Interview with Dov Tsal

This interview is special and interesting. When I started interviewing Dov Tsal, he suggested a Ping-Pong format, which started a week long exchange of thoughts wherein we both answered each other’s questions.

I first met Dov during Agile Gururgam 2017 Conference at the Leela Ambience, Gurugram. His session on ‘Agile thru Mindfulness’ was an enlightening experience. I got to learn how a team forms an opinion or makes a decision, and how I make one. Here I bring you our ping-pong interview session-

Q1A. What’s one thing no one knows about you?

Dov:  A tough one… I’ll give you two I just thought of now.
1. My itch, the thing I love to scratch, is complexity.
I love seeing and finding elegant solutions to undefined/open problems, to put aesthetic order in place. Be it in art, music, math or the challenging of all, human dynamics.
2. I refuse to be taken seriously and may deny anything I say.

As interviewee: Q1B. why me ?

As interviewer: Q1B. if you could have the true answer to one question in the world, what would it be?

or perhaps an easier one, why are you doing interviews? What’s in it for you?

Noopur:  As an interviewer – You, because you inspired me when I first met you during Agile Gurugram Conference. You are not a regular person we meet every now and then, you leave your impression which is long lasting. Let me tell you that you are a rare species. There is a lot the world should know about Dov.

As an interviewee – There is one question I would like to answer myself ‘Damn! Will I be able to handle it?” and the answer would be – “Challenge Accepted”. 🙂

I love interviewing/talking to people, be it a street side flower shop guy or a great thought leader in a particular industry. Everyone brings a new aspect of life which either I have not seen or experienced. I get matured as a person.

Q2A. What inspires you the most?

Dov: This one is easy, I fell in love with the book of Tao a few years back, it helped me make sense of all I felt in the world so far, that the important things have no name, that the world is ever changing, that the best way to live is with open eyes and closed judgment, that we are one and I am many.
This old fool, Lauzi, who didn’t manage to convince his boss the Emperor of China to make an Agile transformation in his empire, was (so the legend says) kind-of forced to write all his world-view before he parted the world. I have the book in my bag most of the time and read it when I need an advice.

My turn,

Q2B. Can you give me a “will I be able to handle it” example? When’s the last time you posed this question?

Noopur: Whenever I am out of my comfort zone or scared of something, this question pops-up in my head like any other human being.

Last time, I thought so when I decided to learn swimming with drowning in water being one of my biggest fears. I said “challenge accepted” to myself and today I am at second stage of making my backstroke perfect.

These are simple and small incidents of life which I enjoy. Moreover, I am in a profession where none of the book’s knowledge or theory works, I have to change my strategy with time, product, market, geographical location etc.

Q3A. If you have to choose one between travelling and books, what would it be?

Dov: You kind-of answered it yourself!

  • Books lack the interaction, they lead you on a predefined path, while traveling drops you in the water (to use your metaphor!)
  • Besides, how could we have met if I read a book instead of traveling to India?

Q3B. Is there a word in your language (and btw – what is your language?) that is untranslatable to english? And what does it mean?

Noopur: My mother tongue is Hindi.

Haha. There is one word called ‘Jugaad’ (जुगाड़) in Hindi which I feel is so difficult to translate to English. It means ‘low-cost solutions to any problem in a smart and intelligent way’. It is about doing more with less. Just google and check out some amazing Jugaad products.

Q4A. What do you like the most about your job?

Dov: That everyday’s an adventure, it allows me to talk to anyone in the organization, and to connect the dots, see some things that people who work there for years (sometimes decades) may skip because they are too familiar or taken for granted.

When I see success, the satisfaction is enormous! Since a success usually implies happier people with increased sense of contribution and purpose, and a happier and more focused organization.

And last, it is a role that allows me to learn every day something new about myself and the world around me.

Q4B. It’s funny that the word you chose involves agility! I consider Ganesha the lord of agilists – the good-natured remover of impediments (I even tattooed him on my arm…),

  • Do you think the Indian culture is closer to the agile spirit than the western one? In what do they differ?

Noopur: Whether closer than western culture, I can’t comment. But of course, the Indian culture is quite close to the Agile spirit.  Agile talks about adapting to changing environment and India has undergone so many changes in the history and emerged strong with each incident.

In our culture we say “Athithi devo Bhava” meaning Guests are like God, so we should respect them and  take care of all their needs. It is similar to how in business we value our customers and their requirements.

Q.5A What makes you say that Ganesha is Lord of Agilists?

Dov: Let’s see…

  • Remover of impediments, a classic Scrum master!
  • Patron of arts and sciences – Agile is a dance that combines both!
  • He changed his head completely! – isn’t it a great transformation?!
  • He is a good-natured god, a people-oriented one, an enabler.
  • Has big ears to listen, big tummy to retain.

And in his four hands:

  • Lower right: The Abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) symbolizes Ganesh’s blessings and protection on a person’s (Agile) journey through life.
  • Upper right hand: an axe, with which he is said to cut off all attachments of life (to old habits and processes)
  • Upper left: He pulls the devotees nearer to the spiritual path by the rope (Agile requires discipline)
  • Lower left: He offers rewards for amends (sadhana) done with the modak (the sweetness of taking your destiny in your hands)

Besides, just look at him! Any other deity looks more like an agile coach? (and no, Laozi, or Buddha for that matter, are not a deity)
Sometimes your heart just knows stuff, and your head has to find the excuses (I’m reading about it now in “Thinking- fast and slow”)

Q5B. Can you tell me a small story that happened to you this week (since we started the interview)?

Noopur: First of all, let me tell you I am so impressed with your observations about Lord Ganesh and his agility. 🙂

A very cute thing happened with me this week. I was walking down the street towards the market with my 3 year old niece and was passing an old lady sitting on footpath selling flowers and fresh vegetables. Whenever we pass her for the last 3 years, she offers a flower to my niece and adores her. It is almost a 3 years’ practice for her. When my niece and I were buying stuff at a supermarket, she insisted me to buy a big chocolate. I was telling her “No” as a strict aunt without knowing her intentions but she made me buy one. While going back home, we were passing that old lady again who was busy selling flowers and vegetables. My niece went to her and gave that big chocolate to the old lady and said “Thank You” to her. Everybody present there was appreciating her for the good deed. I was so overwhelmed to witness something so innocent and pure.

Dov: (We sometimes tend to suspect behavior we don’t understand, don’t we?)

Noopur: Yes, as I did when she asked me to buy a big chocolate. 

Q6A. How is this interview going for you? What is one thing you liked about it?

Dov: Since it’s my first interview, it’s my best one so far!

  • I like the double role we took and the interaction! Waaay cooler than receiving questions and answering them!
  • I find thinking of questions quite hard! There is a difference between an interesting question and a question that leads to an interesting answer, and frankly – I find the role of the interviewer more challenging (the role of a coach is not to sound smart but to put focus on the other person)
  • The fact we take our time to answer (we started 5 days ago) is interesting, as well as the possibility to edit and tweak the answers.

Single out one thing? the meta, that a part of the interview is about the interview itself 😉

Q6B. And for you?

Noopur: An interviewer getting interviewed is interesting. It helped me unleash a lot of things about myself.  Being an interviewer, I read and research about the person I am going to interview and his/her background. This ping-pong way of interview has given me opportunity to take some time and think about what I feel, what I like and what I am. Thank you for this amazing experience where my thoughts are also valued. 🙂

Q7. A What is the one question you think I haven’t asked you, and should have asked?

Dov: I don’t believe in should-have, what happends is that only thing that should happen (an open-space/ daoist principle)

Some subjects I love to talk about and we didn’t:

  • The relationship between Taoism to Agile
  • How to see an organisation as a living organism, How a team (at any scale) can be seen as one/ many, and a person as many/ one (and what’s it good for), that’s the talk I gave.
  • My experience as an agile-oriented drawing-’teacher’ and drawing as a way of listening.
  • Behavioral economics (or how to see/understand/accept irrational behavior)
  • The role of humor in agile, coaching and life.

But, as Steven Wright said: “You can’t have everything, where would you put it?

Q7B. Would you take anything from our exchange to your next interview?

Noopur: I believe I need to have a Part 2 of interview with you.  

Most important thing I have learned during this session is ‘Don’t just interview people, talk to them’.

Another thing I will be definitely taking from our conversation is, letting others ask questions to me. Haha.

*Part A’s of questions are asked to Dov Tsal and Part B’s of questions are asked to Noopur by Dov.



Dov, is an avid agilist, who started his professional journey as a software-developer and ‘manager’. The Agile movement met his frustration ten years ago, in time to become a scrum-master, a product owner and an Agile-coach. The more he worked, the more he felt transformation should focus on mindset and the will to change, hence Dov currently works closely with HR departments in addition to IT, and helps tailor specific solutions rather than apply a one-process-fits-all approach.

Interview with Mike Burrows

I am very excited to present to you interview with Mike Burrows, author of ‘Kanban from the Inside’.

In his book, Mike has spoken on how to apply techniques to work to shift an organization’s focus on quality, flow, learning and experimentation. He has provided real-world, pragmatic, examples that support the foundational principles of the book. This time, I got to talk to him not just about Kanban and his book but also about some personal aspects of his life that has been life-changing for him. Let’s begin with our conversation.

Q1. How Kanban has changed your world?

Mike: Kanban quickly resonated with me because it gave me a language to understand phenomena and patterns that I long observed, first as a developer and then as a manager. I tried it for real in my role as CTO (2009-2011) and after that there was no going back!

Q2. What was the driving factor to write the book ‘Kanban from the Inside”?

Mike: My personal breakthrough was the articulation of a values model abstracted from the principles and practices of the method. It helped me explain the very human concerns that motivated Kanban’s ‘insiders’ that can unfortunately get lost in the noise when the details of technique, metrics, and so on get discussed. I also found a freedom in the structure – I could step back from the nitty-gritty of Kanban techniques and through the values make connections with longer-established bodies of knowledge such as Agile and Lean. “Understand the method, connect it to what you already know, and keep it positive”, to misquote the book’s strapline.

Q3. One thing you feel is still missing in the way Agile transformations are happening across the globe?

Mike: In one word that is also one of those values, agreement. Too many top-down transformation don’t start with engagement on outcomes. Similarly – and just as inexcusably – most bottom-up approaches are too inward-looking or too defensive to engage effectively. Where engagement does happen, it doesn’t last for long enough, because not enough attention is given to how it (and with it the transformation) will be sustained. I hinted at these issues in the book and pursued them ever since, and Agendashift was born.

Q4. What do you wish for the Agile Community worldwide?

Mike: I would like the Agile movement to be celebrated for what it has achieved, and then to work towards it being taken for granted. That would be world-changing!

Q5. How do you balance professional and personal life?

Mike: That’s a very big question. Through a combination of circumstance and deliberate choice my wife and I share a demanding personal life dominated by significant medical and social issues. I’m not sure that it would be at all compatible with a corporate career of the kind I enjoyed a decade ago, but in my new life as an entrepreneur my time is my own and it seems to work. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Q6. What is your biggest achievement in life?

Mike: Another big question, and I’ll limit my answer to work-related things. Probably the most gratifying experience was launching Agendashift with two dozen partners already on board. I had no idea how much energy, support, and learning I would draw from those early conversations and every onboarding call I’ve done since has been a positive experience. That in itself has been a valuable learning for me.

Q7. How is your experience working with INNOVATION ROOTS?

Mike: It has been fantastic to have partners in India who care about things that I care about and who I enjoy relating to at a personal level. Looking forward immensely to my next trip!

Q8. Final words for our readers…

Mike: I am very much looking forward to catching up with everyone at Lean Kanban India 2017. I’m thrilled also to have the opportunity to work again with my long-time collaborator Patrick Steyaert at the 2-day Flow Days workshop the following week. I hope to see you there!



Mike is author of “Kanban from the Inside” (the first values-based treatment of the Kanban Method, based on his experience as interim CTO for a late-stage startup) and founder of Agendashift, the home of an integrated set of online, workshop-based and coaching tools for a growing community of Lean-Agile transformation practitioners. Prior to these roles, he was Executive Director and global development manager for a top tier investment bank. His new book Agendashift: clean conversations, coherent collaboration, continuous transformation is due out later this year.