starts to draw it or visualise it. A few shapes, some keywwords. This instantly helps people ‘see what you’re thinking’. You’ve mapped the information from your brain onto a piece of paper or a drawing app on a tablet or device and now we have something to talk about. The sooner we can ‘get on the same page’ the sooner we can decide and the sooner we can act. In my book ‘Making Sense: A Handbook for the Future of Work’ I talk about the three phases of visual Sensemaking being: think, map, act. Map out what you’re thinking and you’ll be more able to act on it – individually making sense, or collectively. You don’t need any art skills to do this, although I do run workshops and sessions that help build people’s confidence when it comes to sketching and scribing and drawing. We seem to be quite fearful of showing our thoughts like this… oh but we are happy to talk and talk and talk and talk for hours! To be more efficient, to get people on board with your project or ideas quicker, I recommend using a visual map of some type and helping people make sense.

Q5. Share some insight on ‘Leader as Facilitator’. Mention some of the positive changes it can bring into your organization, and the negative side-effects, if there can be any.

Lynne: ‘Leader as Facilitator’ is a concept I’ve written about in a book of the same name, ‘Leader as Facilitator: How to engage, inspire and get work done’. It addresses the changing nature of leadership. That we are shifting from command and control and directive work environments to more consultative, and now to more collaborative, creative, engaging workplaces where we as leaders need to get and gather the input of people in the team. It’s not up to them to step up or being more of a contributor; well not fully on them. It’s also on the team leader to create the right environment where people want to contribute, where they feel psychologically safe enough to express their thoughts and ideas and contributions. So the leader needs to be more of a facilitator. Professional facilitators of workshops use incredibly nuanced techniques to manage group dynamics, encourage safety in the group and then achieve an outcome and make great progress. You don’t have to be a full time facilitator to make use of these techniques. As a leader you can get yourself ready to facilitate, create the right environment for everyone to contribute, run a process or method for the meeting or workshop and then handle anything that happens on the day from people’s behaviour in the room or group. I identify these four steps in the book: You, Environment, Process, Responses. I’m seeing wonderful responses in teams where the leader adopts some of the principles of contemporary facilitation. The trouble with some facilitation is that some of the techniques are dated or cliched or sound like platitudes, not genuine statements of care. I’ve blogged on a few of these cliches and think it’s time to update the leadership language by incorporating some contemporary facilitation language.

Q6. You’re a renowned published author, share some of the challenges, as well as responsibilities that go into it? Do you find there is increased personal direct feedback on your work after you’re finally published?

Lynne: Yes I’ve published five books and have another two books that were printed for specific conference and client events. I have many more ideas and book topics underway for the next five or more! One of the main challenges is narrowing your topic. You start writing and you want to include everything on the topic, all of your thoughts, but that’s not the point. You need to look at the market of all of the others books on this topic and ask yourself ‘what do I know? what could I add here? What is the ‘slice’ of information on this topic that I can add?’ That’s the point. Add what you know and what you think. So there is the writing of the book and then there is the structure, the editing, the layout and design, the cover, the references, the printing and sales, the fulfilment. I really use my books as a door opener to my services, my keynote presentations and workshops. I’m at the point where each of my main workshops for clients and the public has a book to go with it. For example, I train people in visual thinking so I have a book called ‘Visual Mojo’ that goes with that. I run ‘Leader as Facilitator’ programs so I have the book to go with that. I deliver keynotes on Agile topics so I’ve just published a book called ‘Agile-ish: How to create a culture of agility’. There might be an expectation that in writing an Agile book it will be a handbook and have the whole history and very detailed ‘how to’ on Agile. I’ll leave that to Steve Denning’s wonderful book ‘The Age of Agile’. But no, not me. What I know is how to help teams make the shift from old ways of working to new ways of working…to introducing some Agile-ish ways of working. It might not be perfect or finished or done but that’s the beauty of ‘ish’. It means ‘somewhat’. And everyone on an Agile journey is going to be ish at some point. Yes, you certainly open yourself up to comment and feedback on your writing. It’s interesting and I enjoy receiving people’s feedback when they’ve actually read the book and can see the slice of the topic that I’m addressing and then have some feedback. I don’t have much time for critics who are making themselves feel better by critiquing based on the title or the book description – they haven’t read it. I’ll usually ask them to direct me to where I can get a copy of the book they’ve written on what they think, or their blog posts and presentations or published thinking. Inevitably they haven’t and they’ll point at other people’s thinking that they agree with. That’s great – you agree with that. Now let’s hear what YOUR thoughts are? Tell me what you think…write about it, publish your thinking. There’s nothing stopping you. Or is there?

Q7. Mention some of your views on the future of Agile, and Agility? What trends do you see prevailing in the coming time?

Lynne: I wrote about the ish-ness of Agile as it’s getting mashed up and becoming a bit of a fusion. Some of the purists don’t like this. But it’s a little like a tidal wave. You can’t stop it but you can influence it. Every sphere of thinking goes through evolution and change and morphs into the new version of itself. Rather than arguing or debating or conflicting, perhaps you have some thoughts on where you think it’s going – let’s hear them. At Agile conferences you’ll often see people presenting on definitions or the original early intentions or the difference between this and that, in an effort to educate and make people stick to the correctness of it all. But let’s see where this is going. What else is Agile mixing in with? How is Lean, Systems Thinking, Innovation, Design Thinking, User Experience, Customer Experience, Human Resources, Thought Leadership… all of these things mixing and melding and moulding into something new? What will it be called? Who know? As I wrote about in ‘Agile-ish: How to create a culture of agility’, we need to be aware that while working in an area of thinking known as Agile, we too need to be Agile. The biggest irony I see is how fixed we can be in our views about what Agile is and what it should be and what it shouldn’t be. Maybe we need to let go a little and see where it is going and what the next iteration of Agile is as more people express their views and insights from working with it for 15 years. Let’s be open to iterate agile. *gasp!*

Q8.  Mention some of your future ambitions and objectives. How would you like to see Agile thinking evolve?

Lynne: I’m intent on continuing to publish my thinking and insights. As I experience things working with teams and groups I’ll continue to write and publish. My goal is a book a year for the next 10 years. I’m halfway through that but I think I’ll still go for another 10 years (or 30 years) on this; it’s a great experience to work out what you think and then put that thinking out there in the world to add to the discussion, the learning, the insights. The people build on that, just as I’ve built on what I’ve read and learned. I have plans afoot to launch an online learning university of sorts, delivering lots of programs in the skills that people need in the workplace – not the technical stuff, but the human, social and people skills we need. As well as that, I have a couple of app/platform ideas that are in the early stages of development so I too am being Agile with those!

Q9. What would be the most valuable piece of advice you would give future Agile Coaches, Researchers and aspiring authors?

Lynne: Beware of not being too perfect. You too need to iterate. That means working on small pieces or packets of work, putting it out there, making adjustments and changes to it. This goes for your own work, your own creative thinking and publishing or your own career. Expecting perfection on the first pass or in the first job or on the first project is putting a little too much pressure on yourself and on others you work with. If we could be more Agile ourselves, more flexible and adaptive, we’d struggle less with the resistance to change we’re trying to lead in others.



Lynne Cazaly is a Keynote Speaker, Author and Facilitator. She is the author of 5 books: ‘Agile-ish: How to create a culture of agility’, ‘Leader as Facilitator: How to inspire, engage and get work done’, ‘Making Sense: A Handbook for the Future of Work’, ‘Create Change: How to apply innovation in an era of uncertainty’, and ‘Visual Mojo: How to capture thinking, convey information and collaborate using visuals’. She works with project teams, executives and senior leaders on major change and transformation projects. She helps people distil their thinking, apply ideas and innovation and boost the engagement and collaboration effectiveness of teams.


Colin O’Neill on Lean Culture and its’ adoption

Colin O’ Neill is a renowned, pioneering Thought Leader with a remarkable degree of Global Esteem. He’s had an impeccable career, that involves exemplary service at the US Marine Corps, to working as a renowned force in Agile Transformations in corporate America with Fortune 500 companies. His record of achievement includes being the visionary Co-founder and CEO of Scaled Agile inc., as well as a continuous, innovative serial entrepreneur.

We were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to interview him and ask some of our pertinent queries regarding Lean Culture, Lean Adoption, Agile and his perspectives on Leadership. Please Read:

Q1. You previously served in the United States Marine Corps as an Intelligence Officer. Elaborate how that experience reflected on your future career decisions, values, and ethos as an Agile coach and leader.

Colin: I was very fortunate to have served my country as part of the finest fighting force in the world; it was there I learned “servant leadership.” As a junior officer, I thought that rank was what Marines respected, but as I matured I realized that it’s the ability to lead through guidance, example, and logical persuasion that earns another’s respect. These are the same attributes of a successful Agile coach, so my military career was instrumental in preparing me to lead Agile teams, programs, portfolios, and companies.

Q2. What is “Lean”?

Colin: I define Lean as “the rapid creation and delivery of meaningful value in the simplest, most effective manner possible through empowerment and innovation. It is a way of thinking, organizing, operating, and being.” This definition may change over time, but for now it makes the most sense to me.

Q3. Tell us three characteristics of a “Lean Intelligent Enterprise?”

Colin: The successful Lean enterprises that I have encountered seem to consistently demonstrate four key characteristics:

  1. They take the time to train all their people in Lean and Agile ways, and managers lead by example.
  2. They are organized to empower their people through teamwork, cooperation, communication, and respect.
  3. They create value quickly via optimized “value stream” operations.
  4. They continuously look for opportunities to innovate and improve.

Q4. What is the difference between “Lean thinking” and “Lean behavior?”

Colin: Lean thinking is just one aspect of Lean behavior; the other threeaspects of Lean behavior are organizing in a way that facilitates the flow of value creation and delivery, operating cross-functionally rather than vertically, and demonstrating that people and values are important in our culture.

Regarding Lean thinking, a Lean Intelligent Enterprise applies multiple thought frameworks (such as systems thinking, critical thinking, and economic thinking) to gain a holistic view of the enterprise to include values, people, and culture; logical thinking for decision making; and comparative economic analysis as a regular practice. Lean behavior is achieved when organizations shift from functional structures to value streams, which is a prerequisite for optimizing operational flow. When organized in a lean manner, the operations necessary to create, sell, deliver, and support products and services encounter less resistance and consume significantly fewer resources than in non-lean companies.

Q5. You’ve compared Lean business principles to how fighting forces operate. We would love it if you could impart some wisdom and knowledge regarding your work on that, for our readers, in whatever aspect you feel appropriate.

Colin: A Lean organization derives much of its power by employing small, self-managing, cross-functional teams. These teams are then organized into larger collections of teams that deliver value while all striving toward a common goal. Being cross-functional at all levels of an organization allows it to quickly flex to rapidly changing market conditions and customer needs.

This is how the Marine Corps operates—the fundamental operating unit is a team of four individuals who are all trained to perform each other’s job so that in the ferocity of combat, they maximize their ability to rapidly adapt to continuously changing situations within the context of their mission. Multiple four-person teams are further organized into a squad, squads are grouped into a platoon, platoons into a company, and so on up the chain. Each layer of the holistic organization has the basic assets and skills to accomplish its mission, with assistance from supporting functions as the situation dictates.

Civilian organizations can achieve the same levels of effectiveness as crack military units when they create high-performing teams than can scale to deliver larger units of value using the Lean-Agile approach.

Q6. How can we foster “Lean culture?”

Colin: Having worked with dozens of large, multinational organizations over the past three decades, I have discovered that a Lean culture is first successfully created and subsequently maintained through the sustainable intentions of executive leadership. Without a grounded understanding of Lean thinking by an organization’s chief officers, it is very difficult to create a Lean culture. Lean behavior starts at the top—it is then modeled and fostered daily in myriad ways to create a pervasive climate of empowerment and innovation to deliver exceptional value.

An example that comes to mind is John Deere, a global manufacturer of farming and harvesting equipment. While consulting there in 2010, a key internal unit that developed software for many of the “smart” hardware components was about to be outsourced for lack of productivity and failure to deliver on time. Given this stark reality, senior leadership embraced Lean and Agile principles to turn that organization around. Within one year, the entire unit had been transformed and was delivering higher quality software twice as fast as they were before. Only with management’s buy-in and leadership was this organization able to change rapidly and achieve astonishing results.

Q7. As a person with an impeccable track record and distinguished achievements, what do you feel is the proudest moment of your career? Or do you feel it is yet to come.

Colin: One of my proudest accomplishments thus far is co-founding Scaled Agile Inc. with Dean Leffingwell in 2011. According to recent industry research, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has been adopted worldwide ten times more than the next competing Lean-Agile framework. Thousands of companies have successfully applied SAFe and have had tremendous success. While adopting SAFe, all the companies I have worked with have experienced shorter lead times, faster time to market, increased productivity, higher customer satisfaction scores, and improved employee engagement.

As proud as I am of co-founding Scaled Agile, I also believe that my greatest achievement is yet to come. I find myself thinking of the many global challenges faced by humanity, and I hope to contribute in some meaningful way to ease the burden of peoples’ fear of homelessness, disease, and hunger. As temporal Earth travelers, I believe we should all focus on being more inclusive rather than exclusive. This means creating better relationships and being more tolerant of one another. If I can assist even a few of my fellow humans through applying Lean and Agile principles in their daily lives, I feel I will have achieved my purpose.

Q8. Mention what prompted you to finally embark on the path to becoming a business owner, some of the challenges you faced during that period, and how you overcame them.

Colin: I’ve always felt the need to help others solve problems “outside-the-box.” I find myself thinking “there has to be a better way” to make more effective use of our human and natural resources in both business and society. The best way for me to do that was to become an independent consultant to achieve a farther reach and deliver greater impact. I want to see others succeed—that makes me happy and fulfilled.

But being on the leading edge of organizational improvements often meets stiff resistance, so one must be resilient and keep on trying even when the Lean-Agile message is not heeded. Whether one chooses their work as an employee or independent contractor, it’s not easy, but the main thing is to choose the best fit for you.

The scariest part of being a business owner is the unknown. You must take risks and have the confidence to keep moving forward. It’s tough, but the rewards are great. And, well, I’m a Leo, so that makes it a little easier.

Q9. Give us some of your thoughts, predictions, and forecasts regarding Agile for the future, and how it will impact the business landscape. As someone who successfully applied Agile in the Armed Forces, what are the other high-risk, important fields do you think can radically be improved by Agility?

Colin: Agile is here to stay, it’s not another fad. In fact, greater attention is now being paid to “business agility,” which is the application of Lean and Agile across an entire enterprise.

Probably one of the most important fields that can be significantly affected by agile and lean is disaster relief. Consider the tragic earthquake that occurred in Haiti in 2010. Over the last eight years, with support of over a thousand international aid agencies and billions of dollars spent, the relief and rebuilding results have been dismal. If basic Lean and Agile principles had been adopted, starting with small, cross-functional teams organized in a scaled, fractal-like manner to achieve a common set of goals, the country of Haiti and its people would rapidly rise out of the ruins into economic stability. I’ve seen such turnarounds in business, and it would warm my heart to see humans’ lives impacted in such a positive way.

Q10. Finally, tell us about some of your other hobbies and interests aside from your profession. Mention if you feel that they add value/ contribute to your profession and daily life in terms of learning.

Colin: I spend a lot of my free time thinking about the tenuous world-wide housing situation. There simply aren’t enough affordable dwellings to house the world’s population, causing a rise in homelessness and dragging more people into a level of poverty where home ownership is forever out of reach. Before I die, I’d like to apply Lean and Agile thinking and principles to find realistic, scalable solutions to this global housing crisis.

My other interests include the study of eastern spiritual modalities, how the brain works, conscious capitalism, and non-violent communication (a.k.a. compassionate communication). I like to solve New York Times crossword puzzles and restore automotive vehicles from the 1960s and 70s. And living in southern California allows me to spend time at the beach with my family, which is nice.


Colin O’ Neill is a Pioneering Thought Leader, Serial Entrepreneur and Organizational Change Agent with a peerless track record.  Globally renowned for being the founder of Scaled Agile, the world’s leading enterprise Agile consulting, training and certification firm. A lifelong ‘Lean Thinker’, he’s also the founder of Value Stream Global, a Lean-focused value stream management consultancy and LeanIntent, the latter of which is a free, open, crowd-sourced Lean Enterprise database.

A celebrated veteran of the United States Naval service, he’s been also involved in developing Lean Methods for fighting forces and has used his peerless leadership skills in being a reputed problem-solver, and change agent for some of the most prominent Fortune 100 companies across the United States.