Interview with Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is an author, founder and Lean-Agile thought leader. It was an enriching experience to discuss with him on Agile Implementations a decade back and now. He also shared his thoughts on growing and developing as a leader, and why teaching and coaching approach needs to evolve with passage of time.

Q.1 What is your definition of being Agile?

Al: Agile is about teamwork (where the team can be small group to the entire organization) towards an agreed upon goal.  People must work together in a respectful, collaborative way. They must also respect the natural laws of product development and understand that planning only goes so far and therefore must always be looking to adjust as needed.

Q2. Do you see any change in Agile implementations a decade back and now?

Al: Yes. Agile has fractionated into a few camps, some not qualifying as Agile at all. There are those who believe the Agile Manifesto is still the basis for the definition of Agile (I am not one of these). There are others who believe Agile is a combination of being and doing in an attempt to improve the way people work and their general effectiveness (I am in this group). And then there are those that call themselves Agile but have either a degree of dogmatism or non-Agile practices to be considered truly Agile.

Q3. What are the challenges to Agile Software projects beyond the single team? How to overcome those?

Al: The biggest centre around lack of alignment and poor eco-systems within which teams work. Agile’s definition centering around the team (the Agile Manifesto mentions the team 17 times, management not at all) doesn’t address these issues. Focusing the realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality should be the basis for overcoming these challenges. Don Reinertsen suggests “if you quantify one thing, quantify cost of delay.” This is an important insight – achieve greater value by reducing delay. How to accomplish this depends upon the organization but there are many patterns of solution.

Q4. When Agile approaches doesn’t work?

Al: Most Agile approaches are really sets of practices that may or may not be applicable. Lean, however, will always work. Lean should be the basis for any Agile adoption as well. Lean is based on the following:

  • Take a systems thinking mindset
  • Create environments within which people can thrive
  • Use small batches of work and avoid delays in workflow, feedback and value realization
  • Attend to quality

Q5. How to ensure that you grow and develop as a leader?

Al: The focus needs to be on questioning your long held, cherished beliefs. It is very easy to get into tribes of knowledge. When someone disagrees with you try to see the truth of what they say. There is very likely some. Even if you don’t agree with them understand their perspective.

Q6. Does the coaching and teaching approach also needs to evolve with change?

Al: Definitely. The vast majority of coaching and teaching violates decades of knowledge of how people learn. I believe the Scrum model of “learn the framework, stick to it until you understand it and figure things out” is a very poor one – but one that has been adopted by most everyone except those who promote TDD/BDD/Kanban – all of which have a different adoption style. I believe Agile, having hit the mainstream, needs to start adopting scaled learning methods where people learn over time and in cohorts of their peers.

Q7. One message you have for our readers.

Al: Remember your goal is to improve and help others improve. Everything you learn is a tool for that. Question everything. Set time aside for that.


Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and Agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas. He is a popular speaker at prestigious conferences worldwide. He is the primary author of Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design, Lean-Agile Pocket Guide for Scrum Teams, Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility and Essential Skills for the Agile Developer.

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.