Easy Agile Podcast Ep.8 Gerald Cadden Strategic Advisor & SAFe Program Consultant at Scaled Agile Inc.

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

04 May 2021

"Gerald is a superstar. He helps massive companies work better together while keeping teams focused on people and on the customer. I'll be revisiting this episode."

Gerald shared that companies often face the same challenges over & over again when it comes to implementing agile, but the real challenge and most crucial is overcoming a fixed mindset.

Gerald also highlights the difference between consultants & coaches, and the value of having good mentors + more

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Transcript

Sean Blake:

Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Easy Agile Podcast. Sean Blake here with you today. And we've got a great guest for you it's Gerald Cadden a Strategic Advisor and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer at Scaled Agile, Inc. Gerald is an experienced business, an IT professional, Strategic Advisor and Scaled Agile Program Consultant Trainer SPCT at Scaled Agile. Thanks, Gerald. Welcome to the Easy Agile Podcast. It's really great to have you on as a guest today, and thank you for spending a bit of time with us and sharing your expertise with our audience on the Easy Agile Podcast.

Sean Blake:

So I'm really interested and I'm interested in this story that... For all the guests that we have at the podcast, but can you tell me a little bit about your career today? I find that people find their way to these Agile roles or the Agile industry through so many diverse types of jobs in the past. Some people used to be plumbers or tradies, or they worked in finance or in banking. How did you find your way into working at somewhere like Scaled Agile?

Gerald Cadden:

Good morning, Sean. Thanks for having me here guys. I'm very happy to be here with you guys today. Career things are always an interesting question. I'm 53 and so when I look back I wonder how do I get to where I am? And you can often look at just a series of fortunate events. And I worked in retail shoe stores and then I decided to do something in my life. Did an IT diploma then did a degree and I started working in the IT side. I pretty much started as a developer because that was where the money was and so that's where you wanted to go. I didn't stay as a developer long. Okay. All right. I was a terrible developer so I wasn't good at it. It was frustrating.

Gerald Cadden:

I moved into some pre-sales work and that led me to doing business analysis and I really liked the BA work because I got to work with people and see changes. I could work with the developers, still got to work really directly with the customer which was much more interesting for me. So I spent a lot of time in BA doing the development work, doing business process reengineering my transitioned over to rational unified process. When it was around spent countless hours writing use cases doing your mail diagrams, convincing people on how to make the changes on those. And then Agile came along and I had to make a complete brain switch. So all of this stuff that I'd learned and depended on as a BA suddenly disappeared because Agile didn't require that as an upfront way of working. It required that to be in the background if you wanted it and it was more a collaboration.

Gerald Cadden:

So about 2004, 2005 started working with Agile a lot more by this time I was living in the U.S. So that's where I got my agile experience, stayed there for a long time. Got great experience and then I moved over to working with SAFe around 2011. The catalyst for that as I was working for the large financial firm in New York with a team there. And we were redesigning a large methodology for them to implement Agile at scale. Went to a seminar in 2011 at an Agile conference saw Dean Leffingwell presentation on SAFe and just looked up and went, "Well we can stop working on our methodology. It's done."

Gerald Cadden:

So hardly after that meeting I ran outside and tackled Dean Leffingwell because I wanted him to look at my diagrams and everything and give me some affirmation that I was doing the right thing. Dean is got a very frank face and he pulled his frank face and he looked at me and just said, "You know what? Just use SAFe?" And I'm like, "Yeah, we will." And so I started my SAFe journey around that time and we implemented that financial company and I've been on that journey ever since.

Sean Blake:

So take us back 10 years ago to 2011. And you're working at this financial company, you've heard of this concept of SAFe really for the first time you started to implement it. How did the people at that company respond to you bringing in this new way of thinking this new framework? It sounded you already had the diagrams on the frameworks and the concepts forming in your mind did you find that an easy process? I think I already know the answer, but how complex was that to try and introduce SAFe for the first time into an organization of that magnitude?

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah, this is a very large financial firm, a very old financial firm so very traditional ways of working. So what's interesting is the same challenges SAFe comes up against today they're present before SAFe even began. And so the same challenges of the past management approaches trying to move to faster ways of working was still there. So as we were furiously drawing diagrams in Visio, trying to create models for people to understand it was hard to create a continuum of knowledge and education that would get people to move from the mindset they had to the mindset we wanted them to have. And it was an evolving journey for myself and the team that I was working with. I work with a really great guy and his name is Algona, a very, very smart man.

Gerald Cadden:

And so the two of us we're always scratching our heads as to how to get the management to change their minds. And we focused on education, but it was still a big challenge. I finished on the project as they started with SAFe. I moved to different management role in the company that we continued the work there. Michael Stump he used to work for Scaled Agile I think he works now at a different company, but he continued a lot of that work and did a really good job and they did implement SAFe. They made changes, but they faced all the same challenges. The management mindset overcoming moving away from the silos to a more network structured organization. Just the tooling, just the simple things was still a challenge and there's still a challenge today. So the nature of the organization is still evolving even in the modern day Agile world.

Sean Blake:

You mentioned there that part of the challenge is around mindset and education. Have you found any shortcuts into how you change a team's mindset? The way they approach their work, the way that they approach working with other teams in that organization? I assume the factor of success has a lot to do with, has the team changed their mindset on the way they were working before and now committed to this new way of working? And can you talk to us a little bit about how do you go about changing a team's mindset?

Gerald Cadden:

Maybe I'll change the direction of your question here, because what I've found is usually you don't have to work too hard to change the mindset of a team. Most of the teams are really eager to try new things and be innovative. You only come across some people in teams who may be their career path has got them to a certain point where they're happy with the way the world is and they don't want to change. The mindset you really need to change is around that leadership space and that's still true today. So the teams will readily adapt if management can create the environment that allows them to do it and if they can be empowered. But it's really... If you want to enable the team it's getting the leadership around them to change their mindset, to change the structures that are constraining the teams from doing the best job they can.

Gerald Cadden:

And so that for me was the big discovery as you went along and it's still true today. As Agile has been evolving I've noticed that people don't always put leadership at the top of the list of challenges but for me it's always been at that top of the list. A lot of people want to look at leadership and say things about them unflattering things, but you have to remember these are human beings. And the best way to come to leadership is to really begin with a conversation, help them understand. They know the challenges, but we need to help them understand what's causing the issues that are creating those challenges.

Gerald Cadden:

As you work with them and educate them you can to open their minds up a little more. Does that mean they'll actually change? Not necessarily. Political motivations, ideologies other things constrained leadership from moving. But conversations and education I think are the way to really approach leadership. And getting to know them as a person, take an interest in their challenges, take an interest in them as an individual. So create that social bond is an important thing. As a consultant that was always hard to do because as a consultant you're always seen as an external force and it's hard to build that somewhat social relationship with that leadership and build that trust.

Sean Blake:

Yeah, that's so true. Isn't it. I remember on an Agile transformation that I was on previously, how Agile coach really would spend just as much time with the leadership team as they would with us the Agile team. And it seems strange that the coach was spending so much time trying to really coach the leadership team on how they should think about this new way of working, but you put it in the right context there it's so important that they create that environment for their people and for their teams to feel safe in trying something new. Yeah, that's really important.

Gerald Cadden:

I think if you looked at how Agile evolves, when you look at the creation of the Agile manifesto and its principles and then the following frameworks like ScrumXP, et cetera it evolved from a team perspective. So everybody made the assumption that we needed to create these things for the teams to follow, but as people worked with teams they found that it wasn't the teams at all the teams adapt, but the management and the structures of the organizations are not adapting. And so that's really where it went.

Gerald Cadden:

I can't recall the number of countless Scrum implementations you worked on and you just hit that ceiling of organizational challenges. And it was always very frustrating for the teams. I think there's a an opposite side to that too is that too many in the Agile world just look at the teams as the center of the world and you can't approach it from that way either the teams are very important to delivering value to the customers, but it's the organization as a whole that delivers value. And I think you really have to sit back and just say, "The teams are part of that how do we change the organization inclusive of the teams?"

Sean Blake:

Okay. That's really interesting. Gerald, you've spoken a bit about teams and mindset, when you go into an organization, a big auto manufacturer or a big airline or a financial services company and they're asking for your help, or they're asking for your training, how do you assess where that organization is up to? What's their level of maturity from an Agile point of view? Do you have organizations that are coming to you who have in their mind that they're ready to go SAFe and then you turn up on day one and it turns out no one has any real idea about what that type of commitment looks like?

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah, it's a good question. Because I think as I look back at the history of this, in 2011, 2012 when SAFe really got going, as you went forward I mean, there was no concept of where to begin. Consultants were just figuring it out for themselves and like most consulting or most methodologies they got engaged in an IT space and at the team level. And people would try to grow from the team level upwards. And at some point we need to know I've struggled a lot with this because I was just trying to figure out where it is that. So my consulting hat was always on to sit down, talk to people about their challenges, find a way to help figure out how to solve the challenges whether it was going to be Scrum or SAFe or whatever is going to be right.

Gerald Cadden:

Those are just tools in the toolbox. But when Scaled Agile as I was working with... Excuse me, as I was working with SAFe, Scaled Agile brought out the implementation roadmap. It produced so much more clarity that came later in my time with SAFe and I wish it had come earlier because it really began to help me clarify that initial thing that we call getting over the tipping point. How to work with the organization you're talking to, work with the right people, understand their challenges, help them understand what causes those problems, which is the more traditional ways of working the traditional management mindset, help them connect SAFe as a way to overcome those challenges and begin to show them. If you looked at the roadmap it's this contiguous step-by-step thing, but what you find in reality is there are gaps between those steps and in those gaps is the time you as a transitional team are having lots of conversation with the management.

Gerald Cadden:

If you put them through a training class they're not going to come out of the class going, "Oh, wow that's it. We know what to do." It takes follow-up conversation. You have to have one-on-ones one on many conversations, cover topics of gains so you can remove the assumptions or sorry the misassumptions. So it's a lot of that kind of work that the roadmap its there for those who are implementing SAFe today use it. It is one of the most helpful tools you'll have.

Sean Blake:

Awesome. Yeah. I think just acknowledging the difference between the tools in the toolbox and then the other fact that you're dealing with humans and you're dealing with attitudes and motivations and behaviors and habits there's two very different things there really. It sounds you need to take them all together on that journey.

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah. A side to that we train so many SPCs like SAFe program consultants. We train them, training them out of classes all the time with us and our partners. The thing that you can, you can teach them about the framework, but you can't necessarily teach them how to be a good consultant or a good... I want to say I use the term consultant and coach, right?

Sean Blake:

Yes.

Gerald Cadden:

Sometimes I like to say a good consultant can be a good coach, but a good coach can't necessarily be a good consultant because there's another world of knowledge you need to have like how do you sit down and talk to executives? How do you learn the patients and the kinds of questions you need to ask, how do you learn to build those relationships and understand how to work the politics? So there are things outside the knowledge of an SPC that they need to gain. So young people coming in and running to do this SPC course I want to prepare you for everything, but it gives you the foundations.

Sean Blake:

So when you're in a organization or you're coaching people to go back to their organization how do you teach them those coaching skills so that when they come in and they've got to learn the politics, they've got to identify the red flags, they've got to manage the dependencies, they've got to bring new teams onto the train. How do you go about equipping that more human and communications of the toolbox really?

Gerald Cadden:

I think you can obviously teach the fundamentals of the framework by running through the training courses. But mentoring for me is the way to go. Every time I teach a training class I make it very clear to people when they go back and they're starting a transformation don't go this alone. Find experienced people that have done this and the experience shouldn't just be with SAFe their experience should be having worked with large organizations having experience with the portfolio level if necessary. Simply because there are skills that people develop over years of their career if they don't have at the beginning.

Gerald Cadden:

I mean, if I look back at some of the horrific things I had said in meetings and in front of executives my boss would put his hands up in front of his face because I was young and impulsive and immature and I see that today. So when I first came to the U.S I worked with some younger BAs and they would say things in a meetings and you quickly have to dance around some things to, "We didn't really want to say that right now." So I think mentoring is the skill. We can teach you the tactical skills, but teaching you the political skills, the human skills is something that takes mentoring and time.

Sean Blake:

Mentoring so important in that context. Isn't it?

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah.

Sean Blake:

Okay. So let's rewind 12 months ago to March 2020, a month that's probably burned into a lot of people's mind is the month that COVID changed our lives for the foreseeable future. I know that Easy Agile had a lot of content out there, articles about how to do remote PI Planning, how to help your virtual teams work better together and we didn't know that COVID was coming we just saw this trend happening in the workforce and we had this content available.

Sean Blake:

And then I was checking out our website analytics and we had this huge spike in what I assume were people in these companies trying to work out for the first time, how to do PI Planning virtually, how to keep very literally their release trains on the tracks in a time where people were either leaving the state, working from home for the first time, it's really like someone dropped the bomb in the middle of these release trains and people scrambling on how we are we going to do this virtually now? Did you have a lot of questions at the time on how are we going to do this? And how have you seen companies respond to those challenges?

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah. I remember being in Boulder, Colorado in January of 2020 and I just come back from vacation in Australia and that's when COVID was coming around and you were hearing about things in January, 2020. I was talking with my colleagues and we were wondering how bad this is going to be within two months the world was falling apart. And for us I think a good way to tell that story is to look at what Scaled Agile did. We knew our business that it was very reliant on our partner success and it still is today. And so as we began to see the physical world of PI Planning and training, as we began to see that completely falling apart the company had to quickly adapt.

Gerald Cadden:

We already had a set of priorities set for the PI and we implement Scaled Agile internally in the company. At the time we're running the company as a train itself because it's 170 all people. So they had to reprioritize the different epics, we pushed a new features and it was all about what do we need to change now to keep our partners afloat by getting them online and a really good team at Scaled Agile in a really cross-company effort to get short-term online materials created to keep the partners upright so they could keep teaching. They could find ways to do this, to do PI Planning, to do they're inspecting adapts all online. And so we pushed out a lot of material just simply in the form of PowerPoint slides that they could then incorporate into tools like Mural, Al tool. SAFe collaborate we went about developing this and we've been maturing that over time.

Gerald Cadden:

And so now we're in a world where we have a lot more stability. We saw a big dip like everybody else, but the question is, are you going to come out of that dip? And so what we did notice within probably even the second quarter of that year where the tail end of it we saw it starting to come up again, which our partners starting to teach more online. So the numbers told us that the materials we're producing were working. So for us it was just a great affirmation that organizing yourself the way we did organize yourself, the quick way we could adapt saved us. So Scaled Agile could have gone the way of a lot of companies and not being able to survive because our partners wouldn't have survived. We had the ability to adapt. So it's a great success story from my perspective.

Sean Blake:

Well, that's great. We're all glad you're still around to tell the story.

Gerald Cadden:

Yes we are.

Sean Blake:

And Gerald, whether you're reflecting on companies you've worked with in the past, or maybe even that internal Scaled Agile example you just touched on. Are there specific meetings or ceremonies or checking points that are really important as part of the Agile release train process? What are the things that really for you are mandatory or the most important elements that company should really hold onto during that really set up stage of trying to move towards the Scaled Agile approach?

Gerald Cadden:

So I interpret your question correctly. I think for me when you're implementing the really important things to focus on as a team first of all is the PI Planning. That is the number one thing. It's the first one people want to change because it's two days long and everybody has to come and it can cost companies a quite a significant sum of money to run that every 10 to 12 weeks. And so you will run very quickly as I had in the past in the car company you run very quickly into the financial controller who wants to understand why you're spending $40,000 a quarter on a big two-day meeting. And so they lie, they start questioning every item on the bill, but that's the most significant one.

Gerald Cadden:

PI Planning is significant. The inspect and adapt is the other one simply because at the end if you remove that feedback cycle, what we call closing the loop if you remove that then we have no opportunities to improve. So those two events themselves create the bookends what we get started with and how we close the loop, but there are smaller events that happen in between the team events are obviously all important. But more significant for me is the constant, the event for the product management team or program management team how are you going to filter them, excuse me.

Gerald Cadden:

Who are going to need to get together on a regular basis to ensure that then we call this the Sync. So this is the ART Sync or the POPM Sync. You need to make sure those are happening because those are these more dynamic feedback loops and ensure the progress of good architectural requirements or good features coming through so that when you get to PI Planning the teams have significant things to work on. So if you had to give me my top three events, PI Planning, inspect and adapt, and the ART Sync and product POPM Sync.

Sean Blake:

Awesome. I know there's always that temptation for teams to find the shortcuts and define the workarounds where they don't have to do certain meetings or certain check-ins, but in terms of communication it must be terribly important for these teams to make sure they're still communicating and they don't use the framework as an excuse to stop meeting together and to stop collaborating.

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah. I mean, I went through when I started implementing at the large car company in the U.S I decided to rip the bandaid off. They had several teams working on projects and they weren't doing well, when I looked at the challenges and decided we're going to implement SAFe some of the management they were, "Are you crazy? Why would you do this?" But they trusted me. And so we did rip the bandaid off and we formed them all into a not. We launched set up. And I remember at the end of the PIs some of the management have had a lot of doubts that were coming up after they sat through the PI and they said they just couldn't believe how great that was.

Gerald Cadden:

Even though the first PI was a little chaotic they understood the work and the collaboration, the alignment, just the discussions that took place were far more powerful for them. And teams were happier, they were walking out to a different environment. So it changed the mood a great deal. So I think the teams their ability to be heard in one of the most significant places is during PI Planning, they get that chance to be heard. They get that chance to participate rather than just be at the end where they're told what to do.

Sean Blake:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So it really empowers the team.

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Sean Blake:

That's great. So as a company moves out of the implementation phase and becomes a little bit more used to the way of doing things what's the best way for them to go about communicating that progress to the wider organization and then really evangelizing this way of working to try and get more teams on board and more Agile release trains set up so that it's really a whole company approach.

Gerald Cadden:

Yeah. A good question. So I think first of all the system demo that we do. So the regular system demos that take place, this is an event where you can invite people to. So when you get to the end of the program increment, the 10, 12, or the eight, 10 or 12 weeks and you're doing your PI system demo that's a chance for you to invite people that may be in the organization who are next on the list and they're going to be doing this, or they're curious, or if you have external suppliers who you're trying to get on board as part of the training have them come. Have them come to these events so they can just participate. They can see what goes on and it takes away some of the fear of what that stuff is. It gives them work much.

Gerald Cadden:

So the system demo whether you do it during the PI, but definitely the PI system demo and you want that one. So more ad hoc things and one of the things that I've seen organizations really fail to do is when they're having success the leadership around the train need to go out and I hate the term evangelize, but go out and show the successes. Get out and talk about this at the next company meeting present where they were and where they are now. But as part of that don't share just the metrics that show greater delivery of value show the human metrics, show how the team went from maybe a certain level of disgruntlement to maybe feeling happier and getting better feedback, show with how the business and technology have come closer together because they're able to collaborate and actually produce value together rather than being at odds because the system makes them at odds.

Sean Blake:

Awesome. Gerald is there anything else you'd like to share with our audience before we wrap up the episode? Any tips or words of encouragement, or perhaps some advice for those who are considering scaling up their Agile teams.

Gerald Cadden:

I think that the one piece of advice again, I'll reiterate back to the earlier point I made is as you are going through the implementation process and you're starting to launch your train and train your teams figure out how you're going to support them when you launch. Putting people through an SPC class or through all the other classes they won't come out safe geniuses. They'll have knowledge and they'll have the enthusiasm and have some trepidation as well, but you need good coaching. So figure out as you're beginning the implementation pattern where you're designing the teams et cetera, figure out what your coaching pattern is going to be. Hire the people with the knowledge and the experience work with a partner for the knowledge and experience. They shouldn't stay there forever if you work with consultants.

Gerald Cadden:

Their job should be to come in and empower you not to stay there permanently, but without that coaching and coaching over a couple of PIs your teams tend to run into problems and go backwards. So to keep that momentum moving forward for me it's figure out the coaching pattern. The only other one I would say too is make sure that you get good collaboration between product and the people who are going to be the product management role on architecture, get rid of the grievances, have them work together because those can stifle you. Get in and talk about the environments before you launch. You don't want funny problems when you, "Oh, the architecture is terrible." Okay. Let's talk about that before we launch." So just a couple of things that I think are really important things to focus on before you launch the train.

Sean Blake:

Awesome. I really appreciate that Gerald. I've actually learned a lot in our chat around. It's the same challenges that you had 10 years ago it's the same challenges that we have today. The really the COVID is the challenge of how do you focus on the mindset change. We've talked about the teams are eager to change. There might be a few grumbly voices along the way, but really it's about leadership providing a welcoming and safe environment to foster that change and the difference between being a coach and a consultant, the importance of mentoring. Wow we actually covered a lot of ground didn't we?

Gerald Cadden:

I may get some hate mail for that comment, but...

Sean Blake:

Oh, we'll see. Time will tell. Thanks so much Gerald for joining us on the Easy Agile Podcast. And we appreciate you sharing your expertise with us and the audience for the podcast. Thanks for having you.

Gerald Cadden:

Happy to do it anytime. Thanks for having me here today.

Sean Blake:

Thanks Gerald.

Easy Agile Podcast Ep.8 Gerald Cadden Strategic Advisor & SAFe Program Consultant at Scaled Agile Inc.

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