Interview with Diana Larsen

It has been our privilege to interview Diana Larsen who is co-founder of Agile Fluency™ Project, Author, Speaker, Agile Coach & Agility Consultant. She is a Visionary Pragmatist and helps to build capability and capacity in teams and organisations.

We discussed about Agile Fluency Model, Agile Standup Meetings, her idea of a healthy team and Agile Retrospectives with her in the interview.

Q1. Improv activities can bring improvements in Agile standup meetings. Elaborate a little on this with your experience.

Diana: I’m not trained in Improv techniques, and don’t agree that these activities contribute to standup meetings. They may be wonderful and fun activities for team building at other times, but standup offers the most benefit when they are kept brief (30-60 seconds per team member) and to the point––sustaining communication about the state of the work. It helps when team members know the questions ahead of time and come prepared to answer them succinctly. I recommend that each person write their answer on an index card to bring to the meeting.

However, the “three questions” don’t need to always be the same. Instead of improv activities, for fun and variety insert new questions from time to time, e.g. every other week or monthly. As you try new questions, make sure they stay focused on the work. Some possible variations:

Set A. (The Classic)

1) What story did you work on yesterday? Who worked on it with you? 2) What story do you plan to tackle today? Who will you work with on it? 3) What obstacles, if any, do you anticipate to finishing?

Set B. (Shared Learning)

1) In the work you did yesterday, what did you learn that could help the whole team? 2) What do you hope to learn today? How will you share it with all of us? 3) What gets in the way of your learning?

Set C. (Finding Help)

1) What helpful resources (e.g., websites, books, articles, repositories, team member expertise, etc.) did you access yesterday for your work? 2) Where will you look for help today? 3) When have you found it difficult to find helpful resources? What gets in the way?

Set D. (Achieving the Plan)

1) How did you help the team move toward our iteration plan yesterday? 2) How will you help us move forward on the plan today? 3) What will impede your progress? 4) On a scale of 0 (no way) – 5 (super confident), how confident are you that we will complete all the work in our iteration plan?

Set E. (Continuous Integration)

1) What did you commit yesterday? 2) What do you hope to commit today? 3) What hinders your ability to continuously integrate your work today?

–– By the way, the path to removing any obstacles, impediments, hindrances, or problems should be discussed separately outside of the standup meeting.

Q2. What defines a ‘Healthy’ team?

Diana: A healthy team has a shared work focus–delivering a feature, designing a product, serving a customer domain. The members know the outcome they have come together to accomplish. They also have learned to raise difficulties, conflicts, and potential “elephants in the room” while they are small, even though it may be uncomfortable to do so. They’ve learned the value of working together for improving their product quality, their work process, their teamwork, and their communication with those outside of their team. If they don’t hold regular, useful Retrospective meetings, they find another path toward continuous learning and improvement. Team members support each other.

Q3. What motivated you to work around ‘Agile Fluency’ Model and present it to the Agile Community?

Diana: James Shore and I had been working closely together for several years. During that time we had many discussions about Agile values, principles, practices, and healthy teams. The actual trigger was a conversation we had about how to improve a workshop we were presenting. That conversation led us to explore the idea of fluency in agile practices, and how those might be different for various situations. We decided to share our ideas as they developed with our local Agile meetup groups, at regional conferences, and with practitioners whose work we admire. When we began getting consistent feedback that the Agile Fluency Model was ready for publishing more broadly, we worked with Martin Fowler to make it available through his website. That was August 2012. In subsequent years, many folks shared with us their stories of using the model and we developed additional resources at our clients’ requests. Those new experiences helped us to learn more about how the Agile Fluency Model could help teams and organizations, so we updated the whitepaper earlier this year with new content. It’s available from the home page of our website at the click of a button.

Q4. Agile Retrospectives can make good teams great. How is that possible? At times, it becomes difficult to make young practitioners understand the significance of retrospectives. Please suggest ways to overcome such situation.

Diana: In most cultures there is a proverb that says something like, “There is always room for improvement.” That is true for software teams, as well as other instances. When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we die. Regular Retrospective meetings are a way (not the only way, but one good one) to ensure that teams are always focused on what they can learn about doing better and how they can experiment their way to improved product quality, improved work process, improved teamwork and team member relations, improved communication with parties outside of the team, and on and on.

Younger team members often have had an unsatisfactory relationship with formal learning and believe they have been hired because they already “know it all.” And they probably are very intelligent, knowledgable people or the company wouldn’t have hired them. Thus, they can become reluctant to admit there are things they don’t know. But the world, particularly the world of software, is changing too fast to rely on past knowledge. We must open ourselves to what we don’t know yet and be prepared for continuous learning on many levels. Holding Retrospectives helps to support that effort.


Diana Larsen is the author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, Liftoff: Start and Sustain Successful Agile Teams, and Five Rules for Accelerated Learning. For more than 20 years she has worked with leaders to design work systems, improve project performance, and support leadership and enterprise agility.

An active speaker and contributor to her professional community, Diana has contributed in leadership roles to the Agile Alliance, the Organization Design Forum, and the Agile Open Initiative.


Interview with Linda Rising

Being fearless is similar to being Agile, says Linda Rising – an author, speaker and an independent consultant. Our conversation began with discussing her experience in varied field, primary challenges to make change happen and how can change be fearless in the world of uncertainties.

In the second part of interview, she explained effectiveness of Agile meetings, solutions to make decisions in less time and her secret of being successful.

Let us take you through our discussion;

Q1. How does your experience in different fields of university teaching and software development help each other?

Linda: I believe a variety of educational and work experiences informs what anyone does. As humans, we have a tendency to narrow our focus. Anything that can help us lift our heads and look around and see other points of view will help us do a better job of solving problems and making better decisions.

Q2. What are three biggest challenges to make change happen? How can they be addressed without hitting on people’s motivation?

Linda: The three biggest challenges we face are our own beliefs.

(1) We believe that people are rational decision makers, when all the evidence from behavioral economics shows that we are not. If we fail to consider how people feel about change and only rely on facts to convince, we will fail.

(2) We believe that our ideas are “good” and that “goodness will win in the end.” We have only to look at the failure throughout history of many great and “good” ideas to know that this is not true. Goodness is a relative term. People in our organizations can see even the best idea as threatening. Again, failure to consider other points of view and the fears others have, even of good ideas, will get in our way.

(3) Regarding resistors as stupid or bad and thus ignoring them will hinder our change efforts. The work of E. M. Rogers shows that a predictable population of adoption curve will describe the initial results of a innovation in any domain. Everything from agricultural ideas to technological break-throughs will cause some to be happy and others to resist. The belief that we in any environment will all react in the same way is asking for trouble. Some people will always love new ideas — let them experiment. Others will always be afraid — let them hang on to the benefits of the status quo to ensure they are not forgotten. Get the best from all your people. That’s the way progress is made.

Q3. People resist change. One of your books is titled ‘Fearless Change’. How can change be fearless with so many uncertainties attached to it?

Linda: Life is full of uncertainties. It has always been a struggle to move forward. The Innovators and Early Adopters have always led the way and the Late Majority and Laggards have resisted. This population of adoption has enabled our survival as a species. Imagine our stone age ancestors uncovering some new variety of fruit. Should everyone eat it immediately? We were typically hungry all the time. The answer is “No.” Let the adventuresome try it. The others will follow along as they are comfortable. Some will never eat it. This is all good. This means survival. This is still with us today. We should embrace it and use it.

Q4. Meetings are hated by many. What is your take on Agile Meetings and its frequency? Please provide 3 quick tips on how to avoid it turning into a time sink for organizations.

Linda: More meetings should be stand-up. Evidence shows that this will not only shorten the meetings, it changes the dynamic. The powerful loud guy who sits at the end will no longer dominate. When people stand and move around, the process becomes more democratic and more inclusive and more fun. More organizations should try it — not just for the daily stand-up.

Q5. How can a Product Champion and a Product Owner be differentiated? According to you, what characteristics a Product Champion should posses?

Linda: This depends on the organization and the product. There are small organizations with small products who only need one role. There are large organizations with complex products who need many people to play many roles related to product ownership. The question to ask is, “Who will answer the various questions from development?” That answer will determine the number and kind of roles.

Q6. Decision making on time is of paramount importance for any business to grow. Is there any solution to take decisions in less time.

Linda: Involve as many others as possible who take diverse points of view and hear from them independently.

Q7. Where do you see Agile Community heading today?

Linda: We are on the road. Agile today is not what agile was 10 years ago. That is a good thing.

Q8. If you have reveal one secret of being successful to our readers, what it would be?

Linda: Keep learning. Stay open. Listen, listen, listen. These are really all one thing.



Linda Rising is an independent consultant who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She has authored four books and numerous articles and is an internationally known presenter on topics related to patterns, retrospectives, influence strategies, Agile development, and the change process.

With a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in the field of object-based design metrics, Linda’s background includes university teaching and software development in a number of different domains.