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The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot

status: draft version 11

But, isn’t that the Product Owner’s job?

I’ve been hearing that a lot from you on my travels. (Scrum Gathering New Orleans and XP2014 in Rome were two recent destinations.)

Sometimes there’s something more implied in the question.

Only the Product Owner can do that!
Says the Product Owner (who could be thinking “It’s my job, not yours”).

Only the Product Owner can do that!
Says the developer (who could be thinking, “I can’t—or I don’t want—to do that, it’s not my job”).

Only the Product Owner can do that!
Says the Scrum Master (who could be thinking, “It’s my job to ‘help’ people stick to their assigned role”).

Only the Product Owner can do that!
Says the Manager (who could be thinking, “I certainly don’t trust a Developer to do that job”).2

Which reminds me, well-defined roles and responsibilities are very important at the beginning of your Agile journey with Scrum. (Or at least at the beginning of most people’s Agile journey with Scrum.)

Here’s a Venn diagram like one Henrick Kniberg draws in his YouTube sensation “Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell” where he illustrates the responsibilities of the three roles that are important in Scrum teams :
Scrum Responsibility Sets
These are the roles and responsibilities:

Product Owner – “Build the right Thing”
Developer – “Built the thing right”
Scrum Master – “Build the thing fastwell”

There is an overlap between the circles on the diagram. We often call the spot of a Venn diagram where all the circles overlap the “sweet spot in the middle”. Or at least I tend to call it that, some people tend to call it “the intersection of the three sets”.3

At the beginning of a team’s Agile journey with Scrum, that sweet spot is small, but there is still a space where the roles of Product Owner, Developer (tester, UI Designer, Coder), and Scrum Master overlap. Real team learning is taking place in this intersection where the entire team is focused on building the right thing right and well. The work and the engagement of the entire team is accelerated here to achieve real results for the company and the customer—and that’s why we call it the “sweet spot”.

While this intersection point is very small—at the beginning, what would happen if we enlarged the sweet spot of overlap, since it yields such great reward? Would we also find more engagement and better results when the sweet spot grows?
Scrum Responsibility Sets
Those are exactly the questions I ask when I’m introducing Scrum to new teams. I say to people, “this spot in the middle of the Roles and Responsibilities diagram starts small, but over time as you experience this type of team development—and as you become proficient in those roles and other aspects of practice that Scrum and XP enable—then the circles of strict individual roles will push together—even melt into each other—and the sweet spot in the middle of the Role and Responsibility Venn diagram can grow quite large.”

If you choose to take your Agile adoption that far, then your teams of Devs, PO’s and Scrum Masters (and Coaches and Trainers and anyone else) should take care not to set the position of their roles in concrete. I’ve seen that happen, and it’s become an impediment later. As your team becomes more fluent 4 in your mastery of Agile development, you will find that when you have not set these early definitions in stone 5, your team can reach a level of proficiency where the division of roles and responsibility need not be nearly so strict.

When the sweet spot where the overlap of “building the right thing”, “building the thing right”, and “building the thing well” has grown large enough —as the roles and responsibilities push together and intersection approaches union—you may discover your teams are operating at a level of proficiency in which they “deliver the most value possible for your investment”, because they “understand what the market wants, what your business needs, and how to meet those needs”6.

Although that’s a big claim, it’s possible because when the teams’ proficiency in all three areas has grown through mutual learning then it is possible for them to invite more business expertise into the team. When this is also supported by the organisation, the increased levels of trust and interaction between team members, and between the team and the rest of the business, will enable “rapid, effective negotiation” while the team’s hard-won, “broad-based expertise eliminates hand-offs and speeds decision making.”7

I don’t believe this level of proficiency will come overnight (or over a fortnight for that matter)8, but for many organisations this level of proficiency is worth achieving with time—because this is also where where the promise of Agile is fulfilled.

  1. I’m thinking interatively. I may return to this post many times. I hope you comment so we can refine these ideas together! 
  2. And, what does the fox say? (outdated viral video) 
  3. And some people would call it “P ? D ? S”. 
  4. I’m using the concept of fluency in a very specific way to refer to the type of fluency described by James Shore and Diana Larsen at
  5. “aim for your desired level of fluency from the start” 
  6. Shore and Larsen, “Your Path through Agile Fluency” 
  7. ibid. (Hey, who are you calling “Ibid?”) 
  8. “Ah ha!” I hear you thinking. “We’re better than your average team, we can forego these roles with their different responsibilities from the start.” And I can only caution that in my experience, and in the experience of many others, the results Scrum promises are based on initially learning in an environment where the responsibilities are split between the three roles as discussed in the Scrum Guide.

    There are no shortcuts to fluency—says the guy who skipped the boring stuff about learning der, die, das and may never, ever learn to speak and write German properly.

    See also: ”We tried baseball and it didn’t work” 


Don’t Panic

originally posted at

Sometimes the most important thing I want to say to a manager or a Scrum master is, “Hey, calm down. Don’t Panic!”

Or as the Agile Manifesto folks said, “take some time to reflect.”

I’ve watched Scrum masters and managers running around, and I picture them nervously clutching a clipboard crossing off items on a detailed plan to “do something.”  (To be fair I haven’t seen an actual clipboard since I was the nervous, novice Scrum master running around with one!)

I know you want to do something.

And, here’s what you can do. Trust the team to find the options they need to surprise you and your customer by delivering the product your market needs when they need it.

Of course, you still have a lot to do. There are constraints to set, visions to find, impediments to remove, values to uphold, teams to coach and improvements to nurture.

But if you’ve done that and you’re running frantically around feeling the urge to do something?

Stop it!

Take some time to reflect.

And, please. Whatever you do…

Calm down.

And…Don’t Panic!


Feature image (Don’t Panic Towel) by Barbara Abate/Creative Commons AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Barbara Abate


Can you break the addict’s cycle?

status: draft version 2

“There is a group of people that know they should change, and know how to change, but don’t: Addicts.” (Erwin van der Koogh)

Does that put you in mind of any organisations you know? Perhaps  organisations that say they want to invest in 21st century management like true self-organisation, yet find every excuse not to?

Sure.  That’s why Erwin asks, “Are we addicted to hierarchy and command & control?” at his excellent new blog “Business in the 21st Century”.

Weinberg’s addiction model

Which puts me in mind of recent reading in the (extremely prolific) works of Gerald Weinberg.  Jerry (can I call you Jerry if we haven’t been introduced) ties much of his writing back to the dynamics of addiction.

As he explains, “You become addicted to substances (or activities) that make you feel good”.

Continue reading

Image by Andy Noren / Creative Commons

Three Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Team

Looking for a way to make your team holiday outing fun, memorable and also offer more value than a Secret Santa?

Here are three fun workshops. Choose one to give your team before heading out together for Glühwein at the Christmas market or for that team Christmas lunch.

  • Play Fearless Journey the card game that gets your team unstuck. During the game the team will use the Fearless Change pattern language from Manns and Rising to construct actions for moving past their obstacles. This holiday help your team reach their big goal. (about Fearless Journey)
  • Re-tell The Emperor’s New Clothes, an Agile fairytale. You will feel and understand 5 unproductive, but deeply ingrained, stances for coping with stress (“the blamer”, “the placater”, “the super-resaonable”, “irrelevance”, “the lover/hater”).  Discover congruence an feel how it drastically improves your team interaction. This holiday help  your team become highly productive with congruence. (about The Emperor’s New Clothes)
  • Play with LEGO®, using SERIOUS PLAY® materials and methods. Your team will love playing with LEGO elements while they develop a stronger sense of identity. This holiday help your team hack their mission! (about LEGO® using SERIOUS PLAY®)

Ask me to play St. Nick (guide, storyteller or facilitator) bringing these holiday gifts to your team.

Feature image by Andy Noren / Creative Commons

Thanks Michael Sahota! (licensed under Creative Commons License—image used with permission)

An Unexpected Holiday Gift Idea—Hack your Team’s Mission using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®

Let me show you the coolest–and I mean coolest–way to uncover  a better mission, build a stronger identity, or have discussions about the things that matter–with your team.

Use LEGO®.

Give your team a workshop using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to uncover hidden approaches to your team’s mission and identity. Base your work on a deep understanding of the different individuals making up your team.

This is one of three holiday “gift” ideas to help your team be great(er) in 2014.

Gift Idea: Play to discover using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a powerful tool for uncovering hidden approaches to your complex problems. You will construct models from fantastic LEGO® elements and tell your stories with the models in a process of discovery. 

My colleague and fellow LSP facilitator drew this map. Thanks Michael Sahota!

My colleague and fellow LSP facilitator drew this map. Thanks Michael Sahota!

Your custom designed workshop using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can:

  •  create new insights
  •  improve decision-making
  •  find hidden opportunities
  •  stimulate entrepreneurship
  •  improve project leadership
  •  surface hidden issues
  •  clarify values, roles and identities
  •  integrate new teams and new members
  •  resolve conflicts

When your team works with the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® materials and methods, each member will be engaged building models with LEGO®.

The models add a kinaesthetic dimension to your experience.

The models are physical metaphors that the team creates to see and touch. Team members will reach a common understanding by telling stories–holding and pointing to the models as they do. Each person is actively listening and participating fully.

During a full workshop you will:

  • Create individual models, discover and express your unique vision of your situation
  • Construct a shared team model which reflects a new understanding going much deeper than one achieved through discussion alone.
  • Uncover connections and relations with each other and with stakeholders and forces outside the team.
  • Experiment with the effects of future change by working in real-time, 4D simulations using the strategic LEGO® models. Break the model. Discover what happens. Rebuild the model.


Your outcomes from a workshop using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® materials and methodologies are a shared vision and simple guiding principles for successfully navigating your way over complex terrain into the future.

What’s Next?

This is really cool stuff. Unfortunately, it’s not a pre-planned workshop  that you can download and simply use.

My friend Michael Sahota says, “It’s not like a lot of Agile games where you check out a recipe on and then you just do it. Sadly, you can’t just dump a bag of random Lego® pieces on the table and expect results.”

The good news is that I’m an experienced, trained, and certified Strategic Play™ workshop facilitator using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.

Read more about LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® at

Email me ( to discuss the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods, and book a workshop for your team–or ask about a free introduction (you won’t realise just how cool this is until you experience it yourself). Discover your identity and your mission. Playfully. Powerfully.

Download my info page : Engage! Using LEGO® Serious® Play® [PDF 356K, right click to save].

Featured photo credit Michael Sahota/Creative Commons

facilitating at Municipal Stadium Poznan, Poland

The Secret to Banishing the Grey Cloud of Stress—Another Last Minute Gift Idea for your Team

Sometimes when I’m standing up with a team, I can almost see a grey cloud hanging over us. You’ve seen it too, I bet.

Discover the secret for banishing that grey cloud.

This is one of three holiday “gift” ideas to help your team be great(er) in 2014.

Gift Idea: Enjoy a Retelling of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and Experience a New Stance for Coping with Threat, Pain, and Fear!

We all have our “goto” stances for dealing with stress. We learned our “survival stances” when were small children. Unfortunately, those stances (blaming, placating, Super-reasonable-ness, Loving/Hating, Clowning) don’t often help us banish the grey clouds of stress we find today. Today the blamer meets the placater, the hyper-reasonable team-member meets the team clown, and the grey cloud grows bigger while the clock keeps ticking, and the team goes nowhere fast. What can we do?

The Emperor

image (c) Portia Tung and Jenni Jepsen licensed under Creative Commons

Take a short pause in your holiday schedule to experience a powerful re-telling of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The story touches the child in you, and you will experience five incongruent coping stances to discover the congruent stance.

When you and your colleagues consistently adopt congruent stances over incongruent stances, you will banish the grey cloud of stress and make a significant step in our journey to be that high-performing team of Agile legend.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a 90 minute workshop developed by Portia Tung and Jenni Jepsen which includes an engaging re-telling of the fairy tale (a holiday pageant!) combined with facilitated activities for understanding and experiencing the incongruent and congruent reactions to stress.

The workshop is based on the Satir Model by Virginia Satir and also the work of Gerald Weinberg. Placed in a fairy tale setting this theory becomes a powerful hack for relearning our approach to stress that we learned in childhood.

Give your team The Emperor’s New Clothes experience today. Portia and Jenni give you the entire workshop plan with handout material for experiencing the fairy tale. Download the free Emperor’s New Clothes workshop from this link.

Or, ask an experienced facilitator and storyteller to be your guide. That’s me pictured above having a great time facilitating the experience of the Emperor’s New Clothes at the Municiple Football Stadium in Poznan, Poland (site of three UEFA Euro 2012 championship matches).

Discuss the Emperor’s New Clothes, the Satir Model, the five survival stances and congruence in the comments, or email me to facilitate a conversation with your team at If you run the workshop with your team, I would love to hear all about it. (Portia and Jenni too!)

Get Your Team Unstuck—Discover this Last Minute Holiday Gift Idea



Fearless Journey

Do you want to reach your big, exciting goal? Ill show you a great way to help your team become unstuck and reach that goal.

This is one of three “gift” ideas to help your team be great(er) in 2014.

Gift Idea: Go on a Fearless Journey Together

Fearless Journey is a card game that “highlights your Team’s hard-to-reach Big Goal”.

Your team wants to do great things and solve challenging problems. But, sometimes your team feels stuck. “Our team could do great things, if only …

This is a game you play with your whole team (in 1-3 hours) to focus on your Big Goal and  find strategies for overcoming the obstacles that keep your team stuck in the mud far from the finish line.

The playing cards are based on the pattern language for change detailed in the book Fearless Change by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising.

Fearless Change book coverI have seen amazing things happen when players realise that they have effective ways to influence change. When players design  specific small ways to move around the exact obstacles they face, then big things begin to happen.

Just discovering one small change, and owning the discovery, can “unstick” a “stuckteam. Your team will start moving past obstacles to realise your big, exciting goal. Now that’s a gift that’s worth giving.

Download the complete game with playing cards and tokens plus complete instructions for playing from this link. There are many available translations including English, German, French and Japanese.

Or, ask an experienced Fearless Journey facilitator to be your guide during the game. (Me. Me! Ask Me!!)

Discuss a round of the Fearless Journey game in the comments, or by emailing

The Agile Contract Balancing Act

Have you heard the one about Agile contracts? “A Scrum Master, an entrepreneur and a lawyer walk into a bar ….

Yeah. But wait.

Agile contracts are no joke. We find ourselves negotiating contracts all the time. Even if you are not involved in contract software development, you are probably using contracts. You may be dealing with coaching contracts, employment contracts, supplier contracts or support contracts.

The framers  of the Agile Manifesto got it just right when they included contracts in one of the four tensions that need balancing which are expressed in the Agile Manifesto: “We value collaboration over contract negotiation.”

Unfortunately, we’ve all been involved in contract negotiations where the rule of thumb seems to be, “What the big talk giveth the fine-print taketh away.”

We can do better. I blogged about balanced contracts last year for the Swiss web development agency Liip (where I was employed as Scrum Master at the time). I claimed then:

The contract is a useful, probably necessary, tool for defining a project undertaken by more than one party.  But, while the contract has traditionally been seen as a tool to manage risk through control and enforcement, tying a project manager’s time up in costly (wasteful?) contract negotiation, it should come to be seen as a tool to support collaboration and cooperation. The contract can define a container which holds the project and allows (if not promotes and encourages) the empirical, collaborative, adaptive, safe-to-fail and safe-to-succeed environment necessary for us to do great development work on a complex software system.

Now we have to find a way to turn that big talk into fine print … or better yet results.

Do you want to find the right balance to support the tangible aspects of a contract without putting limits on the more intangible spirit of collaboration? Let have a conversation about it. What problems have you found in Agile contracting? What have you been able to learn about solving them? Reply in the comments or give me a shout out on twitter @zurcherart.

Leave a reply!

Attending Agile2013 this week in Nashville, TN?

Join Nancy Van Schooenderwoert and me as we describe Evolving Agile Contracts Through Validated Learning on Thursday at 9:00 AM(!).  We will talk and tell stories about the contracting landscape that we explored together with Dave Campey and Bob Feigin.

Read the full blog post, find out what happens when a Scrum Master, an entrepreneur and a lawyer walk into a bar:  Seeking: A Balanced Agile Contract,

not just talking Agile, uncovering better ways of doing work

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