Podcast: Unlimited Agility

Derek Lane is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Agile Manifesto by building a community for like-minded individuals.

Matthew D Edwards
September 29, 2021

Show Highlights

The Agile Manifesto is often thought of as a historical event or document, but Derek Lane is hoping to redefine how it’s introduced and revisited because the principles are time- and battle-tested in how it brings value to people. As 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto, Lane and fellow colleagues have formed a community, Unlimited Agility, where you won’t find answers, but you will find like-minded individuals to challenge your beliefs and help you grow in your thinking and your work.

Key Takeaways

  • The Agile Manifesto isn’t a one-stop visit, it doesn’t make sense until you continually revisit it and recalibrate your understanding.
  • Parallel concepts exist – Craftsmanship, Servant Leadership, Lean, Scrum, Kanban – and looking at the Agile Manifesto through their lenses help to broaden understanding 
  • Take the 20-Day Agility Challenge and join the community.

The third Unlimited Agility Conference is being planned right now. This conference was created to promote practitioners of servant leadership who are local and regional leaders who work every day, side-by-side with individuals, teams, and organizations.

Read the Transcript

0:00:00.0 Matthew Edwards: My guest today was around 20 years ago, when the Agile Manifesto was written, and has watched it evolve in the minds of people, teams, companies and cultures through the years since. He is a community builder, author, speaker and Agile coach. The list goes on and even includes a barbecue life coach, in the event that's interesting to you. Derek Lane visits with me about how the organization, Unlimited Agility, is building a community for people to consider their journey and how it compares to the original intent of the Agile Manifesto.

0:00:37.4 Derek Lane: I guess I had realized I had learned a lot, I felt like I've kind of validated that learning and been able to learn better ways to introduce people to it so that they have a better appreciation for it, and they understand this is not a one-time stop, this is not the… I'm gonna go visit the Capitol or Disneyland. It's one time, that's all I'm going to go my whole life. No, this is somewhere you need to come on a regular basis. You're not going to get it all the first time, and some of it's just not going to make sense. You're not ready for it. You need to go back if you need to go back, and you need to go back.

0:01:14.2 Matthew Edwards: Welcome to The Long Way Around The Barn, where we discuss many of today's technology adoption and transformation challenges and explore varied ways to get to your desired outcomes. There's usually more than one way to achieve your goals. Sometimes the path is simple, sometimes the path is long, expensive, complicated, and/or painful. In this podcast, we explore options and recommended courses of action to get you to where you're going now.

0:01:45.8 The Long Way Around The Barn is brought to you by Trility Consulting. For those wanting to defend or extend their market share, Trility simplifies, automates and secures your world, your way. Learn how you can experience reliable delivery results at trility.io.

0:02:06.6 Matthew Edwards: One of the things I'm curious about learning from you, Derek, is Unlimited Agility. Will you teach us a little bit about what you're intending to explore? What is the motivator? What's the desired outcome? How did you get here? And where do you wanna go? And then tell us a little bit about the journey.

0:02:23.2 Derek Lane: Sure, okay. I guess this all kind of started in January this year when I… For whatever reason, a random thread was running through my head and I realized from, of course, last year, I knew this, but it wasn't time yet, that the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto would be happening in February. I've gone through a number of different learning curves as we've discussed some of those over time, and I'm constantly trying to figure out, "How do I make this better and is this something I should stop doing and do something else?" In recent years, I've gone through a reboot of what the Agile Manifesto is and how it should be presented, versus how I've been taught and seen other people coach it over time.

0:03:06.5 Derek Lane: I think the difference is, is that most people, when they're introduced to it, it's at most, no matter what, it's a half day, one class, a two-day class, whatever it is, it occupies anywhere from half an hour, to a couple of hours. And the Agile Manifesto is introduced as a historical event, a historical document, and it's just really watered down and then it's focused on practices and maybe some concepts, but we move quickly to the checklist, the 12-step program.

0:03:34.7 Derek Lane: This is Agile, Agile is supposed to be this, so this is what it looks like. Well, through the lens of Scrum, it looks one way. Through the lens of XP, it might look different, through the lens of Kanban, it might look significantly different. Through the lens of Safe, it looks radically different. So depending on what your introduction point is to the Agile Manifesto, and agility, has a huge impact on your reference point of what it is and what its importance is, and the ability to achieve or be able to accelerate this idea that we call agile or agility. And then there are parallel concepts and domains out there such as Lean, and we have even more abstract ideas, such as craftsmanship. What is craftsmanship? We have this idea of servant leadership, what does that mean? There's lots of debate about these things, and when it all kind of zeroes in on the Agile Manifesto, I guess I had realized I had learned a lot, I felt like I've validated that learning and been able to learn better ways to introduce people to it so that they have a better appreciation for it, and they understand this is not a one-time stop, this is not the…

0:04:48.8 Derek Lane: I'm gonna go visit the Capitol or Disney Land. It's one time, that's all I'm going to go do my whole life. No, this is somewhere you need to come on a regular basis, you're not going to get it all the first time, and some of it's just not going to make sense. You're not ready for it. You need to go back if you need to go back, and you need to go back. I think it's a missing element in how Agile is often thought of as either a goal or now people are trying to update it as a journey or a destination, but I think we're still missing this element that I'm now calling regenerative agility, which is this ongoing… Returning to the source to validate what we think we've picked up, throw away the stuff that was really junk, build on top of what we have now, pick something up new and then let's go on again and then let's come back again. So it's very inherent, for those who know the Agile Manifesto and familiar with it, to see this idea of both iterative and incremental improvement, because learning is at the center of all of this, this idea of constant growth and improvement.

0:05:48.8 Derek Lane: Again, my idea was, how do I take something I've learned and give it back to the community? How do I find a way to honor the work… I talked to a number of folks, a number of former co-workers and colleagues and things, and came up with what now I call the 20-Day Agility Challenge, and the idea is basically a step-by-step period of time, from anywhere from as little as 15 minutes a day to as long as you want to spend.

0:06:20.2 Derek Lane: Typically, it's not more than 30 minutes to an hour, but the idea is that you… Each individual would challenge their own beliefs on what Agile is, against not what I say, but against what the Agile Manifesto says. So it's a deep dive inspection into every element of the Agile Manifesto over a period of 20 days. And then at the end, it's like, "Well, this isn't all there is. What do we do next? How do we take this and move on?" The 20-Day Agility Challenge is free, it was intended to be available, it's delivered right now through email, and it's available for anybody at 20dayagilitychallenge.org, so anybody can go out there and sign up. But in the beta testing of this, a lot of feedback came in from some folks saying, "Well gee, Derek, this is good, it's designed for an individual challenge, but there's a lot of people who aren't ready for that, or that's not really their approach to things, they do a lot better in a group," and I agree, so while some folks… And we talked about options, will pick some co-workers or somebody and go through this, not everybody has that option, or not everybody is going to be the kind of personality that's going to go try to round up people to do this.

0:07:34.1 Derek Lane: So we decided to create an online community where we could create regular cohorts where folks could get together from around the world who wanted to go through this and create kind of an accountability group, so everyone would have at least a couple of accountability partners that could go through the challenge themselves, they would have someone to discuss this with, and then we actually have a couple of times a week through that 20-day period where someone who's already been through the challenge will help facilitate it. So far, it's been myself and a couple of other folks. Our goal is… There's no answers here, this is not a matter of… We're not filling in the blank. This is not quiz time. The goal is for you to challenge your own beliefs against what the Agile Manifesto says, for us to figure out, how can we help you if you get stuck? And we have interesting questions and really good discussions and topics have come up, and some of them are online, just through the chat type situation, and some of them are more through a Zoom type situation, so much more interactive as far as in person.

0:08:35.7 Derek Lane: But that led us to creating a community, and then that led us to a kind of a more foundational realization that there are other concepts that people struggle with besides agility. Lean, for example, which I mentioned, the growth mindset. What does that even mean? Servant leadership, craftsmanship, all of these things. How do I get from here to… Are these things related? Or are they… Is Scrum the same as Agile because someone told me that? And if it is, then what is this Kanban thing and why aren't we doing that? And so there's all of this complexity between these concepts, a lot of them are abstract, and then the general interaction that people have more on the day-to-day basis with what we typically refer to as the practices, and so we've kind of expanded that a little bit. That led us, interestingly enough, to creating an arena for people to practice, to try out these new skills, to share what they've learned besides just an online community, so we've created the Unlimited Agility conference and we've held two of them so far, we're running them quarterly. The next one will be in November, and the idea there is to really invite people who aren't necessarily the big name people. This is not "Come and listen to someone else," this is "Come and interact with someone else," this is "Come and share your experiences."

0:10:00.7 Derek Lane: And so we think we're pioneering a new approach to virtual conferences, we got to thinking about what are the things that people don't like, the things that don't work, the things that are different in a virtual environment, an online environment, then from a physical conference. And I wrote a LinkedIn article to try to enumerate a lot of those, but what we've learned so far is that in a physical conference, one of the things people like is the physical interaction. After a speaker gets done with their session, maybe I could go catch them afterwards and ask them questions, or get coffee or get dinner. Well, we can't do that in a virtual environment. Even if we have breakout rooms, it's not really the same thing. But what we did is we decided, well, what would happen if the speaker was to sit in the audience with the attendees? You can't do that in a physical conference, it's just physically not possible. Newton's second law, I think, might have something to say about that. So what we decided to do is we have all of our speakers record their sessions, and we're using a modified TED Talks format, so none of them are more than 20, 25 minutes long.

0:11:05.4 Derek Lane: But the idea is that now because they've done that, this doesn't mean they're going to record and the speaker is gone, this means now the speaker's in the audience, and they can interact with the audience. They can say, "Oh, I meant to add this here." They can say, "Here's another reference, it wasn't occurring to me at the time." But this is the first time that we know of where a speaker gets to actually participate and put theirselves in the role of the attendee for their own session. So we've created this new kind of way of thinking about delivering content, and it's much more communal, it's less serial, and it allows then, that extended conversation to go on, people can literally ask a question at the moment it occurs to them during the session and get a response from the speaker in more or less realtime. So we've kind of combined this idea of the Q&A and the director's cut with the idea of an interactive session. It's just interacting in a different way than we think of, if we were physically in the same room and I could raise my hand, and eventually you might call on… Or you might not.

0:12:13.4 Matthew Edwards: Well, let me reiterate so far what I think I've heard, which is the motivation here, as I understand it from you, is to give an opportunity for people to reflect upon where they are in their journey in relation to the original intent or communication of The Agile Manifesto, and it was motivated to some extent, in context of the upcoming 20th anniversary. And so out of that, the conversation is, "Hey, how have we evolved? How are we doing?" And so you're looking to create a type of environment where people are able to come together and say, "Hey, I was thinking through this, this is how I've typically understood, this is how I've applied it. How are other people doing it?" So it's kind of like a conference, not really a conference, it's kind of like cohort, but the assumption is Agile Manifesto, where are we and you in relation to the manifesto? So what do you believe? What do you practice? And why do you believe it? And then how are we doing evolving? It sounds like you're creating a safe environment for people to evolve together with a single point of origin, which is the manifesto.

0:13:28.5 Derek Lane: Yes, it's that. I would say that it… However, a slight difference, I would say, is that it started with this idea of focusing on the Agile Manifesto, but it's now expanded to include Lean principles and what is servant leadership, (Robert) Greenleaf's work. And so it's no longer… While the name Unlimited Agility is still, I think, an accurate description, it's not limited to agility in the sense of the Agile Manifesto. You also have Agility by being a better leader. One of the things we've learned from folks like… Was it Adam Grant and Simon Sinek? And those folks, is that they're talking about leadership, they're talking about a different kind of leadership than most of us have been exposed to and have been trained that way. They're talking about leaders where the employees are first, they're talking about leaders where customers are right, but it's not a matter of just the customer is always right, it's a matter of, "Well, the customer is right, but they're right, why?" Because we need to validate that if what we're doing isn't valuable to them, they're not gonna continue to be our customer. So it's no longer a technology-centric in the way that, often, Agile is thought of.

0:14:47.2 Derek Lane: Because Agile starts out by saying that this is the Agile Manifesto for software development. There's nothing wrong with that, but with the change of literally a handful of words, we can abstract the software-specific aspects of this and realize that we don't have to change 99% of the rest of these values and principles, and they literally apply in almost every context.

0:15:11.7 Matthew Edwards: So what would you say so far in this journey, has been an unexpected surprise? Whether a pleasant surprise or a distasteful surprise where you realized, "My goodness, what was I thinking? I need to make a change." What type of surprises have you experienced along this journey?

0:15:30.4 Derek Lane: Well, I've definitely been through the, "Gee, I thought this was gonna be different or easier, or fewer steps," a number of times. I think the challenge that has always been there, that it's not unique to this effort, of helping… Of communicating to people that there is no checklist that's going to make you agile or lean, or smart, or fast, or profitable, or… Fill in the blank. This is not a 12-step program. Agile is not a 12-step program, and I've been saying that for years, and I've been saying that about a number of different things besides Agile, but the challenge is that the force, the gravity of a black hole is pulling so many people in business, so many people in technology, to hurry up and get it done, to check the box to do the next thing. It's all about the task and the project plan and the delivery date, and it's not about value, it's not about people, and that's what the Agile Manifesto starts out by telling us that, this is all about people. Some people seem to already be a bit like Neo in the Matrix, they already have a… They suspect something is not right about the way things are going, but they're not quite sure what it is, and then there are other people who are well aware that… They don't know what to do about it.

0:16:53.1 Derek Lane: Nothing they've done has worked. And so I think a community like this can really help them because first of all, it's going to put them in touch with people who have either been or are currently in the same spot that they are, so just the fact that we know now that there are other people that are just like us, that's a huge psychological benefit, that creates a certain amount of community there. And then we're hoping to create these other mechanisms for folks to be able to then exercise and practice and learn new ways of doing things that are maybe external or tangential from their normal everyday lives. But then as they learn and meet people from around the world who have had success with something and they get a new idea, and now they've got a sounding board and accountability partners, an expert, so-called, that… Someone who's just a little further down the trail than they are, they can go ask these folks for help and say, "What do you think? What would you do? What could I try?" And I think it gives them a whole new range of options that are very personalized, and… Because they're creating this new community, and our goal is for it to be a self-sustaining community where the members of the community decide where we need to go next. And we've got a long list of potential things on a backlog, but right now, now we're back to, "We've gotta validate those…

0:18:22.1 Derek Lane: The community finds those valuable now," versus later, versus never. One of the other benefits of our format is that a lot of people who have a lot of experience, and you've done this, you've been in a room and you've heard somebody, they're just a little timid, they might talk a little softly, but you're like, "Wow, man, you've got some gold there. Why don't you share this? Why don't you speak up?" And that's just not their personality. But with our format, they can record and get a lot of feedback. Through the process of recording, they can record their session, and then they can from a safe distance, because social media has proven… People are perfectly… Feel perfectly safe with the keyboard in front of them, between them and their audience. And be able to then interact with the audience and gain that confidence and be able to still share a lot of the values and experiences that they've had. And I think in the last conference, we really had a lot of transparency from some of the speakers who were saying… Explaining, "Here's some stuff that didn't work," and being willing to be vulnerable. I think that's… It's becoming a little more acceptable in some arenas, I think, with the help of folks like the TED Talk from Brene Brown and other folks like that, that are encouraging leaders to realize the value of being vulnerable with the folks that you lead, and the value that that gives them to help them be better leaders.

0:19:48.5 Derek Lane: Now we're getting back into servant leadership, so it's amazing how all of these things are interconnected, the patterns are repetitive, and they appear to exist in each one of these domains, or in this case, in lots of these different concepts. So if we can maybe… Dismantle is not the right word, maybe if we can reveal enough of the pattern so that people can see the parallels of something they're more familiar with, then they will gain confidence and they can grow quicker in an area that maybe they're not as familiar with.

0:20:22.9 Matthew Edwards: So after you have one of these conferences, the types of material that's reviewed during these conferences, does that continue to be available to the attendees or folks later?

0:20:35.4 Derek Lane: Well, the discussions that happen on the… Essentially the chat boards, the Facebook and Twitter-like features of the community, those are available and open all the time. So because we wanted to make this available to everybody, we created some separate levels of membership. The entry level or the lowest level that's free as far as charging goes, is available to anybody who wants to just basically go on and create an account, but what we're doing to try to help… Again, to kinda hopefully make the community self-supporting and self-sustaining, is we have from the day of a conference, which always happens on a Thursday, it's open to the public, so anybody who basically registered for the conference gets access to all of the materials for the conference, including a speaker's roundtable that we do at the end where the speakers get to ask each other questions, and a number of other interesting things that we try to come up with. But after that, the idea is that any of the paid level memberships will have access to all of that archive and that material, so yes, it is available and it's online, but after that kind of window of a week, then it's available to any of the paid level memberships.

0:21:48.2 Matthew Edwards: So Derek, what do you think you need next in order to evolve it to the next level?

0:21:53.2 Derek Lane: Well, I would say, just to tag on to the previous idea, the conference is free. Again, we have a free level of the membership, the 20-Day Agility Challenge is free, so we're scheduling to have three or four of what we're calling either lakeside or fireside chats, depending on what time of year it is. So we'll have two of each, each year, if we're fortunate. And that's really more of the idea of a sit-down interview with someone who is considered more of a leader and expert in some area. That's something that we've already got cued up, and that's coming in the pipeline. Our goal is to really be able to give 10% of the profit that might come in from running the… To charities that we've validated. So we've already verified and validated three charities, and we hope to be able to… We've got another couple in the pipeline, and we would like to be able to set that up to where that's just a part of everything we do, so that as people can register for free for the conference, instead of paying for the conference, they could donate to this charity.

0:22:55.6 Derek Lane: We feel like that's a way to practice this idea of servant leadership and be able to… But in a real physical, tangible way, to any of the charities that they might feel more affinity for. So that's something that we're looking to expand on as… We're really just looking for additional volunteers. As we get more volunteers, we're able to do more things. We're looking for folks to help with… We've got another set of websites that we'd like to get up and running, that we just haven't had the bandwidth to get up and running. So those are skills that would be greatly valued and help. We've got stuff cued up as far as trying to make workshops available, so we want to have both some free and some, again, some paid content that would help support the community so we can do more things. And those will be in a number of different areas. I think to start with, we're kind of saying, "Here's some introductory level things," but not introductory in the way that, again, that it's often communicated. We want to be able to do something that we feel like is kind of "We've learned more, and here's maybe a better way to introduce some of these ideas." But we have a number of additional, like I said, things on the backlog. I think where we're going is to grow a group of volunteers that are interested in exercising that servant leader or that craftsmanship muscle, and we want to give them a chance to do that.

0:24:31.8 Matthew Edwards: I went out and looked at your sites previously, and looking at them again today, and so for someone who wants to learn, what's the front door URL you'd like people to go to to get a look into it?

0:24:44.8 Derek Lane: Sure, the 20-day Agility Challenge is 20, it's the number two zero 20dayagilitychallenge.org, they can go there and register for the 20-Day Agility challenge. They'll basically receive that… It literally is a matter of putting your name and your email in. You can also do this, again, with a cohort, that's where you can go to the community and join the community, and there's a separate group that's just for the 20-day Agility Challenge Cohorts. For the Unlimited Agility community, it's members.unlimitedagility.com. Their regular triple W website is one of those we're almost ready to launch, but not quite there yet. So the membership website is up and running, and that's where you can go and choose a plan. Again, we just encourage folks to choose the free practitioner plan, and that's all the way at the bottom, as the options that you have for membership. But the landing page there tries to describe what the community is and what we're trying to do, and it shows the charities that we're currently supporting right there, and tries to answer any of the typical questions, there's some FAQ type stuff on there.

0:26:02.6 Matthew Edwards: Right on. That's outstanding. Derek, we have covered very many topics to a lot of depth and breadth, across our time talking together, and I just want to thank you very much for taking all this time to give us insight into your journey and the types of things you've learned and where you are and where you're heading, and in particular, the work you're doing with the 20-Day Challenge and the Unlimited Agility. That sounds amazing, and well done. Thank you for your time, good sir.

0:26:32.7 Derek Lane: Hey, thank you. Thanks for your interest, I appreciate it.

0:26:35.5 Matthew Edwards: This is just the beginning of our conversation with Derek Lane. Our next several podcasts deconstruct the Agile Manifesto using the analogy of learning how to barbecue. Now, if you would love to smoke meat or would love to improve your ability to smoke meat and other items I would never have thought possible, and you have a desire to always become more today than yesterday, using the Agile Manifesto as your guide, I encourage you to keep listening. Derek should write a book on this topic, but until then, you'll have to settle for listening to raw, candid conversation that might also make you hungry along the way.

0:27:16.6 The Long Way Around The Barn is brought to you by Trility consulting where Matthew serves as the CEO and president. If you need to find a more simple, reliable path to achieve your desired outcomes, visit trility.io.

0:27:33.3 Matthew Edwards: To my listeners, thank you for staying with us. I hope you're able to take what you heard today and apply it in your context so that you're able to realize the predictable, repeatable outcomes you desire for you, your teams, company and clients. Thank you.