5 + 1 Questions to Steven Deneir

Steven Deneir is a Professional Scrum Trainer, one of the two in Belgium (the other one is Gunther Verheyen). He’s specialized in transforming from traditional project management (e.g. PRINCE2®) towards agile initiatives.

He truly believes that self-organizing, cross-functional and collaborative teams, supported by their organisation, can deliver high-value, release-quality product increments at least every month.

I was already following Steven for quite some time but we met (virtual) a few weeks ago. as we were both part of a panel about Agile, organised by Serge Huysbrechts. During these talks we discussed different agile related topics. I was impressed by the knowledge and experience of Steven so it was an obvious choice to ask Steven some questions.

1. What is Agile or the Agile Mindset for you?

First of all I feel it is important that a manager / organisation know why they want to use an agile approach. A lot of organisations heard about it via-via, yet have not thought further why it would serve them.

To me agile is an approach that allows organisations / teams to reach their objectives, tackle their challenges. And they do this through a way of continuous improvement in very short feedback cycles. Not just on their processes, but also on their product ànd on their relationships with others outside the team.

Agile brings faster risk reduction, faster return on investment, and allows responding to opportunities or changes faster. If these are not achieved, we cannot say an organisation or a team is truly agile.

Someone with an agile mindset knows that he/she doesn’t know everything, and knows that he/she therefore will have to make adaptations to arrive at the goal. This person wants to gain these insights as soon as possible and knows the only way to get real and useful feedback is to show the current product in the state it is to the end users.

2. What’s your favourite tool or method you use during your coaching?

As a Professional Scrum Trainer, this is pretty clear I guess… The Scrum framework.

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A lot of people I am talking with think that Scrum is about doing a Sprint Planning, a Daily Scrum, a Sprint Review and a Sprint Retrospective. That it is to have a Product Owner and a Scrum Master. That it is about a Product Backlog, a Sprint Backlog and an Increment.

And yes, these are elements of Scrum. Only this is not the core.

These are the elements through which the magic becomes visible. The core of Scrum is about having a Done Increment the latest by the end of each Sprint so there is transparency on the current state of the product. It is about a self-organising team that decides itself how to develop the product and achieve the goals.

It is about a cross-functional team that is as independent as possible from others to do their work. It is about living the Scrum Values so that trust is raised and true transparency, i.e. a clear and shared understanding, becomes possible.

And it is about empiricism: transparency, inspection and adaptation that brings continuous improvement rolling. Improvement on multiple areas as I mentioned above in what I feel agile is about. So it is not really about doing Scrum, it is about being agile.

3. What book or website would you recommend?

I do follow a few blogs – the one of the Co-Learning team (www.co-learning.eu), the one of Stephanie Ockerman (www.agilesocks.com), the one of Scrum.org. With regard to books, I each time find value in the different books I read.

  • For Scrum Masters I can recommend Mastering Professional Scrum from Stephanie Ockerman, and Fixing your Scrum from Ryan Ripley.
  • For Product Owners I can recommend the Professional Product Owner from Ralph Jocham, and the Product Samurai from Chris Lukassen.
  • For leaders I can recommend the Serving Leader by Kenneth Jennings, and right now I am reading Good to Great from Jim Collins.

4. What is essential for you during an Agile transformation?

The power of the willing. I see a lot of organisations starting off by pushing people in Scrum teams or similar. “We are doing agile, and as of tomorrow you’ll apply it on your project.” This is starting against one of the key aspects of agility: a self-organising team.

Imagine the difference when a manager/C-level executive says. “I believe in an agile approach. We need it to sustain our business in the long run. Therefore I am looking to compose a team. Who would be interested in joining?”

In this way we bring a team together who is willing to learn, to put that effort in it. Change management will hardly be needed with these people. They want this. They want to be part of it.

Add to that this manager who believes in the value of making his organisation an agile business and therefore listens to the needs of this team, to their challenges, and asks how he can help – and then takes action. And you’re up for a winner.

5. What’s 1 Aspect of coaching Agile teams you like the most?

My personal purpose statement at this moment goes like “To energise, encourage, and inspire individuals and teams, so they successfully overcome the challenges on their path, making them more complete persons”.

If I see a team growing; if I see them taking up things they would not have done before; if I see them going forward and working through the challenges they face; that truly makes my day. I want to share my experiences so that these teams I serve reach their goals.

If someone, even after two years, contacts me back with the message “hey Steven, we continued this approach of self-organisation and now have built teams that are cross-functional. And the result now is that on the one hand, the people are way more motivated than they already were, yet the customers indicate they have already solved quite a number of their problems.” that is why I am doing it. Love it!

Coaching, mentoring, teaching, facilitating, name it. As long as I achieve the above.

+1. What’s the FISH philosophy for being an outstanding team member?

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I learned about Fish! a few years ago. I always knew that people are what make an initiative a success or failure, but all literature about it feels so heavy for me, so I never really actively worked with something.

The Fish! Philosophy on the other hand is so simple. So straight-forward. Anybody can apply it every single moment in life.

The Fish! Philosophy brings us four simple practices – practices indeed that you can do anytime:

  • Be There: in that moment with the person you talk, or collaborate, or … No mails, no phones, no distractions. All your attention is there for that person. Imagine what that would bring for yourself if others do that with you. What an amazing experience that would be. We are not used to that anymore, yet it is so strong.
  • Play: whatever you do together, make it fun. Fun, smiling, opens up the brains. It brings creativity. It also makes people curious. And as such we find faster, better solutions. It is not just playing for sure. It is making the work enjoyable.
  • Make their day: do something unexpected yet very helpful or funny. It is like a little surprise. Sure you can bring donuts to the team. You can also leave a little thank you card on the desk of a colleague. Or a simple tap on the shoulder. A faster than expected delivery. Anything that helps the other while it was not expected. Delight people in a memorable way. Just because you want to do that – not because you think you’ll benefit from it.
  • Choose your attitude: the way you respond to life is your choice. You can see something as bad luck. Or you can see that same thing as a great lesson in life. You can see work as boring, or you can see work as adding value. Ask yourself throughout the day “is my current attitude really the best I can bring for my team”.

If each team member practices these four easy pillars of the Fish! Philosophy amongst themselves and with their clients, users, and other stakeholders, imagine what an outstanding team that would be. Everyone will want to work with them.