Easy Agile Podcast Ep.6 - Chris Stone, The Virtual Agile Coach

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

20 Dec 2020

What a great conversation this was with Chris Stone, The Virtual Agile Coach!

Chris shared some insights into the importance of sharing and de-stigmatising failures, looking after your own mental health, and why work shouldn't be stale.

Some other areas we discussed were, why you should spend time in self reflection - consider a solospective? and asking "how did that feel?" when working as a team.

"I really enjoyed our chat, there's so much to consider in this episode. Plenty to ponder over the silly season, and set yourself up with a fresh perspective for 2021. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!"

You can also listen to the audio on:

Transcript

Sean Blake:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Easy Agile Podcast. It's Sean Blake here, your host today, and we're joined by Chris stone. Chris is going to be a really interesting guest. I really enjoyed recording this episode. Chris is the Virtual Agile Coach. He's an agility lead. People First champion blogger, speaker and trainer, who always seeks to gamify content and create immersive Agile experiences. An Agile convert all the way from back in 2012, Chris has since sought to broaden his experiences, escape his echo chamber and to fearlessly challenge dysfunction and ask the difficult questions. My key takeaways from this episode were; it's okay to share your failures, the importance of recognizing our mental health, why it's important that work doesn't become stale, how to de-stigmatize failure, the importance of selfreflection and holding many self retrospectives, and the origins of the word deadline. You'll be really interested to find out where that word came from and why it's a little bit troubling. So here we go. We're about to jump in. Here's the episode with Chris stone on the Easy Agile Podcast. Chris, thanks so much for joining us and spending some time with us.

Chris Stone:

Hey there Sean, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

Sean Blake:

I have to mention you've got a really funky Christmas sweater on today. And for those people listening on the audio, they might have to jump over to YouTube just for a section to check out this sweater. Can you tell us a bit about where that came from?

Chris Stone:

So this sweater was a gift. It's a Green Bay Packers, Chris, Ugly Christmas Jumpers, what they call it. And I'm a fan of the Green Bay Packers, I've been out there a few times to Wisconsin, Green Bay, Wisconsin. It's so cold out there in fact. When you're holding a beer and minus 13 degrees, the beer starts turning to slush just from being outside in the cold air. It's a great place, very friendly, and the jumper was just a gift one Christmas from someone.

Sean Blake:

Love it. There's nothing better than warm beer is there? Okay. So Chris, I first came across you because of the content that you put out on LinkedIn. And the way that you go about it, it's so much fun and so different to really anything else I've seen in the corporate space, in the enterprise space, in the Agile space even, why have you decided to go down this track of calling yourself the virtual Agile coach, building a personal brand and really putting yourself out there?

Chris Stone:

Well, for me, it was an interesting one because COVID, this year has forced a lot of people to convert to being virtual workers, remote workers, virtual coaches themselves. Now, what I realized this year is that, the aspiration for many is those co-located teams, it's always what people desired. They say, "Oh, you have to work harder, Katie, that's the best way." And I realized that in my whole Agile working life, I'd never really had that co-located team. There was always some element of distributed working and the past two years prior to where I'm currently, my current company, I was doing distributed scaled Agile with time zones, including Trinidad and Tobago, Alaska, Houston, the UK, India, and it was all remote.

Chris Stone:

And I thought, all right, this is an opportunity to recognize the fact that I was a virtual Agile coach already, but to share with others, my learnings, my experiences, the challenges I've faced, the failures I've had with the wider community so they can benefit from it because obviously, everyone, or more many have had to make that transition very quickly. And there's lots of learnings there that I'm sure people would benefit from. And this year in particular, I guess the honest answer, the reason for me being, I guess out there and working more on that side of things, being creative is because it's an outlet for my mental health.

Chris Stone:

I suffer from depression and one of my ways of coping with that is being creative and creating new content and sharing it. So I guess it's a reason of... it's linked to that also, but also the stories that people tell me afterwards, they motivate me to keep doing it. So when someone comes to me and says, "Hey, I did the Queen retrospective, the Queen Rock Band retrospective, and this program manager who never smiles connected to the content and admitted he liked Queen and smiled." And this was a first and when people come to me and say, "Hey, we did the Home Alone retrospective, the one of your Christmas themed ones and people loved it. It was great." It was the most engaging retrospective we've had so far because the problem is work can become stale if you let it be so.

Chris Stone:

Retrospectives can become this, what did we do last time? What are we going to do next time? What actions can we do? Et cetera, et cetera. And unless you refresh it and try new things, people will get bored and they'll disconnect and they'll disengage, and you're less likely to get a good outcome that way. So for me, there's no reason you can't make work a little bit fun, with a little bit of creativity and a little bit of energy and passionate about it.

Sean Blake:

I love that. And do you think a lot of people come to work even when they're working in Agile co-located teams and it's just not fun, I mean what do you think the key reasons are that work isn't fun?

Chris Stone:

I think because it can become stale. All right. So let's reflect on where we are today. Today, we're in a situation where we're not face-to-face with one another. We don't have time for those water cooler chats. We don't connect over a coffee or a lunch. We don't have a chat about idle banter and things of that on the way to a meeting room, we didn't have any of that. And that forces people to look at each other and see themselves as an avatar behind a screen, just a name. Often in particular, people aren't even on video camera.

Chris Stone:

It forces them to think of people as a name on a screen, rather than a beating heart on a laptop. And it can abstract people into just these entities, these names you talk to each day and day out, and that can force it to be this professional non-personal interaction. And I'm a firm believer that we need to change that. We need to make things more fun because it can, and in my experience, does result in much better outcomes. I'm very, very people first. We need to focus on people being people. People aren't resources. This is a common phrase I like to refer to you.

Sean Blake:

I love that, people aren't resources. You spoke a little bit about mental health and your struggle with depression. Something that I hear come up time and time again, is people that talk about imposter syndrome. And I wonder, firstly, if you think that might be exasperated through working remotely now. People are not so sure how they fit in, where their role is still the same role that it was 12 months ago. And do you have any tips for people when they're dealing with imposter syndrome, especially in a virtual environment?

Chris Stone:

Well, yeah I think this current environment, this virtual environment, the pandemic in particular, has led to a number of unhelpful behaviors. That there's a lot more challenges with people's mental health and negativity, and that can only lead to, I guess, less desire, less confidence in doing things, maybe doubting yourself. There's some great visuals I've shared on this recently, and it's all about reframing those imposter thoughts you have, the unhelpful thinking, that thing that goes through your mind that says, Oh, they're all going to think I'm a total fraud because maybe I don't have enough years of experience, or I should already know this. I must get more training. There's lots of “shoulding” and “musting” in that. There's lots of jumping to conclusions in this.

Chris Stone:

And a couple of ways of getting around that is, so if you're thinking of the scenario where I'm a fraud think, "Oh, well I'm doing my best, but I can't predict what they might think." When you're trying to think about the scenario of do I need to get more training? Well, understand and acknowledge the reality that you can't possibly know everything. You continue to learn every single day and that's great, but it's unrealistic to know it all. There's a great quote I often refer to and it's, true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing. I believe it's a quote from Socrates.

Chris Stone:

And it's something that very much resonates with me. Over the years I've gone through this learning journey where, when I first finished university, for example, I thought I knew everything. I thought I've got it all. And I'd go out to clients and speak and I'm like, "Oh yeah, I know this. I've got this guys." And then the more involved I've become and the more deeper I've gone into the topic, the more I realized, actually there's so much that I don't know. And to me, true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing tells me there's so much out there that I must continuously learn, I must continuously seek to challenge myself each and every day.

Chris Stone:

Other people who approach me and say, "How do you, or you produce a lot of content. How would you put yourself out there?" And I say, "Well, I just do it." Let's de-stigmatize failure. If you put a post out there and it bombs, it doesn't matter, put another one out there. It's as simple as that, learn from failure, Chuck something out there, try it, if it doesn't work, try something else. We coach Agile teams to do this all the time, to experiment. Have a hypothesis to test against that. Verify the outcomes and do retrospectives. I do weekly solospectives. I reflect on my week, what works, what hasn't worked, what I'm going to try differently. And there's no reason you can't do that also.

Sean Blake:

Okay. So weekly solospectives. What does that look like? And how do you be honest with yourself about what's working, what's not working and areas for yourself to improve? How do you actually start to have that time for self-reflection?

Chris Stone:

Unfortunately you got to make time for some reflection. One thing I've learned with mental health is you have to make time for your health before you have to make time for your illness or before you're forced to make time for your illness. And it can become all too easy in this busy working world to not make time for your health, to not make time and focus on you. So you do just have to carve out that time, whether that's blocking some time in the diary on a Friday afternoon, just to sit down and reflect, whether that's making time to go out for a walk, setting up a time on your Alexa to have a five minute stretching break, whatever it is, there's things you can do, and you have things you have to do to make time for yourself.

Chris Stone:

With regards to a solospective, the way I tend to do things is I tend to journal on a daily basis. That's almost like my own daily standard with myself, it's like, what have I observed? What have I... what challenges do I face in the past day? And then that sums up in the weekly solospective, which is basically a retro for one, where I reflect on, what did I try it? What do I want to achieve this week? What's gone well? What hasn't gone well. It's the same as a retrospective just one and allows me to aggregate my thoughts across the week, rather than them being single events. So that I'm focusing more on the trajectory as opposed to any single outlier. Does that make sense?

Sean Blake:

It does. It does. So you've got this trajectory with your career. You're checking in each week to see whether you're heading in the right direction. I assume that you set personal goals as well along the way. I also noticed that you have personal values that you've published and you've actually published those publicly for other people to look at and to see. How important are those personal values in informing your life and personal and career goals?

Chris Stone:

So I'd say that are hugely important, for me, what I thought was we see companies sharing their values all the time. You look on company websites and you can see their values quite prominently. And you could probably think do they often live up to their values? You have so many companies have customer centricity as their value, but how many of them actually focus on engaging with their customers regularly? How many have a metric where they track, how often they engage with customers? Most of them are focusing on velocity and lead time. So I always challenge, are you really customer centric or is that lip service? But moving aside, I digress. I thought companies have values, and obviously we do as well, but why don't we share them? So I created this visual, showing what mine were and challenged a few others to share it also. And I had some good feedback from others which was great.

Chris Stone:

But they hugely influence who I am and how I interact on a day-to-day basis. And I'll give you an example, one of my values is being open source always. And what that means is nothing I create, no content I create, nothing I produce would ever be behind a payroll. And that's me being community driven. That's me sharing what I've learned with others. And how that's come to fruition, how I've lived that is I've had lots of people come to me say, "Hey, we love the things you do. You gave me flying things. Would you mind, or would you like to collaborate and create this course that people would pay for?" So often I've said, "If it's free, yes. But if it's going to be monetized, then no."

Chris Stone:

And I've had multiple people reach out to me for that purpose. And I've had to decline respectfully and say, "Look, I think what you're doing is great. You've got a great app and I can see how having this Agile coaching gamification course on that would be of great value. But if it's behind the payroll, then I'm not interested because it's in direct conflict with my own values, and therefore, I wouldn't be interested in proceeding with it. But keep doing what you're doing, being people first, #people first." This is about me embodying the focus on people being beating hearts behind a laptop, rather than just this avatar on a screen. And I have this little... the audio listeners, won't be able to see this, but I'm holding up a baby Groot here. And he's like my people first totem.

Chris Stone:

And the reason for that is I have a group called the Guardians of Agility, and we are people first. That's our emblem. And these are my transformation champions in my current company. I like to have Guardians of Agility, and I've got this totem reminding me to be people first in every interaction I have. So when, for example, I hear the term resources and I'm saying, well... As soon as I hear it, it almost triggers me. I almost hear like, "Oh, what do they mean by that?" And I'll wait a little moment and I'll say, "Hey, can you tell me what you mean by that?" And you tease it out a little bit. And often they meant, "Oh, it's people, isn't it?" If you're talking about people, can we refer to them as people?

Chris Stone:

Because people aren't resources. They're not objects or things you mine out the ground. They're not pens, paper or desks. They're not chairs in an office. They are people. And every time you refer to them as a resource, you abstract them. You make it easier to dehumanize them and think of them as lesser, you make it easier to make those decisions like, oh, we can just get rid of those resources or we can just move that resource from here to there and to this team and that team, whether they want to or not. So I don't personally like the language.

Chris Stone:

And the problem is it goes all the way back to how it's trained. You go to university and you take a business degree and you learn about human resources. You take a course, Agile HR, Agile human resources, right, and it's so prevalent out there. And unless we challenge it, it won't change. So I will happily sit there and a meeting with a CTO and he'll start talking about resource and I'll say, "Hey, what do you mean by that?" And I'll challenge it and he'll go, "Yeah, I've done it again, have I not?" "Yes. Yes, you have." And it's gotten to the point now where I'll be on this big group call for example, and someone will say it, and I'll just start doing this on a screen waving, and they'll go, "Did it again, didn't I?" "Yes, you did."

Sean Blake:

So some of these habits are so ingrained from our past experiences our education, and when you're working with teams for the first time, who's never worked in Agile before, they're using phrases like resources, they're doing things that sometimes we call anti-patents, how do you start to even have that conversation and introduce them to some of these concepts that are totally foreign to people who've never thought the way that you or I might think about our teams and our work?

Chris Stone:

Sure. So I guess that the first response to that is with empathy. I'm not going to blame someone or make out that they're a bad person for using words that are ingrained, that are normal. And this is part of the problem that that term, resource is so ingrained in that working language nowadays, same as deadlines. Deadlines is so ingrained, even though deadlines came from a civil war scenario where it referred to, if you went past the line, you were shot. How did that land in the business language? I don't know. But resources, it's so ingrained, it's so entrenched into this language, so people do it without intending to. They often do it without meaning it in a negative way. And to be honest, the word itself isn't the issue, it's how people actually behave and how they treat people.

Chris Stone:

I said my first approach is empathy. Let's talk about this. Let's understand, "Hey, why did you use term?" "Oh, I use it to mean this." "Okay. Well." Yeah, and not to do it or call them out publicly or things like that. It's doing things with empathy. Now, I also often use obviously gamification and training approaches, and Agile games to introduce concepts. If someone's unfamiliar to a certain way of working, I'll often gamify. I'll create something, a virtual Agile game to demonstrate. The way I do say, is I'm always looking to help people understand how it feels, not just to talk theory. And I'll give you an example. I'm a big fan of a game called the Virtual Name Game. It's a game about multitasking and context switching.

Chris Stone:

And I always begin, I'll ask group of people, "Hey guys, can you multitask?" And often they go, "Yeah, we can do that." And there'll be those stereotypical things like, "Oh yeah, I'm a woman. I can do that." It happens. Trust me. But one of the first things I do, if I'm face-to-face with them, I'll say, "Hey, hold your hands out like this. And in your left hand..." And people on the audio can't see me, I'm holding out like my hands in front of me. In my left hand, we're going to play an endless game of rock, paper, scissors. And in my right hand, we're going to play a game of, we have a thumb war with each other. And you can try, you can challenge them, can they do those concurrently? No, they can't. They will fail because you just can't focus on both at the same time.

Chris Stone:

Now the Virtual Name Game, the way it works is you divide a group of people up into primarily customers and one developer. And I love to make the most senior person in the room, that developer. I want them to see how it feels to be constantly context switching. So if you were the developer, you're the senior person to review the hippo in this scenario, the highest paid person. I would say Sean, in this game, these customers, they are trying to get their name written first on this virtual whiteboard. And we're going to time how long it takes for you to write everyone's name in totality. The problem is that they're all going to shouting at you continuously, endlessly trying to get your attention. So it's going to be Sean, Sean, write my name, write my...

Chris Stone:

And it's just going to be wow, wow, wow, who do I focus on? You won't know. And this replicates a scenario that I'm sure many people have experienced. He who shouts loudest gets what they want. Prioritization is often done by he who's... or the person who shouts loudest not necessarily he. We then go into another rounds where you say, I'm this round, Sean, people are to be shouting their name at you. But in this round, you're going to pay a little bit attention to everyone. So the way you're going to do that is you're going to read the first letter of one person's name, then you move on to the first letter of the next person's name, and you're going to keep going around. The consequence of that is everyone gets a little bit of attention, but the result is it's really slow.

Chris Stone:

You're starting lots of things but not finishing them. And again, in each round, we're exploring how it feels. How did it feel to be in that round? Sean, you were being shouted at, how did that feel? Everyone else, you were shouting to get your attention. You had to shout louder than other people, how did that feel? And it's frustrating, it's demotivating, it's not enjoyable. In the final around, I would say, "Hey, Sean, in this round, I'm going to empower you to decide whose name you write first. And you can write the whole thing in order. And the guys actually they're going to help you this time, there are no shouts over each other, they are going to help you." And in this scenario, as I'm sure you can imagine, it feels far better. The result is people finish things, and you can measure the output, the number of brand names written on a timeframe.

Chris Stone:

It's a very quick and easy way of demonstrating how it feels to be constantly context switching and the damage you can have, if, for example, you've prioritized things into a sprint and you got lots of trying to reorder things and so on and so forth, and lots of pressure from external people that ideally should be shielded from influencing this and that, and how that feels and what the result is, because you may start something, get changed into something else. You got to take your mindset of this, back into something else, and then the person who picks up the original thing might not have even been the same person, they've got to learn that over again. There's just lots of waste and efficiency costs through that. And that's just an example of a game I use, to bring that sort of things to life.

Sean Blake:

That's great. That's fantastic. I love that. And I think we need to, at Easy Agile, start playing some of those games because there's a lot of lessons to be learned from going through those exercises. And then when you see it play out in real life, in the work that you're doing, it's easier to recognize it then. If you've done the training, you've done the exercise, that all seems like fun and games at the time, but when it actually rears its head in the work that you're doing, it's much easier to call it out and say, "Oh wait, we're doing that thing that we had fun playing, but now we realize it's occurring in real life and let's go a different direction." So I can see how that would be really powerful for teams to go through that so Chris [crosstalk 00:22:26].

Chris Stone:

I'd also add that every game that I do, I construct it using the four Cs approach. So I'm looking to connect people... firstly, connect people to each other, and then to the subject matter. So in this game is about multitasking. To contextualize why that matters, why does context switching and multitasking matter in the world of work? Because it causes inefficiencies, because it causes frustration, de-motivation, et cetera. Then we do some concrete practice. We play a game that emphasizes how it feels. And at the end we draw conclusions, and the idea is that with the conclusion side of things, it's almost like a retrospective on the game. We say, "Hey, what did we learn? What challenges we face? And what can we do differently in our working world?" And that hopefully leaves people with actionable takeaways. A lot of the content I share is aiming to leave it with actionable takeaways, not just talking about something, but reflecting on what you could do differently, what you could try, what experiment you might like to employ with your working life, your team that might help improve a situation you're facing.

Sean Blake:

Okay. Yeah, that's really helpful. And you've spoken about this concept of Agile sins, and we know that a lot of companies have these values, they might've committed to an Agile transformation. They might've even gone and trained hundreds or thousands of people at accompany using similar tactics and coaching and educational experiences that you provide. But we still see sometimes things go terribly wrong. And I wonder, what's this concept of Agile sins that you talk about and how can we start to identify some of these sins that pop up in our day-to-day work with each other?

Chris Stone:

I guess, so the first thing I would emphasize about this is that using sin, it's a very dogmatic religious language and it's more being used satirically than with any real intent. So I just like to get that across. I'm not a dogmatic person, I don't believe there is any utopian solution. I certainly don't believe there's any one size fit to all situation for anyone. So the idea that there's really any actual sins is... yeah, take that with a pinch of salt. The reason the Agile sins came up is because I was part of... I'd done a podcast recently with a guy called Charles Lindsey, and he does this Agile confessional. And it's about one coach confessing to another, their mistakes, their sins, the things they've done wrong.

Chris Stone:

And I loved it because I'm all about de-stigmatizing failure. I'm all about sharing with one another, these war stories from one coach to another, because I've been a proponent of this in the past. I've shouted, "Hey there, I failed on this. I made this mistake. I learned from it." And I challenge others to do so as well and there's still this reluctance by many to share what went wrong. And it's because failure is this dirty word. It's got this stigma attached to it. No one wants to fail, leaders in particular. So the podcast was a great experience.

Chris Stone:

And it was interesting for me because that was the first time I'd given a confession, because I'll be honest with you, I'm someone who is used to taking confession myself. I go to this hockey festival every year and I got given years ago, this Archbishop outfit, and I kind of made that role my own way. I was drunk, and I said, "You're going to confess your sins to me." And if they haven't sinned enough, I tell them to go and do more. And I give them penicillin with alcohol shots and things like that. And I've actually baptized people in this paddling pool whilst drunk. Anyway, again, I digress, but I wasn't used to confessing myself, usually, I was taking confession, but I did so and it was a good experience to share some of my failures and my patterns was to create... and it was my own idea, to create my videos, seven videos of my seven Agile sins. And again, this was just me sharing my mistakes, what I've learned from that, with the intent of benefiting others to avoid those similar sins.

Sean Blake:

So you've spoken to a lot of other Agile coaches, you've heard about their failures, you confessed your own failures, is it possible for you to summarize down what are those ingredients that make someone a great coach?

Chris Stone: And that is a question, what makes someone a great coach? I think it's going to be entirely subjective, to be honest. And my personal view is that a great coach listens more than they speak. I guess that would be a huge starting point. When they listen more than they speak, because I've... and this is one of the things I've been guilty of in the past, is I've allowed my own biases to influence the team's direction. An approach I'd taken in the past was, "Hey, I'm working with this team and this has worked well in the past. We're going to do that." Rather than, "So guys, what have you done so far? What have you tried? What's worked well? What hasn't worked well? What can we create or what can we try next? That works for you guys. Let's have you make that decision and I'm here to guide you through that process to facilitate it, rather than to direct it myself."

Chris Stone:

Again, I find ... it's an approach that resonates more with people. They like feel that they own that decision as opposed to it being forced upon them. And there's far less, I guess, cognitive dissonance as a consequence. So listening more than speaking is a huge for me, a point an Agile coach should do. Another thing I think for me nowadays, is that there's too much copying and pasting. And what I mean by that is, the Spotify, the Spotify model came out years ago and everyone went, "Oh, this is amazing. We're going to adopt it. We're going to have tribes and chapters and guilds and squads, and it's going to work for us. That's that's our culture now."

Chris Stone:

I was like, "Well, let's just take a moment here. Spotify never intended for that to happen. They don't even follow that model themselves anymore. What you've done there is you've just tried to copy and paste another model." And people do it with SAFe as well. They just say, "Hey, we're going to take the whole SAFe framework and Chuck it into our system in this blueprint style cookie cutter." And the problem is that it doesn't take into account for me, the most important variable in any sort of transformation initiative, the people, what they want, and the culture there. So this is where another one of my values is, innovate, don't replicate. Work with people to experiment and find that Agile, what works for them rather than just copying and pasting things.

Chris Stone:

So tailor it to their needs rather than just coming in with some or seen dancing framework, and then the way I do it is I say, "Hey, well, SAFe is great. Well, it's got lots of values, and lots of great things about it. Lots of benefits to it, but maybe not all of it works for us. Let's borrow a few tenent of that." Same with LeSS, same with Scrum At Scale, same with Scrum, similar to Kanban. There's lots of little things you can borrow from various frameworks, but there's also lots of things you can inject yourself, lot's of things you can try that work for you guys, and ultimately come up with your own tailor-made solutions. So innovate, don't replicate would be another one for me.

Chris Stone:

Learning, learning fast and learning often, and living and breathing that yourself. Another mistake I and other coaches I think have made is not making time for your own personal development to allowing, day in, day out to just be busy, busy, busy, but at the same time you're going out there, coaching teams, "Hey, you've got to learn all the time. You got to try new things." But not making that time for yourself. So I always carve out time to do that, to attend conferences, to read books, to challenge myself and escape my echo chamber. Not just to speak to the same people I do all the time, but perhaps to go on a podcast with people I've never spoken to. To a different audience, maybe to connect with people that actually disagree with me, because I want that.

Chris Stone:

I don't want that homophilous thinking where everyone thinks exactly like I do, because then I don't get exposed to the perspectives that make me think differently. So I'm often doing that. How can I tend to conference that I know nothing about, maybe it's a project management focus one. Project management and waterfall isn't a dirty word either. There is no utopian system, project management and... sure traditional project management and waterfall has its benefits in certain environments. Environments with less footing, less flexible scope or less frequently changing requirements works very well.

Chris Stone:

I always say GDPR, which is an EU legislation around data protection, that was a two year thing in the making and everyone knew exactly what was happening and when they had to do it by. That was a great example of something that can be done very well with a waterfall style, because the requirements weren't changing. But if you are trying to develop something for a customer base that changes all the time, and you've got lots of new things and lots of competitors and things like that, then it varies, and probably the ability to iterate frequently and learn from it is going to be more beneficial and this is where Agile comes in. So I guess to sum up there, there's a few things, learning fast learning often. I can't even remember the ones I've mentioned now, I've gone off on many tangents and this is what I do.

Sean Blake:

I love it. It's great advice, Chris. It's really important and timely. And you mentioned, earlier on that the customer base that's always changing and we know that technology is always changing and things are only going to change more quickly, and disruptions are only going to be more severe going forward. Can you look into the future, or do you ever look into the future and say, what are those trends that are emerging in the Agile space or even in work places that are going to disrupt us in the way that we do our work? What does Agile look like in five or 10 years?

Chris Stone:

Now that again is a very big question. I can sit here and postulate and talk about what it might look like. I'm going to draw upon what I think is a great example of what will shape the next five or 10 years. In February, 2021, there's a festival called Agile 20 Reflect, I'm not sure if you've heard of it, and it's built as a festival, not conference, it's really important. So it's modeled on the Edinburgh festival and what it intends to be is a celebration of the past, the present and the future of Agile. Now what it is, it's a month long series of events on Agile, and anyone can create an event and speak and share, and it will create this huge community driven load of content that will be freely accessible and available.

Chris Stone:

Now, there are three of the original Agile manifestor signatories that are involved in this. Lisa Adkins is involved in this as is lots of big name speakers that are attached to this festival. And I myself, I'm running a series of retrospectives on the Agile manifesto. I've interviewed Arie van Bennekum, one of the original Agile manifesto signatories. They're going to be lots of events out there. And I think that festival will begin to shape in some way, what Agile might look like because there's lots of events, lots of speakers, lots of panel discussions that are coming up, coming together with lots of professionals out there, lots of practitioners out there that will begin to shape what that looks like. So whilst I could sit here and postulate on it, I'm not the expert to be honest, and there are far greater minds than I. And actually I'd rather leverage the power of the wider community and come into that than suggesting mine at this time.

Sean Blake:

Nice. I like it. And what you've done there, you've made it impossible for us to click this video and prove you wrong in the future when you predict something that doesn't end up happening. So that's very wise if you.

Chris Stone: Future proof myself.

Sean Blake: Exactly. Chris, I think we're coming almost to the end now, but I wanted to ask, given the quality of your Christmas sweater, do you have any tips for teams who are working over the holiday period, they're most likely burnt out after a really difficult 2020? What are some of the things you'd say to coaches on Agile teams as they come into this time where hopefully people are able to take some time off, spend some time with their family. Do you have any tips or recommendations for how people can look after their mental health look after their peers and spend that time in self-reflection?

Chris Stone:

Sure. So a number of things that I definitely would recommend. I'm currently producing and sharing this Agile advent calendar. And the idea is that every day you get a new bite-size piece of Agile knowledge or a template or something working in zany or a video, whatever it may be. There's lots of little things getting in there. And there's been retro templates, Christmas and festive themes. So there's a Home Alone one, a Diehard one, an elf movie one, there's all sorts. Perhaps try one of those as a fun immersive way with your team to just reflect on the recent times as a squad and perhaps come up with some things in the next year.

Chris Stone:

And there's for example, the Diehard one, it's based on the quotes from the movie Diehard so it's what you'd be doing in there, celebrate your... to send them to your team. Or there's one in there about, if this is how you celebrate Christmas, I can't wait for new year. And that question was saying, what do we want to try next year? Like this year has been great, what do we want to try differently next year? So there's opportunities through those templates to reflect in a fun way so give one of those a go. I shared some Christmas eve festive Zoom backgrounds, or Team backgrounds, give those a go and make a bit fun, make it a bit immersive. There's Christmas or festive icebreakers that you can use. What I tend to do is any meeting I facilitate, the first five minutes is just unadulterated chat about non-work things, and I often use icebreakers to do so. And whether that's a question, like if you could have the legs of any animal, what would you have and why, Sean, what would that be?

Sean Blake:

Probably a giraffe, because just thought the height advantage, it's got to be something that's useful in everyday life.

Chris Stone: Hard to take you on the ground maybe.

Sean Blake:

Yes. Yes, you would definitely need that. Although, I don't think I would fit in the lift on the way to work, so that would be a problem.

Chris Stone:

Yeah. That's just how I start. But yeah, that's just a question, because it's interesting to see what could people come up with, but there's some festive ones too, what's your favorite Christmas flick? What would put you on the naughty list this year? Yeah, does your family have any weird or quirky Christmas traditions? Because I love hearing about this. Everyone's got their own little thing, whether it's we have one Christmas present on Christmas Eve or every Christmas day we get a pizza together. There's some really random ones that come out. I love hearing about those and making time for that person interaction, but in a festive way can help as well.

Chris Stone:

And then on the mental health side of things, I very much subscribed to the Pomodoro effect from a productivity side of things. So I will use that. I'll set myself a timer, I'll focus without distractions, do something. And then in that five minute break, I'll just get up and move away from my desk and stretch and get a coffee or whatever it may be. But then I'll also block out time, and I know some companies in this remote working world at the moment are saying, "Hey, every one to 2:00 PM is blocked out time for you guys to go and have a walk." Some companies are doing that. I always make time to get out and away from my desk because that... and a little bit more productive and it breaks up my day a little bit. So I definitely recommend that. Getting some fresh air can do wonders for your mental health.

Sean Blake:

Awesome. Well, Chris, I've learnt so much from this episode and I really appreciate you spending some time with us today. We've talked about a lot of things from around the importance of sharing your failures, the importance of looking after your mental health, checking in on yourself and your own development, but also how you tracking, how you feeling. I love that quote that you shared from, we think it Socrates, that true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing. I think that's really important, every day is starting from day one, isn't it? De-stigmatizing failure. The origins of the word deadline. I did not know that. That's really interesting. And just asking that simple question, how did that feel? How did that feel working in this way? People were screaming your name, walk up work, when work's too busy, how does that feel? And is that a healthy feeling that everyone should have? So that's really important questions for me to reflect on and I know our audience will really appreciate those questions as well. So thanks so much Chris, for joining us on the Easy Agile Podcast.

Chris Stone:

Not a problem. Thank you for listening and a Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sean Blake:

Merry Christmas.

Easy Agile Podcast Ep.6 - Chris Stone, The Virtual Agile Coach

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