Frameworks for Agile Adoption / Agile Teaching

I was talking with Tarang Patel, one of our Certified Collaboration Instructors (CCIs), about various frameworks that we use for helping teams adopt more Agile practices or in Agile classes and thought the broader community might enjoy the fruits of our conversations. We’ll cover:

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  • Identifying and Prioritizing Class Goals
  • Discovering Hidden Wisdom
  • Developing Systems Thinking (especially for Scrum)


Identifying and Prioritizing Class Goals

We know that 20/20 Vision is one a great framework for prioritizing a set of benefits or goals. Here are some of the ways we use 20/20 Vision.

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  • Before the class we often use the online version of 20/20 Vision to identify shared priorities and familiarize participants with online collaborative forums.
  • During the class, especially at the beginning, we’ll ask participants to work in small groups to identify their goals and prioritize them. We simply give them the rules of the framework and then explain the framework when they’re done. Sometimes we start with a generic list of goals suitable to the class. Most of the time we allow each participant to add one goal.
  • For Agile-specific classes, like a CSM or CSPO class, we’ll ask participants to prioritize the practices of the Agile Manifesto. This often reveals important preconceived notions about Agile.

The framework is exceedingly flexible! You can adapt it to prioritize any set of learning objectives, desired benefits or similar outcomes within a group.

Discovering Hidden Wisdom

I cringe when I see instructors or consultants waltz into a room secure in the knowledge that they’re going to magically transform the students through their wisdom and brilliance. These are often the same instructors and consultants who assume that because they’ve been hired to help a company improve their Agile practices that everyone must be a bloody idiot and their job is to cram Scrum down the throats of the team.


Our reality is much different. Most of the companies we’re privileged to work with are quite successful. Many, like GE, Cisco and Adobe, to name just a few, are among the most successful on the planet! Accordingly, we find it helpful to start our relationship by mining the considerable wisdom of their existing teams.

We do this through a framework that we call Best 5 / Worst 5. We start by organizing the participants into small teams (hey – we always start this way because a collaborating team is optimally 3 to 8 people!). We give each team a topic area relevant to their job function. For example, software development teams might be given topics like Requirements Management, Release Management or  Quality Assurance and innovation teams might be given topics like Discovering Unmet Market Needs, Managing the Innovation Portfolio or Innovation Processes. If your group is large enough you can give the same topic to more than one team to get even more insights.

Using the framework we ask teams to identify, by reflecting on their entire career, the Best 5 and Worst 5 practices they’ve experienced. Teams have to argue and agree. And if this sounds like a variation of 20/20 Vision, you’re right – but it is enough of a variation that we think of it as a separate framework. (If you want to learn how to create your own variations, check out our class Designing for Multidimensional Collaboration).

In doing this we find that the participants often have an extraordinary amount of accumulated wisdom that they’ve somehow lost or forgotten. Often this wisdom is surprisingly Agile and the results of the framework build passion within the group for “let’s do more of the Best and less of the Worst”. From there, you’ve paved the way for your Agile training and it is easier to showcase how Scrum and other Agile frameworks are designed to help teams do more of the Best and less of Worst. Equally importantly, the results help the frame the limits of a method and identifies areas where a method isn’t the best approach.

This framework also works well as a technique to engage customers. For example, GE used this technique at one of their Proficy Advisory Council meetings with customers to identify their perspectives on a variety of practices. Customers enjoyed learning from each other and GE product teams found many ways to improve their roadmaps and backlogs.

Developing Systems Thinking

Novices often want to pick apart Scrum before they’ve had a chance to experience it. And while I’m supportive of groups modifying Scrum to meet their needs, a topic I addressed directly in my Agile 2015 keynote (please, let’s ban the use of the term “Scrumbut”), I also recommend that teams new to Scrum learn the basics of the framework before modifying it. Yeah, I know this reeks of practicality, but hey – Conteneo is all about getting stuff done through Collaboration.

That said, it is often hard to understand how the elements of the Scrum framework work together as a system. So, we need techniques to promote systems thinking about Scrum.

Certified Scrum Trainer Carlton Nettleton of Look Forward Consulting created a really novel use of the collaboration framework Buy a Feature to promote the systems thinking so critical to the effective use of Scrum. He calls his approach Buy a Framework. The full description is in his blog post here, so in this post I’ll just summarize the basics.

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  • Carlton identifies each aspect of the Scrum Framework and assigns it a price.
  • Small teams are given the option to work together to purchase those aspects of the framework they think are most important with a limited budget. They can’t purchase everything, so they have to reason about “what’s most important” and the impact of giving something up.
  • Instructors observe the discussions and bring key issues to the table.
  • The activity ends when the participants realize that they “can’t win the game” (no, it is not a variation of the Kobayashi Maru).


The real value is the deeper learning and systems thinking promoted by this framework.

Want to try this out? Great! I’ve configured a version of this framework that you can use with your Scrum team (up to 8 people). We call this a Gala, and here is how it works.

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  • This is a real-time experience, so start by organizing a meeting with your team. I’ve configured the forum to last for 1 hour, which should be more than enough time for your team.
  • When you’re ready, everyone joins the forum using this URL:
  • Play the same – and see what your team thinks!


So, there you have it: Three awesome collaboration frameworks to help you teach and/or adopt Agile!


Learning to Deliberate: A Letter to Bloomberg, Schultz and Billionaires

It pains me when billionaires who are trying to make America better face the same challenges as ordinary citizens creating high-impact results that improve outcomes, especially when Conteneo and our community of Certified Collaboration Architects have developed solutions to these challenges through Deliberative Decision Making, Participatory Budgeting and other forms of scalable civic engagement.

Which is why I’m asking for your help in sending this post to Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz, George Soros, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and any other billionaire you know who seeks to increase civic engagement and high-impact, non-partisan collaborative problem solving. Let’s let them know that we’ve created the platforms they need to create the better world of our collective dreams.

Michael Bloomberg Wants a Better Government

On Mar 7, 2016, Michael Bloomberg published this essay outlining why he will not be running for President. In his article Mr. Bloomberg outlined several goals, including:

I’ve always been drawn to impossible challenges, and none today is greater or more important than ending the partisan war in Washington and making government work for the American people — not lobbyists and campaign donors.

“Making government work for the American people” is at the core of our philanthropic work at Every Voice Engaged Foundation, so I immediately emailed David Shipley, the editor listed at the bottom of the article. I shared  Conteneo’s partnership with The Kettering Foundation in creating the first platform for scalable deliberative decision making modeled on the process pioneered by Kettering. Given that Brendan Greeley had previously written about our efforts implementing Participatory Budgeting in San José, CA, I thought David would reply to my email. A week later I’ve not heard from David, which motivated this post, and my hopes that the global Conteneo community can help us reach David (my original email is contained at the end of this post).

Howard Schultz Wants Us to Deliberate

The momentum for better government keeps growing! The Mar 21, 2016 (print) issue of Forbes has this article about Howard Schultz Howard Schultz’s Stormy Crusades: The Starbucks Boss Opens UpThe article has this to say about Howard’s ambitions:

Now he wants Starbucks to be the place where people can get excited about voting again, where people can courteously discuss tough issues such as gun rights and race relations–and where “ we can elevate citizenship and humanity.”


The challenge facing Mr. Schultz is that simply asking people to “courteously discuss tough issues” is doomed to failure. The vast majority of people are not formally trained in the art and process of deliberation. It isn’t that they aren’t willing to engage. It is that they don’t know how. Putting this in terms Mr. Schultz can embrace, I might love a skinny Grande extra hot latte, but unless I have the right materials (coffee, milk), the right machine and the right process I’m not going to enjoy my steaming cup of goodness.

Engaging citizens in tough issues is exactly the same: We need the right materials (a discussion guide framing the issue being discussed), the right machine (Common Ground for Action, our software platform to support deliberative decision making) and the right process (the deliberation process captured within the software).

With these in place Mr. Schultz can turn Starbucks into a destination for deliberation!

We Need to Reform How We’re Approaching Immigration Reform

It is really sad that I’m likely to put the success of my company at risk by stating that we need to reform how we’re approaching immigration reform, but our corporate values of serving the world through advanced decision-making gives me strength.

We need to reform how we’re approaching immigration reform.

We need to adopt deliberative decision making as the foundation for exploring the complex challenges of immigration reform. We need to do this at a scale that is unprecedented. Since you can’t engage in deliberation on Facebook, we need to do this on Conteneo’s platforms (sorry, Mark).

And notice that I didn’t say that we need to be non-partisan, inclusive and all of those other platitudes that pundits like to spout. That’s because deliberative decision making and a properly framed issue guide includes, by design, a range of possible actions motivated by things that are held valuable among all of us. Kinda like saying that a good cup of coffee starts with a good coffee bean, right Mr. Schultz?

What You Can Do?

Help me reach your favorite billionaire. Tweet a link to this article. Forward the email I wrote to David Shipley from your account. Let’s make a small amount of collaborative noise so that we can enjoy, as Mr. Bloomberg suggests, the government we deserve.

Original email to David Shipley, 7-Mar-2016

David –
Like many Americans, I share Michael Bloomberg’s concerns about the terrific challenges facing our country (outlined here). At the heart of these challenges is the inability to deliberate on the wicked problems we’re facing.

Unlike most other Americans, I’ve done something about it. Working with The Kettering Foundation my company has created Common Ground for Action, the first platform for Deliberative Decision Making. This work builds upon the ground-breaking work I’ve done in Participatory Budgeting, a story covered by Brendan Greeley a few years ago (here).

The purpose of this email is to share this amazing platform with you in the hopes that we can use it to engage America in the kinds of discussions we must have in order to found common ground for action.

Start by watching this video produced by our development partner, The Kettering Foundation: Really. Just 5 minutes. It provides you with an amazing overview of the platform.

Here is the rest of the story :-).

The Kettering Foundation frames wicked social problems for public debate and problem solving. They’ve got an in-person process for deliberation that they deliver through To frame an issue they create an issue guide which identifies three or 4 unique options or strategies for solving the problem (not just “yes” or “no” – but truly different perspectives). The scope of Kettering’s focus is quite impressive: They’ve built more than hundreds of issue guides on immigration reform, healthcare reform, education reform, resolving the national debt to name just a few of the categories that exist.

I’ve attached a few issue guides for your review [note: these are available at]. I believe the format of these issue guides could provide a good model for some of the problems Mr. Bloomberg wants us to tackle.

But of course reading an issue guide isn’t building common ground. For this, you need a deliberative forum, a carefully controlled process in which a group of people consider an issue by reviewing different options (or strategies) as to how it could be solved.

Each strategy, in turn, is framed in terms of a set of actions that could be taken that are congruent or supportive of the strategy. Each action, in turn, has a set of drawbacks that must be considered if enacted. By thoughtfully – through deliberation – considering options, actions and drawbacks – participants develop an understanding of where common ground exists within a group for concerted action.

We’ve put the process into a scalable web based collaboration platform that embodies and leverages this process in the context of our proven techniques for collaboration at scale. As participants progress through the platform we give them visualizations of where common ground exists within the group. As opinions change through deliberation we update these visualizations in real-time.

When finished, the group has a clear understanding of where common ground exists for taking action on a complex issue – an excellent approach to managing wicked problems.

As you can imagine, identifying where common ground exists within a group of people, and at scale, helps create far better decisions and faster, more thorough execution.

I hope you found this email useful enough to share with Mr. Bloomberg in an effort to help us scale deliberation and identify the common ground for action so sorely needed in our country.

Building the Budget from Zero: Online Participatory Budgeting in San José,CA

Mayor Sam Liccardo and the San José City Council, in partnership with the Every Voice Engaged Foundation and Conteneo Inc., invite San José residents to participate online in a citywide participatory budgeting event during the week of February 22, 2016.OnlineForumsSanJose

The hour-long online “zero-based” budgeting sessions will provide residents with an opportunity to get involved in their government and community and impact the city budget.

How to participate 

Residents may participate in collaborative forums with their neighbors from a laptop or desktop computer, by logging into a forum at time that works for them. To find available times (from 8AM to 8PM, February 22-26, 2016)  and participate, go to

Starting with a budget of $63,600,000, residents will be able to collaboratively reallocate funding for 30 city programs, including such line items as graffiti abatement, parks and urban renewal and more. Residents may also preview the 30 city programs and their current funding level here: 2016-2017 Budget Engagement Exercise (PDF Download).

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